NHL Stars Off To Slow Starts in 2018-19
The 2018-19 campaign is only a month old but several noteworthy stars aren’t playing at a level usually expected of them.
Three are former Vezina Trophy-winning goaltenders. Another is a former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman. One is a team captain considered among the league’s top two-way forwards.
Here’s a closer look at eight NHL players who seem to be struggling through the opening month of 2018-19.
Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Acquired from the Montreal Canadiens before training camp, the five-time 30-goal scorer managed just two goals in his first 10 games with the Golden Knights. He’s also been recently sidelined by an upper-body injury. Adjusting to his new surroundings and teammates could also be behind his poor production thus far.
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks. On the eve of training camp, the Sharks landed this big fish in a blockbuster trade from the Ottawa Senators. A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson is ranked among the world’s elite defensemen. So far, however, his offensive stats are below normal. Not that he’s playing badly (seven assists in 14 games) but he has a team-worst plus-minus of minus-10. Karlsson’s stats should improve over the course of the season as he grows more comfortable with his new team.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets. The only active multiple winner of the Vezina Trophy (2013, 2017), Bobrovsky is having a horrible start to 2018-19. His goals-against average (3.33) and save percentage (.895) are well off from his otherwise solid career averages. “Bob” is slated for unrestricted free agency next summer and it’s believed he and the Jackets cannot agree over the terms of a new contract. His unhappiness seems to be spilling over into his play.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. The long-time Bruins starter is a former winner of the Vezina Trophy (2014). However, he won’t be in line for that honor this season if his performance doesn’t improve. He’s won three of six starts with a 3.15 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. Rask is at risk of losing his role to Jaroslav Halak, who’s sporting better numbers (1.45 GAA, .952 SP, two shutouts) in as many starts.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings One of the best two-way forwards and better-disciplined players in the game, Kopitar is a former winner of the Lady Byng Trophy and a former two-time winner of the Selke Trophy. Unfortunately, he’s off to a sluggish start to this season, with six points in 12 games. Kopitar’s not the only Kings veteran struggling early. As captain, he’s feeling the pressure to lead them out of their current funk before the season slips away from them.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. Winner of the Vezina Trophy in 2016, Holtby had a below-average performance in 2017-18 but regained his usually stellar form backstopping the Capitals to the Stanley Cup last spring. Like his teammates, Holtby might be still feeling the dreaded “Stanley Cup hangover”. He’s won four of 10 starts with a bloated 3.62 GAA and .888 save percentage.
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. A Vezina Trophy finalist last season, Hellebuyck enjoyed a strong breakout performance. With 44 wins, a 2.36 GAA, .924 SP and six shutouts, the 25-year-old also helped the Jets reach their first Western Conference Final in franchise history. In the opening month of this season, however, he’s won five of 10 starts with a 3.01 save percentage and .907 save percentage. His stats must improve if the Jets are going to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. Often overshadowed by Karlsson, Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty and Chicago’s Duncan Keith, Pietrangelo’s ranked among the league’s top defensemen over the past several years. This season, however, he’s off to a less-than-stellar start, with a plus-minus of minus-nine and four points in 12 games. Granted, the Blues’ goaltending and overall team defensive play haven’t been sparkling but Pietrangelo’s difficulties have raised some eyebrows early on.
Stats (as of Nov. 3, 2019) via NHL.com.