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31 Teams, 31 Surprises: NHL Things That Make You Go Hmmm

Sam McCaig
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31 Teams, 31 Surprises: NHL Things That Make You Go Hmm

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand. Source: Getty Images

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31 Teams, 31 Surprises: NHL Things That Make You Go Hmmm

Sam McCaig
By:

Brad Marchand is a leading candidate for the Lady Byng Trophy, everybody scores for the Devils, the expansion Golden Knights won seven of their first eight games – and other strange happenings in the early days of the 2017-18 NHL season.

Some surprises are shocking, some are barely worth raising an eyebrow. Here's a team-by-team breakdown through the early days of the 2017-18 NHL season that might give you pause:

Anaheim Ducks: They've got their share of high-flying talent, but the Ducks' power play is in free fall. Two years ago, Anaheim ranked first in the league with the man advantage at 23.1-percent efficiency before tumbling to middle of the pack last season (17th overall, 18.7 percent). It hasn't gotten any better in 2017-18. In fact, it's worse. The Ducks have managed only two PP goals on 31 opportunities so far this season (6.4 percent), which ranks second-last overall ahead of only the New York Islanders (2-for-33, 6.1 percent). Early injuries to scoring forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves as well as two-way defensemen Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm didn't help.

Arizona Coyotes: It's not really a big surprise that rookie Clayton Keller is leading Arizona in goals with seven – only one other player on the team has more than two goals (Anthony Duclair, three). So, how about the fact Luke Schenn, who isn't always regarded as the best defenseman in the business, is the lone wolf on the winless Coyotes with a positive plus/minus rating? He's plus-2, skating third-pairing minutes at 13:34 per game. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, meanwhile, is playing more than 10 minutes more per game (24:10), but ranks last on the team at minus-13.

Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand for the Lady Byng Trophy? The, ahem, rambunctious winger is leading the B's in scoring with six goals and 11 points – but has only taken one minor penalty through eight games. Who are you trying to kid, Brad?

Buffalo Sabres: Not only is Evander Kane tied for the league lead with two shorthanded goals (with Florida's Aleksander Barkov), he's tied for the team lead with 11 points. It's not that big of a surprise – we've always known the talent was there – but the fact he's delivering on his promise is rather novel. He could be headed for a personal best in goals, topping the 30 he scored in 2011-12. (Related note: It's a contract year.)

Calgary Flames: He's only six months younger than coach Glen Gulutzan, but they signed Jaromir Jagr anyway.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Canes were the least-penalized team in the league in the early going, averaging 5.8 penalty minutes per game. To paraphrase Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater, "They are like five Brad Marchands playing against five other Brad Marchands..."

Chicago Blackhawks: After exploding for 10 goals in their season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins and following that up with five tallies against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks' offense has slowed down considerably. Chicago hasn't been shut out yet this season, but they've been limited to two goals or less in six of their past seven games – with the exception being a four-goal effort against lowly Arizona.

Colorado Avalanche: Matt Duchene is still playing for them, which is kind of surprising. When is Avs GM Joe Sakic going to pull the trigger and trade this guy?

Columbus Blue Jackets: What a pleasant surprise to see 21-year-old rookie left winger Sonny Milano leading the team with five goals, including two game-winners.

Dallas Stars: It's mildly shocking when you remember that backup goalie Kari Lehtonen (1-3-0 record, 2.91 goals-against average, .896 save percentage) is being paid $5.9 million this season. The Stars are also on the hook for $7.5 million this season as well as next year for Jason Spezza, who needs to pick up the pace (five assists in 10 games).

Detroit Red Wings: He's wearing the winged wheel, but Mike Green has turned back the clock and he's putting up points (11 in 11 games) like he did in the good ol' days with the Washington Capitals.

Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid scored five goals in the five games in which Leon Draisaitl also suited up this season – and zero goals in the four games that Draisaitl missed. It's a small sample size to be sure, but it speaks to Draisaitl's importance in the Oilers' lineup.

Florida Panthers: There's a 101-year-old, three-headed goalie monster roaming around the Florida Everglades. OK, the Panthers only brought in 34-year-old Antti Niemi to back up 29-year-old James Reimer after 38-year-old Roberto Luongo went down was lost to injury, but still, that's a lot of old men in masks.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings fired defense-minded coach Darryl Sutter in the summer, but they're leading the league with a 1.90 goals-against average, anyway. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick ranks first in the NHL with  a 1.88 GAA and .944 save percentage, while L.A.'s penalty kill was second overall at 92.3-percent efficiency (the Ottawa Senators entered Friday night's game against the New Jersey Devils at 92.6 percent).

Minnesota Wild: Chris Stewart leading the way with six goals and eight points wasn't exactly expected. The power winger posted back-to-back 28-goal seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11 (in just 66 games), but he's basically been a 15-goal guy ever since. He scored 13 goals with the Wild last season and a career-low eight with Anaheim two years ago.

Montreal Canadiens: It's not often a team leads the league in shots per game (38.4) but ranks last overall in goals per game (1.70). Meanwhile, they have Carey Price in net but the Habs are second-last in both team GAA (3.76) and save percentage (.880).

Nashville Predators: The reports of the demise of Pekka Rinne's goaltending talents were greatly exaggerated. Rinne has had some bumpy stretches in the past few years, including last season when some observers started to wonder if the soon-to-be 35-year-old was in an irreversible decline. But Rinne bounced back and was stellar for the Preds in their playoff run last spring – save for a couple forgettable games in the Stanley Cup final – and he's kept it going so far this season. His 1.86 GAA and .940 save percentage makes for quite the contrast with backup Juuse Saros' numbers (3.53 GAA, .854 save percentage).

New Jersey Devils: The big surprise, obviously, is how well the Devils have fared thus far. New Jersey is 7-2-0. There's a few reasons for the early success, such as a spread-out offense that features 15 Devils players with at least one goal (but nobody with more than three goals). Then, of course, there's the rookies – UFA defenseman signee Will Butcher, No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier and unheralded winger Jesper Bratt all ranked in the top 10 among NHL freshmen scorers, while Blake Coleman was also getting a regular shift with centers Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle on the the sidelines.

New York Islanders: John Tavares is leading the Isles with six goals and 10 points in 10 games. No big deal. But he's amassed those goals and points in just three games – against struggling Arizona, Buffalo and San Jose – while being held off the scoresheet in seven contests. That's more than a little disconcerting.

New York Rangers: They've made the playoffs seven years in a row, but they'd be last in the East if not for the disaster in Montreal. Mats Zuccarello, who has never been a minus player in any of his previous seven NHL seasons, has the worst non-Coyotes plus/minus in the league, at minus-10 (tied with Pittsburgh's Kris Letang).

Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson missed the first five games of the season, then collected nine helpers in his first six games back. That's a Gretzky-esque pace of 116 assists, if Karlsson stays healthy the rest of the year and plays 77 games. He's not going to come close to hitting that number, of course, but it's yet another reminder that Karlsson. Is. Good.

Philadelphia Flyers: The two-way talents of Sean Couturier have allowed the Flyers to use him mostly in a defensive role since he entered the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2011.  He chips in offensively – he's ranged from 34 to 39 points in each of the past four seasons – but he's well on his way to a career year if the early returns are any indication. Couturier ranked among the league leaders in goals, with seven in 10 games. His career high is 15, which he scored in 82 games in 2014-15.

Pittsburgh Penguins: For all the noise about the Pens' defensive deficiencies – they were hammered 10-1 by Chicago in the second game of the season and their team GAA was well over 4.00 until recently – Matt Murray is humming along at 7-0-1. Blame Antti Niemi, who was waived after starting out 0-3-0 with a 7.50 GAA and .797 save percentage.

San Jose Sharks: Brent Burns hasn't scored yet, can you believe it? It's tough to rag on a defenseman just because he hasn't found the twine in nine games, but Burns is coming off back-to-back seasons of 29 and 27 goals. The Sharks, down near the bottom of the standings in the West, need their big-shooting bearded bomber to start lighting the lamp. It should be said that Burns' goal-less start isn't for lack of trying – he leads the team and ranks third among NHL defensemen with 39 shots, and has recorded six assists.

St. Louis Blues: There's never been any doubt about the pedigree of Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo. They were both first-round picks and have proven their worth at the NHL level for the past several seasons. But third in league scoring (Schwartz) and tied for first in defensemen scoring (Pietrangelo)? It's enough to make you sing the Blues, but in a good way.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts were a popular pick to make amends for last year's injury-induced playoff miss. But the Lightning have gone above and beyond in the early stages of 2017-18, with the best record in the NHL (9-1-1), the second-best offense (4.00 goals per game) and fourth-best defense (2.36 GAA), the league's leading point and assist man (Steven Stamkos), leading goal-scorer (Nikita Kucherov) and, for good measure, 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was second among rookie scorers with four goals and 10 points in 11 games. Oh, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is among the league's best in GAA and save percentage in his first full season as the team's No. 1.

Toronto Maple Leafs: We knew they'd score their share of goals, but we didn't know they'd be the highest-scoring team in the league (4.30 goals per game). They're also the seventh-most generous team in the NHL, with a GAA of 3.57. Add it all up, and there's about eight goals per game when the Leafs play. Fun and exciting, unless you're Mike Babcock.

Vancouver Canucks: Where to start? The supposedly rebuilding Canucks entered the weekend with one of the best records in the Western Conference (6-3-1), and were being led by the likes of rookie Brock Boeser (nine points in eight games after being a healthy scratch in the first two contests of the season), career fourth-liner and PIMs producer Derek Dorsett (six goals) and UFA backup goalie Anders Nilsson (two shutouts in four starts). Perhaps most surprising, however, is the fact the Canucks are doing so well with the Sedin twins doing so little – Daniel had two goals and four points in 10 games, while Henrik has been held to just three assists.   

Vegas Golden Knights: The NHL expansion team that everyone was predicting would languish at the bottom of the standings all season has won eight of its first nine games for the best points percentage in the NHL heading into the weekend (.889).

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is vying for the league lead with 53 shots (and 10 goals) so far this season. No surprise. The Caps are second-last in the NHL at 29.0 shots per game. Surprise.

Winnipeg Jets: Maybe they didn't need Steve Mason after all. The veteran goalie, who was brought in to stabilize the crease and mentor Connor Hellebuyck, has stumbled out of the starting gates (0-3-1, 4.84 GAA, .872 save percentage), while Hellebuyck is cruising along without a regulation loss in his first five decisions (4-0-1, 2.25 GAA, .931 save percentage).

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31 Teams, 31 Surprises: NHL Things That Make You Go Hmmm