The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings are 10 points apart in the standings with the Stars the surprise division leaders. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)
THN pre-season prediction: 11th in West
Scoring leaders: Corey Perry, 45; Ryan Getzlaf, 37; Teemu Selanne, 37.
Key stat: The Ducks have given up the second-most shots per game in the NHL at 34.2 (only Atlanta has given up more).
Biggest surprise: Defenseman Toni Lydman was brought in via free agency to help rebuild the Ducks’ once-vaunted blueline, but his play has been above and beyond his station. The Finnish veteran is on pace to shatter his best mark for points in a season, logs heavy minutes and leads the team with a plus-23.
Biggest disappointment: While he’s had his highs, blueliner Andreas Lilja has also had his lows this year. The big Swede has been a healthy scratch for long stretches and carries a minus-5 rating with him.
What to expect: The Ducks have been riding the hot play of goaltender Jonas Hiller lately and that can be expected to continue in the second half. A facial injury to captain Ryan Getzlaf is putting the onus on power forward Bobby Ryan to step up, while team scoring leader Corey Perry and rookie sensation Cam Fowler must keep up the pace if the Ducks are to maintain their playoff position. The last five games of the season are against Pacific Division opponents and that April stretch will make or break the team.
THN pre-season prediction: 12th in West
Scoring leaders: Brad Richards, 50; Loui Eriksson, 47; Mike Ribeiro, 37.
Key stat: At 13-7-1, the Stars are playing just as well on the road as they are at home – and they’re good at home (13-6-4).
Biggest surprise: In this surprise season for Dallas, take your pick. But overall, goaltender Kari Lehtonen has proven just how good he is when healthy, something that largely eluded him in his Atlanta days.
Biggest disappointment: The Stars’ defense has been solid, but Matt Niskanen has yet to break that plane to another level in his young career. Currently out with a hand injury, he’s been a healthy scratch often lately and doesn’t log a lot of minutes when he plays.
What to expect: The acquisition of Jamie Langenbrunner brings the former Devil back to the team he came into the NHL with and won a Stanley Cup for in 1999. The move also showed the Stars are serious about making a deep playoff run and that GM Joe Nieuwendyk believes he has the horses to do it. Brad Richards was all the rage in trade rumors early on, but now it appears the Stars will re-sign him and go for glory.
THN pre-season prediction: 5th in West
Scoring leaders: Anze Kopitar, 45; Justin Williams, 35; Dustin Brown, 34.
Key stat: The Kings have already played 28 different skaters this season.
Biggest surprise: Jack Johnson has at least temporarily stolen the mantle as the team’s best offensive defenseman, putting up 31 points already – his career-high for a full season is just 36. The recently contract-extended blueliner is also playing 24:31 per game, a full two minutes more than his previous high.
Biggest disappointment: Rookie Jonathan Bernier was supposed to come in and provide solid starts for a Kings team that burnt out Jonathan Quick in its mad dash to make the playoffs last year. But Bernier has struggled, posting a wretched .888 save percentage and 3.26 goals-against average.
What to expect: The Kings have gone great guns when Willie Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky are healthy and now that both are, expect the team to snap out of its funk. This is a team built on the Chicago model and after a rough first round exit last season, Los Angeles is poised to make noise in the post-season – if they can sneak in.
THN Pre-season prediction: 7th in West
Scoring leaders: Keith Yandle, 31; Shane Doan, 29; Ray Whitney, 28.
Key stat: Lead the NHL in overtime/shootout losses and empty-net goals with nine apiece.
Biggest surprise: Yandle has long been lauded for his offensive, puck-moving potential, but this season the American blueliner has busted out, leading the Yotes in scoring and nearly surpassing his best offensive year with still half a season to go.
Biggest disappointment: In retrospect, it’s unfair to assume last season’s scorching close would continue, but Lee Stempniak is far off the point-per-game pace he put up after a deadline trade from Toronto. In fact, he’s operating at half that clip this year and has returned to mediocrity.
What to expect: The Coyotes already landed the veteran defenseman they wanted when Michal Rozsival was swapped from the Rangers for Wojtek Wolski, but another goal-scorer certainly wouldn’t hurt the team. Goaltending is no problem thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera. Phoenix has a shot to grab home-ice advantage once again, but this time they’ll need to win a round to impress the locals.
THN Pre-season prediction: 2nd in West
Scoring leaders: Dany Heatley, 37; Joe Thornton, 37; Ryane Clowe, 36.
Key stat: The Sharks’ Big 3 line of Thornton, Heatley and Patrick Marleau is a combined minus-30 on the season.
Biggest surprise: On a team of offensive weapons, most of whom are slumping, big-bodied Clowe is having his best season ever. He’s also become a vocal leader on the too-chilled-out team.
Biggest disappointment: There are many, but fourth-year Devin Setoguchi has hit a disturbing plateau. The 65-point season of 2008-09 seems a distant memory as the right winger is on pace for less than half that, whilst dragging a minus-11 rating around.
What to expect: Unless one of Antero Niittymaki or Antti Niemi goes on a colossal streak in net, the Sharks will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Incredibly, this team can’t score and with many already hollering for wholesale changes to a roster that has constantly whiffed in the playoffs, the end days may have finally come for the current incarnation of the Sharks. That goes for both the roster and the management.
THN Puck Panel – Breaking down the Northeast and Pacific Divisions
THN's mid-season reports will run two a day from Jan. 12-14.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday.