Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Biggest Surprises of the Season

Crosby-less Penguins
The Penguins lost Sidney Crosby to concussion last season. It was surprising enough that he missed a significant amount of last season. Heading into the 11-12 campaign, I was looking forward to watching the league's most dominant player back in action. When asked whether Crosby would play at all this season, I said I would eat my shirt if he didn't.

Well, thankfully Crosby played a whopping eight games in November/December this season before leaving again with concussion symptoms. Concerning news for the Penguins, considering he didn't suffer any sort of head hit in those eight games. Since then, Crosby's progress has been a flatline.

Even with Crosby occasionally skating with the team, I hold out little hope for his return this season. The Penguins realize that Crosby could be the best player the NHL has seen since Gretzky and are not likely to rush him back when his injury seems to be so fragile. Compile this with the equally shocking news that the Penguins have been dominant without Crosby, thanks in part to outstanding seasons by Evgeni Malkin, James Neal (I bet Nieuwendyk is now seeing why everyone laughed at his trade last season), and Marc-Andre Fleury.

If Crosby DOES return for the playoffs--I'm calling it now--the Penguins will win the Cup.

Complete Disintegration of the Capitals
The Capitals have developed a reputation of dominating the regular season and falling apart in the playoffs. Washington discovered that Cup-winning teams not only score loads of goals, they also play good defense. To mend their steak of playoff collapses, the Caps became more defensive-minded last season, only to fail yet again in the playoffs. It seems this season that the Capitals have decided to skip the whole "regular season dominance" thing and just disappoint all season long.

After so many failed post-seasons, head coach Bruce Boudreau was in the hot seat. After a poor start this season, the Caps parted ways with the coach who had led them to a President's trophy and replaced him with Dale Hunter, who seems to have never heard of such a trophy. Boudreau was promptly snagged up by Anaheim, who has since seemingly come back from the dead to make a run at the playoffs.

Who's in the hot seat now? The GM for making that coaching change? No, it's Alex Ovechkin, whose 50-goal-scoring days seem to be fully in the rearview. Boudreau attempted to fire up Ovechkin by benching him after a bad play. Olaf Kolzig (former Caps goalie and current assistant coach) tired to get him burning by publicly calling him out. Now Dale Hunter has resorted to Boudreau's tactics by benching Ovechkin on Sunday night. Yet, it seems that nothing can be done to bring him back to what he once was for the Capitals.

Now with Nicklas Backstrom out and having been blanked their last to games, the Caps sit at third in a division that they used to annually win with ease and are currently outside the playoff picture. A truly shocking fact. And if you asked me today, I'd say that that won't change come playoff time.

Winnipeg...Need I Say More?
A perennial doormat in Atlanta, I figured the former Thrashers would gain a larger fan following (not hard to accomplish), but to have a shot at the playoffs? Get real. However, they've not only increased their fan following (the Jets sold out the arena with season tickets in minutes), they are also two points out of winning their division and sitting in third place in the playoffs.

Looking at their lineup, not a lot of names catch your attention. Evander Kane is beginning to make a name for himself and Andrew Ladd has been exactly what the Jets had hoped for as a captain. Now with Dustin Byfuglien returning from injury, the Jets look in even better position to make the playoffs. Oh yeah, did I mention the Jets have put themselves in this position with Byfuglien out for the month of January?

Let's also consider the fact that despite the Jets being located north of Minnesota, they still play in the Southeast division. It makes the teams' name seem a little ironic, doesn't it? How are they able to still have a shot at the playoffs? Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's because the crowd shouts like they're trying to bring down the walls of Jericho every home game. All I know is, if the Jets DO happen to pull off the unthinkable and finish third in the East, no one will want to be the sixth seed.

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