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Who’s Looking Good In the NHL Right Now?

We’re at the halfway point of the NHL season, so we sat back down with Sir and Sport’s resident expert, Jonathan Davis of WestCoastHKY, and revisited predictions, news and notes from our Fall preview seen here. So what did Davis light the lamp on with his infinite wisdom and what did he predict that ended up in the penalty box? We take a look at the second half of the season for the chance the hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Florida, Dallas and Los Angeles are all right where you thought they should be in winning hockey games. What’s working for each club?
When you look at the Florida Panthers and Los Angeles Kings, these are two teams that just don’t beat themselves. In the case of the two- time Stanley Cup Champion Kings, Jonathan Quick has been on a roll. After winning 11 of his first 18 starts, Quick went through a stretch from December to mid- January winning 13 of 16 starts.  Drew Doughty’s play this season could earn him is first ever Norris Trophy and Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli have led an offense that has struggled to score goals at times.
Photo Courtesy: Rob Grabowski/USA Today Sports

Photo Courtesy: Rob Grabowski/USA Today Sports

With the Florida Panthers, you have to be impressed with their all around game.  During their 12 game win streak, they outscored the opposition 38-14 and four of the goals they yielded came in one game. Jaromir Jagr, who turns 44 next month, has been nothing short of brilliant. Florida has a stud on the blueline in Aaron Ekblad and they have been getting outstanding play from both goalies, Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
Photo Courtesy: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Photo Courtesy: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

In the case of Dallas, we are starting to see some signs of last year’s Stars. They went through a seven game stretch in late December and early January where they were lit up for six goals on three separate occassions and are starting to feel the footsteps of the Chicago Blackhawks, who are closing in on them.  General Manager Jim Nill has never been shy in making deals and he needs to find some help on the blueline or what started out as a promising season could end in major disappointment.
Photo Courtesy: stars.nhl.com

Photo Courtesy: stars.nhl.com

Washington is currently the winningest team in the league so far. What are they doing right and do you see it lasting and turning into some postseason success?
The Capitals have been a great story.  Give coach Barry Trotz a tremendous amount of credit.  This team has the ability to beat you 2-1 or 6-5.  The additions of Justin Williams and TJ Oshie, two talented players who have been a big boost to the Caps. Both these guys are on pace to surpass their numbers from last season.  In fact, the Caps have six players on pace to score 20 or more goals.  Last season they had only three players to reach the 20 goal plateau.
Photo Couretsy: russianmachineneverbreaks.com

Alex Ovechkin. Photo Couretsy: russianmachineneverbreaks.com

Alexander Ovechkin has been called a “coach killer” in years past. I’ve heard people say that he isn’t the best teammate. The outpouring of support and admiration from his teammates when he scored career goal #500 tells me that this team truly likes him, each other, and will play hard for each other.  It is so important to have these qualities when they need to win 16 post season games and the Caps seem to have it. Brayden Holtby has been rock solid in net.
On the other hand, Columbus was a favorite of yours and a lot of other hockey authorities and it never got going for the Blue Jackets. What happened?
First off, Sergei Bobrovsky got off to a terrible start and their blueline is just not that good.  I am not an analytics guy, but those who are will tell you that the Jackets run at the end of last season defied the analytics numbers and maybe it just caught up with them this season. The addition of Seth Jones should help this team going forward.  Landing a player like an Austin Matthews in the upcoming draft won’t hurt either.
Anaheim is another disappointment. Can they get back to the form we’re used to seeing from the Ducks?
I believe they have what it takes to be a playoff team, but I don’t believe they have what it takes to go back to the Western Conference Finals, let alone taking the next step and reaching the Cup Finals. The Ducks have been hampered by the loss of defenseman Simon Despres, who has been out of the line up since October 16th playing in just four games, and have been further hampered by the loss of Cam Fowler. The one saving grace for the Ducks is that they play in the “Pathetic Division” (Pacific Division) and still find themselves in contention for a playoff spot.  If they can get into the playoffs, who knows, but I think the likelihood of doing playoff damage is slim and none.
Are there any clubs you see in the middle of the pack that you expect to see finish strong and contend?
If the Tampa Bay Lightning can get themselves healthy, sort out the Steven Stamkos situation and get themselves into a playoff spot then they could make some noise.  It’s a lot of ifs, but they were just two wins away from winning the Cup last year.  The talent is there.
Photo Courtesy: nhl.com

Steven Stamkos. Photo Courtesy: nhl.com

Are there any clubs that you see tailing off and not getting it done for playoff consideration and beyond?
I would have some concerns with Arizona in the west.  There have to be concerns with the young players holding up for a full season.  Max Domi has seen his point production drop each month.  His plus/minus rating through the first two months was a +8 and in December he was a (-8).  December was also a rough month for their other rookie, Anthony Duclair who had a plus/minus rating of (-5). His worst month of the early season.
Max Domi. Photo Courtesy: tsn.ca

Max Domi. Photo Courtesy: tsn.ca

In the east, it could be the Montreal Canadiens.  Everything hinges on Carey Price returning.  The Canadiens, who once had a double digit lead atop the Atlantic Division, have gone from first in the Atlantic to finding themselves in a battle for a playoff spot.  
What rookies are impressing you so far this season?
First and foremost, Artemi Panarin.  He and Patrick Kane, along with Artem Anisimov have carried the Blackhawks all season.
Photo Courtesy: nhl.com

Artemi Panarin. Photo Courtesy: nhl.com

Next would be Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, a guy who I liked before the season. I thought he would be one of the guys outside of Conor McDavid and Jack Eichel who would be in the next tier of rookies to watch. Larkin has been one of the top two scoring leaders all season long in Motown.  His plus/minus numbers are off the charts which tells me this guy plays a 200 foot game.
Photo Courtesy: Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

Dylan Larkin. Photo Courtesy: Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

Who are some of the coaches doing the best job so far?

You have to start with Gerard Gallant in Florida. He coached a 12- game win streak by the Panthers and, at the time of this article, has them in the top spot in the Atlantic Divison.  He’s done a fantastic job. Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff and Arizona’s Dave Tippett have done great jobs with their teams and Darryl Sutter deserves a ton of credit in Los Angeles.  The Kings don’t score much.  Kopitar and Toffoli have carried this team up front.  Record wise they have been top four in the conference.
Gerard Gallant. Photo Courtesy: nhl.com

Gerard Gallant. Photo Courtesy: nhl.com

For our Colorado audience, after a dismal start, the Avs are stringing some wins together. Varlamov has been ridiculous in goal. If they keep it up, they get a 7th or 8th seed in the West, don’t they?
The Avs have a legitimate shot at being one of the wild card teams in the Western Conference.  It looks like five teams will come from the Central Division and the Avs play since December puts them in contention for a playoff spot.
Photo Courtesy: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Matt Duchene. Photo Courtesy: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Leafs were a team you were going to keep an eye on to see what coach Mike Babcock could accomplish in Year #1. What have you seen so far?
The Leafs play hard on a consistent basis.  Yes, they will have a stinker from time to time (7-0 thumping in San Jose), but you have to earn your two points when you play them.  Mike Babcock has made guys accountable.  He has made Dion Phaneuf and Nazem Kadri better players.  He is the Leafs MVP, no question.
Do you still like Seguin for the Hart, Schneider for the Vezina and Doughty for the Norris?
I still believe that all three guys are in the conversation for the various awards but, when it comes to the Hart Tropy, Patrick Kane has to be the front runner.  I’ve been making a case for St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko, but Kane has been at or above being involved 50% of the Blackhawks goals all season. That is absolutely remarkable.   Add to that, through January 12, the Blackhawks had lost their first 5 games when he did not register a point and it wasn’t until a recent game versus Buffalo where he was held off the scoresheet that they actually won for the first time when he was pointless.
Patrick Kane. Photo Courtesy: committedindians.com

Patrick Kane. Photo Courtesy: committedindians.com

In the case of Corey Schneider, he gets hurt by being on an average New Jersey Devils team.  His goals against average is just over 2.00.  His save percentage is on par with the best, but his win total is well below the leaders but that isn’t his fault. Holtby, Quick, Crawford and Luongo are all putting up great numbers.  It’s going to be hard to unseat anyone of those goalies. When it comes to the Norris, I ask who do you want on the ice with the game on the line. Karlsson, Burns and Subban just to name a few are great offensive weapons but I will take Drew Doughty.  To me, he is the most complete blueliner, right now.  
Photo Courtesy: Evan Gole/NHLI via Getty Images Subject: gettydoughtylook On 2014-06-03, at 4:00 PM, Grant, Rob wrote: LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 6: Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on during warmups before facing the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four of the Western Conference Final Doughty look final.jpg Doughty look.jpg

Drew Doughty. Photo Courtesy: Evan Gole/NHLI via Getty Images

 

A Toronto native who calls Los Angeles home, Jonathan Davis has been a part of the sports media landscape for over 25 years. He’s covered Stanley Cup Finals, Superbowls, World Series, NBA Finals as well as NHL and NBA All-Star games. This year sees Davis entering his third season as a host of the Two Man Advantage and Ice Cap on NHL Network Radio.  In addition to his work with NHL Network Radio, he’s also a contributor for The Fourth Period Magazine, Mayors Manor.com as well as covering the NHL for TSN.