We are now approaching the quarter-mark of the NHL season and getting the place where we have an idea of what teams are. Typically American Thanksgiving in late November is the date used to determine which teams will be in the playoffs and which ones will miss out. Although the season is more than a month old already, it can still be fun to look at what has gone on and completely overreact to what has happened. That is what I am going to do with this post: I am going to write several reactionary headlines based on the NHL season thus far and determine whether or not they are believable and will continue or whether they are just the result of the brief season and the team will regress to a norm.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning will continue to lead the league in points and win the President’s Trophy at season’s end
- Believe It: They currently have the second best offense in the league (71 goals in 18 games), tied for eighth in goals against (46), rank second in powerplay percentage (28.57%), ninth in penalty kill success (84.13%), second in shooting percentage (12.0%), and tied for second in save percentage (.922). Steven Stamkos currently leads the league in points with 31 and Nikita Kucherov sits first in goals with 16. They have nine players with at least 10 points and four with at least five goals. Perhaps the biggest reason to believe in them is that they are a 51.2% Corsi team and that Tyler Johnson and Chris Kunitz have yet to get going and Cedric Paquette has only played in six games so far. They do need to do a better job at limiting shots against Andrei Vasilevskiy and Peter Budaj but injuries are likely the only thing that can hold back this team.
- Edmonton is the second worst team in the Western Conference and will miss the playoffs, leading to Todd McLellan’s firing
- Don’t Believe It: The Oilers are currently the worst offensive team in the league with just 38 goals in 17 games. Basically everything has gone wrong for the team so far this season outside of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl. They only have five players with at least 10 points, the Ryan Strome experiment isn’t working, their defense isn’t helping out in either zone, and Cam Talbot has been terrible in net. It has to be assumed that Talbot will bounceback, that their defense will gel at some point, and they should get more production from some of their forwards. They are still the second best possession team in the league with a 55.0% Corsi. For them to be a true Stanley Cup contender, however, they have to get better, either through internal replacements and improvements or through the trade market. They are beginning to approach dangerous territory of not being able to get back into the playoff race and need to fix these issues quickly.
- Vegas will remain in a playoff position all season long and shock the hockey world
- Don’t Believe It: Their record so far has been earned and they actually are a good hockey team. They are scoring at a much higher clip than anyone could have predicted considering their talent at forward and their defense has come together well. They are currently above league average in goals for and against, powerplay and penalty kill success, shooting and save percentages, and PDO. One reason this success won’t continue for the full season is that they are struggling in puck possession metrics and aren’t shooting enough, attributing to their high shooting percentage. They have also gotten somewhat lucky with their goaltending and have been forced to play their fifth string netminder at times. They have also been incredibly successful at home, going 7-1 at T-Mobile Arena butn just 3-4-1 on the road. That is not a good omen for the Golden Knights considering they play 41 road games. Lastly, this team wasn’t designed to be a playoff team in year one. They wanted to be competitive each game, which they have been, but the goal was always to trade away expiring contracts for assets during the season. James Neal, David Perron, Jonathan Marchessault, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb, and maybe even Colin Miller could be moved this season. Losing those players would have a big impact on the team’s ability to compete this season as Neal, Perron, and Marchessault are among their top five scorers.
- Montreal has just 46 goals through 18 games (2.56/game) and a -15 goal differential and won’t be able to score enough to get into the playoffs
- Believe It: With their offseason transactions and the roster they had entering the regular season, it was widely known that Montreal would have to rely on stellar goaltending from Carey Price to be successful. Instead, Price has been bad with just an .877 save percentage and a 3.77 goals against average. He will likely be much better as the season moves forward and regress to his career norms but that won’t fix their scoring issues or their bad defense. Their scoring problems aren’t for a lack of trying; they have attempted the most shots in the league but have the second worst shooting percentage. Typically a low shooting percentage would rebound over the course of a season but their roster just doesn’t have enough proven scorers on it to expect a rebound. Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher are having good seasons but Jonathan Drouin hasn’t been the dynamic scorer fans wanted when the team acquired him this offseason. The trades they have made in recent years to address issues have only opened up more problems for the team.
- New Jersey is leading the Metro Division despite playing in the second fewest games this season
- Don’t Believe It: The Devils have been a great story this season considering they entered the year with a high likelihood of being a lottery team. They have played very well so far and have had good results but this is still the same roster. They have a nice group of young forwards who have played well in a speedy system but their defense is bad outside of Will Butcher. They allow too many shots (604 in 17 games), are getting crushed from a possession standpoint (45.0 CF%), and goalie Cory Schneider has been good but not great. There is likely to be some regression this season as their young players wear down from a full NHL season and eventually their lack of talent will catch up to them.
- Pittsburgh doesn’t look like a contender to three-peat
- Believe It: The Penguins may still have the names – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang – but their defense has been atrocious and they lack center depth. They currently have a -18 goal differential and have just one player with a positive plus/minus. They have allowed the seventh most shots so far and have an .887 save percentage as a team. Starting netminder Matt Murray has been bad in his first season as a full-time starter with a .906 save percentage and a 2.90 goals against average and it is clear that they are missing Marc-Andre Fleury. Their backup goalie situation has been a revolving door, starting with Antti Niemi and now with Tristan Jarry in the role, and is something that needs to be figured out since they have 19 back-to-backs this season. So far those situations have been problematic and they have been blown out in the second game of a back-to-back three times. Perhaps most alarming is that they have had problems scoring, averaging just 2.63 goals per game. They have lacked scoring depth and even Crosby has been really bad with just 13 points on the season and no goals in his last 10 games. Nearly a third of their goals have come on the powerplay, where they rank fifth in the league with a 24.66% success rate. This is likely to drop as a team typically cannot sustain that high of a success rate and it is a bad recipe to rely that much on the powerplay for goals.
- Ottawa is even better this season than they were last
- Believe It: The Senators won last year by getting great goaltending and winning a lot of one goal games. This season they are a top five offense but not getting great goaltending from Craig Anderson. GM Pierre Dorion went out and acquired Matt Duchene to give them a boost at center. Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson, and Mike Hoffman have all been great so far and there is reason to believe Bobby Ryan will be productive when he returns from injury. Anderson going through a down stretch is not uncommon for him as he is a streaky goaltender and typically turns his play around. If the Senators can back to playing good defense and still playing offense, they should be a playoff team again and could even be a threat in the Eastern Conference.
- Carolina will be the basement of the Metro Division again
- Don’t Believe It: If the Hurricanes even had a hint of an offense, they would be much better and likely in a playoff spot already. They have currently only scored 41 goals in 16 games (2.56 goals per game) and have just two players with at least 10 points. The good news is that they have only allowed 43 goals on the year (third best) and are the best possession team in the league (56.0 CF%). They have been really bad on the powerplay (12.24%) and are far too talented for that to continue. They have to get more talented at forward and could accomplish this by moving one of their young defensemen for one.
- San Jose is no longer a Stanley Cup contender
- Believe It: The Sharks are one of the oldest rosters in the league with an average age of 28.5 years. They lost Patrick Marleau’s 27 goals this offseason and did nothing to replace him and have only scored 44 goals in 16 games this season. They have gotten stellar goaltending from Martin Jones but this roster is built to outscore teams, not win 2-1 games. A big reason for their issues are Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski, two players who have gotten off to terrible starts this season. With the youthful teams like Edmonton and Calgary in the division, the Sharks are slow and are going to find themselves on the outside looking in this season.
*All stats and information came from Hockey-Reference