- Someone told me that the Rangers might not make the playoffs?
No, and here's why. Let's flash back to Week 1 in the NHL. There were two teams that seemed to stand well above the rest as soon as the gate opened: the Sharks in the West and the Rangers in the East. ESPN's power rankings for Week 1 put the Rangers at the top. They started the season 5-1. In fact, in the month of October, they only lost 3 games! However, in each of the next three months, they failed to go .500! February was rock bottom, when they went 3-6-4, including one loss to Dallas 10-2! March has been a rebound period in which they've gone 8-4-1, but the damage had already been done. If the playoffs were today, they would barely make it into the playoffs by a tie-breaker with a playoff-hungry Florida team. The Rangers definitely do not have an assured spot in the playoffs.
- Someone told me that Dallas would be statistically eliminated by early April?
No way. They made the playoffs last year! What could have possibly changed that much? How about a career-high GAA (goals against average-the average number of goals a goalie allows per game) of 2.82. I don't know a whole lot about the Stars' problems this year (other than Avery), but I know that Turco wasn't the same shutdown goaltender he was last year. He dropped from a .909 SV% (save percentage) last year to a .898 SV% this year. Differences like that can make differences in a team's season.
- Someone told me that the Devils would be among the tops in the East?
This one isn't so much from the start of the seaon, but from Nov. 1 on. Very early in the season, the Devils' all-star goalie, Martin Brodeur was told he would be out for 3-4 months (yes, I said months) with a torn bicep. Worse yet, no one has ever heard of their back-ups. At first, Kevin Weekes took most of the starts. But the Devils found they had a much better weapon in Scott Clemmensen (I told you that you never heard of these guys). Clemmensen was, for all intents and purposes, a nobody. Drafted in the 8th round, 215th overall in 1997 by the Devils and only played 3 games last year in Toronto. This year, Clemmensen went 25-13-1 with a .917 SV% and a 2.39 GAA. Clemmensen gave his team a chance when they should have had none.
I would be remiss if I did not mention another great up-and-comer, Zach Parise. Drafted in 2003 and in his 4th year in the NHL, Parise bested his previous best point total of 65 on February 11th this year. Currently he has 93 points and the season's not over.
- That the Blackhawks would be in the playoffs?
Yes and no. Yes, at the beginning of the season, before any games were played, I fully expected the Blackhawks to make the playoffs. They were bringing back the only good things about last year: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp. Dale Tallon was also not afraid to spend some money to bring in some players in areas in which we needed a lot of help. Brian Campbell, one of the fastest defensemen in the NHL would help out the Blackhawks on the back end. And Cristobal Huet (G) was picked up, for what most people expected to be a replacement for the injury-prone Khabibulin. Khabi would later prove he wasn't done yet and Huet would later explain why the Canadiens liked Carey Price better. Either way, things were looking pretty bright.
However, the Blackhawks opened the season by losing three in a row. I was devastated. I thought, "If they don't go somewhere this year, they never will." The Blackhawks finally pulled out a win in their fourth game, right before their coach, Denis Savard, was fired and replaced by Joel Quenneville. I was puzzled at first. "Why did you wait til he won a game to fire him? And why so early in the season?" Because the Blackhawks didn't have time to waste. If they were going to do something this year, they needed to root out the problem quickly. If Savard couldn't win with the team he had, he wasn't fit to coach them.
One of the biggest drawing points of Quenneville was that 9 out of the 11 seasons he had coached, he had taken his team to the playoffs. Quenneville managed to take the team on a franchise record 10-game winning streak and, until March, kept all losing skids to 3 or less. Q has not been afraid to change up lines when things aren't working. Then again, sometimes he mixes up lines that shouldn't be touched. Anyway, he isn't afraid to try new things, which is something I think they need to be able to stay on track. And, whaddya know, on Friday, the Blackhawks clinched their first playoff berth in 7 years against Nashville.
Now, the only question is, who will the Blackhawks face in the first round?