It’s early in the NHL season. I know it, you know it, that terribly uninformed guy at your work who thinks he’s The Schwab knows it. BUT, we are pulling up to the 10% completed mark of the NHL schedule, and some trends are beginning to form. Nobody with zero points by now is leading the NHL in scoring. We’re starting to really get into it, is the point.
For those of you who are only aware of your own team’s successes and failures so far, reading this should give you a good idea of who’s exceeding pre-season expectations, and who’s failing miserably all the way around the league.
Every year some rookies excel. That’s just the way it works in professional hockey – kids can be so crazy talented by 18 even the fact that they’re boys doesn’t stop them from being valued players against men. But this year…this year more than a few rookies are off to some pretty insane starts. For example:
Tomas Hertl: It’s remarkable how quickly the NHL’s scoring leaderboard took on the look we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Crosby’s on top, Ovechkin’s right there, and the other 27 players make perfect sense. Really, it’s uncanny. Only that adds up to 29 players, and it’s a 30 person list on page one – the math doesn’t add up because of this guy, who currently sits tied for third in league scoring with nine points in six games. Oh, and he’s leading the NHL in goals with seven, one ahead of Alex Ovechkin, two ahead of Sidney Crosby. Being on Joe Thornton’s line helps in that regard, but still: crazy start for the 19-year-old Czech.
Sean Monahan: Six points in six games for a kid drafted in 2013 who turned 19 five days ago. Flames have three more games to decide whether to send him down, or keep him and use the first year of his entry-level contract.
Nathan MacKinnon: Last year’s #1 overall has seven points in his first six NHL games, which is decent for a kid still 18.
Aleksander Barkov: Last year’s #2 overall has five points in seven games for the Panthers.
Seth Jones: Dude already has three points and his first NHL goal out of the way, partially thanks to playing 23:02 a night, which leads all rookies. …Wait, let me check the stats…that doesn’t lead all rookies?
Jacob Trouba: The Winnipeg Jets young defenseman is averaging 23:25 a night, a huge amount of responsibility, but he’s looked great doing it. He’s grabbed two points along the way.
Early impact from rookies is fairly common before A) teams tighten up their defensive systems and opportunities become limited (or at least become less extreme when they do come), and B) the grind of the 82 game schedule and travel catches up to them. We saw Vladimir Tarasenko get off to a start like this for the Blues last year before slowing down a bit. Still, forecasting a slowed pace in the future doesn’t make what this group has done in the early going any less impressive.
The Colorado Avalanche and their goaltending
A ton of people had the Avalanche finishing in the bottom five of the league in 2013-14, but oops, they’re 6-0-0 under new head coach Patrick Roy. That ties the record for the longest undefeated streak by a new coach, which was an honour previously owned solo by Mario Tremblay, the guy who was coaching the Habs when Roy said he’d never play for them again.
A “good” start would have been perceived as fairly surprising for this group, so whatever the hell this is so far strikes most as amazing. They have a goal differential of +15, a number only bested league-wide by the San Jose Sharks. They’re giving up a league-best one goal per game. They have a 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio of 2.60. They’re first in the NHL on the PK, with a 93.8% success rate. And they haven’t exactly been playing patty-cake teams so far (Ducks, Predators, Leafs, Bruins, Capitals and Stars).
The biggest reason can be found in the crease. Semyon Varlamov leads all starters with a .965 save percentage, which includes a .966 even-strength number. The team’s penalty kill percentage is so pretty because he’s only given up one goal on 26 PP shots. And the teams backup J.S. Giguere has been reunited with goalie coach Francois Allaire, and managed pitch a shutout in the first and only game he’s played.
When your goalies play this well, you’re going to win some hockey games (as the 6-1 Toronto Maple Leafs can also attest).
You know who Mark Giordano is, but he’s probably not at the top of your list of League’s Best Defensemen. In fact, when ESPN experts ranked the Top 50 Defensemen from around the league before this season, he didn’t crack the list. Not just like, the top half or anything, the whole thing. Jake Muzzin did (yeah, that widely-known all-star), but not Giordano.
ANYWAY, Giordano was named the captain of what was to be a very bad Flames team, and while it’s still likely won’t be great, he’s been killer so far and is a huge reason the team finds themselves with a 3-1-2 record after losing a tight one to the Ducks on the road. He has six points in six games (two goals, four assists), and finds himself in the top-20 in time-on-ice, averaging 24:26 per game.
Giordano has been generating some Team Canada buzz with his play in the early going, and while you may scoff at that, remember this: the list of d-men I drew up for my ideal Team Canada consisted of six right shots and two left, and…
Couple of things to keep in mind: who plays LD and who plays RD. This coaching staff wants at least 3 LD, maybe 4.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) August 26, 2013
Giordano is a 30-year-old left-shot team-first guy having a great year. It’s not impossible that they give him a real look for Sochi.
The Philadelphia Flyers and their captain
The weight of the captaincy affects people differently, and while it’s made Giordano respond like Mario to a mushroom, it’s mostly been a Goomba to Giroux. Of course, there’s no way of telling if it has a damn thing to do with that letter or not – frankly, it probably doesn’t – but in a year we expected big things from him, he’s been brutal. In seven games he has zero goals and two assists for two total points. He’s in the minus. There’s really not much else on his stat sheet but a lonely two PIMs. I guess 17 shots, but that’s less-than-impressive from a should-be star too.
The thing is, nobody on the Flyers can score, despite a whole host of names who should, in theory, be able to (I actually don’t mind their forward core one bit). They’re 29th in goals-per-game ahead of only Buffalo, scoring 1.43 per contest. That’s 10 total goals in seven games. They get shelled 5-on-5, have the third worst powerplay in the league, and find themselves in the bottom third of just about every stat available.
…EXCEPT goaltending, which is mindblowing, because we’re talking about the Philadelphia Flyers. Steve Mason’s save percentage is currently .926.
But don’t worry Flyers fans – you’ve got the Penguins tonight, and they’re notorious for giving away free win!
The Metropolitan Division
Basically all of it. Well, actually all of it minus the Penguins. This division, which I believed was going to be one of the best in the league this year, currently has one team with a record above .500. And if you recall, this year Eastern Conference divisions contain eight teams.
Here are the goal differentials of the four NHL Divisions, as they currently sit:
Atlantic: + 9
Metropolitan: – 37
Central: + 16
Pacific: + 12
Thanks for coming out.
They’ve played 44 total games (minimum six each, Columbus with five), and here are their win totals: Penguins (5), Hurricanes (2), Islanders (2), Blue Jackets (2), Rangers (2), Capitals (2), Devils (0), Flyers (1). 17 out of 44. Get your act together.
The Edmonton Oilers
This was to be the year the Oiles turned things around. You can only tank for so long before the influx of (extremely) high draft picks is supposed to turn your program around, and they’ve basically been real bad since ’06-’07. Many people finally relented and picked them to make playoffs this season. The added a proven winner in Andrew Ference and named him captain. Their young guns were poised to flip the switch from rookies to stars.
…They’re 1-5-1, last in the Pacific by a full five points only seven games in. The neat part for them: they could lose to every Canadian team by mid-November. They’ve already checked four off the list – Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto – and they play Ottawa in a couple days. Unfortunately, they have to wait until November 16th when they see Calgary to get the whole group done.
Their dynamic young stars haven’t exactly poured pucks in nets so far. In 24 combined games, they’ve scored a total of five goals (for a comparison, Boyd Gordon and the corpse of Ryan Smyth have played a combined 13 games, and have seven goals). Their latest number one overall pick Nail Yakupov has goose-eggs across the board, and has been a healthy scratch twice. Their goaltending has been an absolute travesty – if the Avs and Leafs are succeeding because of theirs, the Oil can look to the save percentages of Devan Dubnyk (.829) and Jason LaBarbera (.879) as a huge contributor to their early failings.
They’re embarking on a three game road trip against teams that are neither great nor terrible – the Islanders, Canadiens and Senators – so we should learn a bit more about what this team really is. But certainly, this was not the start they planned on, and not the start most of us suspected.