Nearing the mid-way point in the regular season, its time to look back at the first half of the season and then rank the Northwest Division teams.
The Northwest Division is one of the most exciting divisions to watch in the National Hockey League. It is always a tight race to the finish and has history as being one of the tightest divisions in the league. It took until the last game of the regular season last year for the Minnesota Wild to clinch the Northwest Division title, and expect the same type of scenario again this year.
Each game against a division opponent is crucial because as last year proved, one point could be the difference between winning division title and not going to the playoffs at all.
The Colorado Avalanche came out of the 2008 playoffs making it all the way to the conference semi-finals and momentum riding them into this season, but the Avalanche have not been able to keep the momentum going so far this season.
Both offense and defense have struggled for Colorado, only three Avalanche players have 10 goals or more and only Svatos and Laperriere have positive numbers in the plus-minus category.
In net, Budaj and Raycroft have struggled to keep the puck out of the net with both goalies near 3.00 GAA and have around a .900 save percentage. Even worse, captain Joe Sakic is out for roughly 10 weeks due to back surgery and has been out of the lineup due to a hand injury suffered from a sonwblowing accident.
Colorado will need to find some consistent offense and some solid defense if they are to pull back into the hunt for the northwest division.
At the start of the season, the Edmonton Oilers looked to be the team to beat. They were the best team in regulation last season after the all star game and has a very big stash of young talent. It was expected they would carry that momentum into this season but that did not happen. Edmonton has struggled so far this season giving up 8 more goals on the season then scoring.
Their home record is dismal at 8-7-3 and their road record isn't much better at 11-10-0. Young all start Ales Hemsky has only turned in 10 goals and 25 assists on the year and defensman Sheldon Souray leads all Oilers in scoring at 12 goals.
Goaltending has been an issue for Edmonton, Dwayne Roloson has a 2.62. GAA and a .919 save percentage. Not bad, but backup goaltender Garon has a 5-8-0 record with a 3.36 GAA and a .885 save percentage.
Edmonton will need to find some consistency on defense and need players like Hemsky, Cogliano, Visnovsky and Horcoff to step up on offense in order for the Oilers to climb back into the hunt for the northwest division.
The Minnesota Wild came out of the gates racing and were looking like a team that would pull away from the rest of the pack in the division early, and then they hit a wall.
December was a month that really hurt Minnesota, they skated to a 4-9-1 record and fell from first place in the division to thrid and now sits a seventh in the conference.
Lack of offense and the collapse of their usually tight defense lead to the wild giving up 37 goals while only scoring 30. Mikko Koivu continues to lead the team on offense with 11 goals and 26 assists. Niklas backstrom posts a 19-12-2 record with a 2.14 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
However, after a lack luster December, Minnesota got a kick start as they defeated San Jose, Boston and Colorado and then took Detroit to a shootout before losing 3-2.
With two straight shutouts, Niklas Backstrom and the Wild will try to climb back into the hunt for the northwest division lead.
The Calgary Flames have been on fire recently. They are currently the northwest division leader with 52 points and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. The best performance so far was their recent win over the western conference best San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
The Flames have been winning with their speedy offense and their physical defense. Currently their are 6 players with 10 or more goals and captain Jarome Iginla leads the team with 18 goals and 28 assists.
Todd Bertuzzi who signed as a free agent in the offseason has been more than just a physical presence from the flames, but has provided some offense as well and has recorded 11 goals and 20 assists.
In goal, Mikka Kiprusoff has not had the best numbers with a 2,86 GAA and .901 save percentage but his offense has helped the flames overcome the lack in defense.
Calgary will be in the hunt for the northwest division all the way to the end of the year and look for Igilna to the lead the way.
The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the more consistent teams in the Northwest division. They have in my opinion the best chance to win the Northwest division this year.
With Roberto Luongo out of the lineup and the recent addition of Mats Sundin, Vancouver could really seperate themselves from the pack as the season progresses.
Mats Sundin in his debut did not record a point, but he is still new to the team and has not skated in nine months. While Luongo has been nursing his injury, Curtis Sanford has answered the call for the Canucks in the net.
On the offensive side of the puck, the Sedin twins have recorded 79 points with Daniel leading the team in goals at 19.
Look for Vancouver to make a push in a few weeks when Sundin has had sometime in the system and starts to make some noise on offense, and once Luongo returns the Canucks could skate themsleves into the northwest division title.