Kukla's Korner

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Review Of The First Half

NEW YORK (March 8, 2013) -- Punctuated by a record start by the Chicago Blackhawks, who have earned a point in each of their first 24 games, the National Hockey League's 2012-13 regular season reaches its midpoint Saturday amid intense competition for Stanley Cup Playoff berths and strong business metrics.

Blackhawks' Record Start

In posting their active 24-game point streak (21-0-3), the Blackhawks have smashed the NHL's longest previous season-opening streak of 16 games set by the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07. Dating back to last season, Chicago has recorded a point in each of its past 30 regular-season contests (24-0-6).

The Blackhawks have tackled a challenging schedule that sent the club on the road for 10 of its first 12 games, including a six-game road trip from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10; road contests in 11 Western Conference rinks overall, including those of the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings (Jan. 19), rival Vancouver Canucks (Feb. 1) and traditional foe Detroit Red Wings (March 3); and six sets of games on consecutive days.

The Blackhawks will attempt to extend their streak tonight in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche (9 p.m., ET, NHL Network-US).

Big Rebounds

The Anaheim Ducks (16-3-3) and Montreal Canadiens (15-5-4), who ranked 25th and 28th, respectively, in the 2011-12 overall standings, have jumped to second and third overall this season. Eight of the 14 clubs that missed the playoffs last season either hold a postseason berth or are within three points of one. Three of the six current division leaders (Anaheim in the Pacific, Montreal in the Northeast and the Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast) did not qualify for the postseason in 2011-12.

Vintage Season for the 'Originals'?

The NHL's 'Original Six' -- the Boston Bruins (15-3-3), Blackhawks (21-0-3), Detroit Red Wings (12-8-4), Canadiens (15-5-4), New York Rangers (12-8-2) and Toronto Maple Leafs (15-10-0) -- all hold playoff berths and have posted a combined 90-34-16 record. It has been 17 years since all six qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the same season (1995-96).

Wild Wild West

While the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks have created some separation at the top of the Western Conference standings, just eight points cover the remaining 13 teams. A mere four points is the gap between No. 3 Vancouver Canucks and No. 10 Minnesota Wild. With the closely-packed standings, clubs are being rewarded with dramatic jumps up the ladder on a nightly basis. In the past week, the Phoenix Coyotes moved from 11th to 7th on March 2; the Dallas Stars made the same jump the following night; the Los Angeles Kings vaulted from 11th to 5th on March 4 and the Red Wings climbed from 10th to 6th on March 5.

Individual Honors

Mirroring team competition, the races for individual honors promise more excitement down the stretch. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-28--39) holds a slight lead over Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning (18-17--35) for the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader. Crosby is seeking his second career Art Ross crown (2007), while Stamkos is in quest of his first points title.

Stamkos' 18 goals put him in the lead for his third career Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL's goal-scoring leader, but there are a dozen players within six goals of the 23-year-old Tampa Bay center.

The closest pursuer to Stamkos in the goal-scoring race is Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter, who is enjoying a bounceback regular season following an injury-shortened 2011-12. Carter has 16 goals, including 10 in his past nine games, and leads the NHL with six game-winning goals. Including the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Carter has 30 goals in 58 games since arriving in Los Angeles last spring.

Joining Stamkos from the 25-and-under group among statistical leaders are 22-year-old New York Islanders center John Tavares (14 goals, T-fourth); 23-year-old Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek (12-17--29, T-fifth); 23-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk (13 goals, T-sixth); 23-year-old Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (26:16 in ice time per game, third); 25-year-old Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (12 wins, first); and 25-year-old Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (11 wins, T-second).

Fans also have marveled at the performance of the League's two oldest active players, 42-year-old Anaheim Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne and 41-year-old Dallas Stars right wing Jaromir Jagr.

Selanne (6-11--17 in 22 GP) scored his 250th career power-play goal on Feb. 24 vs. Colorado, passing Phil Esposito for sole possession of third place on the all-time PPG list. More recently, he scored a goal on March 1 vs. Minnesota to pass Luc Robitaille into sole possession of 11th place in all-time goals (669).

Jagr (9-8--17 in 22 GP) is the Stars' leading scorer. He tallied a pair of goals in Dallas' 5-2 victory at Los Angeles Thursday to increase his career total to 674 -- 10th on the all-time list and five ahead of the 11th-place Selanne. With 115 career game-winning goals, Jagr is three away from tying Esposito for the most in NHL history. He also needs four assists to become the 12th player in League history to reach 1,000.

Among the players in a five-way tie for the League lead in plus-minus

(+17) is Carolina Hurricanes off-season free agent acquisition Alexander Semin. The 29-year-old right wing has posted a +109 rating since the start of the 2008-09 season. Joining Semin at the top:

* His Carolina linemate, center Eric Staal;
* Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who led the NHL in plus-minus last season (+36);
* Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Fraser, who entered his debut season in Toronto with 98 career NHL appearances in his six pro seasons;
* Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz, who also ranks among League leaders in points (31, T-third) and goals (14, T-fourth).

Strong Business Metrics

The excitement generated by the League's return is reflected in strong business metrics. Indicators of fan engagement -- at the rink, on television and online -- are up across the board:

- Overall, NHL teams are playing to 96.7% capacity, with a per-game average of 17,662 (up 3.6% over 2011-12). The average figure during February (17,625) was the highest recorded for that calendar month in League history.

National Broadcasts (all ratings numbers compared to last year's full regular season figures)
- NBC network broadcasts are +29% and NBC Sports Network broadcasts are +23% over 2011-12;

- CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Prime East broadcasts are +16% and Prime West are +12% over 2011-2012;

- TSN Wednesday Night exclusive is +30% and TSN2 broadcasts are +26% over 2011-12;

- NHL on RDS broadcasts are +16% over 2011-12.

Regional Broadcasts
From coast to coast. Regional Sports Networks repeatedly have broken ratings records for their live broadcasts of NHL games this season:

- 28 of the 29* measured clubs are up or even over 2011-12;
- 25 of the 29* measured clubs are showing double/triple digit increases over 2011-12.

* TSN Jets Regional no longer measured by Nielsen

- GameCenter Live subscriptions are +166% compared to 2011-12;
- The in-season weekly-average for Unique Visits and Page Views on NHL.com are +20% and +13%, respectively, year-over-year;
- Total social audience is +104% from a year ago to 6.6MM.

What's Ahead

With so many clubs separated by so few points, pressure and speculation will continue to build in anticipation of the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, April 3 at 3 p.m., ET.

After the rosters are set, the frantic Stanley Cup Playoff stretch drive will be capped by a 13-game slate to close the regular season on Saturday, April 27.

Before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, the fortune of a franchise could turn at the 2013 NHL Draft Lottery on Monday, April 29. For the first time in NHL history, all 14 clubs not qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or the clubs that have acquired the first-round drafting positions of those non-playoff teams, will have a chance at winning the right to the first overall selection at the 2013 NHL Draft -- a pick that would land the lucky winner a prized prospect in a class led by Portland Winterhawks (WHL) defenseman Seth Jones and Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. The 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs open on Tuesday, April 30.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com


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