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  Sunday, November 23, 2014
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xtra xtra!
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New Season, New Look, New Surprises
By Paul Noonan

     One of the big underlying issues of the NHL’s new CBA was to create more parity throughout the league.  The NHL wanted a league were teams could be competitive, both financially and on the ice.  There have been a few glitches, but overall,the NHL has done a pretty good job on that front.  Halfway through the season, the NHL is seeing some old faces, but also some surprising new ones, making the playoff race a very interesting one.  As of Sunday, only five of the 25 teams are out of reasonable range of a playoff spot.  So here is a look at some of the teams garnering some attention in the first half.

    St. Louis Blues:  It’s pretty safe to assume that the Blues’ 25-year playoff streak is coming to an end.  With a mixture of some key off-season losses, especially on the blue line, and some injuries to players still in the lineup, the Blues have been singing just that.  While some youngsters are making a pretty good impression, there haven’t been enough to create a lot of optimism for the immediate future.  St. Louis will likely make a return to their postseason ways, but probably not for another two or three years.

      Pittsburgh Penguins:  You would have think that they would have learned from the Rangers, but I guess not.  The Penguins tried to buy their way back to glory, but it has failed miserably.  With each passing week things just seem to get worse in Steeltown.  Retirements, rink issues, poor play, the coach calling out his defense, the only positive attention has been on Crosby, and even he’s been getting a little bit of negative feedback lately.  Luckily, the Penguins have a great crop of young talent to look forward to, but they can certainly do without the old crop they’re playing with now.

    Boston Bruins:  Sadly we bought the management’s you- know- what again.  With promises of a huge off- season and a instant Cup contender, why are we shocked that this group instead produced a disappointment, who will likely have a better chance at the #1 pick.  The Bruins are still in the playoff hunt, but only if they put together a very strong second half. 

    Chicago Blackhawks:  With the additions of Nikolai Khabibulin and Adrian Aucoin coupled with a nice crop of good, young players, the ‘Hawks finally looked like they could be a threat in the West.  Instead, inconsistency and poor play have plagued Chicago.  With Nikolai Khabibulin likely on the shelf until March, the ‘Hawks will likely have to wait one more year to get back on the Chicago sports scene. 

    Carolina Hurricanes:  Since their surprise Stanley Cup run a few years ago, the only buzz in Carolina was usually around draft day.  However, thanks to one of their big draft picks (Eric Staal), the Hurricanes are once again in the playoff mix.  The ‘Canes are the only team who has shown they can handle the Ottawa Senators and haven’t shown much of a drop-off in their play.  While they’ll still need to storm past a few Cup favorites in their own division, the ‘Canes look like a better Cup contender than their team of a few years back.

    New York Rangers:  Many fans were happy to see New York finally abandon their failed attempts to buy a title, and concentrate on youth and creating a team, but no one expected the Blueshirts to rebound this quick.  With a reinvigorated Jaromir Jagr leading the way and the best goaltending they’ve had since Richter’s glory days, the Rangers are battling the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in their division.

    Buffalo Sabres:  Almost everybody laughed or scoffed when the Sabres decided to lower salary this off-season.  Well nowadays the Sabres are doing the laughing.  With Martin Biron finally performing as has been expected for the last few years and just some good old-fashioned, hard work, the Sabres are battling for one of the top four spots, and even putting a little heat on Ottawa in the Northeast Division.  If they want, they have plenty of cap room to work with at the trade deadline.

    Detroit Red Wings:  Without a number one goalie entering the season and with a team that still isn’t getting younger, many believed the Red Wings would be to slow to handle the new NHL.  While they still may not be the quickest team, another thing hasn’t changed:  their results.  The Wings are still finding a way to win and are again sitting atop the Central Division standings.  You may not be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but sometimes they don’t need to learn them anyway.     



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