With only two months remaining in the NHL regular season, playoff races and divisional races are beginning to heat up. There are many tight and exciting races to pay attention to in both conferences.
While teams are preparing to make a push for positioning, there are others who already know they will be playing well in to the spring. Some teams are undoubtedly having successful seasons, but not all is hunky dory among the NHL’s elite.
Even though several teams are having successful campaigns, certain superstars are not living up to their already-high expectations. Once the postseason begins, the leaders of these teams must step up in order to have any hope of a lengthy playoff run. For the coaches and fans of these teams, they can only hope that these star players find their groove in time for the Cup push.
Here are 10 key players who must turn things around soon to give their team a solid chance at competing for the Stanley Cup this season.
Perhaps the most obvious choice on this list. Ovie just has not been his usual stellar self this season. We are used to seeing him tallying up the goals at a ferocious pace, but that has just simply not been the case this year.
He has only scored 20 goals in 49 games so far this season, and he ranks 49th in points. This may be viewed as a disappointing season, but Ovechkin still has two months to pick his game up to elite status.
With his Capitals engaged in a tight divisional battle, he must raise his game immediately for his team to have some momentum heading into the postseason.
The usually electric Kane is having somewhat of a quiet season so far. He has a respectable number of helpers at 33, but through 53 games, he only has 11 tallies. When the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup champions just two years ago, Kane played a big role in their playoff run.
In order for the Hawks to be a real threat in the postseason, Kane must raise his level of play to match that of his captain, Jonathan Toews. If they can work their magic as a dominant duo over the course of the next few months, no team will want to face them in a seven-game series.
However, in order for that to happen, Patrick Kane must turn things around.
Richards, despite playing for the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers, is having a disappointing season, to say the least. He ranks 83rd in the league in points, and he has yet to live up to his potential as a dangerous, dynamic player.
Luckily for Richards, the Rangers will be in the postseason and he will have at least another few months to pick up his game. For the hefty salary cap hit he is consuming, many Rangers fans are expecting much more from him.
If he can emerge as a consistent scoring threat for New York, they will have a great chance at bringing home a second pro sports championship for NYC in 2012.
Although Henrik currently ranks sixth in overall points with 55, he only has 11 goals. He also has 38 penalty minutes. Playing on a team with a "Stanley Cup or bust" motto, H. Sedin must become a dominant force as the playoffs start. Far too often this season he has been irrelevant in games. When the playoffs begin, he must keep up his level of play each and every game.
His tendency to disappear in games during the postseason last year was his biggest downfall, and if it were not for the spectacular play of Ryan Kesler, the Canucks may have not made it past the Nashville Predators.
We all know what a brilliant player he can be—he just needs to show up for every game once his Canucks make their final push for the Stanley Cup.
The Detroit Red Wings, as repetitive as it may seem, are once again heavy contenders to lift the Stanley Cup. What seems baffling, though, is that Zetterberg is not having the same spectacular sort of season we have all become accustomed to seeing.
Zetterberg has only produced nine goals and 30 assists so far this season, yet his Red Wings still lead the Western Conference. The rest of the league is dearly hoping that he does not begin to play up to his potential, because if he does, the Wings will be a dangerous team come playoff time.
For the Red Wings’ sake, they are expecting he will turn things around at the right time.
The bulky defenseman was recently sidelined with a knee injury and just returned to action. Unfortunately, he was not having an impressive season before this setback, scoring just six goals and coming in at a minus-nine. Jets fans are still waiting for Byfuglien to emulate the form he showed during his time in Chicago, when he caused havoc for opposing goalies and used his physical style of play to his team’s advantage.
Winnipeg is in a frantic race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and they will need Byfuglien to start picking up his game and using his experience to help propel Winnipeg up the standings. To start, he will need to keep his penalty minutes to a minimum, something he has not done so far this year.
If he can contribute a scoring punch from the blue line, Winnipeg fans may very well be rewarded with a playoff birth for their renewed franchise.
Marleau seems to be under scrutiny every year. Playing on the San Jose Sharks, he seems to always be a popular scapegoat on a team that just can never seem to get over that final hurdle.
He is putting together a decent season so far, with 20 goals and 21 assists; however, he knows that the regular season is just window dressing. The playoffs are when Patrick Marleau needs to step up his game and prove he can lead the San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Although Semin is not held to the same standard as Ovechkin, he has still been under-performing this season. The second-best player on the Capitals has only accounted for 13 goals and 30 points, and like his Russian teammate, he has not performed up to standard.
Lucky for Washington, they are not in the strongest division, and even with mediocre play from Semin, they still have a great chance at winning the Southeast Division. If he can pick things up and add some punch to the top line, Washington will be taken seriously as a Cup contender. Alexander Semin will have an important role in any playoff run that the Capitals make.
Stewart has experienced a remarkable drop off in productivity this year with the St. Louis Blues. The right-winger has only accounted for 20 points through the first four months of the regular season, and he's amassed an astounding 78 penalty minutes.
The Blues are currently sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference and are hot on the heels of the Detroit Red Wings. If Stewart can turn things around on the ice, his Blues have a great shot at a top-four finish, perhaps even higher.
The first goaltender on the list, but not a surprising one by any means. The Philadelphia Flyers have been suffering through goalie issues for the past several seasons, and this year could turn into another nightmare on Broad Street.
Bryzgalov, boasting a $10 million salary, has been a huge disappointment, not only to Flyers fans, but also to his organization. He currently has a .899 save percentage and a 2.86 GAA with only one shutout this season. His counterpart, Sergei Bobrovsky, has a .911 save percentage and only makes about one-tenth the amount of money.
The Flyers have been cup contenders for the past several seasons, and in order to finally capture the Stanley Cup, Ilya Bryzgalov must step his game up now.