NHL Second Half: 10 Contenders WIth the Most Work To Do

Matt SchaeferCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2011

NHL Second Half: 10 Contenders WIth the Most Work To Do

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    The National Hockey League has reached its mid-point of the regular season, and it has told us a lot about who really are the real contenders this year.

    Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Vancouver Canucks are teams at the top of their conference for a reason.  All of these teams are blessed with a good offense, solid defense and above average goaltending.

    Other contenders in the league aren’t as lucky.

    There still is the final stretch of the season that needs to be played though, and those other teams still have a chance to change their fortunes.

    Here are the top Stanley Cup and playoff contenders to keep an eye on during the rest of the regular season.

Washington Capitals

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    It seems that the Washington Capitals have been in the same mold of a team for quite some time.

    They continue to rely on their high powered offense to put goals on the scoreboard to help bail out their substandard defense and weak goaltending.

    If they are serious about making a run towards the Stanley Cup they need to tighten up on defense and get improved play from their stable of goaltenders.

    The stars of the team also have to keep on scoring.

    Alex Ovechkin (51 points), Nicklas Backstrom (46 points) and Alexander Semin (35 points) need to continue to carry the offensive load for the goal happy Caps.

    As long as the goal lamp keeps getting lit by their offense, and the Capitals find someone to get in the way of opposing shots, the Washington Capitals should continue their strong play and find themselves right in the thick of the battle for the Stanley Cup.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Like a lot of teams on this list, the Chicago Blackhawks usually suffer from poor goaltending and not being able to finish out close games.

    Unlike most of those teams though, no one has seen the injuries that the Blackhawks have had to face so far this season.

    Superstars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, among others, have all missed time at some point this year due to injury.

    As long as the injury bug leaves this team alone when it really matters, and they continue to get good play from young net minder Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks should jump right back on top of the Western Conference standings soon.

San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks are a team that has been on the top of the Western Conference for the past few years.

    For some reason this year, the team just hasn’t played up to their usually standards.

    Years and years of big post season loses might finally be taking a morale hit on the team, but there are enough veteran playmakers in place to turn the play of this team around.

    Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Ryane Clowe, Dany Heatley, and Joe Thornton are skilled enough to put this team on their backs and help lead them towards the playoffs.

    The Sharks are also benefiting from some pretty good starting goaltending too.

    The Sharks have started off in a little bit of a slump mid-way through the season.  The veterans should have the ship righted shortly though, as the Sharks should finish towards the top of the standings once again.

Calgary Flames

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    Like the Sharks, the Calgary Flames are another veteran team that is greatly underperforming.

    The Flames are trying to rebound after two straight one-and-done seasons in the playoffs and need to start playing better hockey overall if they even want to make it back to the postseason this year.

    The Flames have a lot of doubters who say the team is already done, but I don’t doubt a team that has Jarome Iginla (47 points), Alex Tanguay (38 points), Olli Jokinen (30 points) still on the team.  

    It makes it even better with the fact that those players play along with top goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff (2.73 GAA, .902 Save%).  

    Veteran players need to step up and if they do, they can get the Flames back into the postseason again.

New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers are a good team that continues to make strides year in and year out.

    This season the Rangers are getting scoring from everyone, as they have some of the best scoring depth in the league.

    If they want to make a serious run at a cup, they will need their All-star goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, to continue to carry the load for the team.

    Even with their good offense, the Rangers struggle to score goals during some games this season and Lundqvist is excellent at keeping them into the game until they get things going.

    If the Rangers want to bring another cup to Madison Square Garden, they are going to need “King Henrik” to lead them there.

Montreal Canadians

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    It has became a well known fact for the Montreal Canadians this season, this team goes as goaltender Carey Price goes.

    Price has been on fire with his play, putting up a record of 25-16-5 to go along with a 2.35 GAA and .902 save percentage. 

    The Canadians are a team that struggles to score goals at times, so even more pressure is placed on Price to play at the top of his game. 

    Price is certainly capable of carrying a team into the post season, however, he can’t do it all by himself.

    His strong play needs to continue and the Canadians need to start putting pucks in the back of the net if they want to be contenders for this postseason.

Detroit Red Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings  being on this list probably comes as a shock to some, but it is just a reminder that the team has to keep playing up to potential.

    That shouldn’t be too big of a problem.

    Despite the small problem at goaltender at this point, the Red Wings are a team loaded with some of the best players in the league.

    Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski are the top players on a team full of playmakers and veterans that are looking to go on another long playoff run.

    As long as they the Red Wings keep playing like they are suppose to, they shouldn’t have a problem doing so.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the pleasant surprises so far this season.

    If they want to continue to be a surprise come playoff time they really need to improve their goaltending and team defense.

    This is a team that can score goals like very few in the league are capable of, but they struggle keeping the pucks out of their own net.

    The Lightning are a team with are a ton of firepower on offense that can score goals in bundles.  They can be brought down by their poor defensive play though, which could knock them out of the postseason early.

    You don’t win in the playoffs with finesse goal scorers, you win with defense, goaltending and grit, all three of which Tampa Bay needs to improve on if they want to be contending for a championship.

Atlanta Thrashers

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    Just like Tampa Bay, the Atlanta Thrashers are a young team that has come out of nowhere this season to get themselves right in the thick of the playoff race at the half way point.

    Unlike the Lightning though, the Thrashers don’t have as much experience or talent as Tampa, which makes their run at a Stanley Cup this season not very probable.

    The Thrashers have a team that should be contending for years to come, but right now the young players need to continue to develop and the team as a whole needs to come together even more.

    The talent just isn’t there this year yet for a Stanley Cup run, but at least the Thrashers can take pride that they should be making the postseason.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are a team that shocks me with their play.

    They are a team who is fully capable of scoring goals and playing solid hockey overall, how they fall into times of inconstancy and then struggling winning on their own home ice comes as a shock to me.

    If they can become a more disciplined team, they shouldn’t have a problem making the playoffs this season in the tight Western Conference race.

    They can score, play good defense, and have a pretty good goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov.

    If they can just put it all together, they could give some teams a run for their money come playoff time.