By Alexander Monaghan
Take a quick look at the standings. The Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings lead their respective Divisions. While we are only at the season’s quarter mark, there are certainly some hot starts and surprises. Who of the above six do you think will keep their stranglehold on the teams below them?
How are those trades working out in Philly? Just fine as GM Paul Holmgren looks like a genious by moving more than half of his roster this offseason. Dave Isaac of Philly Sports Daily was nice enough to compare the two rosters via Twitter here and here. Nevertheless, the Flyers have a big task on their plate if they are to take the Atlantic Division for the second consecutive season. Not only are the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins tied at the top but the New York Rangers are only two points behind as the hottest, and likely luckiest, team in hockey. Can the Flyers sustain the pressure all season? Furthermore, can they continue to average 3.69 goals per game?
The Sabres would be lost without the strong play of Jhonas Enroth. You could possibly even make the case for an MVP nomination considering his recent play. New owner, and Penn State Alum, Terry Pegula spent a good deal of money acquiring supplementary players Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff to bolster an already strong lineup. These changes have made the Sabres a worthy contender to Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins. Their only task would be to fight the Bs (and the previously surging Toronto Maple Leafs) off which is no easy task on paper or on the ice. Do you think the Sabres can fend them off?
What else can you say about the Washington Capitals? They are dynamic to watch and seem to dominate their opponents when on their game. However, they sometimes play without any drive which has led to numerous premature playoff exits and coach Bruce Boudreau’s job scrutiny for a number of years. Currently the team is deadlocked with the surprising Florida Panthers for the Division lead. In addition, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been hot as of late and only sit one point back in the standings. Can the Caps offensive firepower keep them in the lead over the next three quarters of the season?
The Blackhawks look like the team that won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago. This roster has been the most dominant organization in the Western Conference and the entire League mostly due to the 1-2 punch of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane down the middle. Adding quality veterans like Sean O’Donnell, Dan Carcillo, Andrew Brunette and Steve Montador added depth that the team lacked last season and furthermore has allowed their star players to score goals opposed to doing everything. It doesn’t look like anything will stop them now although you can never count the Detroit Red Wings out. For that matter, the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues will make it that much tougher for the Blackhawks to run away with the Division.
Who are these Minnesota Wild and what have they done with the mediocre, top-heavy team of last season? Coach Mike Yeo has given this group a sign of life, leading them back to their defensive minded tendencies that worked under former head coach Jacques Lemaire. The team’s 1.90 GAA has been their main strength with both Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom standing on their respective heads in the early going. Will they be able to keep up this elite level of play and fend off the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks?
Los Angeles Kings
For years now the Kings have been expected to top the Pacific Division but the San Jose Sharks have been a worthy adversary. This season is no different with the Sharks, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes all within two points. Bringing up the rear is the surprisingly bad Anaheim Ducks who simply should not be counted out due to their offensive weapons. Regardless, the Kings have played very well as Anze Kopitar turns into a superstar and new additions Mike Richards and Simon Gagne fit in perfectly. However, just like last season and the season before that it will be a brutal battle to the finish.
Are these guys contenders or pretenders? Take the vote below and tell us what you think the standings will look like at seasons’s end!