Red-Hot NHL Teams Sure to Cool Off
The 2013-14 NHL season is off to an interesting start.
At both the top and bottom of the standings in the early going, we're seeing an intriguing mix of the usual suspects nudging up next to some unexpected names.
Among the league leaders, a few teams look like they're well positioned to sustain their hot starts. For others, the good times they're enjoying in October will prove to be fleeting.
Here are the five teams near the top of the current NHL standings who are most likely to see a dip in their results during the weeks and months to come.
Record Through October 14: 3-0-2, tied for second in Pacific Division
The Calgary Flames have no business holding down a playoff spot in the Pacific Division, not even when we're just two weeks into the season.
The Flames are in a rebuilding phase similar to what's happening in Buffalo. The Sabres are following the traditional path for a team in flux, sitting last in the league with just one point through seven games. But Calgary hasn't lost yet in regulation, and they're working their magic with an odd collection of castoffs and spare parts.
Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler both signed with Calgary as free agents in summer 2012. They're now leading the way for a Flames team that's picking up points through sheer force of will.
The good times in Cowtown can't last. Calgary's 25th in goals against per game, and the team's current pace of 3.6 goals for per game—tied for fifth overall—is unsustainable with their lineup. A scoring drought is inevitable. When that happens, the Flames' losses will start piling up.
Record Through October 14: 4-1-0, first in Metropolitan Division
The Pittsburgh Penguins have picked up where they left off at the end of the last regular season, winning games with their high-powered offensive machine. They're third in the league in both goals per game and power-play efficiency so far.
The Penguins have also gotten great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury. In four games played, Fleury has played some of his best hockey with a 1.75 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
Even if Fleury is able to keep up his strong play, the Penguins are in trouble when it comes to the backup position. With Tomas Vokoun on the shelf for some time, Pittsburgh is counting on farmhand Jeff Zatkoff, who allowed six goals in his first NHL start, against Florida. It's just one game, but he doesn't appear to be ready for prime time.
Fleury can't play every game—and can't be expected to stay perfect the rest of the way. If Pittsburgh doesn't get some help in net, the team can't help but drop in the standings.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Record Through October 14: 5-1-0, first in Atlantic Division
The Toronto Maple Leafs are off to their best start since they went 10-0 under Pat Burns in 1993-94. It's an unexpectedly good launch for a team that underwent a significant overhaul during the summer.
It might not happen right away, but the Leafs will come back to earth. Toronto has faced relatively easy competition so far but still just squeaked out wins against Edmonton and Ottawa. Better teams will present stiffer competition going forward.
Newcomer Jonathan Bernier has looked strong in net, so a crease controversy is brewing between him and incumbent James Reimer. The Leafs are also a team whose young players still make plenty of mistakes. Rookie defenseman Morgan Rielly needs time to adapt to the NHL game, and Nazem Kadri continues to be a high-risk, high-reward presence up front.
Last season, the Leafs were able to ride a decent start all the way to a ninth-overall finish and a long-awaited playoff appearance. Toronto looks poised to get back to the postseason but won't win the Atlantic Division. The Leafs will face plenty of pressure from Detroit and Boston as the season wears on.
Record Through October 14: 5-0-0, first in Central Division
Make no mistake—the Colorado Avalanche are off to a very impressive start under new coach Patrick Roy.
Working with a roster that's not much different from the group that finished 29th last year, the Avs have been the stingiest team in the league in the early going, allowing just four goals in their first five games.
Even if Semyon Varlamov has a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, there's no way he can maintain his current .970 save percentage. His previous career high was .924 with Washington in 2010-11. The same is true for his 1.00 goals-against—that number is simply too good to sustain for an entire season.
By comparison—last year, former Avalanche castoff Craig Anderson boasted the top goaltending numbers among NHL regulars with a 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage.
As soon as Colorado's netminding starts to come back to earth, the team's overall fortunes will follow suit. Expect a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows through the season in Denver.
San Jose Sharks
Record Through October 14: 5-0-0, first in Pacific Division
We've seen this movie before, haven't we? The San Jose Sharks are off to another hot start.
Last year, the team opened the season with seven straight wins, then followed up with seven straight losses. The Sharks finished with 57 points over 48 games, good for 11th place overall.
San Jose will experience a similar correction this year, though it won't be nearly as drastic. They're now a deeper, more complete team that is poised to have a very good season.
When you start the year with a perfect record, there's nowhere to go but down. Don't expect the Sharks to run the table like last season's Chicago Blackhawks with their 24-game unbeaten streak to start the season.
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