It’s become a bit of a benchmark in the NHL season, the American Thanksgiving weekend. Typically, the majority of teams in a playoff spot on this weekend are the ones who end up in the playoffs at the season’s end. So in this week’s NHL Power Rankings recap, let’s take a look at the playoff picture!
In the Eastern Conference, the teams in the playoff picture are quite different than what was predicted at the beginning of the season. With the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders occupying Metro Division playoff spots and the Detroit Red Wings in an Atlantic Division spot, there are a few notable teams sitting on the outside. The New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, and Washington Capitals are all surprises to be missing out on a playoff spot.
The Florida Panthers had a huge roster shakeup in the offseason. They lost Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. The players are working with another new coach in Paul Maurice. And, they have been missing important players like Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, and Anthony Duclair for stretches due to injury. The roster that was one of the deepest in the league last season is now looking extremely shallow, and is definitely making it difficult for the team to compete.
And the Washington Capitals are dealing with some major injury issues that have kept, among others, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Connor Brown, Dmitry Orlov, and John Carlson out of the lineup for large portions of the season thus far.
Out in the Western Conference, the Seattle Kraken are the main surprise, as they sit in a Pacific Division playoff spot in place of the Calgary Flames. Depending on who you ask, seeing the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets in a playoff spot instead of the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators may constitute a surprise as well.
The Predators as of yet have been unable to bounce back from an atrociously slow start that saw them post a 3-6-1 record in their first 10 games. Nashville’s entire offense seems to run through Roman Josi, so when he starts the season with just four points in his first nine games, it is a fair assumption that the team is not scoring in general. Juuse Saros, also a product of a struggling team, is not off to a good start either as he is putting up the worst statline of his career thus far.
Minnesota has been about as average as a team could be through the first quarter of their season. It was largely expected after a collection of their depth players all had career years at once last year and they traded Kevin Fiala away in the offseason. But despite that, the Wild have still been competitive and they are rebounding from a poor start defensively that saw them give up 36 goals in their first 10 games, now down to 26 goals in their last 11 games.
The offense for the Calgary Flames has seemingly dried up as well, making it difficult for them to repeat their success from last season. Jacob Markstrom’s having a rough start to the season as well, falling in line with the rest of the team.
One of the biggest surprises in the league so far, the New York Islanders, have rocketed up the standings in part due to finally finding some offense and the strong performance of their goalies. While the Edmonton Oilers have found themselves struggling recently due to the exact opposite.
Offensive Juggernaut New York Islanders
A frequent complaint and struggle for the Islanders is a lack of offense. Talented offensive players are held back, given limited minutes, and generally unable to find any way to generate scoring in a restrictive system. Under new head coach Lane Lambert, things seem to have changed as the players on the ice appear to have more freedom in the style of play.
Currently, the Islanders are tied for fifth in the league in goals for, with 77 (an average of 3.35 per game). This average is about half a goal per game higher than any of the past six seasons (with the exception of the 2016-17 season in which they averaged 3.2 goals per game.
Mat Barzal is scoring at his highest pace since his rookie year, with 25 points in 23 games so far. Brock Nelson is not too far behind with 22 points in 23 games.
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be sustainable long-term as the Islanders have the second-highest PDO in the league. It is largely fueled by their goaltending, as Ilya Sorokin is a top-three goalie in the league thus far. New York’s shooting percentage is near the top of the league as well. So when the goaltending slows down or the offense’s puck luck dries up, the Islanders may find themselves struggling to win games again.
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Another Year, Same Issues for the Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers needed a few things to go right for them this season. Depth scoring, leg by Evander Kane, needed to be better. The defense, particularly on the left side, needed to be better. And their big goaltending acquisition needed to work out. So far, none of these things have worked out.
The team still has very little depth scoring. Behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, thee Oilers basically have Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins able to contribute. Behind them, Tyson Barrie leads in scoring with 12 points in 21 games. The team’s 5-on-5 offense is atrocious, shooting an abysmal 6.9%, sitting 28th in the league.
Defensively, they aren’t much better, with the sixth most goals against in the league at this point. Aside from a weaker lineup on paper, the play on the ice looks discombobulated and uncoordinated. The defensive struggles play closely in with the poor start by Jack Campbell, who has one of the worst statlines of any goalie with an .875 SV%, 4.04 GAA, and -10.53 GSAA.
The poor defense and goaltending have created a situation where the team’s underlying numbers don’t quite match up with the actual performance, since they are giving up way more goals than expected, especially given the positive difference in high-danger chances for and against.
That’s it for this week’s NHL Power Rankings! Who is ranked too high? Drop a comment down below!
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