NHL Season: Tight Schedule, Tighter Races
The NHL season is a month-and-a-half old, moving along quickly and already presenting some suprises.
However, the Lightning and GM Steve Yzerman must now overcome the loss of star Steven Stamkos to a broken leg. Stamkos could be out for three months, and he may not be able to play in the Olympics.
The rest of the East is bunched up, with another suprise, the Washington Capitals, leading the Metropolitan Division. Russian dynamo Alex Ovechkin has been on fire, and the Caps just finished a weekend where they swept the Red Wings and Blues.
The East will probably come down to the final week to decide eight teams for the playoffs. If the Lighning and Capitals keep up the pace, there won't be enough room for all of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Montréal, Toronto, the Rangers, Carolina, and defending conference champion Boston. One big slip-up before or after the Olympic break, and one or two of these teams could be setting tee times earlier than they expected.
Chicago is the champ until someone comes along and takes it away from them, and with players like Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford, and Jonathon Toews, it won't be easy. San José, Colorado, Phoenix, and Minnesota can contend while St. Louis is a legitimate dark horse to win the Cup. 2012's Stanley Cup champion the Los Angeles Kings were struggling without star goalie Jonathan Quick, but they just conquered the New York area, sweeping the Islanders, Devils, and Rangers in that order.
Remember, when the Kings won it all two years ago, they came for the eighth seed, and when Quick is healthy, they can beat anyone, anywhere, anytime.
With a two-week break in February to accommodate the Sochi Olympics, the NHL has assembled a compressed schedule for a second consecutive season. If there was one benefit to the lockout-shortened, January-to-April sprint that was the last campaign, it's that the players are more accustomed to the clusters of games that seem to blur past them like the scenery during a luge run.
This week's menu features Boston visiting the Rangers on Tuesday, Pittsburgh going to Washington on Wednesday, and the Blues traveling to Boston to clash with the Bruins on Thursday. Find a station and tune in. You won't regret it.