Don’t look now, but the Tampa Lightning apparently heard us talking smack and decided to flex their dominance. Not only are Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov out of whatever “funk” they were in, but Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and J.T. Miller are playing up to the pace they set last year.
The worst (for non-Tampa fans) is that Andrei Vasilevskiy has only played 13 games so far. He’s been down with an injury for the last month or so, but Tampa is winning despite some sketchy goaltending. They’ve scored about 4.7 goals per game since their star netminder was injured and quite frankly, I’m not sure there’s a team that could beat them in a seven game series.
1. The Division of Death
Hockey fans spent the entire summer talking about how the Central was the thunderdome, but it looks like we ignored the Atlantic. Tampa sits atop the division and the NHL with 51 points while Toronto in second with 43.
It’s hard to ignore what’s happening in Tampa, but it’s impossible to ignore the Leafs. I say that in regards to their talent, and their media’s obsession. The Maple Leafs welcomed back William Nylander last week and he’s been pretty good so far. The star forwards has two points, six shots, five scoring chances, and four high danger chances in three games, all at five on five. Once he’s back up to speed, that division might get even crazier.
What’s worse is that Buffalo is still making headway. They might’ve come back down to earth, but they’re still punching above .500 and that’s all they need to do to get into the playoffs. The possibility of losing Patrice Bergeron could sink their season, but never count out David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand.
The fact is, the Atlantic has two teams that would be first place in every other division, as well as three teams that would be first in every division except the Central.
While certain teams are up, others are way down, perfectly balanced, as all things should be. As high as Buffalo is flying, the St. Louis Blues are way in the mud, about six feet deep. Reports from Jeremy Rutherford of the Athletic says that everyone is on the table. Even Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly.
Tarasenko could be the ultimate fit alongside Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, and would drive powerplay scoring to new heights. O’Reilly would immediately supplant Ryan Johansen as the first line center, and would be the best center in Nashville’s history.
The cost would likely be too rich for the Predators blood, but stranger things have happened. Maybe a package of Kevin Fiala or Eeli Tolvanen, Dante Fabbro and a first round pick could pry one of the two players out of St. Louis, but who knows.
The only thing I do know is, never live by Jake Allen, or else you’ll die by Jake Allen.
3. Speaking Of Questionable Goaltending
The last 10 games haven’t been too kind to the Predators. Injuries have taken their toll and the scoring has dried up a bit, but to make matters worse, the goaltending at five on five has regressed.
The Predators have a season-long 92.67 save percentage (5th in the NHL) over their full season but in the last 10 games, they repping a 90.15 (23rd).
Regression was bound to happen, but it’s a shame it’s happening to both the offense and the goaltending at the same time. Hopefully it equalizes sooner rather than later.
4. Meet The New Goal Scorer, Same As The Old Goal Scorer
What a fun new generation of goal scorers we have in the NHL. Brayden Point, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, and Nathan MacKinnon lead the youth movement in changing how we play hockey. But the old ways haven’t failed yet, and the greatest goal scorer of all time is proving that.
Alexander Ovechkin currently has 25 goals in 30 games and shows some little signs of slowing down despite shooting at 21.6% in all situations. He leads the NHL in scoring and will likely finish that way.
We’ll likely never see a player who dominates the opposition with his physicality and shot like him again, so cherish him while the Russian machine is working.
David Poile was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Wednesday. It’s well deserved, and I congratulate the winningest general manager so far. What a blessing he’s been upon Nashville.