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NHL season underway after lockout

Jacob Westendorf, Sports Writer/Commentary
February 13, 2013
Filed under Sports

The NHL season was supposed to begin Sept. 15. Unfortunately, officials couldn’t reach a collective bargaining agreement and the NHL had its fourth work stoppage in the last 20 years.

With the future of the NHL in doubt, star players such as Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane decided to play overseas. The threat of players potentially staying there intensified negotiations between both sides.

Hockey fans, after months of nauseating negotiations between the players union and owners finally got their wish Jan. 6. The players and owners reached a deal for a 48-game season, effectively ending the 113-day lockout.

The first puck dropped Jan. 19 with several interesting match ups. The Los Angeles Kings finally were able to raise a championship banner, celebrating their Stanley Cup triumph over the New Jersey Devils. After the Kings’ celebration, they received a rude awakening from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks spoiled the Kings early season party, scoring four unanswered goals early, and holding on to win by a score of 5-2.

The first game provided what proved to be an early theme for the season. Sitting atop the Western Conference are the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.  Stars Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, who are tied for third in the NHL with six goals apiece led the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks’ early season success can also be traced to the surprising emergence of goaltender Corey Crawford.

Crawford, a perceived weak link by many experts, ranks in the top 10 of goals against and save percentage. The Blackhawks suffered their first two losses in shootouts, which gave the San Jose Sharks the top record in the conference.

The Sharks have been a team with great regular seasons but were unable to finish it off with a Stanley Cup Championship.

This year’s team looks determined to change that as Left-Wing Patrick Marleau leads the league in points and goals scored. Marleau has been helped by the solid early season goaltending of Antti Niemi, who has a goal against average of 1.95.

The Sharks suffered their first loss Tuesday night against the Blackhawks, and for now it seems clear the Western Conference runs through San Jose and Chicago.

In the Eastern conference, the top two teams are the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.  All-star center Steven Stamkos, who leads the Lightening with seven goals, and Martin St. Louis, who is second in the NHL in assists with 13 both lead the Lightening.

The Bruins, as they have been for the past few seasons, are led by an intimidating defense keyed by hard-hitting Zdeno Chara. Both of these teams currently have only one loss on their records, and are set up to compete for the conference crown.

With the beginning of the new season there have also been some disappointments — none larger so far than the defending champion Los Angeles Kings. The Kings not only lost on opening day but have failed to regain their championship form since.

They are currently near the bottom of their division. Jonathan Quick, last season’s playoff hero, has not played at the same level as a year ago, slipping into the bottom third of the league in save percentage. Some of Quick’s struggles could be attributed to off-season back surgery. However, in order for the Kings to succeed, they need Quick to regain his top form.

Another team that has disappointed is the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers, who were expected to compete for the Stanley Cup, are currently at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. Former prized free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov failed to live up to his contract.

More alarming for the Flyers is their inability to put the puck in the net. They rank 27 out of 30 teams in goals per game.

The Detroit Redwings are another team that has been a perennial power houses has been disappointing this year. The Red Wings were blindsided by the retirement of Tomas Holmstrom, and weakened defensively by the retirement of hall-of-famer Nicklas Lidstrom.

Since these retirements, the Red Wings have been unable to rediscover their physical identity. Former promising goaltending prospect Jimmy Howard hasn’t developed, and has been the biggest key to the Red Wings demise.

The return of the NHL should keep the excitement and intensity of the shortened season all the way until the playoffs begin.

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