The Chicago Blackhawks are the franchise that brought the NHL back. That was on the cover of this month’s Sports Illustrated. That’s right; the NHL was on the cover, and not college basketball. The Blackhawks had a historic start to the NHL season, jumping out to a 21-0-3 record. Those 24 games in a row with at least a point is a record, and something we might never see again.
The likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have turned the Hawks back to a super power and have turned them into the NHL’s Stanley Cup favorites. They look unbeatable right now, and are showing signs of the 2010 team that ran the table to a title. Personally, I think this team is for real, and I believe they have to be the favorite out west right now.
Speaking of dominating, has anyone looked at the two seed out west lately? No, it’s not the Kings, but rather the Anaheim Ducks who are tormenting the Pacific Division this season. Star forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan lead the way, while rejuvenated players like Teemu Selanne, Andrew Cogliano and Sheldon Souray have found ways to turn their careers around. I didn’t think much of the Ducks coming into the season, but Anaheim has found a way to stay competitive so far and appears well on their way back to the playoff race. I had this group at the bottom of the west, but their stars have come to play in contract years. Add that to players finding their game again, and everything is going right for the Ducks. I’m just not so sure they can keep this thing up all season.
How about the Boston Bruins? The team so used to winning the Northeast Division finds themselves in a shocking dogfight with the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot. The Bruins have faced some depth scoring questions as their usually solid third line has struggled all year long. On top of that, center Chris Kelly could be lost for the balance of the regular season with a broken tibia. That could present Boston with a problem. Add in Tuukka Rask’s postseason history (2010 against Philly) and the Bruins have a few questions to answer before the playoffs. However, it’s my understanding that Boston is the favorite for Calgary Flames’ superstar Jarome Iginla, which could put the B’s over the top.
Speaking of the Northeast Division, how about the Canadiens? The Habs sit in the No. 1 seed out east, and are being led by a young core including stars PK Subban, Carey Price, and rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Montreal isn’t a joke; this team is young, good and ready to return the dominance to a once proud franchise.
Two teams that need to wake up are the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams are struggling right now, and both are in danger of missing the playoffs. The Flyers sit in the No. 11 spot, three games out of the playoff picture and having played two more games than most other teams. With inconsistent defense that has been leaky at best and an offense that struggles to produce sometimes, the Flyers are looking at missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 NHL season. Expect some very big changes in Philly if that is the case.
In New York, the Rangers are sitting in the No. 8 spot, a huge underachievement from the pre-season Stanley Cup predictions that most (including myself) made. Tied with Winnipeg for the last spot in the dance, the Rangers have dealt with inconsistent offense, shocking for a team featuring Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. The Rangers are missing star Marc Staal on the back end, and haven’t adapted well to coach John Tortorella’s style.
This year’s playoff race continues to tighten up, and promises to be some of the best in recent years. I suggest you keep a close eye to the ice this season.