NHL: 3 biggest surprises at the halfway mark

We are halfway through the 2019-20 NHL season and teams are starting to separate. Here are the three biggest surprises and at the midway mark.

Halfway through the NHL season is when pretenders start to fall and contenders find their stride. We are at the point where it is no longer “too early” and can start judging teams’ performances with plenty of sample size.

What makes a team a “surprise” is that they are overachieving the expectations put on them at the beginning of the season. Here are the three biggest ones at the midway mark of the 2019-2020 season.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins built a dynasty in the 2010s, but after trading Phil Kessel away and getting hit with so many injuries to their key players, it seemed like this was the season that they were going to take a step back. However, whenever a star player went down, there was always someone who rose to the occasion and kept the team going. This Penguins’ season has been a fantastic display of their depth and how clutch their players can be.

When Sidney Crosby went down, Evgeni Malkin took hold of the reins while Kris Letang continues to play as if he were ten years younger. Letang is fifth among NHL defensemen in ice-time averaging over 25 minutes a night.

The Penguins are second in the Metropolitan Division and 7-2-1 in their last ten games, all without Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Nick Bjugstad, or Justin Schultz. Their goaltender Tristian Jarry has been great for them and the success the team is having despite all their crippling injuries is a massive surprise.

2. Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks are filled with young, up and coming talent. However, no one expected them to be in the playoff hunt as they seemed to still be in the thick of things with their rebuild. The impact their young stars are having on the league has been bigger than anticipated and the emergence of Quinn Hughes has sped things up a notch.

Jacob Markstrom is having the best season of his career and has earned the first NHL All-Star invitation of his career. Elias Pettersson is building off his Calder Trophy season and the addition of J.T. Miller has solidified their top six. The fact that this team is a legitimate playoff contender just a few years into their rebuild is quite the surprise.

3. Washington Capitals

While the Washington Capitals have a very strong team and arguably the greatest goalscorer in the history of the NHL, no one expected them to be the best team in the league. Their 29-9-5 record is the best and they were the first team in the league to reach 60 points.

Next: 2010s NHL All-Decade Roster

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John Carlson is having a historic season and Alex Ovechkin is just 18 goals shy of becoming the first-ever Russian-born player to reach 700 NHL goals. Jacob Vrana has emerged as a top player on the Capitals and both Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov have been strong in net. This team is clicking on all cylinders and are a legitimate threat for their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.