TRAIKOS: From the spirited Devils to the slumping Senators, here are 7 stories from the first quarter of the NHL season
New Jersey Red Hot Devils and Ottawa Senators are about to come out. Sidney Crosby and Eric Carlson are back in the scoring, while the hot seat is heating up again in Canada.
With a quarter of the season still in the books, here are seven storylines that have featured in the National Hockey League:
Scoring outperforms the best scorers
Two months into the season, 60 players (who have played in at least 10 games) have averaged a point per game. Of these, 40 are easy to get 90 points, 18 are easy to get 100 points, 12 are easy to get 110 points and six are on pace to get 125 points.
Last year, eight players finished with 100 points.
Meanwhile, after four players scored 50 goals last season, there are seven players on track to reach the milestone.
However, goals per game increased across the league from 3.14 to just 3.17. What that means is that teams don’t necessarily fill the back of the net en masse. Instead, the best players are getting increasingly better at putting pucks into the goalposts.
Players like Edmonton’s Leon Dricetel, who is on pace to get 130 points. And his Oilers teammate, Connor McDavid, is on his way to becoming the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 to score 65 goals and 150 points in the same season.
Leaves deal with grit
From a coach who’s been in the hot seat to goalies who can’t stay healthy to a depleted lineup missing their top 3 players, the first two months haven’t been easy for the Leafs.
Maybe this isn’t a bad thing.
For a team that was in danger of sleepwalking during the regular season, the ordeals of the first season forced them to hunker down and play with a goal. We’re seeing a more responsible team defensively, one where Auston Matthews is second on the team in strikeouts and where aging John Tavares appears to have found another step.
Either way, the Leafs entered Friday afternoon’s game against Minnesota with the second-best record in the Atlantic Division. With everything that went wrong, it’s a real accomplishment.
Heated seats heated again
Chances of seeing Barry Trotz behind the net in Toronto have dwindled since the first month of the season. But that doesn’t mean we won’t see the coach out of a job again in the NHL sometime soon.
Trotz announced that he would not be ready to return until mid-December. By then, he should have no shortage of offers – especially from Canadian teams.
The Canucks, who sit three points behind the Wild Cards in the West, could use Trotz. The same goes for the Oilers, who have been outside looking on the court after going 3-7-0 in their past 10 games. Then there are the Senators, who are tied for the fewest points in the NHL despite being big in free agency in the summer.
While GM Pierre Dorion has said repeatedly that head coach DJ Smith’s job is safe, you have to wonder if Trotz’s availability will change that. After all, with his resume, you can bet he won’t be out of a job much longer.
New kids on the block
From New Jersey racking up 13 straight wins to Seattle and Detroit holding unlikely playoff spots, the first two months saw several teams jump from pretend status to contender status.
Of those, the demons would have to be the biggest surprise. This is the team that finished last year with the fifth worst record overall. Now, they have the third best record in the NHL.
It’s an amazing transformation. But considering they’ve had four top-5 picks in the past six years — including two first overall picks — it’s also been a long time coming. The Kraken also made a similar leap, going from 30th overall in the expansion season to 7th overall, mostly due to the play of Calder Trophy favorite Matty Benners (14 points in 19 games) and offseason acquisition Andrei Borakowski (18 points in 19 games). 19 matches).
Whether they can keep it going for another four months is anyone’s guess, but it’s a start.
Return of Eric Carlson
The first two months of the season saw Erik Carlsson return to Norris Cup form, tallying 30 points in 22 games. That’s good enough for fifth in NHL scoring. Not bad for a defenseman who only had 35 points all last season.
The question is what does this mean for Carlson’s future?
Despite his offensive production, Carlson plays for the San Jose Sharks, which ranks 13th in the West. It will not be a playoff team this year. Maybe not for several years. This is why the 32-year-old could end up being traded this year.
Obviously, doing this will not be easy. Not with a contract that carries a cap of $11.5 million over the next four years. But with Toronto, Edmonton, and so many other cup contenders needing some help in the background, don’t be surprised if Carlson returns to play in Canada sometime soon.
Master is on a mission
It is likely that Sidney Crosby will not catch Conor McDavid in the scoring race this season. But with 10 goals and 27 points in 20 games, the Penguins captain certainly proves he’s still one of the best players in the world.
At this pace, Crosby finished the season with 110 points—the highest total for the 35-year-old since he scored 120 points in his second year in the league.
Also worth noting is fellow Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin, who, at 36, has 20 points in 20 games. And that Alex Ovechkin, 37, has 19 points in 21 games.
In other words, there is still some life in the old dogs.
Tough tank for Conor Bedard? Or lose silly to Adam Fantley?
However you want to draft it, with at least two generational talents leading next year’s NHL Entry Draft, it’s no surprise that many teams are starting so slowly out of the gate. This feels like a primer for the ages.
Bedard already has 48 points in 22 games with the Regina Bats, while Fantelli has 23 points in 12 games with the University of Michigan. Both are considered to be some of the best prospects since Auston Matthews finished No. 1 in 2016.
No wonder the bottom of the ranking looks more crowded than the top.
Leading the race are the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators, who each have a league-low six wins and 13 points. But there are six other teams within five points of last place. Two of those teams include the Buffalo Sabers and the Vancouver Canucks, both of whom were expected to push for the playoffs, but it’s possible they could switch gears now that they’re off the field.
If so, it might be worth it.
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