If you can believe it, we are basically through one-quarter of the 2020-21 NHL schedule already. True, most teams have only played about a dozen games, but that only reinforces the fact this season is a sprint, rather than the usual marathon. And we are definitely seeing the effects of the division-only schedules (pour a little out for our homies in Ottawa). Having said that, most of the divisions are shaking out approximately how we saw them in the off-season, with a couple notable exceptions. Pandemic postponements are certainly taking their toll on the schedule and right now, the East Division in particular is scrambling.
But when there’s a game on the schedule, teams need to get those points and there is no margin for error this year. So let’s take a look at who’s hot and who is not right now.
1. Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak is on fire, Charlie McAvoy has proven he can take over the B’s blueline already and the Patriots totally would have still won all those Super Bowls without Tom Brady. Totally.
2. Vegas Golden Knights: Blinding their opponents with decadent jerseys has helped the Knights, though Mark Stone, Shea Theodore and Marc-Andre Fleury have been pretty big factors, too.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts have won four in a row and are surrendering just two goals per game. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has played every game and is looking like he’s hungry for another Vezina Trophy.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Losing Wayne Simmonds to a wrist injury hurts, but let’s face it: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are running the show. And as per Toronto concert rules, that show features a stoic audience with its arms crossed the whole time.
5. Montreal Canadiens: Can Jeff Petry still be underrated if he’s leading his team in scoring? GM Marc Bergevin looking like a genius for the moves he made – and the ones he didn’t.
6. Colorado Avalanche: That Avs machine is beginning to churn and that means trouble for the rest of the West. Cale Makar has been a demon and Philipp Grubauer is playing out of his mind.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: It’s gut-check time for the Canes with Petr Mrazek sidelined by a thumb injury. James Reimer needs to step up his game something fierce.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: The return of Sean Couturier is huge for the Flyers, who have been good, but certainly have another level to hit. Getting Carter Hart on track would help.
9. Dallas Stars: All hail the ageless Joe Pavelski. Also, hail the very young Jake Oettinger. Maybe just save yourself some time and hail Dallas in general.
10. Washington Capitals: The Capitals have hit the skids with three straight losses and another date with Philly up next. Just don’t blame Nicklas Backstrom; he’s got 17 points in 12 games.
11. St. Louis Blues: It’s hard to get a handle on this Blues squad. Losing Robert Thomas for 4-6 weeks (thumb) isn’t ideal, but Jordan Kyrou is a point-per-gamer.
12. Florida Panthers: They win when Chris Driedger plays well and they win when Sergei Bobrovsky plays poorly. Cats have yet to play Tampa Bay however, but that ends this week.
13. Winnipeg Jets: Who’s ready for the Pierre-Luc Dubois era in Winnipeg? Frankly, as long as the Jets don’t self-sabotage, they’re a playoff team in the North. But it’s still exciting…
14. Chicago Blackhawks: It’s beguiling how well the Hawks are doing versus pre-season expectations. Turns out vintage Patrick Kane and throwing Kevin Lankinen in net was the formula.
15. New Jersey Devils: I’m saying this now for posterity: In this division, the Devils might be a playoff team. Ty Smith is the real deal and the organization brought him along the right way.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets: On the positive side of the ledger, Patrik Laine has three goals in his first three games. On the negative side, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are struggling big-time. These things do not balance out, I’m afraid.
17. Calgary Flames: Jacob Markstrom has two shutouts in nine appearances and Johnny Gaudreau is back to his ol’ goal-scoring ways. More importantly, they beat the Oilers on the weekend.
18. Minnesota Wild: Jordan Greenway leads the Wild in scoring. When he played for Team USA at the world juniors, coach Bob Motzko called him ‘Big Papa Bear’ in a scrum and I’ve never forgotten that.
19. Pittsburgh Penguins: There was a hardcore punk band called Bird of Ill Omen (I know, terrible name) that sampled that part in Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor says “Everything was going to be bad. Bad. Everything was going to be even worse than it already was.” Anyways…
20. Edmonton Oilers: Edmonton’s inability to win games while Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl rampage through the scoring race is one of the most frustrating storylines in all of team sports right now.
21. New York Rangers: Suddenly, things are looking a lot brighter with the Rangers. It’s almost like a huge burden was lifted off the franchise’s shoulders but I can’t put my finger on what it could be.
22. New York Islanders: In order for the Isles to be a nightmare in the playoffs, they have to be in the playoffs. Top priority is finding more goals outside of Barzal, Eberle and Lee.
23. Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres have been ravaged by Covid-19 and that’s going to have a big impact on getting back on track. At least Taylor Hall has produced (albeit as a playmaker).
24. Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes are officially in “That’s a good team over there” status after taking two straight from the Blues. Conor Garland and Christian Dvorak are leading the offense.
25. Nashville Predators: The Preds are in that awkward spot where Pekka Rinne can’t be The Guy in net anymore, Juuse Saros can’t be more than the back-up and Tomas Vomacka and Yaroslav Askarov are still developing. It’s not a great place to be.
26. Anaheim Ducks: To be honest, I’ve been watching more of the San Diego Gulls because they have Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale and Jacob Perreault right now. But kudos to the Ducks for somehow being a .500 hockey team.
27. San Jose Sharks: Devan Dubnyk has way better numbers than Martin Jones this season, except Jones has four wins and Dubnyk has none. It’s gonna be weird in San Jose for awhile.
28. Vancouver Canucks: There is obviously still time to turn it around, but the Canucks have been, by far, the most disappointing team in the NHL so far. It literally seems like every off-season move backfired on them.
29. Los Angeles Kings: Arthur Kaliyev and Jaret Anderson-Dolan have scored their first NHL goals while Quinton Byfield and Tyler Madden have their first pro points in the AHL. These are the only Kings updates you need right now.
30. Detroit Red Wings: The future is very bright in Detroit, but every Red Wings win this season is essentially a condemnation of their opponent on that particular night.
31. Ottawa Senators: We’re all just cheering for Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle to be safe and have fun out there, right?