The NHL season is coming to a close (that was quick, wasn’t it?). Some teams are sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, others are fighting just to make it to hockey’s second season. Lets take a look at some interesting stories throughout the league.
1. The Columbus Blue Jackets- Yes, the Blue Jackets, the team that finished last in the West last year with 65 points. Once the team traded captain Rick Nash, many were expecting another last place finish. But the Blue Jackets have shown true resiliency, sitting only two points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the 8th playoff spot. The team made another huge trade with the Rangers at the trade deadline last week, acquiring Marian Gaborik to add some scoring punch, and so far he has delivered. Let’s not forget the stellar play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The former Flyers backup is the reason the Jackets are where they are, and some are even calling for Bobrovsky to win the Vezina (he is 6th in the league with a .205 Goals against average and .930 save percentage). He has four shutouts in the past 15 games, and has clearly taken his game to another level. I am rooting for the Jackets to make the playoffs, and hopefully make a nice playoff run.
2. The Islanders- Another team making a playoff run are the New York Islanders. The team is currently sitting in 7th place with 44 points, surprising many with their recent great play. Like the Blue Jackets, the Islanders are having success due to the stellar play of their goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov. The man who didn’t want to play for the Islanders when he first was acquired by the team has now fully embraced his role. According to NHL.com, Nabokov has stopped 146-158 shots and has gone 6-1-1 in the past eight. The team is well rounded, with superstar John Tavares carrying the team with his superb play. The Islanders are one of the top scoring teams in the league with Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo all contributing. It will be interesting to see if the Islanders can hold on, as they will be dangerous come playoff time.
3. Marc Staal skating- Rangers fans got great news yesterday, and that was an official update on how defenseman Marc Staal is doing. If anyone doesn’t remember, Staal suffered a horrific injury when a puck was deflected into his face, right above his eye. It was one of the scarier plays hockey fans had seen. When the injury first happened, I thought season ending, or *gulp* even career threatening. Luckily, Staal was skating at the Rangers facility yesterday, and skated hard. When he spoke with the media, he said he is feeling fine, but his vision isn’t back to 100%. There is no timetable on his return, but some people are speculating by the end of the regular season Staal can return. Staal echoed that sentiment, saying he doesn’t need his vision to return to 100% to play. I sure hope so, as the Rangers defense has been rocky since he went down, but I want Staal to play only if he is fully healthy. Staal is easily the Rangers best defenseman, and would be huge for a playoff run. It is reported today (4/10) that Staal is skating again, his third straight day! When Staal does return to the ice, yes, he will wear a visor.
4. It’s good to be Ovie again- About a month ago, I wrote an article about Ovechkin’s struggles. The Caps had just come off a brutal Sunday loss to the Rangers on national television, and Ovechkin’s play was uninspiring to say the least. Lately though, Ovechkin has played like the Ovechkin of old. The Great Eight has six goals in his past three games, including 17 goals in 15 games. Since Ovi’s offensive explosion, the team has gone on a nice tear, winning six of their past seven. The winning streak has propelled the Caps to the top of their division,and in third place with 44 points. Many thought the team was dead in the water a few weeks ago, but Adam Oates (The Caps third coach in a season and a half) has gotten the best out of his team, and Ovechkin is scoring goals that look like goals we are used to seeing from a player that is as talented as he is. The Caps will be a dangerous team if they can hold on and make it to the playoffs, and a rejuvenated Ovechkin will lead the way.
5. Giguere calls out teammates- Following a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday, Colorado Avalanche veteran goaltender called out some of his teammates in pure frustration. He is what he said…
“Some guys are more worried about their Vegas trip at the end of the season than playing the games, playing every minute of the games. Quite frankly, I don’t care about your Vegas trip right now”
Boom goes the dynamite! The Avalanche came into this season with a young team, led by exciting players such as Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny. However, the teams contract fight with center Ryan O’Reilly must have been a huge distraction to open the season. The team is also awful defensively as well, constantly leaving their goalies all alone to make a difficult save. I respect Giguere calling out his team. Look, the Avalanche record is 12-22-5 with an embarrassingly low 29 points. Despite the awful season, it is good to see a player still care and want to win every game regardless of what the standings say. Maybe the way Giguere went about it, talking to the media and all, was not the right way to go about it. But this team needs a kick in the ass, and stop with the lackadaisical play. The Avalanche need to make some moves in free agency and get some more veteran presence into that locker room. Look for the Av’s to have a top three draft pick this summer as well (might I recommend drafting a defenseman).
Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog…this team has WAY to much talent to be last in the NHL