2022-2023 NHL First Half Analysis, Questions, Answers and Much More

What a fun first half of the season. The Boston Bruins are hotter than the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning. Martin Jones, Erik Karlsson and Anze Kopitar have turned back the clock in their performances. Then there’s the numerous comeback wins we’ve lost count over. The tone is set for the second half of the regular season. Get ready for one of the wildest finishes we could witness in NHL history. Here are the top takes, questions and answers as All-Star weekend closes.

What is going on with and what is triggering all these comebacks night after night?

San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer (47) blocks a shot by Carolina Hurricanes’ Stefan Noesen (23) in the second period of Carolina’s shocking overtime victory the last weekend in January. The loss was newsworthy to the point it gained the attention of Sportscenter’s Scott Van Pelt’s Bad Beats segment the following Monday, January 30th.

A layered question impossible to fully answer. Goaltending is a major factor and NHL Network at one point in December mentioned there were three goaltenders with a save percentage over .900. Those three were Andrei Vasilevskiy, Igor Shesterkin and Juuse Saros. Part of it is also coaching as we’ve seen with Dave Quinn’s San Jose Sharks and Paul Maurice’s Florida Panthers on the losing end after a lot of early leads, but the same can be said with comebacks by veteran teams in Boston, Tampa Bay and Dallas.

If this trend continues, this season would have the most comeback wins after a team takes a two goal lead. It makes for fun hockey but it’s not healthy for these poor coaches, defensemen and audience growth.

Are the Boston Bruins really this good and can they sustain this level of play?

Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark sported one of the best Winter Classic masks audiences laid eyes on. His play has been just as good if not better, anchoring Boston to a record better than the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning at the half-way point.

Many analysts and fans knew Boston had the talent to make the playoffs with coach Jim Montgomery returning to the NHL. Nobody thought the Bruins would be record-breakingly good at the half-way point. Five losses in regular time and four in overtime is almost impossible to achieve. Linus Ullmark breaking Tiny Thompson’s 1929 records wasn’t a thought for even hardcore fans.

While the Bruins will be the first team to clinch a playoff berth this February, two thoughts arise: how will Toronto and Tampa Bay close the gap and who will Boston draw the first round? Popular consensus for lower seeds would be the Islanders, Capitals or Penguins and those three teams could give Boston headaches.

Very few coach firings in the first half of the season. Is it possible teams are learning that desperation two months in isn’t a good look?

Former Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau is the only head coach fired this season.

There’s been one firing of a head coach (Vancouver surprisingly) after one half of the regular season. I do wonder if it’s a mix for franchises wanting better chances to land the number one pick to draft Connor Bedard, teams finally seeing what their young core players can do or if this is a positive step forward to letting a season play out fully before making a decision. Regardless of what happens, there will be more firings at the end of the season.

What’s the biggest surprise of the season?

The Carolina Hurricanes may be the top team in the Metropolitan at the start of February, but the Lindy Ruff coached New Jersey Devils are close behind.

I don’t think anyone had the New Jersey Devils as a top four team in the eastern conference. What Lindy Ruff has done in the development of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich and Jesper Bratt is coach of the year worthy. Even if New Jersey somehow misses the playoffs, the franchise has taken at least two steps forward to having a championship contending roster.

32 Takes for 32 Teams

Time for one view for each team. The view ranges from improvement, observations not highlighted often or an easier transition during the second half of the season.

Anaheim: Poor John Gibson. The Ducks could’ve traded him anywhere for more draft picks and asset players. Instead they waste their starting goaltender’s prime while gifting him with shot-blocking PTSD in return. I don’t think Gibson would help any team starting after this year.

Arizona: The Coyotes are where the Ottawa Senators were a few years ago. Minus the Jacob Chychrun trade conversation held every month, there’s a good core in place with Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse, Nick Ritchie and Christian Fischer. Speaking of trades, it’s a smart prediction Karel Vejmelka will be dealt to a playoff contender before the season ends.

Boston: A major factor in the Bruins’ record breaking run this season is the elevated play from second and third liners such as David Krejci (second in assists and third in total points) and Jake DeBrusk (tied for third in goals scored). Trent Frederic has one less goal than the recently extended Pavel Zacha (eleven at the all-star break. Frederic has ten). It’s not just the Perfection Line scoring, the whole team is formidable when they shoot the puck.

Buffalo: After everything the Sabres went through two seasons ago, Don Granato has to be nominated for the Jack Adams award no matter where Buffalo lands in the standings. This was the most unattractive job opening when Granato took over. Jack Eichel had to be traded and there were rumors former first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin was being sabotaged in his development. At the beginning of February, the Sabres just miss the eighth seed in the east and Granato is 90% of why they have this many points.

Calgary: From Flames fans booing Johnny Gaudreau’s return to the dismal play of Jakob Markstrom, Calgary is floundering. Everyone’s to blame for this circus.

Carolina: Everyone (including me) wants to say the Hurricanes will be the eastern conference rep for the Stanley Cup finals but the goaltending injuries and the middle-of-the-league offense despite trades and signings before the season began raises concerns that coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t the coach to get Carolina to the championship.

Chicago: The league’s laughingstock continues their downward spiral. From franchise icons biting the dust to team leadership wanting trades elsewhere, no other team deserves the scrutiny and criticism. Connor Bedard should pray Rocky Wirtz Inc. doesn’t land the number one pick.

Colorado: Funny how I absolutely failed on last year’s hot take. Even funnier are those overreacting to Colorado’s slump this season. Anyone who follows a Jared Bednar-led team knows a second half surge is coming no matter who’s injured. The only difference is this team’s the defending champions.

Columbus: It’s a dismal season but Kirill Marchenko is a great find for a franchise needing depth scoring and standout players. Now the Blue Jackets need more defense in the draft and free agency.

Dallas: The good news for Dallas is Peter DeBoer was the right hire in order to get maximum production on offense. The bad news is it’s Peter DeBoer. When things go downhill, net-minder Jake Oettinger will be the scapegoat (Scott Wedgewood might be as well). Let’s re-visit this a year from now. In the meantime, the Stars have one of the best offenses in the league and play like the most complete team in the western conference…which should worry people.

Detroit: Outside of the top three teams, the east is a close race. Detroit’s found gems in Ville Husso starting in net and the right veterans were added, but the Red Wings aren’t playoff-bound yet. The Yzer-Plan is ahead of schedule, and that’s something the other 15 teams in the east want kept down a little while longer.

Edmonton: Connor McDavid is the leader in the Hart Trophy race and Leon Draisaitl has established himself as Mr. Game-Winner. What is concerning is the underwhelming play of goaltender Jack Campbell. He did better in Toronto with less defense in front of him. It’s puzzling he looks worse.

Florida: There might not be a worse fall for a President’s Trophy winner than South Florida. Many knew they wouldn’t replicate last year’s success but many didn’t expect they’d play this messy. The Panthers struggle to hold leads and to come back from deficits, Aleksander Barkov isn’t scoring as much and their best goaltender is Alex Lyon. They have to get better in the second half of the season…right?

Los Angeles: While the Kings are bottom ten of the penalty kill, the offense is consistent and head coach Todd McLellan’s having a good run developing younger players while Blake Lizotte, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar produce night after night. The addition of Kevin Fiala might have been the best move any team made last offseason. He’s playing the best hockey of his professional career.

Minnesota: Talk about a segue with Kevin Fiala leaving. The Wild need more scoring contributions from the lower lines. Their goal plus/minus is plus-eleven despite 80 goals from Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek and Matt Boldy. They need to make a move at the trade deadline if they want to be serious contenders.

Montreal: I bet Sam Montembeault would be a welcome sight for the Florida Panthers. He leads the Canadiens in almost every major goaltending category. Many knew Montreal wouldn’t make the playoffs but losing top scorer Cole Caufield the rest of the year cements a top five pick opportunity.

Nashville: This team is confusing. Last year they were breaking franchise scoring records and barely made the playoffs. This year they’re bottom five in scoring and are three points out of the last playoff spot. Math or no math, I don’t get it.

New Jersey: Whatever happened to Jonathan Bernier? He was a great starter in Detroit and wanted to win somewhere else, so he picked New Jersey for a good contract. He hasn’t played a game this season despite multiple injuries to Mackenzie Blackwood and Vitek Vanecek. Something is going on that we’re not hearing about.

New York Islanders: The Islanders are tenth in the Metropolitan and you wonder how better this team is if general manager Lou Lamoriello doesn’t fire Barry Trotz at the end of last season. They traded Anthony Beauvillier and a first round pick in the upcoming draft for Canucks captain Bo Horvat. They will be better with Horvat playing but again, how much better would this team be with Trotz at the helm?

New York Rangers: This team is six points behind New Jersey and out of reach from Carolina. One factor might be Jaroslav Halak’s uneven performances when he’s started in net. Halak is 6-6 in 13 games with a higher goals against despite starter Igor Shesterkin’s higher workload. The offense has to be more consistent but this conversation is much different if Jaroslav has one or two more wins before the start of the second half.

Ottawa: The good news is Ottawa finally fixed the power-play issue. They’re third in the league converting over 26% of their chances. The offense gives coach D.J. Smith a rare winning record at the end of a regular season month. The bad news is this team still lacks quality defensemen depth and might move on from Cam Talbot after 2023. As we’ve learned from the Florida Panthers, a team with little defense won’t go far in the playoffs no matter how good the offense is.

Philadelphia: What a perfect hire John Tortorella is for the Broadstreet Bullies. The tone was set early benching Kevin Hayes during his career-high year in scoring and now Travis Konecny, Tony DeAngelo, Carter Hart, Scott Laughton and Noah Cates are on board. Keep an eye on Hart’s backup Samuel Ersson moving forward. He’s impressed in almost every game started.

Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby may be the face of the franchise but Tristan Jarry is the MVP of the team and you see it night after night when he’s not playing. When Jarry plays, Pittsburgh’s a top four team in the east. When he’s out, the Penguins hover around eighth to ninth place.

San Jose: What do the Sharks do with Erik Karlsson? The defense is awful and the team won’t score without him on the ice, but they’re still in a playoff race and will surpass at least two teams the next month. Management wanted him in the worst way from Ottawa and at full health he’s delivering. Why would they want to move on from that?

Seattle: There are so many positive headlines for the Kraken this year ranging from Ron Francis’ competence to a surge in offense, but by far and away the best one is Martin Jones’ career resurgence. This looks like the goaltender that got San Jose to multiple western conference finals appearances before the never-ending nosedive. Seattle was basically the last stop if Jones wanted to keep playing in the NHL and at the end of the first half, he has three shutouts, a 2.82 goal average and a .895 save percentage. He’s also the starting goaltender for the first place team in the pacific division.

St. Louis: Did Nazem Kadri knock out some of Jordan Binnington’s talent after that post-season collision? St. Louis’ starting net-minder has been shaky at best this season and a heartbreaking loss in Winnipeg last Monday night could impact the Blues’ season. The franchise has to let this play out the second half before making a move.

Tampa Bay: Is Jon Cooper ever going to win the Jack Adams award? Ryan McDonagh was traded to Nashville and Ondrej Palat’s signing to New Jersey meant the team would take a backseat to Florida and Toronto in the Atlantic. They’ll need another defenseman to compliment franchise icon Victor Hedman but this team hasn’t skipped a beat with depth stepping up (I’m looking at and praising you Nick Paul).

Toronto: Until the Maple Leafs find a way to win a first round playoff series, don’t waste energy or thoughts regarding where this team is. We’ll find out when the regular season ends.

Vancouver: If we’re talking disappointments, Vancouver’s leadership with Jim Rutherford is number one. The slow team start wasn’t just on coaching, but to pin the blame on Bruce Boudreau is criminal. Then trading the team captain who said he wanted to be a Canuck for life and properly earned the C on his chest is damning of an organization that hasn’t won anything.

Vegas: One year of Jack Eichel and it appears the Sabres won the trade. Former Golden Knight Alex Tuch has over 20 goals in Buffalo. On the bright side, Logan Thompson and Adin Hill are a great goaltending tandem.

Washington: Despite middle-of-the-pack stats, this is a feel good team. Charlie Lindgren is better than Darcy Kuemper in net and he will be used more in pivotal games. Alex Ovechkin could hit 1,000 goals by the time his career ends. Last but not least, the team should be fully healthy by the time April rolls around. Be patient Caps fans.

Winnipeg: Rick Bowness coaches with an iron fist and now one must wonder if Paul Maurice was holding this team back from playing good defense and growing the core players. We’ve known the Jets have had one of the best offenses when they’re doing great, but now we’re seeing how good the defense can be.

The Great One will one day be surpassed by The Great Eight in goals scored. It’s only a matter of when.

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