Seeing as the mid year to the 2015-16 NHL season is fast approaching, I have compiled my list of the top surprises of the season.
Before the season had begun, the Ducks were expected to make a deep playoff run and contend for the Stanley Cup. That has yet to materialize. With a record of 15-15-7 37 points they currently sit 23rd in the league. On the bright side, they are in the weak Pacific Division and are only 2 points out of a playoff spot.
The team has only scored 69 goals this year (good for 30th in the NHL), luckily for them, their goaltenders have kept them alive, having only giving up 89 goals on the year (6th in the league).
Star forwards; Corey Perry (13 goals and 11 assists) and Ryan Getzlaf (3 goals and 20 assists) are leading the team in scoring. If Anaheim is going to make the playoffs and attempt to be a contender they are going to need more scoring from their leaders and some support from the rest of their team.
The Arizona Coyotes are one of the season’s biggest surprises. The Coyotes were expected to be in the lower tier of the league and fighting for the first overall pick Auston Matthews, they have done everything but that. They currently sit 2nd in the Pacific division with a record of 18-16-3 39 points . Although, I do not believe they will stay there, the effort is more than commendable.
Arizona is currently the 9th highest scoring team in the league with 107 goals. Their big issue is they have given up 122 goals on the year.
Credit needs to go to GM Don Maloney for many reasons: The Coyotes do not spend to the salary cap, they have an internal budget which is not competitive with most of the teams in the league. Also, Maloney deserves credit for not rushing Max Domi into the NHL after being drafted 12th overall in the 2013 entry draft. Lastly he gets props for making a trade with the New York Rangers that brought Anthony Auclair to the desert, after seeing him play with Sam Reinhart and Max Domi at the 2015 world juniors where they had great chemistry.
The Boston Bruins are one of the fascinating teams up to this point. When Don Sweeney took over as GM, many thought he was ruining the team by trading away fan favourites Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic. He is showing he is fully aware of what is going on and retooling the team on the fly. The Bruins currently sit in the top wild card spot with a record of 20-13-4 and 44 points.
The non surprises:
Ryan Spooner is having a breakout season, currently sitting fifth in team scoring with 25 points.
Since being claimed off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings, Landon Ferraro is showing why he belongs in the NHL. After 10 games with the Wings he had 0 points, but since joining the B’s he has 7 points in 18 games. He has stabilized the Bruins 3rd line.
After surprising the league last season and making it to the second round of the playoffs, the Flames made some off season moves to bolster their roster and take the next step in the Western Conference. They made a trade with the Boston Bruins for a top 3 d-man in Dougie Hamilton and signed penalty kill specialist Michael Frolik in free agency. However, that next step has yet to materialize. Their issues begin with Hamilton starting off the season really slow and is finally starting to find his game with his new club. The other problem for the Flames has been consistent goaltending. Neither Karri Ramo (2.70 GAA and .907 SV %) or Jonas Hiller (3.76 GAA and .862 SV %) have been able to grab the bull by the horns and take the starting job.
The Calgary Flames currently sit 26th in the league with a record of 17-18-2 36 points. With that being said, they are in the weak Pacific division and are only 3 points out of a playoff spot. If they can get some timely goaltending, they may be able to squeak into the playoffs and continue where they left off last year.
Team scoring: They have scored 97 goals on the year but have given up 121 (27th in the league) for a differential of -24 (29th in the NHL). If they are going to go anywhere, they are going to need to address their team defence and goaltending woes.
The Hurricanes currently sit 24th in the league with a record of 16-17-5 37 points. Analysts were not expecting much from this team this year but have some solid prospects in the system to help them be competitive for years to come.
We’ve been waiting for Justin Faulk to break out and become the number 1 d-man on the Canes since he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 entry draft. This is the year; Faulk currently leads the team in scoring with 30 points, he is a real treat to watch. On the other hand, the same can’t be said for the Staal brothers.
In the final year of his contract, Eric Staal; captain of the Hurricanes commands a whopping $8.25 million salary. His production no longer matches that. Eric currently has 24 points on the year and if the Hurricanes are going to compete in the future, this will have to change that. Brother Jordan Staal is no better. Commanding $6 million a year for the next 7 years, he only has 15 points on the season. The Hurricanes are expecting more from the Staal brothers.
It’s not all doom and gloom in Carolina. Victor Rask is having a breakout year with 25 points so far and Jeff Skinner‘s concussions woes appear to be done and is back in scoring form, having lit up the lamp 15 times already and has 5 assists to go with his goals.
Winning the Stanley Cup 3 times in the past 6 years puts the Chicago Blackhawks in dynasty territory. Currently sitting 3rd in the Central Division (toughest in the league) with a record of 22-13-4 48 points, there is not much that can surprise us about this team. The Hawks should be able to make the playoffs rather easily and continue to do some damage when they get there.
Patrick Kane leading the lead in scoring with 23 goals, 33 assists and 56 points is no surprise to anyone. The number one draft pick in the 2007 entry draft is amongst the league’s best players. What makes this season fascinating; not that he set a new team record with a 26 consecutive game point streak, but rather his off ice issues. There was a lawsuit taking place with alleged rape allegations against him throughout his record breaking performance. Rather apparent, it did not bother him. The charges have since been dropped and now Kane can focus solely on hockey. Who knows how many more points he is going to put up.
Rookie surprise honours need to go out to Artemi Panarin. He currently sits 2nd in team scoring with 34 points. His skill is undeniable, and is truly fascinating to watch his play with the puck day in and day out. I don’t mean to take anything away from him, but I wanted to point out that he is playing on a line with Patrick Kane, so take that for whatever it’s worth.
The Colorado Avalanche are one of the fascinating teams of the 2015-16 season. They currently sit 13th in the league with a record of 18-17-3 39 points. The issue for Colorado is that they play in the Central division and are therefore not in a playoff spot. The Avalanche have scored 109 goals so far this year (7th in the league) but have given up 106. Star forwards Nathan Mackinnon (13g-20a-33pts), Matt Duchene (17g-14a-31pts), Gabriel Landeskog (8g-19a-27pts) are doing what they are supposed to, leading the team in scoring. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is having a nice bounce back season with a 2.63GAA and .914 sv %.
There is only one real surprise with Colorado. Their home record is not good at all (6W-8L-3OTL). If they want to make the playoffs, they are going to have to be better on home ice.
Looking at the 30th place team in the league, this is one of the biggest surprises in of the NHL season. After being the most injured team in the 2014-15 season, the Blue Jackets were expected to be one of the top teams in the NHL and make a deep playoff run. Although they only played 39 games and have a record of 14-22-3 31 points, they are all but eliminated from this year’s playoffs. Columbus has had trouble putting the puck in the net thus far, only scoring 98 goals. Where they truly struggle is keeping the puck out of the net. They have given up 123, for a differential of -25 (good for worst in the league.)
Many believed he would never coach in the NHL again because of his tough love character which does not seem to fly anymore in the league, John Tortorella was brought in mid year to coach the Jackets. Since Torts has taken over as bench boss, star forward Ryan Johansen has been demoted the fourth line, benched and made a healthy scratch on different occasions. Despite that, he currently sits 3rd in team scoring with 6 goals and 19 assists.
Goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky seems to have found his form once again and despite the team being so poor on the defensive end of the ice, his numbers are rather decent (2.52GAA and .916 sv %)
Torts behind the bench, Johansen on the bench are not even the biggest surprise for the club. They currently lead the league in penalty minutes with 526. Although, the penalty kill is getting better under Tortorella, they will have to find a way to be disciplined if they want to improve and help their goalie keep the puck out of the net.
We all knew that the Dallas Stars would be a high power offensive team who can win games 6-5, but what the hockey world was not sure about was their defensive play and goaltending.
The Non Surprise:
The Dallas Stars lead the league in goals scored with 137 and 98 against, for a differential of +39 (tied for 1st in the league). It is also no surprise that Jamie Benn (24g, 28a, 52 pts) and Tyler Sequin (23g, 27a, 50 its) are 2nd and 3rd in the league in scoring. But, what is a surprise is that the Dallas Stars are sitting on top of the NHL with a record of 28-8-3 59 points.
The 1a,1b goalie system appears to be working for the moment. I still believe that the playoffs will be a better telltale sign if it truly works. Stars GM, Jim Nil had brought in former cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi (2.25GAA, .919 sv %) to support Kari Lehtonen (2.63 GAA, .911 sv %) who had a rough time last year keeping the puck out of the net. A little competition seems to be working well for the tandem, as they are currently in first place.
The emergence of budding star defenceman John Klingberg. He currently sits 2nd amongst all defensemen with 5 goals and 29 assists, only behind Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. It is nice to see Klingberg put up the points offensively, but his defensive play away from the puck keeps improving as well.
Personally, I’m still not sold on the two goalie system working in the playoffs, but time will tell if the Stars can prove me wrong.
There is not much new to say about the Detroit Red Wings. Thanks to Executive VP and GM Ken Holland and his supporting cast, the Detroit Red Wings are the most consistent team in all of professional sports. They are looking to make the playoffs for the 25th consecutive year. Looking pretty good this year, newly hired coach Jeff Blashill has been able to continue where former Wings coach Mike Babcock has left off. Currently sitting 11th in the NHL with a record of 19-13-7 45 points, they hold down the 3rd spot in the Atlantic Division.
Like a lunar eclipse, it is rare that the Wings will let a 19 year old play for the big club. They are known for letting their players “over ripen” in the minors before getting called up. Dylan Larkin has shown why he is that good. He has 13 goals and 13 assists on the year, but what has kept him on this team is his solid 200 foot game. He plays both sides of the puck better than most vets in the league. He is a true gem to keep an eye on for years to come.
If you look at the standings today, there is no surprise about the Edmonton Oilers. Sitting 29th in the NHL with a record of 15-21-3 33 points. This however, does not begin to tell the story of their season thus far.
If you have never heard the name Connor McDavid, you must be living under a rock. The 2015 first overall draft pick and franchise player has been everything advertised and then some. It took McDavid 3 games into his professional career to figure out how to play in the NHL, he was then off to the races. He picked up 5 goals and 7 assists in his first 13 games before suffering an injury that has kept him out of the lineup ever since. While he was in the lineup, he made all his teammates better and had the team build up some ever needed confidence and were competing for a playoff spot. Don’t be shocked if they go on a late season run upon his return.
Another surprise is the emergence of Leon Draisaitl. Once McDavid went out with an injury Draisaitl was called up to the big club and took over right where McDavid left off. This big rugged centre was the team’s 3rd overall pick in the 2014 entry draft and has taken off since his return to the Oilers. In 29 games played this season he has 9 goals and 22 assists.
Look out for the Edmonton Oilers, as they are finally on the upswing.
In the past month, the Florida Panthers have rapidly climbed the standings and there is no sign of them slowing down. Currently sitting 9th in the NHL and flip flopping Atlantic Division lead with the Montreal Canadiens, the Cats have a record of 21-12-4 46 points. This team has been quite successful on both ends of the ice; putting up 101 goals and only allowing 84 (3rd in NHL) for a differential of +17 (5th in the league).
The perfect blend of youth and vets. 43 year old Jaromir Jagr is currently leading the team in scoring with 11 goals and 15 assists, but that is not what is most important about his presence. He is instilling a strong work ethic in his teammates. First one on the ice and in the gym and last to leave. He is showing his teammates what it takes to be professional athletes. Benefitting from his presence are Jonathan Huberdeau (4g, 21a; 2nd in team scoring and Jagr linemate) and former second overall pick Aleksander Barkov (11g, 12a) just to name a few. They are learning what it takes to be professionals in the league and what better way to learn than from the legend himself.
Goaltending has been lights out. Starter Roberto Luongo (2.16GAA , .926 sv %) has played in the majority of the games and has put up solid numbers, while backup Al Montoya (1.79GAA, .930 sv %) has done his job when called upon.
The Panthers have the makeup of a team who can do some damage for many years to come. A perfect blend of youth and vets, strong goaltending and plenty of budding stars. Look out for this club to dominate for years to come.
After a 2014-15 campaign that saw the cup favourites, L.A. Kings miss the playoffs, it appears as if all they needed was a little rest. The Kings are back to fine form, leading the Pacific Division by a landslide. Currently third in the NHL with a record of 20-10-6 46 points, look out Western Conference teams! You do not want to meet the Kings in the playoffs. They have scored 102 goals, given up 82 (2nd in the league) for a differential of +20 (good for 3rd in the NHL.) They have the experience and the skill to beat any team in the league at any given time.
The Non Surprise:
Superstar defenceman Drew Doughty is playing the best hockey of his career. He is putting the points (6g, 17a) and is dominating the ice in all three zones. Could this finally be the year he wins the Norris Trophy?
Star goaltender Jonathan Quick is back to his old ways. With a 2.16GAA and a .922 SV %, he is an integral part of the club’s success.
The semi surprise:
Every saturday night during Hockey Night In Canada, Don Cherry has been praising Tyler Toffoli (18g, 12a). It should be no surprise that Toffoli is putting up the points in his fourth season with the Kings. It is however a surprise that the young star is leading the Kings in scoring. Look for Toffoli to take on a bigger role with the club in the coming years, as he continues to grow on and off the ice.
The Minnesota Wild are one of the more intriguing teams in the league. For the past couple seasons they have quietly gotten better, but like all the other teams in the Western Conference; they can’t seem to get by the Blackhawks and Kings. For the moment, they are 8th in the league with a record of 20-10-6 46 points. What has made them so good is their team defence. They have scored 98 goals, but have only given up 85 (4th in NHL) for a differential of +13 (8th in the league) which is exactly where they sit in the standings. The Wild score by committee, they have 5 players with 20+ points and 5 more with 17+ points.
Once again, the team is being led on the backend by workhorse Ryan Suter. He has 5 goals and 19 assists on the year so far and is averaging 28:09 minutes per game, only second to the Ottawa Senator’s captain Erik Karlsson (who averages 28:22 min/game.)
The Wild are currently in the top wild card spot and 2 points away from the Blackhawks in their division with 3 games in hand. Look out for the Wild to once again creep up the standings. Like the St. Louis Blues, they will be judged on their playoff success or lack thereof.
Captain Mikko Koivu is rejuvenated. Koivu currently leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and 21 assists.
I was one of the skeptics about Devan Dubnyk being able to play at the same level of the 2014-15 season. I was wrong and he deserves credit. Although the Wild are a great defensive team, Dubnyk is keeping the puck out of the net (2.32GAA and .920 SV %).
If you were to look at the Montreal Canadiens stats at this point in time, you would think they are having a great campaign. However, that is not the case; The Canadiens have started the year off 15-4-2 (1st in the NHL) before their spark plug Brendan Gallagher got injured taking a puck off his fingers. Another reason for the Habs slide is Carey Price (NHL MVP and #1 goaltender in the league.) Their star goaltender has only appeared in 12 games this season. He went 10-2 before being out with “a lower body injury.” There is no timetable on his return and no news on the injury.
Since Gallagher went down with the injury, the Habs had gone 5-11-1 and went from being the top team in the league in points, goals for, goals against to 7th place (they had a significant lead in league which is why they have not slid further in the standings.) Their current record is 22-15-3 47 points.
The big surprise is the impact Gallagher has on this club. Brendan made his return at the winter classic on January 1st and helped the Habs beat their rival Boston Bruins 5-1 where he had a goal and an assist . This may be the spark the Canadiens needed to turnaround their season.
Hopefully for the Canadiens, they will get Carey Price back sooner rather than later and they can continue right where they left off. If they can go into the playoffs healthy, lookout for them to make a big push and compete for the Stanley Cup.
The Nashville Predators are a surprise this year. Currently 14th in the league with a record of 18-13-7 43 points and sitting in the 2nd wildcard spot; Many analysts were expecting more from this club. As of late, they have had trouble putting the puck in the net and keeping the puck out. Scoring 101 goals and giving up the same amount. If they are going to compete the rest of the season, they are going to have to address this issue.
Individually, it is of no surprise that Roman Josi, Shea Weber and Ryan Ellis are putting up points this year. What is a surprise is that Josi (9G, 20A) and Weber (11G, 15A) are the top point getters on the club and Ellis (4G 12A) is currently 6th in scoring for the Preds.
Pekka Rinne‘s numbers are not what we have grown accustom to. With a 2.46 GAA and a .907 SV %, he is off from his career averages of 2.36 GAA and .918 SV %. Although he is not at fault for his team not scoring, he will have to play like the superstar we know he is in order for the Predators to hold down their playoff spot.
This year’s Cinderella team; The New Jersey Devils are currently sitting 13th in the league with a record of 19-14-5 43 points. The Devils are in the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and are going to be in for a tough second half of the season. Newly hired head coach John Hynes deserves a lot of credit for getting the best out of an average team.
The non surprises:
Sniper Mike Cammalleri is currently leading the team is scoring with 14 goals and 21 assists. These are similar numbers to what he has been putting up the past couple seasons.
Star netminder Cory Schneider is showing why he should be in the conversation when we are discussing the top goalies in the NHL. He has a 2.10 GAA and a .927 SV %, he is doing all he can to help his team make a playoff push.
Former Anaheim forward, Kyle Palmieri is showing why the Ducks should have never traded him away for a second round draft pick to say the least. In his fourth full time season in the league he is 2nd on the team in scoring with 16 goals and 13 assists. The Ducks can definitely use his offence right now, as they are the lowest scoring team in the NHL.
I have no clue how the Devils season is going to play out, but with new GM Ray Shero and coach John Hynes in place, they are definitely moving in the right direction.
The New York Islanders are one of those teams we are expecting to take the next step and compete for the Stanley Cup. They are currently in 6th place with a record of 21-12-5 47 points. With 105 goals on the season, only 89 against (5th in the league) and a differential of +16 (6th overall), their goaltending is helping them stay competitive and make their way into the playoffs. Like some of the teams in the Western Conference, it will be no surprise if they make the playoffs but will be judged on how they perform in the playoffs.
It is no surprise that former first overall draft pick John Tavares is leading the team in scoring… again. But, what is shocking is that he only has 14 goals and 14 assists.
We were expecting good goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, but injuries have kept him out of multiple games. What we didn’t expect, is for backup goaltender Thomas Greiss to play lights out and turn the goaltending situation to a 1A, 1B goalie tandem. In 18 games played he has a 2.03 GAA and a .936 SV %, which puts him in the top echelon of the league. Can he continue to dominate at this rate? That is yet to be determined, but in the meantime, Islanders fans should enjoy the ride.
When we think of the New York Rangers, we think of one of the top defensive cores in the NHL. This is the first season they are not living up to that. The Rangers are currently a top 10 team in the league, but like the Canadiens have been sliding as of late. With a record of 21-13-4 46 points, they are competing with the Islanders for 2nd place in the Metropolitan division. It is not all doom and gloom in New York, the Rangers are scoring a lot, currently with 112 goals on the year (5th in the league) and 100 against, they have a differential of +12 (which is good for 9th in the league.)
Mats Zuccarello is currently leading the team in scoring with 16 goals and 15 assists. They are scoring by committee. The Rangers have 4 players with 20+ points and another 5 with 17+ points as well.
Team defence is not living up to their reputation. Goalie, Henrik Lundqvist is doing his part, putting up solid stats (2.49GAA and .921 SV %) , but the likes of Keith Yandle, Ryan Mcdonagh, Dan Girard and Marc Staal are going to have to step up their defensive play if the Rangers are going to make a deep playoff push.
The Ottawa Senators are exactly where we thought they would be. Currently ranked 15th in the NHL, with a record of 18-14-6 42 points, they will be fighting until the end of the season for one of the final playoff spots.
There is no real surprise at all on this team. Erik Karlsson leads all defensemen with 9 goals and 32 assists and also leads the league in ice time, where he averages 28:22 minutes a game.
Leading goal scorer, Mike Hoffman (18 goals, 16 assists) is continuing where he left off last season.
If the Sens are going to make a serious push, they are going to need more out of their defence and goaltending who have combined for lackluster numbers (2.73 GAA and .918 SV %.)
When it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers, they are exactly where everyone thought they would be. With tons of defensive prospects ripening in the Juniors and AHL, there was no great aspirations for the club this year. Currently sitting 23rd in the league with a record of 15-15-7 37 points, they are definitely focusing on the future and not trying to shake up the roster to compete this year.
With star forwards on the team, Claude Giroux (12 goals 17 assists, leads team in scoring) and Jakub Voracek ((4 goals and 21 assists) , they are expected to produce at a super rate. The Flyers are ranked 29th in team offence with 79 goals and 102 against, they have a differential of -23, which puts them 28th in the league.
What is more shocking, despite their low scoring, for parts of the season; Voracek has been demoted to the fourth line, and justly so. Voracek has only 4 goals on the season…yes that is right 4 goals, with an $8 Million + contract beginning next season, this has to be a worry in the front office.
Despite their lackluster season, Shayne Gostisbehere, known as the Ghost, is definitely one of their bright lights. In his first full season in the league, he has put up 6 goals and 8 assists in only 21 games on the year. He is also on the first pairing of the power play and is a star to watch in the future.
Another surprise is backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who has played well when called upon. In 15 starts, Neuvirth has a record of 8-5-2 and a 2.06 GAA and a .937 SV %, where as starting goaltender Steve Mason has put up mediocre numbers when he has played with a 2.85 GAA and a .910 SV %. The fact that they keep going back to Mason, leads me to believe the Flyers have written off this season and are looking to finish lower in the standings.
I get upset when I speak about the Pittsburgh Penguins. For an in depth look at the Penguins, check out my previous article here. In a nut shell, the Penguins are currently 16th in the league with a record of 18-15-4 40 points. They are currently 3 points out of a playoff spot and who knows if they will claw their way in.
There are 2 players keeping this club afloat. Evgeni Malkin has called out his team’s poor play and since then has dominated. Gino currently leads the Pens in scoring with 18 goals and 16 assists. The other player is star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He has been lights out and keeping the team in most games with a 2.29 GAA and a .925 SV % this year.
With players like Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and newly acquired Phil Kessel, we would expect a high flying, high scoring offence. However, the Pens have only scored 86 goals on the season (28th in NHL) and 91 against (Thank you Fleury!). For an average player, Crosby’s numbers are pretty good (9 goals and 18 assists). However, Crosby is expected to be in the Art Ross Trophy running and league MVP running year after year and his numbers just aren’t good enough.
Kessel was brought in during the offseason by GM Jim Rutherford to play with Crosby. He currently has 11 goals and 10 assists, and is definitely not panning out to what the team’s expectations. I go back to my previous article to say, they did not address their real issue in the offseason; the need for puck moving defensemen and that Jim Rutherford’s time in the NHL needs to come to an end.
Not much to say about the San Jose Sharks. They are playing in the weak Pacific Division, and should be able to grab a playoff spot. Currently sitting 21st in the league with a record of 18-16-2 38 points, they are only 1 point out of a playoff spot. Their team stats are average; 100 goals for and 102 goals against and a goal differential of -2.
For the past couple of years, GM Doug Wilson says change is coming, but with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in complete control of their destiny (they both have full no trade clauses in their contracts), it does not look like real change is going to come until these two are gone. This is not a knock on them as players. Year after year they both consistently put up points, but when it comes down to playoff success, they have not been able to get it done. In order for the Sharks to take the next step, they need to get rid of the past and focus on the future.
The injury to Logan Couture has kept him out of all but 6 games this year, has had an impact on the club as well.
The non surprises:
Captain Joe Pavelski is leading the team in scoring with 20 goals and 18 assists (exactly what we expect from him) and defenseman/forward/craziest beard in hockey Brent Burns is 2nd in team scoring with 15 goals and 18 assists.
Nothing surprising about the St. Louis Blues, with a record of 23-13-4 50 points, they are currently the 4th best team in the league and continue to roll on through the regular season. With 100 goals scored and 96 goals against, they may need to tighten up abit to be competitive against the big dogs in the playoffs.
The non surprise:
Superstar Vladimir Tarasenko continues to dominate the league and lead the team in scoring with 22 goals and 17 assists. Alexander Steen (13 goals and 22 assists) has also put up the points in recent years. Besides those two forwards, they get scoring from a wide array of players. 4 players have 20+ points and 5 have 14+ points.
Early in the year I wrote an article about rookies to watch and Colton Parayko was on that list. He is currently 5th in team scoring with 6 goals and 10 assists and has a cannon of the shot that needs to be watched by the opposition.
The other surprise is that Jake Allen has finally stepped up and taken the reigns as starting goaltender for the Blues. With a 2.08 GAA and a .927 SV %, he is finally performing to the level that many were expecting for a couple seasons.
The St. Louis Blues continue to be one of the top teams in the NHL in the regular season and will be judged solely based on their playoff performance. They will need to find a way to get through the Kings and/or Blackhawks if they want to be considered a true contender in the NHL.
After a slow start to the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are sitting 18th overall in the league with a record of 18-16-4 40 points. With that being said, they are only 3 points out of a playoff spot.
The Bolts were expected to steam roll their way through the Eastern Conference, be one of the top scoring teams in the league and be a true contender for the Stanley Cup. The surprising aspect of that entire ordeal is that the Tampa Bay have only scored 97 goals this season (21st in the league) but are playing well defensively, only allowing 93 goals against (9th place).
So what has made the Bolts so lackluster this season? Could it be the fact that GM Steve Yzerman has yet to sign superstar sniper Steven Stamkos? You can see my thoughts on that matter here. Or maybe it is the injury to one member of the triplets line; Ondrej Palat, who has only played in 18 games this year? Or the average play of their veteran defensemen? One thing that is for sure it is not the fault of goaltender Ben Bishop who has a 2.06 GAA and a .925 SV %.
With the return of Ondrej Palat to the lineup, I expect the triplets line to dominate, Bishop to continue his strong play and Stamkos light the lamp. The Lightning should be able to make a strong push for a playoff spot. What will happen from there is still up in the air.
Before newly head coach Mike Babcock signed an 8 year deal and arrived in Toronto, the impression of the Maple Leafs was that the team had no structure, the star players didn’t work hard and got away with everything. It took Babcock less than half a season to instill accountability and a strong work ethic to the original 6 franchise.
Prior to the beginning of the season, the Leafs were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league and compete in the Auston Matthews (expected to be the #1 pick in the 2016 entry draft) sweepstakes. With such strong parity in the league, they may still be by years end. Toronto is sitting in 27th place in the league with a record of 14-15-7 35 points. However, the club is only 5 pts away from the middle of the pack. They are definitely playing like a team and leaving it all on the ice almost every night.
Leo Komarov leads the team in goals with 15. The Leafs are not stacked with star studded players, however the fact that Leo is a third or fourth line player on most NHL teams, demonstrates the talent level on this club. Not taking anything away from Komarov, he has certainly earned the trust of head coach Mike Babcock and deserves his on going success.
The next big shocker is the teams goaltending. Goaltender James Reimer (1.97 GAA, .936 SV %) has taken over the #1 spot in the Leafs net. However, injuries have sidelined him. The Leafs are anxiously awaiting his return, but who knows if he will be able to continue his great play when he does. Sticking with goaltending, expected #1 goalie Jonathan Bernier (3.22 GAA and a .889 SV %), had lost his confidence and Babcock does not seem to care as he expects results. He had sent him down to the AHL for a 10 day stint and is slowly getting his confidence back upon his return to the NHL.
The last Maple Leaf shocker is the point totals of Tyler Boak. He currently has 9 goals and 16 assists on the season. These numbers are in line with his career stats, however the shocking part is that nobody believed he would be able to maintain those numbers without being on a line with former line mate Phil Kessel.
Having a good coach can really help turn things around. Despite the constant chatter coming out of Toronto that they are in a complete rebuild, I am expecting the Leafs to be much better, much sooner.
For years, I have not been fond of the Vancouver Canucks. Yet every year, they surprise me and make their way into the playoffs. They are currently 20th in the league with a record of 15-15-9 39 points and hanging on by a thread to the last playoff spot in the weak Pacific Division. This is the year, I don’t expect them to be able to hold the course.
There are no real surprises on this team. The Sedin twins continue to lead the team in scoring: Daniel (16 goals 21 assists) and Henrik (9 goals 24 assists). Their defence has been mediocre at best and the same goes for their below average goaltending. They have scored 95 goals on the year, given up 110 and have a differential of -15 (good for the bottom tier of the league).
The Vancouver Canucks are a team in transition. Former GM Mike Gillis botched many situations and left the team with no starting goaltender and not much depth with an aging group. The Canucks have spent most of the season getting their youth into the lineup to see what they have. GM Jim Benning is retooling on the fly and it will be interesting to watch what he can do with the Canucks in the next couple of years.
With the fall of the Canadiens and Rangers, the Washington Capitals have taken over the Eastern Conference and the NHL. Currently sitting 2nd in the NHL with a record of 28-7-2 58 points, they are only 1 point off from the Dallas Stars and have 2 games in hand. They are scoring and keeping the puck out of their own net. With 117 goals for and only 78 against (1st in NHL) they are tied for 1st place in the league with a +39 differential.
The non surprises:
The team is just dominating the league and keeping the puck out of the net.
Braden Holtby is the top goaltender in the NHL thus far and putting up fabulous numbers (1.86 GAA and .934 SV %). Alex Ovechkin is leading the team in scoring with 21 goals and 12 assists and John Carlson is proving why he is one of the top defensemen in the NHL with 27 points and averaging 24:28 minutes per game (7th in the NHL).
Head coach Barry Trotz has got the whole team to buy in to team defence.
The Washington Capitals are going to make a strong push for the Stanley Cup. It seems as if they have all the components needed for it and the addition of Mr.Playoff Justin Williams will not hurt them either.
The Winnipeg Jets are one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this year. After making the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg and coming back with an almost identical team to last year, the Jets were expected to build on last year’s success. That has not happened. Their record of 17-18-2 36 points is less than ideal. Their team stats of 99 goals for and 109 against, give them a differential of -10. Definitely not the numbers of a playoff team.
What has gone wrong for the Jets? They continue to spend a lot of time in the sin bin. They currently sit in 6th place with 458 penalty minutes on the year, but are the most penalized team in the NHL, having been penalized 141 times this season.
The Jets are putting the puck in the net and getting scoring from everyone. They have 2 players with 30+ points, 4 players with +20 points and 1 player with 19 points.
Goaltending has definitely hurt them this year. The ugly surprise is the two headed monster from last year of Ondrej Pavelec ( 2.82 GAA and .906 SV %) and Michael Hutchinson (2.89 GAA, .906 SV %) have not panned out this season.
Rookie goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has been a pleasant surprise. Putting up some much better stats than his counterparts (2.11 GAA and .926 SV %). It will be interesting to see if he will get more starts in the second half of the season.
Spark Sports NHL Analyst