It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Alexander Ovechkin, Atlanta Thrashers, Dallas Stars, Milan Hejduk, Monthly Outlook, Nashville Predators, Ryan Miller
The next 20-30 games will tell us a lot about most teams around the league. Pretenders will fade back to reality, while playoff contenders will start to separate themselves.
Last season, the Coyotes went 18-7-4 in the months of December and January, propelling them near the top of the West. In that same span, Edmonton posted a 6-18-2 record en route from playoff bubble team to cellar-dweller.
Here are a few teams you’ll need to keep an eye on this month…
- Dallas Stars
The offense has also been there for Dallas this season. Free agent-to-be Brad Richards is on pace for 99 points, which would be a career high. He’s scoring a lot more goals than in the past as he usually racks up assists like they are going out of style. His linemates – James Neal and Loui Eriksson – are also producing at a high rate.
- Atlanta Thrashers
Craig Ramsay’s Thrashers are truly developing into one of the best (if not the best) stories of this young season. Gone are the days of the team centering around Ilya Kovalchuk and relying on him to provide most of the offense. Between new additions like Dustin Byfuglien and youngsters like Ondrej Pavelec, the revamped Thrashers appear to be a playoff contender this season.
Ramsay’s bunch will definitely be put to the test here in December. They have a hectic schedule that features two trips to Pittsburgh and key divisional tilts against the Caps and Bolts. If they can keep their heads above water and get to January – where the schedule isn’t as daunting – it will put them in prime position to push for a playoff spot.
- Nashville Predators
The offense has been the big bugaboo with the Preds of late. Before Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Phoenix, the Preds had scored just five goals in its last five games and lost four games in a row. Barry Trotz tinkered with the lines against the Coyotes and it seemed to have helped. The power play has struggled, too, but a healthy Ryan Suter makes a difference.
With the Western Conference being so tough from top to bottom, the Preds have to get the offense going and put themselves back in playoff position; they do not want to be fighting back into the mix in the second half, having to climb over numerous teams.
The Preds will play each of their Central foes once in December. In a tight division, those will be crucial points on the table.
Here are a few players to watch in December, as well…
Miller has looked like himself after sitting out a couple weeks with an injury. He has a 2.28 GAA in his last six starts, winning four times. Buffalo only has 12 games this month, so expect to see a lot of Miller here in December. If he can keep up his current play, the Sabres may inch back towards the top eight in the East.
- Alex Ovechkin
Ovechkin the goal scorer has turned into Ovechkin the playmaker through the first quarter of the season. Surprisingly, Ovie has scored just 10 goals – on pace for a career-low 33 goals. He scored just three times in November. However, he is getting a boat-load of assists; he has 22 helpers and is on pace for 73, which would easily be a career-high.
Ovie’s shooting percentage is as low as I’ve ever seen it (.092), and defenses are keying on him more. Will he be able to bust loose this month? Washington’s schedule in December isn’t exactly murderer’s row, which will give Ovie plenty of opportunities to pick up the goal-scoring pace.
- Milan Hejduk
Northwest-leading Colorado will have big shoes to fill in December if they wish to remain atop the division. Chris Stewart is expected to miss four-to-six weeks; so the Avs shouldn’t expect him back until after New Year’s. Despite acquiring Tomas Fleischmann to help soften the blow, they need their big guns to keep producing in Stewart’s absence.
One player that has (very) quietly stood out this year is Hejduk. His 27 points lead the Avalanche, and he’s been extremely consistent in the process. It’d be a big boost if Hejduk (more known for his goal-scoring touch) started putting more pucks in the back of the net. Look for the 34-year-old Czech to continue to make an impact for Colorado.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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