The opening month of the NHL season often throws out a few surprises in the standings. After a month of play this season, the Buffalo Sabres have enjoyed a quick start – much like they did last season – and the Pacific Division was helmed by the perpetually rebuilding Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Arizona Coyotes.
Perhaps the biggest stories so far, however, are not concerning those who have placed well through the first month of games, but rather which teams haven’t made their way to their seemingly rightful places at the summits of their divisions.
The NHL season is long, and there’s always time to turn it around – just as the 2019 St. Louis Blues did – but right now, the following duo of teams are struggling. Despite boasting strong teams that would have been expected to compete deep into the postseason, it hasn’t gone quite right for them so far in this campaign.
Tampa Bay Lightning
One could say that the Tampa Bay Lightning are suffering from a bit of a hangover from last season, but as their unceremonious booting for the first round of the playoffs was seen as their hangover from a superb and historic regular season, this would become a double hangover of sorts.
With only six wins from 13 games, the Bolts sat with 14 points after a month of play. Given that their team boasts the likes of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Mikhail Sergachev, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net for good measure, very few would dispute the point that the Lightning should be at the top of the Atlantic Division and most likely the whole NHL.
However, Tampa Bay have been greatly impeded by their special team’s play. Last season, the Bolts were fantastic across all phases of the game, but this season, as shown by the Tampa Bay Times, their penalty kill ranks among the very worst and has cost them many games already.
The Lightning are simply too talented to not bounce back soon, though, and challenge for the top of the division – even if some of the experts have lost faith in their NHL predictions. Tampa Bay is now out at +260 to win the Atlantic Division and +900 to win the Stanley Cup in the Sports betting. As soon as they get a foothold when short-handed, which they almost certainly will, the Bolts will start to surge up the league and to their rightful standing.
While not as vaunted as the Tampa Bay Lightning, the San Jose Sharks also boast a very strong team and were expected to be competing for the Pacific Division title this season. There’s also added pressure on the team as, given their salary cap situation and abundance of veterans, the Stanley Cup window is certainly closing on this unit.
The Shark Tank residents saw club legends Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau re-sign and return, adding depth to the forward lines, with the likes of Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, and Kevin LaBanc in the top-six.
The defence boasts Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Brenden Dillon to forge one of the most high-profile blueline corps in the league, and yet they are among the culprits for San Jose’s disastrous opening slate of results.
Sitting at five wins after 16 games – only one place and one point ahead of their arch-rivals and bottom-dwelling Los Angeles Kings – the focus of criticism in The Hockey News is the team’s defensive play, the mistakes made by the defensemen, and the play of the porous goaltenders. Neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell boasts a save percentage or goals-against average better than 0.890 or 3.20. They have been very poor, following the decline showed last season.
A change at head coach will, naturally, be seen as San Jose’s next move, with Peter DeBoer likely to be sent packing soon. A change will likely see results get a bump, but it will ultimately come down to general manager Doug Wilson pulling some moves to try to alleviate the team’s problems at the goaltender position with next to zero cap space.
While the Tampa Bay Lightning are primed to bounce back soon, the Sharks may need some fundamental changes to take place if they are to surge up the standings and breach into the Pacific Division’s playoff places.
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