Welcome to the mid-point of the season!
[cheers, fireworks, etc.]
This is as good a point as any to look back at my pre-season predictions to see just how foolish I was then and how brilliant I am now at justifying those same bizarre choices. Bear in mind I could still be proven right, as my predictions are for the end of the season, not the middle. It's just not likely.
Still, no reason to back away from them now! Let's start in the East:
Where I predicted: 3rd in the East
Why: The usual reasons. Stanley Cup Hangover; a goalie with nothing left to prove;a small amount of turnover, but not enough to expect much of a drop in the standings.
Where they currently stand: 2nd - but with games in hand
How they got there: A 55 goal differential at this point is simply insane. Tim Thomas has decided to never stop proving them wrong! ALL OF THEM! BWAHAHAHAHAAA!!!
The inevitable excuse: They've had five more games at home than on the road, so that could bring them back to Earth a bit. Of course, with a road record of 11-4 they might actually improve instead...
How I could still be right: This would be close enough for me, as Washington - or *ulp* Florida - would have to finish with more points to take second in the conference.
Where I predicted: 4th in the East
Why: Ownership finally solidified, money getting spent on front-line talent, great goalie.
Where they currently stand: 11th and treading water
How they got there: Ryan Miller's goals against is over 3/game, Derek Roy is finally on pace for a healthy season... and 45 points. Ouch.
The inevitable excuse: Add the usual "best players injured" curse, and you have Buffalo.
How I could still be right: Thomas Vanek and Jason Pomminville are pulling their weight, so if everyone else would like to come along...?
Where I predicted: 13th in the East
Why: Questionable defense, little scoring, and inexperienced centres getting together.
Where they currently stand: 15th and settled comfortably.
How they got there: Among regular skaters, only Anthony Stewart is above zero at +3. That's a clue.
The inevitable excuse: What excuse? Got this one close enough for now.
How I could still be right: Jeff Skinner has been plugging along just great in his sophmore season (until he got brained), and Tuomo Ruutu finally got some finish *ahem* back in his game. So maybe if Tomas Kaberle could... Yeah, no.
Where I predicted: 14th in the East
Why: An amalgamation of parts, losing a cornerstone goaltender.
Where they currently stand: 3rd, kinda.
How they got there: New coach Kevin Dineen has a load of veterans doing what he tells them, and the young guys are following suit.
The inevitable excuse: Florida has one of the most dangerous lines in hockey. Are you going to tell me YOU predicted that?
How I could still be right: They're in 3rd because they lead their division - the goal differential tells a truer picture. Though I don't actually expect them to fall much with the experience and coaching they have.
LONG ISLAND (New York Islanders)
Where I predicted: 10th in the East
Why: They couldn't have as many injuries as last year, right? Besides, an actual NHL goalie is in town now in Evgeni Nabokov.
Where they currently stand: 14th in the East... But with games in hand!
How they got there: Okay, they have the goaltending, and a solid starting five. Depth is still a big, BIG problem.
The inevitable excuse: Not looking past that starting skill. It was, I'll admit, more of a hopeful pick than fact-based.
How I could still be right: The Doctor lets me borrow the TARDIS for a short while.
MANHATTAN (New York Rangers)
Where I predicted: 5th in the East
Why: Brad Richards improving everything about the team and fewer injuries to vital players than last season.
Where they currently stand: 1st in the East, damn it! (Did I mention I hate the Rangers?)
The inevitable excuse: I knew they'd be better than last season, but this is just silly.
How I could still be right: Their leading scorer is made of glass and pancake batter, and they STILL have no power play to speak of.
Where I predcted: 7th in the East
Why: Good goaltending and defense, adding a big body forward in Erik Cole.
Where they currently stand: 13th, and with a certain je ne c'est quoi.
How they got there: Scoring, and lack therof. Certain multi-millionares not pulling their weight.
The inevitable excuse: My foolish belief Andrei Markov would ever play again misled me into optimism.
How I could still be right: Huge home stand coming up could bring up their numbers - though Randy Cunniworth should be glad they're playing on the road, I suppose. If players get booed every time they touch the puck, imagine booing every time there's a line change...
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Where I predicted: 11th in the East
Where they currently stand: 7th in the East - barely.
The inevitable excuse: Brodeur is still faltering, and they have an atrocious power play. They should be doing worse, but somehow not.
How I could still be right: It took seven wins in their past ten to even get this far up the standings, and their biggest win was against Pittsburgh. We'll see if they can keep it going.
Where I predicted: 15th in the East.
Why: Management finally decided their fans weren't complete idiots and could handle the idea of a teardown/rebuild period, so they did.
Where they currently stand: 6th in the East, because Zenon Konopka says so.
How I could still be right: Ah, the joy of loser points! Still, surprising to see them as a .500 team when they really shouldn't be, especially given their goaltending.
Where I predicted: 2nd in the East
Why: Improved depth up front, snagging Ilya Bryzgalov.
Where they currently stand: 4th, but 3rd in points.
The inevitable excuse: Who needs an excuse? Everything's going according to plan.
How I could still be right: Well, almost. But even with Pronger out, the team has avoided last year's slump.
Where I predicted: 6th in the East
Where they currently stand: 5th in the East in a really tough division.
How they got there: Good special teams, Evgeny Malkin getting on his horse, and having Richard Park. Hey, 20% of the guys goals are game winners over a long career! Balanced by Kris Letang and Crosby getting concussed long-term.
The inevitable excuse: About right so far, and no reason to think otherwise.
How I could still be right: The longer Crosby is out, the more likely they'll stay around 6th.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Where I predicted: 8th in the East
Why: I thought the 100+ point team that didn't lose much was punching above its weight and was due to slip some, but not too far.
Where they currently stand: 12th and deserving it.
How they got there: Bad special teams will put you in a bad spot.
The inevitable excuse: Dwayne Roloson forgot to renew his cotract with Satan. Not my fault!
How I could still be right: If either of their special teams can get it together, they can move up. Get Marc-Andre Bergeron to teach responsible play (he's +10. No, really!).
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Where I predicted: 9th in the East
Why: I actually like their defense, and that's as good a place to build a team as any.
Where they currently stand: 10th, or "OMG!!!FA1L4EVR!!!F1RE EVERYTHING!!!" in Leafs-land.
How they got there: James Reimer can't actually transform into a semi truck, to the shock of many fans who labelled him their choice for saviour-of-the-year.
The inevitable excuse: The biggest problem is in goal, as per expectations. Having the worst penalty kill in the league by a good margin should have them looking for a veteran.
How I could still be right: One trade can get them into the playoffs. Burke can do that.
Where I predicted: 1st in the East
Why: Tomas Vokun signing for peanuts was a sign he's looking to win, not just play; plus they brought in some character guys.
Where they currently stand: 9th, just like I said! Who says I didn't?! Huh? Huh?!?
How they got there: Massive frustration kicked in after they radically changed their playing style for playoff success, only to fail there.
The inevitable excuse: Whole-team fail. The previous season's failure hit them harder than expected, leading to failure of faith in the coaching.
How I could still be right: By clicking my heels together three times and wishing?
Where I predicted: 12th in the East
Why: Despite their best efforts Winnipeg (nee Atlanta) has been around an eighty-point team for a few years, with little reason to see them to be much better or worse.
Where they currently stand: 8th in the East and scrapping for it.
How they got there: Middle of the road special teams, and a long home stand in front of massive (for them) crowds.
The inevitable excuse: Who was to know Kyle Wellwood would be on pace for a career season in points?
How I could still be right: They are a much worse team on the road than at home, and the home stand is coming to an end...
All told, not too unhappy with how my predictions have gone so far. Can't imagine I did as well out West - find out tomorrow!