It's often said that you shouldn't really take the NHL standings seriously until after Thanksgiving. That's usually when we all come together and decide that it's no longer "too early" to start grasping a team's identity, though apparently nobody told that to last year's St. Louis Blues.
Well, we had a late Thanksgiving this year and now that we've cruised into December, I suppose we're really in it now. That's exciting, but also unsettling considering some of the bizarre trends and surprising developments we've seen through the first quarter-and-change of the season. That team you thought was going to fall off? Perhaps they're legit. That team you've been waiting to see snap out of it and discover the magic you thought they'd have? Well, maybe it's just not in the cards this year.
That's not to say that we've hit the point of no return and things can't change (again: your reigning champion Blues sat dead last in January last season) but, while you can't officially play yourself in or out of playoff positioning this early in the year, the first few months of the season can make a world of difference when we eventually get to retrospect.
For example: The Bruins are back at the top of the power rankings this week thanks to another really strong stretch of play that has helped stretch the distance between themselves and everyone else in the Atlantic. Even if the Lightning and Maple Leafs eventually figure it out, have they already dug themselves too deep of holes to make a play for the division?
There's still a whole lot of hockey left to be played this season but we're getting to the point where we've got to start taking teams seriously, for better or for worse.
|We're now into December and David Pastrnak is still on pace to score 76 goals this season. Is that good? I think it's pretty good. The Bruins have won seven straight and secured at least a point in 11 straight, which is also pretty good. Oh, and they're still without Patrice Bergeron.||1||44-14-0|
|Honestly, there's not a whole lot to report here. The Caps just remain good. They've been this way all year.||1||41-20-0|
|They scored a total of two goals during a California road trip that saw them lose three straight against the Sharks, Ducks and Kings. Fortunately, they had the luxury of bouncing back with cupcakes against the Blue Jackets and Red Wings and only allowed a total of one goal. Their goaltending situation got a bit more shaky with the injury to Thomas Greiss.||2||35-23-0|
|They're still without key pieces in the lineup and yet they still keep winning games. They've won four straight, including back-to-back road wins against the Lightning and Stars.||--||42-19-0|
|It was a bit shaky for the Avs at the beginning as they tried to navigate some key injuries, but Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar powered them through. Now they've got Mikko Rantanen back and Gabriel Landeskog shouldn't be too far behind. Scary stuff.||4||42-20-0|
|They're still hanging around but they also still need secondary help and now the Devils have officially hit the "taking calls on Taylor Hall" stage. I don't know if a return to Edmonton is the most likely destination but boy is it probably the most intriguing.||1||37-25-0|
|The goaltending is a still a little bit of a concern but they're still dangerous and very much legit. I don't believe we've mentioned Andrei Svechnikov here yet this year so now is a good time to point out he's 19 years old and averaging over a point per game. Kid's a stud.||1||38-25-0|
|They've been struggling to seal wins against good teams lately and they've still got some issues putting the puck in the net, including on the power play. Luckily, the goaltending is still great.||1||33-29-0|
|Are the Panthers this year's Sharks - aka a team that somehow continues to find success despite really bad goaltending? Perhaps, but being in the Top 10 while having a sub-.900 save percentage and averaging the fourth-most goals surrendered per game speaks to some of the good things happening down there.||2||35-26-0|
|They've lost three straight and have cooled off a bit after remaining the hottest team in the league for the better part of a month. Perhaps now is when we'll start to see them even out and find more of a balance after a horrible start and, later, a red hot run.||2||37-24-0|
|The Penguins continue to suffer an incredibly unfortunate string of injuries and now Brian Dumoulin is gone for at least eight weeks. I know they've been impressively resilient this year but combine those mounting injuries with Matt Murray's brutal performance of late and this team could be in trouble.||1||40-23-0|
|If you told me that the Jets were going to crack the top 12 at any point this season I would have been pretty stunned, especially if you said it happened without the return of Dustin Byfuglien. But the Jets have been sneaky good this year, though they're getting a whole lot of help from Connor Hellebuyck.||3||37-28-0|
|This week on the "How Back Are The Lightning" meter: Not very back. They've lost three straight, though those losses have come against tough opponents in the Blues, Caps and Canes. Still, good teams beat good teams and the Lightning are doing it with enough consistency.||1||43-21-0|
|They've been largely frustrating this year and it's probably too soon to say they're figuring it out, but they've won three straight and seem to be looking better so...maybe they're figuring it out? They've got too much talent there to be as mediocre as they've been through the first two months.||2||39-24-0|
|Speaking of too much talent to be as mediocre as they've been through the first two months, welcome back into the top half, San Jose! They've still got their issues (namely, the defense isn't great and the goaltending still stinks) but they're generating more and winning more. November was quite good to them and now they're back in the hunt.||2||29-36-0|
|They're probably thrilled to put November behind them and they've got to find a way to get back to the team that came charging out of the gate. They had the league's second-worst even strength goal share (38.7 percent) last month, above only the Red Wings (31.6 percent). Anytime the Red Wings are the only team worse than you at something, that's a really bad sign.||3||36-27-0|
|It's still too early to make any major proclamations about the Leafs under Sheldon Keefe but they're 4-1-0 and things are looking up. Keefe is allowing his best player to use their strengths, and they're generating more (and higher quality) opportunities because of it. They also look like they care, which is probably a good thing.||2||36-25-0|
|The Flyers are a hard team to figure out considering they're capable of putting together impressive runs but also capable of looking absolutely horrendous on any given night. Their defense definitely has its issues but they're currently riding a four-game win streak, although all four of those wins have come against struggling teams.||2||41-21-0|
|Kyle Turris is still being healthy scratched and something's probably going to have to be worked out there sooner or later. Pekka Rinne finally won a game so that's good, I guess.||1||35-26-0|
|The Sabres are no longer in a total tailspin but they're still a far cry from the team that we saw in the first month of the season. That being said, you have to appreciate what Jack Eichel is doing this season. He's got 17 goals through 28 games when his career-high season total is 28.||1||30-31-0|
|We've seen a major plummet from the Habs, who have swiftly gone from a moderately well-oiled machine to a car whose steering wheel flies off while driving. Their defense is brutal, their zone entries have been infuriating and Carey Price's save percentage is now below .900. Not a recipe for success.||7||31-31-0|
|Quick, how many teams in the Eastern Conference have more regulation wins than the Rangers? Probably at least a handful, right? Try three. And it's not one of those misleading stats where they've played a bunch more games than everyone else. I'm not saying they're good, but that's something to chew on.||2||37-28-0|
|After a brutal start we've seen the Wild come around a bit of late (especially defensively) and they're starting to pick up wins and points. They've got at least a point in nine straight and maybe we have to start taking them somewhat seriously.||2||35-27-0|
|They have points in four straight and got rid of the racist guy so I guess that's reason to be positive.||2||36-27-0|
|A couple weeks ago the Blackhawks had a three-game stretch in which they scored five, seven and four goals in three straight wins and everyone was like, "hey, is this team good?" Well, they've now given up five, seven and four goals in their last three games and, as it turns out, they might not be good.||2||32-30-0|
|You honestly can't convince me this team is worth caring about.||--||29-33-0|
|It's going to be tough for them to remain quite as annoying to play against with Zach Werenski out of the lineup for at least a month but I'm sure they'll find a way.||1||33-22-0|
|The fourth-worst team in the league and Mark Borowiecki is spending his off days cleaning up the streets as a crime vigilante. This is the best the organization has looked in a few years.||1||25-34-0|
|Their defense is currently Drew Doughty and five guys they found sleeping outside a bowling alley. So, six guys they found sleeping outside a bowling alley.||1||29-35-0|
|Not to be dramatic but they've absolutely got to fire John Hynes and start shipping guys out of town. You know you're in a bad place when you have to rebuild your rebuild.||3||28-29-0|
|Heading into December with a minus-56 goal differential and approaching "historically bad" status. Fun!||--||17-49-0|