Drew White | Staff Writer
The NHL season celebrated its All-Stars this past weekend in Tampa Bay, Florida, and as the season goes on, the league is just beginning to heat up. At just over the midway point of the year, the playoff picture has started to take shape, and there are some surprise teams both at the top of the picture and on the outside looking in.
The biggest revelation of the season has definitely been the newest team to the league, the Vegas Golden Knights, who just began play this October. The team, which is made up predominantly of players who were selected in last summer’s expansion draft, has gelled together perfectly and are flying on all cylinders.
Led by former Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and a young offense including leading scorers Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson, the Golden Knights have soared to the top of the Western Conference and are showing no signs of slowing down.
In their first game following the break, the Golden Knights (33-12-4) scored three goals in 53 seconds to stun Calgary late, 4-2, on Jan. 30. The win tied Vegas with the 1993-94 Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for most wins by a first-year team in league history, at 33.
But here’s the catch — Vegas still has 33 games left to play this season.
In the east, the Tampa Bay Lightning have rolled to the top of the standings. Leading the conference for the vast majority of the season, the Bolts currently sit with a league-leading 71 points through 50 games.
The Lightning have been led offensively by a plethora of forwards, including Hart Trophy favorite Nikita Kucherov and potential Comeback Player of the Year, Steven Stamkos. On the back-end, they are led by Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman and budding goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
After a slow start to the season, the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have jump-started their season and have regained a playoff spot in the tough Metropolitan Division for the time being.
The Pens are in a good spot at this point in the season as the offense has seemingly found itself with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel leading the way. If Pittsburgh can continue to rattle off victories, they are an experienced team to seriously be reckoned with come playoff time.
One of the other surprises has been the Montreal Canadiens, who currently sit 10 points outside of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The team has underperformed all season, which has led to trade rumors about top players, including Vezina-winning goaltender Carey Price and team captain Max Pacioretty.
In the West, two recent Cup winners and perennial playoff teams have their work cut out for them in the final two months of the season. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have both struggled at times this season, which has left them both on the outside looking in. In order for them both to find success, they need their star players to step up and lead them there.
The 2017-18 season has been a wildly unpredictable one so far, and the next 30-odd games across the next two months should not disappoint.