In this week’s Eastern Edge, we take a look at one big storyline from each team in the Eastern Conference. We’ll be going in alphabetical order, which means you’ll get the teams from Boston to New Jersey this week, and New York to Washington next week.
Pasta’s Knack for Scoring
David Pastrnak leads the league in goal scoring, with 20 tallies through 23 games. He’s been a consistent 30-goal scorer over the past few years and really began to display his offensive dominance last season, when he put up 38 goals in just 66 games. He’s a key member of the ‘Perfection Line’ in Boston that also includes Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. All three forwards have had excellent starts to the 2019-2020 campaign, but we might see Marchand slow down a little as he’s currently scoring on 27-percent of his shots – a very difficult rate to maintain. Bergeron has missed some time due to injury recently and might be rested every now and then as the team hopes to have him healthy during the playoffs.
Silence, Eichel You!
Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will always be linked by the 2015 draft where they were selected first and second overall, respectively. While McDavid already has three 100-point seasons under his belt, Eichel has had a slower start to his career but is finally on pace for his first 100-point campaign. Eichel sits in the top-10 for league scoring with 30 points in 24 games. The 23-year-old forward has played alongside Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson most frequently this year and it’s no coincidence that those two players rank second and third in team scoring.
Andrei the Giant
When he was selected second overall in the 2018 draft, we all knew Andrei Svechnikov was going to be good, we just didn’t know he was going to be this good, this early. The 19-year-old sophomore has 27 points in 24 games this year – only 13 players in the league have scored more. Although it’s extremely exciting to see Svechnikov on Carolina’s top line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, I want to see him get a little more ice-time before we start talking about his outlook for the rest of the season. He’s been playing less than 17 minutes a night during this first quarter of the campaign, while most of the league’s top scorers see at least 19 minutes of action each game.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Coming into the season, there was a lot of talk about Elvis Merzlikins taking over as Columbus’ starting goaltender given his success in the Swiss League. He’s failed to register a win through five starts this year, posting a 3.54 GAA and .890 SV% in the process. In contrast, Joonas Korpisalo continues to strengthen his grip on the starting role with his solid performance in November. Since the beginning of the month, Korpisalo has won five of his eight starts while posting a .922 SV% and 2.26 GAA – he’s on a four-game winning streak!
Detroit Red Wings
Larkin in the Shadows
For the past couple of years, Dylan Larkin has been the best player on the Red Wings. He’s been able to put up points despite a very underwhelming supporting cast. Larkin has had a pretty disappointing start to the 2019-2020 campaign – with just 16 points in 26 games. Larkin’s line mates haven’t shared in his struggles as Mantha has 23 points in 25 games and Tyler Bertuzzi had 22 points in 26 games. Larkin is currently recording a point on just 44-percent of goals scored while he’s on the ice. For the past couple of seasons that number (his individual point percentage or IPP) was at 75 percent. I’m a big believer in Larkin bouncing back from this slow start, but don’t take my word for it. Our very own Ben Burnett took an in-depth look into Larkin’s performance in his Geek of the Week article on Sunday, check it out here! I should also mention that Robby Fabbri has been promoted to the top line with Larkin and Betuzzi while Mantha deals with a lower-body injury for the next two weeks.
There are so many storylines in Florida that are worth discussing:
Keith Yandle’s power-play prowess (11 power-play points in 24 GP)
Aaron Ekblad’s even-strength excellence (14 even-strength points in 23 GP)
Sergei Bobrovsky’s struggles (3.45 GAA and .888 SV% in 20 GP)
Brett Connolly’s consistency (11 goals in 24 GP; TOI: 14:35)
I didn’t even mention how well Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau have been playing! I feel like all you need to know about this team is that they’ve come back from a four-goal deficit twice in the past two weeks, with wins against the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks. I think they’ll continue to improve as the season progresses and they gain familiarity with coach Joel Quenneville’s system.
Offensively Balanced, Defensively Challenged
As someone who watches a lot of Canadiens’ hockey, I think the team’s identity can be summed up in those four words. Each one of their lines is capable of scoring on any given night, but the team also allows a lot of quality chances. While Montreal has struggled defensively, Carey Price is partially responsible for some of the team’s recent losses. He’s lost each of his last three starts, allowing six goals against the Rangers on Saturday and five goals against Columbus last Tuesday. It’s also important to discuss another trend I’ve noticed from watching this team play – the quality of their performance depends on the quality of their opponent. So far this season, the Habs have beaten some tough teams as they’ve defeated the Maple Leafs (twice), the Blues (twice), the Bruins and the Capitals. Yet somehow, they’ve lost to the Senators, Devils, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Sabres and Rangers. This may be something to keep in mind if you have a Canadien on your fantasy roster and you’re deciding whether or not to play him based on the quality of his opposition. I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight a few strong individual performances during these first couple of months:
Tomas Ta-terrific – Tomas Tatar leads the team in scoring with 20 points in 23 games.
Offense Chez Weber – Among defensemen, only Dougie Hamilton and John Carlson have more goals than Shea Weber. The Canadiens captain has seven goals and 11 assists in 23 games – he sits second in team scoring.
Suzu-key to Success – The 20-year-old rookie has been one of Montreal’s best forwards recently with six points in his last six games.
New Jersey Devils
PK, are you OK?
The Devils have been one of the worst teams in the league as they’ve won just eight of their first 22 games. With just five points in those 22 games, P.K. Subban hasn’t quite had the impact we expected when he first arrived in New Jersey. The 30-year-old defenseman has just one point in his last 12 games and has lost his spot on the top power-play to Sami Vatanen. I talked a little more about Subban in last week’s Eastern Edge, but I fear that at the moment, nothing really points at a drastic improvement in his production going forward. With that being said, he’s currently getting a point on just 26-percent of goals scored while he’s on the ice despite that number being closer to 50-percent throughout his career. So maybe better days are ahead.
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the Eastern Conference storylines I plan on discussing next week:
O-ffense from De-Angelo
Pittsburgh’s Injury Woahs
Hart’s Still Beating
Turning Over a New Leaf with Keefe
Shoot me a message on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover!