10 Storylines Of Shortened NHL Season
10 Storylines Of Shortened NHL Season
With the 2013 NHL season just underway, there is excitement abound. Hockey fans are able to see their favorite teams play numerous times a week for at least three and a half months, with the best getting an opportunity to battle for the Stanley Cup. With a shortened season comes more critical storylines though, as many teams scramble for playoff positioning or look to make the most of offseason acquisitions. In this slideshow I'll be taking a look at the 10 storylines of this shortened season based on their impact on certain teams and races.
From rookie performances to that of seasoned veterans who made new homes this offseason, these can all play a huge role in teams making or not even sniffing the postseason. Will the additions of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise push the Minnesota Wild into playoff contention? Can Vladimir Tarasenko, Cory Conacher and Jonathan Huberdeau keep up their stellar play, making their teams playoff contenders throughout?
Goaltending will also be at a premium during this shortened season, with starters and backups expected to perform to the best of their ability, as teams don't have much room for error. This means guys like Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist to name a few will need to bring their "A" game practically every night.
Since the NHL is stock full of story lines, more so during a shortened season, some of yours may not have made the cut . However, I feel as if I made the best selections possible given the criteria used and circumstances. Regardless, I hope you enjoy!
Rookies Shining Early On
Rookies have been very impressive thus far this season, with guys like Cory Conacher, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vladimir Tarasenko all making huge impacts for their respective teams. Conacher's five points are good enough to tie him with veteran stars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis atop the Tampa Bay Lightning leaderboard, while Huberdeau's three points are good for second among Florida Panthers players. Meanwhile, Tarasenko has put up four goals and six points in just four games, including a two-goal performance against the storied Detroit Red Wings. Not bad for a first taste of NHL action.
Goal Scoring Leadership
There are some new names popping up as top goal scorers thus far this season. Under normal circumstances, people have already penciled in Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin as the favorite to win the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, given to the NHL's most prolific goal scorer. These circumstances aren't normal though, so it's no surprise we see other names in the mix. Currently, Marian Hossa leads everyone with five goals, but there are three players tied for second with four. Oddly enough, both Stamkos and Crosby have just one goal each, meaning we could potentially see a new Rocket Richard Trophy winner come late April.
Along similar lines, the NHL MVP race also looks pretty wide open. With past winners being Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry, one might expect them to already be leading the pack. However, the leading candidates right now look to be either the Buffalo Sabres' Thomas Vanek or Anaheim Ducks' Daniel Winnick. Vanek currently leads the league in points and assists, while Winnick's tied for second in both goals and plus/minus rating. If they can keep it up, these two may be battling for the Hart Trophy come late April.
Tight Race To Finish
This shouldn't be surprising, but a shortened season makes for a very tight race to the end. We can already see that now, as many teams are within four points of the NHL leading Chicago Blackhawks. There are also 12 teams tied with four points apiece. This should be fun to watch, as all survivors will get a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Injuries play a small role in teams playoff pushes during normal 82-game seasons, but they can prove devastating in a compressed season. Right now, the Los Angeles Kings' Matt Greene, Toronto Maple Leafs' Joffrey Lupul and Colorado Avalanche's Steve Downie have all been sidelined for this season. The Philadelphia Flyers also recently lost Scott Hartnell for up to two months, something that could be a huge blow to their playoff aspirations.
Goaltending has always been the main key to success in the NHL, but with a compressed schedule it's more important than ever. The Chicago Blackhawks are currently leading the NHL, but that wouldn't be possible without outstanding play by starting goaltender Corey Crawford. Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks are tied for second because of top-notch duos. The Senators duo includes Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop, with Anderson leading the NHL in wins (3) while finishing second in three separate categories-GAA, save percentage and shutouts. The Blues, on the other hand, have Jaroslav Halak, who leads the league in shutouts while cracking the top five in wins and GAA, and Brian Elliott. If these goalies can keep producing at a high level, their teams should have no problem making the postseason.
Will additions of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter Push Minnesota Wild To The Top?
The Minnesota Wild have always had talented players, but struggled to form a playoff contending team. They hope to change that this season, as they added 2012's two top free agents in forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. Last season, Parise put up 69 points while also helping lead the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals. Add that to Mikko Koivu and others, including a solid goaltending duo, and the Wild should have enough to make the 2013 postseason.
How Will Detroit Red Wings Fare Minus Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom?
The Detroit Red Wings have a long history of winning championships, though most came while Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom were still in the mix. With those two now both retired, struggles are almost inevitable. It's no wonder then that they were shut out 5-0 by the St. Louis Blues just a few days ago. The Wings seem to be getting better though, as Damien Brunner and Pavel Datsyuk are heating up offensively, while Jimmy Howard makes the saves needed. Will they make the playoffs? That's still unknown, but they're in a better position than they were.
Key Players Holding Out For New Contracts
The NHL lockout did more than delay the start of this season. It's also seen some players, likely unhappy with the new rules, decide to hold out for a new, high-paying contract. Currently, players such as the Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban and Colorado Avalanche's Ryan O'Reilly are on the sidelines because of contract disputes. We also recently saw the Canadiens buy out Scott Gomez, who has since landed with the San Jose Sharks. It should be interesting to see how things with Subban and O'Reilly play out, as both could make more money elsewhere, but are also losing out on quality playing time.
How Will Guys Who Played Overseas During Lockout Fare Back At Home?
Many players chose to play overseas during the recent NHL lockout, but not all have fared well since coming back home. Ilya Kovalchuk played 36 games in the KHL, producing 41 points as seen on eurohockey.com, but only has three points with the New Jersey Devils thus far. Now, the Devils have only played two games and goaltender Martin Brodeur can help keep them in the playoff hunt, so there's no reason for panic there. Meanwhile, Alexander Ovechkin put up 38 points in 31 KHL games. (Source: eurohockey.com) He's struggling to find the scoresheet with the Washington Capitals though, as he has only one point thus far. Ovechkin's unproductive play certainly doesn't help things, as the Capitals have young goaltender Braden Holtby splitting time with the hot-and-cold Michal Neuvirth. The result is an 0-3 start, leaving the Caps as the only team with no points. On the other hand, Erik Karlsson put up 34 points and a plus-12 rating in 30 games with Finnish team Jokerit. (Source: eurohockey.com) He's continuing that good play back in the NHL, putting up four points and a plus-5 rating in three games for the Ottawa Senators thus far. Obviously, it's too early for a complete assessment but from the looks of things some players are doing well back home while others are struggling.