The Biggest Surprises so Far in the 2015-16 NHL Season
Over two weeks into this NHL season, there's already been some early surprises. That's not unusual, as every new campaign sees players or teams doing better or worse than predicted.
Sometimes, a team expected to do well gets off to a lousy start, like the Columbus Blue Jackets. A team can go undefeated in the opening two weeks, like the Montreal Canadiens. A superstar forward, like New York Rangers winger Rick Nash (pictured above), can take longer than expected to score his first goal of the season.
Here's a look at the biggest surprises thus far in the 2015-16 NHL season, providing a brief summary and analysis of each. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section below.
Calgary Flames Stumble Out of the Gate
The rebuilding Calgary Flames surprised many NHL observers in 2014-15 by reaching the playoffs. Guided by 2015 Jack Adams Award winner Bob Hartley, a deep defense anchored by Mark Giordano and an offense powered by young stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames entered 2015-16 hoping to build upon last season's success.
By winning only one of their opening six games, the Flames stumbled badly out of the gate. Their goaltending, defense and offense ranked among the league's worst. Things were so bad, Sportsnet's Mark Spector reported that general manager Brad Treliving is now seeking a big trade to turn things around. Spector claimed Treliving could be interested in Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos.
The Flames still have plenty of time to reverse their fortunes, but they must avoid digging themselves too deep of an early-season hole. Pulling this club out of its tailspin presents a significant challenge for Hartley. The team also needs a better effort from its stars. However, a major trade bringing a superstar like Stamkos to Calgary is unlikely.
Anaheim Ducks' Sputtering Start
The Anaheim Ducks finished 2014-15 as the top team in the Western Conference. Led by superstar forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and their skilled young defensemen, the Ducks came to within one game of advancing to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
In its season preview, The Hockey News picked the Ducks to be this season's Stanley Cup champions. In their first six games, however, they looked nothing like Cup contenders, lurching to a 1-4-1 record. Scoring only six goals in that stretch, their offense ranked among the league's worst. Getzlaf and Perry, along with Ryan Kesler and playoff hero Jakob Silfverberg, failed to score their first goals of the season.
Given the Ducks' talented depth, it's surprising that they're struggling to score. Once their top offensive stars begin finding their range, however, their production won't be anemic for long. When that picks up, expect the Ducks to quickly rise up the Western Conference standings.
Notable Stars Struggling Early
In the opening two weeks of 2015-16, several NHL superstars were off to surprisingly poor starts. Among the notables failing to tally their first goals in that stretch were Anaheim Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, New York Rangers sniper Rick Nash (pictured above), Los Angeles Kings winger Jeff Carter and Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek.
Several top goaltenders also had their difficulties. Former Vezina Trophy winners Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tuuka Rask of the Boston Bruins were among the league's worst, statistically speaking. Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche began so poorly that he was recently benched for two games in favor of backup Reto Berra.
Given the talent of these stars, most should soon overcome their early struggles. Some, however, could take longer than expected to regain their form. A handful could be entering the decline of their careers. It's something worth watching as the season progresses.
Columbus Blue Jackets' Lengthy Losing Skid
Injuries decimated the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014-15, keeping them out of playoff contention. With a healthier roster and led by center Ryan Johansen, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Brandon Saad, the Blue Jackets entered this season as a projected postseason contender. The Hockey News predicted they would finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division.
The Jackets' dreams, however, quickly became a nightmare, as they lost their first eight games. Johansen, Saad and their teammates suffered costly defensive breakdowns. After a 7-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators, Bobrovsky claimed he had “zero confidence right now.” The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline reported that management explored the trade market for a defenseman or two to stabilize the mistake-prone blue line.
Following their seventh defeat (a 4-0 shutout by the New York Islanders), head coach Todd Richards was fired. His replacement is John Tortorella, a demanding bench boss with 446 career NHL victories and a Stanley Cup title with Tampa Bay in 2004 on his resume. Tortorella preaches an aggressive, physical defensive style, but it remains to be seen if he can reverse the Jackets' sagging fortunes.
Montreal Canadiens' Winning Streak
The Montreal Canadiens were among the best teams in the Eastern Conference in 2014-15, finishing atop the Atlantic Division and second in the conference standings. Led by award-winning goaltender Carey Price, superstar defenseman P.K. Subban and captain Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens were once again expected to be among this season's beasts of the east.
What wasn't expected was them winning the opening seven games of the season. The Canadiens' strong start set a franchise record and was very much a team effort. They were among the leaders in goals, shots per game and penalty killing while giving the fewest goals. Several of those victories came against difficult opponents like the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues.
The Canadiens' winning streak won't last forever. With another 75 games ahead of them, they have a long way to go if they hope to finish with this season's best record. What's apparent, however, is that the Habs are making an early statement that they are a force to be reckoned with in 2015-16.