What have we learned as the 2018-19 NHL season has unfolded? Well, lots of stuff. But surely nothing more important than this: The Ottawa Senators are Lady Gaga. Milan Lucic, on the other hand, is not Lady Gaga.
Without further ado, here are 10 points to ponder about the season so far:
1. The Tampa Bay Lightning are riding high – first place overall – and it doesn’t matter where they play. The NHL’s No. 1 team is No. 1 on the road and (almost) No. 1 at home. The Bolts have the best points percentage on the road (.750, 10-3-1) and they have the second-best points percentage at home (.765, 13-4-0), barely behind Boston (.769, 10-3-0). Tampa Bay is the league’s most lethal team, averaging nearly four goals per game (3.94), while ranking in the top 10 in goals-against average (2.81) despite the fact starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been sidelined with a fractured foot since mid-November. (He’s expected to return in the next week or two.) The Lightning have advanced to the Eastern Conference final three times – and the Stanley Cup final once – in the past four years, and they’re certainly looking like the team to beat this season.
2. Nikita Kucherov and Johnny Gaudreau, at the ripe old age of 25, are the elder statesmen at the top of the NHL scoring race. Among the league’s leading seven scorers, the Lightning’s Kucherov and Calgary Flames’ Gaudreau are the greybeards compared to Mikko Rantanen (22), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (21), Mitch Marner (21) and Brayden Point (22). The rest of the top 10 (and ties) has some 30-something representation – Alex Ovechkin (33), Blake Wheeler (32) and Claude Giroux (30) – but there’s also another young gun, too, in Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (22). The future looks red-light bright.
3. The Kings have scored one power-play goal on the road this season. OK, it’s not exactly breaking news that Los Angeles is struggling. They’re languishing in last place overall, looking old and slow in a league that’s young and fast. But one power-play goal in 12 road games?! It’s true. Despite boasting weapons such as Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and – before he went down with injury – Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings have gone 1-for-30 with the man advantage away from home. Meanwhile, they’ve surrendered two shorthanded goals on the road, so they’re minus-1 on road power plays. Maybe Jack Hughes will help spark the man-advantage unit next season…
4. It’s probably going to get better for Colorado – and worse for Los Angeles. Nobody has played more road games (19) or fewer home games (11) than Colorado. Yet, the Avalanche are battling for first place in the Western Conference, and only the league-leading Lightning and high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs have scored more goals. Meanwhile, nobody has played more home games (18) or fewer road games than L.A. (12).
5. Getting a power play against Arizona is a waste of time. The Coyotes continue to lead the league with 11 shorthanded goals and they continue to lead the league with a penalty-killing efficiency of 90.1 percent. Arizona has only surrendered eight PP goals on the season – every other team in the league has given up at least 14, and the league average is about 18 – meaning that the Coyotes are plus-3 when down a man this season. By comparison, they’re plus-10 when they’re a man up (15 PP goals, five shorthanded goals against).
6. Pekka Rinne is still pretty good. The Predators goalie (deservedly) took some heat for his playoff performance last spring, when he stumbled against Winnipeg in Round 2 after turning in a Vezina Trophy-caliber effort in the regular season. It wasn’t the first time Rinne had faltered in the post-season, and it led to conjecture that Preds backup Juuse Saros might take over the starting job sooner rather than later. Rinne’s play so far this season, however, suggests otherwise – not to mention the fact that Nashville re-signed Rinne to a two-year extension early in the 2018-19 campaign. Rinne’s 1.96 goals-against average is the lowest in the league by a significant margin, and his .930 save percentage is tied for the NHL lead. He won his first Vezina last year, might his first Stanley Cup be on the way?
7. If goals equal entertainment, the Ottawa Senators are Lady Gaga. You might think this sounds very good – or very bad. Either way, you’re right. When the puck drops on a Sens game, don’t blink because it’ll probably end up in the net in short order. The average Senators game this season has featured 7.5 goals, the most in the league. (Columbus is second, with Blue Jackets games averaging 6.8 goals.) Ottawa is the sixth-highest scoring team in the NHL, at 3.47 goals per game. That’s a great showing from a team that entered the 2018-19 regular season in full rebuild mode. On the other hand, the Sens are last in the NHL with a 3.98 goals-against average. Chicago, the league’s second-most generous team, is allowing 3.66 goals per game.
8. If goals equal entertainment, Milan Lucic is definitely not Lady Gaga. It is difficult to reconcile the fall of one-time fearsome power forward Milan Lucic. Simply put, the league got faster and he’s been left behind. Way behind. After scoring in the Oilers’ season opener, Lucic has gone goal-less in 28 straight games and counting. And this is nothing new – Lucic scored one goal in his final 46 games last season. Add it all up and that’s two goals (and 12 assists) in his past 65 games. He’s got four more years remaining on his contract after this season, at $6 million per year. That’s a lot of money for not a lot of goals.
9. Battle of Alberta: Backup Goalie Edition. Mike Smith and Cam Talbot entered the season as the starting goaltenders for Calgary and Edmonton, respectively. But if the playoffs began today, it might be David Rittich in net for the Flames and Mikko Koskinen for the Oilers. In Calgary, Rittich has starred (8-2-1, 2.39 GAA, .919 save percentage) while Smith has mostly struggled (11-7-1, 2.88 GAA, .894 SP). The disparity is even greater in Edmonton, where Koskinen (8-3-1, 2.23 GAA, .925 SP) has vastly outperformed Talbot (7-9-1, 3.12 GAA, .895 SP).
10. Carolina can shoot but the Canes can’t score. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – the Hurricanes have scored 2.50 goals per game this season. So they can score, but compared to the rest of the league –they’re 29th overall in offense – they don’t do it very often. It’s not for lack of trying, though. Carolina leads the NHL with 38.7 shots per game, while surrendering the fewest shots against (27.4 per game).