(Photo Credits: faceoff.com)
Merry Christmas everyone!
As the last game between the Flames and Blues ended, so begins the two day Mandatory Christmas break for the NHL.
With an average of 37 games played, we are very close to the mid-way point of the season, and it has been a somewhat surprising few months in the NHL.
If the playoff starts today, teams like Detroit, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Anaheim, St. Louis, Minnesota and Carolina (usual contenders of the past few post-seasons) will not make it.
Some teams we never expect to play so well did, and some teams we thought would play great didn’t.
Perhaps the biggest surprise were the L.A. Kings, under the new coach of Terry Murray, were once top of the Western Conference, going into the 2-days break with 22 Wins in 37 Games. We saw the break-out of Anze Kopitar, once leading the scoring board by a great margin only to slowed down due to the absence of LW Ryan Smyth from injury.
The supposedly rebuilding Colorado Avalanche surprised a lot people, sitting atop the NW Division today, with 21 Wins in 39 Games. Tremendous plays of their two rookie centermen Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly as well as goaltender Craig Anderson were definitely part of the reason for their success.
The New Jersey Devils continue to impress everyone, leading the league with 55 points in 35 games, especially with their lack of superstars in their line-up. Of course, except for this player called Martin who broke two more All-time NHL goaltender records during this 35 games, may have played a factor in their success.
The NY Rangers stormed out of the gate this season running and gunning, with newly-acquired all-star Marian Gaborik leading the league in goals for a majority of the time. In fact, he still leads the scoring with 26 goals in 35 games. However, this may not be considered quite a surprise as this is exactly what happened last season, when the Rangers have a great first half only to cool off in the second half of the season. So, I guess the surprise here is that Gaborik only missed two games in the 37 outings for the Rangers.
We knew the Hurricanes were inconsistent last season, but we never thought they’d be this bad. Having only 9 wins in 37 games is…inexcusable. I know they did lose a lot of key players, including Eric Staal and Cam Ward for a significant portion of time.
The Flyers started the season great, but has since been on a free-fall, and now sits 27th overall. Good news is that they have Simon Gagne back, but the bad news is that they are now riding on their 3rd goaltender, Leighton – recently picked up via waiver from Carolina, since both Emery and Boucher are out with injuries.
Who would’ve thought that this will finally be the year where the Red Wings play poorly for a change. Of course the exit of Hossa, Samuelsson and Hudler greatly affected their fire-power, perhaps the injury to Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Niklas Kronwall and the under-performance from their aged stars of Lidstrom, Osgood, Rafalski, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, were more the reason for their recent failures. I guess somewhere Ken Holland is kicking himself for offering the cash to Franzen and letting Hossa walked.
Finally, the Canucks.
On paper, MG built a great team in the off-season. We had one of the deepest defensive corp, with matured star-players of the twins and Luongo, hardworking two-way players in Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood, up-and-coming speedsters in Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen, and finally highly-touted rookie prospects in Cody Hodgson, Michael Grabner and Sergei Shirokov.
Our pre-season were near-perfect. The only troubles our team faced were which players to keep and which to let go.
But then, things start to slowly fall-apart. Cutting Hodgson and keeping Shirokov may have been a mistake, or not, since we still don’t know if the back-injury to Hodgson is serious or not.
Our D-corp suddenly doesn’t seem so deep because although they were healthy, they weren’t showing up to play every night.
Then we lost Daniel to a broken foot, Grabner to hallway soccer, Hansen to a fight, and Demitra constantly regressing in his recovery. The team was so thin in the front, that we used Kevin Bieska as a RW in the second-line!!!!
We also lost Luongo for a few-games, but luckily it wasn’t serious.
Good news is that, all is not lost. The team is becoming healthy again, and playing some decent hockey of late. The Canucks are 7-4 in December, defeating some strong opponents in the Devils, Capitals, Kings, and Predators. The team now has 21 wins in 37 games, and ranked 6th in terms of wins in the Conference. In terms of Goals-For, we are 3rd in the Conference, and 6th in the League.
But the Bad news is that we are the only team to have ZERO OTL-points. It either means we rarely goes to OT, or we always win in OT. In fact, only two games went to Shoot-Out this season for Vancouver, and we won both of them.
With 45 games to go, it’s not difficult to envision the Canucks making the playoffs, since we are one point away from the 8th spot, and only five points away from the 5th spot. If Luongo can continue his solid pre-Olympic play, the Canucks will soon climb back to the upper section of the standings.