American Thanksgiving is widely viewed as the unofficial quarter-pole of the NHL season.
Although each team has roughly 60 or so games remaining on their respective regular-season schedules, it’s just a large enough sample size to start making meaningful evaluations and, like every year, certain organizations have far exceeded preseason projections while others have stumbled much more than most would have expected to this point.
Here’s a look at which clubs have surprised us so far — good and bad.
Vegas Golden Knights
After many (most … okay basically everyone) predicted the demise of the expansion Golden Knights at various points throughout the regular season and playoffs last year, the team defied all odds. Until now, that is.
One campaign following a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Final, Vegas currently sports a 10-12-1 record and sits near the bottom of an underwhelming Pacific Division. Marc-Andre Fleury’s play hasn’t been nearly at the level it was last year, while the team in front of him has struggled to put the puck in the back of the net — ranking fourth-last in the NHL in goals so far. Sure, the injury to Paul Stastny has hurt the team down the middle, but will his eventual return be enough to get the team back on track?
New York Rangers
Are the Blueshirts for real in 2018-19? Well, that really depends which version we’re talking about here.
Playing at home in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden, the Rangers own a sparkling 9-3 record, but it has been a completely different story on the road, as New York has only been able to muster three wins in 11 contests away from Manhattan. This is a team that was supposed to be in full rebuild mode, so sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving is quite the spot for the Rangers to be in right now.
Also, while we’re here, can Twitter finally give Filip Chytil some love? Despite being the first teenager in Rangers history to net a goal in five-straight games, the talented youngster is still unverified.
Will Filip Chytil be Twitter verified before this Rangers-Islanders game is over?
Our column: pic.twitter.com/aJajTQrcLK
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) November 22, 2018
Aside from the production of Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby, nothing about the Penguins has gone according to plan.
The real glaring issue so far has been between the pipes where Matt Murray has severely underperformed to this point, which can mostly be pinned on a lower-body injury that landed the two-time Cup champ on the IR on Thursday. An .877 Sv% coupled with the fact that he’s allowed three goals or more in eight of 11 appearances this year is certainly not ideal, but the team’s thin defence corps and lack of secondary scoring have played major parts in the Penguins early struggles, too.
I know the expectations weren’t super low for the Flames, but it’s still a little shocking to see Calgary saddled (pun extremely intended) atop the Pacific.
What makes the team’s performance extra surprising to this point is the guy who has been getting it done in net. After just an OK season last year in a limited role, David Rittich has been the better of the two Calgary netminders so far. Among all NHL goaltenders who have played at least 10 games, Rittich sits fourth in Sv% with a sparkling .930 mark. The offense has been firing on all cylinders this season, too, with Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Mark Giordano already at or above the 20-point mark.
If you thought I wasn’t going to put the best team in New York state on this list you were dead wrong. Sure the Rangers and Islanders have been solid, but hockey is back in Buffalo, baby.
The team has now won seven games in a row and is one of the top five clubs in the NHL. The decision to add ex-St. Louis Blues backup Carter Hutton has provided some much-needed stability in the crease, as Hutton has posted a .917 save percentage. Mix in fellow newcomer Jeff Skinner, who has 15 goals and 23 points so far, and the development of Jack Eichel into a top-flight, first-line centre, and the good people of Western New York don’t need to be quite as upset with the Bills’ shortcomings as they usually are come this time of year.
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