Just over halfway through the season, the NHL standings are taking a more defined form as winners and losers start to shape up. An average of 46 games into the season allows us to distinguish multiple groups: there are the obvious contenders, who were expected to be good since before the season started, the surprises, both positive and negative, and the cellar dwellers. Poor Buffalo. Let’s break it down:
Let’s begin with our division leaders: the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NY Islanders, the Nashville Predators, and the Anaheim Ducks. To anybody who follows hockey, this should immediately cause a double-take; none of these teams were expected to win or even lead their divisions, with the possible exception of Anaheim (I still would have San Jose though). Tampa can be best summed up by an incredible plus-minus line: three of the top five stat leaders in this category, including first and second place, are members of the Lightning. Nashville is also interesting: despite being 25th on the penalty kill, they’re 1st in the league with 2.2 goals against per game. It will be interesting to see if they can keep this up without would-be Vezina Cup winner and possible MVP Pekka Rinne in net, who is currently missing time with a hip injury.
Let’s take a minute to point and laugh at the Buffalo Sabres.
Hahahahahaha they’ve won 14 games, under a third of their total games. Mind you, Edmonton isn’t much better, but nobody can even defend Buffalo anymore. Having lost eleven straight, they’ve reclaimed the dubious honor of The Worst Team in the NHL from the Oilers this week.
For that matter, from this point forward teams like Florida and Colorado are going to have a tough time making the playoffs, even with winning records. In both cases, there are simply too many teams above them with high point values. The 4th place team in both Eastern divisions (the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals) sport 57 points, which represents the cutoff. In the West, the Central is much stronger than the Pacific, with four teams currently sitting with 60 points or higher. The Pacific division is home to the top team in hockey right now- the Anaheim Ducks- and then three moderately competitive teams and a bunch of garbage. It’s not a fair comparison.
There are some teams on the cusp or just over that have been fighting for a top-8 spot within the past month or so. Of notable improvement is the Boston Bruins, who have points in the last 11 of 12, including a five game win streak. Of notable decline are the Los Angeles Kings, who have lost 8 of 10 including a still active four game losing streak. Calgary has a 1-point hold on the 8th spot in the west, and they’ve kept it with remarkable luck and streakiness, having won four in a row, lost eight in a row, won four, lost three, and won four again.
Also fighting are the aforementioned winning teams who are trying to take the President’s Trophy and home ice through the playoffs. The Predators are still trying to survive without Rinne, as Anaheim begins to reclaim a lead on the West and the President’s Trophy race. With a good enough run of games, I could see any of the top teams in the Central Division- Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago or Winnipeg- winning the trophy.
It’s official: the Bruins will play the Habs in the 2016 Winter Classic. I’m stoked to see such a historic rivalry be given such a great stage unless we (my Bruins) lose, in which case never mind, if you need me I’ll be crying in the corner.
Photo Credit: Centpacrr – Wikipedia