Several surprises at quarter mark of NHL season

The NHL has basically just passed the quarter mark of the 2017/18 season and there are certainly a few surprises so far. Taking a look at the standings as of November 26th, we find the Tampa Bay Lightning leading the Eastern Conference with 34 points. This is a bit of a shock to many considering the team failed to make the playoffs last year. However, they only missed out on the postseason by a point and sniper Steven Stamkos missed most of the campaign due to an injury. Stamkos is healthy again this year though and was leading all players in scoring with 36 points from 10 goals and 26 assists. What is surprising about Stamkos’ numbers is that he’s gone from a pure goalscorer to a playmaker so far this year.
Tampa has been so good this season because Stamkos has been getting help from Nikita Kucherov, who sits in second place in the scoring race with 34 points with 17 goals along with 17 assists. Vladislav Namestnikov and Brayden Point have also been chipping in with 22 and 21 points respectively in Tampa’s first 22 games. The Lightning has also been getting great goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy who was leading the league in wins with 15 to go along with a 2.30 goals-against average and 93.0 save percentage. So with a record of 16-5-2 and leading the league in power play percentage at 27.4 and goals-per-game at 3.77, the Lightning would have to collapse the rest of the way to miss the playoffs.
Over in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues have been slightly better than Tampa as they were leading the league with 35 points from a record of 17-6-1. They finished last season tied for fifth in the West with 99 points. They’ve also benefited from a couple of hot scorers as Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn sat at four and six on the top-10 list with 32 and 30 points respectively after 23 games. Teammate Vladimir Tarasenko wasn’t far behind them at eight with 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points. The Blues have cooled off a little lately though as four of their six losses on the season have come in their last 11 games.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all though when it comes to the standings is the fact that expansion franchise the Las Vegas Golden Knights were leading the Pacific Division with a record of 15-6-1 for 31 points and also had the second-most goals in the Western Conference at 81. They’ve been doing it without any star players as the team’s top scorer William Karlsson was ranked 43rd in league scoring with 22 points from 22 games. There are numerous teams which have performed much better than expected so far this season however, such as the Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
But with so many teams moving up the standings compared to their finishes last season, it means some teams have had to slide down them. This is certainly true as several teams are struggling. The Montreal Canadiens won the Atlantic Division with 103 points last year, but were sitting in 14thplace in the East with just 21 points from their 9-12-3 record. They also had the third-worst goal difference record in the league at -23. The Edmonton Oilers were even worse with 18 points and were in second-last place in the West. The Chicago Blackhawks were sitting in fourth place in the Central Division with 25 points with a mediocre mark of 11-8-3.

There’s still a long way to go in the season though and anything is liable to happen. Chicago is likely to climb the standings and make the playoffs while the Canadiens will challenge for the postseason now that all-star goalie Carey Price is back in the lineup after recovering from injury. The playoff race will likely go down to the last weekend of the season as it usually does and it appears the league’s scoring race will do the same. The fans are the winners here with the league having so much parity as every point gained or lost had such a huge affect on the standings. 

NHL rookie race close again in 2017/18

Last year’s race for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie was pretty close as the finalists were forwards Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets along with defenceman Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Matthews ended up capturing the award with Laine coming in second in the voting followed by Werenski. This year’s race should be another tight one as there are several rookies off to a great start in their NHL careers and all have a legitimate shot at the Calder.
As of November 19th, speedy center Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes appeared to be the slight favourite as he was leading the way in goals with 11 and was second in points with 18 after 22 games Keller was drafted seventh overall in 2016 and got his feet wet last season by appearing in three NHL games and looked good by registering a pair of assists. The 19-year-old then played in the World Championships and stood out for America with five goals and two assists in seven contests, which ranked fourth on scoring on the team. Keller started well in his first month of NHL duty, but has slowed down a little over the past week or two. He ranks second in ice time for rookies and 14 of his 18 points have been five-on-five.
Defenceman Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins leads the way in ice time for all rookies as the 19-year-old is paired on the blue line with 40-year-old veteran Zdeno Chara. In fact, Chara is the only player on the team who plays more then the teenager’s 23 minutes per game. McAvoy, who was drafted 14th overall in 2016, joined Boston for the playoffs last season when his college career ended. He had two goals and eight assists in his first 19 outing this season, which ranked 14th in rookie scoring and third for defencemen.
The Colorado Avalanche have improved quite a bit this season and one of the reasons has been the play of first-year center Alexander Kerfoot. His 15 points from seven goals and eight assists in 18 games see him ranked fourth in rookie scoring and he’s also a plus-5. He’s also proven to be pretty useful on the power play with two goals and three assists while playing with the man advantage. However, he is a bit older as the 23-year-old was drafted  15oth overall by New Jersey in 2012. Kerfoot should also see more ice time now since Matt Duchene was traded to Ottawa.
Swedish left-winger Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings has impressed with his play in both ends of the rink. He’s 11th in rookie scoring with seven goals and five assists, but is number one when it comes to plus-minus and plus 12. The 21-year-old was drafted 29thoverall by the Kings in 2014 and is helping the team rebound after missing the playoffs last year. His time in the minors has seen Kempe become an effective 200-foot player and he played 25 games with LA last year, scoring two goals and four assists.
Defenceman Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils is tied for first in rookie scoring for assists with 14 and his 15 points overall in 19 games rank first for blueliners. He’s also tied for fourth in overall rookie scoring. Butcher was sought after by numerous teams when he left college and the Devils hit the jackpot when they signed the 22-year-old American. He was originally drafted 123rd overall by Colorado in 2013, but didn’t ink a contract with the club as he went to college. He had three assists in his first NHL game, is a plus-6 and has eight points quarterbacking the power play.
Another fine rookie in New Jersey is last year’s first overall pick Nico Hischier of Switzerland. The 18-year-old got off to a bit of a slow start, but is now tied for fourth in rookie scoring with three goals and 15 points. He’s a good playmaker and has racked up four points on the power play as well. His 12 assists rank third for first-year players.
Center Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders was leading the rookies in assists with 15 and points with 19 after 20 games. He’s come on strong after going pointless in his first five outings and dazzled fans with a five-assist game earlier this year. Barzal’s also a plus-4 and has racked up half a dozen points on the power play. The 20-year-old was drafted 16thoverall back in 2015.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mikahil Sergachev of Russia stands second in scoring for rookie blueliners and eight in overall scoring with five goals and nine assists after 20 games. His plus-8 rating was good enough for fourth on the list. The 19-year-old was drafted ninth overall by Montreal in 2016 and was acquired in the trade that saw Jonathan Drouin go to the Habs. Sergachev has five power play points and is a lot better offensively than anyone imagined.
We’ll add Tampa forward Yanni Gourde to this list as well since he’s tied with Sergachev at 14 points with six goals and eight assists and is second best in rookie plus-minus at plus 11. The 25-year old Canadian earned a roster spot after playing in the ECHL and AHL and has been a pleasant surprise. He’s played 20 games so far this season and scored six goals and three assists in 22 previous NHL encounters. Not bad for a player who was never drafted into the NHL.

We should also mention forward Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks as he was third in rookie scoring with 17 points in 17 games with seven goals and 10 assists. Boeser has been a huge surprise on the power play with seven points and the 20-year-old was the only rookie to be averaging a point-per-game as of November 19th. He was originally drafted 23rdoverall in 2015.

Roberto Luongo, Braden Holtby and Patrick Marleau climb NHL milestone ladder

Veteran goaltenders Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals each climbed the NHL career milestone ladder with their performances last week along with forward Patrick Marleau of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 38-year-old Luongo made 24 saves in his team’s 4-1 road victory over the Buffalo Sabres on November 10th to earn the 455th win of his career. Luongo now sits fourth on the all-time list for goaltender wins as he passed Curtis Joseph with the victory.
The only goalies in NHL history to win more games have been Martin Brodeur with 691, Patrick Roy at 551 and Ed Belfour with 484. And while we’re on the topic of goaltender wins, we should also mention that 28-year-old Holtby of the Washington Capitals recorded the 200th of his career the same night with a 4-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Holtby has a career record of 200-76-31 and now becomes the second-fastest netminder in league history to win 200 games. He achieved the feat in his 319thregular-season game while Ken Dryden pulled if off in his 309thouting back in November of 1977.
Luongo, who was drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 1997, has a career record of 455-368-118 with a goals-against average of 2.50 and a 91.9 save percentage with 73 shutouts in 973 outings. His playoff record stands at 34-35 with a 2.49 GAA, 91.8 save percentage and five shutouts in 70 games. Luongo would likely have moved passed Joseph on the all-time list earlier this season if it hadn’t been for injuries as his milestone win was just his seventh game of 2017/18. Now that he’s back in the net there’s a good chance he’ll appear in another 27 contests this season and also reach the 1,000-games played milestone.
Another 38-year-old to climb the NHL record ladder was Marleau, who’s playing his first season in Toronto after spending the first 19 campaigns of his career with the San Jose Sharks. The former second-overall draft pick of 1997 scored the 101st game-winning goal of his career on November 11th when he banged in the overtime winner at home in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins. He’s now tied with Jarome Iginla for seventh place on the all-time list for game winners. Jaromir Jagr of the Calgary Flames leads the way with 135 game winners followed by Gordie Howe (121), Phil Esposito (118), Teemu Selanne and Brett Hull (110) and Brendan Shanahan (109). 
There’s an excellent chance Marleau will continue to climb the list as he signed a three-year deal with the Leafs as a free agent this summer. Of course, the 45-year-old Jagr is also still playing and will have the chance at solidifying is top spot on the list. Marleau has remained productive in his 20th NHL season as he had eight goals and five assists for 13 points in his first 19 outings with the Leafs. His game winner against the Bruins was the 516th goal of his career, which moves him into 38thplace on the league’s all-time list.

The goal saw him move past Gilbert Perreault (512), Jeremy Roenick (513) and Pierre Turgeon (515) since the season started. Marleau now has 1,095 career points in 1,512 regular-season games on his 516 goals and 579 assists. He’s also chipped in with 68 goals and 52 assists for 120 points in 177 playoff contests. Each goal, assist, point and game winner will see him climb the league record lists and help solidify Marleau’s chances of becoming a Hall of Famer once he decides to hang up his skates. 

First NHL blockbuster of season sees Matt Duchene involved in three-way trade

The Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators all got in on the action on November 5th when the first blockbuster trade of the 2017/18 season was made. It was no secret that Avalanche centre Duchene was on the trading block, so most fans weren’t surprised when the 26-year-old was sent packing on Sunday night. However, what was a little odd was the fact Duchene was in the middle of a road game against the New York Islanders when the trade was made. He then left the ice during a break in the action to begin the second chapter of his NHL career.
Duchene, the third-overall draft pick in 2009, ended up in Ottawa while Nashville received 28-year-old centre Kyle Turris from the Senators. Turris was also a third-overall draft choice, but was taken two years before Duchene and by the Phoenix Coyotes. The Avalanche also received a first and third-round draft pick from Ottawa as well as center Shane Bowers and goaltender Andrew Hammond and acquired a second-round pick, defenceman Samuel Girard and and left-winger Vladislav Kamenev from Nashville. In all, the trade involved a total of six players and three future draft choices.
What also makes the deal interesting is that Duchene’s first two games with the Senators will come against Colorado as they play each other twice in Sweden at the end of the week. When Turris arrived in Nashville the team quickly signed him to a new six-year contract extension worth a total of $36 million extension. As for Duchene, he’s also making $6 million a year, but has just one season to go on his current deal. He’ll be eligible to sign a new contract with Ottawa once July 1st rolls around. Duchene was arguably the Avalanche’s best player, but he was the subject of trade rumours for the past year.
He had played in 586 regular-season games at the time of the trade with 428 points to his name on 178 goals and 250 assists for an average of .73 points per game. Duchene had racked up four goals and six assists in 14 contests this season. Meanwhile, Turris had played in 544 career games and was averaging .59 points per outing with 136 goals and 184 assists for 320 points, including three goals and six assists in 11 games this season. As far as the playoffs go, Duchene had played in just eight postseason games with six assists while Turris has 13 goals and 14 assists in 46 contests.
Reports stated that the three teams were working on a trade earlier in the weekend, but it fell through.

They then got things done about 48 hours later with Colorado general manager Joe Sakic receiving an impressive haul of players and draft picks while also saving about $5 million in salary-cap space this season. The Predators were also happy with their acquisition as Turris gives last year’s Stanley Cup finalists a solid one-two tandem at centre ice behind Ryan Johansen while Nick Bonino remains the club’s third-line pivot. They were also able to acquire him without having to give up any of their regular roster players. Girard had played just five games with Nashville this season with three points while Kamenev had yet to dress for a game with the club in 2017/18.

Arizona Coyotes tie mark for NHL’s worst-ever start

By starting the 2017/18 NHL campaign with a record of 0-10-1, the Arizona Coyotes made the league’s record books for the worst start ever to a season. If there was any good news related to their catastrophic run it was the fact that the New York Rangers share the record for futility with them. However, the Rangers’ woes were suffered 74 years ago when the team kicked off the 1943/44 season with 11 straight losses in an era that didn’t feature overtime and shootouts.
The Coyotes managed to snap their losing skid on October 30thin dramatic fashion though with a 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers in Philadelphia. The Coyotes came close to blowing it however as they allowed a 3-1 lead to slip away in the final minute of regulation time. Philadelphia pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker and scored with 52.6 seconds to go to make the score 3-2. The home team then tied the game with just 15 seconds remaining on the clock to send it to overtime with goalie Brian Elliot back on the bench.  
The nail-biting comeback was just the second time in Flyers’ history the club has scored twice in the final minute of a game to earn a point. The first time they pulled off the feat was back in 1980. Defenceman Alex Gologoski saved the Arizona franchise’s embarrassment of possibly becoming the first ever club to lose their first 12 games of the year by scoring the winner with only 14.4 seconds to go in overtime. It was his first goal of the year and couldn’t have come at a better time. The victory means all 31 NHL teams now have at least one win under their belt in the new season.
The Coyotes still have a long way to go though if they hope to climb the standings and join the playoff race later this season. Their three points leaves them in the basement of the Pacific Division with a record of 1-10-1. They’ve scored 30 goals and allowed a league-high 51 against. But on the bright side, they’re just four points behind the Edmonton Oilers in the league standings and sit just five back of the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. But one of the reasons the Coyotes are off to such a brutal start has been injuries to key players.
The most notable absence in the lineup has been veteran goaltender Antti Raanta who has been out of action with a lower-body injury since October 12th. Backup Louis Domingue has seen the majority of the workload since then, but Arizona then made a deal with the New Jersey Devils on October 28th for their former backup goalie Scott Wedgewood. He became the sixth goalie on the team’s roster so far this season and earned the win over Philadelphia in his first start with the club.

The Coyotes definitely needed some help between the pipes as Domingue lost all six games he played, posted a save percentage of 85.8 and allowed 24 goals against on 169 shots. Goaltending hasn’t been the team’s only problem though as the squad’s shooting percentage was just 7.4 in the first 11 games, which ranked 28th in the league. However, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel now the monkey’s off their back and the goaltending situation has been shored up for now. But don’t expect the Coyotes to suddenly go on an extended winning streak, at least not until Raanta returns to the lineup.