The first full week of NHL regular season hockey has finally come to a close, which means that it is time to evaluate where each team stands to this point. Naturally, we expect things to change rapidly over the first few weeks of the season. But to this point, there have been some huge surprises around the league, which will be clearly outlined in the rankings.
1. Chicago Blackhawks — 6-0-0
The Blackhawks are undefeated, winners of four road games, already 3-0-0 against the Central Division and possess potentially the most dangerous offense in the NHL led by Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Need I justify this choice anymore? Of course not.
2. San Jose Sharks — 5-0-0
San Jose is the only other unbeaten team in the league, which comes as no surprise given their success on both ends of the ice. The Sharks are scoring nearly five goals per game and Antti Niemi is saving nearly 93 percent of the shots he faces. Heck, even the backup goalie Thomas Greiss has a shutout already.
3. St. Louis Blues — 5-1-0
Defense wins championships. A great goaltender can stifle a great offense on any night. In my mind, Jaroslav Halak (1.69 GAA) and Brian Elliott (1.98 GAA) are the best goaltending combination in the business. Add each of those facts up and it equals a big time contender in St. Louis.
4. New Jersey Devils — 3-0-1
I’ll be the first to admit that I was concerned about this team after Zach Parise decided to take his talents to Minnesota. However, to this point Martin Brodeur has been marvelous. Set aside the rough start in Montreal and he has allowed less than a goal per game. And to make matters even better, Adam Henrique will be back in a couple of days.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning — 4-1-0
I’m not convinced that the Lightning are solid between the pipes. Nonetheless, their start to the season has been nothing short of exceptional because of the electric offense. Multi-goal victories over Ottawa, Washington and Philadelphia are proof of that. Also, 22-year-old (that is not a typo) Steven Stamkos is once again off to a booming start with eight points.
6. Ottawa Senators — 3-1-1
Many folks aren’t sold on the Senators, but I truly believe they are built to make another run (and perhaps even better run) to the postseason. Craig Anderson is an underrated netminder, Erik Karlsson is one of the most complete defenseman in the sport and Jason Spezza is one of my favorite scorers. Those are only a few of many solid players on the roster.
7. Boston Bruins — 3-0-1
Boston continues to play excellent hockey at the TD Garden, which is good news for a team that should pick up home ice in at least one round of the postseason. However, Tyler Seguin has just one point through four games. He needs to wake up to fuel an offense that is currently ranked 14th.
8. Montreal Canadiens — 3-1-0
After an opening night loss to Toronto, I was quick to criticize the play of Montreal. Just over a week later I’m ready to applaud what they have accomplished. In three consecutive wins, the Canadiens have given up just five goals without the service of star defenseman P.K. Subban (still hasn’t been signed).
9. Anaheim Ducks — 3-1-0
The defensive effort from Anaheim has been sub-par to say the least (25th in goals allowed, 30th on the penalty kill), yet the team has won three of four. This is largely because of Daniel Winnik, who is currently 2nd in the NHL with five goals scored. That will go on the “Things I Didn’t Expect to Say until March” list.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins — 3-2-0
Even with two early losses it’s impossible to keep the Penguins out of the top 10. This is a team that features Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Kris Letang — all guys with the potential to score more than 30 points in this short season. And because of relatively poor goaltending, this will consistently be an exciting team playing in high-scoring affairs.
11. Winnipeg Jets — 3-1-1
After starting the year on a two-game losing streak, Winnipeg has reeled off three consecutive impressive wins. In the victories, the Jets have averaged more than 35 shots on goal, just over one power play goal and a respectable goals against average below three. It’s a nifty formula for winning hockey games!
12. Nashville Predators — 1-1-3
It is concerning that the Predators have struggled mightily in clutch moments. Three shootout losses with an all-star netminder between the pipes is rough. But, it’s worth mentioning that Nashville has dealt with an incredibly tough schedule thus far. Four of their first five opponents are ranked in the top 10 in this post. The Preds will need to survive the last four road games on this brutal trip, and then they should get back on track at home.
13. Dallas Stars — 2-2-1
Four of the Stars 11 goals this season have been scored by the 40-year-olds on the roster. That’s not an attempt to poke fun at Jaromir Jagr or Ray Whitney. They’re outstanding scorers. But, somebody else in Dallas needs to step up to improve an offense that ranks 25th in goals scored per game.
14. New York Islanders — 2-2-1
If the season ended today, the Islanders would be headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006-07. Unfortunately, New York still has 43 games left to prove that they are the team that smoked Toronto on the road on Thursday; not the one that finished with just 79 points last year.
15. Colorado Avalanche — 2-2-0
Inconsistency has been a big issue for the Avalanche through four games. Colorado is built to make a run in the playoffs, but they have to avoid letdowns like they had in San Jose on Saturday. Also, re-signing Ryan O’Reilly is of extreme importance moving forward. His presence on the ice will dramatically improve the Avalanche offensive attack.
16. Detroit Red Wings — 2-2-1
Through five games, Detroit has converted on just two of 26 power play opportunities, while allowing its opponent to strike more than 30 percent of the time. Simply put, these numbers will have to change or the Red Wings will be enjoying the golf course come playoff time.
17. New York Rangers — 2-3-0
For a team that is expected to compete for a Stanley Cup, early losses to Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia aren’t promising. But it would be foolish to believe that Henrik Lundqvist will still have a goals against average above 3.00 and the dynamic offense will be out of the top 10 in a few weeks.
18. Vancouver Canucks — 2-2-1
The goaltending situation is definitely going to become a distraction if it continues to play out in this way. Neither guy looks ready to step up and solidify himself as the top netminder. The Sedin brothers are still in Vancouver, though. They will do enough to keep the Canucks relevant in the back of the Western Conference playoff picture.
19. Carolina Hurricanes — 2-2-0
Boy, those Staal brothers can really play hockey, right? Jordan and Eric have combined for three goals and five assists in four games. They’re a key reason why the ‘Canes have been able to work their way back to .500 after starting 0-2-0.
20. Edmonton Oilers — 2-2-0
How many first overall picks does it take to win a Stanley Cup? Well, more than the Oilers currently have on the roster it seems. This is a young team full of offensive talent, but they clearly aren’t ready to compete with the big boys. They’ll likely fight for a final playoff spot for most of the year.
21. Minnesota Wild — 2-2-1
And, now we reach the part of the rankings that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I realize that Minnesota is currently 3rd in the Western Conference standings, but they have been a disaster over the last three games. The goaltending that was suppose to push them to a division crown has surrendered 13 goals during the three-game skid. Even the great Zach Parise and Ryan Suter can’t overcome that.
22. Philadelphia Flyers — 2-4-0
When the Flyers lose, they really get blown out of the arena. In fact, Philadelphia has lost its four games by a combined 12 goals; or, by an average of three per game. I fear that the goaltending situation here is going to be the downfall for a talented offensive club.
23. Los Angeles Kings — 1-2-1
So, you be the judge. Are the Kings experiencing a championship hangover? Or, maybe they really are just an eight seed that made a lucky run? Or, perhaps we are just overanalyzing a slow start? Regardless of which you choose, it’s undeniable that Anze Kopitar, Dustin brown and Jonathan Quick need to return from the offseason. Their mind is still in La-La-Land.
24. Toronto Maple Leafs — 2-3-0
Coming into the shortened season I didn’t hate the Maple Leafs chances of making a postseason appearance. Sure, the goaltending is sketchy, but they have the firepower to cover it up at times. However, when I heard that Joffrey Lupul is missing six weeks due to injury, I knew their chances were significantly lower. Sad day, Toronto.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets — 1-3-1
The Blue Jackets play hard every night. They play with a chip on their shoulder and with the intensity of a team that believes that they can compete with anyone. Unfortunately, the talent level on the ice is quite a bit lower than most of their opponents. Columbus is likely in for another relatively rough season (but don’t worry, nothing like last year).
26. Washington Capitals — 1-3-1
Alex Ovechkin has just two points in five games? Braden Holtby has a goals against average above five through two starts? The Capitals are near 30th in every major statistical category? Oh, now I see why Washington started the year on a four-game losing streak.
27. Buffalo Sabres — 2-3-0
In a battle of struggling teams Sunday night, Ovechkin scored his only goal of the season to help Washington beat Buffalo. This sent the Sabres to a third straight loss after starting 2-0-0. They could desperately use a home win over Toronto on Tuesday.
28. Calgary Flames — 1-2-1
Maybe Calgary will benefit from playing in the wide open Northwest Division. This should keep them within reach for the early part of the season. But in the end, the Flames will likely miss the playoffs and struggle to bring back all-star Jarome Iginla. Ouch.
29. Phoenix Coyotes — 1-4-0
Yikes. Phoenix is another one of those expected championship contenders that has stumbled out of the gate. Aside from a come-from-behind win over Columbus at home, the Coyotes have been unimaginably bad on defense. They are giving up four goals per game so far this season. This can partly be explained by the injury to Mike Smith — not that he was off to that pleasant of a start either, though.
30. Florida Panthers — 1-4-0
The shocking Southeast Division champions from last season are a disaster right now. Florida scored five goals in its opening night victory over Carolina, but since then has recorded just three goals during a five-game losing streak. And, none of the losses have been close. The Panthers are losing by an average of nearly four goals per game.