Welcome to another edition of NHL Insights as we look at some surprise teams that remain in playoff contention past American Thanksgiving. Those teams include the Winnipeg Jets, Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks, and Montreal Canadiens
A new season means NHL Insights has returned. We are past the American Thanksgiving mark on the calendar. If a team is in the playoff picture at this point normally they make the playoffs. If you look at the standings, you can guess what changes could come by the end of the year. Usually, it is around 60 percent of the teams change by the end of the regular season compared to American Thanksgiving. We know the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins continue to torch the rest of the league. However, who would have thought the Winnipeg Jets and Seattle Kraken be sitting pretty in their divisions? While the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens are just a couple of points out of the final wild-card spots in their respective conferences.
Time to dive into some NHL Insights for the past week.
NHL Insights: Jets, Kraken, Canucks, and Canadiens
How about those Winnipeg Jets? Did anyone really expect the Jets to be in this position as American Thanksgiving passed? Winnipeg is playing well under new head coach Rick Bowness. It helps when Connor Hellebuyck is playing at a Vezina Trophy level. But Hellebuyck needed to step up considering the weakness on defence for Winnipeg. Or at least we thought the defence for Winnipeg was a weakness. Josh Morrissey is steering this defence in a positive direction. He might be one of the more underrated defencemen in the league. Morrissey is leading the Jets in points with 23 and assists with 19. And was just named the second star of the week by the NHL behind Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars.
Speaking of offence… the Jets big boys are their best players this season. Despite all that happened with Blake Wheeler losing the Captain “C”, Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Pierre-Luc DuBois are playing very well this season. And they are doing it without Nikolaj Ehlers in the lineup. It just speaks to how your best players need to be your best players. Having a player like Cole Perfetti step up has been huge for this Winnipeg team. It will be interesting to see if they can hang on as the season progresses.
All of a sudden the Kraken who were an embarrassment last season, are starting to turn into the team people expected them to be. It helps when they are getting an offensive output each night. The Kraken relies on balanced scoring. Nobody is running away with the scoring lead on the team. It is very balanced as five players have six or more goals with Andre Burakovsky leading the team with 21 points (seven goals and 14 assists). Matty Beniers has brought life to this team. His speed and skill has been a difference maker this season. The Kraken have taken their game to the next level and Beniers has set the tempo as the rest of team keeps up with him.
Defensively the Kraken are much better too. While they still make the odd mistake here and there, they are winning games. In large part to that defence and the resurgence of Martin Jones between the pipes. Jones has 11 wins in 16 starts this season even with his save percentage below the average at .903. He will need to raise that up for the Kraken to remain where they are. Additionally, they need more from Philipp Grubauer as well. Despite playing better and getting balanced scoring, they will need to keep the puck out of their net if they want to remain in this position as teams in the Pacific start to find their way.
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Speaking of the Pacific Division, here come the Vancouver Canucks. Despite their awful start to the season, the Canucks are just one point out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Just imagine if they were able to hold on to those leads at the beginning of the season, the Canucks be sitting pretty at the top of the Pacific Division. Vancouver just swept their most recent road trip, and good for them as there were rumblings coming out that a coaching change was a possibility. However, head coach Bruce Boudreau has righted the ship and the Canucks are holding onto leads. Barely, but they are figuring out ways to win games now instead of losing them.
The Canucks second line of Ilya Mikheyev, Elias Pettersson, and Andrei Kuzmenko have been lightning it up recently. The line is scoring 2.13 goals per 20 minutes at 5v5 play. Talk about domination. Not to mention Bo Horvat is picking up his scoring as well with points in five of his last six games. Brock Boeser, who just signed a new deal this offseason, is picking up his play and living up to his contract. As is J.T. Miller who has quietly recorded at least a point in 16 of his last 17 games. With the Canucks scoring goals and playing better defence, they are a threat to unseat a playoff team. Why, well they have Thatcher Demko, and just like the rest of the team, he is playing much better.
Then there are the Montreal Canadiens. What can we say about Montreal that hasn’t been said already? The main thing is the Canadiens are having fun under head coach Martin St. Louis. That kind of atmosphere is doing wonders for these players. St. Louis is just letting the players be themselves, especially players like Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach, and Nick Suzuki. Caufield and Suzuki are tied for the team lead with 12 goals each. Suzuki leads the team in points with 24, while Dach leads the team in assists with 13. Dach especially has seen great success this year. It was the perfect situation to go to for him after Chicago decided his wasn’t developing properly. Dach exercised some demons the other night scoring the OT winner against his former club.
Outside the kids, the veteran leadership that was added in Sean Monahan and Mike Matheson has really helped this club. There is not a lot of pressure on Monahan in Montreal as there was in Calgary to perform. However, like Dach, Monahan has fit in nicely. Does anyone expect this to last? of course not, but having Montreal playing better than expected will make life hard for teams trying to get back into the playoff picture. The Canadiens are no easy out anymore. Their future is bright with Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton controlling the direction of this team.
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