The NHL’s Biggest Storylines Thus Far: A Divisional Breakdown

At the approximate halfway point of this 56-game NHL regular season, let’s take a look at the biggest storylines that have taken shape in each division:



Team to watch: New York Islanders

Despite how contested this division is, one team is making the case that they are a cut above the rest. The New York Islanders are on an absolute tear right now, having won nine games in a row as of March 14. In a division as competitive as the east, a win streak of this magnitude is simply staggering. Head Coach Barry Trotz is in his third season on Long Island, and his signature system of disciplined team defense is giving opposing teams fits. His array of hardworking veterans are leading the league with only 2.18 goals against per game — if you fall behind to this team, good luck. And oh yeah, they’ve got this guy named Matt Barzal who is pretty good, too. It will be unlikely that we see a goal as flat-out filthy as the one he scored against Buffalo on March 6, as he sent a defenseman flying before embarrassing the goalie with a through the legs dangle.


Biggest Surprise: Buffalo Sabres

I know. How could the Sabres being arguably the worst team in the league like they always are be a surprise? How could complete underachievement come as a shock when it happens every single year? These Sabres feel like the same old Sabres who have written the manual on how to be a dysfunctional franchise for the past decade at least, but hear me out. Going into this season, people were pretty excited in Buffalo, and not just because of the Bills. A young team with some talented pieces added former Hart winner Taylor Hall and veteran center Eric Staal. Now, they are dead last in the division, with superstar Jack Eichel out “for the foreseeable future” with trade rumors swirling all around him. Keep an eye on Eichel — for all we know, he could be donning a different sweater after the deadline.



Team to Watch: Carolina Hurricanes

Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning look like they could easily repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. But how about those gritty, pesky Carolina Hurricanes? They have won eight in a row and feature a lineup that has skill, leadership and depth across the board. The likes of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov are continuing to produce, with veterans Jordan Staal and Vincent Trochek making important offensive contributions as well. But the biggest boost to the lineup this season has been the outstanding play of Dougie Hamilton, who has posted 21 points through 27 games from the blueline after missing much of last year due to injury. Like the Islanders, this team is a cohesive unit that nobody in the division wants to face right now.

Biggest Surprise: Florida Panthers

How about the other hockey team from Florida? The Panthers have made a ton of noise thus far during year two under three-time cup winning head coach Joel Quennville. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov continue to fly under the radar as some of the most underrated superstars in the league, while Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has posted a record of 11-2-2 and is reminding the league of what he’s capable of between the pipes. This team is balanced on the backend and up front and are looking to build more momentum down the stretch after missing the playoffs a year ago.



Team to Watch: Vegas Golden Knights

Just imagine being a Knights fan. No pain, no years and years of suffering — your team has literally been a Stanley Cup contender its entire existence. This team is as deep from top to bottom as we have seen any team be in a long time. Marc-Andre Fleury is still a monster in net, with a goals against average of 1.81. Mark Stone leads the team with 31 points as the epitome of a great two-way player and is aided upfront by the likes of Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. On the blue line, the team acquired former Blues captain and Stanley Cup winner Alex Pietrangelo, who is only bolstering a talented group that features Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez. This team is scary and could easily win it all if they get hot at the right time.

Biggest Surprise: Minnesota Wild

Did anyone see this coming? The Wild are shocking the NHL right now with the roll they have been on, and new names are garnering the spotlight for a team most people completely overlooked heading into the season. Russian rookie Kirill “The Thrill” Kaprizov is completely running away with the Calder Trophy race. He’s leading his team with 24 points and is the best young offensive talent the franchise has had since their early days with Marian Gaborik. Kaapo Kahkonen has been extremely effective in goal, posting a record of 11-4 so far with a save percentage of .922. Will the Wild be able to continue this success? Only time will tell.



Team to Watch: Toronto Maple Leafs

Here is a question a lot of hockey fans are wondering right now: are the Leafs for real? A team that has underachieved for years now has looked like a force at times this season in a Canadian division that has several competitive teams. Auston Matthews simply cannot stop scoring goals, leading the league with 21. Mitch Marner and John Tavares continue to produce, and the offseason addition of Jumbo Joe Thorton seems to have been a good one. Still, questions remain about the consistency of this team, and it will be interesting to see whether the Leafs can build on this solid start and assert themselves as cup contenders for the first time in a long time.

Biggest Surprise: Montreal Canadiens

This team is an interesting one. On the one hand, they’ve seen some of their key players take huge steps in their game. Offseason addition Tyler Toffoli was shot out of a cannon to start the season and is still towards the top of the league in goals. Jeff Petry has elevated his game from being an important veteran contributor to being a legit Norris Trophy candidate. He is almost averaging a point per game on defense while posting a plus fourteen rating thus far. However, inconsistent play and inconsistent goaltending from Carey Price led to the decision to fire Claude Julien after five years. He is now replaced by Dominique Ducharme, who is looking to right the ship and make a playoff push. It will be interesting to see where this team ends up as the season progresses.