Welcome back to another Sticks and Stones Report. Let’s mix it up today and start with the worst in the league and work our way up. That brings us to the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens, who have only 1 point in the past 5 games.
Lackluster Play As of Late
Montreal is dealing with key players frequently out of the lineup in Petry, Drouin, Gallagher, Anderson, Toffoli, Price, etc. Flyers just cannot stop the other team from scoring at all. Carter Hart and Martin Jones goalie combo is still not performing at a high level and as we’re almost halfway through the season, time is running out. Under performing Calgary and Edmonton barely stay out of last place with 2 points.
We are once again at the midpoint of the season and the high-octane start to the season has cooled off as usual for both teams. Same story, different season. Seattle is having a solid inaugural season if you ask me and with both goalies averaging over 3 goals against. Yanni Gourde is electric to watch and Jared McCann is slowly tallying 15 goals so far. 3 way tie for 3 points in 5 games is Washington Capital, Buffalo Sabres, and Vegas Golden Knights.
The Buffalo Sabres are in a tailspin. What looked like a rag-tag militia to start the season has come 180 and is now banging the drums in retreat. I would not be surprised if they finish last with the musical chairs at goalie they have going on. Vegas is on the way, way up with Stone and Pacioretty back, with a mostly healthy squad finding their stride again. Backup goalie play will be huge to take some minutes off Robin Lehner, but Vegas will soon be winning more than losing if I was a betting man. The Capitals have had a couple of tough games against some of the best as of late. The team looks like it stumbled a bit defensively, with some average goalie as well. 10 goals for & 19 goals against isn’t doing anybody on the Capitals any favor, either.
A Second Wind
There’s a 4 way tie at 4 points: Vancouver, Dallas, Columbus, and New Jersey. Vancouver has gotten a second wind behind Bruce Boudreau, but still needs to get through these lingering COVID issues. Phenom Elias Pettersson may need to exercise some demons because this has not been a good season for him so far. This team would really benefit behind this stud finding his stride again, just as he buries 2 against Washington yesterday. The Devils have just been staying afloat with Dougie Hamilton and still no answer in net. Columbus is either somewhat competitive with Elvis in net or dismal with anybody else. This team just can’t seem to put together a decent performance against strong teams. Same with all these 4 point teams. Nashville is middle of the pack and with Filip Forsberg back in the lineup, alongside a hot Josi on defense, this team is storming to the top. A little better goalie play and this team is set for the future.
Arizona and Ottawa are a treat to witness when they both get quality goaltending, but it’s few and not often. Matt Murray is back with Ottawa, as they’ve seemed to overcome their COVID issues and were able to secure a nice W against Calgary in their first game back from hiatus. Arizona is just running through the desert trying to find whatever it can to survive, as they pulled off an insane win against Toronto a couple days ago in a 40+ save performance from Karel Vejmelka. Seems like ever since that Brendan Lemieux incident, this team has come together and won more than they have lost.
Best 5 on 5 Hockey
Minnesota has Kyril alongside more skill around him, allowing him to be more confident in a playoff push. This Wild squad is electric and plays some of the best 5 on 5 hockey in the NHL right now. Same can be said for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have become even stronger since Crosby and Malkin have come back. Give Penguins coach Steve Sullivan some props for being a threat in this league with two major stars out for the majority of the season, while taking constant criticism from the media.
In the Fast Lane
Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, and the Boston Bruins are all in the ‘fast lane’ right now. Hurricanes are firing on all cylinders, and with a healthy Frederick Anderson. The Boston Bruins are battling and, besides some recent COVID hits on the defense, they’re winning and Marchand is still dominating the league on and off the ice. I can’t really say much about Chicago as of late and the Blues continue to have a roster that’s ready to battle everyday.
Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the New York Rangers are elite recently and have been throughout the majority of the season. Kucherov being back for the Lightning is sweet symphony as they dominate the scoresheet with one of the fiercest lineups in recent years. Byrom taking a step back from hockey to focus on mental health is admirable and I’m hopeful he finds the peace he’s looking for. The Avalanche will welcome him back when he’s ready. Panthers’ Huberdeau is APEX HOG in the recent weeks. His passing and vision have just been a treat to watch as Barkov and Duclair put together impressive campaigns. New York not only has a top 3 goalie in the league, with Igor Shesterkin, but their lineup is clicking with top 3 defenseman Adam Fox, a resurging Chris Kreider (20+ goals so far), and captain Mika Zibanejad just keeping everybody and everything rolling. This is what we would have seen last year if Mika wasn’t hurt.
Round Up: Who’s Sitting Atop the NHL?
To round things up, Ovechkin now sits atop the points leaderboard with both the Oilers Leon and Connor within 2 points behind him. Ovie and the Capitals can score against anybody and the Oilers hope to have some winning games in their near future, otherwise they will struggle to make the playoffs. Joe Pavelski is low-key putting together an impressive campaign, as well as Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau. Kyle Connor is electric every night with his shot, speed, and/or creativity.
Outside of all this, the NHL announced it’ll be changing its COVID testing protocols, becoming more lenient to asymptomatic players. This should help these mentioned squads and players as we reach the mid-point of the season. Stay tuned and I’ll be back in a week with another fun recap of ‘What’s Going On Around the NHL.’