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CARLTON PEAK… Friends, the National Hockey League season is nearing the midway point and while there isn’t any big separation occurring yet within the standings, there are some definite trends happening that are worth talking about. Every year you can look at the various clubs around the circuit and put the old Montgomery Wards, good-better-best tag on and some of that will hold, some won’t. I can actually hear some young readers asking themselves, what in the H-E-double hockey sticks is Montgomery Wards? Well, think of it as the Amazon of yesteryear with brick and mortar as they say. Let’s get down to business. It would be fair to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators are the two best, and therefore elite teams in the league right now. It is that simple to me. And it’s not hard to place the number one tag on the Bolts.
They are winning games at a .781% clip right now on a 24-8 record with the Preds weighing in at a healthy .719% rate on a 21-11 record. That’s my top tier-elite level. I see these two teams as favorites to make their respective Conference Finals. If the Stanley Cup Final were kicking off today between these two teams, who would you go with? Tampa scores more and allows less, they are one-two with the Preds in PP%, while Nashville is superior on the PK by a couple of percentage points. Nashville is first in Faceoff wins and Tampa is almost last. If the series hung on special teams play, Tampa could be challenged. This would probably be a fairly good series though. For my next level I see clubs like the STL Blues, the LA Kings, the Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets. These are the teams that I believe could threaten for a Conference Final spot.
The Blues (22-13) are tied with the Preds for the division lead, but the Preds are holding 3 games in hand. The Blue Note has also been battling injuries recently and aren’t past them yet. The Blues can put a tough game on the ice though and when they use their size to clog the middle of the offensive zone against a team coupled with solid netminding from Jake Allen you will have your hands full. The Kings (21-15) have a new-old coach in John Stevens, picked up a little speed and took a little bit less of a defensive focus to rise toward the top of the West again. I keep waiting for them to revert, but they haven’t. The Caps (21-13) didn’t begin the year in a blaze of glory but they are 8-2 in their L10 and that’s respectable for any team in the show. Alex Ovechkin is challenging for another Rocket Richard trophy. The Winnipeg Jets (19-15), well, I have been waiting for a couple of years now for them to break out and they are finally moving upward. They are missing all-world D-man Dustin Byfuglien due to injury at the moment, but are continuing to push ahead. They have had some upper level talent for awhile now but over the past two seasons have been quite an undisciplined club. They have got on top of that and it shows. Count me as huge fan of Head Coach Paul Maurice.
For the “muddled middle” as it’s called in many leagues, don’t look now but the Boston Bruins are impressing after a rough start. And a team that I haven’t been bullish on at all, but when someone is good, I have to say it, the Chicago Blackhawks seem to be re-emerging as a team to reckon with. They basically spanked a punch-less Minnesota Wild on Sunday eve. The Vegas Knights continue to amaze and are still winning long after most analysts and fans thought they would fade and are tied with Tampa for the best home ice record. After a rough season a year ago, the NJ Devils have moved into the playoff picture and are currently leading the NHL Metro. The Columbus Bluejacket’s were looking like a team that could challenge early but are falling back with a 5-5 record in their L10. They were embarrassed last night in Boston. And if they get in, can they do anything? The Toronto Maple Leaf’s can thrill but are trying to work through some injuries. They have hit a speed bump as of late going 5-5 in their L10 and are very young.
To round out the group, the NY Islanders have an excellent record when home at the Barclay Center (10-4) but are sub .500 on the road and struggling in their L10 at 4-6. Then you have the SJ Sharks, NY Rangers, and the Dallas Stars. The Sharks (17-15) don’t seem to be anything special but could make the tourney as could the NYR (18-15), who are 6-4 in their L10, while the Stars (18-16) should challenge for a playoff spot but are 5-5 in their L10. Are there some teams that could upset the apple cart and push someone else aside? Yes, but I’m not currently seeing anyone on the outside that is showing the juice to do so. There is still a lot of season to go though, so we will see….
THE MINNESOTA WILD continue to provide equal doses of excitement and disappointment. They began last week with nice wins over CAL and TOR only to stink it up in losses to EDM and CHI. The two losses were particularly disconcerting as to the undisciplined nature of both. Then there is the mental disappearance of the team for stretches of 20 to 40 minutes per game when they look bad. This is something I really can’t get a grip on. Yes, I get the 82-game sked and all of that, but we aren’t to the halfway mark yet and this team is just mentally out of sorts on nights when they play poorly. Former UMD Bulldog Alex Stalock has taken over between the pipes for the injured Devan Dubnyk. He looked good in relief for the CAL tilt and shutout TOR. He didn’t get much help in the pair of losses over the weekend….
THE ATHLETIC; 17th with a 50% chance at the playoffs. THE SAGARIN; 12th on a 17-16 record, 5-9 versus the top ten, 7-11 versus the top 16. NHL STANDINGS by points percent, 16th with a .561%, 6th in the CENTRAL, 9th in the Wild Card, outside of a playoff position. PEACE
A SINCERE AND HEARTFELT HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE!