Canadian teams look strong early on

Toronto-Maple-Leafs-vs-Pittsburgh-Penguins-nov4-2018

I know we’re only about one 1/6th of the way through the NHL regular season, but there are plenty of stories popping up around the league in terms of how the standings are shaking out. For starters, as it stood on Monday afternoon, 25 of the 31 teams are within at least three points of a playoff spot. Three of those six teams at the bottom? They were playoff teams last season (Vegas, Los Angeles, New Jersey) and two more missed by one point (St. Louis, Florida). It just goes to show how quickly things can shift with the current parity within the league today.

Another interesting development is the strong play from the Canadian teams around the league. It was assumed by the masses that the Maple Leafs and Jets would be in the playoff picture comes seasons end, but the same couldn’t be said as confidently for the remaining five teams. As it stands, though, six of the seven Canadian teams find themselves in playoff position at this point in the season, with Ottawa being the only exception (no surprises there). If this were to stand as is, it would be the first time since 1993 that six Canadian teams make the playoffs in the same year, and that was back when there were eight Canadian teams in the league. It’s even crazier to think that in 2016 no Canadian teams qualified for the chance to win the Stanley Cup.

It remains to be seen whether young, overachieving teams like the Canucks and Canadiens can hold on for the remainder of the season, but one thing is for sure, they aren’t as bad as many thought they would be. Rookie Elias Pettersson has been freakishly good for Vancouver, recording nine goals and six assists in just nine games. If he can stay healthy he’ll be able to waltz into an easy Calder Trophy win.

Speaking of exciting young talent, the Colorado Avalanche are ridiculous right now. Nathan Mackinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are tied for the NHL lead in goals (11) through 14 games. But it’s 22 year-old Mikko Rantanen who holds a three-point cushion on the NHL lead in points, proving that last year’s 84 point breakout was no fluke. By the way, it’s Mackinnon who trails Rantanen in second place. Despite an NHL leading offense, the Avalanche only find themselves in a wildcard place for now, with a stacked Central Division making things difficult to create any separation.

I just mentioned the NHL goal leaders were tied at the top with 11, three more players currently sit with that mark alongside Mackinnon and Landeskog. Those include, somewhat unsurprisingly, Patrick Kane and David Pastrnak. The fifth player is a much more unexpected member on the top group – San Jose Sharks right winger, Timo Meier. The 22 year-old Swiss-born player was a ninth overall pick back in the 2015 draft and played his first full season in 2017-18, recording 21 goals and 15 assists. Meier now finds himself with a major role on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, garnering over 17 minutes of ice time per game, up from an average of 14:52 last season. He currently has 11 goals and five assists in 14 games and is one to watch as he’s looking like he’ll shatter his previous career highs with relative ease this season.

The New York Islanders are on absolute fire right now, recording five straight wins and picking up points in seven of their last eight games. They now lead the Metropolitan division. The Arizona Coyotes are on a similar heater, also picking up five straight wins. The Coyotes have finally managed to find the back of the net after being shut out three times in their first four games of the season. They’ve put up at least four in each game of the streak.

The Maple Leafs home/road splits continue to be mystifying. The 9-5 team that sits in second place in the Atlantic Division is a perfect 6-0 on the road but can’t seem to get things going at home, with only a 3-5 record. Usually, it’s the other way around, but the Leafs can’t get the offense going at Scotiabank Arena the way they have elsewhere. They’ve averaged two goals per games at home in the eight games and a ridiculous six goals per game on the road, scoring no less than four times. Last week’s games were a perfect example of this as they fell 3-1 to the Calgary Flames and 2-1 to the Dallas Stars (who started their backup, Anton Khudobin) at home and two days later took down the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-0 on the road.

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