Put your hand up if you saw this start coming for the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs are a team with promise and got a new coach (Patrick Roy) and manager (Joe Sakic) who brought this team to prominence as Hall of Fame players. Now they’re turning straw into gold off the ice, but is this start sustainable?
Probably not. The Avs are getting outshot by an average of five per game and Semyon Varlamov is turning away an astounding 96.5 percent of the shots he’s faced. They could still get more offense from Gabriel Landeskog (two points in five games) and Paul Stastny (zero goals), but the defense remains a troubling area.
An inevitable sag will come, but it may not be until next month. Colorado has a couple tough matches against Detroit (at home) and Pittsburgh (on the road) in their final five October games, but the others against Buffalo, Carolina and Winnipeg are completely winnable for a team on a roll.
And props to Nathan MacKinnon for his impressive start in the NHL.
1. San Jose
We’ve seen this from the Sharks before, so we’re not about to get too far ahead of ourselves. But they looked like a contender in the playoffs against the Kings last season and are piling on the goals early – they even posted six against the tight-checking Blues. Six Sharks are averaging better than a point per game.
In the pre-season, Colorado would have ranked somewhere in the 20s, but you can’t deny them after a 6-0-0 start. Jamie McGinn has five points in six games, while brother and Flyers forward Tye has three goals in two games.
The only blip so far was a loss to Florida. The Penguins have been devouring opponents on the power play. Olli Maatta has shown strong signs, but a numbers game on the blueline may push him back to junior.
4. St. Louis
Our Stanley Cup pick is off to a great start and are averaging 4.20 goals per game. While some point paces (Alex Steen, Derek Roy) are unsustainable, others have to improve (Chris Stewart).
Despite a power play running at 4.4 percent, the Ducks have strung together five straight wins. Mathieu Perreault is excelling as a scorer – with five points in six games – since coming over from Washington in the summer. The Ducks are due for a challenge and will get one next week when they set off on an eight-game Eastern Conference road trip.
Brandon Saad is such an impressive young player to watch. Now in his second season – and first full 82-game campaign, Saad is tied for the team lead with five points in six games, averaging 16:16 of ice per game. If he keeps up his play, that average will rise.
Yes, they’re 6-1-0, but these are Power Rankings, not standings, so the Leafs take a hit for their knack of being outshot. It doesn’t seem to be a sustainable structure to rely on James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier as they have early – or to rely on their shooting percentage remaining this high. This one’s for you, advanced stats crowd.
The Habs won three games on their four-game Western road trip and Carey Price seems to be settling into an Olympic year groove. Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have been driving the bus on offence. The best news for the Habs now is they return home for five straight games.
Jimmy Howard keeps flying under the radar despite his steady play. Though five games he’s 3-2-0 with a .922 save percentage, which may be low compared to other totals this early in the season, but it’s a sustainable number he’s posted for three of the past four seasons.
Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Anaheim was the first game the Flames didn’t get a point this season. Rookie Sean Monahan has garnered a ton of attention, but how about Jiri Hudler, who has eight points in six games? His 21:22 of ice is a top 10 average among all NHL forwards.
The Bruins are a team that won’t hit their stride until we get to the meat of the season, but it’s not as if they’re off to a bad start. Tuukka Rask has been sensational and is only 3-2-0. The offense will wake up eventually, because Loui Eriksson, Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla have more to give.
Matt Cooke leads this team in scoring? Matt Cooke leads this team in scoring. Meanwhile, Jonas Brodin, who has five points in seven games and averages 25:16 of ice, is showing everyone he was robbed of the Calder least season.
13. Tampa Bay
The Lightning are averaging the third-most goals per game so far, with a 3.06 average. But we already knew they could score. The problem with Tampa coming into this season was its defense and keeping pucks out. But right now they are allowing the sixth-fewest shots-against per game and Ben Bishop has yet to lose thanks to his .939 save percentage.
The good news is the Coyotes are averaging their most goals for per game since the 2005-06 season. The bad news is is they’re allowing more shots- and goals-against and Mike Smith has been fairly average.
The Canucks started their six-game Eastern road trip with a win, but will need to find offence from more sources over the long haul. Jason Garrison and the Sedins have combined for 23 points, while the rest of the roster has combined of 30.
16. Los Angeles
It’s amazing a team with as much talent as the Kings goes through long stretches of scoring drought as often as they do. The Kings outshoot their opponents handily, but rank below Nashville, Columbus and Florida in goals so far. Jonathan Quick’s sub-.900 save percentage is alarming.
After losing their first two on the road in St. Louis and Colorado, Nashville has won three of four at home and finish the stretch Thursday night against Los Angeles. And if they could either find some offense (unlikely) or get more out of Pekka Rinne (most likely), who has an .887 save percentage so far, they’d be even better.
18. NY Islanders
All but one of the Islanders’ first six games have been decided by one goal. As long as the secondary scoring keeps it up, you can expect a little more from the Isles this season. But Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner still need to prove they’ll stay consistent over 82 games.
There was some concern over whether Sergei Bobrovsky could carry over his Vezina caliber play to this season, but so far he’s held up his end of the bargain with a .929 save percentage. But he’s got a losing record because Columbus isn’t scoring enough goals – in two of their three losses they were held to just one.
Justin Faulk is the jewel of an otherwise poor defense and has four points with an average of 25:00 in ice time. He’s the best kept secret in the league. Meanwhile, with Anton Khudobin sustaining a serious injury, the safety net behind Cam Ward is gone, so the Canes are one more goalie injury away from being sunk again.
So much work was done on the forward units over the summer, but not enough was done to improve a mediocre defense that has allowed way too many shots. Valeri Nichushkin, a popular pre-season Calder pick, is still without a point and was a healthy scratch in Tuesday’s loss to Colorado.
The thing with the Jets is, while they look so full of potential on paper, you never know what you’re going to get out of them on any given night. Case in point: in their first three games they scored 12 goals; in their past four they’ve scored five. Their penalty kill is still middling and, amazingly, they’re still not trying out Blake Wheeler in that situation.
The Sens must really want to see Craig Anderson start for the USA in Sochi, because they are allowing way too many shots and giving their goalie tons of work. The team that came together so well in the face of adversity last season had a really hard time starting the season with six road games, but host soft touches Edmonton and New Jersey for their next two.
The Panthers are all over the place. One night they’ll allow two goals, the next seven and the one after three. Aleksander Barkov has quietly been producing and looking like a solid NHLer, but Jacob Markstrom, the supposed goalie of the future, has been floundering. Thursday night Tim Thomas will tend the net when the Panthers host his former team, the Boston Bruins. If ever the Panthers had a must-see game this is it.
25. NY Rangers
One of four teams to be averaging less than two goals per game, the Rangers will have trouble getting back on track with Rick Nash out. Henrik Lundqvist also still needs to string together two strong starts. Who knew Brad Richards would be their best producer so far?
The Caps got off to a horrible start last season too, so it’s not the end of the world, but their lack of attention on defense is at least a little worrying. Last season the Caps didn’t turn it around until Alex Ovechkin’s production exploded, but he’s already posted 12 points in seven games, so a turnaround will be all about keeping pucks out this time.
27. New Jersey
Five of New Jersey’s first six games have been on the road, so there’s room for the needle to move back to other way. But they’ve yet to allow fewer than three goals in a game and they’re averaging less than two goals a game. Adam Henrique (two points in six games) is one of their difference-makers who needs to step up.
The Oilers haven’t won in regulation yet and have allowed fewer than four goals in a game just once – and still lost. Nail Yakupov is still without a point and has been a healthy scratch twice. Still, the goaltending is Edmonton’s most desperate area at the moment.
Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell have combined for all of three points. The Flyers are severely lacking offense, which was supposed to be their strong suit. Their weakness was supposed to be goaltending, but Steve Mason has actually been not too bad with a .926 SP and 2.23 GAA.
Transitioning from one era to the next is a difficult task most of the time and the Sabres are feeling the burn. It took them eight games to get their first win. But they’re not exactly doing themselves any favors with how they’ve handled Mikhail Grigorenko since drafting him. He’s averaging 11:35 of ice, has no points and was made a healthy scratch a few times already. Do they have a plan for this kid?