We are just over a quarter into the NHL season and contenders are beginning to distance themselves from pretenders. For all 31 NHL teams, there’s something good and bad to say. We are going to look at what is keeping some teams afloat and what is sinking others.
Good: Rickard Rakell. People thought last season may have been a fluke, putting up career highs in goals (33) and points (51), but after 22 games this season, he has 8 goals, 10 assists, and 18 points. Rakell is on pace to set new career highs in assists (37) and points (67).
Bad: Injuries. The Ducks are a team of high expectations, but their season has been derailed by injuries. Centerman Ryan Kesler has yet to play a game this season after off-season hip surgery, Ryan Getzlaf has played in only six games after taking to a puck to the face early in the season, and top defenseman Cam Fowler just recently returned from a month hiatus after injuring his knee early in the season. Brutal!
Good: Youth. The Coyotes may not be good right now, but they are coming. Their top point scorer Clayton Keller is a rookie, their top defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is just 26 years old, and eight of their top nine point scorers are all 27 or younger. Oh, and their top prospect Dylan Strome just recently got called up.
Bad: Defense. This is a mix of their defenders and goaltenders, but it’s not good. The Coyotes have allowed the most goals in the league (98) and have the worst goal differential (-32). Add in that not one player on their roster has a positive plus/minus, and that spells disaster.
Good: The kids. We know about Marchand and Bergeron, but it’s the youngsters who are helping this team big time. Rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen each have 12 points while spending time in the top six forwards. Also, defender Charlie McAvoy looks like real deal on the blue line. This team is set for years to come.
Bad: Tuukka Rask. Now, I know Rask shut down the Lightning on Wednesday night, but he has not been the Rask we have come to know. Rask’s save percentage is under .900 on the year and he has just a 4-8-2 record on the year. With as close and tough the Eastern Conference is, Rask is going to have to be much better the rest of the way if he wants to hold onto his job and lead the Bruins to the playoffs.
Good: Eichel & Kane. No this isn’t a law firm, but it is the only bright spot for the Sabres this season. Evander Kane looks back, as he has 12 goals and 23 points, while Jack Eichel is magical with the puck on his stick. Also, Kane is looking like he’s going to be a big trade piece at the trade deadline and will allow the Sabres to get lots of young talent back in return if traded.
Bad: Everyone else. As good as Eichel and Kane are, the rest of the team has been just as bad. They don’t have a third offensive threat, and don’t tell me Ryan O’Reilly is a third threat. The defense looks lost at times and they have an NHL 55 goals on the season. To go along with that, this is another team that has no player with a positive plus/minus on the season, just dreadful.
Good: Johnny Hockey. Man, is this guy hot! Before being held scoreless for the last two games, Johnny Gaudreau had 9 goals, and 22 points in 12 games. Let’s not forget that this kid is still only 24 years old and is just scratching the surface of his talent. That is scary for the rest of the league.
Bad: Lapses. As good as this team can be and has looked, they still have lapses that are confusing. They have given up six goals to Dallas, eight to Detroit, five to Vancouver, and four to Philadelphia, all in the past month. As good as this team looks at times, they still look young in some games and need to be better focused.
Good: Teuvo Teravainen. After coming over from Chicago where he never truly got his chance, he put up career highs in goals (15), assists (27), and points (42) last season. This year, he is going the same, Teravainen is on pace for 28 goals, 46 assists, and 74 points. This Teravainen kid is the real deal for years to come.
Bad: Victor Rask. After putting up 48 and 45 points in his last two seasons, Victor Rask looked ready to make a jump, but he has done the exact opposite. After scoring just four goals and have seven points through his first 21 games, he is on pace for 15 goals and 27 points, his lowest point total in his short four-year NHL career. If the Hurricanes want to get hot and make a run they will need Rask to find his game and pick up the points pace.
Good: Alex DeBrincat. I said at the beginning of the season that this kid has the ability to be a 50-goal scorer one day, and he has shown it in his first full season. After starting off the season a little cold, DeBrincat has seven goals and four assists over the past eight games and is second on the team with 10 goals and 18 points this season.
Bad: Duncan Keith. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Duncan Keith fan, but when your top defenseman on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations is a -5, that is not good. Keith still has not scored a goal this season and he is struggling a bit on the defensive end of things. If the Blackhawks want to be good enough to make a run they will need Duncan Keith to be better on the defensive end.
Good: Offense. This team is as good offensively as anyone else in the league. Their top six forwards can skate without anyone in the game and Nathan Mackinnon is well on his way to a career year. MacKinnon is on pace to set career highs in goals (28), assists (71), and points (99). Those numbers are pretty good.
Bad: Inconsistent goaltending. After starting the year giving up just seven goals in his first four games, Semyon Varlamov has given up 17 goals in his last five games. As good as this Colorado offense is, they will only go as far as Varlamov will take them in net.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Good: Sergei Bobrovsky. Has there been a better goalie this season than Bobrovsky? The correct answer is no! Bobrovsky leads the league in GAA (1.92) and SV% (.935) and has kept the Blue Jackets rolling while the offense struggles to find the firepower of last season.
Bad: Offense. After rolling last season, many people thought the acquisition of Artemi Panarin would only make this offense better, but it has been the opposite. Althought Panarin leads the team with 11 assists and 16 points, the rest of the offense has been stagnant, especially Cam Atkinson. After posting 35 goals and 62 points last season, both career highs, Atkinson is on pace for only 23 goals and 35 points, ugly!
Good: Tyler Seguin. This man is unbelievable! He is on pace for his fifth-straight 70+ point season and has his Dallas Stars back in playoff contention, as he leads the team with 12 goals and 23 points. Nothing new here for Seguin.
Bad: Martin Hanzal. The Stars signed Hanzal in the offseason looking for bottom six forward help and a third line centerman, instead they seem to have gotten a washed-up Hanzal, at best. Hanzal has just one goal and three points through 19 games, and has a -10 on the year. If the Stars want to make the playoffs, they will need some help from their bottom 6 and will have to start with Hanzal.
Detroit Red Wings
Good: Dylan Larkin. After a tremendous rookie season posting 23 goals and 45 points, last season was awful with just 17 goals and 32 points. This season, Larking seems to be back to the breakout youngster everyone saw him as. Larkin is on pace for a career-high 55 assists and 68 points. Larkin has been one of the few bright spots for an up and down Red Wings team.
Bad: Blueline. Mike Green is having a good year with 16 assists and 18 points, but where are the rest of the defenders? Other than Green, none of their defenders have a positive +/- and none of them have more than six points. The offense and goaltending can only carry this team so far, this defense needs to step up soon or they are going to be out of the race come the new year.
Good: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins seemed to have found his role on this team perfectly. Being the second line centerman behind Connor McDavid, the pressure and spotlight are off of him, and he is taking advantage of it. He is on pace for career highs in goals (29) and points (58), and is looking like the first-round pick that the Oilers thought he was.
Bad: Everything else. This team is embarrassing, horrible, head scratching, insert your own word here. A pick of many people to make the Stanley Cup out of the West, but they look nothing like the team from last year. Cam Talbot can’t stop a puck, Oscar Klefbom can’t stop anyone from going to the net, and right now there is no life on this team. I love Todd McLellen, but his seat is real hot right now.
Good: Roberto Luongo. I don’t care how old this guy gets, he continues to get it done. At the age of 38 and in his 19th season, Luongo, playing in front of a bad team, has a 2.66 GAA and a .927 SV%. Give Luongo his due, he’s had one of the better careers in the NHL.
Bad: Nick Bjugstad. Finally healthy, people have been waiting for this kid to take off. We are waiting. Still waiting. Yeah, it’s not happening this season. Bjugstad is on pace for only 17 goals and 37 points. As a top-six forward on a team with offense, Bjugstad needs to be better or else he is going to be out of a job in Florida real soon.
Los Angeles Kings
Good: Jonathan Quick. Quick is reminding us how good he really is. After an injury-riddled season last year, Quick is back to doing what he does. He has a 2.28 GAA and a .929 SV%. If not for Quick, the Kings would not be where they are with the offense struggling the way it is.
Bad: Bottom six forwards. As good as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli, and company have been up top, the bottom six forwards have been just as bad. The top two lines can only carry this offense so far, and with second line centerman Jeff Carter out for the foreseeable future, someone from the bottom six is going to have to step up or else this team is going to start to fall.
Good: Offense. This offense is potent. They don’t have the names that others have, but they have the talent. Jason Zucker is on pace for a career-high 44 goals after his previous career high was 22. That’s pretty good.
Bad: Goaltending Consistency. Devan Dubnyk’s numbers are not bad, but the consistency is not good. After three-straight shutouts, Dubynk has given up 4, 4, 4, and 6 goals in his last four games. That’s not very good. For the Wild to get to where they want to be, they need Dubnyk to be better stopping the puck.
Good: Charlie Lindgren. I know he was sent back to the AHL this week, but Lindgren is the reason this team isn’t in last place. Before Carey Price got injured, he was awful. On top of that, this offense hasn’t gotten any better, even with the off-season acquisition of Jonathan Drouin. In this first season in the NHL, Lindgren has a 2.43 GAA and .924 SV% through eight games.
Bad: Offense. This is easy. They traded for Drouin in the off-season thinking that it would bolster their offense, but it has done nothing. They have 62 goals through 26 games, the second-least with only more than the Sabres (55). Even though Drouin leads the team with 12 assists and 17 points, the offense is still going to be the reason this team doesn’t take the next step.
Good: Acquiring Kyle Turris. This trade seemed somewhat minimal for the Predators, but it has done wonders for this team. Since acquiring Turris, the power play has move up to #3 in the NHL, they average over a goal per game more (from 2.67 to 3.88), and they are 7-2 in the nine games with Turris. He has given this team a second line centerman that can make plays and create his own goals.
Bad: Fourth defenseman. The Predators may have the best three-headed defense in the league, with Josi, Subban and Ekholm, but in trading for Turris, they gave away young star defensemen Samuel Girard. Now the questions is, who is going to step in next to Ekholm? Ekholm, like Josi, loves to step into the offensive zone, so they need whomever the fourth defenseman is to sit back and help protect Pekka Rinne from any rushes.
New Jersey Devils
Good: The Rookies. This team is young and they aren’t supposed to be where they are right now. As good as Taylor Hall has been for this team (26 points), it has been the rookies that are doing a lot of heavy lifting. Defenseman Will Butcher is second on the team with 16 assists and 18 points, while rookie Nico Hischier also has 18 points, and another rookie Brian Gibbons leads the team with 11 points and is fourth with 15 points.
Bad: Drew Stafford. They signed Stafford in the off-season thinking he would slot into the top six and help out the young kids, instead he has been relegated to a bottom six role and has a team-worst -10. The rookies continue to carry this team, but they may need the experience of Stafford if they are going to continue this magical run.
New York Islanders
Good: Josh Bailey. Who? Yeah, that’s what we are all saying. Josh Bailey was put on the top line to play with Anders Lee and John Tavares and has taken off. He leads the team with 23 assists and 28 points through 24 games and is on pace for a career-high 95 points. The Islanders have had a problem finding someone to play next to Tavares, but they have seemed to have found their guy.
Bad: Goaltending. Jaroslav Halak has been better of late, but goaltending continues to be an issue for this team. Neither Halak or Greiss has a SV% better than .905 and Greiss’ GAA is about 3.30. The Islanders offense is good enough, but the goaltending needs to tighten up for this team to hit their full potential.
New York Rangers
Good: Pavel Buchnevich. The young Buchnevich has slotted into the top line next to Zibanejad and has fit in perfectly. He has already tied his career high in points (20) and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The Rangers will need him to keep scoring until King Henrik finds his game consistently.
Bad: Jimmy Vesey. The second year winger out of Harvard was supposed to be a top six forward with 20+ goal and 50+ point potential, but he hasn’t been anything close this season. Vesey seems to be in a funk, as he has just five goals and eight points through 25 games. Vesey still has time to turn it around, but is losing time with the top six forwards and is slowing falling out of favor.
Good: Mark Stone. There isn’t much going right for this team right now, but Stone continues to do what he does. He leads the team with 14 goals and 24 points, and during their current seven-game losing streak, he leads the team with five points during that span.
Bad: The trade. Maybe Turris was more important to this team than we thought. Since the trade, the Senators are 3-8, and during their current seven-game losing streak, they have scored a total of nine goals. Also, the player they received in the three-team trade was Matt Duchene, who in nine games has just one goal and a -10 rating.
Good: The top line. The Flyers are struggling, losing nine straight, but the top line of Voracek-Couturier-Giroux just keeps on humming. They are the top three point getters on this team, and this line continues to produce most if not all the scoring for this team.
Bad: Nolan Patrick. Look, I was dead wrong on this kid. I picked Patrick to be my Calder trophy winner (rookie of the year) to start the season, but I am not even close. Even though he was injured early in the year, Patrick has just two goals and six points through 16 games and does not even look like a threat offensively for this team.
Good: Phil Kessel. Kessel still has it. Kessel may be having his best season so far, with 11 goals and 32 points through 26 games, and is on pace for over 100 points for the Penguins. Even though Crosby and Malkin are having good seasons, if they get back to the players that they can be, this team could get really dangerous. Watch out!
Bad: Defense. This isn’t just one player, but it’s the team as a whole. Matt Murray has not been the same goaltender he was the past two seasons, Kris Letang has a team-worst -13, and the offensive players are not getting as fast defensively as they should. The Penguins have given up the second-most goals in the NHL so far (-90).
San Jose Sharks
Good: Logan Couture. If not for Couture, how many games would this team have won? Couture leads the team with 13 goals and 21 points. No other Shark has more than seven goals, an issue that they need to solve.
Bad: Joe Pavelski. What’s up with Joe Pavelski? When he has played at least 80 games, he has not scored less than 25 goals. Pavelski is on pace for just 14 goals and only 42 points. The 14 goals would tie a career-low and the 42 points would be his lowest points total since his injury riddled 2012-13 season.
St. Louis Blues
Good: Brayden Schenn. This was the greatest off-season acquisition this season. We knew Tarasenko was good and we knew Schwartz was pretty good, but the addition of Brayden Schenn has made this top line unbelievable. These three top the NHL in plus/minus, and Schwartz is fourth in the NHL in points with 32.
Bad: Rest of the offense. As good as this top line has been, the rest of the offense leaves something to be desired. When the Blues are clicking, this top line is on fire, but when the opposition is able to slow down this top line, the Blues struggle to score. In their most recent game, the Blues lost to the Ducks at home 3-2 in a game where the top line went scoreless, and they didn’t score until the minutes of the third. This could be an issue in the future.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Good: Steven Stamkos. I could have said the whole top line, but what Stamkos is doing is incredible. After missing almost all of last season, people were not sure how Stamkos would come back. Well, he is better than ever. Stamkos leads the NHL with 26 assists and 37 points, and he is on pace to be only the third player in the last decade to average an assist per game (1.08). That’s pretty impressive.
Bad: Complacency. When this team is playing at their best, there is nobody better, but sometimes they get a little bored and complacent. In their latest game against the Bruins, the Lightning looked tired and bored in the first period and fell behind 2-0 while getting outshot 19-5. This team can be as good as they want to be, but they need to stay up and ready for every team’s best effort.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Good: Defenseman. As bad as their goaltending has been, their defense has been outstanding. Morgan Reilly is fourth on the team with 17 points, Ron Hainsey and Jake Gardiner have a +6 and +5 respectively, and Nikita Zaitsev has a +11 as well. This offense is potent, but it is the defense that helps the offense be so destructive in the other team’s defensive zone.
Bad: Frederik Anderson. I don’t like to single out one goalie, but Anderson needs to be better. He has some very good games and the record doesn’t look bad, but the Maple Leafs need Anderson to take the next step if they want to win a Cup.
Good: Brock Boeser. Look, this kid is good. He leads the Canucks with 11 goals, 11 assists, and 22 points. This is a Canucks team that is not nearly as good as their record is, but Boeser is the reason they are hanging around and have a chance in some of these games.
Bad: Derek Dorsett. Dorsett has had a great year, but recently had to retire because of neck issues. He went to see a doctor to find out what was wrong with his neck and the doctor told him he would have to retire before he causes serious injury to himself. Dorsett was having a great season with seven goals and nine points in 20 games, and it is sad to see his season and career come to an end like this.
Vegas Golden Knights
Good: The Team. As good as some of these players have been, I have to give credit to this team. All of these players were underestimated by their former team and they are proving them wrong. Give the Golden Knights credit. I am waiting for them to come back to Earth, but the longer they do this, the more I think they are the real deal.
Bad: Goalie Injuries. This has been a mess. The Golden Knight have used five different goalies, as Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban, Maxime Lagace, and Oscar Dansk have all been hurt. As good as this team has been, the goaltending situation needs to get better, or else they are going to come crashing down to Earth.
Good: Alex Ovechkin. This team will go where Ovechkin can take them. He is back at it, leading the league with 18 goals through 25 games and again looks like his normal self again.
Bad: Offense after the big four. They have one of the best top-four player offenses in the league, with Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Oshie and Backstrom, but they don’t have much after that. They were hoping Jakob Vrana would take the next step this season, but he has just 7 goals and 11 points through 24 games and seems to be a couple years away from that next step.
Good: Connor Hellebuyck. Since relocating from Atlanta to Winnipeg, this team has been searching for a goaltender, and they finally seemed to have found their man. Hellebuyck has stabilized the blue crease to the tune of a 2.35 GAA and a .926 SV%. Winnipeg has a goal differential of +15, their largest since coming to Winnipeg.
Bad: Bryan Little. He hasn’t been bad, but he needs to step up here soon. Marc Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and the Jets top line is carrying the offense, but at some point, teams will begin to shut them down. That means second line centerman Bryan Little is going to have to start making plays.