NHL at quarter pole: Lightning bringing the thunder
Detroit — Can anyone defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Through the first quarter of the NHL season, it’s a question that could pop up the remainder of the schedule given how dominant the Lightning have looked through 20 games.
The Lightning have the league’s best record 15-3-2 (32 points; St. Louis is next with 31), and have a dominant plus-28 goal-differential, showing they’ve been soundly defeating teams every night.
There have been several keys to the Lightning success.
The return of forward Steven Stamkos from knee surgery has been pivotal, as Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have formed a potent offensive duo.
But the goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy and the emergence of rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev have been added pluses on a deep and talented roster.
The Lightning haven’t been the lone success story.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have astounded everyone with a 12-6-1 (25 points) record, including a dominant 8-1-0 record on home ice.
Vegas has used four goaltenders because of injuries, but the position has remained a strength, as has the ability to roll four good lines and the deft coaching of former Red Wings forward Gerard Gallant.
With the NHL at its first milestone of the long regular season, here are some early-season trophy favorites (statistics through Monday):
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player)
Kucherov, Tampa Bay: Really, this could go either way among two linemates. Stamkos leads the NHL with 35 points and 25 assists and has been a great story returning from major knee surgery. But Kucherov tops the NHL with 17 goals and is second with 33 points, and now possesses one of the feared shots in the league.
Norris Trophy (best defensemen)
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis: At age 27, you knew ultimately Pietrangelo would be in serious running for this award, and in the early going, no defensemen has been better. Pietrangelo is tied for the lead among defensemen with 19 points, is averaging more than 26 minutes per game, and has only been a minus player in three games this season.
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus: He’s won two of these awards, and is a strong contender for a third. Bobrovsky’s game at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 11 was phenomenal. He is among league leaders in both goals-against average (2.02) and save percentage (.933).
Calder Trophy (best rookie)
Clayton Keller, Arizona: There hasn’t been much positive with the Coyotes, but Keller certainly has been one story. Keller, 19, is averaging about 20 minutes of ice time and leads rookies with 11 goals. Keller reminds many of Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau.
Jack Adams (coach of the year)
Gallant, Vegas: The fact the expansion Golden Knights are in playoff position at the quarter pole is amazing. This isn’t an overly talented roster. But Gallant is gotten everything out of it, with no real signs of slowing down.
Biggest surprise (team)
Vegas Golden Knights: What a success story this expansion team has been, on and off the ice. Fans have been flocking to see them on The Strip, and they’ve been winning games despite numerous goaltending injuries and no major stars.
Biggest disappointment (team)
Edmonton Oilers: Many analysts felt the Oilers were definitely ready to take the next step this season and be a serious Stanley Cup contender. But star Connor McDavid has been off his usual offensive pace, the team isn’t scoring goals, and the roster suddenly looks slow. They have a lot of catching up to do in the standings.
Biggest surprise (individual)
Brayden Schenn, St. Louis: There wasn’t a ton of hype surrounding Schenn’s trade from Philadelphia, but Schenn has been a revelation, among the key reasons the Blues have dominated in the West.
Biggest disappointment (individual)
Carey Price, Montreal.:Price is, arguably, the best goaltender in the NHL. But you wouldn’t know it looking at the statistics this season. His 3.77 GAA and .877 save percentage are terrible, and a major reason the Canadiens are struggling. Price is injured, but when he returns, he needs to return to form.