NHL halfway point is time to look at achievers


NHL photo

The Minnesota Wild are a feel good team in contention.

By Ethan Gawronski, Staff Writer

The NHL season is just about halfway completed, and there has been lots of competitive hockey to watch. Many teams have performed as advertised, but there have been some cases of over and underachieving.

Here are some of the teams who have been able to exceed expectations, and those who have failed to meet them. Each category will cover three teams.

The Underachievers

The New York Rangers – For the past couple seasons, the Rangers have been one team that a lot of fans believe will begin to terrorize the league. With a little help from general manager, Jeff Gorton, and the draft lottery.

The Rangers have done a great job drafting the past few years, and won the draft lottery for the 2nd overall pick in 2019, and 1st overall in 2020; despite the team being relatively competitive.

However, they have seemingly failed to take that next step as a team into contender status. With a 10-10-3 record over twenty-three games this season, the Rangers sit with the third worst record in the East division.

In defense of the team, they have had some setbacks to take note of. One of those being the Tony DeAngelo situation; the 25-year-old defenseman was sent to the AHL after not being able to fix his off-ice attitude, resulting in a physical confrontation with backup goalie, Alex Georgiev.

The other setback to note is the absence of MVP nominated Artemi Panarin, who has recently taken a leave of absence from the team due to a past lawsuit.

Where they need more production from is top center Mika Zibanejad, who can’t seem to find his goal scoring this season. Their first overall pick from October, Alexis Lafreniere, has also struggled to make the impact everyone thought he would.

I will mention that Igor Shestyorkin has not been as dominant in net as advertised, but the blueline in front of him, except for Adam Fox, has not pulled their weight.

They aren’t in a bad situation, keep in mind. Players like Fox, Chris Kreider, and Kaapo Kakko all have looked great, which is a good sign. However, the team defense needs some work if they want to start climbing up the standings.

The Calgary Flames: It seems that fans have been looking for the Flames to become a true cup contender since 2015. After their embarrassing playoff loss to the Avalanche in the 2019 playoffs, this team hasn’t felt the same.

The 2020 playoffs were no different for the Flames, as they were not able to close out the Dallas Stars in round one, and eventually lost the series.

Calgary had one of the busiest off-seasons of any team, bringing in nine free agents. Most notably Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom, coming over from their bitter rival in Vancouver.

The Flames hold an 11-12-3 record through 26 games. They were expected to be contending for the top of the North division with the Maple Leafs.

What has been clear in their game is the absence of defenseman T.J. Brodie, who left during free agency in the off-season. Brodie was beloved by the team and the city but left with sights of winning a Stanley Cup.

They have been getting offense from their star players, but it looks as though the defense has been the issue. Both goalies are putting up just above average numbers, which would normally be all the Flames would need to be a top team.

Markstrom is easily the best goalie this team has had in years, and despite him only being just above average .907 save percentage, that is still better than what the Flames have gotten for years.

It does look as though there may be issues in the locker room, as they have been in the news due to angered players. They did, however, bring in a new head coach, Darryl Sutter, last week. Maybe Sutter is what this team needs to turn it around.

The Buffalo Sabres: Where to begin with Buffalo?

A team with a franchise centerman in Jack Eichel that has failed to make the playoffs any of his six years in the NHL.

Last season saw Buffalo one point short of being in the NHL’s return to play for the playoffs. They made big moves in order to be more competitive. One of which was bringing in former league MVP, Taylor Hall, for a one-year contract.

To put it lightly, nothing has gone right. They hold a 6-14-3 record, which is last in the East division. Hall has thirteen points, which isn’t bad, but only two are goals. Also, nine million dollar a year winger, Jeff Skinner, has spent most of his time as a healthy scratch.

To be fair, this team has some time off due to Covid, but they can’t get any momentum. The goalies have been pedestrian at best, and their top defenseman, Rasmus Dahlin, has not been playing as much as he should.

Dan Arthur, who is from Buffalo is a huge Sabres fan and has some ideas about their prospects.

“There is no way Eichel is happy playing there. They have no choice now but to fire the coach, and they seem to get a new one every year without giving a guy a proper chance,” he said. “Besides Dylan Cozens, their prospects aren’t even being developed properly, and that’s why they’re still in the minors. At this point they might as well tear it down and start over, again”.

The Overachievers

The Minnesota Wild: Minnesota is a feel-good kind of team, they were expected to be a bottom feeder; yet here they are with a 14-8-1 record, third best in their division.

The Wild for years have had the league’s best team defense, highlighted by Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, and the underrated Jared Spurgeon. However, they have always gotten terrible goaltending.

Their new tandem of Cam Talbot and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen has given them a proper backstop in net. Kahkonen is 10-4-0 with a .924 save percentage, and has taken over as the starter.

They have also received some much-needed offense in the form of Russian phenom Kirill Kaprizov. After taking his time to grow in the KHL for five years, Kaprizov has put up nineteen points in twenty-three games, leading all NHL rookies.

Honorable mentions for their offense are grinder Marcus Foligno, former first round pick Joel Eriksson Ek, and power-forward Jordan Greenway; all are having career seasons.

The Los Angeles Kings: Los Angeles is a team in the midst of a rebuild, and they have been for a couple years. Long gone are the years of this team winning cups, but their drafting since then is some of the best.

The Kings veteran core has been there to aid their youth this season, putting them at a 10-8-6 record, and two points out of a playoff spot.

Oddly enough, their top scorers are all aged thirty or over, with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty leading the charge. As well as Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe having breakout seasons on the offense.

Other than those three, Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick, everyone else on their team is age 27 or younger.

Their young blueline has seen the emergence of Mikey Anderson and Matt Roy, who had their first taste of the NHL last season and have run with their chance ever since.

Highlighting the Kings being in the hunt this year is rookie goalie Calvin Petersen. Petersen only has a 4-4-4 record, but he has a .914 save percentage. Also, veteran goalie Jonathan Quick has a 6-4-2 record.

The Chicago Blackhawks: In my last article, I covered how well the Blackhawks were doing to start the season. Frankly, there isn’t a team defying the odds quite like them, but I will keep this short.

The Blackhawks currently are sitting at a 13-8-5 record, fourth best in the Central, and have an incredibly tough schedule in the month of March

Their highlight has been yet another rookie goalie, Kevin Lankinen, and his backup, Malcom Subban, who each have a save percentage over .915, and have been stealing games left and right.

Alex DeBrincat has had the definition of a comeback season with twenty-eight points in twenty-two games, fourteen of which are goals. Also, Adam Boqvist has been taking steps in his development, and has become their top power play quarterback.

It would be unfair to mention the Hawks without talking about Patrick Kane, who is having an MVP caliber season, and is taking control of almost every game. Kane has an astounding thirty-eight points in twenty-six games, putting him second in NHL scoring. Kane will also play in his one-thousandth NHL game on March 9th, in Dallas.