One week of the 2018-19 NHL season is officially in the books. 31 teams enter the regular season with the same goal in mind, but only one will emerge victorious. So of all the teams in the league, who are the teams to keep an eye on?
Coming off of their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history, a lot of expectations have been put upon them as well as many targets pointed directly towards their backs. In the offseason, their coach, Barry Trotz left to pursue a job with Lou Lamiorello and the Islanders while they also lost top-tier defensemen Brooks Orpik and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche. On the bright side, they’re keeping defenseman John Carlson for eight years and physical forward Tom Wilson for six years.
Through only three games played thus far in, the Capitals are 2-0-1, outscoring their opponents 19-8. Another player to keep an eye on: the “Great 8”, Alexander Ovechkin. As of right now, he has 611 goals which is good for 17th all time. The man he’s chasing? “The Great One”, Mr. Wayne Gretzky at 894.
Vegas Golden Knights
No one saw the season Vegas had last year coming. Breaking every record possible for a first-year franchise team, the club finished the regular season with a record of 51-24, capturing the Pacific division and later on becoming the Western Conference champions. Despite their loss in the Stanley Cup Final to the Washington Capitals in five games, every team in the league knew that Vegas was for real.
Led by future hall-of-famer goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, Lady Byng winner William Karlsson and Jack Adams (coach of the year) winner Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights ignited a torn city, sparking Las Vegas, the state of Nevada and the hockey community that even a group of “misfits” can make it big. While last year was incredible, the start of this season has been rather shaky. Through three games last year, they started the season red hot with a 3-0-0 record, scoring 9 goals and only allowing 4.
This season, they’ve scored only 8, and have allowed 15. Yes, only four games in, so I don’t expect anyone in the Vegas community to be hitting the panic button. With an experienced coach and players on this squad, Vegas will be roaring back in no time.
San Jose Sharks
In the last couple of years of the Todd McLellan era and thus far into the Peter DoBoer era, the San Jose Sharks have always been a powerhouse team in the Pacific division as well as the entire Western Conference for that matter. After making the playoffs in the last three years after not qualifying in the 2014-15 season, San Jose, led by captain Joe Pavelski as well as the core group including Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton, looks to keep up with other top teams in the division, including the Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and Edmonton Oilers. Last season, they traded to pick up left-winger Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres.
Losing in the second round to the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights, GM Doug Wilson made a big splash in the offseason, acquiring elite defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. After this trade, EA Sports has predicted that San Jose and the Toronto Maple Leafs will make it to the Stanley Cup Final, with San Jose claiming Lord Stanley. In the fresh season, the Sharks have struggled to maintain any consistency, scoring 13, but also allowing 13, with a 2-2-0 record thus far.
Whether if it’s continuing to work with Karlsson, or switching up goalies Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to give the other rest, San Jose is full of experience and will certainly rebound as the season progresses.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The city of Toronto has been begging for a championship back in their city, which hasn’t been in Toronto since the 1966-1967 season. Hoping to bring back a winning culture in the Maple Leafs organization, they hired Stanley Cup-winning coach, Mike Babcock, to an eight-year, $50 million deal. Despite missing the playoffs in his first year in the 2015-16 season, the Maple Leafs have made consecutive postseason appearances, thanks to the emergence of young star Auston Matthews.
A 2016 first-round draft pick, Matthews has revitalized the team and attracted a big free agent in John Tavares to join the team. As stated with the San Jose Sharks, Toronto is the team EA Sports projects to represent the Eastern Conference, as they’re predicted to make it last through to the Stanley Cup Finals. Sunday, October 7th, Tavares scores his first hat trick with the team, en route to a 7-6 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
In their last two games played, they have scored 14 goals, 7 per game. While they’ve given up 17, they’ve scored 20 and are currently on a two-game winning streak. In the same division as the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, expect Matthews, Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs to put up a good fight for the Atlantic.
Could this be the year Nashville finally wins it all? Making the playoffs in their last four seasons, coming close in 2016-17 season in the Stanley Cup Final and capturing the President’s Trophy last season, the Nashville Predators look to give the franchise its first Stanley Cup in the team’s history. Last year, especially in the regular season, Nashville was firing on all cylinders. Scoring a franchise record 267 goals in the 82 games and tallying 117 points, the Predators looked to ride the hot wave back to the Stanley Cup Final; however, they fell to the Winnipeg Jets in seven games in the second round.
So far, through three games, they are 2-1-0, scoring 7 and allowing 8. Led by players such as captain Roman Josi, alternate captain Ryan Johansen, fan favorite PK Subban and Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators will look to continue their assertion in the Central division as they try to extend their playoff streak to five consecutive seasons.