Hard to believe, but the NHL season is 25 percent completed for most teams. Only six of 31 teams have participated in less than 20 games of the 82-game regular season schedule. While it is a long race to the eight playoff spots in each conference, 20 games played represents a reasonable marker for determining most teams' trends. Let's drop the puck on whose arrows are pointing upward.
Games in Hand, Part 1
Following a stratospheric 2018-19 regular season and a plummeting first-hand sweep out of last spring's playoffs (Columbus wielded the broom), Tampa Bay is three games over .500 (9-6-2) for 20 points in the standings over a league-low 17 games. That positions the Lightning sixth in the Atlantic Division but every team has played at least three more games. If Tampa were to win two of the three "catch-up games," the resulting 24 would jump them to fourth in the division and playoff qualification. TBL's goal differential (goals scored minus goals allowed) is third in the division. The Lightning face a litmus test Tuesday night in St. Louis (29 points).
Games in Hand, Part 2
The New York Islanders at the quarter-mark stand as the hottest team if not the best (feel free to debate Washington vs. Boston). The Isles are riding a 14-game point (13 wins and one overtime loss to Pittsburgh) and have matched Boston's 29 points in two less games. They play at Pittsburgh Tuesday, then host the Penguins Thursday. The other four under-20 teams are Nashville, New York Rangers, New Jersey and Columbus. Only Nashville has a plus goal differential, which took a significant hit Saturday with a 7-2 home loss to Chicago. NYR, NJD And CBJ will all seek consistency and an improved goal differential between now and the half-season mark. The Devils apparently will do it for a while without goalie Corey Schneider, who was put on waivers Monday. If he clears waivers, he will go to AHL affiliate Binghamton to iron out a crease-load of troubles.
Fan expectations for the Montreal Canadiens are almost as steep as the "Original Six" franchise's lore of winning the most Stanley Cups (24 total, but none since 1993). The team is called the "Habs," which derives from Les Habitants, the French settlers of the land along the St. Lawrence Gulf and River in Quebec dating back to the 17th Century. As of Monday, Montreal is inhabiting second place in the Atlantic Division. Their 11-5-4 record has been overshadowed in the Eastern Conference by Boston's offensive blitz, the Islanders' win streak, Washington's hyper-fast start and the magic that coach Joel Quenneville is conjuring with the Florida Panthers. But, believe it, Montreal fans know goalie-local god Carey Price leads the league in wins at 10 and Tomas Tatar is the Habs' leading scorer averaging a point per game, including two goals and four assists in the last week.
Leon on Me
Leon Draisaitl continues to wow as Edmonton doesn't look to be slowing down from its first-quarter first-place position. The German-born forward leads the league with 43 points (16 G, 27A), the fastest scoring start by any NHL forward since 2002-03. His three-game week racked two goals and seven assists, including five "helpers" in a big 6-2 home win over Colorado. Another reason for the Dave Tippett-coached Oilers gusher start (13 wins leading the Western Conference) EDM teammate and resident superstar Connor McDavid is second in NHL scoring with 40 points (14G, 26A).
Sunk Then Swim
Edmonton's next five games are on the road, including Tippett's return to Arizona, the franchise where he won a Jack Adams coach of the year award. The trip starts in San Jose, which didn't seem too foreboding a couple of weeks back when the Sharks were sitting on 10 losses. But San Jose beat Edmonton 6-3 last Tuesday and still sits on the 10 losses because SJS is on a six-game winning streak to get back to even at 10-10-1. It's an impressive correction for the Sharks, who must have been paying attention to the Dallas Stars' first quarter revival, the Texas team starting 1-7-1 but winning 10 of 11 since to secure full Playoff Contender status.
A One, a Two and a Three
Chicago rookie center Kirby Dach admitted to the Chicago Sun-Times that he does take a peek at the scoring statistics of fellow 18-year-old rookies Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Dach was selected No. 3 in last June's Draft. Hughes was picked No. 1 overall by the New Jersey Devils and Kakko went No. 2 to the New York Rangers. While Hughes and Kakko started from Game 1 of the regular season, Dach's first NHL start was delayed by recovery from a concussion. Dach now has nine points in 14 games, including a goal in his first NHL game. The Devils' Hughes edges him out with 10 points but in five more games played. Kaako has eight points in 16 games for NYR.
"We all want to prove that we're the best one to come from the draft," Dach told the Sun-Times' reporter Ben Pope. "It's obviously still a long way to go throughout our careers, but we're going to be connected for a long time.''
Making Mom Proud
Hockey parents are legendary for the early morning car rides to practices and game, making sacrifices so multiple family members can play for multiple teams and enduring the ups and downs of team sports. It can be harder on parents to watch than the kids to play-maybe most of all for a goalie's parents. So, when Toronto goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo made his NHL debut Saturday night, it was no surprise when Twitter caught pregame tears of his mom in the stands. The 24-year-old Finn went undrafted by NHL teams out of college (University of Minnesota-Duluth) and played for four different minor league teams before getting the call-up over the weekend.