We’re in the NHL’s second half; you know what that means… a New York Rangers second half slide… I mean the NHL Midseason awards.
Look I shouldn’t be shocked that the Rangers are having another January swoon. The Rangers are like Tom Coughlin’s stepchild but only worse. They do this every season, start fast, struggle in November, get hot in December and then go on a two-month bender of not scoring goals, losing one goal games and cause Henrik Lundquist to wonder about the benefits of committing Hara Kiri.
I should be used to it by now, but I’m a New Yorker, I’m crazy. I want the Rangers to play consistent hockey and I’ve wanted it for years. However, you see the beginning to this piece. The difference in this year’s team is that I can see the drought coming but not from inconsistency. This time it’s injuries. Right now the Rangers are missing 6 starting forwards including leading goal scorer Brandon Dubinsky. Due to the injuries the slide began last week as the Rangers lost three out of four games and dropped to seventh in the Eastern Conference.
With the Rangers struggling to score goals, losing our number one guy isn’t exactly the best news in the world right now.
If think its bad for us how do you think the Penguins are feeling? Sidney Crosby took a head shots from David Steckel in the Winter Classic and then from Victor Hedman several days later and has been out since. Before his injury the Pens were the best team in hockey and Crosby was Megan Fox in a thong hot since then they’ve been 3-3 and fell from 1st to fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Same for the Detroit Red Wings; name a Wing and he’s banged up, Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary, Chris Osgood, Jimmy Howard (yes, both goalies) and Pavel Datsyuk all missed their recent loss to the aforementioned Pens and 3 of their last four.
The Colorado Avalanche lost leading scorer at the time Chris Stewart 18 games ago and slipped, The Blackhawks lost Jonathan Toews for three weeks and have had a devil of a time staying in the playoff race, The struggling Kings just lost Wayne Simmonds and have been banged up all year, Montreal… IT AINT SAFE PLAYIN HOCKEY I TELLS YA!!!
Fact is if you can stay healthy then you’re hard to beat. Philadelphia, Vancouver and Tampa Bay are all examples that if you stay healthy you stay on top. Right now it’s a toss up between the Canucks and the Flyers for the title of best team in the league. I got a front row look of each team last week as each of them faced the Rangers and I really like the Flyers.
Granted there are goaltending issues (It’s Philly there’s always goaltending issues) but the team they have is loaded with guys all playing their best hockey. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and company are leading a balanced attack that could get better when Chris Pronger returns. They’re proving that last season’s cup run was no joke and that getting back there and winning is all that’s on their mind.
I do not doubt the Canucks at all though, not with Daniel and Henrik Sedin playing at a high level and Ryan Kesler scoring goals like crazy. The Sedins are in the top five in scoring and Kesler is number five in the leagues with 25 goals. What does worry me about them is Roberto Luongo tends to give up a few softies in goal. Luongo was the reason that the Canucks lost their Western Semifinals series versus the Blackhawks last year in one of his worst stretches ever. So to say everyone is a little worried about him possibly sliding back into that form is like saying the Trail Blazers are a little worried bout their entire lineup being injured (Sorry Marcus Camby).
Then there’s Tampa freaking Bay in third place in East (thank you Washington slump in late December.). They couldn’t stop a goal from going in until they acquired 41 year-old Dwayne Roloson, and outside of Ryan Malone, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos they have gotten NOTHING from anyone. However, the guys have all been healthy outside of Vinny Lecavalier (not that it matters because he’s been dead weight.), and Simon Gagne (which doesn’t matter because no one expected him to play more than 50 games anyway.) and they have played consistent hockey and have played within their skill set. No one is being asked to go out of his way to do things that they can’t do and it’s worked.
Stamkos has returned to form after a quick start and slow stretch in December and has returned to the MVP that I thought was all but guaranteed in November. If the Lightning are going to be active in the trade market then he should be getting some help to move him closer to the Hart trophy and the Lightning to the playoffs.
Speaking of awards at the mid-way point who has the upper hand in the most of the major honors in the league? Well…
Hart Trophy- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Now you know I love Stamkos, and I have been watching the Sedin twins, but none of them had a 25 game point scoring streak and had 49 points during the streak. Without Crosby the Pens are a totally different team and it shows. If they want to win it all they need Sid the Kid at 100% and nothing less.
My Bad: Stamkos, both Sedins and St. Louis
Norris Trophy- Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers
Ok, so Lidstrom might win the thing, but how about the job big buff has done in going back to his natural position in Atlanta? He’s got 41 points, which is second amongst defensemen, and he’s brought the Thrashers alive with his toughness and energy. I actually want to watch a Thrashers game now just because of him (well him and Evander Kane, just saying.).
My Bad: Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Kris Letang
Vezina Trophy- Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
So much for Tuukka Rask taking his job. That’s not happening with Thomas leading the league in GAA and save percentage and is fourth in wins. Because of him the B’s are sitting pretty in second place in the East.
My Bad: Henrik Lundquist, Jonas Hiller and Carey Price
Calder Trophy- Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes
So right at the end of October the Hurricanes come to the Garden and from what I remember from last year I’m thinking this is an easy win. Then comes this Jeff Skinner kid with a three-point game that totally kills us and leaves me stunned. I’m thinking that was a fluke… yeah, um, no.
He leads all rookies in points, second in goals to San Jose’s Logan Couture and looks like a great number two to Eric Staal. I guess I was looking at a sign of things to come.
(Side note: I really like this year’s class of rookie forwards. There’s Skinner, Derek Stepan, Couture, Taylor Hall and Brian Bickell and they all look good. For years the young defensemen have bean all of the rage in the league and maybe starting with this class the scorers might catch up with them soon.)
My Bad: Stepan, Couture and Hall.
Jack Adams Trophy- Guy Boucher
Yeah Peter Laviolette has the Flyers in first, Mike Babcock has the Red Wings playing great, but did you think the Lightning would be in the top 3 in the NHL ahead of the Pens, Caps and Habs this year? Yep, exactly.
My Bad: Babcock, Laviolette, and Marc Crawford
Presidents Trophy- Philadelphia Flyers
Scary good. They’re clicking on all cylinders with Pronger coming back soon. This may change if the Pens get Crosby back but for right now no one has an inside track on these guys.
However, that’s the story of this season so far. Injuries are killing lots of teams right now from my Rangers to the Habs, Pens and Blackhawks. As the races tighten up and the season winds down hopefully guys like Toews, Crosby and Datsyuk get back and return to form quick so these games continue to have great meaning. Well, except for the Rangers. I already know what they’re going to do so I’ll just sit back and not worry about it and watch them battle for the 8th seed. I mean I’m used to it by now anyway.