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. 

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