The NHL All-Star Game has come and gone, and consequently so has the league’s unofficial midway point. With around 35 games remaining for each team, the All-Star Break does not officially mark the beginning of the season’s second half, but for all intents and purposes, teams often look at the break as a distinguishing point. As is the case with any NHL season, there have been twists and turns, surprises and disappointments and boring regularity (thank you, Detroit and Vancouver). Taking the performances of 16 teams currently in a playoff spot into consideration, we give you the Maroon-News NHL Midseason Report Card.
1. Boston Bruins – A+
Since starting the season just 3-7, the B’s have skyrocketed to second in the East and third overall. Though the Rangers are ahead in the standings by two points, the Bruins appear to be the stronger team at this point, having amassed an astounding plus-69 goal differential thanks in large part to the play of goaltenders Tim Thomas and Tuuka Rask.
2. St. Louis Blues – A+
Embarrassingly enough, I did not even have the Blues as a top-eight Western Conference team at the start of the season (though I probably wasn’t the only one.) The Blues have shocked the hockey world this season, racking up 65 points in just 49 games. If Brian Elliot continues to mind the net the way he has, new coach Ken Hitchcock and his Blues could make their first Stanley Cup Final in more than three long decades.
3. Detroit Red Wings – A
The Wings have ridden the play of goalie Jimmy Howard and star center Pavel Datsyuk to a 33-16-1 record, which is at the top of the league. After overcoming a slow start, Coach Mike Babcock has orchestrated what appears to be yet another successful regular season in Detroit.
4. New York Rangers – A
The Rangers have been the most surprising team in the East, led by Marion Gaborik and Ryan Callahan up front and Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi in the back. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been stellar for the Blueshirts, and thanks to Coach John Tortorella, there hasn’t been a hiccup for the Madison Square Garden residents this season.
5. Philadelphia Flyers – A
The risky offseason moves by GM Paul Holmgren to get rid of star forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards look to be benefitting the Broad Street Bullies, as the Peter Laviolette-led club has steadily made its way to 63 points in 48 games thus far.
6. Chicago Blackhawks – A-
The Hawks have looked great this year, and while they lost some talented grinders such as Troy Brouwer and Ben Eager since their last cup run two years ago, stars Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane have dominated the West.
7. Vancouver Canucks – A-
Like the Bruins, the Canucks started the season with a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover. Thanks to twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, however, the Canucks are chugging along, looking like the dominators of the West that we’ve become accustomed to watching.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins – A-
The Pens have just 60 points so far – fewer than Nashville and equal to San Jose and Ottawa – but the fact that they have succeeded to that extent without the services of Sydney Crosby gives them the edge in my opinion. Evgeni Malkin has been absolutely tearing it up, and leads the league with 58 points despite missing seven games due to injury. If Crosby comes back this season, they’ll be the team to beat.
9. Nashville Predators – A-
Thanks to the solid goaltending of Pekka Rinn and the defense of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Predators are on pace for 100 points for just the fourth time in franchise history. Barry Trotz’s troops are arguably the hottest team in the league, having won nine of their last 10.
10. Ottawa Senators – B+/A-
Ottawa is another very surprising team thanks to defenseman Erik Karlsson bursting onto the scene. Karlsson looks like the favorite to win the Norris Trophy, and with good reason – his defenseman-leading 47 points have propelled the Senators from being a 74-point team last year to a possible 100-point team this year.
11. San Jose Sharks – B+
The boys from the Bay sit third in the West, atop the Pacific division, but overall they are behind a total of eight teams in terms of points. Though the 100-plus point seasons of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau appear to be a thing of San Jose’s past, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture have stepped up in a big way in the offensive zone.
12. New Jersey Devils – B
The Devils were one of the hottest teams in the second half of last season, and they’ve continued their consistent play into 2012. In a tough Atlantic division, New Jersey has managed to stay in the hunt, scratching out 57 points in 49 games.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs – B
Toronto fans finally have something to get excited about, and that is the resurgence of forward Joffrey Lupul, whose 52 points are good for sixth in the league. Due to injury, however, Lupul has played under 30 games in each of his past three seasons. For the Leafs to continue winning, Lupul will need to stay healthy.
14. Minnesota Wild – B
New acquisitions Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have been unbelievably disappointing, but somehow the Wild have managed to win games. Early in the season, they looked like a team capable of a cup run, but as of late, first-year coach Mike Yeo and his team appear to be sliding out of contention.
15. Los Angeles Kings – B-
The most disappointing team in the West has got to be the Kings, whose embarrassment of offensive riches has been underperforming to say the least. Anze Kopitar is the only King amongst the top-50 point scorers, and is really the only reason Los Angeles has had any offensive success. Still, goaltender Jonathan Quick’s 1.93 GAA and league-leading six shutouts have kept L.A. in playoff contention.
16. Washington Capitals – C+
If the Kings are the biggest disappointment out West, the Caps are the biggest disappointment in the entire league. After four-straight years of dominating the East, Washington started off the season terribly, resulting in coach Bruce Boudreau’s departure. They are now 9-7- 1 under new coach Dale Hunter and look to be improving thanks to Alex Ovechkin’s return to form.
Contact Ben Glassman at [email protected]