Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s brand new daily bulletin, covering all the latest news in the NHL and providing unique analysis and insight while highlighting the content you need in your lives.
We’re just under a week into the 2020-21 NHL Season and there’s already been plenty to digest with a shortened 56-game season placing extra importance on every single contest thus far, resulting in elite goaltending, sublime plays and lots and lots of goals. We’ve already taken a look at some of the early standout performers here at Inside The Box, but today we’re going for a different angle…
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As we’ve already mentioned, there is less room for error in what is a sprint of a 56-game season, meaning that even losses in the first week of the year could prove costly down the road when it comes down to the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With teams playing each opponent in their Division up to 10 times this season too, that just puts further onus on each single game and it also places further emphasis on getting off to a fast start because, let’s face it, a sluggish or bad start in a 56-game season could prove all so costly.
So, on that note, Inside The Box is going to look at the teams who will be pretty happy with their start to the 2020-21 NHL season, and the teams that will be getting ready to push the panic button if they don’t start seeing an improvement soon. Let’s dive right in…
Ranking the happy and not so happy NHL teams a week into 2020-21
Vegas Golden Knights – Boasting a perfect 3-0-0 record to start the year after beating the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, the Vegas Golden Knights are rolling right now and, you want to know the good news? Or the scary news if you are the rest of the NHL? They haven’t played perfect hockey yet and have yet to play well for a whole game.
They’ve played their best hockey in the third period of games, coming on strong late after waning early against both the Anaheim Ducks and the Coyotes, and the hallmark of a very good team is being able to finish and grind through even when you aren’t at your best.
With elite defenseman and blockbuster offseason addition Alex Pietrangelo still finding his feet with the team, coupled with the bottom-six forward unit needing to wake up and provide secondary scoring, there is still another level or two for the Vegas Golden Knights to reach and if they can continue to find ways to win in the meantime, then they will be the juggernaut we all thought they would be this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning – They’ve only played two games so far but it has been a very impressive start to the year for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are coping well without superstar forward Nikita Kucherov. Again, it is a very small sample size and they’ve only had to play the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks so far, who have looked horrendous, but you can only play what is put out in-front of you and the Lightning have taken care of their business with ease.
Most importantly, though, has been the performance of Captain Steven Stamkos, who has looked back to his best after undergoing a second successful core surgery during the offseason. It looks as though the repairs have worked with the forward putting up five points (2 G, 3 A) in two games and basically just being vintage Steven Stamkos. If he can keep this hot start up then the Tampa Bay Lightning should continue to roll as we get deeper into the season.
Toronto Maple Leafs – They have a loss to the Ottawa Senators on their resume and they haven’t always looked that convincing, but the Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit atop what is a very competitive and very entertaining North Division and they have the talent to stay there, with Mitch Marner and John Tavares both off to a hot start with six points each.
There’s goals in this Maple Leafs team, as we were all well aware of before the season started, but they have also allowed 12 goals against and their defense and inconsistent goaltending has been what has held them back in previous years, so this team must put that right if they are to win the North and then go on a deep postseason run. Wayne Simmonds and T.J. Brodie gives them a tough underbelly and they have the firepower to outscore any team, but that won’t be enough if they can’t keep the puck out of their net.
Montreal Canadiens – It is early but I am willing to put money on the Montreal Canadiens winning the North Division, I really am. They’ve won two games and haven’t lost in regulation yet, dropping a close one to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Overtime. But they’ve crushed the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 and outplayed them again on Monday night, and I just like the look of this team.
They are big, they are powerful, they are fast, they are deep in all areas and they can pack an offensive punch, while the tandem of Carey Price and Jake Allen between the pipes should carry them a long way in the postseason. With rookie defenseman Alexander Romanov looking a real stud on the backend too, scoring his first NHL goal on Monday, expect this to be just the start for the Montreal Canadiens.
Calgary Flames – Every game really does count in a 56-game schedule and the Calgary Flames are keeping pace with the two big guns in the North Division in the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. They’ve completey dominated the Vancouver Canucks in two games and just lost to the Winnipeg Jets in OT, while having an elite netminder in Jacob Markstrom makes all the difference. Good start so far for this Flames team in a division that will go down to the wire.
St. Louis Blues – Despite being blown out in a humiliating 8-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the St. Louis Blues did beat the juggernaut that is the Avs on Opening Night and they rebounded nicely to beat the San Jose Sharks on Monday with offseason addition Mike Hoffman scoring his first goal for the team. They are the third-best team in the West Division and, despite that one blowout, they’ve backed that up so far in what is a very small sample size.
Washington Capitals – Of course, we aren’t going to list every team and, in truth, after two or three games, most franchises will be feeling roughly the same in any case, but the final spot in our “Happy Teams” goes to the Washington Capitals who have enjoyed a solid start to life under new Head Coach Peter Laviolette. They did drop a tough one to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Shootout on Sunday but, other than that, they’ve had a pretty decent start and that could prove crucial in what is an incredibly stacked East Division.
Dallas Stars – Okay, so you might be thinking why we have included the Dallas Stars given that they haven’t played a game yet this year, but that’s exactly why. After being hit with a COVID-19 outbreak during Training Camp, the Stars had their season delayed and they won’t actually play their first game until Friday when they take on the Nashville Predators. It must be frustrating to see every other team playing games and you not being able to, plus you wonder what state Dallas will be in when they do take the ice given that they are down a couple of key players in goalie Ben Bishop and center Tyler Seguin already.
Chicago Blackhawks – Well, we had an idea it was going to be bad for the Chicago Blackhawks when General Manager Stan Bowman announced during the offseason that this franchise was pulling the trigger on a rebuild, but we didn’t know it was going to be this bad. They were dominated in their opening two games of the year by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and then beat up by the Florida Panthers on Sunday who were playing in their season debut. With a bunch of career backups between the pipes, no Jonathan Toews and a distinct lack of talent all over the ice outside of Patrick Kane and a couple of others, this bad start could just be the sign of things to come. Gulp.
Edmonton Oilers / Vancouver Canucks – We are putting the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks together because they are both in the North Division and both were expected to be firmly in postseason contention. Now, of course, it is incredibly early but both teams look incredibly flawed early on and it is worrying that the Oilers stink at five-on-five having given up 11 goals and 109 shots, while Vancouver’s bright young star in Elias Pettersson has more penalties (2) than he does points (1). Again, it is very early days but, in a short season, there isn’t much room for error and both these teams will need to right the ship and quick if they are to keep pace in an incredibly competitive North Division.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins recorded their first win of the season in the Shootout against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, but that was merely putting lipstick on a pig. Tristan Jarry has looked awful between the pipes to start the year and this defense just doesn’t look up to snuff in what is a very loaded and very talented East Division.
They were outclassed by the Philadelphia Flyers and, oh, to make matters worse, Evgeni Malkin hasn’t recorded a point in three games. If this start is anything to go by then this could be the year that the Pittsburgh Penguins miss the postseason because, aside from Sidney Crosby, there isn’t a lot of talent on this roster.