By Ryan Black, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
We’re roughly at the quarter-point of the NHL season, and the difference between contenders and pretenders is just as murky as it was before the year even started. Just five points separate the first-place team in the league, the Nashville Predators, from 10th — the Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche, and Dallas Stars all have 24 points.
From there down, the rest of the league is all within seven points of each other, except for the Los Angeles Kings, wallowing in a clear last with their 6-12-1 record.
Some surprising names join them towards the bottom of the standings, though. The Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues are both teams that were expected to be quite good but are instead mired in mediocrity to start the season. The two have played a couple of games less than the rest of the league, however, and given the jumble throughout the league, a two-game winning streak will easily vault them into the middle of their respective divisions.
The scoring race is just as baffling, with 53 players currently at or above a point-per-game pace (20 finished last season with that output, up from just seven in 2016-17). Whether scoring remains high, and the teams remain close, will depend heavily on who stays healthy enough to score the goals and win the games.
We’ve seen a lot of hurt: It’s not quite the scratch-list All-Star teams we saw during the bizarre 2014 mumps outbreak, but if you take a look around the league right now you’ll see some serious injury lists. Names like Sidney Crosby, T.J. Oshie, Mats Zuccarello, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Braden Holtby, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara all appeared as day-to-day scratches this week. The injured reserve lists are also stocked, with P.K. Subban, Viktor Arvidsson, Charlie McAvoy, Antti Raanta, Cam Fowler, John Klingberg and Andrei Vasilevskiy all being designated for IR in November, joining a league-wide list that already included guys like Jonathan Quick, Auston Matthews, and Corey Perry.
Some teams have managed to work their way through the season so far relatively unscathed. The Buffalo Sabres might attribute their surprising 12-6-2 start to good health, having not yet lost any member of their opening night roster. The Predators, despite the losses of aforementioned Subban and Arvidsson and some time missed by starting goalie Pekka Rinne, seem just too deep to skip a beat at all. The Anaheim Ducks, meanwhile, have been ravaged, and their poor record reflects a team that’s consistently icing a patchwork defense of youngsters and journeymen.
The trading has begun: A couple of small-but-not-minor trades took place this week with some decent players involved. The two teams with the worst records in the league, the Penguins and Kings, looked for a little spark by swapping a pair of pretty good wingers. A good two-way player, 30-year-old Carl Hagelin will now take his services — and the last year of his contract — out to LA. 2012 first rounder Tanner Pearson had showed a lot of promise after back-to-back 40 point seasons, but the young left wing notched just one assist for the Kings this season and will now try to write the ship in Pittsburgh. Both have played two games without recording a point for their new squads.
Elsewhere, the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers traded struggling Ryans this week. Both Ryan Spooner and Ryan Strome have now played with three different NHL teams since being drafted in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Strome, now a Ranger, was once picked in the Top 5 by the New York Islanders, while Spooner, now an Oiler, first made a name for himself as a member of the Bruins. Both had just one goal and one assist when their teams decided to make the switch.
Brad Marchand did another thing: And, par for the course, it wasn’t a particularly smart thing. The Boston Bruins firebrand was perhaps unfairly penalized on Friday for planting a light tap on Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop’s leg.
But Marchand, upset with the call, took things a step further. Evoking a famous moment from former Vancouver Canucks (and later Flyers) coach Roger Nielson, Marchand proceeded to drop a towel on his stick in the penalty box and wave a “white flag” to the officials. That earned him an additional 10-minute misconduct, and he added another minor penalty in the third period for 14 penalty minutes on the game.
In all, Marchand is now by far the league leader in penalty minutes with 66 — no one else even has 50. Despite his extended penalty box stays, he’s got 21 points in 20 games, but the Bruins may have been able to use his offensive prowess for some of the 14 minutes he spent sitting down. They lost to the Stars 1-0 in overtime.