Believe it or not, we’ve already made it through the first quarter of the NHL season! In the first two months, some teams have played just as we thought they would, while others have shocked the hockey world positively and negatively. Today, we’ll go through three of the season’s biggest surprises and discuss whether we think these changes are for good. When you’re done here, check out our most recent NHL Power Rankings!
They’re finally starting to win some games, but of course, the Edmonton Oilers have been one of the biggest surprises of the NHL season up to this point. After losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in back-to-back seasons, many people thought that this was the year Edmonton would step up and go the distance. Even if you weren’t fully buying into the hype, I think it’s safe to say that no one expected a 2-9-1 start, resulting in a head coach being fired and a goalie being sent down to the minors.
The defensive issues this team has had aren’t new problems, but they’ve been exposed more than in previous years. Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner couldn’t stop a beach ball to start the season, the defence looked confused and not up to stopping the opposition’s best players, and the forwards couldn’t score enough to make up for it. Although things are finally starting to turn around with a four-game win streak and the return of Connor McDavid’s dominance, the Oilers still find themselves well behind the leaders in the Pacific Division with a record of 9-12-1.
Can Edmonton still right the ship? Of course. Over the past two years, this team has proven that they can be one of the best in the league when they’re on their game. Goaltending and team defence will certainly need to improve, but with the roster they have, it can and will get better. If Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl stay healthy, I would not be surprised to see the Oilers find a way back into a playoff spot by the end of the season.
After they missed last year’s playoffs, many people doubted that the Capitals could return this season with a similar roster. However, not only are they winning games, but they’re doing it in ways that almost no one could have predicted. Alex Ovechkin is scoring at a career-low rate, Nicklas Backstrom is away from the team dealing with injuries, T.J. Oshie has two points in seventeen games this season, and yet, the Capitals are 12-6-2. Their record is even more unbelievable when considering that their starting goaltender has an SVP of less than .900. With these numbers, they’ve certainly been one of the season’s biggest surprises.
With no one over a point per game, the Caps are getting it done with incredible defensive hockey. They’ve been a team known for offence for the last ten years. So far this season, only the Kings and Rangers have allowed fewer goals, and only the Sharks have scored less. Heading into the weekend, the team is only one point behind second place in the Metro Division with two games in hand.
Can Washington keep this up? Sadly, I don’t think so. First-year coach Spencer Carbery has done a great job, but you’d have to think the scoring has to improve at some point. The Capitals could keep their spot in the standings if they start putting the puck in the net more, but winning those gritty, low-scoring games every night for a whole season is no easy task for an older team like Washington. At the very least, though, this start has given the organization something to be excited about besides Ovechkin’s run at the all-time scoring record.
Lastly, we’ve got the Canucks. Like the Oilers, this team is recently moving back to the mean a little bit, but they’re still in a great spot heading into December. Their record is one of the season’s biggest surprises, but if you consider how good their best players are, their spot in the standings starts to make sense. Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Thatcher Demko would all be in the running for major NHL awards if the season ended next week. There’s not another team in the league that could say that about that many players.
Of course, when talking about the Canucks, we have to give some credit to the coaching staff. Rick Tocchet has done a great job in Vancouver this year, and the team seems to be fully buying into what he wants. Also, the defensive unit is better than it’s been in a long time. Filip Hronek has been awesome beside Quinn Hughes, while newcomers Carson Soucy and Ian Cole have provided great depth when healthy. Now, they’ll also get Nikita Zadorov in the mix after the trade with Calgary.
Is Vancouver for real? Yes, I think they are. With their stars at the top of their game right now, I don’t see how this team can’t continue to win. Hughes, Demko, Miller, and Pettersson aren’t just going to fall off a cliff, and with a core that good, they should have a chance almost every night. The Canucks may not be quite up to par with the Kings and Golden Knights yet, but they’re a lot closer than everyone thought they were at the beginning of the season.