The NHL suffered its second lockout in just seven years this season, shortening the schedule to a measly 48 games instead of the standard 82. Typically, east and west conference teams play the majority of their games in conference; but after the lockout, teams are mostly playing conference opponents.
Usually this provides teams the opportunity to boost their records but it also adds some diversity and unfamiliarity in order for teams to hone their systems. Furthermore, fans are unable to see their teams play against some of the popular non-conference opponents.
On another note, the condensed 48-game schedule has exhilarated rivalries this year. Every game played means something more for the chances of a postseason berth. Even NBC is feeding off of this notion by increasing viewer ratings through “Wednesday Night Rivalry,” aired every week on national television.
Fan’s unhappiness over NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s negotiation tactics, as well as in game policies—i.e. fighting— haven’t shown much effect this year due mostly to these rivalries. Additionally, there have been plenty of fights to go around, positively bringing back some disheartened fans.
There were plenty of off-season transactions this year as well, drawing interest to certain line-ups in the league. The Minnesota Wild added forward Zach Parise and defensemen Ryan Suter, complementing Danny Heatley with some offensive power for the Wild. The fans are pleased with what they have seen so far as the Wild are over .500 and looking stronger each game.
The Detroit Red Wings lost several great players this off-season. Seven-time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom and one of “Hockeytown’s” favorites, Tomas Holmstrom, both retired before the season. In their absence, new stars have sprung up for the Red Wings. Swiss-born 26-year old Damien Brunner, has 16 points in just 19 games thus far. Losing captain Lidstrom gave fellow native Swede Henrik Zetterberg the leadership role on the team and he has proven worthy. Netting six goals and adding 19 assists for 25 points, he is currently ranked fourth in the league. Detroit is currently 14th overall in the league and in a playoff spot at the halfway point.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings barely made any changes to their roster, but after a slew of injuries early in the season, things were looking gloomy for a repeat. However, as seen in the past couple of seasons, they have begun to turn it on as of late with a four-game winning streak and 9-6-2 record approaching the halfway mark of the season.
A team projected to exceed this year is the St. Louis Blues. With the team’s young offensive stars, the future is looking bright. Rookie forward Vladimir Tarasenko was “sniping gino’s” like it was his day job early in the season with a stretch of 10 points in eight games, but has been pretty shy on the score sheet as of late. The Blues continue to impress, though, as their record leaves them fifth in conference (11th in the NHL).
Last but not least, not enough good can be said about the Chicago Blackhawks’ success. With only three shootout losses all season; and a perfect 16-0 regulation time record, an offensive flurry of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks are a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of 2013.