NHL Midseason Report — Guys at the Top and the Big Surprises

Fans have already gotten an entire season’s worth out of excitement from the NHL going into this year’s all-star break. Before the season started we all probably imagined seeing Ovechkin and Crosby in an intense scoring battle by this time of the year but in the NHL, you have to expect the unexpected.

Point Leaders

The Detroit Red Wings went into this year’s all-star break with a league leading 67 points. Most of Detroit’s productiveness comes from familiar names like the team’s leading goal scorer Johan Franzen and leading point man Pavel Datsyuk, but the thing that keeps the Red Wings on top year after year is that they’re not a one trick pony. For example, Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler have 39 and 32 points respectively for the season and have found chemistry as line-mates. The old guard of players like Nicklas Lidstrom and Todd Bertuzzi also heavily contribute to the success of the entire unit.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard has been banging around the Red Wings organization since 2005. The Red Wings have always acknowledged the potential of Howard and this year Jimmy proved them right with 30 wins going into the all-star break and his first selection to the all-star team.

The New York Rangers trail the Red Wings closely in points (66) entering the all-star break. This is impressive given the team’s company in the Eastern Atlantic Division. The Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins are constantly nipping at the Ranger’s heels.

The Rangers are being led in goals and points thus far by the magnificent play of Marian Gaborik. Hockey outsiders may not know his name but anyone who has been watching the game for the last decade or so knows that Gaborik is a pure scoring machine. In 2007-2008 Gaborik put up 83 points for the Minnesota Wild. In his first season with the Rangers he found the back of the net 42 times for 86 points. Gaborik is on that same sort of pace so far this season.

Ryan Callahan has been a nice surprise for the Rangers. He is second on the team in goals and leads the team in hits (171). Callahan is a forward but plays both sides of the puck very well. His impressive portfolio so far this season includes 36 points, 17 goals, and 52 blocks.

It’s difficult to talk about the Rangers without mentioning the indestructible force of nature that is Henrik Lundqvist. Mr. Consistency has notched up 22 wins and 5 shutouts going into the all-star break. The most impressive thing about King Henrik is that he plays nearly every game. Most goalies like to take a rest now and then but Lundqvist has started all but 10 games so far this season.

The Pleasant Surprises

No fans in the league are more pleasantly surprised than fans of the Florida Panthers. Going into the all-star break the Cats are in second place in the Southeast Division behind the Washington Nationals. The Panthers have finished last place in their division for the previous two seasons and haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade.

The secret to the Panthers’ success has been the exceptional play of not one but a group of players. Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, Brian Campbell, and Tomas Fleischmann have all chipped in with over 30 points for the season. Versteeg leads the team with 19 goals while Campbell leads the team with 32 assists.

Jose Theodore has been a crucial addition to the Panthers this year, adding some long needed stability in goal. Theodore has 14 wins with a respectable .920 save percentage so far this year.

The St. Louis Blues have only made the playoffs once in the past five years. Going into the all-star break this year, it looks like they may have a chance to do it again if they can continue to fend off Nashville and Chicago. A big part of the Blues good fortune so far this season has been the play of right wing David Backes, who leads the team in both goals and assists. Not only that, Backes has thus far this season delivered 143 hits, 38 blocks, and also leads the team in penalty minutes.

The Blues have gone to a goalie by committee situation with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Going into the all-star break each man has over 20 starts. Elliot has a slightly better save percentage (.940) than Halak (.920) but both men are playing solid hockey between the pipes and are keys to the Blues’ success moving forward.

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