The NHL’s Biggest Surprises at the Halfway Mark
The Capitals have underperformed and underachieved all year under new coach Adam Oates. His coaching style is not apparent in the team’s performances and whatever systems he has in place are either not working or not properly being executed. And let’s not kid ourselves here, Alex Ovechkin has been brutal. He is no longer a dominant force on the ice night in and night out, and doesn’t seem to have the leadership qualities to kickstart his team when he isn’t scoring goals.
o what’s next for the Caps? Add pieces and hope they turn it around? Blow it up? A fourth coach in two years? No matter what direction Ted Leonis and his staff decide to go in, it is obvious that something needs to change, because 14th place in the Eastern Conference does not cut it for a team with seemingly so much talent.
Currently in fourth place in the East and only two points out of first, the Maple Leafs have proven many wrong this year with their impressive and spirited play. With so much speculation surrounding the goaltending situation in Toronto going into the season, it has been the tandem of Reimer and Scrivens that has carried the Leafs to this point in the season. To say the so-called need to upgrade in goal has quelled would be an understatement. Under the new regime headed by Randy Carlyle, the Buds are playing purposeful hockey each and every night. Carlyle has developed a team-first concept that has resonated with his players and the results show in the standings. The immergence of not only James Van Reemsdyk and Nazem Kadri, but also the role players like Leo Komarov and Kyle Fraser, have given the Leafs a depth most did not think they truly had.
The question now is: Can they keep it up? With 24 games left in last season, the Leafs were the only playoff-bound team to miss the playoffs. Is a repeat of that meltdown in sight for this season? I don’t think so. I simply don’t think that Carlyle will let his team fade without raising hell. While, Dave Nonis clearly isn’t scared to make unpopular moves for the betterment of his hockey club (see: Jake Gardiner and Tim Connolly).
With the dominance of the Oilers’ young guns in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons, many thought that dominance would translate over to the show when the NHL started up its condensed schedule in mid-January. Unfortunately for Oilers fans, that simply has not been the case. Fans in Edmonton must be getting frustrated, as the team seemed poised to make the jump from rebuilding franchise to playoff team this season. Without a bonafide number one defenseman, the Oilers lack what it takes to A) play a run and gun style game, and B) intimidate the offensive studs in opposing lineups.
So what then? Do they continue the rebuild and try to get Seth Jones through the draft? Or do they use some of their young offensive weapons to trade for a top blueliner? Maybe both? Or is that asking too much? For Oilers fans, I doubt it is; especially since their team currently sits 13th in the Western Conference.
With few changes to the lineup in the off-season, not many expected to Ducks to have only three regulation loses at this point in the season. Although they have always had the talent in Anaheim, a few lackluster years have led many to believe the team would clean house and trade one or more of their big studs—especially star winger Bobby Ryan, who was believed to have asked for a trade last June. What has happened is Bruce Boudreau has taken the helm and rejuvenated the Ducks and has them competing as one of the best teams in hockey. With Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne still playing like they are in their prime and the goaltending tandem of Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller, the Ducks look like they are in a position to make a deep playoff run.
Back to behind the bench, Boudreau has recently given some of his elder statesmen nights off to keep them fresh coming down the stretch. Most recently, Sheldon Souray was a healthy scratch as the Ducks’ coaching staff recognized he wilted down the stretch for the Dallas Stars last year and are hoping to extra maintenance days will combat that in this year’s campaign. Giving these maintenance days should keep the Ducks on track to a single digit regulation lose regular season and a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
BONUS! The “not a shocker at all” team of the 2013 season
Dead last in the league. Not a single star in their lineup. Brutal jerseys. The Columbus Blue Jackets are a joke, plain and simple. It baffles me that they aren’t regularly in the conversation for teams that could potentially be on the move to a new city. Like how are people justifying paying their good money each night to watch these guys be the worst.
However, I will say these shmucks might be in line for a massive overhaul and a potential turnaround in the near future. At the very least, there may be some renewed optimism for the floundering franchise as new General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen has three first round draft picks for this year’s NHL Entry Draft—a draft that looks to be one of the deepest in recent memory. A top 3 pick in this year’s draft will bring a marketable future-stud to the city and possibly two other gems that could make the Bluejackets competitive in the coming years.