By the end of the week, all NHL teams will have played at least a quarter of their schedule. Here are six questions asked and answered about what we’ve learned so far:
What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins?
He started the season averaging 1.36 points per game over his career, but Crosby is on pace to score 12 goals and 45 points this season.
At first, it seemed like Crosby was having trouble adjusting to the team’s new personnel. The Crosby-Phil Kessel duo did not work. But this crisis has lasted too long. Crosby seems urgent, perhaps suffering from the crisis of confidence that even superstars sometimes face.
The Penguins are playing more defensively than in the past, ranking fifth in goals allowed but 25th in goals scored. When in Penguins history has this ever happened?
The other problem is that it’s simply harder to score goals in today’s game. Crosby isn’t the only high-profile player experiencing a decline in his numbers. Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek finished fourth in the NHL in points last season, and coach Dave Hakstol removed him from the Flyers’ top six because of his struggles. Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson scored 72 points last season, and he has just 10 points in 19 games this season.
Which team was more impressive in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Canadiens or the New York Rangers?
The Canadiens get the nod because they weren’t expected to be so explosive on offense. They lead the NHL with 3.55 goals per game. You also have to be impressed that the Canadiens continued to improve with goaltender Carey Price on the injured list. They decisively demonstrated that they had a team capable of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1993.
But as impressive as they were, the Canadiens were not superior to the Rangers. They lead the NHL with a 1.85 goals-against average per game and have yet to play their best hockey.
Who was the most disappointing team?
The Anaheim Ducks were expected to be among the best teams in the Western Conference, and right now, they have just three more points than the last-place Edmonton Oilers.
It feels like they’re playing better, but they’ve only won five of their last 10 games. The team’s offense is struggling. Ryan Getzlaf is on a 42-point pace. Center Ryan Kesler has a goal. Defenseman Cam Fowler is minus-8 and Hampus Lindholm is minus-7.
The only good news for the Ducks is that they are just four points out of a playoff spot in the forgiving Pacific Division.
Why do so many rookies have an impact?
This season’s rookie class is exceptional. Additionally, the NHL is getting younger and faster, and general managers are more willing to give young people, especially fast players, the chance to play regularly.
Edmonton’s Connor McDavid was making the expected impact before suffering a broken collarbone. And Buffalo’s Jack Eichel has shown he will be an impact player as well. But other recruits have been equally impressive.
Detroit’s Dylan Larkin has already become a key contributor. Given the state of their offense, the Red Wings might struggle now without Larkin’s ability to create scoring opportunities with his speed. Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, a Continental Hockey League veteran, was dynamic and more refined than most rookies.
Rookie Max Domi instantly became Arizona’s most important offensive player.
The real surprise was St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, third on the Blues with 12 points in 19 games. He made the team with a strong training camp and continued to soar. He’s 6-5, 225 pounds and leads the Blues with a plus-10 rating.
While the Blackhawks are fifth in the Central, should we exclude them?
Of course not. It hasn’t been an easy start for the Blackhawks after making several significant roster changes to help alleviate salary cap issues. It didn’t help that defenseman Duncan Keith missed 10 games with injury. The good news is that Patrick Kane is playing the best hockey of his career, and the arrival of Panarin has given them another difference maker up front.
They are still difficult to beat at home. Their problems are on the road where they are in 3-6-1.
Should we believe in the early success of the Dallas Stars?
Absolutely. The Stars’ offense is scary, and their defense and goaltending have been better than expected. With Patrick Sharp joining Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the Stars threaten to score four or more goals every night.
Meanwhile, Swedish defenseman John Klingberg has quickly become the Stars version of Nicklas Lidstrom. Klingberg has 23 points in 21 games and has improved significantly as a defensive player. He is a legitimate candidate for the Norris Trophy.
The Stars’ goalie rotation of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen also worked very well, helped by the fact that the two goalies are friends.
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