5 NHL Teams That Have Proven the Experts Wrong in the Early Going
First impressions matter.
That adage holds even more true in a lockout-shortened NHL season, where teams will only play 48 games. Starting the season well is incredibly important if a team wants to make the playoffs, and a slow start can cost a team a trip to the postseason.
Some teams have defied the experts and come out of the gates hot despite low expectations, while others have failed to live up to preseason hype.
The following is a list of teams who have proven the experts wrong early in the season—both by looking sharp and looking sluggish.
San Jose Sharks
Through their first six games, the San Jose Sharks have not dropped a contest and sit second in the Western Conference standings. Forward Patrick Marleau leads the NHL in goals with nine and is tied with teammate Joe Thornton for the league lead in points with 14.
While the Sharks have been perennial championship contenders for the past few seasons, they have never reached the Stanley Cup Finals and many predicted this would be the season the team lost their elite status.
In his preseason NHL power rankings, for example, Sports Illustrated’s Adrian Dater had San Jose ranked 23rd out of 30 teams and said the Sharks “appear near their expiration date as a serious Cup contender.”
Dater went on to predict the Sharks would not make the playoffs this year.
While the season still has a long way to go, San Jose still looks like a force to contend with on the ice.
Perhaps more worrisome is the fact forward Alexander Ovechkin has just a goal and an assist through the first five games of the season.
The team has not performed well under first-year coach Adam Oates, who was brought in to right the ship after the team finished last season 15 points behind their 2010-2011 pace.
Prior to the season, ESPN’s Scott Burnside said he liked “the Caps’ depth in goal and up and down the lineup” and predicted the team to finish near the top of the conference.
Instead, Washington would be lucky to make the playoffs with the way they are currently playing.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning took a step back last season, missing the playoffs after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals the year before.
General manager Steve Yzerman added some talent, including towering Swedish goalie Anders Lindback, and the team was supposed to take a step in the right direction in 2013.
But they weren’t supposed to be this good. Led by dynamic forwards Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Lightning lead the league in goals per game and have lost just once in five games.
While many predicted Tampa Bay would return to the postseason this year, it was expected to be a close call, with the team probably sneaking in at the seventh or eighth spot.
In fact, Sports Illustrated’s Brian Cazeneuve even listed Bolts coach Guy Boucher as being on the "hottest seat" in the Southeast Division.
That certainly isn't the case now because Tampa Bay has looked sharp in the early going.
Though the Flyers face stiff competition in the Atlantic Division in Pittsburgh and New York, the team was expected to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Philly has won twice in seven games and sits near the bottom of the conference. The team has scored a paltry 2.2 goals per game and ranks 24th and 27th in the NHL in power play and penalty-kill percentage, respectively.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way. In his preseason power rankings, ESPN’s Scott Burnside had the Flyers at 9 and said the team looked “deep and skilled up front” and were a “lock” to make the playoffs.
The team will need to recapture some of that expected offensive pop if it is to fulfill Burnside’s prediction.
So far this year, however, the ‘Yotes' bubble has burst. The team has won just twice in six games and currently sits at second-to-last in the Western Conference.
While the team lost leading scorer Ray Whitney, head coach Dave Tippett has always made the most of what he has, with the lineup never relying on stars.
Prior to the season, Sports Illustrated’s Sarah Kwak said it would be “tempting” to take the Coyotes lightly, but she predicted the team would once again overachieve.
Through the early going, it doesn’t appear that will be the case.
While the team ranks sixth in the NHL in goals scored per game, they are near the bottom of the league in terms of goals allowed per game. The Coyotes will need to shore up their defense if they want to play up to their potential.