Halftime Sports

NHL First Quarter Season Review

December 3, 2018

As November comes to a close, the NHL has crossed the quarter mark for the 2018-19 season. We are getting to the point where sample sizes are no longer small and the contendersas well as the disappointmentsare starting to emerge. Here is a quick summary of how all 31 teams of the NHL are faring this holiday season.

Note: The order of this list is purely based off record

Los Angeles Kings (19 pts)

This team is awful, and I am not just saying that as a Bay Area sports fan who loves nothing more than seeing LA teams fall flat on their face. After adding high profile winger Ilya Kovalchuk from SKA St. Petersburg in the offseason, everything has gone wrong. The team may still have Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, but with Jonathan Quick tearing his meniscus, Kovalchuk’s usage has dwindled and the team has absolutely no depth to speak of. They also fired head coach John Stevens and replaced him with Willie Desjardins, which makes sense because I, too, have always wished to emulate the 2014-2017 Vancouver Canucks.

St. Louis Blues (19 pts)

Last season, the Blues fought for a playoff spot until the very last day of the season and headed into this season ready to contend. And if by contend they mean being in the driver’s seat for next year’s number one pick, then this year has been a success! Much like his comrade in Los Angeles, head coach Mike Yeo was canned by the Blues after their shockingly slow start to the year. Ryan O’Reilly has proven to be one of the best pickups of the offseason, but has not been able to overcome the slow starts of Vladimir Tarasenko (19 points), Brayden Schenn (14 points), and putrid goalkeeping.

Florida Panthers (22 pts)

The Florida Panthers must be one of the unluckiest sports teams on the planet. Heading into season, there was excitement within the organization. This has completely subsided thanks to an absolutely brutal stretch to start the year, likely sinking their playoff chances. Goalie Roberto Luongo has played like his younger self, but only for nine games due to lower body injuries. Mike Hoffman, who came over in an offseason trade from Ottawa, unfurled a 17-game point streak to carry the offense during the opening weeks. He has also been supported by Jonathan Huberdeau, who has chipped in 24 points.

New Jersey Devils (22 pts)

I expect Devils head coach John Hynes to wake up every morning and make an offering to a shrine of Taylor Hall, which he (probably) has erected in his living room. At this point, last year’s Hart Trophy winner is the only thing keeping the team afloat and protecting Hynes’ job. Outside of the top line of Hall, Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieriboth of whose production is tied to their work with Hallthe Devils have no depth and two subpar goalies in Keith Kinkaid and Corey Schneider. The team started the year with four consecutive wins but have quickly regressed back down to their talent level.

Philadelphia Flyers (22 pts)

At least they have Gritty. The introduction of an exciting (and horrifying) new mascot has proven to be the big news this season for the Flyers, obscuring their Jekyll and Hyde rollercoaster season. The team led by Claude Giroux has simultaneously looked great and horrible, leading no one to know how good this team really is. Injuries and ineffectiveness have played a role as Sean Couturier has taken forever to round into form, while top goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are both hurt. Ivan Provorov, however, is young and showing the potential that the Flyers management has long seen in him.

Chicago Blackhawks (23 pts)

After winning two Cups for the city of Chicago, Joel Quenneville was given the boot by the Blackhawks due to an incredibly slow start to the year. It is unfortunate because the team, led by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, should not be in their current predicament. Furthermore, the team is getting older and older, and it may finally be time for the front office to institute a sell-off. Also, they are 28th in the league in penalty kills and are 31st in power play conversions, which is impressively bad.  

Arizona Coyotes (24 pts)

The Coyotes are in a long-term rebuilding stage, which makes sense when their average age per player is 26.8 years old. They rely on veteran netminder Antti Raanta to protect the posts, yet he has been slow in returning from injury. Alex Galchenyuk has been strong, but the team needs more from 20 year-old Clayton Keller. One stat that should give Coyotes fans a happy pause is the penalty kill. At this point in the year, they have killed nearly 90% of opponents’ power plays and have scored a league-leading 10 shorthanded goals.

Ottawa Senators (25 pts)

After trading franchise mainstay and superstar Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks in the offseason, expectations were low for Ottawa. While the team has benefitted from some outstanding performances, it still hasn’t been enough to keep the team afloat. However, Senators fans should have some hope. Promising players include defenseman Thomas Chabot, who has sneakily put up more points (29 to 15) and has a better plus/minus ratio (+1 to -9) than the departed Karlsson, red-hot forwards Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, and outstanding rookie Brady Tkachuk.

Pittsburgh Penguins (25 pts)

Yeah, I got nothing. When fellow Voice writer Nathan Chen told me that the Penguins were sitting near the bottom of the East, I must have given him the strangest look. A team lead by surefire Hall of Famers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and anchored by goalie Matt Murray should not be near the bottom of the league at any point, let alone a quarter of the way through the year. Unfortunately, while Malkin is top 10 in the league in points, Crosby has been hurt, Murray has been unproductive, and secondary scorers like Bryan Rust and Matt Cullen have been woeful.

Detroit Red Wings (25 pts)

Who are the Red Wings? Are they the team that started the year 1-7-2, or the team that has gone 7-2-2 in their last 11 games? It must be said, however, that they have had a fairly easy schedule. Jimmy Howard has reminded fans of who he used to be and Dylan Larkin has been a beacon of light. Sadly, the Wings don’t have much else going for them, and it does not get much easier for them over the next month. I would not be surprised to see the Red Wings as favorites for a top pick in 2019.

Vancouver Canucks (25 pts)

How do you overcome the retirement of a franchise legend? How about two of them? This was the question the Canucks faced after the retirements of the legendary Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik. They found an answer in electrifying rookie Elias Pettersson, the odds-on favorite for the Calder Trophy after tallying 12 goals in his first 17 NHL gamesthe first player to do so since Alex Ovechkin. However, any momentum they built up came to a screeching halt during a recent ­­­­eight game losing streak, which will probably be the death knell for the team’s playoff chances.

Edmonton Oilers (26 pts)

I had a nightmare once about a blue-blood hockey team wasting a once-in-a-generation talent due to mismanagement and a lack of impact players to aid him. Then I woke up and saw Connor McDavid toiling away in Edmonton and realized that was no nightmare. McDavid is once again the early frontrunner for the Hart trophy, but he alone is not enough. Heads are starting to roll as coach Todd McLellan was kicked to the curb, and ye olde Ken Hitchcock was hired to replace him. This will hopefully light a fire under the team. Besides McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, there is nothing going for Edmonton.  

New York Islanders (27 pts)

It would have been so easy for the Islanders to see this year as a lost one after losing team captain and franchise legend John Tavares to free agency. Indeed, they struggled after a strong start and the defense and goalkeeping could use some help. But this team has not given up just yet. With Anthony Beauvillier plugging holes and reigning Calder Trophy winner Matthew Barzal as one of the best young players in the league, playoffs are not out of the question.

Carolina Hurricanes (27 pts)]

Sebastian Aho and company have kept things loose, as evidenced by their tireless hustle and fun post-game celebrations. In terms of players, Micheal Ferland has been a tremendous boon, helping Aho transition to a first line center. At the end of the day, this team will live and die by their goalies. The Scott Darling contract was an unmitigated disaster and led to Darling’s recent fall to waivers. Curtis McElhinney has been helpful, but if the playoffs are a goal, they will need more from the crease.

Montreal Canadiens (27 pts)

After an optimistic start to the season, Montreal has begun to show signs of strain. Outside of offseason pickup Max Domi, who has solidified a one-two punch with Jonathan Drouin, the team has not had many standouts. Carey Price has had an up-and-down season in the net, and is not having the contract year that he wanted. The team will need Price and his backup Antti Niemi to step up if they want to leap back into contention. One player that has stepped up has been Tomas Tatar. Tatar was involved in the Max Pacioretty deal with Vegas and has played a key role in filling the old sniper’s shoes.

New York Rangers (28 pts)

All hail King Henrik! As long as the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist in their net, they will be able to contend in this league. Despite not winning a Vezina Trophy since 2011-12, Lundqvist is still one of the top netminders in the game today. The Metropolitan division is available for the taking, and the fact that we are even talking playoffs for the Rangers this season is surprising. This was a team that expected to rebuild but instead have put up a fight through solid team effort led by top scorer Chris Kreider (21 points).

Vegas Golden Knights (29 pts)

After a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season, the Knights have yet to reach the heights they had last season. While team pillars William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, and Marc-Andre Fleury are still producing, the incredible depth that defined them last year is not living up to its previous levels. There are signs that the team might be heating up, as evidenced by a 7-3 run in their last 10 games which brought them back into the playoff race. The Knights can still overcome a slow start to the season, as no team has yet to pull away in the wide open Pacific division.  

Anaheim Ducks (29 pts)

While the Ducks are not the team they once were, no one should be surprised that they are slowly making their way from the bottom of the standings to playoff contention. Goaltender John Gibson is a stud and has been carrying the team with his usual soli work in the net. I was originally going to argue that the front office should begin a sell-off, but it makes sense to try for one last ride with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, thanks in part to the play of complementary pieces Rickard Rakell and Pontus Aberg.

Dallas Stars (29 pts)

The Dallas Stars are an internal dilemma to me. Somehow they are both overrated AND underrated at the same time. On the one hand, they are simply not a good team. Ben Bishop is still solid, and Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin can still put the puck in the net, but the team does not have strong depth or viable tactics. Yet they are still worth talking about. They have hung around with John Klingberg being hurt and there is still a chance they have a run in them. If not, this is a team I see playing spoiler when the season comes to a close.

San Jose Sharks (29 pts)

As a displaced Sharks fan who has spent way too much time trying to find a radio station on my roommate’s Alexa for the games, you know I will be unbiased and keep this write-up short (maybe). In all seriousness, the start to the season has been disappointing for the team. After an offseason highlighted by the addition of all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson and hot starts from Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier, a little more consistency would be a blessing. How can a team who has already beaten the Predators two times go out and lose to Vegas by six? With the potential this team has, a run to the Western Conference Finals is clearly within reach, but the team needs to tighten up if they hope to lift their first Stanley Cup.

Calgary Flames (30 pts)

In the wild, wild Pacific Division, where no team has separated themselves from the pack, Calgary is in place to make a run. The offense, led by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, has been humming, and Sam Bennett has begun to live up to his status as a former fourth overall pick. Elias Lindholm has proven to be a superb offseason pickup, counteracting the awful new contract of James Neal. The biggest controversy this team faces is in regard to goalkeeping. Mike Smith has been a productive NHL goalie for many years, but backup David Rittich is simply outplaying him right now.

Minnesota Wild (30 pts)

There is quiet optimism in Minnesota this season. Despite being shadowed by Nashville and Colorado at this early stage, the team is moving into the upper echelon of the NHL. Minnesota is strong at the back, allowing the fifth-least goals in the league. Zach Parise is producing like his New Jersey days and is living up to his massive contract. If the team wants to go far, however, they will need to add to their depth as Charlie Coyle and co. are simply not cutting it on the lower lines.   

Winnipeg Jets (30 pts)

Patrik Laine’s recent five goal game against the St. Louis Blues is all anybody is talking about. However, while Laine now leads the NHL in goals (21), he has not been the only key contributor. Blake Wheeler is third overall in assists with 28, Mark Scheifele has provided a third scoring punch, and Kyle Connor is playing well alongside Laine and Bryan Little. The team has the third-best power play in the NHL and has scored enough to have a puncher’s chance with anyone. However, that doesn’t mean anything if they can’t keep the puck out of the net. This team lives and dies on the shoulders of goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

Washington Capitals (31 pts)

Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. I’m not sure I will ever get used to hearing those two phrases together. After last year’s historic season, I forgive them for their slow start to this year, particularly because they have now pulled themselves back to the top of the Metropolitan Division. Alexander Ovechkin is still one of the top goal scorers in the league and is currently tied for fourth in the NHL (18).  John Carlson has been one of the top defenders this season, and the return of Tom Wilson after a 20-game suspension has stabilized the squad thanks to his six goals and six assists in eight games.

Columbus Blue Jackets (32 pts)

Columbus must be enthused with where they are sitting. Stud goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has not been as good as in the past, but he has kept the team in games. Bobrovsky could improve, but the team will need to step up big time if they want to be contenders. Besides Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, and Pierre Luc-Dubois, no one else on the team has tallied more than 15 points. That being said, Markus Nutivaara has been amazing on Columbus’s blue line this year.

Boston Bruins (32 pts)

The Bruins are dominating thus far in part to their top line. David Pastrnak is second in the NHL with 19 goals and is part of a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, which has dominated every team not located in Colorado. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has been surpassing expectations and even outperforming incumbent starter Tuukka Rask. Defenders Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, and Zdeno Chara have all been hurt at different times, forcing players like Matt Grzelcyk to step up, which they have.

Colorado Avalanche (34 pts)

Colorado has made a statement this year. It may not be that they are contenders for the Stanley Cup quite yet, but it is assuredly that they have the best top line in the NHL. Nathan MacKinnon (2nd in NHL in points with 41 and 18 goals), Mikko Rantanen (1st in points with 42 and 32 assists) and Gabriel Landeskog (15 goals) have combined for 111 points. That line alone can carry this team to the playoffs, but having key contributors like Cale Maker does not hurt.

Nashville Predators (35 pts)

In my eyes, Nashville is the best team in the league. After two tremendous campaigns in the previous two years, this may be the best Predator squad yet. They have the best defense in the league led by P.K. Subban (currently on injured reserve), Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm. They also have the best depth in the NHL with four solid lines they can put on the ice every night. Not only that, they have two anchors in the amazing goalie tandem of Pekka Rinne (who leads the NHL in GAA and is second in SV%) and Juuse Saros, who could start for any other NHL team.  I honestly see few teams with enough firepower to keep up with the juggernaut that is Nashville.

Toronto Maple Leafs (36 pts)

After landing the big fish of the NHL offseason in John Tavares, everything was seemingly going right for Toronto. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Young gun William Nylander has held out for a contract extension, star Auston Matthews has missed time due to injury, and the defense requires improvement. Despite all this, the team is still one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup. Tavares has assimilated well and is playing a major role. Mitch Marner is third in the league in points (36). Frederick Anderson leads the NHL in wins and is a front-runner for the coveted Vezina Trophy.

Buffalo Sabres (36 pts)

What a time to be alive for Sabres fans! One year after securing the first overall draft pick, the team is one of the best in the league and are in the thick of the playoff race. Many pieces can be attributed to this incredible start, but praise should be given to the offseason acquisition of Jeff Skinner who is second in the league in goals (19) and captain Jake Eichel who is top 10 in points. First overall pick Rasmus Dahlin has had an amazing rookie campaign, and Carter Hutton has provided stability in the goalkeeping position.

Tampa Bay Lightning (37 pts)

Tampa Bay and Nashville have been flip-flopping all year as favorites for the Stanley Cup. However, the Lightning must now face their toughest challenge in regard to starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is missing a month due to a broken foot. This means the team must rely on Louis Domingue, a very good backup, but a backup nonetheless. However, if he is healthy for the playoffs, the team has no weaknesses. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov continue to lead the team, and have been supported by one of the darlings of the league this year in Brayden Point. They are supported on the blue line by all-star defenders Ryan McDonough and Victor Hedman. This is the best Lightning team ever in my estimation and their best chance for a Cup.

*All stats as of November 29, 2018

Roman Peregrino
Once upon a time, Roman was the Voice's EIC as well as news, managing, and sports editor. He is from San Francisco and a lot less Italian than his name suggests.

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