1. Erik Karlsson Finally Scores
Erik Karlsson was the subject of highly-publicized trade rumors starting last season and into the summer after he was not moved at the deadline. With one year left on his contract, the Ottawa Senators traded him to the San Jose Sharks. This was a risk for the Sharks as there is no guarantee that he will stay with them after this year. This trade shocked the hockey world as players of Karlsson’s caliber aren’t traded often and the Sharks immediately became a Stanley Cup contender.
Although Karlsson was granted his wish to be traded, he has gotten off to a slow start to the season. He has scored zero goals and notched ten assists through his team’s first 20 games. Obviously, these stats are far below everyone’s expectations. However, Karlsson finally broke through on Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues, as he scored the game’s opening goal on a nifty slapshot off of a deep rebound. He added an assist later on with a nice pass to Evander Kane, who finished the play with a snipe from the slot.
If Karlsson finally starts to play like everyone knows he can, the first-place Sharks could look to be the team to beat in the Western Conference. Considering the all-star cast Karlsson has around him, it would be shocking if they couldn’t at least make the Western Conference Finals.
2. Pittsburgh’s Woes
To be frank, I hate the Pittsburgh Penguins more than any other team in the NHL. The Penguins and my hometown Detroit Red Wings played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, with the Wings winning in 2008 and the Penguins winning the rematch in 2009. The 2009 Stanley Cup loss hurt bad for an 11-year-old that wanted nothing more than to see another championship. Now, nine years later, the Penguins have won two Stanley Cups since then and the Red Wings have slipped into the pack of teams rebuilding.
This year is different. Although the Red Wings are not a good team, all signs point to the rebuild being over in a few years. That’s nice and all, but seeing the Penguins in last place this year is the icing on the cake. The Penguins still have two of the greatest centers in the world, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Their roster also features stars like Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Matt Murray. Teams with that kind of talent usually don’t miss the playoffs, let along sit in LAST PLACE in the Eastern Conference. I can honestly say there is nothing more refreshing than knowing that all Penguins fans entered the seasons with Stanley Cup aspirations and will have to toil in their own misery until the start of next season. I’m just going to sit back enjoy the ride.
3. Colorado’s Top LineIt’s no secret that the Colorado Avalanche have really turned it around since finishing as the worst team in the league two years ago. As I wrote about that at the end of last season, they have accelerated their rebuild because of the play of their top two wingers, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Those two have picked up right where they left off and have had help from their linemate and captain, Gabriel Landeskog. The play of each seems like it is drastically changing the narrative of their careers.
For MacKinnon, it ends any conversation of last year’s career year being labeled as a fluke, where he finished fifth in points with 39 goals and 58 assists. He is currently second in the league in points, with 29 (13 goals and 16 assists).
This season has cemented Rantanen as one of the best players in the league. He finished last year 17th in points with 84 (29 goals and 55 assists). He currently ranks first in the league in points with 32 (eight goals and 24 assists). It’s also safe to say that he is no sidekick to MacKinnon and can hold his own as one of the top forwards in the league.
Landeskog, on the other hand, may have the most interesting narrative. He was the second-overall pick in the 2011 draft and notched 52 points in his rookie year. He was named captain of the Avs going into his second season, making him the youngest captain in NHL history. But his career has gone up and down since then. He has never scored more than 65 points in a season and has scored as low as 33 points in a non-injury shortened season. He has also struggled with concussions during his career.
Now in his eighth season, is part of the best line combinations in hockey. His 13 goals this year puts him in a four-way tie for fourth place; MacKinnon, Alex Ovechkin and Joe Pavelski also have 13 goals. It’s crazy to think that after eight years, it finally looks like he is going to break out as a top tier forward, and he is only 25 years old.
4. The LA Kings Third Jerseys Suck
I really don’t like these sweaters at all. Third jerseys should be an opportunity for teams to take a risk or utilize a secondary color or logo that isn’t featured on their home or away jerseys. The fans always love it when teams do something different or go vintage. It gets everyone excited. The Oilers brought back their blue jerseys. The Blue Jackets brought back their cannon logo that is seldom used, and the Ducks and Coyotes revived their beloved old logos.
The Kings changed almost nothing about their third jerseys except for swapping silver for black. It’s just an inverse of their regular home jerseys. They are simply boring. The Kings really missed out on an opportunity to take a risk and excite their fan base. It’s the least they could do considering the lousy team that plays at the Staples Center this year.
5. Is Buffalo Back?The Buffalo Sabres currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division and have a real shot to make the playoffs. After years of inhabiting the Eastern Conference cellar, it’s exciting to see them spring back to life. They made a ton of moves this summer that are paying immediate dividends. The most obvious was drafting Swedish phenom, Rasmus Dhalin, first overall. Dhalin has been solid through his first 20 games, but that says a lot considering 18-year-old defenseman almost never crack NHL rosters. Not to mention newly crowned Captain, Jack Eichel has reminded us all that if he plays anywhere close to what he is capable of, the Sabres are a threat to anyone.
I personally don’t think their success will last, at least this year. Sure, Eichel and Jeff Skinner are consistent top tier NHL players, but I wouldn’t count on guys like Sam Reinhart and Carter Hutton to keep the Sabres afloat just yet. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.