The NHL's Biggest Impact Player in the Final Month of the Season
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
The NHL’s 2018-19 regular season has a little less than one month remaining before the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are still some playoff spots to be worked out, seeding as well. There is plenty of important hockey left to play. Which players will have the biggest impact over this final month of the season?
Arizona G Darcy Kuemper The Coyotes were left for dead earlier this season, but Rick Tocchet has made something out of nothing and Arizona still has a shot at the postseason. The biggest reason why is Kuemper who took over in between the pipes back in December. In his last 18 appearances, Kuemper is 12-5-1 with a .927 save percentage. He will need to continue his hot streak if the Coyotes are to make the playoffs.
Kuemper’s acquisition might be one of the best deals in recent history. Arizona acquired their goaltender at last year’s trade deadline for Tobias Rieder, a 26-year-old German center. Now in Edmonton, Rieder has played 56 games this season and has yet to score a goal.
The Kid Yeah, it’s hard to leave Sidney Crosby off this list. For Pittsburgh to have any realistic shot at a Stanley Cup, Crosby will simply have to be himself. No other player in the league has more points (46) at full strength than Crosby and no team relies on its star more than the Penguins do.
When he is on the ice, Pittsburgh is pretty good. Consider the 1,050 minutes of 5-on-5 Crosby has played. The Penguins are up 75-35 on the scoreboard. When Crosby is off the ice, the story is much different. In 2,370 minutes off the ice, Pittsburgh is down 100-87. In his last 16 games, Crosby has 10 goals and 19 assists. It’s no surprise that the Penguins are 10-3-3 in those games. The Kid will have to put the Penguins on his back if they are to make their way through the postseason.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews The Maple Leafs have lost five of their last eight and have failed to take advantage in the race for home playoff ice. Matthews needs to take over. With a healthier blue line – Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are back – Matthews (35 goals, 69 points) must make Mitch Marner (25 goals, 90 points) and John Tavares (45 goals, 86 points) even better.
Aho! Carolina Makes the Playoffs The Carolina Hurricanes currently hold the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 wild card. The impact of leading scorer Sebastian Aho is the reason. The 21-year-old leads the ‘Canes with 30 goals and 80 points while skating roughly 20 minutes per night. More importantly, is Aho’s overall impact on Carolina. With their star on the ice, the Hurricanes average 2.4 more goals per 60 minutes than when Aho is not on the ice. Needless to say, Aho must continue to lead Carolina to the postseason.
Captain Joe Over the last month, San Jose captain Joe Pavelski has led the Sharks in goals and points as his team chases the Calgary Flames for the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. With 37 goals, Pavelski might hit 40 for the first time since 2014. What would be even better would be Pavelski leading his team to capture the No.1 seed, which is possible over the regular season’s final month.