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The Avalanche surprised a lot of people last year when they finished with 112 points and the Central Division title. Led by first year head coach Patrick Roy, the young Avs overachieved and made the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Avs would lose to the Minnesota Wild in a fantastic 7-game series in the opening round of the playoffs. Despite the disappointing end to their season, their was much anticipation for the future of the team going into this year. Fans could not get their Avalanche Tickets fast enough for 2014.
Unfortunately for Roy and his team, it does not appear that any momentum has carried over into this season. Through the first 31 games of the year, the Avalanche are last in the Central Division with 28 points. That would put them on pace for around 72 points and surely missing out on the playoffs. One of the main reasons for the regression is the inconsistent play of their goalie. Semyon Varlamov has been injured and missed games, but has not reached last season's level of play to this point. The loss of center Paul Stastny via free agency also hurt them. He provided leadership and depth down the middle that Colorado has not replaced. Call it growing pains for a young Avs team.
2. Dallas Stars
Coach Lindy Ruff's Stars are the team that is right above Colorado in the cellar of the Central Division standings with 29 points. Dallas clawed their way into the playoffs last season, finishing with 91 points and grabbing the eighth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. They fought valiantly in a 6-game battle, eventually losing in overtime of the deciding Game 6 on their home ice to the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks.
General Manager Jim Nill pulled off a blockbuster trade this offseason acquiring all-star center Jason Spezza from Ottawa. There was lots of excitement about what the 2014-2015 season would bring.
It's early, but Dallas has not yet figured out the winning formula. Goalie Kari Lehtonen is giving up over three goals a game while only stopping 90 percent of shots faced. It is tough to win hockey games with those numbers next to your starting goalie's name. Tyler Seguin has been a bright spot for the team, leading the NHL in both goals (23) and points (38). The special teams are an issue, with both the power play and penalty kill units ranking 23rd out of 30 teams. The team will need better goalie play and more consistent performance from their defense in order to right the ship. It will be up to this offense to continue producing at a high level to keep the Stars competitive until they fix their other issues.
The Bruins won the President's Trophy in 2013-2014, which is awarded to the team with the most regular season points. Veteran winger Jarome Iginla led the way offensively tying for the team lead with 30 goals. Goaltender Tuuka Rask put up superb numbers on his way to winning the Vezina Trophy. Boston's regular season success did not continue into the playoffs though. They lost in the second round to their bitter rivals, the Montreal Canadiens in a fierce 7-game series. Iginla would leave via free agency for Colorado, but GM Peter Chiarelli kept the core of the team intact going into this season.
Despite a slow start to this year, the Bruins are not doomed by any means. They have 35 points in the first 32 games, not nearly matching their pace from last season but still in position to fight for a playoff spot. Rask's numbers have dipped a tiny bit and the power play has not matched the effectiveness of last year's unit. During their monster regular season in 2013-14, they were a +84 in goal differential. That spread is -3 so far this season. The Bruins will need more balanced play on both ends of the ice to complement their outstanding goaltender in order to move up in the standings and claim a spot in the playoffs come April.
The Blue Jackets came out of nowhere in 2013-14 to finish with 93 points and grab a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They were led offensively by budding young superstar Ryan Johansen, who led the team with 30 goals and 63 points. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky played excellent in net, winning 32 games and posting an impressive save percentage(92.3). They played hard in the first round of the playoffs against the division-winning Pittsburgh Penguins, eventually losing in six games.
Columbus came into this season with high expectations coming off of last year's playoff appearance. But the Blue Jackets came out of the gate very slow and put themselves into a hole in the standings. There disappointing start raised some questions as to the makeup of this team. Some of that can certainly be attributed to injury, but the team is healthy for the most part now and coach Todd Richards has his boys playing at a high level. They had won seven games in a row prior to losing friday night to the Capitals. They will need to continue that level of play in order to counteract their poor start. We will see if they can make another run in the Metropolitan Division.
5. The Mumps
The last disappointment so far in the NHL season is not the play of a team or a player. Probably the most disappointing issue in the league right now is the mumps outbreak. At last count, fifteen players had been diagnosed including all-world player Sidney Crosby and New York Rangers center Derick Brassard. On top of that, it seems that even more players are being held out of games as a precaution to avoid contracting the illness.
The NHL released a league-wide memo establishing protocols for how to handle these situations. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly's comments about the situation made some people feel a little bit better. Saying that the league does not view this outbreak as a long-term threat to players' health is comforting. He also mentioned that the experts with whom the league consults do not believe this to be as big of an issue as the media would make it seem.
Players on a hockey team spend a lot of time around each other. The locker room environment makes transmission of any sickness that much more likely. You hate to see situations like this regardless of the caliber of player. It's not any one persons fault, but you hate to see an outbreak like this affect an otherwise compelling NHL season. Here's hoping that no more players are affected by this and that by the end of the season it will have been a footnote and not a major storyline in the league.
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