It is now approximately half way through the NHL season and the second quarter of the current campaign was quite different from the first. In the first quarter, the pattern was mostly Win 3 Lose 1, 2-2, 1-2, 2-1, etc. In the second quarter what occurred was the dramatic long winning streak. Three teams, Columbus, Minnesota, and Philadelphia hit double digit figures, with Columbus nearly setting a new NHL record. Several teams soared into playoff positions or at least made themselves contenders again.
Among the teams that experienced significant long winning streaks were:
East: Columbus, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto
West: Minnesota, San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver
Here are other things to note during this period:
Still the teams to beat
Defending champion Pittsburgh in the east and 3 time champion Chicago in the west are still the teams to bet on despite the obvious improvement of many other teams. They are the safe choices for bettors.
Out of the picture
Colorado and Arizona are the first teams to be completely out of the playoffs (unless they start playing like the streaking teams listed above). They are now contending with Las Vegas for a high draft choice next year.
Despite the impressive winning streaks, Minnesota and Washington still have to prove themselves. They have done this before in the regular season. Now they have to play like this in the playoffs. Neither of them has even reached the conference final and Minnesota has yet to beat a true contender in a playoff round. Smile and pat them on the back for what they have done this quarter but the true test comes at the end of the season.
Winner of the second big trade
When Edmonton traded Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson the results were almost even in the first quarter. But the second quarter has declared a clear winner. New Jersey dropped out of a playoff position while Edmonton still has a good record and is in the middle of the playoff pack.
Besides Arizona and Colorado, New Jersey had a second quarter as horrendous as their first quarter was good. They were playing excellent hockey at the beginning and were solid playoff contenders when Hall was briefly injured, came back, and then the team played horrible hockey and dropped out of a playoff position. The defense, usually the strength of the Devils is now one of the worst in the league. The playoffs are still within reach, but unless they turn things around, that chance could disappear in the third quarter.
1. Injured with a bag over his head
It was bad enough when Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin decided to go hunting for culprits who failed to respond when star goaltender Carey Price got injured last year. It was even worse when Bergevin decided that the main culprit was P. K. Subban, singled him out, and traded him to Nashville for Shea Weber. It is sickening when Weber is thriving in Montreal, Bergevin being hailed as a genius for his astute trade, while Subban struggles on the ice and gets injured. It is horrible when Nashville which was now supposed to be a true Stanley Cup contender may not even make the playoffs while Montreal is near the top of its conference. Poor Subban has nowhere to hide. As of now he can be blamed for the downfall of Montreal last year and Nashville this year. He could not have had a more horrible spell cast upon him. If you see someone walking down a Nashville street with a paper bag covering his head, you know who it is.
2. Playing with a bag over his head
Taylor Hall, now of the New Jersey Devils got injured frequently and could not play defense which made him expendable by Edmonton. This year he got injured off and on, he is a -7, and the Devils whose strength was usually defense are now -29, the worst in the Eastern Conference. They have dropped out of a playoff position while Hall’s old team, the Oilers, are now in the middle of the playoff pack in the west including a recent defeat of the Devils on their own ice. Adam Larrson, whom the Oilers got from the Devils is an even 0. Interestingly, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, another number one NHL draft pick for the Oilers is even worse than Hall at a horrible -12, the worst on the team, proving that almost all the number one draft picks whom the Oilers have drafted over the past decade cannot play or even be taught how to play defense and have been like liabilities instead of assets.
3. Watching with bags over their heads
All those expert predictors at NHL.com who said before the season started that Subban was the final piece of the puzzle for Nashville and predicted that the Predators would end up in the Stanley Cup Final.
Poor Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman believed his team was a legitimate Stanley Cup contender (so did I) so he signed all his top stars to contracts to win right now. Then Mr. Brittle, Steve Stamkos got injured again, the team has failed to rally in the same manner the Montreal Canadiens failed to rally last year when Carey Price got injured and now there is a real chance that Tampa Bay may not make the playoffs.
So what, nothing came of it
Florida Panthers became the first team to fire their coach, Gerard Gallant, despite having a winning record. General Manager Tom Rowe took over and the team is neither better nor worse than when they were under Gallant. The only benefit to Florida is that Gallant’s salary is off the books. He is now a leading contender to be hired as a coach next year.
Ottawa Senators may have lost their best player, goaltender Craig Anderson because he is at home caring for his wife who has cancer. But the Senators are still hanging on to a playoff position.
Frustrated by circumstances beyond his control
John Tavares of the New York Islanders helped his team to finally win a playoff round for the first time in eons last year. The Islanders seemed poised to join the top eastern teams as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender if they made the right moves during the off season. But the Islanders play in the smallest, worst arena, the Barclay Center, in the league, the only one that actually has obstructed view seats for hockey spectators. Unlike the glory years, the Islanders now lose talent during the off season instead of the acquiring it and cannot afford to build a legitimate contender around Tavares. Ominously, the Islanders played the two worst teams in the league back to back, the Avalanche and the Coyotes and lost both games. The playoffs are still within reach but the Islanders may be the first eastern team to drop out of playoff contention.
Dream trade for the Tampa Bay Lightning
Swapping “Mr. Brittle” Steve Stamkos for Tavares.
Major stumblebum disappointments
Boston, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Dallas were all expected to be better than they are. They are not playing bad hockey but are fumbling along with one-step-forward-two steps back, two-steps-forward-one step-back, etc. records. Meanwhile the streakers have zoomed by them or are in position to legitimately challenge for a playoff position. These teams need to go on win streaks themselves or they may not make the playoffs, something nobody believed when the season started.
Show some support
Last time I checked, Columbus had the sixth worst attendance in the league, with just over 15,000 patrons per game or 82% capacity. The win streak brought about this “improvement” because before it they were the fourth worst in the league with only 75%. Come on fans, show some support for this team. If you can’t support a winner, Quebec (and a few other cities) want a team badly and are waiting…
Poor role model
That wonderful dessert team, Arizona Coyotes whom the NHL fought to the death to keep in Phoenix and out of Hamilton, Ontario is already out of playoff contention, has the second worst record in the NHL, and as usual has one of the worst attendance records in the league. Now comes news that in suburban Glendale where the Coyotes play, the city council wants to be rid of the Coyotes and have an arena without a tenant and that the Coyotes may move across the city to suburban Tempe into a yet to be built new arena. This is a wonderful example for the NHL’s newest dessert team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Keep a stiff upper lip Bill Foley and Gary Bettman.
All quiet on the Quebec City front.