The National Hockey League’s 2020-21 season calendar is one month into the season and there’s certainly more than enough to talk about these days.
For starters, there’s the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that’s led to at least 35 games being postponed with some of them already rescheduled, but a good chunk of games remaining to be scattered among the leftover calendar— if enough players are no longer on the league’s COVID protocol list, that is.
Regardless of whether or not sports should be played in a pandemic, the NHL season rolls on with lots of interruptions as of late. Here’s five observations from the first month of the 56-game pandemic-condensed regular season.
Shutout by shutouts (13th time’s a charm)
Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak won the William M. Jennings Trophy last season as the goaltenders with the fewest goals allowed in at least 25 games played. The Boston Bruins duo won the award with 174 goals allowed in 70 games, beating Dallas Stars goaltending tandem Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin (177 goals allowed in 69 games) in the process.
Rask managed to accrue five shutouts in 41 games last season— good enough for a three-way tie with Marc-Andre Fleury and Elvis Merzlikins for the second-most shutouts to 2019-20 Vezina Trophy winning Winnipeg Jets netminder, Connor Hellebuyck’s league-leading six shutouts.
Halak, meanwhile, had three shutouts in 31 games played in 2019-20— good enough for eight combined shutouts between the two Bruins goaltenders last season (the most by any team in the league).
Until Friday night, however, neither Boston goaltender had recorded a shutout through the team’s first 12 games.
But after Friday’s, 1-0, shutout victory over the New York Rangers, Halak earned the credit for Boston’s first shutout in their 13th game of the season. Lucky No. 13. Go play the lottery or something.
Currently, New York Islanders goalie, Semyon Varlamov, and Anaheim Ducks netminder, John Gibson, lead the league in shutouts with three, while Philipp Grubauer, Jacob Markstrom and Petr Mrazek each have two shutouts for the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively.
Both the Ducks and Islanders lead the league in combined shutouts among their goaltenders by that same margin.
If the league isn’t able to complete a full 56-game schedule for all 31 teams this season, then points percentage becomes the deciding factor as to which of the four teams in each division will qualify for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This means the Edmonton Oilers (currently 3rd in the Scotia NHL North Division) are at risk of missing the playoff cutoff line with a .563 points percentage to the Calgary Flames’ (5th in the North) .577.
While the Oilers beat an opponent on Tuesday without Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl recording a point in the win for the first time since Nov. 28, 2017, it seems that Edmonton still needs more out of their players not named “McDavid” or “Draisaitl” if they want to avoid a worst-case playoff berth seeding scenario.
Who else might sneak in on points percentage?
Well, if the New Jersey Devils ever play another game in the regular season (they’ve had over a dozen players in COVID protocol for weeks now, it seems), then there’s a chance they won’t be the fourth-best team in the MassMutual NHL East Division based on points percentage.
The Devils currently have a .556 points percentage through nine games played despite being 7th in the division with a 4-3-2 record (10 points), which is better than the actual 4th place team— the New York Islanders— who have a .542 in 12 games.
In the Discover NHL Central Division, the 6th place Dallas Stars (.591 in 11 games played) could jump the 3rd place Columbus Blue Jackets (.567 in 15 GP), while the 6th place Minnesota Wild (.545 in 12 GP) could usurp the 4th place Anaheim Ducks (.500 in 15 GP) in the Honda NHL West Division.
Again, that’s if the playoffs started today without reaching 56 games.
First impressions aren’t everything
When adidas unveiled all 31 Reverse Retro jerseys many thought the Winnipeg Jets had one of the worst looks in the creativity department.
Upon further review, these jerseys actually look pretty sweet on the ice given that the shade of grey has a bit of a metallic look to it with matching socks that really speak to the namesake of the franchise— you know, “Jets”.
The jerseys are meant to make the players look like actual jets flying around the ice.
It’s good stuff. Please forgive me, Winnipeg (*ahem* adidas, really) for any previous criticism.
Also, not too shabby— the Edmonton Oilers in their bright orange pants and the Vegas Golden Knights paying homage to an alternate history timeline with their Las Vegas Thunder inspired Reverse Retro jersey.
The Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks have yet to wear theirs in a game yet this season, but will at some point in the near future, so expect more fashion sense talk at a later date.
What defense? (Yet another case for a “Best Offensive Defender” award)
Vancouver Canucks blue liner, Quinn Hughes, is off to a hot start this season with 1-16—17 totals in 17 games played entering Saturday. He currently is tied for the sixth-most points in the league, trailing first-place Edmonton Oilers forward, Connor McDavid, by 11 points.
That said, Hughes leads all defenders with 17 points in 17 games to Jeff Petry’s 14 points in 14 games with the Montreal Canadiens as the next highest scoring defender.
Petry, however, has a plus-12 rating compared to Hughes’ minus-13 rating. Some Habs forward named “Tyler Toffoli” might have contributed to that, since he has 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in five games against Vancouver thus far.
Maybe this is really just a case for Petry’s 2020-21 James Norris Trophy campaign?
Goals galore, in some places
Despite being fourth in overall league standings with 18 points in 16 games, the Edmonton Oilers have allowed the third-most goals against (52) so far this season.
Only the Vancouver Canucks (66 goals against) and Ottawa Senators (63) have allowed more goals in 17 and 15 games, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning have the best goal differential (plus-19) through 12 games, while the Toronto Maple Leafs have a plus-16 goal differential in 14 games.
The Colorado Avalanche (plus-14 in 11 games), Boston Bruins (plus-14 in 13 games) and Montreal Canadiens (plus-12 in 14 games) round out the top-five best teams in goal differential.
Ottawa has a league-worst minus-31 goal differential through 15 games, while the Detroit Red Wings are not that far behind with a minus-20 goal differential in 15 games.
Vancouver is at a minus-15 differential in 17 games with the Nashville Predators (minus-14 through 14 games) and San Jose Sharks (minus-12 in 12 games) rounding out the top-five in league-worst goal differentials.
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— Nick Lanciani (@lanci53)