After nearly four months of grueling competition, all 30 NHL teams enjoyed a four-day reprieve from the constant grind of games and practice.
Some of the biggest storylines from first half of the season included the dominance of the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise-best 16-game winning streak. On top of this, Oilers’ forward Connor McDavid and Penguins’ forward Sidney Crosby are in a two-man race to become the league’s most prolific scorer. In the midst of these accomplishments are the presence of failures. The Colorado Avalanche played atrociously, winning only 13 of their first 46 games; the New York Islanders entered the season hopefully, but fired their head coach Jack Capuano after the team greatly underachieved; the Detroit Red Wings seem to be on the brink of failing to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 25 years.
Three Biggest Takeaways from the First Half
#1 The Metropolitan Division is Supreme
Three of the league’s top four teams all hail from the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins challenged match-ups throughout the season. Spending time in the top of the standings is nothing new for the Penguins and Capitals, but the Blue Jackets have been a surprising addition to the mix. Certainly the Blue Jackets’ winning streak has been at the root of Columbus’s spot in the standings, but the squad has also been winning consistently.
The Penguins’ star players proved their talent. Crosby and forward Evgeni Malkin are second and third in the league in scoring, respectively. With 28 goals, Crosby also leads the league in goals scored. This is an impressive feat considering Crosby missed the first six games of the season.
For the second consecutive season the Washington Capitals lead the league in standings at the all star break. Forward Alexander Ovechkin continued his reign as one of the league’s top goal scorers with 23 thus far in the season. His 23 goals ties him for the fourth-most in the league.
#2 The Impressive Young Guys
The league’s top young players deserve their hype. The number-one overall pick from the 2016 draft, forward Auston Matthews, lifted the Toronto Maple Leafs, helping them stay competitive in the standings. He, along with fellow rookie forward Mitch Marner, are tied for the Leafs’ team lead in points scored with 39. Add young players like forward William Nylander and defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and the Leafs have the parts necessary to be successful.
Another young goal-scorer making his mark early in his career is Winnipeg Jets’ forward Patrik Laine. Laine held the league in goals for part of the season and has 22 to date. Above all, 2015 number-one overall-pick forward Connor McDavid has arguably been the best player in the league this season. The 20-year-old McDavid has been a force for the Edmonton Oilers and currently leads the league with 59 points.
#3 The Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes are Abysmal
Colorado and Arizona are the worst performing teams in the league with 13 and 16 wins respectively, and are at the bottom of the league’s standings. The Coyotes’ inability to find free-agent star players and failure to successfully develop young talent eliminated their playoff chances.
Perhaps more surprising, the Avalanche struggled despite possessing the league’s most promising young prospects. Forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene are all individually gifted players. However, the Avalanche roster has resulted in a disaster. The Avalanche is the only team in the league yet to score 100 goals on the season. Colorado’s dreadful play left them with a -63 goal differential. At this point all the Avalanche can hope for is a shot at the 2017 potential number one overall draft pick center Nolan Patrick, who currently plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League.