NHL At The All-Star Break
by Josh Birkhead
he NHL is now on its annual leave (how fast has that gone), while we gear up to marvel at the skills challenge and admire the stars on show in the big game, now is a good time to take stock of where the big surprises and major disappointments are in the league.
We have to start off with the Nashville Predators. Now I am in no way suggesting that I believed they would be bottom feeders in the league, but I certainly wouldn’t have placed them above the Blackhawks and Blues at this stage in the season. They do have some very nice pieces in Weber and Neal, but the emergence of rookie Forsberg has really helped tip these Predators into an elite group. I believe the Blackhawks will really hunt them down after the break to try and secure home ice in the first round of the playoffs, but I think the Preds get that honour by a sniff.
End of Season prediction = 1st in the Central
New York Islanders
Hands up if you thought at the beginning of the year they would be above the star studded Penguins and last year’s finalist Rangers? If you did, great guess, but I wasn’t with you. Perpetual league bottom feeders the Islanders have found an identity and are handing it to some of the better teams in the league. How? Puck Posession. They lead the league in this underrated but very important stat. John Tavares is becoming the star his team need him to become, ranking top 10 among forwards for goals created, along with the fantastic additions of very solid blue liners, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk.
Can they finish off the season as strong as they started? I hope so, its sure nice to see new faces mixing it up with the big boys.
End of Season Prediction = 2nd in the Metropolitan
Wow. This really isn’t the season they had in mind. The Wild do play in a ridiculously stacked Central, but they plain and simple haven’t been up to scratch. The players very nearly got Mike Yeo his marching orders and star forward Zach Parise has to deal with not only his fathers passing but playing on a team he claims is “easy to play against”. I would like to say he’s exaggerating, but then I would be lying. They lost 12 of 14 recently and really seem to not understand how to hustle for each other or actually practice with any intensity. They can and should turn things around; they will not make the playoffs but bringing a bit of respectability to the Twin City may be a good starting point.
End of Season Prediction = 7th in the Central
This team is good! I am not telling you anything you don’t already know, but lets just reiterate, this team is good! 31-10-6 good. The Blackhawks have been the best defensively and the Lighting have lit the lamp more than anyone in the league, but the Ducks have the best asset – knowing how to win the most in the league. They are 19-0-6 in one goal games this season, which quite simply is a team that knows how to get ahead and control a game to the end.
The Ducks just prove you do not have to be a team that does anything jaw-dropping; just knowing how to get the job done will suffice.
End of Season Prediction = 1st in Pacific and 1st overall in the NHL