6 standings surprises from the NHL’s first month of the season
Photo credit:© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
It says a lot that the Canucks’ atrocious start to the 2022-23 season has been far from the biggest surprise in the NHL standings after a month of action.
While fans in Vancouver have been pretty focused on the chaos surrounding the local team, the rest of the league standings have been absolutely crazy in their own right. Teams that missed the playoffs last year are leading divisions, the defending Cup champions are outside the playoff bubble looking in, and second-year expansion teams are actually looking competitive.
So today we’ll be looking at some of the biggest early-season surprises, both for good and bad reasons, and what’s been making a difference for them in their first few weeks of games.
Buffalo Sabres: Seven wins in 10 games
When the Sabres traded Jack Eichel to Vegas last season, most thought it would spark yet another rebuild for the franchise. To everyone’s shock, the Sabres have been soaring ever since.
Buffalo’s seven wins and 14 points put them just four behind Boston for the Atlantic Division lead, and in a tie for second in the East with New Jersey. Tage Thompson hasn’t skipped a beat since his breakout year in 2021-22, first-overall picks Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power have been pivotal on the blue line, and the goaltending tandem of Eric Comrie and Craig Anderson has defied all logic.
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As a franchise with an active playoff drought in the double digits, the Sabres are still going to have their work cut out for them in the stacked Atlantic. But hopefully for long-suffering Sabres fans, this year’s team will keep the positive momentum rolling across a full 82-game schedule.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Six-game losing streak
Things have only gotten worse for the Penguins since their 5-1 loss in Vancouver last week, all in stunning contrast to how things began for Sidney Crosby & Co. The Pens opened the year 4-0-1, outscoring their opponents 26-11 over that span. Fast forward to last night, as Pittsburgh blew their second straight multi-goal lead against the Sabres to lose their sixth in a row.
The Penguins have been absolutely porous on defence over their losing skid by allowing 30 goals over their last half dozen, and have fallen quickly to seventh in the Metropolitan Division. Any team stacked with future Hall of Famers like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang can’t be counted out for long, but they have a long road ahead of them.
Boston Bruins: League-best 9-1-0 record
Every time you think the Bruins are finally over the hill, they somehow reach the Fountain of Youth.
David Pastrnak has been otherworldly, racking up 18 points to put himself third in league scoring. David Krejci hasn’t missed a step since returning from a year playing in Czechia, Patrice Bergeron appears to be an ageless wonder, and Brad Marchand is still Brad Marchand.
Perhaps the biggest asset to the Bruins’ success has been their ability to find cheap reliable depth. Jakub Lauko, Trent Frederic and A.J. Greer aren’t names you’d recognize, and yet they’re all playing pivotal roles on the NHL’s number one team.
Oh, and they’ve done it all without Charlie McAvoy too.
New Jersey Devils: First in the Metro Division
The Devils’ rise to the top of the Metro has been quick and full of high-scoring games. Jesper Bratt has been on fire to begin the year, leading New Jersey with 16 points, and Lindy Ruff’s squad has gotten contributions all across the lineup from players like Jack Hughes, Dougie Hamilton and John Marino.
New Jersey still has a few questions to solve when it comes to their goaltending, but if MacKenzie Blackwood keeps having performances as he did in Vancouver it could solve itself quickly. But much like the Sabres, the Devils are yet another group looking to end another long playoff drought, and so far they’re doing it in style.
St. Louis Blues: League worst goals for
Age might be finally catching up to the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues have more trouble scoring than any other team, and it’s not even close. In eight games the Blues have mustered just 19 goals; the next lowest-scoring team, the Blue Jackets, have scored seven more in just two extra games.
Add in Jordan Binnington’s struggles with consistency, and you get a last-place team in the Central Division. And considering how stacked the Central is, they might already be in a hole too big to climb out of.
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But who knows, maybe this is just another long con from the people that brought you the 2019 Stanley Cup.
Seattle Kraken: In a playoff spot?
Yes, you read that correctly. The Seattle Kraken are currently third in the Pacific Division.
How did that happen? Two reasons: Matty Beniers and Andre Burakovsky. The rookie and the free agent signing have both been crucial to the Kraken attack, giving the second-year club a much more reliable scoring attack than they had in their first season.
To make the Kraken’s 5-4-2 record even more impressive, they’ve done it all despite sub-.900 goaltending, an injury to Philipp Grubauer and recent fourth-overall pick Shane Wright struggling to stay out of the press box.
It’s hard not to wonder how much better their record would be with more reliable options in net than Martin Jones.
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