With a quarter of the NHL season nearly complete, it is time to take a look around the league to see what has been happening and just what type of surprises have greeted hockey fans. There is no question that the lockout shortened season, and subsequent condensed schedule, has created a unique NHL season this year. With teams playing as many as three games in four nights, you never really know which team is going to show up on a given night. However, a handful of organizations have set themselves apart from the rest of the league early in the season.
Top Teams in 2012-13
New Jersey Devils – The New Jersey Devils are leading the Eastern Conference with 19 points and currently own a 8-2-3 record. Many hockey experts expected the Devils to struggle this season with the loss of Zach Parise via free agency. However, the opposite has been true thus far. New Jersey has relied heavily on its excellent defense to allow just 28 goals on the year, an average of 2.1 goals against per game. If the Devils can continue to play this type of defense for the remainder of the year, it would not be surprising to see this team make another deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Boston Bruins – The Boston Bruins were looking to get out to a quick start this season after stumbling early last year. So far, the Bruins have done just that as they have an 8-1-2 record and are second in the Eastern Conference with 18 points. Much like the New Jersey Devils, the Boston Bruins have gotten great goaltending thus far this season to go with their excellent team defense. Boston’s penalty kill is tops in the NHL at 93.5%. If Boston can find any type of added offense this season, the Bruins could be extremely dangerous come playoff time.
Chicago Blackhawks – The Chicago Blackhawks have been the hottest team in the NHL this season as they have yet to lose a game in regulation. With a 10-0-3 record and an NHL best 23 points, the Blackhawks appear to be the cream of the crop this season in the NHL. Chicago has received an excellent combination of high powered offense and stingy defense while compiling their 10-0-3 record. With 44 goals on the year, the Blackhawks lead the Western Conference in scoring and are just two goals behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the NHL lead.
Anaheim Ducks – The Anaheim Ducks have been a bit of a surprise this season as the Ducks are currently in second place in the Western Conference with a 9-2-1 record and 19 points. Much like the Blackhawks, the Ducks have relied on their offense to carry the team through the early stages of the season. Anaheim averages 3.3 goals per game and owns the seventh best power play in the league at 23.1%. An Achilles heel for the Ducks may be their team defense as Anaheim allows 2.7 goals per game and has a penalty kill percentage of just 69.6%. However, the play of rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth has to be encouraging to Ducks fans as the goalie has yet to lose a game in six starts. If Fasth can provide Anaheim with a much needed defensive boost, the Ducks could be a real power in the Western Conference this season.
Teams that Need to Turn it Around
Los Angeles Kings – The slow start for the defending Stanley Cup champions has been a bit of a surprise, especially since many did not think the Kings would fall victim to a “Stanley Cup hangover” with the lockout dragging on for so long. Poor offense has doomed the Kings on many nights as Los Angeles is averaging a dismal 2.3 goals per game, good for 24th in the league. One reason why the offense has struggled for Los Angeles has been the team’s power play. Currently, the Kings are capitalizing on only 11.8% of their power play chances, a number that surely need to improve if the Kings want to make the post season to defend their title.
Washington Capitals – The Washington Capitals rallied late in the season last year to make the playoffs, and it looks as if the Capitals will need to do it again this year if they are going to make the postseason. Through 13 games, the Capitals are tied with three other teams for the least amount of points in the NHL with nine. As was to be expected, the scoring has been there for the Washington Capitals as the team is averaging 2.8 goals per game, which is good for 10th in the NHL. However, the defense has been very subpar so far this year. Washington is allowing 3.5 goals per game, good for 28th in the NHL. The penalty kill unit has been terrible for Washington, and desperately needs to improve if this talented team is going to turn their season around.
For the teams near the bottom of the standings, the good news about this year’s condensed schedule is that things can turn around in a hurry. If a team can string together a few wins in a row, they will find themselves right back in the playoff hunt. This fact should make for an exciting NHL season as fans cannot count their teams out of playoff contention just yet.