Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quarter Season Review

Well with my Presidential Hangover subsiding, I am finally ready to talk a bit about my favourite frozen sport. Back before the season started, I did a full preview of the NHL Season, and in blogging tradition, I plan on looking back at the first quarter of the season, and more importantly, at the remaining three quarters left to play.


Oddly, the most surprising aspect of this conference has come in the once dependable Northeast division. While expectations were not high for the Ottawa Senators, I don't think that many people thought that they would be contending with Atlanta and Florida for bottom of the conference. Things have been really, really bad in Canada's Capital, and show no real sign of turning around. They have all of the talent in the world, but are just unable to click.

The main beneficiaries of the Sens misfortune has been the Boston Bruins, who are surprising a lot of people by sitting on top of the Eastern Conference. While they have a host of young talent, solid goaltending, and a strong team system, I just do not see them outlasting Montreal for the division title, not this year.

Also on the upswing are the Buffalo Sabres. While they have been struggling in recent games, but showed flashes of their 2007 President's Trophy form at the start of the season. I think that they should be the ones to benefit the most from Martin Brodeur's elbow injury, as they could just leapfrog the Devils and make it into the bottom tier of the playoffs.

The other big surprise to some has been the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many people thought that they would be immediately make the playoffs after an off season transformation, but appear to be struggling to find any sort of offensive cohesion. Their division rivals Carolina, should take enough points off of the Lightning to make it into the Top 8.

As for the rest of the playoffs the pre-season favourite Habs, Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Capitals should all be in no problem, with the rest of the Conference shaping up like this:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Montreal Canadiens
3. Washington Capitals
4. New York Rangers
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. Boston Bruins
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Buffalo Sabers

9. New Jersey Devils
10. Ottawa Senators
11. Tampa Bay Lightning
12. Toronto Maple Leafs
13. Florida Panthers
14. New York Islanders
15. Atlanta Thrashers


On the left side of the continent, things are (unsurprisingly) more interesting. The two most surprising teams, Dallas and Vancouver, have been shocking for opposite reasons.

The Dallas Stars were expected to be Stanley Cup Contenders, but find themselves in the bottom of the Western Conference right now. While the West is much closer than the East, this is not good news for the Stars at all. Add the news that their Captain, and best player, Brendan Morrow, is going to miss the remainder of the season, and it should be a long season in Texas.

On the other end of the spectrum have been the Vancouver Canucks. They were expected to be among the Conference basement dwellers, but are currently leading the most competitive division in hockey. This has been in no small part to Roberto Luongo's MVP type performance. Through 21 games this season, the "Captain" has 5 shutouts, putting him on pace for an earth shattering 20 shutouts for the season. While I doubt that he will reach that mark, he could very well top Tony Esposito's modern record of 15 shut outs in one season. With that sort of incredible goaltending, it would be hard to imagine the Canucks not making the playoffs. While I doubt that they will outlast Minnesota or Calgary to take the division title, they should have little trouble cracking the top 8.

The other two biggest stories in the West have been the emergence of two of the best young forward corps in the league, San Jose and Chicago.

Granted, the Sharks have been a powerhouse for what seems like an eternity, but this years group seems different. Marleau has not been putting up great numbers, and Thornton has stalled out of the gate, however they have been carried by the likes of Devin Setogouchi and Ryan Clowe, coupled with the emergence of Erhoff and Vlasic on the blueline. The Sharks are playing so well right now, they are even higher in the standings than the mighty Red Wings, despite losing Evgeni Nabokov for an extended portion of time. This may be the deepest Sharks team ever, and they have to be considered the favourites to emerge in the West.

The Blackhawks had high pres-season expectations, but struggled in the fitst few games of the season, prompting them to fire head coach Dennis Savard. Since then, they have experienced a reversal of fortunes, and have climbed their way up the standings. There have been a host of talks about them making a big trade for a veteran forward (Michael Nylander's name seems to pop-up a great deal) with hopes of going deep in the playoffs this year. While I think that may be a bit of a stretch, they should still be an exciting team to watch grow right in front of us.

Lastly, the Edmonton Oilers, have played a solid game so far this season, and appear to be gelling as a unit. Sadly though, Dustin Penner has not been a big part of that, and you have to wonder how long until Kevin Lowe starts to shop him, and just who will make a $4 million commitment to an underachiever. None the less, the Oilers should edge of Columbus, Colorado, and Nashville for the 8th spot, with it all shaking down like this:

1. Detroit Red Wings
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Calgary Flames
4. Anaheim Ducks
5. Chicago Blackhawks
6. Vancouver Canucks
7. Minnesota Wild
8. Edmonton Oilers

9. Columbus Bluejackets
10. Nashville Predators
11. Colorado Avalanche
12. Dallas Stars
13. Phoenix Coyotes
14. Los Angeles Kings
15. St. Louis Blues

As for the playoffs, I see them going something like this:


Penguins over Sabres in 5
Canadiens over Hurricanes in 5
Capitals over Bruins in 7
Flyers over Rangers in 6

Red Wings over Oilers in 6
Sharks over Wild in 5
Flames over Canucks in 7
Blackhawks over Ducks in 6


Penguins over Flyers in 7
Canadiens over Capitals in 6

Blackhawks over Red Wings in 6
Sharks over Flames in 7


Canadiens over Penguins in 7

Sharks over Blackhawks in 5


Canadiens over Sharks in 6

That's right, I'm sticking to my Centennial magic pick from earlier in the season, sub-par Powerplay be damned.

Will I be right? Tune back in 60 odd games to find out...

Until next time,


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