Jan 10, 2002
The halfway point in the NHL has passed, and looking back, a lot of people made predictions for what teams to watch, and what players would truly break out in the 2001/'02 campaign. But I'd just like to talk about a few things that have happened (and weren't supposed to) and haven't happened (That were supposed to).
The first has to be the lacklustre play, and subsequent injury of Mario Lemieux, and his teammate, Martin Straka. The Penguins were in desperate need of those two to produce after trading Jaromir Jagr in the off-season. What they got is 22 games (11 apiece) and 19 points (10 for Mario, 9 for Straka). Even more disappointing is the fact that in those 11 games, Mario recorded a single goal. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Team Canada need a healthy Mario Lemieux, and the NHL could only benefit from having a player of his calibre in the games. At this point, it looks at though he will return this Saturday from that nagging injury. Straka is lost for the year with a broken leg.
The surprising start of the Calgary Flames caught everyone by surprise. Nobody expected that Roman Turek, who had been, let's face it, thrown out of St. Louis could do so much for a team. The emergence of Jarome Iginla into a mature power forward has been incredible to watch. Joe Thornton, second in the league in scoring, three points behind Iginla, is finally showing the promise that everyone had him pegged for when the Boston Bruins snagged both Thornton and Sergei Samsonov in the same year. Those are the kinds of kids that make Don Cherry proud to be a Canadian.
The Rangers reclamation projects by the names of Fleury, Lindros and Berard have all gone well, with the exception of Fleury's personal problems lately, which had him skate away from a game against Pittsburgh with seven and a half minutes remaining in the third, down by only two goals. Bryan Berard has still not recorded a goal, but his 12 assists and plus-7 prove that he can still play in this league. Eric Lindros has also had a minor blip recently, when he suffered a concussion while actually dishing out a hit, as opposed to taking one. He sat out a couple of games, and returned against Pittsburgh, where Darius Kasparitis hit him hard a few times, and he seemed to suffer no ill effects.
The play of the Eastern conference as a whole has been disappointing, but at least teams are starting to realize that the trap may not be the best system in hockey (I don't care what Jacques Lemaire says). Atlanta's poor performance -again- should give the team another draft pick in the top two. Rick Nash or Jay Bouwmeester could both crack the team, and should give the Thrashers a real good core of young, extermely talented players. Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatly will be named co-rookies of the year... you heard it here first. Those teams in the East that have been especially disappointing are New Jesey, who seen to undergo a Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde transformation every couple of games. The Devils sit in 8th place. Washington, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo are all sitting on the outside right now.
The hot start of the Islanders has cooled somewhat, but this is skilled team, tough to beat in its' own rink and on the road. They are one point behind the Rangers, with four games in hand. The Toronto Maple Leafs had a blip recently, losing three straight to Carolina, then Florida and Atlanta. The Leafs were in the midst of a five game road trip, and they turned it around with two strong outings (both wins) and a gem of a defensive effort against the Senators, holding them to 10 shots (the lowest total since the Senators returned in 1992).
While Montreal sits a couple of points out of the playoffs right now, they could be the story of the year, if, as reports have speculated that Saku Koivu is responding very well to his treatments for cancer. Koivu could return next season, taking the offensive burden off Yanic Perreault, who was signed as a free agent from Toronto and has not disappointed Habs fans, although most everyone else on the team has, at one point or another.
Out in the West, it is a pleasure to see Edmonton and Calgary holding onto playoff spots. The Oilers' team, lead by Anson Carter and Mike Comrie is holding onto a division lead, and sits second in the Western conference with 54 points, as many as the Leafs have. Only Detroit (have to wonder how long they can keep it up) and Chicago have more. That's right, I said the Chicago Blackhawks have the second most points in the NHL. Although, of all the playoff teams in the West, Chicago has given up the most goals by quite a large margin.
Pavel Bure, quite the best player from the offensive side of centre... ever, has had one of those years. The Russian Rocket isn't even first on his team in goals, let alone the league. He sits with 12... as many as Kris Beech does playing for the Mario and Straka-less Penguins.
If you saw any of these things coming, then you might be better than myself. If you didn't, however, then watch on, the real season's coming up...the playoff drive. Let's see what makes the list for the next half.
Your own opinions can be expressed in the message forums.
Editorials are opinions of the author, not this website, the owner of this website or any of its members.