Three years ago, I found myself in Bridgestone Arena. I got to see the Nashville Predators take on the Edmonton Oilers before Connor McDavid was drafted. While the opponent was certainly no Blackhawks-like squad, the game ended in thrilling fashion. Filip Forsberg, who was a rookie sensation at the time, scored the lone goal with a minute left in overtime to send the crowd into a frenzy.
The significance? It was the only game to be played on Thanksgiving Day that season. While the NHL schedule has featured games on the coveted holiday from time-to-time, including last year, that was not the case this season. While I am not thankful for being forced to watch two mediocre NFC East teams duke it out on Thursday (with the help of plenty New York Giants fans in my family), I am thankful for the boatload of games on the days before and after Thanksgiving, which includes an NBC battle between Boston and Pittsburgh.
It is that time of the season to figure out what each team is thankful for while ranking them at the same time. It will be a challenge for those that have lost their way, but even the Arizona Coyotes are celebrating in recent days. I guess the holidays do bring out everybody’s spirit…except maybe Montreal’s and Buffalo’s.
So, the __________ are thankful for…
1. Tampa Bay Lightning: 34 points
Previously 1 (30 points)
For the offensive blitz! Even with a fairly mild week, the Lightning are still just short of four goals per game. It helps that the offense, particularly Steven Stamkos with Nikita Kucherov, is healthy again. Their biggest blitz was in Thursday’s rout of Dallas on Thursday. Stamkos ruined Ben Bishop‘s return to Tampa Bay with two goals and two assists to extend his points lead over Kucherov.
2. St. Louis Blues: 33 points
Previously 3 (27 points)
For getting an extra day off! They were the only team in the NHL to not play on Thanksgiving Eve. Maybe they were ready to play again after Tuesday’s shellacking of Edmonton, but the top team in the Western Conference could also use the extra rest with a back-to-back against divisional opponents this week. St. Louis is also thankful for Brayden Schenn, who scored twice in both games against the Oilers and added the overtime winner in Vancouver on Saturday.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs: 29 points
Previously 6 (24 points)
For their sudden success against Montreal. After years of misery to their hated rival, Toronto has now won the first two against the Habs and won 6-0 in the second visit. While two shutouts to begin the week are good, Toronto needs to recover after ugly losses to Arizona and Florida to stop what could be a horrible skid. Frederik Andersen allowed just three goals in four starts, including a 42-save shutout against New Jersey on Thursday.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 29 points
Previously 7 (23 points)
For Sergei Bobrovsky and not needing a good power play to win. They got their first power play goal in seven games on Friday, but it was not necessary for their win over the Rangers. Bobrovsky continued to dominate all types of offense with his ability to save anything and everything. He shut out the Rangers on 26 shots and did the same with Calgary in the second home game of the week. His recent success has resulted in having the lowest GAA through Thanksgiving.
5. New Jersey Devils: 28 points
Previously 5 (24 points)
For finding talent out of the minor leagues. Even with top pick Nico Hischier on the roster and their hot start, the Devils continue to fly under the radar. When AHL regular Brian Gibbons and sixth-round pick Jesper Bratt are producing at a regular pace, things are looking up. John Moore continues to come up big in overtime. Six of his eight game-winning goals have come with the Devils, and his sixth sunk Minnesota on Monday to cap off a big production from Adam Henrique.
6. Los Angeles Kings: 26 points
Previously 3 (24 points)
For spooky season and the thought of being better. Los Angeles was cruising in October, but November has given them a problem. They have lost six of seven, including six straight with Jonathan Quick between the pipes. The offense is mostly to blame, but nothing was wrong on Saturday. Darcy Kuemper smothered the Panthers by stopping all 24 shots he faced to pick up his eighth career shutout. He has yet to lose in regulation this season.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins: 25 points
Previously 6 (23 points)
For the “new” first line (And their two Stanley Cups, of course). Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin have been bright spots for the offense, but both sides of the puck have been disappointing. The Penguins were officially swept in the season series against Chicago and Vancouver after two duds at home. Jake Guentzel is quietly putting together an outstanding sophomore campaign. After a tip goal on Thursday, which held up as the game-winner, and two more against the Canucks, he is now tied with Kessel for the team lead.
8. Winnipeg Jets: 29 points
Previously 12 (23 points)
For one of the best #2 picks of recent memory and Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck is far and away running away with the starting spot for a team that has begged for some stability at that position. Even Steve Mason is looking decent, like in Wednesday’s win over Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Patrik Laine has turned his scoring prowess up in November. He had a five-game goal streak to begin the month, and he added two more this week, including the game-winner on Wednesday.
9. Vegas Golden Knights: 27 points
Previously 9 (21 points)
For pretty much everything. Maxime Lagace might be doing poorly on paper, but he has done more than most fourth string goalies usually do. The offense, however, has been the main reason why Vegas is currently on top of the Pacific Division. Jonathan Marchessault had four of his five points this week in the third period, including two assists on empty net goals.
10. Nashville Predators: 28 points
Previously 16 (22 points)
For Ryan Johansen and the Matt Duchene trade. Kyle Turris has contributed to the revamped offense like Peter Laviolette has hoped. He had two points in a huge win over Winnipeg and tacked on the shootout winner against Montreal. Johansen, meanwhile, got his first two goals this week and is tied for second on the team in assists. He can still produce despite his low goal output.
11. New York Islanders: 26 points
Previously 11 (20 points)
For what looks like a strong case for John Tavares to remain on Long Island. With Josh Bailey breaking out on the top line, Mathew Barzal making his case for the Calder Trophy, and Nick Leddy turning into an enviable defenseman, New York’s offense is only behind Tampa Bay in goals per game. The top goal scorer for New York should certainly consider the strong offense with his contract expiring in 2018. Tavares ran circles around Sean Couturier on his overtime assist to Bailey to help the Isles dispose the Flyers on Wednesday.
12. Calgary Flames: 25 points
Previously 17 (20 points)
For Johnny Gaudreau and some lackluster play from the top Pacific Division teams. Following the awful start to the road trip, the Flames have responded with points in their last three games. Despite losing to Columbus to overtime, they have done enough to be on the verge of passing Los Angeles and Vegas for the division lead. Gaudreau is only behind Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in points, and he had a six-game goal streak and 10-game point streak before Wednesday’s shutout loss. He had a goal and an assist to help the Flames come back in Philadelphia on Saturday.
13. Chicago Blackhawks: 23 points
Previously 15 (20 points)
For Patrick Kane and some time to rest. While other teams had four games to squeeze into the week, Chicago had just two, albeit against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. They managed to tack on three points in those games, so that is a successful week. Kane has a five-game point streak and contributed to three of the four goals this week, including scoring both goals in Tampa Bay.
14. Washington Capitals: 25 points
Previously 10 (21 points)
For wizardry on ice. Evgeny Kuznetsov provided one of the best goals of the season when he fooled Cam Talbot and the Rogers Place crowd on October 28. After a quiet beginning of November, Kuznetsov has three goals and four assists in the last five games. This includes three points in an easy win over Ottawa on Wednesday.
15. San Jose Sharks: 23 points
Previously 14 (20 points)
The Bay Area is known for its defensive process, as evidenced by the San Francisco Giants’ three World Series championships. So it only makes sense for the Sharks to be thankful for owning the best GAA and penalty kill percentage in the NHL. Brent Burns has helped out on the blue line despite no goals this season, and the duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has helped significantly. San Jose only picked up one win this week, with Jones locking down the Coyotes with one goal allowed on 27 shots.
16. Ottawa Senators: 22 points
Previously 8 (21 points)
For the shootout loss rule. In other North American sports, the Sens would be 8-12, but their six shootout losses give them some extra points. They lead six teams that have at least four shootout losses. Ottawa has yet to win since their return from Sweden, and Mike Hoffman ended his short slide with his seventh goal on Wednesday.
17. Anaheim Ducks: 23 points
Previously 19 (19 points)
For one of the bigger goalies sensations over the next few years. John Gibson came through with another huge game on Sunday. He made 50 saves on Florida, and that was just enough to give the Ducks a win that may not have happened with most goaltenders. If the Ducks take the Pacific Division crown for the sixth straight year, Gibson will likely be the main cause.
18. Dallas Stars: 23 points
Previously 14 (19 points)
For their recent free agent success. Alexander Radulov has joined Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg for a share of the team’s offensive power, while Ben Bishop has shaken off the cobwebs from recent duds, such as the one in his return to Tampa, to keep Dallas on the same pace as Chicago and Minnesota. Antoine Roussel led the charge with a goal and two assists to sink Edmonton on Saturday.
19. Colorado Avalanche: 23 points
Previously 24 (17 points)
For reversed fortunes under adversity. Colorado is nearly halfway to its point total last year, and Sunday’s comeback victory in Detroit is a big reason why. Nathan MacKinnon assisted on the game-tying goal with under a minute left and scored the OT winner. This came three days after a goal and four assists in a game that Gabriel Landeskog recorded a hat trick.
20. Vancouver Canucks: 25 points
Previously 18 (20 points)
For lots and lots of Brock Boeser. For those thinking Clayton Keller is an easy choice for the Calder Trophy, Boeser is someone who might be a better choice at this rate. He has 11 goals and 10 assists through Thanksgiving, and his emergence has given the Canucks a strong offensive presence in the present and future. He has six goals in as many games, including four in a surprising road sweep in Pennsylvania.
21. Minnesota Wild: 23 points
Previously 22 (18 points)
For Devan Dubnyk and their 25-year-olds. Dubnyk has done enough to give Minnesota points in all of his recent starts despite allowing four goals to Nashville, New Jersey, and Buffalo. Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund have carried the offense in what is now a tie for fourth/last in the Central Division. Zucker has 11 goals after another one in Washington, and Granlund has a five-game point streak with two goals in each of his last two games.
22. New York Rangers: 24 points
Previously 20 (20 points)
For recovery in a home-heavy schedule. They still have a few teams to pass, but the Rangers have caught up with the Metropolitan peloton and now have a somewhat easier home stand to make a move to the top. This week, they responded from their shutout loss to Columbus with a shutout win over Ottawa and an offensive outburst in Carolina. Henrik Lundqvist may have some excellence left in the tank, as he looks to be recovering from a shaky October. He had 20 saves on Sunday for his second shutout of the season and 32 saves on Wednesday.
23. Carolina Hurricanes: 22 points
Previously 21 (18 points)
For Teuvo Teravainen. We knew he was good following his performance in Chicago Stanley Cup-winning postseason, but he is beginning to show superstardom with Carolina. With eight goals and 12 assists through Thanksgiving, he is on pace to blast pace his totals from last season. Following his hat trick against the Stars last week, he now has points in five straight games, including two goals in the second game of a home-and-home split with the Islanders. Sunday was a game of wonky shots and heroics from Cam Ward.
24. Boston Bruins: 22 points
Previously 26 (16 points)
For their unstoppable goaltender. You probably know him as…Anton Khudobin? Suddenly, Boston’s season may be hanging on by a serviceable backup goaltender who has had most of his experience as a platoon goalie. He held both Los Angeles (27 saves) and San Jose (36 saves) to one goal each before forcing a shootout and surviving an 11-round stare down with the Devils. Could Tuukka Rask be in danger of losing his starting role?
25. Detroit Red Wings: 23 points
Previously 25 (20 points)
For their weak competition in the Atlantic Division. Their average start is actually decent considering their “rebuilding” tag, but the third place standing might not be as permanent. Dylan Larkin has no problems getting on the score sheet, but he doubled his goal total at the beginning of their home stand, including a sealing rebound against the Sabres.
26. Philadelphia Flyers: 21 points
Previously 23 (18 points)
For Sean Couturier‘s emergence. The Flyers needed to fill a Brayden Schenn-sized hole, and they got it with 2010 first round pick Couturier. That does not help the team win, though, as they have now lost six straight games to fall to last place in the Metropolitan Division. Couturier scored in both of Philadelphia’s extra time losses to Western Canada teams, but they could not get a point to Vancouver.
27. Edmonton Oilers: 18 points
Previously 28 (16 points)
For newfound offense. They no longer have the worst offense in the league following their beatdowns against Vegas and Detroit. Unfortunately, they now have defensive issues to address following six goals in Dallas and eight goals in St. Louis. Connor McDavid has two assists at Little Caesars Arena for his seventh multi-point game of the season.
28. Montreal Canadiens: 19 points
Previously 27 (18 points)
Bah Humbug. The Habs do not have a whole lot to be thankful for these days. So they are thankful for their 24 Stanley Cups and that is it. Montreal has the worst offense and 28th-ranked defense, and their five-game losing streak includes losing to the Coyotes. Paul Byron scored in consecutive games (Tuesday and Thursday) to end his seven-game goalless streak, but he now has no points in three.
29. Florida Panthers: 18 points
Previously 29 (14 points)
For Sweet (or Salty?) Lou. Roberto Luongo still has it as he has willed the Panthers closer to the rest of the Atlantic Division sans-Buffalo. In two of his three starts, he shut down playoff-caliber opponents on at least 35 shots. After shutting out San Jose in their lone California win, he returned home and had 43 saves against Toronto and came out victorious in the shootout.
30. Buffalo Sabres: 14 points
Previously 30 (14 points)
For their “friendliness” and their slight game advantage over Arizona. They did not want the Coyotes to be alone at the bottom, so they joined them with four straight regulation losses and seven straight overall. At 5-13-4, the Sabres now boast the second worst offense and power play unit. Jordan Nolan scored his first two goals as a Sabre in Buffalo’s near comeback against Minnesota.
31. Arizona Coyotes: 13 points
Previously 31 (7 points)
For more than one might think. Eastern Canada is a good place to start after the Coyotes won all three games against the Eastern Conference Canadian teams. Clayton Keller is an obvious reason, too, but this week included another valid candidate. Anthony Duclair seemed like another forward for an embarrassing offense, but this week brought back the days of the “Killer D’s” in 2015-2016. He had points in all three road victories this week, including an overtime-winning hat trick to bury the Senators on Saturday.
The Rangers score at least six times at Columbus on Friday. How about that? They scored zero. Why me?
Jakob Silfverberg has at least two goals and three points on Sunday. Not even close. I should have said John Gibson was going to save 50 shots because I would have pulled off an impossible prediction.
Jason Pominville pots a hat trick this week. He could only muster an assist this week.
Matt Murray shuts out the Bruins in the Thanksgiving Showcase.
Montreal converts on at least 50% of their power play chances on Wednesday.