Now that all the festivities and fun is over, it’s time to put the focus back on the regular season and playoff contentions. With teams having pretty much a week of relaxation, clubs are now getting ready to finish the seasons on high notes. Of the 30 teams in the NHL there are two particular teams that I see that will benefit the most now that the break is over, and these teams have had a little time to rest. On the contrary there are teams that I believe will suffer now that the break is over.
In the Eastern Conference our beloved Florida Panthers seem to be getting healthy forwards back and ready to sprint this last half of the race. This is why I believe they’re the team in the Eastern Conference that will benefit the most now that the break is over. Sean Bergenhiem, Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall all saw some action before the break but really were not back to 100%, but with the extra week off we should see them at 100% off the get go. Jose Theodore should also be well rested after suffering a lower body injury New Years Eve against the Montreal Canadians.
Although Dmitry Kulikov and Ed Jovanovski are on IR, Keaton Ellerby and Erik Gudbranson will see a lot more ice time and will be expected to make big contributions, I still expect the Panthers to make some noise during the Trade Deadline. Many fans down here in South Florida expect some sort of action during the month of February, so it would be very strange if Dale Tallon doesn’t make some moves to solidify his roster for the postseason. With the Washington Capitals dealing with their own injuries and the theatrics of Alex Ovechkin, look for the Panthers to sprint ahead of the Capitals in the first half of February. Lastly, if Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann can get their chemistry back right off the bat, there is no reason why the Panthers can’t make the postseason.
With all the attention in Ottawa this past weekend, I believe this will be the last time this season anyone will be saying anything positive about the Ottawa Senators. In the last three games before the break they only managed 4 goals and ended up losing all 3. Were they already looking ahead at the break? Is Craig Anderson wearing out? There are too many questions with this team right now, and with so much energy used by the 4 Senator stars this weekend, I believe they’re going to struggle mightily this last stretch. They currently sit in 6th with 60 points but have played 52 games while everyone else around them has only played either 47 or 48. The biggest thing for me is whether or not Craig Anderson can last all season. He has currently played the most games of any other goaltender in the league with 47. I just think that so much energy was used up by Ottawa’s top 4 players that eventually it will catch up to them and they’ll fail to make the postseason.
In the West the hottest team before the break had to be the Nashville Predators with their 9-1-0 over the last 10 games. Many of you would probably think that I’d pick them to be the team that will benefit after the break, but I’m here to say that they’re the team to me that will suffer the most, but still have enough to make the postseason. The Central Division has to be the toughest division in the entire league, with Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis all potential playoff hopefuls. I expect Detroit to win the division with Chicago finishing slightly behind, and St. Louis back of them leaving Nashville in 4th. But even with so much depth in the division I still see the Predators making the postseason. With 64 points and currently in 5th place in the conference and 9th place behind by 10 points I don’t see them failing to make it. BUT with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter having expiring contracts at the end of this season, they will be seen as the premier players coming into the trade deadline and I expect a huge fuss about those two during the whole month of February. Teams will be lining up outside the Predators doors hoping to land these two elite defensemen. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers are rumored to have a big interest with these two players. I just don’t see the Predators being able to last another 3 more months with the Red Wings and Blackhawks, and that’s why I believe they’ll struggle the most down the stretch.
And last but not least I would have to say that the Los Angeles Kings are going to be the team in the West that are going to benefit the most this last stretch of the season. Jonathan Quick has probably been the best goalie in the entire league of late with a 1.93 GAA which has really kept the Kings alive. Without Quick’s stupendous goaltending the Kings would definitely not be in the position their in right now. With so much firepower on this team it’s hard to believe that they’re dead last in the league in Goals Per Game with 2.1, but once again their goaltending has been amazing, and is 3rd in the league only allowing 2.1 Goals Per Game. Trailing only the Florida Panthers, they currently have 10 OT/SO which just shows another reason why the Kings have difficulty scoring. I expect Anze Kopitar, an All Star snub to have a strong second half, and he is going to need some help if they want to improve on the score sheet. They trail the San Jose Sharks by 2 points for the Pacific division lead and would jump from 7th to 3rd if they can pass them. They also play the Sharks 3 more times including a home and home series to finish the season which can possibly also decide who takes home the division crown. I expect the Kings to make some moves for possible high scoring players to compliment Anze Kopitar and finish the season strong.
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