Out of the Gate: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not?
With seven games in the books so far in the National Hockey League, it’s safe to say which teams will be making the playoffs this year and which teams pulling their spiked shoes out of the closet. I’m kidding of course. Even doing an evaluation at this point in the season is ridiculous. But if you’ve read my articles before, you know that’s not going to stop me. And with the NHL Centre Ice free preview, and my trusty PVR, I think I’ve watched over 100 games so far.
Off to a quick start
Washington- They should be at the top, and they have had an easy schedule so far, but undefeated is undefeated. And just wait till Ovi and Green get going…
Philly- Again, another team that should be at the top of the pack. But I did expect a slightly slower start with the new look offence. And I didn’t expect Giroux to break out like he has.
Toronto- Expected to have a good start with five relatively easy home games, but going 4-1-1 exceeds expectations. And Kessel leading the league in goals and points is amazing! Leaf fans enjoy it while it lasts, cause it won’t, and neither will the Leafs torrent pace. Look for them to even out, but still hold a golden ticket by the end of the season. Oh and good on Kessel for doing what he’s doing with, ya you guessed it, no help yet again!
New York Islanders- Expected to be somewhat bottom-feeders again. They are proving that their recipe of young talent might be ready to come out of the oven earlier then we thought. Tavares has matured on the ice, and looks ready to be the elite player he was born to be. His supporting cast looks ready to help him, although Grabner hasn’t got going yet. And if Montoya is a legitimate solution, they may find themselves in the hunt come April.
Detroit- The only other undefeated team in the league. I know they’ve only played four games, but in those four games they’ve only given up 5 goals! Pretty impressive! But that’s what they’re going to have to be if they want to hold on to first in that division.
Colorado- They lost their first game to undefeated Detroit, then won five straight! They are rolling right now, albeit over weaker teams, but with Vancouver playing like shit, the division is theirs to lose. And it’s almost making Varlamov look like he’s worth his off-season price tag. Almost. They will definitely even out though when they start playing tougher teams. Can Duchene pick up the slack?
Dallas- Going 5-1 to start the season is really good for any team. Going 5-1 after losing your franchise star centre man in the off-season is amazing! Also considering Let-emin-in is only masquerading as an A-1 goalie. Jamie Benn is the cog that’s turning this wheel, and he could spin them right into the playoffs, but it’s not going to be easy considering their division.
Anaheim- Hiller is back, the best line in hockey isn’t. But it doesn’t matter; they’ve quacked their way to a 4-1 record. All I can say is when the big three get going, look out!
Right where they should be
Pittsburgh- No Crosby, no Malkin, no problem! They did it last year, they’ll do it again. 5-2-2 and fighting for the division lead is right were they should be.
Buffalo- Off to the great start a lot of us saw coming. Miller is back, and they are for real. Might have a little trouble with the divisional games down the stretch, but should still take the division.
New Jersey- They win one, they lose one, they pull two more out in shootouts. I think that’s how it’s going to be for Jersey this year, scratching and clawing for their points.
New York Rangers- I think the Rangers are in the same boat, a lot of close games decided in overtimes and shootouts.
Carolina- 3-2-1 start, middle of the road, will be fighting in April.
Florida- Playing .500 hockey actually isn’t bad for Florida. But they’d be better off tanking and getting another top pick.
Ottawa- Alfie still has something in the tank, and that’s great to see. And Ottawa is doing the right thing by keeping him around until he’s ready to retire, as a Sen (and not pulling a Sundin). But in reality, they’re like the Leafs 3 years ago. Let your captain retire gracefully, sell off your aging assets for picks (Spezza etc.), suck it up, and take a high first round pick.
Winnipeg- Bottom in the conference, they might as well make themselves at home… in their new home.
Chicago- Right where they should be, fighting for the lead in the Central division. I expect a bounce back season from their matured core.
Los Angeles- They will be in a three-horse race to win the best, most competitive division in hockey (with a serious nod to the Atlantic division). And that’s right where they are now, with Dallas taking San Jose’s spot as the third horse. Kopitar is the real deal and will lead this team into the playoffs while finishing in the top 10 in scoring. But to be a serious cup contender they need Doughty to return to top form. The guy holds out of training camp and preseason for more cash, shows up rusty as hell, plays 4 games (badly) registering one point, gets hurt, and finishes with a minus one. What was he doing all month leading up to the season? Watching Sports Centre and eating Kraft dinner? Somebody needs to give his head a shake!
Minny- 3-2-2 after their first seven. The Wild are a mediocre team even with Heatley, and will probably be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Edmonton- Same situation as Minny, but with 10x the potential.
Calgary- Five points from six games is more than I expected, and it’s still below .500. Look for another big shakeup anytime before trade deadline.
Phoenix- Same as Calgary, they’re doing the best with what they have. It’s funny how one player can make such a big difference…
Did the season start yet?
Boston- Can you say hang over? They need to put the champagne down and start playing hockey again. Which I think they will, and I think they will still finish 2nd in Northeast and make the playoffs. But there will not be another parade in Bean town.
Tampa Bay- I can understand the fatigue that comes with going deep into the playoffs for guys like, Rolly, Marty, and Vinny. But guys like Stamkos and Hedman should be energized after getting a real good sniff last year. Anyway, anything but 2nd in the division for these guys is unacceptable.
Montreal- I didn’t expect great things from the Habs this year, in fact I had them middle of the pack. Currently they are sitting in the basement though, where I don’t think they belong. But with a battered defense corps they seem to be taking on a lot of water, and it might be sink or swim time soon if they can’t right the ship.
Vancouver- I think they are still walking down the boulevard of broken dreams. Picking up the pieces from last seasons loss, literally. I think Vancouver will be ok though, both the team and the city. The Sedins will be up to their usual tricks again, and they will finish with a high seed going into the playoffs. I still can’t figure out how the Sedins get away with their two-man cycle though. Like if one of them has the puck, guard the other one! Especially if it’s Daniel (the shooter). But anyway its fun to watch the creativity. The only question mark is Luongo. But again, no parade here.
San Jose- Who spiked the punch? All 4 teams that went deep into the playoffs last year seem to have Stanley Cup hangovers. They are all off to sluggish starts this season, and worst of all is San Jose. Not only do they have the worst record of the 4, they are the best team of the four. Hopefully Havlat’s debut can turn things around for them, because they are in a division that leaves bad teams in the dust.
Nashville- I expected Nashville to have a winning record now and in April, with a playoff spot to go with it. I also expected Rinne to be a Vezina contender. They’re going to have to get better real fast. There are no guarantees for bubble teams.
St. Louis- Another team I expected to be above .500. Some say it’s still early, I say it’s never too early to win. And win they must. They’re not good enough to coast.
Columbus- Six straight winless games. Only winless team in the league. It leaves Columbus fans asking, “Is it too late to renege on the Carter trade?”