Second Round predictions, Minnesota needs a new GM, Calgary’s got a new coach, award finalist reactions, a Game 7 breakdown between Boston and Toronto, and where do the Leafs go from here? All that and more as Nick and Connor discuss on the latest DTFR Podcast.
Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.
The USWNT won gold in PyeongChang– defeating Canada 3-2 in a shootout– and Nick and Connor are thrilled. Jarome Iginla might be coming back just in time for trades, playoff talk and more on this week’s episode of the DTFR Podcast.
It’s the best day of the hockey week! A dozen games are on this Thursday’s schedule!
We begin today’s slate in North America with 11 NHL tilts, starting with three (the New York Islanders at Toronto, Minnesota at New Jersey and Columbus at Philadelphia) at 7 p.m. and four more (the New York Rangers at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2], Buffalo at Detroit and Washington at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by a pair of Western Conference matchups (Colorado at Edmonton [SN1] and Calgary at Arizona). Finally, Dallas visits Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. to close out the league’s action. All times Eastern.
Of course, there’s also the Olympics to keep in mind. The first men’s semifinal between the Czech Republic and the OAR is scheduled for 2:40 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning.
Of those games, I’ll have my eye on three:
- New York at Montréal: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but it’s also a rematch from last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
- Calgary at Arizona: G Mike Smith (injured) and D Michael Stone are making their first trips back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the team they both spent six seasons with before joining Calgary.
- Czech Republic vs. the OAR: The top two remaining seeds are going at it for a chance to play for a gold medal!
We’ve featured Olympic action the past six days, and I see no reason to stop that trend now. Let’s see who’s advancing to the gold medal game!
Let’s start with the 3-1-0-0 Czech Republic, which posted a 2-1-0-0 record in Group A against the likes of Canada (3-2 SO), Switzerland (4-1) and South Korea (2-1) to clinch a first round bye into the quarterfinals, where it beat the United States in a 3-2 shootout victory.
Offensively, there are few teams in this Olympic tournament that can rival the Czechs, as their three goals-per-game is (t)third-best among all 12 participating nations and (t)second-best of the four squads remaining.
For those wondering: no, you will not witness any of the Czech Republic’s legendary right wings in this game. Instead of Jaromir Jagr, Martin Prochazka and David Vyborny, you should be looking forward to witnessing F Michal Repik (3-1-4 totals) and F Jan Kovar (2-2-4) continuing their stellar tournaments, as both are averaging a point per game.
29-year-old Repik’s performance is of particular interest, as he’s managed his impressive marks from the Czechs’ fourth line and, more importantly, from both special teams. All three of his goals have been scored in different situations: one at even strength, one on the power play and one on the penalty kill. He’s a dangerous Swiss army knife of a player that should be taken seriously on every shift.
The Czechs have also played decently in their own zone, as they’ve held their opponents to an average of only 25 shots against per game – the (t)fifth-lowest mark of all Olympic teams and third-lowest among the semifinalists.
That’s left G Pavel Francouz to shine, and shine he has. Having been the lone goaltender Head Coach Josef Jandac has employed throughout this tournament, he’s posted a solid .94 save percentage for a 1.41 GAA.
Mix all that defensive work together and you get a Czech Republic team that has allowed only 1.5 goals per game for the entire tournament, the (t)third-best mark in comparison to all 12 teams that have participated in PyeongChang and (t)second-best among the semifinalists.
One final advantage the Czech Republic has in its back pocket is its support in the stands. With the exception of the South Koreans, no team has enjoyed larger crowds than the Czechs, who average 5460.25 fans in attendance at each game – almost 450 more than the Russians, who rank fourth in attendance. With both teams bringing their large fanbases, Gangneung Hockey Centre could very well sell each and every one of its 10,000 seats.
Of course, that’s not a knock on fans of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who’ve had the pleasure of cheering one of the most dominant teams in South Korea. After dropping their first tilt against Slovakia 3-2, the OAR has earned a 3-0-0-1 overall record, beating Slovenia (8-2) and the United States (4-0) to win Group B, and then Norway (6-1) in the quarterfinals.
Not a bad rebound for Красная Машина – The Red Machine – after pundits were already accusing them of choking as favorites at a second-consecutive Olympic tournament.
The strength in the OAR’s game relies heavily on their dominant offense maintaining almost constant possession of the puck, similar to the style the Boston Bruins have employed in the NHL this season. Not only is this a great way to generate goals – which the OAR does, averaging an Olympic-leading five goals per game – but it also limits opposing opportunities. The 19.25 shots faced per game by G Vasili Koshechkin are the fewest any of the 12 defenses in South Korea have allowed, and he’s been able to post a cool .929 save percentage for a 1.37 GAA as a result.
Pair all that together, and the 1.5 goals against per game the OAR has allowed in their first four games is the (t)third-best mark at the Olympics and (t)second-fewest among the final four.
Anyways, back to the offense. The OAR has more than a few stellar skaters at its disposal, but none have been better than F Nikita Gusev, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect should he choose to join them when his contract expires after next season. During this stint with the Red Machine, he’s posted incredible 1-6-7 totals to average almost two points per game.
But the Czechs shouldn’t focus all their efforts on Gusev, or else one of the other six Russians averaging at least a point per game will fly right by them. F Ilya Kovalchuk, Minnesota Wild prospect F Kirill Kaprizov, F Sergei Mozyakin, D Vyacheslav Voinov, F Sergei Andronov and F Pavel Datsyuk have united to form what may be the strongest Russian team since its days as the USSR.
It’s like they should have been favored to win this tournament or something.
Usually this is where I jump into recent matchups, but I’d instead like to point out how each team handled a common opponent: Team USA. The OAR manhandled the United States in their Group B finale, dominating the game to a 4-0 final score. By comparison, the Czechs required not just overtime, but also a shootout to knock off the Americans 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
There’s certainly much to be said about how the Americans approached either game. The US appeared nervous when playing the OAR, remembering the stories their parents, coaches and just about any other American hockey fan had told them about that fateful day 38 years ago.
There was no second act of the Miracle on Ice for Team USA in this tournament against the OAR, and the Russians made them pay for their inability to string together more than a pass or two.
Comparatively, the rivalry between Team USA and the Czech Republic ranks just above the rivalry between the American and Mexican hockey teams – in other words, its non-existent. Pairing the lack of heightened emotion with G Ryan Zapolski’s excellent play, the Americans rode out the Czechs’ stellar play and countered at just the right times to stave off elimination as long as they could.
Now, this is not supposed to be a summary of Team USA, even if it did seem that way. Instead, I simply pose the question: if the Americans weren’t so riled up to play this game, would they have been as big a thorn in the Russians’ side as they were to the Czechs?
I feel the answer is yes, but the OAR still would not have needed a shootout to knock them off. With that in mind, I feel safe in my prediction that the Olympic Athletes from Russia will be playing for the gold medal after beating the Czech Republic.
With a 3-2 shootout victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the curse has been lifted on the United States’ women’s hockey team as it beat Team Canada to clinch the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Penalties were the big story in the first period, as Team USA earned a whopping three power plays. The first two opportunities amounted to only a combined two shots on goal, but F Sarah Nurse’s interference infraction with 1:34 remaining in the frame turned into a F Hilary Knight (D Sidney Morin and F Brianna Decker) deflection 68 seconds later to give the American’s a 1-0 advantage going into the first intermission.
It didn’t take long for the Canadians to level the game. Only two minutes into the second period, F Haley Irwin (F Blayre Turnbull) set the score at 1-1 by deflecting a Turnbull pass pass past G Maddie Rooney out of mid-air. 4:55 later, who else to give Team Canada than F Marie-Philip Poulin (F Meghan Agosta and F Melodie Daoust)? With Agosta firing a reverse pass from the goal line, Poulin lifted her snap shot from the left face-off circle to the near post.
That 2-1 Canadian advantage lasted into the second intermission and through the midway point of the final frame. If any doubt was beginning to creep into the Americans’ minds that they couldn’t beat G Shannon Szabados one more time to level the game, it was dashed with 6:21 remaining in regulation when F Monique Lamoureux-Morando (F Kelly Pannek) scored to tie the game and force overtime.
With no goal struck in the 10-minute four-on-four overtime period, the gold medal would be awarded to the team that won the six-round shootout.
- F Natalie Spooner was the first Canadian to try to beat Rooney, but the netminder stood tall to keep her off the board.
- F Gigi Marvin gave Team USA an early lead in the shootout by beating Szabados.
- Facing an early hole, Agosta leveled the shootout score at one-apiece, but Szabados still had to face her second shooter to complete the turnaround.
- She did just that by keeping F Hannah Brandt’s attempt out of the back of her net. The shootout score read 1-1 through two rounds.
- Having already beaten Rooney in regulation, Poulin was Canada’s third shooter. However, she didn’t find the same success, as the American kept her net clean.
- Usually playing defense, Emily Pfalzer was given her opportunity to make an offensive contribution in the third round. Her shot was saved by Szabados, leaving the shootout tied through three rounds.
- Canada’s next hope was Daoust, and she made good on her opportunity by beating Rooney.
- However, that advantage didn’t last long, as F Amanda Kessel was able to level the shootout at 2-2 in her half of the fourth round.
- With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Americans, F Brianne Jenner’s attempt to set the shootout score at 3-2 were nullified by Rooney.
- That gave Team USA its first opportunity to win the shootout. Who else to send to center ice than Knight? However, her attempt was saved by Szabados, forcing an extra shootout frame.
- The Americans won the coin toss and elected to shoot first. F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson made good on that decision, employing a triple move against Szabados to force a miss-and-lose on Team Canada.
- The Canadians called on Agosta to find the leveling goal, but Rooney was there to clinch the Americans’ second gold medal in women’s ice hockey.
Rooney earned the shootout victory after saving 29-of-31 (.935 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Szabados, who saved an impressive 39-of-41 (.951).
Another two-week special, courtesy of a trip to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Skater of the Week(s): Evgeni Malkin
Hey, so, you know that thing the Penguins do where they trick everyone into thinking they’re not very good and then right around February they just start crapping in everyone’s Wheaties? Yeah, keep those cereal boxes sealed.
The Pens are 4-1-0 in five games over this two-week span, and Geno is a major reason why. With eight goals and 11 points over the five contests, Malkin leads the league by two points in overall scoring in that span, and teammate Phil Kessel is the one trailing him. Possibly even more impressive is the fact that in the first game of the five, he was held scoreless, so he’s actually put up those numbers across just four contests. Throw in three power play tallies, a game-winner, and a cartoonish .40 shooting percentage, and it’s not hard to see why Malkin gets the nod here.
Tendy of the Week(s): Carter Hutton
I’m honestly very glad I checked the stats page on this, because I was jotting down Tuukka Rask‘s name when I saw he had actually been bested.
Hutton continues an absolutely ridiculous run this season with a perfect 4-0-0 record and seemingly-impossible advanced stats with a .984 save percentage and 0.50 GAA over the past two weeks. He’s given up two goals on 123 shots, and I literally cannot even come up with anything witty for that.
The 32-year old career journeyman now boasts a 14-4-1 record on the season with a .947 save percentage and 1.61 GAA. When the Blues traded Brian Elliott, it was because they felt they now possessed a true #1 goaltender for the future. But I’m pretty sure Hutton was not the name they were thinking of at the time.
Game of the Week: Super Bowl LII
The empire has fallen. Behold a god that bleeds.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Rick Nash has submitted his list of teams that he would not accept a trade to upon the Rangers’ request. The former Rocket Richard winner is now in his mid-30s and has seen his production dip signficantly, though some think a change of scenery could reinvigorate his career. The popular narrative is that he returns to Columbus, but I think I speak for most intelligent CBJ fans when I say ‘Dear god please no’.
Jaromir Jagr retired from the NHL and returned to his native Czech Republic to continue his career back home. There were many touching sendoffs from around the NHL, but I’m honestly not sure why considering he’ll just come back in about three years and be a productive player for a few more teams.
Filip Forsberg was suspended for three games following a very illegal hit, a decision that has apparently shocked and upset his teammates. Now I will definitely say the Department of Player Safety has been less than stellar with some decisions this year, and I am certainly of the opinion that good clean hits cause far too much hooplah anymore, but I don’t know how anyone can defend a hit as late and dirty as this one.
Rookie sensation Charlie McAvoy made his triumphant return to the Bruins lineup just 12 days after undergoing a procedure on his heart to treat an abnormal rhythm. I’m not a doctor, but that sounds like a pretty heroic comeback effort to me after literally having the thing that keeps you alive fixed.
Radko Gudas is back at the center of controversy, because of course he is. The oft-suspended Flyers defenseman made airborne contact with Kyle Palmieri after attempting to avoid leg-on-leg contact with teammate Wayne Simmonds by leaping out of the way, only to be met by a backchecking Palmieri. I am actually of the belief that this was truly an accident, but Gudas’ history probably doesn’t help his case.
No one knows what goaltender interference actually is anymore, so everybody get your licks in on that guy who always stones you on breakaways while you can.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
There’s one more day until the first wave of byes end! Get ready for an explosion of games tomorrow!
However, that still means today’s list of matchups is rather short. Only five pucks are going to be dropped this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Columbus and Calgary at Florida) and Washington at Carolina half an hour later. Next up is Winnipeg at Chicago at 8:30 p.m., followed by Edmonton at Arizona acting as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.
Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Vegas.
You’ll notice none of these games are being broadcast nationally in either Canada or the USA, which is a real bummer. Hopefully you live in one of these 10 markets.
As for which tilt we’ll feature here, my list of two candidates was trimmed to one by the still ongoing saga between RW Jaromir Jagr and the Calgary Flames, who was scheduled to make his return to Sunrise today. Since we featured the Canes and Caps yesterday (you can just use that preview for today’s contest), let’s take in F Sam Gagner‘s return to Ohio.
Life is not always easy for a first-round pick.
Just ask Gagner, who was the sixth-overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – you know, the same draft with LW Jamie Benn, F Patrick Kane, LW Max Pacioretty, D Kevin Shattenkirk, W Wayne Simmonds, D P.K. Subban, RW Jakub Voracek… the list goes on to include a total of 93 skaters and four goaltenders that have seen time in the NHL.
It was a good draft class with some exceptional talent, but not a great one – look to 2003 for a better example of a draft with more depth.
By simply arranging the draft class by points they’ve scored so far in their careers, Edmonton picking him sixth is right on the money. He’s posted 149-272-421 totals over the course of his 11 seasons in the league, which puts him behind Kane (797 points), Benn (556), Voracek (539), Pacioretty (434) and Simmonds (424).
However, how is it Gagner, who provides .57 points-per-game, is one of the three players listed above that is no longer with the club that drafted him?
The obvious answer is just to say “Oilers” and move on, but Gagner’s story did not immediately end up in Columbus.
Gagner signed a three-year extension with the Oil before the 2013-’14 season, but he played only one year of that deal before being shipped to Tampa Bay for RW Teddy Purcell. The Bolts apparently never wanted him, because he was shipped off only an hour later to Arizona for a sixth-round pick.
Year two of that three-year deal was spent with the Coyotes as a right wing – not his usual center position. The results of that experiment in 2014-’15 were fairly poor given his 15-26-41 totals playing off the puck, but General Manager Don Maloney insisted Gagner could not play his natural position in the NHL and decided to trade him to Philadelphia that offseason for D Nicklas Grossmann and D Chris Pronger – who, by the way, hadn’t seen the ice since the 2011-’12 season even though his contract expired this most recent offseason.
For those counting at home, Arizona received 58 games played in the 2015-’16 season out of that trade.
Oh yeah, and Maloney was fired after that year. There’s also that.
And so, Gagner completed a hat trick of teams in as many seasons all on the same contract. It was a miserable campaign in Philly that saw him register only 16 points in 53 games (he spent time in the AHL that season as well), and he was allowed to test free agency.
No one wanted Gagner. Nobody. Free agents can begin signing contracts on July 1, but he didn’t earn a spot on a team until August 1. The former first-rounder signed a one-year, $650 thousand contract with Columbus, making $225 thousand fewer than he did during his first three seasons in the league.
The Jackets had nothing to lose in this situation and everything to gain. They had missed the 2016 playoffs entirely, falling all the way to last in the Metropolitan Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference a year after missing the postseason by only nine points. If Gagner failed to produce, the Jackets could easily waive him and he’d almost assuredly end up in Cleveland with their AHL affiliate.
To put things plainly, Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen looked like a genius after this deal. The Blue Jackets enjoyed their greatest season of all-time by reaching the 100-point plateau for the first time in franchise history, and Gagner was one of the biggest players. He posted fifth-best 18-32-50 totals, setting a career-high in points and tying his career-best in goals.
However, the money just wasn’t there for the Jackets to keep Gagner around for this season. For the second offseason in a row, he was a free agent. But this time, Gagner was one of the first players signed. He was brought into the Vancouver fold on a three-year, $3.15 million deal, and is currently centering the Canucks’ top line.
Unfortunately, Gagner hasn’t been able to bring along the Jackets’ spark to the 16-21-6 Canucks, who currently occupy second-to-last in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. Short of his stint with the Flyers, he’s having the worst season of his career, posting only 7-12-19 totals through 43 games played (.44 points per game).
Of course, it’s hard to say that Gagner is having a bad year on his own accord. His 19 points are enough to place him sixth on the team, and rookie sensation RW Brock Boeser is the only player on the squad with more than 30 points to his credit.
Vancouver is experiencing an especially rough patch in its season right now, as it is in the midst of a seven-game road trip (tonight is Game 4) while also suffering a five-game losing skid that has seen it earn only one point.
As you might expect from a team where 19 points is good enough for sixth-most on the squad, offense is a major issue for the Canucks. During this five-game losing skid, they’ve managed only eight goals, meaning they’re averaging a third-worst 1.6 goals per game since December 30.
What makes things even more frustrating is that the little offense the Canucks are getting is coming from only two players: the legends themselves, LW Daniel Sedin and C Henrik Sedin. D. Sedin has been extremely impressive over his last three games, as he’s managed 2-2-4 totals for a three-game point streak, and H. Sedin has thrown in three assists in that span as well.
Meanwhile, this hasn’t been the best of runs for 25-17-3 Columbus either. The Jackets have earned only a 3-4-1 record over their past eight games, and they now trail Washington, which has a game in hand, by four points for the Metropolitan Division lead.
It’s not very often that I’m disappointed with Columbus’ overall defensive effort, but for the second time in a row of me featuring the Jackets, that’s where I’m having concerns.
Over their past eight games, the Blue Jackets have allowed 24 goals. Those astute at math notice that is an average of three goals per game (well over the 2.69 Columbus has averaged all season), which ties Chicago for 12th-worst since December 27.
One of, if not the biggest issue over this run has been the penalty kill. Over its past eight games, Columbus has successfully defended only two-thirds of its 18 shorthanded situations, making the Jackets the fifth-worst kill over the past 16 days.
G Sergei Bobrovsky has posted only an .844 save percentage against the power play since December 27 (the 22nd-worst among the 61 netminders to face a power play situation in that time), but he’s also had to face a fifth-most 32 power play shots.
With D David Savard being the only Blue Jacket with more than three shorthanded blocked shots and a total of only four total takeaways in that situation, Columbus needs to find a way to get its penalty kill under control in a hurry.
Bobrovsky played yesterday to a 3-1 loss in Buffalo, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see 4-4-0 G Joonas Korpisalo draw tonight’s start. That being said, I’ve made that prediction once already this week and it didn’t pan out, so we’ll see what Head Coach John Tortorella decides to do.
With the Canucks sporting a 20.7 power play conversion rate that is 12th-best on the season, this may not be the easiest of home games for Columbus. Throw in the fact that Korpisalo, who hasn’t faced an NHL shot since December 31, could be in net tonight, and Vancouver has a very real shot at earning two points this evening.
With a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Carolina Hurricanes have moved into the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.
This was a game full of solid defense and counterattacking by the Canes. Even though they out-shot the Capitals 33-28 for the night, it felt like Washington was earning much stronger possessions and longer time in the offensive zone.
That was no more apparent than in Carolina’s first goal of the night. With F Josh Jooris in the penalty box for holding D Madison Bowey, the Caps were on the power play. However, when D John Carlson attempted to reset the play to W Alex Ovechkin at the blue line, C Jordan Staal intercepted the pass to set himself up for a one-on-one duel with G Braden Holtby. Staal won that battle, squeezing a backhanded shot between the netminder’s legs for his second shorthanded tally of the season, the most he’s scored in one campaign as a Hurricane.
Carolina took the lead with 8:27 remaining in the second period, but that advantage wouldn’t last for long. Third Star of the Game C Lars Eller (F T.J. Oshie and D Christian Djoos) was able to level the game 4:32 later with a slap shot from above the face-off circles. The one-all score held into the second intermission.
What other line to score the game-winning goal than RW Justin Williams‘? The former Capital didn’t earn a point on the play, but his protégé Second Star C Victor Rask did with his unassisted wrist shot with 9:06 remaining in regulation.
Because the Caps were facing a delayed penalty, it was a six-on-five situation for the Canes. D Justin Faulk fired an initial wrist shot from above the face-off circles that Holtby was able to deflect, but neither he nor any other skater clad in red could take possession of the loose puck. That’s what allowed Rask to one-time a wrister from the left face-off circle, beating Holtby short side.
Washington tried valiantly to find another leveling goal up its sleeve, but Head Coach Barry Trotz was eventually forced to pull Holtby as regulation was beginning to come to an end. That’s what allowed W Sebastian Aho (F Elias Lindholm) to bury a wrister with 89 seconds remaining in regulation to set the score at the 3-1 final.
While the Canes executed their game plan to a T, the player most deserving of praise was First Star G Scott Darling. Having lost his last two starts, he won this one by stopping 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage). Holtby took the loss, saving 30-of-32 (.938).
That’s the second-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 54-31-12 home teams still hold the advantage in the series, but the visitors have now pulled within 22 points.
Well hockey fans, we’re at the midway point of the NHL season. This is the time when teams either get geared up for a playoff run, prepare for an early exit, or get really nervous because they are somewhere in-between. There is plenty of hockey left to be played and a lot can happen. As for now, here is the current edition of Down the Frozen River’s NHL Power Rankings:
1. Boston Bruins (55)
Current Record – 23-10-7
Last Ten Games – 8-0-2; Streak – OT1
The B’s are really heating up, winning eight of their last ten. As a matter of fact, they haven’t lost a game in regulation since the middle of December. The offense is finally firing on all cylinders, with Patrice Bergeron leading the charge. They currently only trail the Tampa Bay Lighting (shocker… pun intended) in the Atlantic Division. They don’t play again until January 13th, when they take on Montreal.
2. Colorado Avalanche (55)
Current Record – 22-16-3
Last Ten Games – 7-2-1; Streak – W5
How does trading away a quality player make you better? Hard to understand, but since sending Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators, the Avalanche have looked like a completely different team. Their young players are finally taking leadership roles and producing great numbers. Semyon Varlamov and the defensive corps are getting on the same page, shutting down their opponents. They are on a five-game winning streak and are looking to solidify a playoff position in the second half of the season.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (40)
Current Record – 29-10-2
Last Ten Games – 9-1-0; Streak – W2
Not much to say here. The Golden Knights have lost one game in their last ten, which was a great effort against the St. Louis Blues. Head Coach Gerard Gallant will lead the Pacific Division in the 2018 All-Star Game, yet another honor to add to this team’s resume. Speaking of leading the Pacific Division, Vegas is now seven points above the L.A. Kings and an astounding 12 points above the San Jose Sharks. This team is making the playoffs and their fantastic play has them more than halfway there.
4. Washington Capitals (31)
Current Record – 26-13-3
Last Ten Games – 7-1-2; Streak – W4
Don’t look now, but the Capitals could be gearing up for another Presidents’ Trophy run. Alex Ovechkin is proving why you should never doubt Alex Ovechkin, while the rest of the team is chipping in their share. Although Washington seemed a little slow out of the gate, this team has shaken off the rust and currently sits atop the stacked Metropolitan Division.
5. Dallas Stars (30)
Current Record – 24-16-3
Last Ten Games – 6-2-2; Streak – W2
The Stars are looking solid entering the next stretch of the season. Ben Bishop is among the top goalies in the league, winning 19 games on the season. If he can continue being a brick wall, while the offense remains productive, there is no reason to think they won’t be able to move up and grab the final spot in the Central Division. They will have a tough test, playing three games in four nights once they return to action.
6. Philadelphia Flyers (26)
Current Record – 19-15-8
Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – W3
The Flyers continue to make up for their winless blunder earlier in the season, as they ride through a three-game winning streak. With the up-and-down play of the Penguins, Islanders and Hurricanes, Philadelphia somewhat controls their own fate in the second half of the season. If they play well, they are more than capable of clinching a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They still have some work to do, but they are currently playing well enough to get the job done.
7. Calgary Flames (20)
Current Record – 21-16-4
Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – W3
The biggest story out of Calgary is their relationship with Jaromir Jagr. There are many eyes glued to this situation, curious to see if Jagr has played his last game in the National Hockey League. The team has played well despite the drama, winning their last three games. Somewhat of a “dark horse” situation, the Flames are in a good position to make a run at a playoff spot.
8. Winnipeg Jets (18)
Current Record – 25-11-7
Last Ten Games – 7-1-2; Streak – W2
The Jets are quietly taking care of their business as they move past the midway point on the season. They haven’t done anything too flashy as of late, but are skating well on both ends of the ice. Although quality opponents still lurk below, Winnipeg is leading the Central Division and looks to keep it that way.
9. Chicago Blackhawks (16)
Current Record – 20-15-6
Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – W1
The Blackhawks are in an unusual position this season. They are used to dominating the field and skating into a playoff spot without much opposition, but the “Dynasty” could be in a bit of trouble this season. Just 5-4-1 in their last ten games, they are currently dead last in the Central Division. Although not ideal, there is plenty of hockey to be played and this is not a team to ever count out.
10. Anaheim Ducks (14)
Current Record – 19-15-9
Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – L1
The Ducks need to make up some ground, but they might be able to do so with a healthy roster. Their last game was a 3-2 loss to Calgary, but prior to that, they earned points in four straight games. Anaheim always seems to be that bubble team in the Pacific Division. They are currently just one point out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, so look for a big battle in the second half of the season. They face a difficult stretch of games, with two against the L.A. Kings, one with the upbeat Avalanche, and a bout with the Penguins.