Today’s Daily Cup of Joe shares my first impressions (and somewhat updated expectations) for the Canes’ Central Division competition and opens the floor for everyone else to bandy around the same topic.
By no means is 2-4 games enough to draw any final conclusions for how a 56-game season will play out, but we do have now seen some real hockey that offers on-ice insight to be considered.
Tampa Bay Lightning
I am not sure the limited 2020-21 play offers much insight here. The Lightning smoked a young, Toews-less Blackhawk team twice and has not played since. One thing that continues to stand out about the Lightning is their strong combination of depth but also high-end talent…even without Nikita Kucherov. They should collect as many easy wins as any team in hockey courtesy of an offense that can pile up 4-6 goals quickly some nights. But they also have a trophy-winning defenseman and goalie to go with a decent two-way team such that they can grind out 2-1 wins on occasion if necessary.
Adjustment: I still just think the Lightning are built to excel during the regular season collecting more than their share of easy wins but also being built to win ugly when needed.
Like Tampa Bay, Florida has played only two games with both being against the Blackhawks. The Panthers have been a bit of an enigma for a few years. The Panthers have enough top-end young talent that they could hang with anyone. But some combination of goaltending and depth seemed to hold them back. With Bobrovsky’s struggles in his first season with the Panthers, I think these same question marks are still what determines the Panthers’ fate.
Adjustment: None really. I am still watching closely to see if Bobrovsky can settle in and be a difference-maker.
Detroit Red Wings
I have watched three of Detroit’s first four games including the two games versus the Hurricanes. Four games is a small sample size, but my initial impression is that the Red Wings will continue to be more competitive than 2019-20. My first impression is that Thomas Greiss could help more than I initially expected, but more so the team can be effective with its speed and aggressiveness forechecking such that it can at least punch back with something when challenged.
Adjustment: The Wings earn my biggest upgrade so far. I am still skeptical that the Wings are ready to compete for a playoff spot, but I do think the team will continue to be more competitive.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Through four games the Blue Jackets are 1-2-1 with mostly a ‘meh’ start. As has generally been the case for a few years, the team does not have a bunch of high-end offense and instead must score enough by getting decent balance throughout the entire lineup. The goaltending will be critical, as the Blue Jackets will not much room for error. Part of me thinks I overestimated the Blue Jackets a bit before the season started, but the other part of me remembers that John Tortorella collected a playoff berth from a 2019-20 lineup that seemed like it was half AHLers for a good chunk of the 2019-20 season because of injuries.
Adjustment: Through four games I would slightly downgrade Columbus. I think their raw talent level is such that they have a fairly low ceiling. Cue Tortorella to somehow get more than seems possible out his team.
The Blackhawks are off to a 1-3-1 start after getting thrashed twice by the Lightning and then losing twice more to Florida. The team was a bit short on talent and steady veteran presences even before Jonathan Toews was ruled out. Combine two young goalies with a young team and some forwards who do not defend well, and maybe what we have seen of the Blackhawks so far is what we should have expected.
Adjustment: The Blackhawks are my biggest downgrade. I just do not see how they will keep the puck out of their own net with any regularity.
Coming into the season, I expected Nashville’s depth defensively to be enough to keep them in enough games. I still think that is the story with this team. The team is maybe a little short on high-end scoring talent, but it tends to get decent balance and also net decent scoring from the blue line.
Adjustment: I leave the Predators about where I had them prior to the start of the 2020-21 season as a middle-ish team in the division with the potential to rise from there.
Because of COVID-19 protocol issues, the Dallas Stars have yet to play, so obviously there is not adjustment based on their game play. The fact that nearly the entire team had COVID-19 and the Stars have not had to play with an undermanned lineup could be a long-term benefit for the Stars if they catch COVID-impacted opponents after they are past it and back to health.
Adjustment: None yet, as they have not played.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the division from what you have seen so far?
2) Which teams get upgraded from your preseason expectations?
3) Which teams get downgraded from your preseason expectations?