By: Victor Herrera
Headline Photo Courtesy: The Athletic
NHL First Half Recap
The National Hockey League is almost halfway done with the regular season. Although some divisions have played out as we expected. There are still some surprises scattered throughout the league. So far, we have seen teams completely fall apart and rosters are changed. We have seen players who were once heroes in their cities, now find themselves as villain.
Like most of the divisions, there are in the NHL. This one has been playing out as I have expected. The Florida Panthers sit in the top spot of the division, with a 3-point cushion over the Lightning. Sitting in third in the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Boston Bruins are 6 points out of third place. The biggest surprise in this division is the inconsistency of the Montreal Canadiens. Having taken that hockey world by storm last year after the draft and leading the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup Run. Right-Winger Cole Caufield has been bad, to say the least. Caufield has only managed 8 points through 29 games thus far and only had 1 goal. Because of his poor performances. Caufield found himself being reassigned to the minor leagues for a short stint. I expect the standings to stay where they are, which will place the Panthers, Lightning, Maple Leafs, and Bruins in the 2022 NHL Playoff.
The four top teams in this division have completely separated themselves from the rest of the teams. The teams in order are the Carolina Hurricanes in first, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Washington Capitals. My biggest surprise in this division has been the New York Rangers sitting currently tied for first with 64 points. There is not just one reason why the Rangers have been dominant this year. This team is getting help from every position on the ice. Igor Shesterkin has been phenomenal in the net and has carried the team on his back. The young draft picks from previous lottery drafts are finally creating their footprint in the NHL. My only concern for this team moving forward is the lack of production on their second forward line. The biggest upsets in this division must be the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders. The tandem between Martin Jones and Carter Hart of the Flyers has been disappointing, to say the least. A once highly scouted prospect in Hart has yet to live up to the hype. The Islanders finally started to look like they had it figured out. They had the perfect coach and were gaining more and more confidence every year. This year has not been the case at all. Although they are still 7 games behind the league average in games played, this is because of Covid- 19. The Islanders are in too big of a hole to get out of and make a run at the playoffs.
The Central much like the other divisions have not had too many surprises. The Colorado Avalanche are in first place with a comfortable 8-point lead over the trailing Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, and St. Louis Blues. I will start with the biggest disappointment in this division. I know the Winnipeg Jets showed great life last season and they have hit a roadblock this season. However, they are not my biggest disappointment of the season so far. This title belongs to none other than the Dallas Stars. In the span of a season, the Stars have had a goalie retire, the backup goalie which led them to a Stanley Cup Final has been released by the team and the one-time star defenseman is now wanting out and demanding a trade out of Dallas. Now I am not saying this team was ready to claim the cup this year. However, this team is losing the key pieces which allowed them to find success. The Stars currently hold a wild card spot and still have a chance to make the playoffs. They will need everybody to be healthy to make this happen. The Avalanche are without a doubt the hottest team in the division and will continue to roll into the playoffs.
The Pacific division has the most surprises in the standings as we approach the all-star break. The Vegas Golden Knights were going to win the division. I truly believed the only one who could give them a run would be the Edmonton Oilers. Some of what I thought turned out to be true. It is true the Golden Knights are in first place followed by the Anaheim Ducks, LA Kings, and Calgary Flames. The biggest surprise is no doubt the Ducks. This team was during the rebuild heading into the season and was not expected to make much noise at all. It seems the past draft picks are finally getting settled into the NHL. The LA Kings are also a surprise this season. Having traded away some of their elite players a couple of seasons ago, it seems this team might have found their players to lead the new era. The biggest disappointment has been the Oilers. Oilers have dominated in the past and always seem to choke in the playoffs. They are at risk this season of not even making it to the playoffs. Covid is part to blame, but this team has shown many inconsistencies throughout the season.
Looking at how the standings are it does not seem many teams will be able to make a run up the standings. Most divisions have already separated themselves from pretenders and true contenders. Keep an eye on the Ducks as this team might get hot and can make an upset in the first or even second round. My Stanley Cup Final pick for halfway through is going to be the Florida Panthers vs Colorado Avalanche. I believe this is the year the Avalanche can get it done and will win in 6