Returning from the Olympic Break
The NHL returns to action on Tuesday following a nearly 3-week hiatus for the Winter Olympics. The schedule originally called for play to resume on Wednesday with 4-games on the slate. However, Carolina and Buffalo will play on Tuesday to make up for a game that cancelled earlier this season due to severe weather conditions in Western New York. Unlike the majority of all star breaks in professional sports which signify the midpoint of the season, that’s not the case here. The majority of teams will be approaching the last quarter of the season, and the trade deadline is quickly approaching.
- Los Angeles Kings: The Kings return from the break having lost 10 of their last 12-games. What’s even more concerning is the fact that they’ve scored 2-goals or less 9 of the last 11, 11 of the last 14, and 17 of their last 22-games. We certainly can’t dismiss that this is a club that won the Stanley Cup in 2012, and reached the Western Conference Finals in 2013. However, unless they magically restore their goal scoring problems, or Jonathan Quick has a post season similar to the one he had 2-years ago the Kings are destined for an early exit.
- Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche has been a nice story this season. First year head coach Patrick Roy has led this team far beyond expectations. Barring a collapse they’re looking at a 1st round playoff matchup versus the San Jose Sharks, and even if they happen to surprise in that series, they will be in over their head versus the #1 seed in the Western Conference Semifinals.
- New York Rangers: I’m sure I will get many to disagree with me on this one. Especially since the Rangers have one of the best goalies in the world Henrik Lundquist, and we all know that a hot goaltender can carry you a long way in the playoffs. Despite that favorable ingredient, the Rangers have struggled with consistency at home. They’ve been stellar on the road, but that’s not likely to continue at playoff time when winning at home becomes almost mandatory.
- Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning has been the Eastern Conference version the Colorado Avalanche. Tampa has been sparked by goaltender Ben Bishop who’s had a career year. However, Bishop is unproven in postseason play, and the Lightning defense can be exposed. The magical carpet ride will come to an abrupt end once the playoffs arrive.
- St. Louis Blues: This is an extremely dangerous team with unsung players like David Backes, T.J. Oshie, and Alexander Steen. If the Blues somehow can pull off a deal at the deadline to bring in a top flight goaltender such as Ryan Miller, then watch out! This club is very capable of winning it all.
- Chicago Blackhawks: The defending Stanley Cup champions may be even better than they were a season ago if that’s possible. Corey Crawford has proven that he can stand tall in the face of intense pressure. This club is extremely deep, in addition to being one of if not the most explosive offensive teams in all the NHL.
- Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks have quietly gone about their business this season with not a lot of acclaim. They’re currently 1st overall in the Western Conference. You can be rest assured that this isn’t a fluke when you consider that they’ve lost just 14 of their first 60-games in regulation time. Goaltender Jonas Hiller is an underrated and their forwards are physical in addition to being very skillful, while the defense is rock solid.
- Boston Bruins: The Bruins core group has been together for the last 3-years now. Boston advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and won it all in 2011. Tuukka Rask has developed into one of the best goaltenders in the world, the collective group on defense is arguably the best in the NHL, and they can roll over 4 solid lines which is crucial during the playoffs.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: There’s no doubt that this club is capable of beating any team in the NHL. The big question mark come playoff time will be how well will Marc-Andre Fleury plays in goal? After a horrible postseason in 2013, Fleury has bounced back with a strong regular season campaign. Otherwise this team is as talented as any from top to bottom.