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Analyzing which North Division teams are contenders, pretenders

We are now formally two months into the truncated 2020-21 NHL season. Most teams have performed 25 to 30 video games and we are beginning to get a way of which teams look actual, which teams have some points, and which teams will doubtless discover themselves on the skin wanting in when the season ends.

With that in thought, let’s check out the North Division to see the place every staff ranks thus far this season.


Toronto Maple Leafs.

The sole staff within the North Division that appears like a real contender, is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This staff can rating, everyone knows that. The Leafs rank second in objectives per sport and energy play proportion. The largest distinction from the final season is they will defend as nicely. The Maple Leafs are sixth in goals-against, averaging 2.50 per sport, an enormous enhancement from the final season the place they ranked twenty-sixth permitting 3.17 per sport.

It’s not simply goaltending bailing them out, both. Thanks to the addition of T.J. Brodie, the development of Justin Holl, and a total dedication to raised staff defense, Toronto has turned out to be one of the well-rounded teams within the NHL.

Defending in opposition to opposition cycle performance has been a vital weak spot of the Maple Leafs the previous few seasons the place they routinely ranked bottom-five within the NHL in cycle possibilities and objectives in opposition.

This season, they sit center of the pack, which is simply wonderful when you think about how harmful is to an offensive staff. The Maple Leafs have 5 gamers with not less than 20 factors this season. Auston Matthews leads the league in objectives with 21, 4 greater than anybody else.

Leaf’s followers are feeling fairly good about this staff, however, everyone knows how their season will finally be judged. Can Toronto win a playoff spherical for the primary time within the salary-cap period? If so, can they knock off a prime staff from one other division ought they make it that far? For now, it seems as if the Maple Leafs are a step above everybody else in their division and that makes them a real contender.


Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets sit second within the North in factors proportion and can end their three-game set with the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight on Hockey Night in Canada.

Winnipeg cut up the primary two video games with the division-leading Maple Leafs because of unimaginable performances by Connor Hellebuyck, and the Jets’ top-six ahead group is pretty much as good as any staff within the NHL. Mark Scheifele ranks sixth in factors, plus Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor are each prime 20 in objectives.

Ehlers doesn’t get numerous rewards outdoors of Winnipeg, however, he is, without doubt, one of the most dynamic offensive gamers within the league. Ehlers ranks among the many league leaders in several key offensive classes that spotlight his puck-moving and scoring capacity.

Combine the offensive firepower the Jets possess with a reigning Vezina trophy winner on the internet and you’ve got a staff able to beat anybody on any given nighttime. Hellebuyck has been dialed on this week in opposition to the Maple Leafs, making a month’s price of highlight-reel saves within the span of two video games.

As has been the case lately, the Jets’ incapability to restrict high-quality pictures in opposition holds them again as they rely far too usually on Hellebuyck to bail them out. More usually than not, he does. However, as we noticed on Thursday, ultimately prime teams will break through.

At even-strength, the Jets rank twenty-fourth in anticipated objectives in opposition to, twenty-fifth limiting pictures from the slot, twenty seventh at limiting passes into the slot, and twenty-fifth at stopping rush scoring possibilities. That’s numerous weight to place in your goaltending. As good as Hellebuyck is, he can’t shut down prime teams sport after sport.

Until the Jets can higher restrict the variety of harmful possibilities they permit, there will probably be query marks as to whether or not they are a legit contender to threaten within the post-season.

Montreal Canadiens:

Inconsistency is, without doubt, one of the few constants with this Montreal Canadiens staff.

A report of 7-1-2 of their first 10 video games of the season, 2-5-3 of their subsequent ten video games, and 3-1-2 since.

The Canadiens don’t have any obtrusive points that may forestall them from being thought-about a real risk to not solely make the playoffs, however, to do some injury as soon as there. Montreal is within the prime 10 in objectives for and in opposition to. Their energy play has come around since Dominique Ducharme and Alex Burrows changed Claude Julien and Kirk Muller behind the bench. The penalty kill hasn’t been nice this season, however, nonetheless ranks center of the pack. At five-on-five, Montreal is, without a doubt, one of the finest teams in the NHL.

What prevents the Canadiens from being listed as a real contender properly now’s that it’s troublesome to inform which staff goes to point out up on a given night time.

At their finest, the Canadiens are a fast-paced staff able to turn the puck up ice shortly and utilize its pace to create offense. Montreal is aggressive in its pursuit to get the puck after they don’t have it and the Canadiens don’t enable an excessive variety of harmful pictures in opposition to it.

At their worst, they are turnover-prone and have suffered from bouts of inconsistent play from their goaltending, particularly Carey Price. That stated, for the reason that teaching change, Price has posted a 3-1-1 report with a 1.78 GAA and .935 save proportion. The Canadiens look extra just like the staff we noticed at first of the season since Ducharme took over behind the bench and Price is wanting like his outdated self once more, so we’ll lean extra in direction of a contender than a pretender, however, might want to see this staff play on the stage it’s able to go ahead earlier than bumping them as much as the identical class because the division-leading Maple Leafs.

Edmonton Oilers:

Any staff with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl must be revered and the Oilers are incomes respect with their play thus far this season. An 18-11-0 report is nice for third in factors proportion within the North and thirteenth total.

McDavid and Draisaitl are the top-two scorers within the league and Mike Smith is having a terrific season in aim. Darnell Nurse is having a breakout for 12 months and Jesse Puljujarvi is offering secondary scoring. Putting the puck within the internet isn’t an issue for the Oilers, who rank fourth in goals-per-game and seventh in energy play proportion.

As talked about, Smith has been strong on the internet – Mikko Koskinen has been OK. Defensively, the Oilers have been higher than common this season however have struggled to restrict opposition scoring possibilities when the opposite staff begins whipping the puck around their finish. The Oilers enable a median of seven.3 cycle scoring possibilities in opposition to at even power, which ranks the twenty-seventh total.

Thankfully for Edmonton, its goaltending has been sturdy and sufficient this season to mask a few of their defensive points but when Smith’s play dips, the Oilers’ incapability to stop possibilities whereas defending in-zone might turn out to be an issue.

The good far outweighs the unhealthy so far of the season and the Oilers look nearer to being an authentic risk to contend for the highest spot within the division than not. However, Edmonton had an opportunity to show it belongs in the identical dialog as the highest staff, however, faltered in its latest three-game set in opposition to Toronto, shedding all three. Not solely did they lose these video games, however, their largest stars had been additionally shut down in an approach we haven’t seen all season.

Some holes can nonetheless be poked on this staff and for that cause, the Edmonton Oilers sit within the ‘Might be Real’ class.

Calgary Flames

The Flames acquired new head coach Darryl Sutter a win in his first sport behind the bench Thursday night time. With the win, the Flames pulled to .500 in factors proportion with a report of 12-12-3.

When you have a look at how this staff has carried out offensively, defensively, and in aim, you see one of the common teams within the NHL. Not nice, not horrible, however fairly near the center throughout the board. The Flames rank twenty-third in objectives and seventeenth in objectives in opposition to per sport. Their energy play ranks 18th and the penalty kill ranks 14th.

When isolating goaltending from staff defense to see if Calgary’s goalies are costing or saving the staff objectives, the Flames rank 18th in goaltending efficiency. So, the excellent news is that on the floor there are no obtrusive points however at a similar time, the Flames don’t appear to have any explicit strengths they will depend on.

With the commerce deadline approaching, will probably be attention-grabbing to see which route common supervisor Brad Treliving chooses to go. Calgary is skinny on proper shot forwards and with Elias Lindholm cantering the second line, the Flames at the moment have Dillon Dube and Brett Ritchie at the proper win of their prime six ahead group. Adding a confirmed scorer to play on the fitting facet within the prime six would assist a staff that’s bottom-10 in aim scoring and add stability to their line-up.

Defensively, the Flames rank twenty-fourth in anticipated objectives in opposition to so that they are benefitting when it comes to precise goals-against common from the sturdy play of Jacob Markstrom. Calgary offers up quite a bit off-the-rush and doesn’t do a very good job of defending the blue line in opposition to oncoming assaults.

Perhaps this will probably be addressed with Sutter now behind the bench. As it stands, the Flames have been a decidedly common staff this season. If Calgary can get extra constant scoring and play a bit tighter defensively, particularly off-the-rush, it has an honest shot at making the playoffs. If not, odds are good that the Flames will end on the skin wanting in.


Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks’ level complete is a bit deceiving as they’ve performed 4 extra video games than the staff they are chasing for the fourth and last playoff spot within the North, the Montreal Canadiens.

Vancouver has had an up-and-down season. Four straight wins to finish January and three blowout losses within the first week of February. A few latest wins in opposition to the high-flying Maple Leafs, adopted by a cut-up in opposition to the Canadiens.

Thatcher Demko has been excellent this season, saving the Canucks virtually 10 objectives above anticipated which ranks amongst the highest goalies within the league.

As nice as it’s to see Demko on this listing, it’s a little bit of an issue that he’s needed to save his staff so many objectives this season. The Canucks are a nightmare defensively rating useless final in anticipated objectives in opposition to per sport (3.43). The one space the Canucks get beat worse than any staff is off the frenzy. Vancouver permits a median of seven.2 scoring possibilities off the frenzy per sport, essentially the most within the NHL.

Quinn Hughes has performed a majority of his even-strength minutes with Jordie Benn and Travis Hamonic, two defencemen who would doubtless not be in a contending staff’s top-four. Nate Schmidt, Alex Edler, and Tyler Myers haven’t supplied sufficient stability on the again finish for this staff to restrict possibilities and ease the workload on its goaltenders.

The Canucks will battle to make the playoffs no matter what division they play in with their present defense corps and for that cause, they are unlikely to make the playoffs.

Ottawa Senators:

This season was by no means about making the playoffs for the Ottawa Senators a lot because it was about growing their younger gamers. The Senators’ beginning of the season had many questioning not whether or not they would end final however by how a lot. Well, the Sens have been a lot better over the previous few weeks and have pulled themselves out of final place total.

The Senators’ top-five scorers are all below 25 years outdated, so the long run is shiny. Brady Tkachuk leads the staff lead in objectives with 10 and is without doubt one of the finest net-front gamers within the NHL. Tkachuk has 45 pictures from the internal slot, which ranks second within the NHL. Drake Batherson is having a breakout season and Tim Stutzle has had moments of brilliance this season as nicely.

The Senators would doubtless have a couple of extra wins this season if their goaltending was carried out even at a median stage. Matt Murray has been streaky at finest, disappointing at worst, rating among the many worst goalies within the league this season in objectives saved above anticipated.

Ottawa’s goaltending has allowed one goal-per-game greater than anticipated relative to the staff’s anticipated goals-against common – a mirrored image of staff defense based mostly on the standard and amount of pictures allowed. That ranks final within the NHL by far. The Sharks rank thirtieth at 0.54.

The Senators are a hard-working staff however are nonetheless not less than a few years away from being a critical contender.

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