The National Hockey League is now on break until February 26th. The shut-down is to allow elite players to represent their countries in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The NHL will be all quiet. This will allow players to play in the Olympics, and will allow others to rest and prepare for the play off stretch run. General managers will remain very busy determining team needs, and talking with other teams about possible transactions. When the league starts up again there will be only one week until the March 5th trade deadline. It also puts most teams at the 58-60 game mark. With just a little over twenty games to go, and the division standings very tight. The stretch run will be intense with every point at a premium.
In the Western Conference the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks are tied at 84 points, and sit a top the Central Division. The Anaheim Ducks lead the Pacific Division with 87 points. They also are holding a lead league, and are looking to continue this success to take home the Presidents Trophy. The Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, and the struggling Los Angeles Kings all have themselves in playoff positions. The wildcards are currently the Minnesota Wild, and the Dallas Stars. On the outside looking to surge their way into the playoffs is the Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, and the Winnipeg Jets. The Western Conference playoff race has really tightened up over the past month. Many teams have been struggling, and the Jets and Coyotes have surged their way back into the race. The Western Conference race looks to be a classic.
The Eastern Conference is led by the always strong Pittsburgh Penguins with 83 points. The Boston Bruins are atop the Atlantic Division with 78 points, and hold a seven point lead over the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning. The Montreal Canadians, New York Rangers, and the Philadelphia Flyers are all barely hanging on to a playoff position. The Flyers who were terrible out of the gate have rebounded to get themselves back in the playoff hunt. The struggling Toronto Maple Leafs, and injury filled Detroit Red Wings are still hanging onto the wildcard spots. The resurgent Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and New Jersey Devils are all still pushing to improve play, and move into a playoff position. The race in the Eastern Conference looks to be as interesting as the Western Conference.
The Olympic break will be a time for teams to rest, and for fans to enjoy some great International hockey action. The Olympics is a great way to showcase the sport of hockey, and we can all hope it is as exciting as it was four years ago in Vancouver.
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