This is a monthly feature in which I’ll take a look at each of the teams in the Western Conference.
1. Nashville Predators
11-3-0 (22 points) / 47 Goals For (4th) / 30 Goals Against (2nd)
Last year’s President’s Trophy winners are off to a strong start yet again. The Preds were obviously already a really good team, but Ryan Johansen is playing his best hockey since having thigh surgery due to an injury suffered during the team’s 2017 playoff run. Nashville’s deep group of forwards, four top-pairing defencemen, and two-headed goalie machine make them a very good bet to repeat as the best team in the West during the regular season.
2. Calgary Flames
9-5-1 (19 points) / 52 Goals For (1st) / 50 Goals Against (26th)
The Flames have been the league’s most high-octane team thus far. They rank tops in the league in terms of goals for with 52 (tied with Colorado), but they’re one of the worst teams at keeping the puck out of the net. Mike Smith has been an absolute disaster, owning an .871 save percentage through 10 games. You have to wonder given Smith’s poor play if rookie David Rittich, who owns a .927 save percentage, will take over the net. As I said, Calgary’s offence is firing on all cylinders which has compensated for their inability to keep the puck out of the net. While James Neal has been underwhelming, newly-acquired Elias Lindholm has found a home on the team’s top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, creating one of the most dynamic trios in the league.
t-3. Vancouver Canucks
9-6-0 (18 points) / 47 Goals For (4th) / 50 Goals Against (26th)
Just like everyone expected, the Vancouver Canucks are sitting in second place in the Pacific Division. Sooner rather than later the Canucks are going to slide back down the standings to where they belong, but still, their hot start is an indication of a bright future. Elias Pettersson, the team’s fifth-overall pick from the 2017 draft, has nine goals and 15 points in just eight games, which is incredible.
t-3. Minnesota Wild
8-3-2 (18 points) / 40 Goals For (19th) / Goals Against 36 (8th)
The Wild got off to a terrible start to the season, dropping four of their first five games, but have caught fire as of late, winning seven of eight. Minnesota is thriving largely due to strong defence and excellent goaltending. Devan Dubnyk has is having a Vezina-calibre start to the season as he owns a .937 save percentage through 10 games. The team badly needs some of their key forwards to pick it up in order to maintain this strong pace because there’s no way Dubnyk can bail them out forever. Charlie Coyle has just two goals and Nino Niederreiter hasn’t found the back of the net yet.
t-5. Edmonton Oilers
8-4-1 (17 points) / 40 Goals For 19th) / 37 Goals Against (9th)
Since starting 0-2 and everybody panicking that the year was over before it began, the Oilers have gone 8-2-1 and look much more like the team that went on a playoff run in 2017 than the one that flopped miserably the year after. Connor McDavid is averaging nearly two points per game, Oscar Klefbom is fully healthy and is looking like a No. 1 defenceman, and the team is finally finding depth offensive contributions from unexpected sources like Alex Chiasson and Drake Caggiula. Given how hard their schedule was in October, an 8-4-1 start is an overwhelmingly successful start to the season.
t-5. Winnipeg Jets
8-5-1 (17 points) / 41 Goals For (17th) / 38 Goals Against (11th)
The Jets have gotten off to a strong start to the season despite mediocre performances from some key players. Patrik Laine struggled to start the year and was demoted to the fourth line after he only scored three goals in his first 12 games and Nik Ehlers didn’t score a goal until his 10th game of the season but both forwards seem to be back to track now. Also, Connor Hellebuyck, last year’s Vezina finalist, has been just average as he owns a .907 save percentage. It’s a good sign for Winnipeg that they’re winning games despite struggles from Laine, Ehlers, and Hellebuyck. It speaks to the depth of the team.
t-5. Colorado Avalanche
7-4-3 (17 points) / 52 Goals For (1st) / 40 Goals Against (14th)
The Avs look like a bubble waiting to burst. At a glance, they’re tied for the league lead in goals for and they’ve been pretty good at keeping the puck out of the net. But, digging a little deeper, this doesn’t look sustainable. They’re one of the league’s worst teams in terms of shot attempt differential at even strength and they’re riding high percentages. Semyon Varlamov owns a .936 save percentage and the team is shooting 12.2 percent in all situations. Also, 27 of Colorado’s 52 goals for the season have come from the line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen. There’s no doubt that’s a great line, but the team boasts virtually zero offensive depth behind them.
t-5. San Jose Sharks
7-4-3 (17 points) / 42 Goals For (12th) / 43 Goals Against (20th)
The Sharks looked like favourites to run away with the Pacific Division, but they haven’t hit their stride yet. On the bright side, Timo Meier is having a breakout season with 11 goals in 14 games, and Brent Burns is back to operating at his Norris-level, scoring at over a point-per-game pace. On the not-so-bright side, Martin Jones has been bad, as he has a .900 save percentage in 10 games, and major off-season acquisition Erik Karlsson has been just average, with seven points and a -9 rating in 14 games. But, in the opposite vein of the Avs, San Jose has very good underlying numbers and seem to be a good bet to pick things up as time goes along.
9. Dallas Stars
8-5-0 (16 points) / 40 Goals For (19th) / 34 Goals Against (5th)
The Stars have been an interesting case over their first month of play. They’re generally known as an offensive team with poor defence, but that’s been flipped so far this year. Dallas is a middling team offensively while they’ve been excellent at keeping the puck out of the net. Both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin own .923 save percentages, which helps compensate for the team’s mediocre shot attempt numbers. Probably the biggest story in Dallas has been Miro Heiskanen, the 19-year-old who already looks like a top=pairing defender.
t-10. Chicago Blackhawks
6-6-3 (15 points) / 46 Goals For (6th) / 56 Goals Against (31st)
The Blackhawks look like pretty much the exact same team they were last season. They’re top heavy, as three players have accounted for about half of their goals, and they struggle to keep the puck out of the net. Cam Ward has been awful, as he owns an .887 save percentage, and Corey Crawford hasn’t been much better, as he has a .907 save percentage. I wouldn’t entirely blame the goalies, though, as the Blackhawks are one of the league’s worst teams at allowing quality chances against.
t-10. Anaheim Ducks
6-6-3 (15 points) / 34 Goals For (27th) / 40 Goals Against (14th)
It’s pretty remarkable that despite excellent goaltending from John Gibson and Ryan Miller, who have combined for a .935 save percentage, the Ducks are so thoroughly mediocre. The Ducks own the league’s worst shot attempt differential at even strength, and, if not for their goalies, they could easily be sitting in the basement of the league right now.
12. Arizona Coyotes
7-5-0 (14 points) / 35 Goals For (25th), 24 Goals Against (1st)
There’s something interesting going on in the desert. After a horrendous start to the season in which they won just one of their first five games and scored just three goals over that stretch, the Coyotes have won six of seven. Not only are they starting to find the back of the net, as they have 31 goals over their last seven games, but they’ve been impossible to score on. Arizona has allowed just 24 goals against this season thanks to a .936 save percentage from Darcy Keumper and Antti Raanta and an insanely good penalty kill operating at a 92.11 percent efficiency. Arizona was a darkhorse breakout candidate this year and they look poised to climb up the standings.
13. Vegas Golden Knights
6-7-1 (13 points) / 33 Goals For (30th) / 39 Goals Against (12th)
At a glance, it looks like the Vegas Golden Knights have finally fallen back down to earth. I’m not sure it’s that simple. Despite their poor results, the Golden Knights aren’t playing badly. They rank dead last in the league in goals for, but they’re right towards the top of the league when it comes to getting shots towards the net. The team is scoring on just 6.8 percent of their shots thus far and that’s obviously not going to keep up all year. I don’t think they’re the favourite to win the West again, but the Golden Knights should make a climb up the standings as everything evens out.
14. St. Louis Blues
4-5-3 (11 points) / 42 Goals For (12th) / 47 Goals Against (23rd)
It’s been a disastrous start of the season for the Blues, who looked like one of the best teams on paper coming into the season thanks to their off-season acquisitions. Though Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Pat Maroon have helped the Blues score goals, they can’t keep the puck out of the net. Their goalies, Jake Allen and Chad Johnson, have combined for an .879 save percentage. But, as easy as it is to blame goaltending, the team itself hasn’t been good. The Blues are a bottom five team in shot attempt differential and they’re one of the worst teams in the league at allowing high danger chances against. Given their underlying numbers, it’s hard to see them turning things around at this point.
15. Los Angeles Kings
4-8-1 (9 points) / 28 Goals For (31st) / 45 Goals Against 45 (22)
The Kings have been the worst team in the NHL this season, and, as a result, John Stevens became the first coach to get the axe. After just 13 games, Stevens was fired and Willie Desjardins was named interim head coach. L.A. has had a hell of a time scoring goals and they haven’t been great at keeping the puck out of the net, which is generally their bread and butter. To make matters worse, Jonathan Quick, a key part of last year’s renaissance season, will miss three-to-six weeks after having surgery on his knee.
What does it all mean?
After one month, I think we can conclude that the Western Conference is very competitive and that the Central Division is stronger than the Pacific Division. While teams like Colorado and Vancouver are overachieving, Vegas and San Jose are underachieving and things will balance themselves out. The Oilers have done an excellent job of setting themselves up for the season with their strong start, but they haven’t yet played a divisional opponent. Success within the division is going to be massive because the Oilers don’t want to get themselves into a situation in which they’re battling with Central teams for wild card spots. A lot can change, of course, but, at a glance, it looks like 12 teams will be competing for playoff spots, and even the weaker teams, save for maybe the Kings, aren’t just complete pushovers.
Source: NHL, Official Website, 11/05/2018 – 11:00 am MT