Signs of life
The holiday season means different things to people everywhere. For NHL veterans like
Blake can only hope that the first half sets him up for a better finish. Diagnosed with a form of leukemia in training camp, Blake has dealt with that personal trauma daily while scoring just five times on 140 shots on goal. He did manage to light the lamp in back-to-back games this past week, and the Leafs have won six of their last eight games to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff derby while currently in the midst of a season-long seven game road trip.
Blake's first half/second half assessment was interesting to consider when applied to other teams around the East. Think of how your favorite team has done so far and project forward. Did they secure a healthy share of "easy" points that are historically more difficult to procure in the second half? Or did your team hang in the mix while getting its game together, whether the issue was overcoming injury, integrating new players, or adapting to a new coach? Which teams can you see having success in the second half based on their current state of affairs?
Conference front-runner Ottawa seems to be back in form after a 0-4-3 stretch. Coach
Blending puck possession with straight line aggressiveness is "why we like our team," Paddock explained, "and is something the Flyers have done well this season with their forwards." While the Flyers have had a strong first half in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division, I'd offer that the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the ridiculous Northeast may also be ready for second-half success.
The Bruins stand second overall in the Conference despite key injuries at every position. They've also played the fewest home games in the NHL. They are playing such an organized game under new coach
Meanwhile, the Sabres find themselves at the bottom of that very same Northeast. Yet, their recent play seems to indicate that they are slowly coming to terms with who they are rather than who they aren't without free agent defectors
Interestingly, or maybe pointedly, no team in the Southeast has scored more than it has allowed, including the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. Currently, though, only the Florida Panthers seem to have settled into any kind of consistent identity, due largely to the fine recent play of goaltender
If so, that's certainly no holiday cheer.
As we pointed out last week, the Calgary Flames were poised for a winning trip as they headed east to play the Southeast. They manhandled the division with their marauding style, winning five-straight. The Flames wrap up their road swing on Tuesday with a stop in Columbus. The Phoenix Coyotes likewise try to finish with a flourish on Tuesday in Philadelphia after impressive back-to-back road wins in the east over the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Thrashers try to emerge from a four-game slide and remain in touch with the aforementioned coveted top spot in the Southeast. Their topsy-turvy season continues with a hectic four-game slate this week before the mini-break in the league's schedule on December 24-25.