2012 NHL Playoff Push: 9 Players Who Will Recover from a Weak First Half
The 2012 NHL All-Star rosters yielded plenty of young standouts and inaugural All-Star performances, including Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, Flyers tough guy Scott Hartnell and Penguins winger James Neal.
Karlsson currently leads all blueliners with 40 assists and is on pace to break Bobby Orr's all-time scoring record for a defenseman. Hartnell's career-best season is largely because of his linemates: a dude I like to call "G-Sus," Claude Giroux, and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr. Neal is also having a career year, currently tied for second in league goals with Jonathan Toews (27).
Though these surprising standouts carried out great first halves of the season to ring in the new year, it goes without saying that many of last year's All-Stars have had disappointing performances this year.
Here are the players who need to step up most in the second half to provide their club with a playoff spot.
9. Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres
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Buffalo is currently 26th in the league with 45 points through only 49 games played. Through this 49-game span, star goalie Ryan Miller has a league-worst 12 wins recorded. Miller has posted extremely disappointing numbers compared to this mark last season (and his 5-1 record for the US Olympic gold medal run), and the Sabres seem to lack a defense completely.
Teams run by stellar goaltending, like the St. Louis Blues and their unreal 1.96 goals-against average, can go far in the playoffs—they just have to make it that far in the first place.
I presume the Sabres do not want to have another weak half of a season, meaning Miller and the defense will need to start backing up Pominville's All-Star-worthy offensive surge. Even if the Sabres sneak into the eighth spot, look for Ryan Miller and Co. to make a run at the top teams in the East.
8. Martin Havlat and the Sharks' PK
Slovakian winger Marty Havlat hasn't wowed Sharks fans like they had hoped just yet, especially after getting hurt from taking a shift a little awkwardly...like a professional usually does.
The much speculated Heatley-for-Havlat Foundation has not proven positive for the Sharks just yet, seeing as how they gave up Team Canada's all-time leading goal scorer for a troubled figure skater with 15 points.
Whatever the excuse is, the good news is the Sharks are still atop the Pacific Division yet again despite an extremely weak special teams unit. Sharks fans are expecting a Stanley Cup in the near future, and if this year's bunch is the team to do it, they will need that clutch penalty-killing unit to return.
7. Alexanders the Great
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Washington Capitals superstar and apparent Russian rap artist Alex Ovechkin has put up the most impressive start to a career since the Great One himself. Despite two MVP awards and two scoring titles, Ovi has not had the championship success as Wayne's World.
Ovechkin receives the majority of the blame for the Capitals' disappointing season thus far (and failed Cup runs), but the reality is the Caps need more production from Alex Semin.
Many question Semin's interest in his professional career, let alone questions about his $6.7 million contract. But hopefully Russians will praise his Ted Williams-esque mid-career military leap once he starts playing to his high potential.
6. The Dallas Cowboys of Hockey
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It hasn't necessarily been 15 years since the last Stars playoff victory (must have been a tough snap, eh Romo?), but the Stars' lack of playoff success is eerily similar to the close-by Cowboys.
All-Star Winger Jaime Benn has had success both on and off the Internet this season, coupled with Loui Eriksson's team-leading 44 first-half points.
Despite the tandem's offensive spark, the rest of the team has failed to follow. Captain Brendan Morrow has posted a weak 22 points, having missed seven games already. The Stars are already well behind the division-leading Sharks; they'll need to pick to their defense and special teams to help make a second-half playoff push.
Besides, how can they expect playoff success with a netminder's name pronounced "lettin-in"?
5. Florida's Other "Big 3"
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The Bolts are just recently scraping off the rust from the beginning of the year, where they found themselves dead last in the Eastern Conference not too long ago.
Tampa has a tremendous core of talent in the NHL's leading scorer Steven Stamkos, along with veterans Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. However, the next closest scorer on the team is 13 points away. It's clear the team's offense is fueled by these three stars, but it's nothing compared to that Heat in Miami.
The Lightning rolled into the All-Star break like a frat bro waking up for a 9:00 a.m. class.
Besides the apparent three-month hangover, prospects Victor Hedman and Ryan Malone have yet to prove themselves because of their individual injury-prone seasons.
However, I wouldn't count the Bolts out just yet. The Southeast Division has yet to cast the vote for a Cup-threatening squad, and the slowly-awakening Lightning have the offense to fulfill the "He breaks late, everyone knows this!" kind of crown.
4. Hab Faith
To quote the recently-traded Mike Cammalleri: "We prepare for our game like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose."
There are also rumors—borderline Jersey Shore drama, if you will—about how members of the front office need to be bulldozed.
Whatever the excuse made in the first half, the Habs are 23rd in the league with just 47 points, and dumping their best player is not going to cure this nightmare.
3. Anze Kopitar
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The Kings are stuck in a mediocre year yet again, but they finally seem to have the arsenal of offense to erase the "E" for even goal differential.
It seems as if Kings fans aren't happy with the recently re-signed Drew Doughty's first-half performance, as well as former All-Star winger Anze Kopitar. The Kings also traded away top-five prospect Brayden Schenn for veteran goal scorers Simon Gagne and Mike Richards.
Though the transformation has not gone in the Kings' favor, Kopitar and Co. will soon start piling on the points to back up shutout king Jonathan Quick and hopefully compete for the Pacific Division crown and a top-seed playoff spot.
2. Getzlaf, Ryan and the "Flying V"
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The Emilio Estevez-less Mighty Ducks are in quite a debacle yet again. Future Hall of Fame winger Teemu Selanne and last year's MVP Corey "Katy" Perry are leading the team in points, yet the rest of the squad is still late to the party.
The Ducks are last in the Pacific Division heading into the second half of the season and 13th in the Western Conference overall.
The primary reason has been lack of defense and goaltending. Last season, the Ducks rode superstar Jonas Hiller into the playoffs and managed to make it out of the best division in the league—one point away from sending all five teams into the playoffs for the first time in league history.
Future star Cam Fowler came off a very stellar year in which he and fellow blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky combined for over 90 points from the point, but unless they can pick up the slack, this team will be left in the dust.
Last year's studs, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf, are nowhere to be seen this year, which is unfortunate for the Ducks because they have the ability to produce one of the best power-play lines in the league.
1. Universe Himself
The only thing that's "So humongous big," Mr. Bryzgalov, is your paycheck.
Bryzgalov has proven himself a playoff goalie in his past, posting an astonishing 1.46 GAA during the Anaheim Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup run—yet this year's performance has been utterly disappointing.
Bryz has a great backup in Sergei Bobrovsky and a high-powered offense with stars like Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, but the loss of captain Chris Pronger has left a huge hole in the Flyers' defense—for only the goalies to fill.
This Flyers squad could be one of the best of the decade, but the ultimate test comes once the playoffs roll around. If Bryzgalov can create a good second half while simultaneously brushing up on his knowledge of Asian tigers, the Flyers will be serious contenders for this year's Eastern Conference title.