Greetings. Screen Shots is back with the second in a weekly-ish look around the NHL and the hockey world in general. Here are some topics that may not be deserving of a full column, but certainly should be covered:
– The St. Louis Blues have started the 2021-22 NHL regular season on a high, winning all of their first five games, and putting up a plus-14 goal differential, second only in the NHL to the equally hot Florida Panthers. St. Louis has been thriving in no small part due to their prowess on special teams; their power play is, at 37.5 percent efficiency, second only to the Edmonton Oilers (42.9 percent); and their penalty kill is the best in the league at 93.8 percent.
But equally important are the offensive contributions from many parts of the lineup. Seven Blues have produced at least a 1.00-points-per-game average thus far. Whether it’s via savvy veterans David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko, or through youngsters Ivan Barbashev and Robert Thomas, the Blues have found ways to put up points and take pressure off goalie Jordan Binnington. But Binnington also has had success this year, posting a 4-0-0 record and an .919 save percentage.
In my pre-season predictions for THN, I liked the Blues to be a playoff team this year, and I still do. They’re going to miss forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Brandon Saad, both of who are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. But they’ve got enough depth to slog their way through the dangerous Central Division and come out with a ticket to play in the playoffs next spring.
– The New Jersey Devils have a decent-enough six standings points in five games, but in the Metropolitan Division, that’s good enough for last place. This should tell you all you need to know about how tough the Metro is going to be this year. The Devils won’t have many, if any soft touches this season, and it’s going to take their young core to give them enough wins for a playoff spot.
As it’s happened thus far this year, the Devils don’t have problems scoring. They do have problems preventing opponents from scoring on them, though. New Jersey has allowed 15 goals-against this season, and goalies Scott Wedgewood and Nico Daws in particular have struggled, putting up save percentages of .878 and .875, respectively. Veteran Jonathan Bernier has been in net for two of the Devils’ three wins, and he’s got an .911 SP and a 2.48 goals-against average, but New Jersey can’t rely on the 33-year-old journeyman to put the team on his shoulders and carry it to the playoffs. They need more from Wedgewood and/or Daws if they’re going to keep up with the beasts of the Metro.
– Similar to the Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers have built a fairly impressive 3-1-1 record, but their seven points in the standings is tied for fifth place in the Metro. Also like the Devils, the Flyers haven’t received consistently good goaltending; No. 1 netminder Carter Hart hasn’t been at his best in all four games he’s started, but he’s no longer looking completely lost as he was at the very beginning of the year. And he’s got the benefit of a robust Philly offense that has nine players who’re at a 1.00 points-per-game average.
Most of Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher’s off-season acquisitions have gotten off to a solid start on offense: former Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson leads all Philly scorers (with six in five games) and point-getters (with seven); veteran center Derick Brassard has five assists and six points; and defenseman Ryan Ellis has three assists and four points in three games-played. So long as their goaltending holds up, they should be in contention for one of the lower playoff seeds in the Metro.
– The injury bug has been cruel to many an NHL team already this season, but one that has been bitten especially hard is the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were dealing with injuries to forward Andreas Athanasiou and blueliner Quinton Byfeld when they were hit with a double-blow: star defenseman Drew Doughty was knocked out of the lineup for at least eight weeks with a knee injury, and veteran Sean Walker was lost for the season with an ACL and MCL tear in his knee.
L.A. was in a good position to take a competitive step forward this season, but they don’t yet have the organizational depth to sustain heavy-duty losses like the ones they’ve suffered in only six games. It’s no wonder they’re currently in eighth place in the Pacific with a 1-4-1 record, but they’re fortunate to be in a weaker division, and there’s still time for them to turn things around. They’ll just have to lean on some of their less-experienced players to do so.