The weather is getting chillier (well, some days, at least) and the action inside the rink is heating up.
It’s a smidge over a month into the 2021-22 NHL season and things have been anything but quiet across the league’s 32 teams. Jack Eichel was finally able to leave Western New York and get the surgery he desperately needed to continue his NHL career. Alex Ovechkin continues his ascension as the game’s greatest all-time scorer. And teams that were supposed to be on top are on the bottom and those expected to be in the basement are living in the penthouse.
OVECHKIN: Moving on up the list | Can he catch Gretzky?
It’s been wild.
As things get back to normal — arenas stocked with fans, coaches on the hot seat or getting pink-slipped, Canucks’ faithful calling for Jim Benning’s head — it’s time to reflect. And with American Thanksgiving now here, it is the perfect time to go over what we’re thankful for in the first month of the season.
2021-22 NHL: Four things we’re thankful for to start the year
1. Eye-popping goals
There was Matthew Tkachuk doing his thing.
Brandon Duhaime scoring the Wild-est career-opening NHL goal in history.
His teammate Kevin Fiala showcasing a wicked set of hands.
Not shockingly, the Connor McDavid Show rolling on…
And then, there was Kevin Hayes’ first goal of the year which was bigger than anything else we’ve seen — and will see — this season.
2. Goalie resurrections
As mentioned in Sporting News’ review of the Amazon Original, “All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs,” it was pretty clear about halfway through the five-episode series not only were the Maple Leafs unhappy with Andersen but he was never re-signing in Toronto. The Danish netminder battled an injury — and possibly a loss in confidence — during the 2021 season after being an All-Star in 2019-20.
Flash forward to the 2021-22 season and Andersen is in Carolina and is back on track. He’s posting a shiny 11-3-0 record with a glistening .936 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average.
In 2021, Markstrom struggled at times and finished the season with a 22-19-2 record and a career-worst .904 save percentage and minus-4.0 Goals Saved Above Average (minimum 25 games). It was a marked drop-off from his 2019-20 All-Star season where he had a .918 save percentage and 11.4 GSAA.
Now, Markstrom is back. While he has a decent 8-3-4 record, it’s the smoking hot, blazing 1.73 GAA, .940 save percentage and an 12.1 GSAA. There are 15 teams without a shutout; Markstrom has an NHL-best five shutouts — through 15 games.
3. Teams not understanding the assignment
Let’s just say: it was truly an unexpected start to the season. There was a whole lot of ‘what is happening??’ vibes. It felt like we were all in The Upside Down. Teams like the Red Wings and Sabres were hot while playoff contenders the Islanders and Golden Knights were not. It definitely was not how anyone thought things would go to kick-off the first full 82-game season in quite some time (incredibly thankful for that, by the way).
Now that things have settled a little bit back into place there’s still a lot of intrigue and drama to fill the next five months. Who had the Flames leading the Western Conference on Nov. 25? How about the Stars flirting with .500 and in the mix? Or the Ducks among the best in the West? The Islanders are actually last in the Metropolitan and until a four-game win streak, the Penguins were cellar dwellars too.
The craziness — the chaos? — is quite delightful as this season has truly become one where any team can win on any night.
Oh, and the only team that actually understood the assignment? Yep, you guessed it — the Coyotes, who have put all their chips in on Shane Wright.
NHL DRAFT 2022: Wright and nine more players to keep an eye on
4. Age is but a number
The NHL is a young man’s league … blah, blah, blah. Like a fine wine, a number of grizzled veterans are saying to the kids “hold my chardonnay” and let me show you how it’s done.
There’s been a lot to start off the season and surely more big moments, eye-popping saves and goals and storylines coming down the pike.
Will super nice guy Keith Yandle not only become the NHL’s No. 1 iron man on Jan. 18 but will he break 1,000 straight games by the end of the season? How will the Olympics go? What chaos will the trade deadline bring in March? Can the Maple Leafs break their postseason win drought?
It’s going to be a fun ride the rest of the way. Buckle up and happy holidays!
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