Hockey fans are finally happy once again. The NHL has been back for over a week now, and fans across the continent have gotten to see their favorite teams in action in at least four games so far this season.
Four games is hardly enough to define a team, but there have been some squads that have caught the attention of NHL fans early.
Here are four teams that have surprised us so far this season.
The Coyotes have surprised fans for all the wrong reasons through their first five games of the season. Phoenix is 1-4 to start the year, and that one win came at home against a lowly Columbus Blue Jackets team.
Fans in Phoenix definitely expected more from a team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season. So is the problem in Phoenix serious, or is the team just off to a slow start?
To me the problem looks pretty serious. Phoenix's defense is absolutely awful. They currently rank last in the NHL in goals against with an average of four per game, and this was a team that was known for playing strong defense last season.
The Coyotes have already dug themselves a hole in the Western Conference, and with a shortened season, they do not want to wait too long to make their climb to the top, or they may not find a way into the postseason.
It was tough to tell how the defending Eastern Conference Champions would respond after losing Zach Parise and Petr Sykora in the offseason, but they have looked great so far.
New Jersey ranks second in the NHL in goals against and has the fifth best penalty kill in the league. The offense is down a little, but that is to be expected since they lost Parise and Sykora. Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson will have to carry most of the weight offensively, but they should be able to handle it.
Should fans be surprised by the slow start the Los Angeles Kings have had to the season?
The expectations for the defending Stanley Cup Champions were pretty high coming into this season, so yes, I guess fans should be surprised, but we have to remember this team did only win 40 regular-season games last year.
To use a very cliched phrase, Los Angeles just got hot at the right time, and they were able to ride that all the way to the Stanley Cup.
The goal-scoring problems that the Kings had throughout much of last season are certainly back. They are 0-for-23 on the power play so far this year, and they are only averaging two goals per game.
Los Angeles did finally score four goals Saturday night, but do not read too much into that, because they were playing against Phoenix.
It would not surprise me at all to see the Kings totally miss out on the playoffs this year.
Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton look unstoppable right now, and they have helped lead the San Jose Sharks to the most surprising start of the early 2013 NHL season.
San Jose is 5-0 to begin the year, Marleau has nine goals and four assists and Thornton has three goals and 10 assists. The Sharks also are giving up only 1.6 goals per game, which ranks them as the best defensive team in the NHL as well.
Nobody wants to go down to the Shark Tank right now, but luckily for San Jose, five of their next six games are at home.
The dominance of the Sharks will continue for a few more weeks, but it will be interesting to see how well they can play on the road in February. San Jose has a six-game road trip in the middle of the month that will be highlighted by a trip to the Midwest, where they will face Chicago, St. Louis and then Chicago again. It doesn't get much tougher than that, and it will tell us if San Jose should be taken seriously.