1. Carolina Hurricanes: 9 Points (4-2-1)
Carolina faced a very tough road trip this week and came out with a 1-2-0 record with a lone win against the Minnesota Wild. The Canes earned their first two regular season losses against the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning. While this doesn’t look good on paper, they did not give up in any of these games, putting up a fight until the absolute last second. The Canes have not lost a game by multiple goals in which they did not pull the goalie.
While they looked good in these three games, there is one major point that is separating them from being one of the top tier teams in the league, and that is their power play. Against any team, you need to take advantage of the man advantage to extend your lead. The Canes tried changing things up by including Valentin Zykov on the power play on Tuesday and also switched up the defensemen between Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, and Dougie Hamilton, but neither seemed to work.
Heading into multiple days of rest, the Canes are likely to put all their work into the special teams. The Canes are playing dominant hockey five on five. Between the game against the Wild and the game against the Jets they generated 100 shots. Against the Jets they hit three posts. The puck luck is likely to turn around on the five-on-five, but things must change when they have the man power advantage.
2. New Jersey Devils: 8 Points (4-0-0)
Out of all the teams to have a hot start, the New Jersey Devils pose the biggest threat to the Hurricanes. The Devils are another borderline team with the talent that was likely to fall off this season after outperforming last season. The Canes and Devils are teams that are likely to compete for the same postseason spot, so to see this team opening their season 4-0-0 is particularly hard to swallow.
A huge part of their success is winger Kyle Palmieri, who has scored seven of the Devils’ 17 goals. The reigning Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall, is still goalless and has four assists on the season. The problem is that Hall was the main reason this team won games last season. When he is on he is unstoppable, and when this team can cover for when he is slumping, they set themselves up for good things to come.
3. Washington Capitals: 7 Points (3-2-1)
The big news around Washington, D.C. is that the Capitals seem to be unable to win a faceoff. The defending champs went into their game against the Rangers last night with the second worst faceoff percentage in the league at 48.3%, down from 50.4% last season. Teams are generally able to overcome these struggles with speed and strong forechecking to get to loose pucks off the draw or force a mistake on the first pass. It will be interesting to see if this is a blip in the radar or a real weakness for the Caps.
One thing that is not a weakness is their power play. The Caps continue to be strong with the man advantage because of Alex Ovechkin, who scored two more goals from his office last night. Everyone just says to stick a man on Ovi to limit his ability to score these goals. but doing that will leave either Evgeny Kuznetsov open on the wall or T.J. Oshie open in the slot. Combine those shooters with Nicklas Backstrom distributing the puck and John Carlson playing point, and it becomes a game of pick your poison with the top unit.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 6 Points (3-2-0)
The Blue Jackets had been off to quite a hot start until they ran into the Lightning on Saturday. While the Canes were able to keep it close against the Stanley Cup contenders, the Blue Jackets were...not. They lost the game 8-2 in Tampa, with all eight goals coming against starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
What makes this situation so strange is that Columbus was not coming off a back-to-back, nor were they preparing for one. John Tortorella could have switched to his backup goaltender at any time, but decided to leave Bobrovsky in net while he was getting shelled. The goaltender let up three goals in the first but stayed in. Even worse he did not get help when he let up four in the third.
Leaving a goalie in too long can strain the relationship between player and coach; ask Patrick Roy. The question is, will this be a motivating moment, or will Bobrovsky felt pushed away a la Roy and the Canadiens in 1995.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 6 Points (2-1-2)
The Pittsburgh Penguins received more bad news on the injury front this week. Defender Justin Schultz will be out four months with a lower leg fracture. While Schultz was originally traded from the Oilers to the Penguins in the 2015-2016 season, he has become a regular with the Penguins averaging over 17 minutes per game playing on the Pens’ second pairing in the 2017-18 season.
Who is the best Kessel? Phil? Amanda? Nope, Stella. pic.twitter.com/m8wTt84H1E— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 17, 2018
The Pens have also seen another shakeup in their defense with Olli Maatta falling somewhat out of favor. The 24-year-old has been a mainstay on the Pittsburgh roster for the past six years. Maatta came into the league with a high ceiling but has struggled to reach his full potential. This year he was a rare healthy scratch against the Vegas Golden Knights last Thursday. Now, after the injury to Schultz, both Maatta and his potential replacement Juuso Riikola, a free agent signing from Sweden, will have to step up to play full time in Schultz’s absence.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 6 points (3-3-0)
The Flyers are third to last in goals allowed per game at 4.17. Only the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have been worse over the start of the season. Goaltending and a young defense has been the issue for the Flyers over the past three seasons.
Another large part of the Flyers’ struggles has been discipline. The Flyers have 35 penalties, tied for the most in the league with the Detroit Red Wings, and they have only been able to kill penalties at a 72% rate, the seventh worst rate in the league. The Flyers have to turn it around and help their goaltending out if they expect to be able to contend for a playoff spot this season. Just two weeks in and it seems that they may be too sloppy to make a serious push in the Metropolitan Division.
7. New York Rangers: 5 Points (2-4-1)
There might be a new head coach in New York, but David Quinn is facing a familiar issue: “How do you motivate Pavel Buchnevich?” The young Russian winger shows a ton of promise and potential, but the prevailing thought is that he doesn’t give a ton of effort. For a team looking to rebuild, the 23 year old, skilled winger looks to factor into the team for the foreseeable future. However, Quinn healthy scratched Buchnevich before the game against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, a game which ended up being a shootout win for the Rangers.
One player that has never been accused of quitting, Henrik Lundqvist, is still keeping the Rangers in games, probably more so than they would like. He made a few incredible saves against both the Avs and Caps which ended up giving the Rangers three points in two nights. This team is looking to tank, but the King is keeping them from fully actualizing that goal. It will be interesting to see how the Rangers handle both of their goalies going forward to still ensure they can get the best odds in the lottery they can get.
8. New York Islanders: 4 Points (2-3-0)
The main issue that the Islanders are facing is a lack of offense. They have the seventh worst goals for per game, 2.40 and seventh worst shots for per game with 27.2. This was one of the biggest concerns coming into the season with the loss of John Tavares, and the new acquisitions have not been able to fill the hole left by his departure. The Isles brought in five new skaters over the offseason, who have combined for just six points and three goals. Tavares alone has six goals and 11 total points.
The Islanders’ new goaltending tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner has been much improved over last year’s duo. The pair have only let up 2.80 goals per game which is 10th best in the league, up from the league worst 3.57 goals against per game last season. With so many new players on one team and with a new coach, it may take until mid-November for these guys to gel and develop chemistry. If the goaltending can still perform above league average, the Islanders may have a chance to make up ground in the division.