The NHL recently passed the quarter mark from another season played under the long shadow of the pandemic.
With that milestone in mind, The Canadian Press takes a look at some of the highlights – and lowlights – from the show’s first two months – and some of the things to look out for going forward.
Biggest surprise: team
The Calgary Flames were not expected to do much in 2021-22.
After a disappointing season in the only Northern Division, there were big questions, including the future of forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and what Darryl Sutter could get off the roster in the first full season of his second period. as head coach.
Well, the flames have silenced the skeptics in an impressive way.
READ MORE: Calgary Flames stay warm on the road with a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings
Checking the red hot flames of Calgary
Heading into Friday’s game roster, Calgary ranked first in the Pacific Division, was fourth overall and sat tied for fifth in points percentage.
The recipe? The Flames have done it with defense and with the goal.
Jacob Markstrom leads the NHL with five shutouts (backup Dan Vladar has two of his own) on a team that had surrendered 45 league-low goals in 23 games heading into the weekend.
Biggest surprise: gamer
There are several candidates, including Anaheim Ducks winger Troy Terry and Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri for their staggering point totals, but Calgary forward Andrew Mangiapane gets the nod.
The 25-year-old recorded a career-high 18 goals during last season’s 56-game campaign, and has already found the back of the net 16 times in 2021-22.
READ MORE: Mangiapane scores twice while Flames does it 4 in a row with a 5-3 win over the Devils
Mangiapane’s total was just four behind the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl, with 10 of his goals coming to the same strength.
While it’s still a long shot for Canada’s Olympic team in Beijing, if the NHL does indeed send its players to China, the Toronto native has at least included his name in the conversation.
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Biggest disappointment: team
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While the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators are among the clubs that have not come close to meeting expectations for a variety of reasons, the Vancouver Canucks’ performance, or lack thereof, is at stake. another level so far.
The team underwent a roster renewal over the summer, including acquiring defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes, but a group hoping to return to the playoffs have made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
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Before recent road wins over the Canadiens and Senators, the Canucks were on a disastrous 1-8-1 streak that raised serious questions about job security from both head coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning.
Questionable squad construction, poor top-to-bottom play and rumors of locker room conflicts have added fuel to the West Coast fire.
Benning is in his eighth season in charge and has made the playoffs twice.
Biggest disappointment: gamer
Canucks center Elias Pettersson, who racked up consecutive 66-point seasons to start his career with astonishing ability that wowed fans, has been a shell of himself.
The 23-year-old Swede has four goals and 12 points in 24 games. Before scoring a point in back-to-back games against Montreal and Ottawa, he had posted a lone assist in his previous nine outings.
Having signed a three-year deal worth $ 7.35 million annually after missing a portion of training camp, Pettersson has averaged roughly 13 minutes of ice time in four of Vancouver’s last five games, five minutes less than the average for his career.
The 2019 Calder Trophy winner as NHL Rookie of the Year hasn’t scored as hard this season.
The biggest story to see
The NHL’s decision on whether or not to participate in the Winter Olympics in Beijing will be a major focus between now and the January 10 deadline to withdraw without financial penalty.
Players have been adamant about their desire to compete on the world stage, but the league and NHLPA have an exclusion clause if COVID-19 conditions make participation “impractical or unsafe.”
READ MORE: NHL players will dress up at the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing
With a new variant of concern and a significant increase in the number of players entering the NHL virus protocol in recent weeks, the league tightened some of its rules ahead of the holiday season.
The NHL’s board of governors, historically tepid about the Olympics even under ideal conditions, will convene next week for its annual meeting in Florida. Whether or not the league goes to China will certainly be up for debate.
First contenders for awards
Oilers captain Connor McDavid already looks poised to win his second straight Hart Trophy, and third overall, as the NHL’s MVP.
The good start for Colorado defender Avalanche Cale Makar has him as the leader in the Norris Trophy race ahead of Adam Fox of the New York Rangers, who took last season’s honors as the best defender in the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy is in the driver’s seat for the Vezina Trophy, but there are plenty of quality candidates, including Igor Shesterkin (Rangers), Jacob Markstrom (Flames) and Jack Campbell (Toronto Maple Leafs).
As for Calder’s career, Red Wings forward Lucas Raymond has garnered a lot of attention, while defender Moritz Seider, his Detroit teammate, and Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras, too. are in the conversation.
© 2021 The Canadian Press