A Look at the NHL at the Olympic Break

Posted: February 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

claude-giroux-finally-scores

 

The Olympic break is finally here. While the excitement of international hockey is undoubtedly going to catch our fancy over the next few weeks; it’s the Philadelphia Flyers who have our hearts in a tizzy with just 23 games to go until the playoffs.

Yes, the same Flyers who fired Peter Laviolette after three games this season. The same Flyers who sputtered to a .500 record through the season’s first half are now firmly in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase. In fact, after winning four consecutive games going into the break, Philadelphia sits in third place in the Metrosexual-politan Division with 66 points behind only Pittsburgh (83) and New York (67).

The amazing thing about the Flyers’ sudden surge is not that it actually happened. It’s how it happened. Philadelphia was 1-7 on October 18th and 4-10-1 two weeks later. They couldn’t pass, they couldn’t shoot, and their captain Claude Giroux had yet to score a goal. In other words, there was no brotherly love in Philadelphia. But, then a switch was flipped (and the schedule got a lot easier). The Flyers turned the jets on for a month or two to reach the 23-17-4 plateau on January 8th. Optimism was high until the team ran into a buzzsaw towards the middle of that month.

Three consecutive losses to the likes of Carolina, Boston, and Columbus put Philadelphia at 25-22-6. Not only were they brutal offensively. But, the blue line play in their own end was more reminiscent of midget hockey than professional. Even worse, the Flyers were about to enter the most trying portion of their schedule with a .500 record, teetering on the edge of the NHL’s new Wild Card positions.

Then, the west coast happened. Typically, a trip to California is a death blow to any eastern team. Not only does the west possess some of the most physically imposing units. But, the combination of a brutal time zone difference with the traditional grind of NHL travel makes it unlikely that any team comes out with a winning record. But, the Flyers proved their mettle by becoming the first team this season to travel out west and win two-out-0f-three in California. By beating the Sharks (for the first time in 13 tries) and Kings, Philadelphia gained confidence. The Flyers then returned to Wells Fargo Center to dispatch the talented Colorado Avalanche and the lowly Calgary Flames, two more Western Conference foes, prior to the break.

With their renewed sense of vigor, Philadelphia has won four straight and five of six. At 30-23-6, their best days might still lie ahead. With a healthy and rested post Olympic-snub Claude Giroux out for blood. They cannot be counted out come the postseason.

Other Notes Around the NHL

– Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (78 points) has all but locked up the Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP) with over 20 games to go. His 11 point lead over Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks will likely be enough to earn the Canadian Olympian an Art Ross Trophy as well.

– The race for the Norris Trophy, on the other hand, is still up for grabs. The honor given to the best defenseman has recently been more-and-more offensive focused. In theory, that would mean good news for Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (55 points) or Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien (43 points). But, don’t count out two-way stalwarts like Alex Pietrangelo of the Blues (41 points) or Victor Hedman of the Lightning (37 points).

– Quack, quack, quack! The Anaheim Ducks are currently the best team in hockey and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since the beginning of last season, Anaheim is an astounding 71-26-11. Now, the question remains as to whether or not the Ducks can win in the playoffs, as head coach Bruce Boudreau has a history of regular season success followed by postseason dismay.

– Should be a WILD finish. With the NHL’s inclusion of two Wild Card teams beginning this season, nearly every team is still alive for a playoff spot with less than 25 games to go. In fact, only three teams in the East (Islanders, Panthers, Sabres) are more than three points out of a playoff spot. In the West, only two teams (sorry Alberta, but it’s the Flames and Oilers) are more than four points out.

Projected Standings

Atlantic Division

1. Boston Bruins
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
4. Montreal Canadiens (WC)
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Florida Panthers
8. Buffalo Sabres

Metro Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. New York Rangers
4. Washington Capitals (WC)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
6. New Jersey Devils
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. New York Islanders

Central Division

1. St. Louis Blues
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Colorado Avalanche
4. Minnesota Wild (WC)
5. Winnipeg Jets
6. Dallas Stars
7. Nashville Predators

Pacific Division

1. Anaheim Ducks
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Vancouver Canucks
4. Los Angeles Kings (WC)
5. Phoenix Coyotes
6. Calgary Flames
7. Edmonton Oilers

Eastern Conference Playoffs

Boston OVER Washington in 5
Toronto OVER Tampa Bay in 7
Pittsburgh OVER Montreal in 6
Philadelphia OVER New York in 7

Boston OVER Toronto in 7
Philadelphia OVER Pittsburgh in 5

Boston OVER Philadelphia in 5

Western Conference Playoffs

St. Louis OVER Los Angeles in 6
Chicago OVER Colorado in 5
Anaheim OVER Minnesota in 7
San Jose OVER Vancouver in 4

St. Louis OVER Chicago in 7
Anaheim OVER San Jose in 5

St. Louis OVER Anaheim in 6

Stanley Cup Final Prediction

St. Louis Blues OVER Boston Bruins in 7

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