We have now approached the unofficial halfway point of the season (even though more than 41 games have been played), as the All-Star Game is upon us. However; just because the league is taking a few days off to celebrate many of the game’s biggest and brightest stars, the news isn’t taking a break.
Eastern Conference Recap:
We begin in with this year’s most surprising team: the Florida Panthers. The Panthers weren’t expected to do well this year, but the veteran leadership of Jaromir Jagr, the immediate impact of Aaron Ekblad, and a 12 game winning streak has propelled the Panthers to the top of the Atlantic division. As a result, the team has rewarded general manager Dale Tallon a contract extension as well as one to head coach Gerard Gallant. Now that these key members of the Florida Panthers have been added the fold, the team has now signed Aleksander Barkov to a 6 year, $35.4 million contract. Barkov, who is only 20, has 31 points in 39 games and is third on the team in scoring.
While the Panthers are soaring in the Atlantic, the Montreal Canadiens are floundering. Not only has this team dealt with not having MVP of Carey Price for most of the season, they have been bitten by the injury bug when they lost both Dale Weise and Brenden Gallagher to an upper body injury, and a broken hand respectively. Now, the team will be dealing with the loss of rookie left winger Daniel Carr for at least three months due to a knee injury he sustained in Montreal’s loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. This already depletes a Montreal team who is already struggling in so many ways.
As Montreal struggles, their arch rivals, the Boston Bruins had a bit of a scare this week. Backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson was taken to the hospital part way through team’s 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightening. It was reported that Gustavsson had an elevated heart rate, and was kept overnight for observation, and released Wednesday afternoon. This is not the first time he has had to deal with this type of health scare. Gustavsson has had three prior surgeries regarding an elevated heart rate, with the most recent coming 5 years ago, when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As of this publishing, Gustavsson has not been cleared for action by the Bruins medical staff, but it is expected that it will happen after the All-Star Break.
Western Conference Recap:
This is NHL All Star Week! What an exciting weekend of events the NHL has lined up in Nashville. Some of the NHL’s biggest stars will be showcased through the Skills competition and the revamped 3-on-3 style game.
But enough about the All-Star game, let’s begin with the latest news out of Edmonton. During the All Star Break, Oilers 2015 1st overall pick Connor McDavid is practicing with Bakersfield (AHL). He is taking full contact drills, but he will not suit up for any games with the Condors. McDavid has been out of action since early November. Oilers fans should be very excited for his return to the lineup!
Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman has been suspended indefinitely by the NHL after he checked linesman Don Henderson in the back last Wednesday. This is going to be an interesting decision coming from the NHL. Right before the incident happened, Wideman took a nasty check into the boards, and appeared to be a little woozy after the hit. Some question whether Wideman checked the linesman on purpose, or whether it was just out of instinct. If the NHL cracks down hard on Wideman, it would not be surprising to see Wideman suspended for more than 10 games.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Kings announced that Play-by-Play Broadcaster Bob Miller is taking a leave of absence. He will undergo heart bypass surgery. The timetable for his return has not been set yet. All the best to Bob for a speedy recovery! He is one of the best play-by-play broadcasters in the NHL today.
Winnipeg Jets rookie forward Nikolaj Ehlers scored his first career NHL hat trick last Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes. The 19-year old Denmark native was selected 9th overall by the Jets in 2014. He has recorded 12 goals and 22 points in 49 games in his rookie campaign.
Speaking of rookies, Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin is leading the NHL points race among rookies. Panarin has 17 goals and 46 points in 53 games this year. He has 12 more points than 2nd place Jack Eichel. Heading into the 2015-16 NHL season, most people thought that Eichel or Connor McDavid would take the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Top Rookie at the end of the year. It looks like that Panarin is going to be in the race too.
There was another NHL milestone hit on Tuesday night at the Shark Tank. Sharks forward Joe Thornton hit 1,300 career points. He became the 33rd player in NHL history to hit 1,300 points. The 36-year old Ontario native has been hitting his stride in recent weeks. He has 9 goals and 41 points in 48 games this year. The 1997 1st round pick of the Boston Bruins is still showing he has plenty of gas left in the tank. The only thing that has eluded Joe Thornton in his productive career is the Stanley Cup.
The Sharks have gotten hot within the past couple of weeks. They are 8-0-2 in their last 10 games, and they have slid up to 2nd in the Pacific Division. The Sharks are a very good road team as they have won 16 out of 24 away from SAP Center.
By Andrea Sobolik and George Foussekis