Five Storylines to Follow in NHL’s Second Half
The first half of the National Hockey League season always seems to go unnoticed. After all, why watch hockey when your fantasy football league’s title is on the line? But now that football season is coming to an end and the NHL’s annual All-Star Game is in the books, it is time to turn our attention to the second half of the NHL season. With playoff hockey in sight, here are five storylines to watch for.
What Will Come of John Scott?
Most sports fans have probably heard the name John Scott at least once this past weekend. After a social media campaign led to him being voted as a captain in the NHL All-star game, Scott, a longtime enforcer with a mere five goals in nine seasons in the NHL, was the All-Star game MVP. This comes despite the fact that he currently plays for the minor league affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.
Despite being ridiculed for playing in the game, Scott stole the show in what proved to be a certainly memorable All-Star game. The question is, after his MVP performance, whether Scott will continue to reside in the minors. Scott will never receive this amount of national attention again, but it’s hard to imagine this will be the last we see of him. If Scott does get called up at some point this year, expect him to generate a lot of buzz in NHL arenas.
Keep an Eye on the Rookies
This year’s rookie class is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. Chicago’s Artemi Panarin leads all rookies with 17 goals and 46 total points, and would likely win the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today. Other notable rookies include, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings. Eichel, the number two pick in last year’s draft, is already the go-to scorer for Buffalo. Larkin, at only 19 years of age, made his first All-Star appearance this year. To add to the excitement of this year’s rookie class, last year’s number one overall pick, Connor McDavid returned from injury this week. It appears that the rookies are no longer the future - they are the present.
Surging Stanley Cup Contenders
There are a few teams who will look to continue their impressive play from before the All-Star break. Despite dropping three out of their last four games, the heralded Chicago Blackhawks rode a recent 12 game winning streak to take hold of the top seed in the West. Their counterpart in last year’s finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, have been on a tear of their own. After a lackluster start, the Lightning won eight of their last ten before the break and they are now back in the playoff picture.
Two other teams worth mentioning are the Florida Panthers and the San Jose Sharks. The Panthers have won an Eastern Conference leading 19 games since the start of December, while the Sharks have gone their last ten games without a regulation loss. Will these four teams stay hot in the second half of the season, or will another group of teams emerge as the playoffs near?
The Return of Carey Price
The Montreal Canadiens stormed out of the gate with nine straight wins to start the year. Since then, they’ve been in free-fall; they wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended today.
The only solace Habs fans can take is that their mid-season slump has occurred without Carey Price, who is the team’s starting goaltender and the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player. Montreal sits a mere three points out of the 8 seed as of today, so they’re certainly not out of the picture. The problem, however, is that Price’s return from a lower-body injury will now be later than anticipated, possibly not until early March. When healthy, Price makes the Canadiens a formidable Stanley Cup contender. But the longer he remains out, the tougher it will be for the Canadiens to make up lost ground.
Will Washington Finally Capitalize?
After years of agonizing playoff defeats, the Washington Capitals must feel like this is finally their year. The Capitals are first in the league in goals per game and second in goals against, which bodes extremely well for future success. The last five Stanley Cup champions all ranked no worse than second in goals against, while the last team to rank in the top two in both goal scoring and goals against was the 2012 Blackhawks, who are considered one of the best teams of the last decade.
The problem for Washington will be exorcising those playoff demons. In recent years, the Capitals have been the top seed twice and were upset both times. That being said, the Capitals have not been this talented on both ends of the ice. Everyone is obviously aware of Alex Ovechkin, but the key for the Capitals will be for goalie Braden Holtby, the leader in wins as a goalie, to continue playing at a first rate level.
Of all the storylines to watch in the second half of the season, Ovechkin and the Capitals quest for their first Cup trumps all.
Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report (http://img.bleacherreport.net/img/slides/photos/003/117/710/hi-res-166519528_crop_north.jpg?w=630&h=420&q=75)