As New Years Day has come and gone, that means two things for the NHL going forward: we are beginning to see the early stages of playoff crunch time appear on the horizon and the wondrous Winter Classic has come to a conclusion, an unfortunate conclusion I may add. This game symbolizes the beauty of the sport as the setting of the origins of the game itself, the great outdoors, hosts 70,000 fans to a truly remarkable experience. Attendance of an outdoor game bucket list-worthy for any hockey fan as it is a spectacle to see the rink, in which the fastest team sport on planet earth is played upon, under the bright lights of a major outdoor sports venue. In this year’s edition, the Montreal Canadiens dished out a hearty defeat to the injury-riddled Boston Bruins, who seemed to consistently be pinned in their own end. The Habs scored some astounding goals as several pucks that found twine were batted out of mid-air, the type of fun hockey that we come to expect from this team. With 70,000 rooting against them as they lacked their unworldly goalie Carey Price, Montreal gains huge momentum from this win as they can reassert their dominance over the Atlantic Division behind a wave of rising confidence.
Compared to the Roundup’s pre-season predictions, the league standings looks quite different in some aspects. The Ducks have struggled to stay afloat thus far as the Stars have opened the eyes of many with their stellar, yet unexpected, level of play. The consistent powerhouse teams like Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit find themselves perched near the tops of their respective divisions. However, surprise stories seem to be the most interesting theme of the league so far. Not one person could have predicted the Ducks trailing the once laughed at Coyotes while the Stars shine bright amongst the league’s elite clubs. All of this chaos out west, however, is juxtaposed by the standings from the east which are following expectations a bit more closely. Struggles from Tampa Bay, as well as Washington finally gaining true elite status highlight the main shock stories in this conference. As for the two New York teams, the Rangers and Islanders find themselves neck and neck in the standings, with major rough patches in both teams’ pasts. Going forward, the true trend to watch for will be teams at the top of their divisions and how long they maintain their status. Playoff berths given to once scoffed at teams can lead to an unforgettable Stanley Cup Playoffs, as these teams appear to be going strong near the halfway point in the NHL marathon.