6. Maybe the Penguins (maybe?)
So Pittsburgh, reigning back-to-back Cup champs, are about to enter December in a tightly packed Metro.
They entered Tuesday night’s games tied for fourth in the division, but only three points back of New Jersey which inexplicably continues to lead everyone there. That’s not an insurmountable lead or anything, but with the potential for Matt Murray to be sidelined for a little while, the idea of trying to make up the gap to scramble their way out of a dicey playoff position. Tristan Jarry ain’t your guy for, y’know, “winning a lot of games.”
Meanwhile, there’s a big ol’ controversy brewing with Ian Cole, who has apparently received permission to have his agent talk to other teams about a potential trade. Cole’s a healthy scratch these days and, as you might guess, wasn’t playing well before he started eating a lot of press box popcorn on game nights.
This is, I guess, the price of success. The Penguins have managed the cap pretty well, but definitely entered the season with some question marks. Far be it for me to suggest that losing Ron Hainsey should throw your D corps into chaos, but the Pens’ blue line was a little weak, as was the center depth. They, ahem, addressed the center depth by trading Scott Wilson for Riley Sheahan (and boy has that not worked out for either team) but the D corps remains untouched.
This isn’t to suggest, either, that losing Cole for relatively little — maybe nothing — is a backbreaker, but as with the forward depth and goaltending injury, that’s also not how you make up ground. Especially when you factor in all those damn back-to-back games. Of which there is a frankly unfair amount.
This is a team you absolutely can’t count out because, well, look what they’ve done under their current coach, but also all of this should be a point of concern.
5. Overreacting (but also maybe a little justifiably)
One thing I love about Montreal is how ready everyone is to totally buy in the second the Canadiens win two in a row.
Now look, Carey Price was phenomenal in the two games he’s played since coming back from injury, stopping 73 of 74 shots against. Sure, you say, “Boy, doesn’t 74 shots against in two games, both of which ended in regulation, seem like a lot?” And yeah you aren’t wrong. Montreal is still playing badly. But these are by far his two best performances of the season and he might finally be healthy and all that.
Not saying he’s anything close to a .986 goalie the rest of the season, obviously, but if he’s Capital-C Capital-P Carey Price for any sort of decent stretch, all those concerns about where the Habs are at as a franchise are probably going to go away. All the problems that justifiably led to those concerns will still be there, but hell, if the Habs buy their own BS over that MVP season Price had a few years ago while the rest of the team was crap, what’s to say they don’t do that again if Price once again goes into beast mode?
That’s especially true because, hey look, they’re still a great possession team — thanks, Claude! — and their division has only two good teams in it. (We’ll get to that in a second.)
No matter what you think of this Montreal team, you have to understand it can just start winning a ton of 2-1 and 3-2 games if Price keeps it up. So while I think it’s a bit overdone for him to come back from injury, have two incredible games, and get the media to start hyping this team as having turned some sort of corner, also, this is a team that can absolutely do some damage the rest of the way.
4. That dog don’t hunt
Two things going on in Toronto simultaneously: Mitch Marner is in a scoring slump, and Willy Nylander is… also in a scoring slump.
Which, hey, it happens. Especially for second-year guys. Both slumps are somewhat easy to explain: Check their shooting percentages.
So now despite the fact that they’re playing well (generally speaking) and just not scoring, there’s more criticism of their defensive play.
But now there are these conspiracy theories floating around that the Leafs somehow are putting them in a position to fail, insofar as keeping their stats down. Preposterous idea, and if this were happening in, say, Minnesota or St. Louis, where the media guys aren’t lunatics, it wouldn’t even be a discussion point. They’d see their shooting percentages and underlyings and say, “Well, that’s life sometimes.” There would be no further discussion.
It obviously behooves the Leafs in a cap league to keep prices down where they can, but the idea that they’d set their really good young guys up to fail is silly on its face. Because what’s Mike Babcock saying to them? “I want you guys to go out there and shoot 6 and 4 percent?” C’mon man.
3. The middling Metro teams
Pertinent to the things about the Penguins and Habs earlier, that thing we all started to worry about happening when the league switched back to a divisional playoff format is starting to look pretty likely.
A quick look at the standings will show you that third-in-the-Atlantic Detroit is currently sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference, putting them behind a whopping SIX of the Metro’s eight teams. Only Carolina and Philly are worse, and they’re both within two points of the Wings.
So it’s really starting to look like a team that is much better than Detroit is going to get bumped out of the playoffs for the rotten Red Wings, whose point total would have also been tied for 10th in the West ahead of Tuesday night’s games.
It’s very idiotic. And that’s very NHL.
2. Alex DeBrincat
Nice little four-point night for Alex DeBrincat on Monday. That bumped him up to second on his team in scoring, behind only Patrick Kane. He’s also sitting on 7-3-10 in his last 10 games. Seems like he’s figured things out after a slow start.
And yeah, a lot of where he sits on the team scoring chart is because like three-quarters of the guys on Chicago’s roster are on scoring slumps that were in some way predictable, to varying degrees.
And the guy he’s played with more than anyone else this season? Patrick Sharp! Patrick Sharp is terrible!
What a great story this kid is. Teammates with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome and because he’s (generously) listed at 5-foot-7, all the scoring he did in junior was said to be because, well, who couldn’t score with those two? Then McDavid goes to the NHL and it was, well, who couldn’t score with Strome. Then Strome goes to the NHL for a little while, misses a bunch of time, and DeBrincat keeps scoring, and it’s well, he’s short!
This kid was a second-round pick who scored 332 points in junior in just 191 games. He’s 45th in OHL scoring all-time and dropped to the second round of the draft, where Chicago stole him, because of his size and that’s it.
How many times, do you think, are we gonna hear about short guys with elite scoring stats, “Ah, but can he do it at the next level?” And how many times are the Marners and Gaudreaus of the world gonna prove they shouldn’t have been so poorly regarded?
1. The Jets again
Listen I don’t want to scare anyone too much here, but the Jets only have six regulation losses so far this season. They’ve also won seven of their last nine games. They have a very solid plus-15 goal diference. They’re talented at every position. They’re so nice. I love them.
(Not ranked this week: That Ryan Kesler video.
Let’s leave aside the societal climate into which the Naked Ryan Kesler video was released for a second. Tough to do that, but let’s try.
What a dumb video anyway. Like, it felt a lot like one of those SNL sketches where they put someone in flesh-colored underwear and everyone’s saying like “This guy is crazy ha ha ha” but nothing particularly funny or interesting happens. This describes approximately 1 in every 6 SNL sketches.
Guys being naked, for comedy, pretty much stopped when the last Jackass movie came out. Maybe Borat. I don’t remember which came out more recently and I won’t look it up, but I think the answer is Jackass 3. Borat was like, late 2006 maybe?
Anyway, point is, not a funny video in concept or execution, and any time any NHL team tries to be “funny” on social media it usually isn’t funny. The Kings’ and Golden Knights’ twitter accounts aren’t good. The only people who think they are read the Chive. Whatever.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)