Most teams are either at or past the halfway point of the season.
Only Vancouver, Columbus, Florida and the Rangers have yet to play their 41st game, while New Jersey and Tampa Bay will have played 44 by night’s end.
The Nashville Predators head down the back stretch with the best record in hockey and, while I certainly didn’t expect that kind of stellar performance from them, I’m also not totally surprised that a team that features Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Seth Jones is having success. David Poile made a lot of savvy moves in the offseason and the Preds are benefiting from an outstanding performance from rookie Filip Forsberg propelling them to the top.
At the other end of the spectrum, both Minnesota and Dallas have been huge disappointments.
The Wild have been one of the best possession teams in the league all season but have been sewered by dreadful goaltending and, although it’s not his fault, I can’t imagine coach Mike Yeo survives the month.
In Dallas, shoddy defensive play is stifling one of the most productive offensive teams in the league but I imagine Jim Nill will wear that and pursue other options in the offseason.
Another team that has surprised has been the Winnipeg Jets. Despite being down 4 of their top 6 D and Evander Kane for an extended period, they are still hanging on to a wild card spot although by a very slim 3 points and, while I don’t expect them to hang on you have to admire their pluck.
Staying in the WC, you may recall that I predicted Edmonton and Arizona would battle for the basement but I have to admit I though the Oilers would be the better team and grab the 13th spot ahead of the Coyotes. Arizona has a 7 point lead with 2 games in and so it looks like the Oilers are going to make a liar out of me.
There are virtually no surprises in the EC except, perhaps, the declining play of the Bruins, (not really all that surprising after trading Boychuk) and the unfortunate situation surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets. If healthy, I believe the Jackets would have been a playoff team but that ship has sailed and let’s hope they get better breaks next season.
Not in the surprise category, but worth mentioning again, the Florida Panthers continue their march up the standings and it wouldn’t surprise if they finish in the top 3 in the Atlantic Division never mind a wild card spot. This is going to be a very good team for a very long time so enjoy the ride.
On an individual level, I think you have to give the highest mid-term marks to Flyers winger Jakub Voracek. The big Czech has 52 points and legs Tyler Seguin by 4 although I expect Seguin, Patrick Kane and a couple of others are going to make for a very interesting race down the stretch.