Hey. Sorry, I’ve had a complete mental breakdown since November 8th. Many things happening, many balls up in the air, too many for this to have been taken into account. Broke a 4 day streak of writing with a 9 day streak of inactivity. Let’s try and beat that with 13 days of publishing.
We’re 20 games into the NHL season. I’ve written long articles before. This will be another one, but in the interest of everyone’s sanity, I’m going to try and keep it short. Let’s go with the biggest surprises (both positive and negative) from each division.
Positive: Columbus Blue Jackets
The BJs are fourth in the standings for the Metro division. That’s behind only the New York Rangers (second place for positive surprise), Washington Capitals, and Penguins. AKA the Usual Suspects. The Jackets are successful because of the play of Sergei Bobrovsky, a kid named Zach Werenski, and the coaching of John Tortorella – aka the same coach that ruined the US Hockey program. This team is young, it’s exciting, and somehow they figured it out despite having a very similar roster to the awful team last year.
Negative: New York Islanders
I guess the loss of Kyle Okposo hurt a ton worse than the Islanders were expecting. To be fair, it’s not only Okposo, but Mikhail Grabovski (New York Rangers), Matt Martin (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Frans Nielsen (Detroit Red Wings). Those forwards were replaced with the unproductive Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. So we should have expected a worse Islanders team. But bottom of the standings? Part of it is the absolute tank of Jaroslav Halak (3.08 GAA, .904 SV%) and Thomas Greiss (2.62 GAA, .915 SV%). Part of it is zero success scoring – John Tavares leads the team with 15 points but has only scored 5 goals. It’s bad in Brooklyn.
Positive: Montreal Canadiens
I think people expected a team with Carey Price in net to be special. To be good again. But I don’t think people expected them to be the leading candidate for the President’s Cup at the quarter post. They’ve only lost four games and most of those are from Al Montoya. One of those was a 10-0 thudding, and the Canadiens have only given up 47 goals. So that’s 37 goals in 20 other games. A team that exchanged PK Subban for Shea Weber and Lars Eller for Andrew Shaw is better. Weird.
Negative: Florida Panthers
The team that won the Atlantic last year now stands in fifth place. The team which should be very strong is .500 and only have 21 points. But to be fair, that’s one point better than third place in the best division in hockey so hey. Florida can still be vying for a wild card. Still, it’s surprising to see this team this low this late in the season. To be fair, the team is missing Jonathon Huberdeau who is a fifty point player as well as second-line center Nick Bjugstad, and now Alex Petrovic is out with a broken ankle. The team has been significantly impacted by injuries and could return to form with the re-addition of these players.
Positive: Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are tied for most rookies to open the season on the starting roster at 6. That’s tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs who needed to introduce their new look team. The Blackhawks didn’t have the same necessity, but the salary cap is a tricky bitch. Luckily, four of the six turned out to be great – Ryan Hartman, Tyler Motte, Gustav Forsling, and Michael Kempny are all good players and will hopefully continue to be for the Blackhawks. The team continues to look like a Stanley Cup winning team. That’s without the functionality of Jonathon Toews and with Patrick Kane having a very quiet follow-up to his MVP season. The two best Blackhawks have been Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s not great when their combined 9.5 million in contracts is 1 million less than either Kane or Toews on their own. The Blackhawks are winning because of Corey Crawford and an improved defense.
Negative: tie-Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks are firmly in charge of the Central. The Blues, while they’ve taken a step back, are still a good team. With a great coach and Eric Staal playing well, Minnesota remains a threat. But the other two members of the Central Elite need to get their shit together. Nashville crashed and burned early this season, but has figured it out some. PK Subban has become better, and the team has followed him in their incline in quality. Dallas’ goaltending is the trouble I predicted they would be. In fact, everyone predicted that the goaltending would be bad. But their defense is also kind of troubling. Right now, as it stands, the Central is only sending one wild card, and a man is used to certain luxuries like being the best division in hockey, so we better send two.
Positive: Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid has been hugely important to the success of the Oilers this season. So has Cam “Dadbot” Talbot. McDavid has 27 points, leading the team in assists and goals. Talbot has a 2.5 GAA and .919 SV%. That includes 3 shutouts. Talbot is every inch of the goaltender the Oilers paid for this season. McDavid is every inch of the forward the Oilers will have to pay for eventually. That’s not even mentioning the other 21 players on the Oilers which feature Leon Draisaitl and Jordan Eberle, both with 16 points. Their defense is much improved as well, with Kris Russell and Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, Mark Fayne has only played in one game this season. So the Oilers look like they could dominate the Pacific, at least until the second round.
Negative: Calgary Flames
The Flames were a team I expected to be in the playoffs this season, instead of the Oilers. Guess that was wrong. The negatives on this list can be many, but I kind of expected the Ducks to be bad – BTW they’re still in Wild Card contention so not that bad. The Coyotes are a bit of surprise but Domingue has a lot of pressure on him, because Mike Smith just isn’t an NHL goaltender any more. But the Flames I expected more out of. They’re fifth in the Pacific, ahead of only the Canucks and Coyotes. Gaudreau and Monahan aren’t as good as people expected, and it turns out Elliott and Brouwer didn’t make the difference that was expected of them.