The Biggest Takeaways from the Start of the 2015-16 NHL Season

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2015

The Biggest Takeaways from the Start of the 2015-16 NHL Season

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Welcome back, NHL.

    The preseason is tedious. It's not until the puck drops on meaningful hockey again that fall actually feels like it's in season.

    That finally happened last week, and although it's only been a few days, there are some early takeaways to make note of.

    Performances by those who are in new environments this year, serious injuries, early impressions and unexpected impact are each part of this slideshow.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of NHL.com.

Hockey Hurts

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Just days into the new season, some teams are already looking to fill big skates because of injuries. A couple of them involved players who were suiting up in big roles for new teams.

    That's the case in Buffalo, where the Sabres spent last season stripping down the roster and trading away both veteran starting netminders by the deadline. They identified who they wanted for their young group and made a deal for ex-Ottawa Senators goalie Robin Lehner, giving up a first-round pick to get him. In just his first regular-season game with the Sabres, Lehner lasted 28 minutes before suffering a high-ankle sprain without even taking contact. Early MRI results suggest he will be out as long as a couple of months, coach Dan Bylsma said, per NHL.com.

    Bummer.

    If 28 minutes is a short debut, Carolina Hurricanes fans barely had time to blink during new top-four defenseman James Wisniewski's first game. He played 47 seconds before tearing his ACL. Prognosis: six months to recover from surgery. 

    Jaroslav Halak is day-to-day and has yet to play a game for the New York Islanders, who maybe not coincidentally have yet to win a game. And Boston Bruins bad boy Brad Marchand is out indefinitely with a concussion thanks to an elbow from Dale Weise of the Montreal Canadiens, per coach Claude Julien (via NHL.com).

Connor's Got Serious Competition for the Calder

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    First overall draft pick Connor McDavid is two games into what will likely be a long and prosperous career, but he's not the rookie making the biggest early splash as so many expected. 

    It's not Jack Eichel, the second pick from June's draft, either. No, the way-too-early Calder lead candidate is the New York Rangers' third-line center Oscar Lindberg, with four goals in his first three games.

    Close behind is Detroit Red Wings 19-year-old Dylan Larkin, a University of Michigan product drafted in the middle of the first round last spring. Larkin has a goal and two assists in his first two NHL outings.

    Behind them, though, exists a large number of early contributors, including Eichel, who scored in his debut. Nineteen freshmen have at least one point through their first two or three games. Thirteen of them have goals. None of them are named McDavid.

    It's early, and not all of them are going to finish with 40 or more points on the season. But the crop is deep and capable of making an impact regardless of draft position and expectations.

    And that McDavid kid will be just fine, too.

Collection of Stars Does Not a (Good) Team Make

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    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    Phil Kessel joining Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin makes the Pittsburgh Penguins unbeatable, right? Not so fast.

    The Pens have fallen flat offensively through the start of their season. Kessel scored in his second contest wearing the yellow and black, but it's the team's only goal so far and the Pens have been outscored 5-1 in their first two games.

    So maybe they need more than another elite offensive powerhouse to get over the hump. As with all these slides, it's a little early to predict failure for the Penguins based on the results of two games on the road against the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes. However, they didn't come flying out of the gate as so many might have expected.

    At least the early trouble is in the scoring department and not with the goaltending. With that kind of talent up front, you know the goals will start coming sooner rather than later.

Scoring Is Up!

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    The goals-per-game average in the NHL season last year was a rousing 2.66. Carey Price won the Hart Trophy as the player deemed most valuable to his team across the league. It was the year of the goaltender.

    Through Saturday's slate of games, teams were clocking in at an average of 2.74 goals per game, according to SportingCharts.com—a pace that probably has commissioner Gary Bettman salivating.

    Of course, that pace is through 30 games played, and the idea of the Florida Panthers netting seven a night is about as sustainable as the Colorado Avalanche's poor possession performance from a couple of seasons back. However, it's an encouraging sign for those who love offensive outbursts that teams like the Panthers are capable of it and that goals may be back in fashion.

    Ones like this by Alexander Ovechkin will never go out of style.

The Goalies Have Come to Play

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    Although they've been losing the battle, as the previous slide on scoring would suggest, some of the league's top goaltenders have proven they're not about to concede defeat.

    There has been no shortage of highlight-reel saves to start the season. And since we told you already that scoring is up on average per game so far, we should take a moment to appreciate the last-ditch efforts and groin-snapping stretches from the guys in masks.

    What's your favorite so far? Henrik Lundqvist's miraculous diving stick save to thwart Columbus Blue Jackets sniper Ryan Johansen? Karri Ramo's amazing blocker swat on the Vancouver Canucks' Henrik Sedin? Maybe Steve Mason's effort to deny Tyler Johnson has your vote.

    Or it could be Martin Jones showing he's up to the challenge of becoming a No. 1 goalie for the San Jose Sharks by using his wrist to reject Los Angeles Kings winger Tyler Toffoli.

    No matter which one you enjoyed most, it looks like we're in for a nice save compilation come spring.

Patrick Kane Is All Business

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    We mentioned Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Kane's situation as a top storyline to follow in a season preview slideshow last week.

    So far, it's business as usual for Kane, one of the league's most incredible offensive players.

    Kane is averaging two points per game with three goals and three helpers through his first three contests. He's proving he can play through what's no doubt been a difficult personal situation and also easily adapt to a couple of new linemates, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov, after the departures of both Brandon Saad and Brad Richards in the offseason.

    If he stays healthy, he could win the scoring title this season.

Babcock-Less Wings Look Better Than the Leafs with Babcock

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    The Detroit Red Wings are undefeated. The Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to win. And their head-to-head battle went poorly for the Leafs.

    Not, by any means, an impossible-to-predict path for these two teams in the early going.

    But what's somewhat surprising is how smoothly the Red Wings seem to have moved on from a decade of Mike Babcock's coaching and into Jeff Blashill's rookie season.

    Babcock had tremendous success, reaching the playoffs in each of his 10 seasons in Detroit, but according to some nasty (NSFW) tweets from former player Mike Commodore, he didn't necessarily make the best impression on all his charges.

    Veteran player Johan Franzen alluded to the notion the departure came at a good time for the team in Detroit when talking to the Windsor Star's Bob Duff.

    "It’s good to hear a new voice in the locker room," Franzen said. "We’re going to play for him, that’s for sure."

    In Toronto, meanwhile, it's going to take some time to turn around what's been a total mess for years. But at least the Leafs looked somewhat capable of scoring in the later stages of a game against the Ottawa Senators on the weekend.

The Promise of a Jagr Mullet Is Magical

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    Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    Somehow it became massive news when Florida Panthers veteran Jaromir Jagr decided to give in to teammates' calls to regrow his infamous mullet from his prime playing days with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    If his first game since beginning to grow out the locks is any indication, we're in for plenty more treats from Jagr this season.

    The 43-year-old scored twice in his debut this season and led the Panthers to a 7-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on the weekend. Has to be the mullet.

Brooklyn Begins

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Hockey has hit Brooklyn. And as weird as that might sound for a team called the New York Islanders, the new rink at Barclays Center blends some of the old tradition with the new digs.

    They brought their goal horn (after a failed experiment with a new one in the preseason), their organist and a horde of fans from Long Island who were chanting for the old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum at times during the home opener. 

    Veteran Isles forward Matt Martin told the NHL.com's Dan Rosen it felt like home.

    It's a beautiful place, and obviously it's a little different than the Coliseum, but the fans were into it, and if we can have that every game, I don't want to say the Coliseum will be missed, but the one thing about the Coliseum that was so special is how loud it is and they did a good job of turning this rink into that. Everyone is talking about, "Does this feel like home?" If the fans are like that every night, it definitely will.

Martin Jones Looks Like the Real Deal

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Martin Jones has appeared in just 36 NHL contests but already has eight shutouts.

    That included one in his home debut for the San Jose Sharks against the Western Conference heavyweight Anaheim Ducks. He allowed just one goal in a win over the Los Angeles Kings as well in his first game of the regular season as the Sharks' new starting goalie.

    According to the Elias Sports Bureau, via NHL.com, "Jones is the fastest goaltender to earn eight career shutouts since Frank Brimsek earned his eighth in his 27th game with the Boston Bruins in February 1939."

    The Sharks replaced Antti Niemi this summer, sending him to the Dallas Stars and then dealing a first-round pick and a prospect to the Boston Bruins for Jones, the former Kings backup who went to Boston on paper as part of a draft-day trade for Milan Lucic.

    Given that the 25-year-old was buried behind Jonathan Quick on the Kings' depth chart, acquiring him to be the top goalie was a risk. But it looks like it's paying off for Doug Wilson, the Sharks general manager.