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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Golden Knights, Kings among surprises in Pacific Division

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Nov. 1 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday throughout the 2017-18 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Which divisional standings look the strangest right now? -- @briantodd34

I'd have to give it to the Pacific Division, with the Metropolitan Division second.

Nobody I know thought the Vegas Golden Knights would be near the top of the division standings at any point this season, but they've been one of the best stories during the first month. Their goaltending injuries and the success of Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk before each got hurt have added an intriguing subplot to the story of their first month.

I thought the Los Angeles Kings would be a bubble team, but they look legit and could be the best team in the division, especially with the Anaheim Ducks dealing with injuries and the Edmonton Oilers struggling to score. Coach John Stevens has the Kings playing a more creative game, and it's working for their top players, forward Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty. It has also rejuvenated forward Dustin Brown. They're doing it without center Jeff Carter as well. It's also amazing what a healthy Jonathan Quick at goalie can do; he makes two or three showstopping saves every game.

Video: LAK@STL: Brown tips home Doughty's shot for PPG

The Vancouver Canucks are better than I thought they'd be in the first month, though I do question their sustainability. I didn't envision the Oilers getting off to the rugged start that they've had. I don't think anybody expected them to struggle to put the puck in the net. It's as if trading forwards Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in back-to-back offseasons has impacted Edmonton's offense. Oh, wait, it has, dramatically.

In the Metropolitan Division, I never thought the New Jersey Devils would be in first place at any point, nor did I think the Pittsburgh Penguins would have significant challenges on defense. I also thought the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals would each take steps back, but not three or four.

 

Early favorites for the Calder Trophy? -- @puckfollower

Top five:

1. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes: The 19-year-old forward entered leads NHL rookies in goals (nine) points (15), points per game (1.15) and shots on goal (49) while playing 19:51 per game, second-most among rookies.

2. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: The defenseman, also 19, leads rookies in ice time per game (22:37), including 29:47 against the Kings and 29:19 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Bruins' past two games. He also has eight points (one goal, seven assists). McAvoy was my preseason favorite to win the Calder Trophy.

3. Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning: The 19-year-old defenseman is averaging 13:21 of ice time per game, but he's making the most of it with 11 points (four goals, seven assists), including two game-winning goals.

4. Will Butcher, New Jersey Devils: The 22-year-old defenseman leads rookies with 11 assists, including seven on the power play, for the surprising Devils.

5. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders: The speedy 20-year-old center has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 games. He's averaging 15:27 per game and is centering the Islanders' second line.

Video: VGK@NYI: Barzal slams home big rebound for PPG

 

Do you still have the Islanders outside of the playoff picture? -- @ChrisEsturo

I didn't pick the Islanders to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and, sure, if the season ended today they'd be in. Reminder: It's Nov. 1.

However, the Islanders have mostly looked like a playoff contender. Captain John Tavares is on fire with nine goals in his past five games, but the Islanders finally look like they've got a legit second-line center, Barzal, who was all over the ice in the 6-3 win against Vegas on Monday. I like that line with Brock Nelson and Eberle on Barzal's wings. It's a line with speed, some size, skill, grinding ability and Nelson's potent wrist shot. Tavares, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey just play well together. It's a good top-six forward group.

I'd like to see forward Joshua Ho-Sang get another chance because he adds another skill dimension, but coach Doug Weight has to be able to trust him to play the entire sheet of ice. Freelancing at the NHL level is good, in moderation.

My big question about the Islanders is on the back end and in goal. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss are prone to hot and cold streaks. Each allows the goal any goalie would want back at the end of the night too often. And while I certainly see the potential everybody else sees in defenseman Ryan Pulock, his defensive game needs work.

 

Are the Pittsburgh Penguins in trouble? -- @whoopoi

Not yet. But they do have to solve a big problem.

The Penguins are 0-4-0 in the second half of back-to-back sets, with all four games on the road. They've been outscored 29-7 in those games: 10-1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-4 and 7-1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and 7-1 against the Winnipeg Jets. The Penguins are 7-1-1 and have outscored the opposition 29-21 in their other games.

Their schedule isn't getting easier anytime soon either. They start a back-to-back at Edmonton on Wednesday and finish it at the Calgary Flames on Thursday. They also play a road back-to-back at Washington and the Nashville Predators on Nov. 10-11. The Penguins, already two games (losses) into a five-game trip, play six of their next eight on the road.

The good news is they play nine of 11 games at home from Nov. 18-Dec. 11. They have two back-to-back sets in that span, but the second half of each is at home.

Video: PIT@WPG: Malkin tips feed through five-hole for PPG

 

Do you think the St. Louis Blues are for real, and can they keep up this amazing pace? Will Jaden Schwartz finally get the recognition he deserves? -- @bdegs74

They're for real, but they won't keep up their current pace. They have 21 points in 13 games, an average of 1.615 points per game. Spread that across 82 games and they're on pace for 132 points. That would tie the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens for most points in a single season.

I liked the Blues at the beginning of the season. I picked them to win the Central Division despite injuries to Alexander Steen, Jay Bouwmeester, Patrik Berglund, Zach Sanford and Robby Fabbri. They've only bolstered my belief in them by how they've started. I thought coach Mike Yeo did a terrific job when he took over for Ken Hitchcock last season. Yeo loosened up the group, gave them some more freedom, and it's still paying off. Martin Brodeur was helpful to goalie Jake Allen last season after he took over as interim goalie coach when Yeo replaced Hitchcock. Allen has taken what he learned from the NHL's all-time winningest goaltender and is applying it this season. He has seven wins, a 2.46 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Those aren't Vezina Trophy numbers, but they're winning numbers. That's what the Blues need from him.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is showing the offense in his game that was somewhat dormant when Kevin Shattenkirk was in St. Louis and he had to be relied on to defend so often. Pietrangelo has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 13 games.

And, yes, I think Schwartz deserves more recognition for the player he is. Two things you never worry about with the forward are his relentlessness on the puck and his tenacity in all areas of the ice. He has the skill to back it up. Yeo said he thinks Schwartz should be included in the conversation for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward. Maybe he's right, but Schwartz plays the wrong position. The last wing to win the Selke was Jere Lehtinen of the Dallas Stars in 2002-03.

Video: LAK@STL: Schwartz cleans up the rebound in front

 

About the Florida Panthers; the offense doesn't seem to be the issue, but oddly the defense is. Is it the roster or the new coach? -- @themoose0221

Neither.

You can chalk some of it up to adjusting to the new system that coach Bob Boughner has implemented and to some poor positional play in general, like what happened on forward Brayden Point's goal in the Tampa Bay Lightning's 8-5 win against the Panthers on Monday. Point was one of three Lightning players at the hash marks or below. The only Panthers player there to defend them was defenseman Mark Pysyk. Florida had four players, including defenseman Ian McCoshen, above the circles. That's a recipe for disaster.

Boughner has the Panthers playing a more aggressive style, with the defensemen making hard stands at the blue line and looking to create turnovers and push the pace the other way. He is eschewing the more conservative style they played last season after Tom Rowe took over as coach for Gerard Gallant on Nov. 27. It's a change for the defensemen and one that takes time to adjust. We're seeing the challenges they're up against play out almost nightly. Florida is allowing too many shots on goal (League-high 36.5 per game), especially in the second period (13.5). It doesn't help that its penalty kill is 29th at 72.7 percent.

 

What should the Buffalo Sabres do with Evander Kane? Sign him long term? Trade? -- @ClappRyan10

It's a tough call because Kane, a 26-year-old forward, has value to the Sabres, but general manager Jason Botterill and, of course, owner Terry Pegula, must ask themselves how far they're willing to go with the forward and if they want to pay him in his next contract, whatever the term may be? I'm not certain on that yet so I won't speculate because Kane's value will increase or decrease based on how he performs the rest of the season.

I'd try to trade him, sooner rather than later. His value should be high now because he's off to a strong start with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 12 games. The longer the Sabres wait, the greater the potential that his value will decrease. Teams rarely get the value they're looking for if they wait until the NHL Trade Deadline. Plus, a team that wants Kane in a trade should want him now and, theoretically, should have an interest in signing him to an extension. The Sabres should explore that market. Botterill might already be doing that.

Video: BUF@BOS: Kane ties game with lucky backhand goal

I don't think marrying themselves to Kane on a long-term basis is the right move for Buffalo. It has less to do with Kane and more to do with the Sabres' direction. They're going to start paying forward Jack Eichel $10 million per season, beginning next season. They also have forwards Ryan O'Reilly ($7.5 million) and Kyle Okposo ($6 million). They must figure out what forward Sam Reinhart is and what he can do for them. They need to improve their defensemen, and they will need to sign a goalie for next season. Robin Lehner can be a restricted free agent after this season, and Chad Johnson can be unrestricted.

 

What are your top five candies? -- @peterrothman

1. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

2. Snickers

3. Twix

4. Peanut Butter M&Ms

5. 100 Grand Bar

Time to go steal some from my kids. Happy belated Halloween.

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