Oilers and Jets driving excessive
For all intents and functions, this weekend’s NHL All-Star Sport in Dawn, Fla., serves because the midway level within the common season. Groups have already begun their bye weeks and gone their separate methods for some a lot wanted R&R with the canine days of the NHL marketing campaign proper across the nook.
The midway mark within the season additionally serves as an inflection level for groups to reevaluate their expertise forward of the commerce deadline. Roster holes that appeared cavernous a number of months in the past could have been stuffed internally by vastly improved children, whereas veterans or extremely touted prospects could have failed to succeed in the lofty expectations positioned upon them in September.
So, which participant has been the largest shock to this point for all seven Canadian groups? We reply that query within the newest version of our month-to-month grades.
Edmonton Oilers: A+
It seems as if the Edmonton Oilers have lastly discovered that magic components for getting outcomes with out Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl on the ice. For years, Edmonton floundered with out its two superstars, usually getting pummelled to the tune of 20 or 30 targets on the yr with out their dynamic duo on the ice.
Issues began to show for the higher upon the arrival of Jay Woodcroft final yr, and this season, for the primary time since 2016-17, Edmonton has a positive goal differential with its two greatest gamers on the bench.
It speaks to how this Oilers staff is constructed in a different way than previous iterations, with steadier goaltending — all the way in which down to the EBUG ranks — and an offence that runs deeper than simply two stars (although McDavid’s historic scoring tempo actually doesn’t damage).
This previous month was the most effective instance of Edmonton’s development, because the staff ripped off six straight wins whereas dominating its competitors to the tune of a 59.7 % anticipated targets for share, second league-wide this month. Their 8-2-2 file in January is their high-water mark for his or her season, and the staff that when appeared in peril of lacking the postseason is abruptly simply three factors out of the Pacific Division’s prime spot.
Greatest Shock: Zach Hyman
Even when the stats weren’t there, Zach Hyman has served as an vital piece on his staff’s prime strains all through his profession. Starting in Toronto driving shotgun with Auston Matthews, Hyman’s distinctive work ethic on and off the ice made him a favorite of his coaches, as he battled down low and served as the first puck retrieval artist for his celebrity linemates.
After signing with Edmonton in 2021, his function largely remained intact, as he settled right into a spot within the Oilers’ top-six beside McDavid with relative success final season.
This yr, nonetheless, issues have gone nuclear for the 30-year-old, as Hyman has discovered his of entirety and ranks sixteenth within the NHL in targets and eleventh(!) in factors with 26 and 60, respectively. Hyman was all the time thought-about to be one of many harder-working gamers within the league courting again to his time with Toronto, however there’s no potential approach that even probably the most astute expertise evaluator may have predicted this kind of breakout.
Winnipeg Jets: A
Jets followers, I owe you an apology. After a poor December riddled with accidents, the Winnipeg Jets earned a miserable D grade given their early season success and new commonplace they had been being held to. After leaping out to a lead within the Central Division, they’d let their lead slip away, because the Dallas Stars roared into first place forward of a battered and bruised Winnipeg membership.
Now, one month later, the Jets are nonetheless behind Dallas, however as soon as once more appear like the upper-class hockey membership they’d been pegged as early on. The return of serious swaths of their lineup together with Blake Wheeler, Nate Schmidt, and Cole Perfetti, despatched shockwaves via the staff, reinvigorating the membership and getting them again to their profitable methods.
A 9-6-0 file on the month is soured by a current three-game skid they snapped Monday, nevertheless it’s clear that the Jets are for actual, and will most actually count on to be within the combine as contenders come springtime.
Greatest shock: Josh Morrissey
Josh Morrissey, or Norrissey because the followers and gamers in Winnipeg have taken to calling him, seems like a unique animal this season. Offensively, the rearguard has taken his recreation to new heights, shattering his profession excessive of 37 factors and pacing at over some extent per recreation with 53 in 52 video games.
His defensive recreation does nonetheless depart one thing to be desired, however once you’re pitching in on the prolific charge Morrissey is whereas serving as your staff’s No. 1 defenceman, it’s fairly onerous to argue with the yr he’s stitched collectively.
The 27-year-old is prone to cross Dustin Byfuglien because the staff’s single season file holder for factors by a defenceman throughout the subsequent week, as he sits simply three shy of Byfuglien’s 56 in 2013-14, and whereas it isn’t as possible because it was a number of weeks in the past, he’ll be in spitting distance of Phil Housley’s file 97 factors in 1992-93 with the unique Jets.
Toronto Maple Leafs: B
The Maple Leafs seem like in a holding sample in the mean time. Their 8-4-2 file in January coupled with respectable, albeit not elite, underlying numbers speaks to the staff already being locked right into a playoff rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning, with nothing however house ice up for grabs.
Searching for much more proof the Maple Leafs are discovering the common season a little bit bit stale? How about the truth that Matthews and Co. completely refuse to point out up in opposition to the underside feeders of the league, rolling out a sub-.500 file in opposition to the league’s eight worst golf equipment in comparison with a pristine .750 profitable share in opposition to everyone else.
That isn’t to say that issues aren’t hectic as all the time on the centre of the universe. Matthews is out for a minimum of three weeks, whereas captain John Tavares reached his milestone 1,000th recreation in opposition to the Washington Capitals on Sunday, pitching in with a pair of assists on the event.
Greatest Shock: Timothy Liljegren
When Jake Muzzin went down with a career-threatening neck damage earlier this season, all eyes instantly turned to a Maple Leafs blue line that seemed a lot thinner than it had 24 hours prior. The grizzled veteran’s calming presence as a defensive stalwart that performed a hard-nosed recreation had abruptly vanished from the staff’s corps, leaving a big gap in each the top-four and the penalty kill.
Whispers of Toronto needing to discover a alternative shortly emerged, with names like Joel Edmundson and Vladislav Gavrikov steadily popping up as choices to step into the second pairing.
These names proceed to swirl across the staff, however in a stunning flip, the Maple Leafs not solely weathered the storm, however thrived within the uneven waters.
Drafted as a flashy offensive dynamo drawing Erik Karlsson comparisons, Liljegren has satirically grown into almost the precise reverse, enjoying all conditions for the Maple Leafs, together with a quick stint on the staff’s prime pair, and serving as a chilled presence within the absence of Toronto’s most dependable defender.
Ottawa Senators: C+
The Ottawa Senators could also be headed for one more yr within the draft lottery, which is particularly disappointing given the flashy offseason they’d. Nevertheless, there are nonetheless loads of positives to remove up to now.
Most notably, Ottawa’s particular groups have been as particular because the identify implies, as they rank third on the ability play at 26.3 % and tenth on the penalty kill at 81.2 %. Ottawa’s 5-on-5 play has additionally been treading above water, which is greater than the staff may say in any of its earlier 5 seasons.
On the entire, Ottawa is basically only a staff that’s nearly good, however clearly missing in a single extraordinarily vital space: Goaltending.
Ottawa’s netminders have mixed for the Twenty fifth-ranked 5-on-5 save share, as Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg have break up the web to various levels of success — or lack thereof. With even league-average goaltending, it’s not onerous to see the Senators as a borderline playoff staff, and their 8-6-0 file this month with a mixed .893 save share (previous to their recreation in opposition to Ottawa on Tuesday) at 5-on-5 solely furthers that speculation.
Greatest Shock: Jake Sanderson
After the success he had at North Dakota, Jake Sanderson appeared like a reasonably good guess to be a strong depth contributor for the Senators this season. The yr the rookie defenceman has had, nonetheless, has turned the heads of even his most staunch loyalists, as he now seems destined to not solely grow to be Ottawa’s greatest defenceman, however probably function one of many league’s premier defenders.
Sanderson’s 20 factors in 49 video games are one factor, however much more spectacular are his robust underlying metrics as a rookie enjoying second-pair minutes beside a sluggish Travis Hamonic.
His distinctive begin to the yr does buoy his numbers a little bit bit — his possession numbers have fallen month-over-month because the season has worn on — however the truth that he’s not solely trusted however succeeding in a tricky function as a rookie ought to make Senators followers very excited for what the long run holds with their thrilling younger prospect.
Calgary Flames: C-
As a completely unqualified east coast NHL watcher, I’m formally declaring a state of emergency in Calgary. After profitable the Pacific Division final yr, Calgary was alleged to be the leaders of an in any other case pudgy and albeit underwhelming Western Convention. Including Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, and Nazem Kadri was alleged to take the Flames excessive, and by some means make a staff that misplaced its two main scorers even higher.
That merely has not been the case in any respect. The metrics are nonetheless robust, however crummy goaltending and struggles in opposition to a schedule that was supposed to lighten up, have the Flames on the surface wanting in heading into February.
Going 6-4-2 in January, the Flames’ playoff odds now sit at a middling 65 %, down from a way more compelling 88 % earlier this yr, according to 538. The Flames could not formally be in bother, however a staff that when appeared destined for the postseason has abruptly launched a variety of uncertainty into its future.
Greatest Shock: Nikita Zadorov
A perpetual favorite of head coach Darryl Sutter for his tenacity and grit, Zadorov has emerged as a reputable possibility for Calgary. Not solely has Zadorov had success at 5-on-5, rising up the ranks this season from depth defender to top-four possibility, but additionally as an vital a part of Calgary’s fifth-ranked penalty kill as effectively.
Boasting a robust defensive acumen and good instincts, the previous first-rounder has discovered chemistry with Weegar, forming Calgary’s greatest defensive pairing this season.
Mixed with a career-high eight targets to date (no person will ever mistake him offensively for Cale Makar), you’ve bought a dependable, two-way possibility that has been one of many few shiny spots on an in any other case underperforming Flames aspect.
Montreal Canadiens: D
The damage bug got here for the Montreal Canadiens in January, as Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield noticed their seasons finish with lower-body and shoulder accidents, respectively.
As two elements of the roughly half-dozen compelling gamers to look at on a awful Canadiens membership, issues are understandably fairly bleak in Montreal today. The staff continues to look droopy and lifeless on the ice, as its 5-8-1 file obfuscates a pathetic 43.3 % anticipated targets for share at 5-on-5 in January (twenty eighth in NHL) and a league-worst targets for share in all conditions.
The Canadiens must be all in on Dishonour for Connor 2.0, however with simply the seventh-best odds at touchdown the No. 1 choose in the mean time, they’ll have to hold sucking at a reasonably vital degree in the event that they need to maximize their shot at back-to-back first-overall picks.
Greatest Shock: Samuel Montembeault
The most important cause Montreal isn’t a basement-dweller and is as an alternative looking at a mid-to-late top-10 choose has been goaltending revelation Samuel Montembeault.
Forged apart by the Florida Panthers firstly of final season, Montembeault was arguably the membership’s prime tank commander final yr with a brutal .891 save share in 38 video games.
This yr, the hometown child has carried out an entire 180, rating seventh league-wide in targets saved above anticipated, sandwiched between former Vezina Trophy winners Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin.
Whether or not or not this could maintain itself stays to be seen, particularly given the year-to-year variance goaltending is usually liable to, however on the very least, the Canadiens seem to have discovered no less than one constructing block as they give the impression of being to return to relevancy over the subsequent few years.
Vancouver Canucks: F
It’s one saga after one other in Vancouver, because the drama merely refuses to cease with Canada’s westernmost membership. In fact, there was all of the noise surrounding former head coach Bruce Boudreau, who was lastly let go after weeks of speculation. Then, in fact, his alternative Rick Tocchet took no time moving into his personal circus, finding himself booed to begin his tenure, then calling his players soft the very subsequent recreation.
As soon as that sideshow wrapped up, the staff promptly shipped out fan favorite and captain Bo Horvat proper earlier than the NHL All-Star festivities for a package deal that no person appears all too happy with, including Horvat himself. And wouldn’t you already know it, his New York Islanders face the Canucks in just below 10 days. Say what you’ll, however Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford actually have a aptitude for the dramatic, for higher or worse.
On the ice, the Canucks continued to battle mightily, going 4-9-0 in a January that seemingly wouldn’t finish for the disgraced group. With murmurs of an additional blowup nonetheless on the horizon, together with phrase that Thatcher Demko could be on the way out, it’s clear the fireworks in Vancouver are solely simply beginning to get underway.
Greatest Shock: Andrei Kuzmenko
Inked to a two-year, $11-million deal final Thursday, the Canucks’ newest Russian import has been a smashing success, discovering chemistry with Elias Pettersson and tallying 43 factors in 48 video games.
A part of his success is buoyed by some good luck — his 24.7 capturing share leads the league — however different elements of his recreation have stood out, together with his underrated playmaking capabilities which have the 26-year-old fourth on Vancouver in assists upon Horvat’s departure.
Even when that capturing share does regress, not each participant that comes over from Russia is assured to have success. For each Artemi Panarin, loads of Vadim Shipachyov and Nikita Soshnikovs litter current NHL historical past.
The Canucks, nonetheless, seem to have discovered a “free wallet” with a good bit of money inside. Or, on the very least, one thing optimistic to remove from an in any other case abysmal marketing campaign.
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