As the season trudges on teams, begin getting ready to make their Stanley Cup push. Every year there is one team that flies in under the radar and makes a run in the playoffs. Here are three teams that have the best chance of doing so as the season gets close to crossing the halfway point.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders are currently playing in the toughest NHL division. At 44 points, the Islanders currently hold the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. This makes them the most promising of the three teams on this list to make a deep Stanley Cup push, but there are still many questions by experts surrounding New York.
Forwards Josh Bailey and John Tavares lead the way for the Islanders as Bailey is second in the NHL with 50 points and Tavares is third with 49. Bailey and Tavares are very dominant and both find ways to take over games.
The offense is there for the Islanders. New York is third in the NHL in goals per game with 3.44. The Isles are also getting it done on the power play. They rank eighth among the NHL leaders, scoring on 21.2 percent of their chances.
The Islanders are the only team in the NHL with two players that have scored over 20 goals each. The emergence of the young forward Mathew Barzal has also played a significant factor in their success on offense. Barzal currently sits fourth for the Islanders in points with 36. Barzal’s contributions on the offensive side are promising for the Islanders to make a Stanley Cup push.
For the Islanders to make a push, they are going to have to put more games together on the defensive side. New York currently ranks last in the NHL in goals against at 3.54 goals per game. They are the only team outside of the Colorado Avalanche that are presently scoring three or more goals per game while also giving up more than three goals per game.
The defensive struggles for the Islanders also spread to the penalty kill. The Islanders PK unit is the exact opposite of their power play. The Isles rank 30th in the NHL with a penalty kill success percentage of 73.9 percent. Defensemen Calvin de Haan, Adam Pelech and Thomas Hickey lead a unit that has been struggling the whole season. If these guys can put something together, it could do wonders for the Islanders.
A lot of these struggles can be linked to the play of the goalies as well. New York goalies currently have a .896 save percentage as a unit. This ranks them second to last in the NHL. Jaroslav Halak is currently starting at goalie for the Islanders, and he has been average at best. Halak is giving up a career-worst 3.15 goals per games. His backup, Thomas Greiss, has been a major disappointment, giving up a miserable 3.82 goals per game. His .884 save percentage is not much to look at either.
How to make it happen
The Islanders may need to think of making a trade at the deadline. Goalie play is what wins in the playoffs. New York should take a chance on finding one before it is too late. Whether it be a young, unproven hopeful, or a veteran desperate for a team, the Islanders should pull the trigger. The Isles offense has been great all year. They are one goaltender away from being an elite team.
If the Hurricanes can get into the playoffs, they have an excellent chance at making a serious Stanley Cup push and possibly could win it. The Hurricanes are nothing special, but they are a team not to take lightly. Everyone on the team is starting to realize their role, and not one player is bigger than the team.
Carolina pushed this mantra so much that they even have two captains that alternate. If the Canes can put it together, they are a dangerous team going forward.
On offense, the Hurricanes are led by Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, but they also get some contributions on the defensive side of the ice. Defensemen Noah Hanifin is currently eighth on the team in points with 20. Justin Faulk’s point totals are down this season, but his presence is felt on the ice.
The offensive attack is very balanced for the Hurricanes. They have seven players with eight goals or more. They share the puck well and have eight players in double-digits for assists.
The Hurricanes offense does not wow anybody on paper, but clearly, they are not a team to be taken lightly. The Canes show up at the rink every night and play very well together. If needed, players like Skinner and Jordan Staal can take over, but so far they have not required that to happen. This balance on offense makes them very difficult to defend and can frustrate opponents at times.
Carolina’s defense is very young, deep and talented. Players like Hanifin, Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin headline a defense that takes pride in playing sound fundamental defense. The Hurricanes D-men are allowing a league low 29.26 shots per game. This makes it easier on the team as a whole when opponents are not able to get the looks they want.
The signing of Trevor van Riemsdyk will go down as one of the most underrated signings in the offseason. Van Riemsdyk has a team-leading +11 in plus-minus and has eight points to go along with it. He is legging roughly 16 minutes of ice-time per game and he is making sure that it is productive. He will play a role in the Stanley Cup push for the Canes.
As stated earlier, Noah Hanifin is having a fantastic year on offense. 20 points from defensemen at 20 years old is very promising for the Hurricanes franchise. However, for the Canes to make a push, him and Faulk will have to find a way to get their plus-minus up. Goals against are not always their fault, but as defensemen, this is something they pride themselves on. Hanifin is currently -3 and Faulk is -7. For a Stanley Cup push, they will most likely have to get that trending in the positives.
The goalie play for the Hurricanes this season has been off and on. Scott Darling was acquired in the offseason to replace Cam Ward as the starter this season, but so far Ward has done everything he can to win his job back. Obviously, this is not a severe problem to have.
In 14 games, Ward is giving up 2.53 goals per game and has a save percentage of .917 percent. Darling is allowing 2.88 goals per game with a .896 save percentage in 25 games. It is worth noting that Ward is currently 10-2-1 as the starter.
Bringing in Darling has not gone as planned for the Hurricanes, but clearly, no one is complaining. Ward is reverting to his old ways and playing very well. As he starts to start more in the second half of the season, this team could become dangerous. A Stanley Cup push is not out of sight for the Hurricanes.
How to make it happen
The Hurricanes don’t necessarily have to break the bank in order to make their Stanley Cup push. All the tools are their for this team. They just have to put them together. Over the last month, they have begun doing just that. At most, the Hurricanes should try and trade for a low-budget scorer. But for the most part, the Canes’ best chance is to just ride their current roster out.
The Anaheim Ducks currently sit fourth in the Pacific Division. hold the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. The Ducks just have to find a way to get it all together.
The Ducks are a lot like the Hurricanes in that they have a very balanced style of play. Anaheim currently has 14 players with 10 or more points and are led by young star Rickard Rakell.
Rakell has 14 goals and 15 assists on the season, giving him a team-leading 29 points. The Ducks have not been able to score at a consistent rate yet this season and currently are rank 25th in goals per game with 2.67.
Although the Ducks have a very balanced scoring attack, they need to get more pucks in the back of the net. This starts with players like Rakell, Corey Perry and Adam Henrique. All three of them have the highest point totals on the Anaheim roster. If they can play well, they can potentially open up more ice for other goal scorers.
The Ducks defense has been average so far this season, allowing 2.77 goals per game. The defense all around plays sound and does their job. If they can get it together on offense, the defense could potentially turn around and be one of the better units in the NHL.
Josh Manson has had a terrific season so far for Anaheim. Manson has 17 points, but most importantly has a plus-minus of +12. His 17 points ties his total from all of last season, and his plus-minus is the same as last year as well. The play of Manson is helping with the development of Brandon Montour, who is playing his first full NHL season. Montour has 19 points so far and has a plus-minus of +7.
This Ducks defense is on the younger side, but are making giant steps in the right direction. They are majorly helping on the scoring front, and their defense has been pretty good this year. If they can keep this up, they will have a promising chance at a Stanley Cup push.
Goalie John Gibson is the primary starter for this Anaheim Ducks team, and he has done a pretty good job. Gibson is allowing 2.70 goals per game with a save percentage of .922 percent. These are promising stats for a young goaltender like Gibson, but unfortunately, he has not gotten help on the offensive side.
Gibson’s record is currently 13-12-4, a record you would not expect to see from a goalie with stats like his. Even when you look at Ryan Miller’s stats, you can see there is an issue. Miller has only played in ten games this season, but he has allowed 2.23 goals per game with a save percentage of .928 percent, but he is currently 4-1-4.
The goalie play from the Ducks is precisely what you need to make a Stanley Cup push. Like I said earlier, teams that have good goaltending in the playoffs tend to make big runs. The Ducks have all the making to be one of those teams.
How to make it happen
The Ducks need to get a scorer or two. Adding a scorer to their struggling offense could be the breath of fresh air that they need. They do not necessarily have to go for broke, because they do have a young team, but they need to add an offensive piece. The Ducks have all the parts defensively to make a playoff run, but they need guys to start putting pucks in the back of the net if they even want the chance at that.
Featured image by Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
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