Since the season is half over, let’s look at the biggest overperformers and underperformers in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. For the Eastern Conference, the biggest surprise team is the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens were the worst team in the Eastern Conference last season, but this year they have become one of the best teams in the entire NHL without making many groundbreaking moves in the offseason. For some reason this year the Canadiens are suddenly firing on all cylinders; they are one of the best teams in the league scoring and have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Carey Price. With no signs of slowing down, don’t be surprised if the hard hitting, offensively strong Canadiens are atop the Eastern Conference when the season ends.
The surprise team in the Western Conference is without question the Chicago Blackhawks. A playoff team last year, everyone knew the Blackhawks were a fairly good team and would most likely make the playoffs this season, but I don’t think anyone predicted this kind of run. The Blackhawks appear to be unstoppable this season; much like the Canadiens, they are one of the best teams in the league at putting the puck in the net, but what really stands out for the Blackhawks this season is their fabulous goaltending.
Not every team in the league has enjoyed success this season. In the Eastern Conference, the biggest disappointment this year is the New York Rangers. The Rangers won the Eastern Conference last season and were two games away from making it to the Stanley Cup. Despite their success, major changes were made in the offseason as they let many depth players leave in order to acquire forward Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nash, a prolific scorer, was supposed to bring the offensive pop that the Rangers needed and be the missing piece for the Cup. However, injuries to Nash and some other key players have limited the Rangers this season, and even with all of the players healthy on the ice the Rangers cannot seem to get a rhythm going. Inconsistent play haunts them along with a dreaded power play that is probably worse than a lot of AHL teams. Perhaps it is a lack of chemistry from so many new faces in the locker room or some rust from many of the players who did not go across the ocean to play in international leagues, but the Rangers are not the team they were last year and they are going to need to do a great deal if they have any hope of making a Cup run this year.
The Los Angeles Kings too, are not where they were last year. The Kings squeaked their way into the playoffs last season as the eighth seed and then had one of the most miraculous runs in Stanley Cup history and became champions. This year, however, the magic is gone. The Kings find themselves out of the playoff race right now and, much like the Rangers, they just don’t seem to be the same team that hoisted the Cup last season. All the same players are there, but the results are different; perhaps playoff magic really does exist and now that it has worn off the Kings are going to look much like they did for most of last season, an average team that might make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
Whatever the case may be, the second half of the NHL season is bound to be full of its surprises and disappointments and I for one cannot wait to see them.