We've just about passed the halfway mark of the season, and things are starting to get very interesting in the NHL. First of all, the Eastern Conference is currently beasting it up in the standings and looking to take away the perennial crown from the West.
To be honest, it's about freakin' time. With such players as Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Stamkos and Price leading the way. Wait, Price? Yup, you guessed it. The name Halak no longer has any meaning in the French-Canadian hockey town as their new/old goalie has been the fulcrum of their success this year.
Price is first in the league in wins, and in the top five in both goals-against and save percentage, and that's with his team being 19th in the league in goals-for per game.
But let's go back to the offence for a second. Did anyone notice that there is a new rivalry in the NHL right now? Steve Stamkos has kicked Ovie aside and started a new inter-Canadian battle with Crosby for the top NHLer. They tied with the most goals at the end of last year with Stamkos 14 assists behind, but so far Crosby is only six points and two goals ahead of the young Bolt.
What's really fueling this duel isn't a race for the top scorer but rather the race towards the cup. The Pens are looking to head back to the Finals since they missed the chance to repeat last year, and the Bolts want to party like it's 2004 when they beat the Flames to win it all.
And you know what? There's a good chance they could meet in the Eastern Finals. Montreal and Washington have been playing very well but I still think they both lack the depth to make it all the way to the big time. Sure, Montreal got very far last year, but goalie flukes don't happen back to back in the playoffs. That's just a fact. Also, Tampa finally has a decent goalie setup and Stamkos and St. Louis are playing some of the best hockey of their careers.
I know it's way too early to make playoff predictions, but here's my pre-All-Star guess: Pittsburgh over Tampa 4-2 in the East Finals.
So the East is off to a great start, but what's going on in the West? Looking through the standings everything seems to be in order with teams who were close last year finally making that charge into the top eight. But something's missing and I can't quite put my finger on it...Oh wait, that's right where the hell are the Sharks?
They're four points out of last place. Wow.
Where, oh where has Nabakov gone? The Sharks goalie decided it was time to rekindle his love for vodka or something like that and headed east to the Russian league. Could that be the reason that the Sharks are sucking it up this season? Or maybe it's because they have one player in the top 30 in points. It's certainly not their power play or penalty killing that are doing OK. So what gives?
The problem might not even involve them but rather the conference in general. At first glance, the Sharks are a Minnesota win-streak away from falling to 13th, but with a deeper inspection, they're also one win away from moving up to seventh! In the East, the difference between 12th and seventh is 11 points! It's crazy but it's been a long time coming that the East is finally the better conference in the NHL.
That's what makes this year's All-Star Game/fantasy-draft-awesomeness so interesting. If there was a split between the East and the West it would turn into an embarrassment, but now the Western captain, whoever that may be, can draft the top Eastern scorers and shake things up. If you're not excited for the All-Star Game, you're not a hockey fan (or a video game fan, because let's be honest, drafting is more fun than actually playing your dynasty).
So as we move on to the second half of the first half, things look very interesting in the hockey world and I don't think it's going to change any time soon. As for keeping some continuity, I'll make a prediction for the Western Final also: Chicago over Vancouver in seven.
It's still 55 days until the All-Star break and much, much longer until the playoffs, but I'm already getting the postseason fever. Maybe I should start growing my beard out now...