Now that we’re entering the home stretch, it’s as good a time as any to offer thoughts on each NHL team:
Anaheim: The gap between the talent level on paper and the results on the ice, on a year-by-year basis, might be the largest in the NHL.
Boston: After going two months where they basically couldn’t lose a game, the Bruins have been a rather pedestrian 14-13-2 in 2012 and goalie Tim Thomas has not been the same since he snubbed his nose at the White House.
Buffalo: What’s up with this? Jason Pominville was the Sabres’ best player when they were struggling, but has done almost nothing now that they’ve caught fire and are making a serious run for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Calgary: The Flames can moan about injuries all they want, but getting just five points in seven games after clawing their way back into the playoff picture is unacceptable for what is supposed to be a veteran team.
Carolina: One good reason why the Hurricanes are hopelessly out of the playoff race: They’re a combined 2-14 in overtime and shootout games. They’re 2-8 in overtime and 0-6 in shootouts.
Chicago: With three goals and four points in his past four games, Patrick Kane has picked a good time to emerge from his season-long slumber. By the way, if anyone can figure this Blackhawks team out, let us know.
Colorado: Remember how everyone was vilifying GM Greg Sherman for trading for Semyon Varlamov and giving a lottery pick to the Washington Capitals in return? Never mind.
Columbus: In case you haven’t noticed, the Blue Jackets have won two in a row. Let the string of late-season meaningless wins begin.
Dallas: Eric Nystrom’s hit on Kris Letang should have been a five-game suspension, but it wasn’t Nystrom’s fault the NHL head office has its head in the sand. Credit Nystrom for handling the situation perfectly. He responded to the flood of derogatory tweets from Penguins fans by admiring them for their loyalty to their team. Good move. So was not trading Steve Ott, the best move GM Joe Nieuwendyk didn’t make.
Detroit: Reason No. 8,347 why Ken Holland is the best GM in the NHL: He saw something in Ian White that almost nobody else did.
Edmonton: Curling is very, very big in Alberta at this time of year, but the fact the Oilers coverage is being dwarfed by the Brier is an indication the Oilers aren’t just bad, they’re irrelevant.
Florida: Nothing to fret about with Erik Gudbranson being benched in the third period on Saturday against Nashville and a healthy scratch Sunday against Ottawa. He’s going to be a fine player. All part of the learning curve for a young player.
Los Angeles: The Kings have dug themselves a hole and it won’t get any easier to emerge from it down the stretch. Ten of their final 17 games are on the road. Jeff Carter returns to Columbus for the first time when the Kings visit Nationwide Arena March 8.
Minnesota: Help from all those great prospects in Minnesota’s system can’t come soon enough. The Wild have been shut out in three of their past four games.
Montreal: We keep hearing Andrei Markov is getting closer to returning to the lineup. That’s great, but who exactly is this Andrei Markov guy?
Nashville: This isn’t good. If the playoffs were to start today, the Predators would draw Detroit as their first round opponent.
New Jersey: Ilya Kovalchuk should receive consideration for the Hart Trophy this season. Seriously. And here’s why. The Devils lead the league with a 10-3 record in shootouts this season and Kovalchuk has nine shootout goals. He leads the league with six shootout game-winners. You could argue the Devils would be outside the playoff picture right now if not for Kovalchuk’s shootout prowess. And even without the shootout goals, Kovalchuk has scored 13 goals that have put his team ahead in games and seven that have put them ahead for good. If that’s not being the most valuable player to your team, I don’t know what is.
New York Islanders: Here’s how unlucky the Islanders are. Chances are, the next collective bargaining agreement will have one amnesty buyout per team that will not count against the salary cap. Rick DiPietro written all over it, right? The only problem is that unless a major tenet of the CBA is changed, you can’t buy out injured players.
New York Rangers: Any semblance of a race for the Eastern Conference title was wiped out when the Rangers beat Boston in regulation time Sunday. For a coach who seems to be more surly the better his team is doing, this must be killing John Tortorella.
Ottawa: Gut-check time for the Senators. Coming on the heels of two losses, one to Florida in which they blew a 2-0 lead, the Senators have games this week against the surging Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres and the East-leading Rangers.
Philadelphia: His recent stellar play, culminating with a 34-save performance in a 1-0 win over Washington Sunday, has the Flyers claiming ‘the Bryz’ is back. And it looks as though he came back from that other orbit just in time.
Phoenix: Fortunately, the Coyotes have one more season – assuming there’s not a lockout – to determine whether Mike Smith is just having a career year or is truly capable of being an elite goaltender in the NHL.
Pittsburgh: Only one man in NHL history – Jacques Demers in 1986-87 and ’87-88 – has won back-to-back Jack Adams Awards. Even though he faces stiff competition, Dan Bylsma is making a tremendous case for being the second.
St. Louis: One reason why the Blues should be cheering for San Jose to make the playoffs and draw the Sharks as a first round opponent: St. Louis swept all four games against the Sharks this season and outscored them 11-3.
San Jose: There’s something seriously wrong here, Part I. After winning just two of nine on a road trip, the Sharks score a grand total of two goals in three games at home and are playing with almost no sense of urgency.
Tampa Bay: The difference between Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin? Stamkos has changed his game, has developed a power forward’s mentality and is now getting goals from all over the ice, including the dirty areas. Ovechkin, meanwhile, hasn’t changed one thing since he entered the league.
Toronto: Can’t understand for the life of me why two thinned-skinned bullies such as Don Cherry and Brian Burke can’t seem to get along.
Vancouver: Is there any possibility Hockey Night in Canada can arrange to have Kevin Bieksa as the guest for its After Hours segment every week?
Washington: There’s something seriously wrong here, Part II. Fighting (?) for a playoff spot, the Capitals are shut out in back-to-back games at home. If not for a furious comeback in which they scored twice in the last four minutes against the Islanders last week, the Caps would have no goals in three home games.
Winnipeg: Funny how you don’t hear anyone these days in Winnipeg complaining about all that travel they face being in the Southeast Division.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.