It’s no surprise that the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division after 29 games of the 2018-19 season. It’s also no big surprise that the Tampa Bay Lightning are in first place in the Atlantic Division and have the best record in the NHL (24-7-1) after their first 32 games. What is surprising is the play of some of the NHL’s best…and worst.
Buffalo Wing The turnaround of the Buffalo Sabres, once the laughingstock of the NHL, has been somewhat surprising this season. The Sabres are 17-9-4 and in third place in the Atlantic Division. Center Jack Eichel gets a lot of attention as Buffalo’s leading point scorer, but the surprise is LW Jeff Skinner. The nine-year NHL veteran has crafted a solid through a quiet career in which he has averaged 28 goals per season.
After eight years in Carolina, Skinner is keeping pace with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine, and Nathan MacKinnon for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Skinner has 20 goals thus far, just two behind Ovechkin who leads the league.
Montreal Max In June, Montreal traded Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for C Max Domi. To say the Canadiens got the better end of the deal is an understatement. Domi leads the Habs in goals (14), assists (17), and points (31). Montreal is fifth in the Atlantic Division just a single point behind fourth-place Boston, and three points behind third-place Buffalo.
While Domi has shined in Montreal, Galchenyuk…not so much. In 21 games this season, the 24-year-old center has scored just three goals and has 11 points. Arizona checks in at 13-13-2 and is one of the poorer teams in the NHL. Domi will likely be an All-Star.
King Nothing The Kings’ Jeff Carter was injured most of last season and played just 27 games. In his previous five seasons in Los Angeles, Carter averaged 27 goals per year. A healthy Carter in 2018-19 was supposed to be the reason why the Kings would contend for another playoff berth and a possible Western Conference title. Not happening.
Carter has a whopping six goals and nine assists through 31 games. Only two of those goals have come at even strength and the 0.29 points per game is the lowest such average of his career. Worse yet, the Kings are one of the worst teams in the NHL. After those 31 games, L.A. is 11-19-1 for 23 points, which is tied with Chicago for the NHL’s worst.
Strait Blue Jacket Since joining the Columbus Blue Jackets, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has the NHL’s second-best save percentage (.921) and two Vezina Trophies, you know the one given annually to the league’s best goalie. It is a surprise then that after playing in 21 games, Bobrovsky is just 11-10 with a save percentage of .898.
In his last outing on Dec. 8, Bobrovsky gave up three goals on just 13 shots in the first period of a 4-0 loss to Washington. Bobrovsky was pulled after that awful first period. Columbus is still in good standing and is a likely playoff team, but they could much better if Bobrovsky would play to his potential.