By: Sydney Fann
Can the great teams remain great? Will the not-so-great teams make a comeback?
With the way things are going in the NHL season so far, it would seem as if last season never ended in the Eastern Conference and something crazy is going on in the Western.
Looking at the standings in the East, it looks almost exactly the same as it did at the end of last season, with a few exceptions. Montreal and Tampa Bay are still the kings of the Atlantic Division, and the Rangers, Islanders, and Capitals have refused to let anyone else replace them at the top. The only newcomer in the top ranks is Florida, who has surprisingly jumped into third place in the Atlantic with 11 points.
In the last few seasons, Florida has struggled. They haven’t made the playoffs since winning the Southeast division in 2011-2012, and even had the worst record in the league in the lockout-shortened season of 2012-2013 and the second worst record in 2013-2014. Last year was an improvement though, ending 8 games over .500 and only missing the playoffs by 7 points.
This year, they’re 5-3-1 so far and third in their division. Roberto Luongo has good stats to start the season, Jaromir Jagr has 10 points in 9 games, and four of their top five point getters are part of a fresh, young squad of talent. If the Panthers’ young talent can keep scoring and if Luongo can keep playing well, Florida will have a great shot at getting into the playoffs and getting in at a good seed.
But it won’t be easy for the Panthers to get too high up in the standings now that the Montreal Canadiens have established that they’re here to win. The Canadiens started the season on a 9-1-0 run, coming one win short of being part of a very small group of teams who’ve started the season 10-0-0. Max Pacioretty was named captain of the team this year, and he’s already scored 11 points in the 10 games Montreal has played with a +12 rating. Canadiens goalie Carey Price is continuing to show why he won the prestigious Vezina Trophy last year; he has a sub-2.00 goals against average and a 0.945 save percentage. If the Canadiens can keep up their scoring and if Carey Price can keep up his amazing numbers, then I think the Canadiens will be the team to beat in the East.
Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs have once again fallen to competing for last place. The Maple Leafs have won one game out of the eight they’ve played, and the Sabres have three.
Last season, Buffalo owned the worst record in the league with 54 points, and if their season continues the way it is now, they won’t be getting to a higher spot than 7th in the Atlantic, which won’t get them into the playoffs. Buffalo traded away veteran goaltender Ryan Miller in 2014, and haven’t found a viable replacement since. They do have scoring talent, but the team just hasn’t been producing, or defending shots; all but one player has a +/- rating either at zero or below. If one of Buffalo’s goalies can have a dark horse kind of season and start stopping shots and their forwards start producing, there’s a chance that Buffalo could actually make the playoffs this year.
The Maple Leafs aren’t looking a whole lot better. Their goalies have been splitting playing time, and while that’s worked out for teams such as the Blues, it’s not working so well for the Leafs. Neither goalie has a very impressive save percentage and both have a goals against average over 3.00. The Maple Leafs have also only scored 19 goals, and 8 were scored by two people alone. The forwards on this team are not producing, and that makes it tough to win games regardless of how many goals their goalies let in. If the Leafs can’t start scoring to help out their goalies, and if their goalies can’t start putting up better numbers, then I’m not sure this season will be any better than last season.
Also not starting the season off well is the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are starting 2-8-0, and they’ve already fired their coach. It only took two weeks of bad hockey for management to fire Todd Richards and replace him with John Tortorella. An early season coaching change worked wonders for the Blues back in 2011, so perhaps fiery Tortorella can get the Blue Jackets back to a winning season.
Looking at the Western Conference right now, it’s clear that something a little strange is going on. First of all, the top six teams in the Central are all within four points of each other, and the Nashville Predators are on top. And while yes, the Predators have been slowly improving, it comes as a little bit of a surprise that they’re starting the season off 7-1-1. Perhaps all the years of flipping between good and bad, playoffs and no playoffs have finally culminated in a team that’s just ready to win it all.
Also out of the ordinary is the Chicago Blackhawks, who are 6-3-0 and in fifth place. The Blackhawks haven’t been in fifth place in years, so this positioning is a little odd. And while under normal circumstances 6-3-0 would be a great way to start the season, the circumstances are not so normal in the Central. Dallas is doing great, Chicago’s record is only sub-par, and 11 points puts you in sixth place. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, as there are only so many playoff spots to go around.
And speaking of points, the Anaheim Ducks are severely lacking them. In the nine games the Ducks have played so far, they only have one win, they’re tied for the lowest amount of points in the league with four, and they only have nine goals. NINE GOALS. That averages to just one goal per game, and one goal won’t win you many games. It also hasn’t helped that their captain Ryan Getzlaf has only one point and he’s out at the moment recovering from an appendectomy. Has the great run of the Ducks ended? It probably will if they keep playing the way they do. You just can’t win games if you can’t score.
Regardless, the NHL season is a long one, and a long season requires stamina and strategy. Perhaps Montreal’s great start was a fluke, or the Toronto Maple Leafs will end up fighting for the President’s Trophy with the Buffalo Sabres. In the NHL, you just never know. Anything can happen, so it will be exciting and nerve-wracking to see what happens next.