Starting goalie: Cam Talbot
Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne
Starting goalie: Cam Talbot
Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne
So, the year is still pretty new. Let’s celebrate 2018 by considering every NHL team, whether it be asking burning questions, pondering make-or-break situations, and pointing out interesting tidbits.
This week, we’ll roll with the Western Conference, because they win the epic battle of alphabetical order and to reduce risks of people complaining about “East Coast Bias.” Next we’ll we go with the East.
Anaheim: What is this team?
Honestly, it’s easy to forget that Ryan Kesler is finally back. The pugnacious pivot is at five games played now, with his first goal coming last night against Edmonton. Between Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, and plenty of others being hurt, injuries leave the Ducks’ with an “Incomplete” on their mid-term report card.
The good and bad news is that there’s some uncertainty with this team. Maybe you can take advantage of that?
Arizona: Antti Raanta could be a wild card.
Quietly, Raanta has actually been OK this season, sporting a .915 save percentage, in range of his .916 career average. Raanta stopped 37 out of 39 shots to help the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 in OT last night.
Wins should be tough to come by, but Raanta may be worth a look if you’re desperate for goaltending. With his next contract on the line, motivation won’t be in short order.
Calgary: Can Mike Smith keep this up? At 35, he’s carrying a big workload, and the Flames traded away a possible insurance policy – albeit a flimsy one – in Eddie Lack. Even if Calgary has some other goalies with future potential, is anyone ready if he hits a wall?
Chicago Jonathan Toews could be starting a hot streak with two straight two-point games after a six-game drought. Consider last season, when he scored more points after the All-Star break (30 points in as many games) than he did before it (28 points in 42 games).
Dallas: John Klingberg already has 36 points in 42 games, leading NHL defensemen by five points. You don’t hear a ton about the 25-year-old blueliner thanks to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but he ranks as one of the great fantasy steals of this season.
Edmonton: Oilers in need of new contracts are the most intriguing, and recently suspended winger Patrick Maroon has quite a bit to lose if this team decides to sell, especially if Edmonton does so soon.
Beyond Maroon, interesting situations to watch include Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Other guys, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, could also be up for grabs. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess worth monitoring.
The often-injured scorer has 13 points in 18 games this season, with an active three-game point streak (two goals, two assists). Gaborik scored 21 points in 56 games in 2016-17 and 22 in 54 in 2015-16, so this would be quite the turnaround if this isn’t a fluke. Some of it very well could be considering his 17.1 shooting percentage, so be warned.
Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk sure seems to be back, and the same seems to be true of the Wild. Probably not a coincidence.
Dubnyk has won six times, lost once, and stopped all 10 shots in another period of relief work where he wasn’t credited with a win or a loss.
Nashville: With Filip Forsberg out four-to-six weeks, it’s crucial to keep an eye on who will trot out with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Calle Jarnkrok first drew that assignment, while Pontus Aberg got the nod on Thursday. Then again, maybe it’s not worth the work if you’re the low-maintenance type.
Also remarkable: Kevin Labanc isn’t far behind with 20 points. He’s getting dangerously close to convincing me that his last name shouldn’t have an “l” in it.
St. Louis: The Blues get a lot from guys you’d expect, but the boost comes from the unexpected. Brayden Schenn still leads the Blues in scoring with 42 points while Carter Hutton has an absurd .947 save percentage starting 11 games and appearing in 14.
Vancouver: This is a bad time to invest in the Canucks.
They start a seven-game road trip on Saturday, and during that time, they deal with two back-to-back sets. This team’s been way more competitive than expected, but it’s likely to be a tough January.
Vegas: William Karlsson, as an RFA, has a lot of incentive to keep his strong work going. So do a lot of Golden Knights, who also face a tough schedule in the near future. Karlsson stands out as a risk for regression, with an unsustainable 26.3 shooting percentage.
Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele‘s last game before that unfortunate injury came on Dec. 27. Since then, Blake Wheeler hasn’t really missed a beat as the new center of the top line, generating four goals and one assist in three games.
Reminder: the guy is a star.
Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick
Milan Lucic – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Juhar Khaira – Leon Draisaitl – Ryan Strome
Patrick Maroon – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Drake Caggiula
Anton Slepyshev – Mark Letestu – Zack Kassian
Starting goalie: Cam Talbot
The Edmonton Oilers gambled that young defensemen could stem the tide while Andrej Sekera healed up from a torn ACL, and many would argue that management made the wrong decision in placing that bet in 2017-18.
With that in mind, it’s not too surprising that people seem excited about what appears to be an imminent return for the veteran defenseman; TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reports that his teammates let out a cheer as he led stretches today.
Oilers announcer Bob Stauffer tweeted out the Oilers’ pairings, and even with Oscar Klefbom sidelined, they look a lot more balanced with Sekera in the mix. Here’s how the top-six looks, according to Stauffer:
The 31-year-old might also end up on the Oilers’ top power-play unit.
It’s easy to dismiss how much of a stabilizing force Sekera could be for Edmonton.
Last season, Sekera averaged 21:28 TOI per game, second only to Klefbom. He averaged 2:01 of PK time per contest, ranking third on the Oilers, and also pitched in 35 points during the regular season.
Once Klefbom gets back in the mix, the Oilers could, say, scratch Benning and boast a far more complete trio of defensive pairings. Sekera may very well help Klefbom get back on track if Edmonton decided to pair those two up.
Either way, the return of a key player can provide a pleasant domino effect for a defense, with guys falling into spots that are more comfortable than maybe they’ve been experiencing so far. We’ve already seen positive signs of the Oilers offense falling into more sensible configurations, as Edmonton’s finally embracing the importance of depth by splitting up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
As with many Oilers-related questions, there’s the uncomfortable prompt: is this another instance in which improvements are coming too late? Even with two wins in a row and six victories in their last 10 games, Edmonton is ranked second-to-last in the West.
If they’re climbing back, it won’t be easy, yet Sekera’s likely return would give them quite the boost.
–Check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Blackhawks and Rangers. Artem Anisimov came through with a hat trick in the third period for the ‘Hawks. (Top)
–Speaking of last night’s action, Sportsnet looks at three things we learned in the NHL on Wednesday night. (Sportsnet)
–A homeless man in Winnipeg wrote a letter to the Jets in an attempt to get help for his mental illness. Not only did the organization read his letter, they gave him a job. (NHL.com)
–The New Jersey Devils have surprised the hockey world with their incredible start to 2017-18, but they need to find a way to make their defense better as soon as possible because the offense is bound to drop off at a certain point. (njdab.com)
–Dallas has had a hard time finding secondary scoring throughout their lineup. That’s something they’ll need to change if they hope to make a return to the postseason. (defendingbigd.com)
–The Boston Bruins’ season has been less than stellar. Part of the problem, is that they’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. Still, there’s no point in them making a desperation trade at this point of the season. (WEEI.com)
–The Philadelphia Flyers let Steve Mason walk in free agency last summer, and he opted to sign with Winnipeg. It’s the best thing they could have done, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Boruk, who says some players informed him that Mason rubbed them the wrong way. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)
–Reports have surfaced about the Blues being interested in acquiring Buffalo’s Evander Kane. Even though they need a little more scoring, bleedinblue.com doesn’t think that overpaying for a player like Kane makes sense for the team. (bleedingblue.com)