Capitals, Wild headline NHL first half of play

Half of the 2016-2017 NHL regular season has passed, and the Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild sit atop the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, and All-Stars gather for the NHL All-Star Game and celebrate its 100th anniversary.

This season’s best players came together in Los Angeles to showcase their skills and pay homage to those selected to the top 100 players of all-time list from 1966 to present-day. Legends like Ray Bourque, Gordie Howe and others met on the same stage Friday, Jan. 25, bringing together hockey royalty for the first time. Wayne Gretzky, ‘The Great one’ was named the NHL’s official centennial ambassador, and the All-Star celebrations kicked off with a bang.

With the All-Star festivities over and celebrations ending Sunday night, players and coaches will be taking a hard look at their season up to this point and do some self-evaluation on where their season’s expectations currently stand.

Since the NHL switched up its divisions in the 2013-2014 season, the Metropolitan Division has been arguably the toughest division in hockey. Though Washington leads the entire Eastern Conference with 72 points and a 33-10-6 record, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have all been playing great hockey and will be a problem come playoff time.
Four of the top-five teams in the Eastern Conference are in the Metropolitan Division. Columbus is second in the East with 68 points and a 32-12-4 record, and the Penguins are tied with the Montreal Canadiens with 65 points. Pittsburgh has played two games less than Montreal however, standing at 30-13-5, while the Habs sit at 29-14-7.

The Rangers are the fifth seed in the East at the moment with 63 points and a 31-17-1 record. New York rounds off the teams in the East with 60 or more points. The Ottawa Senators have 58 points in the sixth seed, but they have only played 47 games, which is the least amount of games played by any team in a playoff spot at the All-Star Break.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins take the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively, both with 56 points. The Flyers have played two less games than the Bruins. The Toronto Maple Leafs are only a point out of a playoff spot with 55 points and a 23-15-9 record. Toronto also has played five games less than Boston and three less than the Flyers. Those extra games will be extremely important down the stretch, as they try to make a push for a spot in the playoffs.

Over in the Western Conference, the Wild lead with 69 points in 48 games and a record of 32-11-5. They have been dominating this season on both sides of the ice, with a goal differential of +51 and lead all teams in the West by four points or more. The Chicago Blackhawks are hot on their tail with 65 points, and they have played three more games than the Wild, giving Minnesota some breathing room.

The San Jose Sharks and the Edmonton Oilers round off the top half of the Western Conference. Both San Jose and Edmonton have 64 points, but the Sharks have a game lead with one less played than Edmonton. The Anaheim Ducks sit in fifth place with 63 points and a seven-point cushion between the fifth and sixth seed teams The Nashville Predators are that sixth seed with 56 points and a 24-17-8 record.

The seventh and eighth seeds in the West will be up for grabs. The St. Louis Blues hold the seventh seed and the Calgary Flames hold the eighth; both tied with 53 points. Still seeking a playoff spot are the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks. They also share 52 points, making the last two spots for the West free for the taking.

The top seeds are shaping up to hold their positions as the second half of the season begins. The seventh and eighth seeds in both the East and West are not locked up quite yet, making these next couple of months exciting for many teams. It’s going to take a late-season push and consistent play if they want to make a spot in the playoffs. Hockey is a funny sport when it comes to the playoffs. No matter the seed, the hotter teams usually find more success when postseason play arrives.

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