By: Ethan Illers
The NHL season is just over two months old. Although the season is still young and there are many more games to be played, let’s take a look and examine some notable trends in the league.
As we pull up the standings of the Eastern Conference, Montreal is still on top as expected. This team is very well rounded. The offense and defense go hand in hand and even with Carey Price hurt, the backup goaltending duo of Dustin Tokarski and Mike Condon has been exceptional. Montreal is a force to be reckoned with and they’ll certainly be a tough opponent as the season progresses.
The New York Rangers have dropped from the top of the conference to third. Although third is still very good, the Rangers were in sort of a funk during the past two weeks with loses coming against teams that they very well should’ve beaten such as the Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, and Philadelphia Flyers. However, the Rangers are dealing with injuries to two key players to center Derek Stepan (broken ribs) and defenseman Kevin Klein (muscle strain). Once both players come back, I expect the Rangers to get back to their winning ways. Look for them to finish in the top three of the Eastern Conference.
The New York Islanders are surprisingly doing very well. They currently sit fourth in the conference and they have some great stars on the team like John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. The defense has been exceptional led by Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic. Goaltending behind Jaroslav Halak has been exceptional and I expect the Islanders to remain in the hunt for the conference crown as the season rolls along.
The Washington Capitals sit second in the conference right now. The team has offensive juggernauts like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. T.J. Oshie has also seen his productivity increase playing on the same line as Ovechkin. The defense led by John Carlson has also been great as well as solid goaltending from Braden Holtby. I expect this team to definitely make the playoffs. Will this be the year they get to the conference final? Stay tuned.
To the Western Conference we go:
The Dallas Stars are currently the NHL’s best team with 44 points. I didn’t expect this great of a start from them at all. The offseason acquisitions of Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya have proven to be great deals as the whole team is contributing. Jamie Benn has been stellar as well as Tyler Seguin. The Finnish duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have been incredible in goal, in part thanks to an exceptional offense in front of them. Look for them to continue this torrid pace heading into the new year and beyond.
The St. Louis Blues are the #3 team in the conference now. This team has been steady as of late, but lost a game to Toronto in which the Blues just looked straight up awful. The offense has been good for the most part with Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko. Jayden Schwartz is injured and Steve Ott just went down with a hamstring injury that you could feel just by watching it. The defense led by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk has been above average, while the goaltending ha been streaky of late. Once the offense gets its injured players back, the Blues should be ready to make a run.
The LA Kings are surging right now, having won five straight games. The team has been led by steady play from Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter. Anze Kopitar has also made his presence know and Jonathan Quick has done a tremendous job at stopping pucks. Their winning ways have them sitting at the #2 spot in the conference. I’m not sure how they’ll do going the rest of the way as their known to make the playoffs at a 7-8 seed. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens because streaks don’t last.
The Blackhawks have put their early season struggles behind them as Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith have returned from injury. The team is very well rounded and I expect them to make the playoffs finishing where they are if not better.
The Minnesota Wild have been struggling recently. Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker can only do so much for the team. Ryan Suter leads the defense and they’ve been struggling recently. Devan Dubnyk has been shaky in goal as of late. I do expect the Wild to make the playoffs, but they’ll have to start winning some games in order to upgrade in contention.