A few of the disappointing teams to start the season are starting to head in the right direction. The Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, and Pittsburgh Penguins have injected themselves back into the playoff conversation.
We can now take a look at the recent success of these franchises.
After a 9-10-1 (19 pts.) start, the Edmonton Oilers dismissed Todd McLellan and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock as their Head Coach. Since making that change, the Oilers are 9-2-2 and have vaulted themselves into 3rd place in the Pacific Division.
They are led by perennial Hart Trophy candidate, Connor McDavid, who has 48 points, and is a threat every time he steps on the ice. The difference between the start of the season and now is the amount of support that McDavid is getting. Edmonton now has 9 players with at least 10 points. Ryan Nugen-Hopkins has developed into a great 2nd line center.
One of the most notable changes that Oiler fans have noticed is the way that Hitchcock has been deploying Jesse Puljujarvi, He had worn out his welcome with the former regime and was sent down to Bakersfield to regain some confidence. He was recalled shortly after Hitchcock was brought on board. The coach has been more than willing to deploy the former first round pick in all situations.
With the downtrodden season that the Los Angeles Kings are having, I do believe the Edmonton Oilers can maintain the pace they are on, and make the playoffs as one of the top 3 teams in the Pacific Division.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Cinderella story of the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights has been told more than most of Shakespeare’s tales. The start of this season had seemed to mark the clock tower striking midnight.
As the season started, many of us were thinking that this was the expansion team we expected to see last year. They started the season 7-10-1 (15 points) and had a locker room full of injured players.
Their season got headed in the right direction with the addition of Nate Schmidt, who started the season with a 20-game suspension due to a performance enhancing drug violation. He returned to his spot on the top defensive pairing and is averaging 22:19 of ice time. Since his return, the Golden Knights are 10-3-1 and are now holding onto the 1st Wild Card spot.
As the season goes on and Vegas continues to get healthier, I predict they will more firmly position themselves in the playoff race.
The Penguins started out slowly and many people were writing them off as the fall of an empire. They started the season 7-8-4 (18 points) and did not look like a contending team. They were having a lot of trouble getting the puck out of their own zone and could not get timely saves from Matt Murray.
After Murray went down with a lower body injury, Casey DeSmith has seized the starter’s net and does not seem willing to let it go. The Penguins are 6-3-1 in their last ten games and have moved into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The team is treading water while dealing with injuries to Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, and Dominic Simon.
With the underwhelming competition in the Metropolitan Division, I assume that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and company will power the team to the playoffs.
This is just a couple of teams that are trending in the right direction. Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with my takes.
Team and player stats provided by hockey-reference.com