When you look at the NHL standings, it still feels a little like the Twilight Zone. 3 of the 4 current top teams have been in and out of playoffs for the last few years, not able to get very far. It seems the tides have turned for them, at least for now. Let’s take a quick look at who they are and how they’ve gotten into the top 4.
#4: Calgary Flames
The Flames have been decent on paper for a while, but have never really been able to translate that to real success until now. The top 2 point-producers on the team right now are Johnny Hockey and Elias Lindholm with 14 each. Neither are a surprise, really. But Gaudreau has struggled to produce in the way Calgary had hoped when they drafted him. He still isn’t scoring as much as they’d hoped. Lucky for him, he has a linemate like Lindholm who is able to score more freely. In addition, Lindholm and Gaudreau have a talent and occasional loose cannon like Matthew Tkachuk around, thanks to Vegas sealing the deal with Eichel.
The other reason for the Flames success is goaltender Jacob Markstrom. He’s been unbelievable in net for Calgary so far with a record of 5-1-3. His goals against average is a very impressive 1.65 and save percentage is .942. His backup, Dan Vladar, is just as impressive. Vladar has won both of his starts, though his GAA and save percentage are less impressive. If these two keep it up, the Flames are a lock for playoffs.
#3: Edmonton Oilers
I feel that explaining the front end of the Oilers is unnecessary when they have two players to whom the NHL is just a video game. But, briefly, I’ll give you the numbers. Draisaitl leads the team with 10 goals and 13 assists. McDavid is right behind him with 8 goals and 14 assists, including this comically easy goal against the Rangers the other day. In addition to these two, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi have also been productive with 14 and 12 points respectively.
The back end is also important. Mikko Koskinen is 7-1-0 and Mike Smith is 2-0-0 and both have a save percentage of .920. They’re is not nearly as impressive as Calgary’s goaltenders, but as long as they continue to stop pucks reasonably well, the Oilers will go far.
#2: Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes had their first loss last night against the Panthers, bringing them to 9-1-0 so far this season. In the front, it’s not about a select few players, it’s about everyone tugging the rope. While there are certainly good point producers like Svechnikov and Aho, every player who has played more than 2 games has at least 1 point. Depth like that is important if you want to make a run for the Cup.
Carolina’s strength comes from their goalies. Frederick Anderson has shown himself to be the force Leafs fans had hoped for. I guess moving South has been good for his game. Anderson is 8-1-0 with a GAA of 1.83 and save percentage of .939. And Anderson’s backup is no one to sneeze at either. Antti Raanta has only started 1 game, but he won it. In his 2 games played, he has a .900 save percentage and his GAA is 2.49. It’s not nearly as impressive, but it’s also a miniscule sample size.
All of these factors put together leave the Hurricanes at the top of the standings; if they can keep it up, they could win the Cup this year.
#1: Florida Panthers
If you told me 3 or even 2 years ago that the Florida Panthers would lead the league and have a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup, I would have laughed. But it’s true.
Similar to Carolina, the key to their success is a combination of skaters’ contributions and very solid goaltending. 4 skaters have double-digit points already, including Anthony Duclair who scored 2 goals and had 2 assists against Carolina last night. The Panthers are also lucky to have a world class talent like Barkov, who is tied with Duclair and Huberdeau for most points at 12. These players all working together make wins easier.
What makes wins possible at all for the Panthers is the fact that Sergei Bobrovsky has finally regained the play he once had. He is 6-0-0, has a GAA of 1.72, and a save percentage of .948. This is the Bob Florida was hoping for when they brought him on. He also has an extremely promising, extremely young prodege in Spencer Knight. Knight is barely 20 years old and has yet to lose a game in regulation. He is 4-0-1, has a GAA of 2.52, and a save percentage of .918. Considering most goalies don’t even play in the NHL before, like, 24, this kid is a big deal and easily the best thing to come out of Connecticut this year. With this goalie duo, the Panthers have a great shot at the Cup.
As much as I would like to see the Capitals on this list, I have to respect the efforts these teams have made so far. It’s not the mix anyone would have predicted, yet they all deserve to be where they are. There’s still so much time left in the season, so I’m sure the top 4 will change before long. For now, I tip my hat to these teams and wish them good luck going forward.
For more hockey takes or an overall recap around the NHL, tune in to the Short Handed Takes Podcast. Presented by Couch Guy Sports.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)
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