Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images
Due to a small sample size, teams get skewed results over the first quarter of the NHL season. Some teams find themselves near the top and will hit a rut eventually but it is not showed yet due to the limited sample while others are near the bottom and have yet to get their opportunity to make up for ground lost. NoVa Caps pick five teams that are likely not as good or bad as they currently rank in the NHL standings and five who appear as good or bad as they should be.
Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas still lacks finishers in their forward group. Right-wing Phil Kessel has earned the reputation as one but has just five goals and 11 points in 27 games.
In addition, goaltender Logan Thompson (13-5-0, .921 save percentage, 2.55 goals-against average, two shutouts) has had a nice start but has just 38 games of NHL experience. What can we expect from him down the stretch?
Center Jack Eichel has had a terrific start to the year but has eight more points than anyone else on Vegas.
Left-wing Kyle Connor, who is known for his goal scoring proficiency, has just eight through 23 games after finishing last season with a career-high 47. Over 52% of their offense has come from four players (center Mark Schiefele, center Pierre-Luc Dubois, Connor, and right-wing Blake Wheeler).
During the previous seven seasons, their 78.6% penalty-killing rate was tied for 25th in the NHL while they were at the league-average in goals-against per game (2.90). This season, they rank fifth in goals-against per game (2.57) and third on the penalty kill (83.9%) despite barely making any changes over the offseason. I’m not buying it.
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (12-5-1, .931 save percentage, 2.27 goals-against average, three shutouts) is having a solid season but he can only take them so far.
Seattle is definitely not as bad as they were last season but are likely not as good as they’ve shown so far this season.
Right-wing Jordan Eberle has 25 points in 24 games after not even hitting 45 points in any of the past four seasons. Center Jarred McCann is on pace for over 60 points (17 in 22) but he never hit 36 before tallying 27 goals and 50 points last year. Defenseman Justin Schultz is just one goal and seven points shy of matching his four-goal, 23-point production in 74 games with the Washington Capitals last season. At some point, these players’ productions will fall.
Their goaltenders in Martin Jones (.888 save percentage, 2.97 goals-against average in 19 games) and Philipp Grubauer (.868 save percentage, 3.40 goals-against average in seven) do not have strong numbers, suggesting that the offensive production in Seattle is bailing them out.
Edmonton has had a disappointing season to date sitting at just 14-12-0, which ranks 10th in the Western Conference in terms of points percentage (.538).
Only captain Connor McDavid (22), center Leon Draisaitl (17), and center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (11) have goal totals in double-digits but right-wing Evander Kane (five goals, 13 points in 14 games) has been out since November 8 with a wrist injury and his return should provide a boost should he come back.
With that being said, Edmonton will likely not match last season’s run to the Western Conference Final after Jack Campbell (7-6-0, .872 save percentage, 4.12 goals-against average) has already lost the starting job to Stuart Skinner. They will also need to figure out their defense (allowing 3.58 goals-per-game) and penalty kill (70.3% effective).
Calgary lost their two-leading scorers from last season in July and even if they brought in adequate replacements, the amount of change that the team saw makes their slow start appear understandable.
They currently sit 12-10-3 (.540 points percentage, ninth in Western Conference) but have a lot of players with room to grow, including left-wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11 assists, 15 points in 22 games after his 346 points in 286 games from 2018-22 ranked fourth in the NHL), goaltender Jacob Markstrom (.889 save percentage, 2.97 goals-against average in 17 games after finishing last season with a .922 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average), and left-wing Andrew Mangiapane (six goals, 11 points in 25 games after scoring 70 in 206 games from 2019-22, half of which came last season).
Once this team finds the right mix, look out because this is a talented team with perhaps the deepest defense in the NHL.
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey has looked strong since dropping their first two games of the season, going 21-2-1. Their young core of center Jack Hughes (13 goals, 31 points in 26 games), left-wing Jesper Bratt (18 assists, 28 points), and center Nico Hischier (16 assists, 27 points) have stepped up.
The team’s blueline is allowing the second-fewest per game (2.19) while they are the fourth-highest scoring team (3.69).
New Jersey has finally found consistent goaltending with Vitek Vanecek (12-2-1, .922 save percentage, 2.10 goals-against average, two shutoust) and back-up Akira Schmid (5-0-0, .949 save percentage, 1.42 goals-against average). However, Vanecek lost the starting job after five periods in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs with Washington and never appeared with them after that. Will he be able to hold onto the No. 1 job this time?
Just when it appeared their Stanley Cup window may be closing, Boston has roared out of the gate, going a league-best 20-3-1 (.854 points percentage).
Their top-line has been their top-line with right-wing David Pastrnak (35) leading the team by 14 points and 11 skaters with at least 10 points. 21 of 23 skaters who have appeared in a game this season have gotten on the scoresheet while the team leads the NHL in goals-per-game (3.96) and goals-against per game (2.17). They are also second on both the power play (29.4%) and penalty kill (84.6%).
Goaltender Linus Ullmark has posted a .936 save percentage and 1.93 goals-against average in 17 games.
Nashville has gone 7-1-1 over their past nine games after starting 5-8-1 to hover around seventh in the Western Conference (in terms of points percentage).
They don’t have a skater who has averaged a point-per-game and centers Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen in addition to defenseman Roman Josi have seen their numbers fall from last season. No one has hit the 10-goal mark.
Their power-play has also returned to normal after an anomaly last season, going 17.9% efficient (28th).
Nashville needs goaltender Juusse Saros (9-6-2, .906 save percentage, 2.92 goals-against average in 17 games) to find his game.
Dallas was expected to be a middling team entering this season but have exceeded expectations, starting 14-7-5 (.635 points percentage), good for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference.
Left-wing Jason Robertson leads the NHL in goals (23) and ranks third in points (41). Meanwhile, they have four players with over 25 points (Robertson, center Roope Hintz: 30, right-wing Joe Pavelski: 28, and left-wing Jamie Benn: 26) and seven with over 18 (center Tyler Seguin and defenseman Miro Heiskanen, both with 19). Overall, Dallas ranks third with an average of 3.77 goals-per-game and ninth with a 25.9% power-play efficiency.
Meanwhile, goaltender Jake Oettinger has been solid with a .916 save percentage (tied for 12th with Washington’s Darcy Kuemper) and a 2.54 goals-against average (tied for ninth) in 18 games.
This is a very well balanced team led by a solid coach in Pete DeBoer.
While Carolina has slightly disappointed this season, they got off to an 8-2-1 start and still have points in 10 of their last 11 (5-1-5). Carolina may also be turning a corner as they have gone 4-0-2 in their last six. Their .654 points percentage (14-6-6) is still the sixth-best in the Eastern Conference).
They are still one of the best defensive teams in the NHL as their average of 2.81 goals-against per game ranks seventh and have one of the best coaches in Rod Brind’Amour.
The team should get a boost when left-wing Max Pacioretty, a six-time 30-goal scorer returns from a torn Achilles’ tendon around February, as Carolina will finally get the natural goal scorer they have lacked.
By Harrison Brown