Weekes: 10 biggest storylines from first half of season

Friday, 01.29.2016 / 10:00 AM | Kevin Weekes  - NHL Network Analyst

Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will be blogging for NHL.com. In place of his traditional Friday Four, this week he discusses his top 10 biggest storylines of the first half of the season.

Washington Capitals

The first order of business is the year the Capitals are having. The consistency, their approach, their coaching. General manager Brian MacLellan has really done a nice job. This summer alone, for them to be able to trade for T.J. Oshie and sign Justin Williams. Those are two underrated pieces especially what Williams brings as "Mr. Game 7."

I've been impressed with Braden Holtby's level of performance and demeanor and what he means to that team. That organization is just so well positioned to make a run at the Stanley Cup. They have been the most consistent team in the NHL this season and Barry Trotz has done an excellent job.

Chicago Blackhawks

There has been no drop-off from them this season. They have been taking care of business, ensuring the right people are re-signed, it doesn't matter their role. They have an unbelievable coaching staff and rewarded coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman with contract extensions. They take care of it on and off the ice. The players feel valued in what they bring. They feel that their contributions matter as they should. And there's been no letdown.

Look at what Bowman was able to do from the standpoint of even just envisioning Artem Anisimov being a good fit there and his confidence in rookie Artemi Panarin. There is no complacently in them at all. They are just as hungry in trying to win a fourth Cup as if they haven't won one yet. And of course Patrick Kane and his 26-game point streak was a big story earlier in the season and Corey Crawford has been a Vezina Trophy candidate.

Instability in the Eastern Conference

On any given night, you don't know what is going to happen. There is a lot of jostling in the standings now. You look at the start the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens got off to and you wouldn't think they would be where they are now in the standings, with the Rangers clinging to a Stanley Cup Playoffs spot and the Canadiens not even holding a wild card. The Tampa Bay Lightning got off to a slow start and have turned their game around, but I just think overall the East has been wide open and still remains wide open.

And teams like the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes are doing better than expected. They are definitely ahead of schedule than where many people thought they would be. The Buffalo Sabres are ahead of schedule too. Their two top centers are Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel. There are other teams considered to be contenders that don't have that one-two punch. And Eichel has been better after he spoke and said he needed to be better. Any 18-year-old who says he needs to be better as a rookie in the NHL and goes out and does it is unheard of.

Florida Panthers

I spoke to a couple of original Panthers fans who are down here in Nashville for the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game, and they are talking about how fun it is to be fans of that team right now. Florida has been really impressive in all phases of the game: offensively, defensively and goaltending. They are for real. Roberto Luongo is in the Vezina discussion. Jaromir Jagr continues to defy Father Time. Aleksander Barkov, who is third on the team with 31 points, just got a well-deserved contract extension.

The Panthers have climbed into first place in the Atlantic Division and won 12 straight games in December and January. Florida has allowed the fewest goals per game (2.18) and coach Gerard Gallant has to be one of the favorites to win the Jack Adams as coach of the year.

St. Louis Blues

They are six points behind the Blackhawks for first place in the division and manage to keep winning despite the numerous injuries they've had to overcome. They play within the structure coach Ken Hitchcock wants them to play and it's worked for years now, at least during the regular season. Jake Allen goes down with an injury and Brian Elliott doesn't miss a beat filling in.

Los Angeles Kings

Failing to make the playoffs last season after winning the Cup the previous season is not something Los Angeles wants to experience again. They've quietly built a seven-point lead in the Pacific Division. The bounce-back from the Kings has been a good story. And re-signing their No. 1 center in Anze Kopitar to a long-term contract is one more distraction they don't have to worry about when they try to win their third Cup in five seasons.

Colorado Avalanche

They are making some traction sitting in the first wild-card spot from the Western Conference. It wasn't long ago they were in last place in the division, but Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have been playing really well as has Jarome Iginla, who scored his 600th goal not too long ago. They hope to get back No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov back soon after the break, who missed time because of a legal matter. The Avalanche had a huge win against the Kings on Wednesday, a 4-3 come-from behind win in the third period.

San Jose Sharks

This may be the best version of the Sharks I've seen. Joe Thornton got his 1,300th point this week and is on a 10-game point streak. The Sharks are 8-0-2 in their past 10 games allowing 20 goals in that time. Defenseman Brent Burns is an all-star again, Martin Jones has been great, Joel Ward has done everything for them and Joe Pavelski is a difference maker. The Sharks have been great on the road (16-6-2) which is not easy to do, especially in the Western Conference.

Anaheim Ducks

After a maddening start for them, they are starting to hit their stride and make plays again. They are 7-3-0 in their past 10 games. They are scoring goals, which was a big issue for them for most of the first half of the season, and their power play has gotten better and they have the top-ranked penalty killing unit.

Dallas Stars

After their incredible start, they've slipped in the past month with the Blackhawks taking over first place in the Central Division. We know they can score a lot, but sometimes they'll need to win games defensively. Are they willing to win games 2-1 when they have to?

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