McKeon: Par­ity, youth defin­ing NHL sea­son

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - Ross McKeon is a free­lance writer. Twit­ter: @rossm­ck­eon

Half of the NHL sea­son is in the books, and sev­eral pos­i­tive story lines have emerged. The league cer­tainly couldn’t have counted on all this good for­tune.

While it may not be ev­ery­one’s pref­er­ence, the NHL loves par­ity. Al­most half of the sea­son’s first-half games (48.8 per­cent) were de­cided by a sin­gle goal. And 23 of the 30 teams are within five points of a play­off spot.

Bet­ter still, from a fan per­spec­tive, is that the post­sea­son is not the do­main of the same 15 or 16 teams year in and year out. Last sea­son, the Sharks were among five teams to reach the play­offs af­ter hav­ing missed the post­sea­son in 2014-15 — a grow­ing trend. In nine of the past 11 sea­sons, at least five teams that didn’t make the Stan­ley Cup play­offs one sea­son have qual­i­fied for them the next.

So the league is get­ting what the salary cap promised to de­liver — a rea­son­able amount of par­ity and the feel­ing that none of the 30 mar­kets are go­ing to be out of play­off con­tention for too long.

A look at some of the on-ice high­lights from the first half: Blis­ter­ing streaks: Up­start Columbus comes within one of the league’s long­est win­ning streak with 16 in a row. Min­nesota wins 12 straight. Mon­treal starts 13-1-1. Philadel­phia wins 10 in a row. The Rangers win 13 of their first 17. Youth served: Rook­ies Aus­ton Matthews, Pa­trik Laine, Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and Zach Weren­ski — in ad­di­tion to se­cond-year star Con­nor McDavid — have made huge im­pacts for their teams, not to men­tion le­git­imiz­ing the league’s pro­mo­tion of its young stars even be­fore the sea­son started. Stars are the stars: Atop the league’s scor­ing lead­ers sit McDavid, Sid­ney Crosby, Ev­geni Malkin, Pa­trick Kane, Brent Burns and Vladimir Tarasenko. The play­ers the league hopes will be front and cen­ter are putting up the points and mak­ing each of their teams win­ners. Out­door suc­cess: It was a full house and good weather Oct. 23 in Win­nipeg as the Oil­ers beat the Jets 3-0 in the Her­itage Clas­sic. It was clear and cold on Jan. 1 for the Cen­ten­nial Clas­sic won by the host Maple Leafs in over­time over the Red Wings. And while rain was fore­cast the next day in St. Louis, the Blues beat their ri­val Black­hawks 4-1 in a Win­ter Clas­sic match-up that ended less than an hour be­fore it started to pour. 1,000-point club: Washington’s Alexan­der Ovechkin reached the ca­reer 1,000-point level Wed­nes­day. Florida’s Jaromir Jagr is the only ac­tive player to reach the mile­stone faster than the Cap­i­tals’ cap­tain, do­ing it in 763 games, com­pared with Ovechkin’s 880. Van­cou­ver’s Hen­rik Sedin needs three points to be­come the first Canuck with 1,000, and Crosby is 17 points shy of the mark.

In keeping with the par­ity theme, it hasn’t been all good news: In­juries: Light­ning cap­tain Steven Stamkos is bat­tling an­other mul­ti­month in­jury. Sharks de­fense­man Dy­lan DeMelo is out at least eight weeks af­ter un­der­go­ing surgery to re­pair a bro­ken wrist he suf­fered in Ed­mon­ton on Tues­day. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has played once (Oct. 12 against the Sharks). Hur­ri­canes for­ward Bryan Bick­ell faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture with the di­ag­no­sis of mul­ti­ple sclero­sis in Novem­ber. Goalie Craig An­der­son has been un­avail­able to the Se­na­tors since early last month to be by the side of his wife, Ni­cholle, who is re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for throat cancer. Red Wings’ run im­per­iled: Detroit’s run of 25 play­off ap­pear­ances — the long­est cur­rent streak in ma­jor pro sports — is in jeop­ardy. The Red Wings were 6-2 on Oct. 27, but have been be­set by in­juries since and — with losses in five of six games in 2017 — have dropped to 17-19-6. They don’t ap­pear to have even a fight­ing chance. Olympic co­nun­drum: The league has yet to say whether it will take an­other three-week break to par­tic­i­pate in the Win­ter Olympics — 13 months from now in South Korea. The play­ers and In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee want the NHL to make its play­ers avail­able, but league own­ers are balk­ing with no hard dead­line in sight. Briefly: Ex-Shark and cur­rent Pan­thers de­fense­man Ja­son De­mers reached a ca­reer high with his eighth goal by mid­sea­son. … Blue Jack­ets for­ward Cam Atkin­son, who scored a ca­reer-high 27 goals in 81 games last sea­son, has 20 in his first 41 this sea­son . ... Martin St. Louis’ No. 26 jer­sey was re­tired Fri­day, the first sent to the rafters by the Light­ning in team his­tory.

Paul Ver­non / As­so­ci­ated Press

Oil­ers for­ward Con­nor McDavid (left) leads the NHL in scor­ing with 50 points, ahead of Sid­ney Crosby, Ev­geni Malkin, Pa­trick Kane and Brent Burns.

Nick Wass / As­so­ci­ated Press

Dy­namic Maple Leafs rookie Aus­ton Matthews has 21 goals and 15 as­sists in 40 games this sea­son.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.