NHL first month

First month in review: One down, six to go

The first month of hockey for this season is in the books. Nine teams are currently in a playoff spot that were not at the end of last year. An expansion team registered 16 out of a possible 22 points. A pair of teammates are the top two point getters in the league. However, there were 118 more slashing calls than last season through the first 57 games and has continued to spiral.

Frustration has hit with these penalties, but hasn’t dissipated the entertainment value whatsoever. We are fans of the most consistently ultra-competitive league. Any team on any given night can win a hockey game. The parity in the NHL is unbelievable, which gives fans the hope that their team always has a shot and anything can happen. Adding that up with the overall entertainment of hockey, the first month was a success.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues are at the top of the Eastern and Western Conferences respectfully. Eight points and seven points separate those two teams from themselves and the two eighth seeded teams. Therefore, regardless of what the current power rankings indicate, we are in for a wild ride into mid April. Special teams may have been overkill this first month, but they have made games even more interesting at times. It’s a sample size, but we have no idea where everyone will be at the conclusion of the regular season.

Lightning Bolts and Musical Notes

The top teams in the NHL after one month reside in Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Each of these clubs notched 10 wins in their first 13 games. The top three scorers in the league play for both of these teams. They both battled one another in Tampa the second week with the Bolts winning by one goal. There are positives and negatives to both of these starts, but they have clearly proven to be where they stand.

NHL first month

Photo by Getty Images

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are the best duo in hockey right now. Together, they netted 45 points and are a combined +13 to start the season. Their top goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is 10-1-0 with a 2.42 goals against average. Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev had a great first month in the league with 11 points (four goals, seven assists).

However, not having Ben Bishop has put some pressure on their goalie situation as backup Peter Budaj let in eight goals and posted a .855 save percentage in his two starts.

St. Louis has one of the best lines in hockey with Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko. They totaled 42 points and were a combined +30 in October. Their defensive core has a league-high 14 goals. The Blues have the best goalie tandem with Jake Allen and Carter Hutton through the first month as they combined for a 2.07 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. Depth is the concern as only five of their 43 goals have come from their bottom six.

The Blues and Lightning have the potential to remain at the top of the standings with the pieces they have in place. They also can be removed in a day. Therefore, there is no time for any form of complacency. It’s a long way to go, but will these two link up in the finals?

Caps/Hawks Right in the middle

Two of the NHL’s regulars at the top of the standings have had mediocre starts to their seasons. Chicago finds themselves in the final Wild Card position and just a game over .500. Washington notched just five wins, a game under .500, and are out of the playoff picture after the first month. Both teams were the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences a year ago. What has sprung this inconsistent start?

NHL first month

Photo by Getty Images

The Blackhawks made a number of offseason transactions. They traded away former rookie of the year Artemi Panarin. Niklas Hjalmarsson was sent to Arizona, which has put their defensive depth in question. Scott Darling got traded to Carolina, which has deeply weakened their goaltending situation. Corey Crawford has posted a 1.91 goals against average and recorded all of their wins, but backup Anton Forsberg has yet to get a win letting in 11 goals in his three games of work.

Last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners are out of sorts at the start of November. Needed money was given to players in the offseason, but all of the scoring as been in one place. The Caps’ top line is still the best in the league with Nicklas Backstrom centering T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin. However, Barry Trotz has attempted to spread the wealth by putting Ovechkin on line two recently as those three have netted 19 of the team’s 35 goals. Braden Holtby has been less than what he has been to start the year with backup Philipp Grubauer 0-3-1 with a 4.08 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.

This could be what these teams need. They have never been in this position very much as of late. The Hawks and Caps both have new young talent that are waiting to get comfortable. Expect them to still be playoff fixtures once again come mid April.

Sustainable Hot Starts for Devils/Knights?

Parity is a huge element to the National Hockey League as discussed. Two teams not expected to be where they are, but find themselves near the top play in New Jersey and Vegas. The Devils won nine of their first 11. The Golden Knights won eight of their first 11 in their first month in franchise history. How did these clubs get off to such great starts?

NHL first month

Photo from CBS Sports

The New Jersey Devils landed the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft with Nico Hischier, but no one expected a 9-2-0 start. Everyone had them in rebuild mode. However, they have a superstar in Taylor Hall, who recorded 15 points in their 11 games. Rookie defenseman Will Butcher registered 11 assists. Furthermore, they have a formidable goalie tandem in Cory Schneider (6-1-0) and Keith Kinkaid (3-1-0).

Las Vegas has come in hot to the NHL. The Golden Knights grabbed 16 out of 22 possible points to begin their history. Most “NHL experts” and league followers had them in the cellar all year like most expansion teams. No one saw this coming, but expansion rules are different presently. There is more talent in the NHL than ever before and you can’t protect as many players in the draft.

Many teams get off to unexplainable hot starts that are very difficult to maintain over the course of a season. New Jersey and Vegas could be in the thick of it or easily well out of it by March and April. However, no matter the circumstances, these two clubs have added to this season’s already hectic news feed.

We’ve Only Just Begun

One month is a big enough sample size to get a feel for future results for one’s work. It’s also very small when you put it up against close to seven months worth of work. Therefore, we take note of what has happened already, but expect almost anything for the months ahead.

Hockey is a sport that is unparalleled in a multitude of ways. There are generally favorites in sports like football and basketball. This sport can never mess with that concept at this point in time. Tampa Bay had the third best odds to win it all in preseason, but St. Louis had the 18th best odds. Edmonton had the second best odds and only Arizona had a worse record in the first month of the year.

We can highlight good and bad team traits after one month of play, but this is just the beginning. No one knows where anyone will be at the end of the regular season. That is why hockey stands alone.

 

Featured image from NHL.com

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NHL Awards predictions for the 2016-2017 season

It’s understandable to devote all the attention to tonight’s expansion draft. Lest we not forget, however, that the NHL Awards are happening too.

Perhaps it is mostly because the Vegas Golden Knights’ selections occur during the presentation, but this year’s awards are must-see as a hockey fan. From a heated Norris race to multiple options for the best coach and general manager, the finalists well deserve the recognition. These were tough decisions, but there are very few choices where the voters could err.

The postseason stat awards are already apparent: Connor McDavid collects the Art Ross trophy for the most points, Sidney Crosby the Maurice Richard award for the most goals and Braden Holtby the William Jennings nomination for allowing the fewest tallies.

Off the ice, Columbus’ Nick Foligno bagged two awards: the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders won the NHL Foundation Player Award.

Will these talented players receive more hardware than they already have? Find out below for the official predictions from The Game Haus.

Hart Trophy – Most Valuable Player

Connor McDavid is nominated for two NHL Awards.

Connor McDavid. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

Crosby has history and hardware on his side in this race. The Pittsburgh star is a two-time Hart winner in 2007 and 2014 while collecting three Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Awards. McDavid and Bobrovsky are first-time nominees, with the latter reaching as high as fifth in the voting back in 2013.

The Columbus netminder had a phenomenal season, but this is a two-man race between McDavid and Crosby. McDavid bested Crosby in points even though he scored 14 less goals. The first 100-point season in Edmonton since 1995-96 is no small feat. Sid the Kid was still elite this season with 89 points.

In the end, the award is for the most valuable player. McDavid was absent on the score sheet for consecutive games just twice this year, registering points in 70 games. Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl enjoyed banner years, while Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle also performed well. McDavid’s 70 assists helped everyone’s cause, and his team reached the playoffs because of it.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Ted Lindsay Award – NHLPA’s Most Outstanding Player

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Sharks D Brent Burns

This award seems redundant since it’s basically the MVP with a different voting pool. The only difference from the Hart is the addition of Burns, who had 76 points and 320 shots this season. Burns’ feats will be explained further in the Norris category, but he is undoubtedly worthy of a most outstanding player award. He makes this award tougher to choose.

As mentioned before, McDavid and Crosby each have worthy cases. Crosby is seeking his fourth Lindsay award, which would tie his fellow Penguin Mario Lemieux for second-most all-time. McDavid could be the third overall Oiler to win and the first since Mark Messier in 1990.

In the end, though, this is the same award as the Hart. It’s a difference of voter opinion, but it’s hard to say one clearly deserves one award while another does the other. With that in mind, this goes to the same player as the Hart, who overall was the best player this season.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Norris Trophy – Best Defenseman

Nominees:

Lightning D Victor Hedman

Senators D Erik Karlsson

Sharks D Brent Burns

Finally, an award that McDavid can’t win! Instead, we get three players who were the backbone of their teams. Although the award technically is for the best defenseman, players over the years get more accolades for their offensive work as well. All three have played that part well this season.

Hedman has never made it to the top three in Norris voting. His 72 points this season and 53.4 percent Corsi rating have vaulted him there. Averaging 24:30 minutes of ice time is stellar. However, he’s not as talented offensively or defensively as Burns or Karlsson, so he likely won’t win.

From here’s it’s a matter of preference. Burns led the league in shots; Ray Bourque was the last defenseman to achieve that mark 22 years ago. Twenty-nine goals and almost 25 minutes of playing time per game are insane, too. He is an impressive shot blocker and a prime two-way talent.

If the award had voting through the postseason, Karlsson would win in a landslide. His postseason performance while injured was tremendous, and his 71 points, 26:50 TOI and 201 blocks are as well. However, the voting doesn’t include postseason performance. Therefore, based on a slightly better season, Karlsson will have to wait to grab his third Norris trophy.

Prediction: Brent Burns

Vezina Trophy – Best Goaltender

Nominees:

Canadiens G Carey Price

Captials G Braden Holtby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

This category features the top two netminders across most of the basic statistics and another who had a 10-game winning streak this season. This is the hardest player award to predict based on how close two nominees are.

First off, Carey Price will likely not win. That winning streak is impressive, and a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage are too. However, they dwarf in comparison to Holtby and Bobrovsky. While he carried his team to an Atlantic Division title, Washington and Columbus had better seasons. Price was great, his competition is better.

As for that competition, it’s difficult to firmly say one was better than the other. Consider Holtby’s stats: league-leading 42 wins and nine shutouts alongside a 2.07 GAA and .925 save percentage. Now, match them with Bobrovsky’s numbers: 41 wins and seven shutouts, with a league-leading 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage. How do you decide who was better when the stats are so close?

The deciding factor may come down to the Bob’s 14-game winning streak in December. He had another seven-game unbeaten stretch. Holtby’s best was a 14-game stretch without losing in regulation. This isn’t the best tiebreaker, but voters may have put more weight.

Prediction: Sergei Bobrovsky

Calder Trophy – Best Rookie

Auston Matthews can win the first of what could be many NHL Awards

Auston Matthews. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Jets RW Patrik Laine

Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews

Blue Jackets D Zach Werenski

While the Hart and the Vezina are close, this one is more clear-cut. Matthews was the favorite the moment Toronto drafted him first overall in last year’s draft, but Laine and Werenski made it tougher for voters this season.

Laine scored 36 goals in his inaugural season with Winnipeg, leading the team and finishing second amongst rookies. He did it all at 18 years old. Werenski, meanwhile, was quietly the best rookie defenseman and a quality blue liner in general. He notched 47 points and was a +17 on the ice. He had more points his rookie season than Rick Nash. That’s insane to realize.

Unfortunately for both, Matthews had a special year in the NHL. This was apparent the moment he scored four times on Opening Night. He tallied 40 goals and 69 points on the season, leading the Leafs into the playoffs this season. This is an easy choice.

Prediction: Auston Matthews

Selke Award – Best Defensive Forward

Nominees:

Wild C Mikko Koivu

Bruins C Patrice Bergeron

Ducks C Ryan Kesler

There’s a mix of former nominees and newcomers for the Selke. Bergeron has won it three times and nominated three more times. Kesler won in 2011 and has finished in the top three in five total instances. Koivu is a first-time finalist who’s finished as high as fourth in voting.

Koivu had more blocked shots than points with 65 and 58 points. Kesler won over 57 percent of his faceoffs and ranked third in the NHL as a forward with an average time of 21:18 on the ice. He is likely the toughest one of the bunch to go against one-on-one.

The toughest out of all of them this year, however, as Bergeron, who did everything on the ice. He may have had fewer points, but he had more faceoff wins than Kesler (1,089 to be exact) and was more efficient in the circles. Bergeron goes up against many top lines and creates havoc on the ice. He can match Bob Gainey as the only four-time Selke winners.

Prediction: Patrice Bergeron

Other NHL Awards Predictions

Lady Byng Award for Most Gentlemanly Player – Wild C Mikael Granlund. Every nominee was a first-timer, so this is a toss-up. However, if you go 27 games without being called for a penalty, you need some kind of recognition.

Masterson Trophy for Dedication to Hockey – Senators G Craig Anderson. Easy money. His wife overcame cancer and he was lights out during her battle. The best story of the NHL this past year had a happy ending and follows up with a happy epilogue.

Jack Adams Award for Best Head Coach – Toronto’s Mike Babcock. All three candidates (Todd McLellan of Edmonton and John Tortorella of Columbus) turned around mediocre teams into playoff contenders. But did anyone expect the Leafs to go to the playoffs? Babcock created the right winning culture.

NHL General Manager of the Year – Nashville’s David Poile. His team’s run to its first Stanley Cup Final didn’t count in voting; it didn’t need to anyway. His offseason acquisition of P.K. Subban electrified the team.

 

Feature image courtesy of Cali Sports News

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What to Watch for in Round Two

With only one more series to wrap up the first round, the Anaheim Ducks will face off against the Nashville Predators in game seven. We will take a look at the round two match-ups.

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Alex Ovechkin takes on Sidney Crosby. Two of the greatest players in the NHL face off in this second round match-up. All hockey fans cannot wait to see these two go at it. Alexander Ovechkin, the hard hitting, hard shooting Russian, verses the quiet playmaker from Canada. Both captains of their respected teams are backed by hot goalies. Matthew Murray is normally the backup goalie to Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins, but Fleury is currently out with a concussion. Murray has not missed a beat only allowing two goals a game in the Rangers series. Braden Holtby, the goaltender for the Capitals, had two shutouts in the Flyers series and never gave up more than two goals in a game. Although these are two of the hottest goalies in the league, these are two high powered offenses that can score at any moment.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders

John Tavares (Extratime.uol.com)

Captain Clutch takes on the best playoff line in hockey. Are Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn for the Tampa Bay Lightning the best line in hockey right now? I think so. All three are +6 while on the ice, as they had three of the four game winning goals, and they are first, second, and third in points for their team. The Islanders upset the Florida Panthers in the first round on the back of John Tavares. In game six of the first round, JT scored a late goal to tie the game and then scored the game winning goal in OT. Anyone that follows the Islanders was not surprised by this, JT is as clutch as it comes.

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues

Brian Elliot (Bleedinblue.com)

The St. Louis Blues took care of the former Cup champions in the first round, and goaltender Brian Elliot can take some credit for this. Elliot posted a .929 save percentage, not letting the Blackhawks get into a rhythm. Right winger Vladimir Tarasenko had the most goals for the Blues in the first round with four, and he always does great against the Hawks. Let’s see if he can do the same against the Stars. With the loss of Tyler Seguin, the Stars needed other players to step up, step up they did. Left winger, Jaime Benn, has scored 10 points for the Stars which tops the NHL. The Stars used two goalies in the first round, Antti Niemi, and Kari Lehtonen. I hope they use Kari Lehtonen for the rest of the way, as I like the way he has looked.

San Jose Sharks vs. (Anaheim Ducks or Nashville Predators)

The Sharks played really well against the Kings in the first round. I was waiting for the Sharks to fall apart towards the end of the series but it never happened. Whoever wins between Anaheim and Nashville has a tough series to come. Joe Pavelski scored five goals in as many games while shooting an astounding 35.70%. In net Martin Jones out played his former teammate Johnathon Quick. Since Frederik Anderson has taking over in net for the ducks they are 3-1 with his .955%. This is something to watch for in tonight’s game.

4/27 Games

New York Islanders @ Tampa Bay Lightning 7:00 ET

Nashville Predators @ Anaheim Ducks 10:00 ET

Can the Caps Break Their Playoff Curse?

In the offseason, everyone knew the Capitals were going to be a good team.  But who would have known they would go on to win the second Presidents trophy in franchise history? With goalie Braden Holtby in net anything is possible for this team.

Image result for tj oshie

Recently acquired T.J. Oshie (capitals.nhl.com)

After another playoff disappointment in the 2015 season, second year general manager Brian Maclellan had enough. During the offseason Maclellan set out to build one of the most explosive lineups in the NHL. In doing so he brought over St. Louis Blues right winger T.J. Oshie, and two Los Angeles Kings forwards in Justin Williams, and Mike Richards. With these additions to an already lethal offense, the Capitals started to look like a serious contender.

T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, both right wingers, have really found their place on the Capitals. Both have more than 45 points on the season. Mike Richards unfortunately has only played 32 games this year but could be a key asset in the playoffs having Stanley Cup experience.

One of the biggest surprises of the year is the performance of Evgeny Kuznetsov. In only his second full season, Kuznetsov is leading the team in points with 73. 23 year old Kuznetsov is also currently 4th in the league in both Assist and plus/minus. The playmaking Russian is often playing alongside fellow Russian teammate Alexander Ovechkin

The goal scoring machine Ovechkin once again finds himself atop the goal scoring leaderboard. Ovechkin is currently at 44 goals on the season, and looks like he may come a bit shy of the 50-goal mark which he has surpassed six times in his career, but a tremendous season without a doubt.

Braden Holtby, goaltender extraordinaire, is on the verge of history chasing the record of most wins in a season (48) held by Martin Brodeur. With only six games left, it’s tough to tell if he will break the record. Also keeping in mind Holtby may want some rest for what could be a long playoff run coming.

Braden Holtby making a great save (russianmachineeverbreaks.com)

The only thing looming over the Capitals at this point is the fact that they have had such little success in recent playoff appearances. In three of the past four years, the Caps have lost to the New York Rangers in the playoffs.

The team was founded 1974 and still has not won a Stanley Cup final. Alexander Ovechkin has taken it upon himself to bring home the trophy to D.C.

The Caps look to turn it around this year while having home ice advantage the entire playoffs. As the standings are today the Capitals would be matched up with the scrappy Philadelphia Flyers. Hypothetically saying they win that series, the next series would be against either the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the dreaded New York Rangers.

Ovechkin has some good years left in him only being 30 years old, but will he ever have a better team then he has right now? In my opinion if they don’t get it done this year it may never happen. Ovi will go down in history as one of the best players to never raise the Cup.

What to watch: 3/31

Predators vs. Penguins –Two playoff teams looking to finish out the year strong.

Senators vs. Wild –Wild looking to stay in the playoffs, Senators look to play spoiler