The NHL has always been one of the most unpredictable leagues and so many variables can end up muddying the waters when it comes to predictions. But now that the season is shaping up and we have a clearer picture of who the real contenders are, we can start seeing which teams are separating themselves from the pack. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest surprises this year and some disappointing teams as well.
Surprise: The Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres just won their 16th game and are currently sitting atop of the Eastern Conference, which is something nobody would’ve have expected at the beginning of the year. As a matter of fact, if you predicted that the Sabres would be where they are, you should try your hand at the slots and play now with SlotsCalendar, because you might be on a lucky streak. Especially considering that it took them until the month of January last year to reach the 14-win mark. The key reason for their turnaround has been their goaltending, with perennial backup goalie Carter Hutton performing much better than everybody expected. They also won five games this year after trailing in the second period, which shows the kind of heart we have not seen in the Sabres in a long while.
Disappointment: Florida Panthers
The Panthers weren’t world beaters last year, but the impressive 25 wins down the stretch at the end of last season was something the organization could build on. They hired a new coach during the off season, got two great centers in Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov to anchor their first two lines, and gained veteran scorer Mike Hoffman for a bargain, which seemed promising at first glance. But everything went downhill from the very first game when Luongo suffered an injury. And while he looked sturdy after his return, he averaged more than four goals on his last appearances. Also, James Reimer, who was once considered one of the best backups in the league, has recorded an abysmal .884 save percentage this year.
Surprise – Minnesota Wild
The Wild has been a pretty uninspiring team for the last six seasons. While they were able to make six consecutive playoff appearances, they only were able to win two series and seemed to be destined to mediocrity this year. However, things have turned around since they hired a new GM. They are now top 12 in penalty kill, goals, goals against and power play goals. Parise is also having a great season and their core has managed to stay healthy, which is one of the main reasons The Wild are looking so strong this year.
Disappointment – St Louis Blues
While the Blues looked like they had potential at the end of last year and had a solid core, they decided to get aggressive during the off season and sign free agent Tyler Bozak and get Ryan O’Reilly in a trade. But bad goaltending did them in this year and Jake Allen, who’s always been a question mark for the Blues, is reporting particularly disastrous numbers this year with a .896 save percentage and 3.27 goals per game. Until they deal with the goaltending issue, we can’t see the Blues being solid contenders this year.
While the season is still young, we can already start seeing which teams we should expect to see in the playoffs and which ones are likely to be blown up by the end of the season. We can expect these teams to be the center of discussion and make waves across the league as we come closer to the playoffs.