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Tuesday, 12.30.2008 / 11:00 AM / Columns

By Paul Kukla - NHL.com Correspondent

We are nearing the halfway point of the NHL season and thought I would take a look at the makeup of 15 teams this week and again next week.  

I watch a lot of hockey on a daily basis and wanted to express my views on every NHL team. I am not going to break down each team, but will give you a snapshot of their season to this point and in some cases, their outlook for the remainder of the season.

Anaheim Ducks -- Is anyone else surprised the Ducks have yet to get on a real roll this season? Penalties have surely been an issue with the Ducks and lthey continue to search for more offense.  Until that happens, expect the Ducks to compete for the last few playoff spots.

Atlanta Thrashers -- Consistency is the key here. In order for the Thrashers to make a second-half surge, they need to play consistently better on a nightly basis.  

Boston Bruins -- What can I say except WOW! I certainly did not expect the Bruins to be leading the Eastern Conference in points, but now the pressure is on the Bruins to maintain their current pace.  The strong suit of the Bruins seems to be every player has bought into the system and they believe in each other.  Expect a great second half from them and then into the playoffs as the team to beat in the East.

Buffalo Sabres -- The Sabres seem to be just into the playoff picture or just out of the playoff picture each night.  Some games they look unbeatable. In others, they look completely lost. The direction in which they head is up to them and goaltender Ryan Miller may have to put the team on his shoulders for a stretch in order for the Sabres to reach the second season.

Calgary Flames -- I keep waiting for the Flames to establish themselves as a serious contender. Can it happen? Sure, but will it happen is a question that needs to be answered soon.

Carolina Hurricanes -- They are slowly improving and if they keep it up, the Canes could be entering the playoffs on a roll.  The talent is there, but like other teams, they haven't shown up for every game.

Chicago Blackhawks -- Will their current winning streak ever end?  They Blackhawks are finding ways to win right now and are playing well as a team. They have two goaltenders who can be very hot for stretches, so finding the right goaltender mix will be key for the rest of the season.

Colorado Avalanche -- Not considered a serious playoff contender this season, the Avs have actually been playing much better lately. They will go as far as their goaltending allows and may need a little offensive help too.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- Where would this team be without rookie goaltender Steve Mason? As he usually does, expect Rick Nash to carry this team when he goes on one of those hot streaks. It hasn't happened yet for Nash, but I expect it will and when it does, the Blue Jackets will make a playoff push.

Dallas Stars -- A few weeks ago, I wrote the Stars would make the playoffs. They have been playing much better lately, but need to put together a winning streak of five to six games to put themselves into the playoff hunt.

 
Detroit Red Wings -- The team defensive system must become Priority No. 1 for the Wings. They can match scoring with any team in the league, but until the team defensive system comes around, the Wings will be a question mark heading into the playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers -- Just start winning Edmonton. Get a victory anyway you can. Two points for every game should be your goal and "could have been a win," doesn't count. Time is running out, just start winning.

Florida Panthers -- They can't afford a losing streak right now.  Another team that needs to win at any cost, just as long a victory appears in the win column. They are still adjusting to a new coaching system and must buy into it every night.

Los Angeles Kings --
A very young team that has the talent to win now. The return of Jack Johnson will be a big boost, but will it be soon enough to help? Goaltending has long been an issue for the Kings and finding a No. 1 goalie would put Kings fans at ease.

Minnesota Wild --
Need some instant offense, quickly. Until they start scoring consistently, every game will be a challenge.  If they do find their scoring touch, look out, the Wild could become a force.
Quote of the Day

My focus is always just to play as well as I can and do my job, no matter where the faceoff is.

— New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin on using his speed to his advantage
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