By: Ethan Illers
The 2015-2016 NHL season is about a month old. As the first month has passed, let’s take a look and analyze things from around the league.
Teams currently on hot streaks: The New York Rangers (won 6 straight) and the St. Louis Blues (won 3 straight).
Teams doing surprisingly well:
The Dallas Stars: I didn’t expect the Stars to come into this season as the current leaders of the Western Conference. The team is led by offensive juggernauts like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The defense has certainly bolstered and is much better this year than last year with the addition of Johnny Oduya from the Blackhawks. Along with fellow defensemen Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg to name a few, as well as outstanding goaltending by the Finnish duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, the Stars appear to be steam rolling and I expect them to continue this impressive start well into late November to early December at least.
The Minnesota Wild: While I expected this team to make the playoffs as a 6-8 seed, I didn’t see them starting off the season this well. The team is led up front by Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, and Nino Niederreiter to name a few. The exceptional defense and leadership of Ryan Suter and his defensive teammates has certainly contributed mightily to keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. Throughout these past few years, Minnesota always had trouble finding a solid net-minder. They appear to have found one with the emergence of Devan Dubnyk late last season. This team is very well rounded and I expect them to get into the second round of the playoffs at least.
Teams that are surprisingly struggling:
The Tampa Bay Lightning: The defending Eastern Conference Champs are astonishingly struggling out of the gate. Things aren’t getting much easier as forward Ondrej Palat will be out 3-5 weeks with a lower body injury. It’s hard to believe that this is the same team that’s composed of stars like Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppulla, Matt Carle, Jason Garrison, Victor Hedman, and Anton Stralman. Goaltender Ben Bishop has struggled as well, posting a 5-7-1 record, 29 goals against, a .920 save percentage and 2.24 goals against average. However, this losing style isn’t what the Lightning are known for and I expect them to turn things around and break out of this losing culture.
The Anaheim Ducks: Is this the same team that was defeated at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in last year’s Western Conference Final? Is this the same team that features players like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Hampus Lindholm? It appears to be so. Their offseason is quiet for the most part, although they did acquire Carl Hagelin from the New York Rangers in exchange for young forward Emerson Etem and they did acquire goaltender Anton Khudobin. However, the team is surprisingly struggling. The offense just can’t seem to get things together at the moment and the goaltending has been struggling as well. Starting goalie, Frederick Andersen has started 11 games and possesses a 3-5-3 record. The team hasn’t really changed much and it certainly caught me off guard that the team is doing so poorly. The offense appears to be mediocre and the defense and goaltending will definitely need to step up.
Teams plagued by injury:
The Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago has dealt with a fair share of injuries with players such as Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa. The departures of Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya to Dallas appear to have hurt the Hawks as well. Overall, I do expect the Blackhawks to heat up eventually when its injured stars return. Although I do expect them to make the playoffs, I expect them to fall in the second round. Yes, a bold prediction.
The Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers were able to get the #1 pick in the draft this year and drafted 18 year-old star Connor McDavid. McDavid was as good as advertised for Edmonton, scoring five goals and adding seven assists. However, he went down with a broken collarbone suffered in a game against the Flyers a short time ago. Without McDavid, the Oilers have no center depth and have been struggling mightily. Players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall can only do so much. The team has taken a huge hit and will thus suffer the consequence of being towards the bottom in the Western Conference.
Teams to watch out for:
The Montreal Canadiens: The Candiens are rolling and it appears as if nothing will stop them. In 16 games played, Montreal posts an intimidating 13-2-1 record. The team is so dangerous and is comprised of lots of chemistry. Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, as well as the addition of Alexander Semin have certainly been a force to reckon with. The defense led by P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov has been stingy as usual. Although elite goaltender Carey Price went down with an injury, there is an ample amount of goaltending depth consisting of Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski. Montreal will certainly be a title contender.
The New York Rangers: The Rangers are currently the hottest team in the NHL, winning six straight games. After 15 games played, the NYR possess a record of 11-2-2. The biggest surprise is how well the rookies have played. Oscar Lindberg has scored seven goals and has four assists to go along with the goals. Rookie Dylan McIlrath has also been able to showcase his speed and stinginess on defense. The defense led by captain Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, McIlrath, Dan Boyle, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, and Keith Yandle have many people believing that the Rangers have the best well rounded defensive line pairings. All lines of the offense have been contributing, which is essential for any team’s success. Look for the Rangers to be a favorite to win it all once again. This team definitely has the potential to get back to the finals, but will they get there and win it all remains to be seen.
The Washington Capitals: The Caps made a bold trade in the offseason, sending forward Troy Brower to St. Louis is exchange for Olympic hero TJ Oshie. Oshie has been playing on the same line as Alexander Ovechkin and has thrived because of it. He’s scoring goals, dishing out assists and clearly learning a lot from his teammate and line mate, Ovechkin. Although the defense did lose Mike Green to Detroit, goaltender Braden Holtby has been playing well as of late. Look for the Capitals offense to carry them into the playoffs. Will this be the year they finally make it to the conference final? Stay tuned.
The St. Louis Blues: Although fan favorite Oshie isn’t in a Blues uniform anymore, the Blues have certainly been playing well. Captain David Backes has been playing well, as well as others like Alexander Steen, and young star Vladimir Tarasenko. Steve Ott provides leadership and likes to play physically. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk have been exceptional on defense. Goaltender Jake Allen has certainly impressed many people in how good he’s been throughout these past few contests; he very well could be the #1 in St. Louis now over Brian Elliott. Keep in mind that forwards Paul Stastny and Jaden Schwartz have been absent from the lineup due to injuries. But as well as St. Louis has been playing, the thought of what they can be when they’re whole again is scary. Once this team is whole, they should be a tough opponent heading towards playoff time. We’ll just have to see if they can maintain their composure and avoid another first round exit that we’re all too familiar seeing.
Other teams to Watch:
Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks (when healthy), Winnipeg Jets, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins.
Although the NHL season is still very young, the excitement is already brewing and teams are certainly making names for themselves. We’ll see what changes as the season rolls on.