Knee-Jerk Reactions to the Start of Every NHL Team's 2016-17 Season
The first week of regular-season NHL action is coming to a close, and teams have taken their first steps toward what they hope will be productive and ultimately profitable campaigns that end in the playoffs.
With two or three games completed for each of the 30 franchises, we take a look at what has been accomplished so far. There have been some surprisingly good performances, both by individuals and teams as a whole. There have been some awful debuts, and puzzling disappointments as well.
While it is admittedly way too early to count on anything we've seen thus far—just ask the guys who last year drafted their fantasy teams based on the opening week's scoring leaders—it is still fun to throw out an opinion about some of the results so far.
We'll toss out a knee-jerk reaction for every team following the start of the 2016-17 season. Feel free to add your own and debate the merits of our notes. But remember to take them with a grain of salt—they're knee-jerk reactions, after all.
The reaction: The Anaheim Ducks desperately need defenseman Hampus Lindholm back.
The reason: Allowing a whopping 3.33 goals against and 31.7 shots against per game so far, the Ducks seem to be missing holdout restricted free agent Lindholm, who is one of the game's most dynamic young two-way defenders but is allegedly asking for much more money than the cap-strapped Ducks can afford, according to Sportsnet's Luke Fox. The team had an NHL-best 2.29 GAA last season.
The reality: Lindholm is a key piece of the Ducks offense but to pin the team's early troubles—an 0-2-1 start—on one defender's absence is crazy. The team's overall play will have to improve, especially that of blueliners Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Kevin Bieksa.
The reaction: The Arizona Coyotes are going to ruin center Dylan Strome.
The reason: Despite leaving the rookie on the roster for the start of the regular season, the Coyotes had Strome sitting out as a healthy scratch for the opener, opting instead to play fellow rookies like Lawson Crouse, Laurent Dauphin and Christian Dvorak.
The reality: There's nothing wrong with bringing the talented middle man along slowly. He can learn from watching the NHL action from the press box and in practice. The team has a large number of young players but wants to remain competitive while developing them. It could use a rotation to accomplish that.
The reaction: Brad Marchand has a shot at winning the scoring title.
The reason: The Boston Bruins sniper is off to a hot start as a follow-up to his career year, which resulted in a fat new contract in the offseason. He played on a line with Sidney Crosby in the World Cup but early this season, on a line with David Backes and David Pastrnak, he proved he can drive the offense himself. Marchand was tied for the scoring lead Monday with two goals and six points through two games.
The reality: It's unlikely Marchand is going to score three points per game all season long. He's never even scored at a point-per-game pace before and cracked 60 for the first time last year. He may lead the Bruins in scoring with a new career high but putting him in the same category as Jamie Benn, John Tavares, Crosby (when healthy) and Patrick Kane is premature.
The reaction: Injuries are going to keep the Buffalo Sabres from competing.
The reason: Sophomore Jack Eichel and veteran Evander Kane were going to be counted on for a big chunk of offense for the Sabres' top six forwards. But both are out of action early, with Eichel on injured reserve having suffered a high ankle sprain and Kane having suffered cracked ribs in the opener.
The reality: Eichel is a driving force of the Sabres offense; he and Kane form two key pieces of the top lines, but the team has other players capable of contributing—most notably free-agent addition Kyle Okposo and veteran center Ryan O'Reilly.
The reaction: Brian Elliott is a bust.
The reason: The Calgary Flames' new No. 1 goaltender was pried from the St. Louis Blues at the draft with the hopes he could come in and improve the Flames' most unstable position from last season. However, Elliott was disappointing in his first two games, dropping both decisions to the Edmonton Oilers while posting an 8.18 save percentage and 5.08 goals-against average.
The reality: The Oilers and new captain Connor McDavid came out of the gates flying, while the Flames have been flat overall. Elliott's career numbers are solid, and he should bounce back, but backup Chad Johnson will get more opportunities if he can play well in his starts.
The reaction: The Carolina Hurricanes can't hold onto a lead.
The reason: A pair of overtime losses doesn't sound like a bad way to start the season, but for the Hurricanes, it was the manner in which they lost that is disturbing. They mounted three-goal leads in both but saw them each dissolve over the last half. They lost 5-4 to the Winnipeg Jets and 4-3 to the Vancouver Canucks while allowing four straight goals against.
The reality: The Canes are a young team that will experience some growing pains, but the fact they were able to produce seven goals in two games is promising. The young defense led by Justin Faulk can improve but it'll need the goaltending to be better to avoid these kinds of collapses to come away with the extra points.
The reaction: The penalty killing is detroying the Chicago Blackhawks.
The reason: The Blackhawks have struggled to keep the puck out of their net while playing shorthanded over the first few games, killing just 46.1 per cent of their opponents' opportunities while allowing a whopping seven power-play goals against in three contests—more than double the next-highest total. Veteran Marian Hossa has been on the ice for four power-play goals in a little more than a minute and a half of short-handed ice time.
The reality: Their percentage is troubling, but the number of penalties they have taken is probably more alarming, with 13 of them in three games for a team that is usually pretty disciplined.
The reaction: Jared Bednar is unbeatable.
The reason: New Colorado Avalanche head coach Bednar has an impressive winning streak going, according to Mike Chambers of the Denver Post, with victories in his last nine American Hockey League contests with the Lake Erie Monsters, six preseason wins with the Avs and now his first two regular-season contests. It's a great start for a team that lost its bench boss just weeks before training camp when Patrick Roy resigned his duties with the Avs citing philosophical differences.
The reality: Yes, the Avalanche will eventually lose a game. They could lose a lot of them if their scoring dries up after netting 10 goals in two games but giving up eight in return. Still, the start is a nice surprise for a squad that has underachieved for the past couple of seasons.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The reaction: The team has no star power.
The reason: After dealing away top center Ryan Johansen last season for cornerstone defender Seth Jones, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been unable to replace him with a consistently good top-line pivot. Through the first two games, the No. 1 line has been brutal. Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson are a combined minus-15 and have one lone point between the three of them.
The reality: The Blue Jackets need to play with a pack mentality, rolling four hardworking lines that can all chip in offensively in order to win. They need their goaltender to be their biggest star and Jones to lead the way defensively while supplementing some offense.
The reaction: Kari Lehtonen looks like the goaltender to start.
The reason: The Dallas Stars' Antti Niemi is off to a rough start with an .873 save percentage and 4.83 goals-against average thanks to a five-goal outburst by the Colorado Avalanche in less than a half-game in his second start. Lehtonen came on in relief and stopped 12 of 13 shots to earn his opportunity to try and take the majority of the starts.
The reality: The Stars overcame shoddy goaltending last year in the regular season to capture the top seed in the Western Conference. The inconsistent duo was a big reason the Stars disappointed in the playoffs, however, falling short in the second round against the St. Louis Blues.
Detroit Red Wings
The reaction: The veterans are going to come through to keep the playoff streak alive.
The reason: The Detroit Red Wings' chances of making it to a 26th consecutive postseason in the NHL appeared to take a massive hit when Pavel Datsyuk fled to the KHL this offseason. but unrestricted free-agent signing Thomas Vanek appears to be motivated to prove he's still a 20-plus goalscorer, while defenseman Mike Green has been productive early after a disappointing first season in Detroit.
The reality: Having strong performances from guys like Vanek will be important, but it's the younger members of this team who will determine whether or not the streak lives on. The Wings will need Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar to develop into leaders.
The reaction: Connor McDavid is going to win the Hart Trophy.
The reason: The super sophomore is the early leader in the scoring race with three goals and six points in two games—both wins for his Edmonton Oilers. He's shown the elite speed and skill that made him a Rookie of the Year candidate last season despite playing in just 45 games because of a broken clavicle and has displayed shown the poise and maturity of a veteran captain.
The reality: The sample size is small, but there's no reason to believe McDavid can't keep up this kind of play given his average of 1.07 points per game as a freshman last year. If he can stay healthy and help the Oilers get into the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, the highlight reel should help him get plenty of votes.
The reaction: Roberto Luongo is better than ever.
The reason: The Florida Panthers goalie had offseason hip surgery, forcing the team to load up on netminders with Reto Berra and James Reimer as insurance. He wasn't even expected to start the regular season, yet there he is among the first week's top three stars after posting two wins with a .957 save percentage and 0.98 goals-against average.
The reality: It's a long season. As great as Luongo was last year—and for the past few in Florida—he struggled slightly in the playoffs when fatigue and the hip began to affect him. The 37-year-old will have his work cut out to maintain this level of play over 82-plus games.
Los Angeles Kings
The reaction: The Los Angeles Kings are going to tank without Jonathan Quick.
The reason: The team's starting goaltender is out with a lower-body injury that could require surgery and keep Quick off the ice for three or four months, according to Sportsnet's Daren Millard. The Kings have lost their first two games of the season, and backups Peter Budaj and Jeff Zatkoff inspire little confidence as starters.
The reality: The Kings are definitely in some trouble, but the team's system has historically helped out its goaltenders. Martin Jones and Ben Scrivens played well in 2013 when Quick went down with a similar injury. Still, the season gets a lot tougher without a Vezina contender like Quick.
The reaction: Bruce Boudreau's presence is already paying off.
The reason: The Minnesota Wild are off to a decent 1-1 start to their season, and Boudreau's influence is already evident in the team's style of play. The former Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals head coach is known for preaching puck possession, and the Wild are in the top 10 in the early going with a 51.91 SAT percentage.
The reality: The Wild have been known as more of a hardworking and defensively oriented team over the years and ranked 23rd in possession last season. Ultimately, though, Boudreau will be judged on his success in the playoffs, and it will take the team some time to master his structure.
The reaction: Alexander Radulov is the next Alex Semin.
The reason: The Montreal Canadiens made a bold move in signing KHL star Radulov to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million this season to bring him back to the NHL. In two games so far, however, the skilled Russian has no points to show for his 45 shifts.
The reality: Radulov should be just fine as he re-adapts to the NHL pace and style after four years in the KHL. The 30-year-old will face a lot of pressure from the rabid fanbase in Montreal but should manage more than the four points in 15 games Semin scored in his brief time with the Habs. Radulov has been working hard but hasn't had the results yet.
The reaction: P.K. Subban is a natural-born leader.
The reason: Not only did the former Montreal Canadiens defenseman make an impassioned impression in his first game with the Nashville Predators, but the 27-year-old also delivered an inspirational speech after the contest, according to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean. Subban has a goal and an assist on six shots through a pair of games so far.
The reality: Subban's style seems like a great fit for Nashvegas, but only time will tell whether or not his upbeat attitude in the face of all adversity is admired or resented by his new teammates. Either way, his production should be impressive, and maybe that's all that matters.
New Jersey Devils
The reaction: The league's lowest-scoring offense is back with a vengeance.
The reason: Even after an offseason trade brought former first overall draft pick Taylor Hall into the fold with a healthy Michael Cammalleri and Adam Henrique, the New Jersey Devils offense has started the season flat once again. The Devils finished dead last in the league in goals scored last season, and the guys expected to lead the way this year have all been blanked in their first two contests.
The reality: These guys won't be held off the board for very long, but the Devils still don't have the offensive depth you'd expect in a playoff contender. Case in point: New York Islanders castoff P-A Parenteau was plucked off waivers and put into a top-six role immediately in Jersey.
New York Islanders
The reaction: The offense misses Kyle Okposo.
The reason: The New York Islanders were able to play two productive top trios when splitting up superstar center John Tavares and sniper Kyle Okposo over the past few seasons. This year, the lack of a legitimate second-line star is allowing the opposition to focus on Tavares—who has one goal on nine shots through the first three games of the season.
The reality: Losing Frans Nielsen and Okposo certainly hurts the team's forward depth, but things should get better for the Isles and captain Tavares as the newcomers and young players develop more chemistry.
New York Rangers
The reaction: The New York Rangers are a scoring juggernaut.
The reason: Thanks to hot starts from guys like Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers have one of the league's hottest offenses with 14 goals in three games. They are tied for second in average goals per game and first overall in total scored. Acquisitions like Zibanejad via trade and Michael Grabner and Jimmy Vesey in free agency are paying off up front.
The reality: The Blueshirts made a concerted effort to add firepower up front in the offseason, and things are working out well on the scoring front, which takes a lot of pressure off Henrik Lundqvist's shaky goaltending and hides some of the holes in the defensive play.
The reaction: The future of the Ottawa Senators' goaltending is cloudy.
The reason: Craig Anderson is 35, and the Sens' netminder-in-waiting is Andrew Hammond. You'll remember him as the guy who was a half-year wonder in helping the team make an unlikely playoff run two seasons ago. Well, Hammond made his first start Monday and dropped a 5-1 decision to the Detroit Red Wings. Anderson won his two starts but allowed seven goals and had save percentages under .900 in both appearances.
The reality: Hammond is the guy they are hoping will take over as the starter when Anderson finally fails to consistently make the big stops. And that day appears to be just around the corner. If Hammond can't handle the extra responsibility, the Sens will have to look for other options if they want to be truly competitive in the Eastern Conference. Bet they wish they still had Ben Bishop.
The reaction: No Sidney Crosby...no problem.
The reason: The Pittsburgh Penguins won their first two games without their concussed captain and earned a point in an overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night. Earning five of a possible six points in the first week of play is pretty decent for the Stanley Cup champs missing arguably the best player in the world coming into the regular season.
The reality: To repeat as champs, the Pens will need a healthy Crosby. As solid as their forward depth is with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel anchoring the top lines in Crosby's absence, they'll need every bit of Crosby's two-way play and leadership to make the unlikely repeat happen.
The reaction: Michal Neuvirth is the Philadelphia Flyers' starting goalie.
The reason: It wasn't Steve Mason suiting up for the season opener; it was Neuvirth. He came away with a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings to get the Flyers off to a great start to the campaign. Mason did play in the team's second contest and eked out a 4-3 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes, but he didn't have the same statistical strength with a .886 save percentage.
The reality: The Flyers will likely ride the hot glove throughout the season, knowing only one netminder will be protected in the upcoming expansion draft. We expect Neuvirth to get the majority of starts based on his cool playoff performance and the opener this year, but Mason was a key part of the playoff drive down the stretch last season and has the skills to start regularly if he can avoid some of the mental errors he's infamous for.
San Jose Sharks
The reaction: The San Jose Sharks will falter against top-end talent.
The reason: After squeaking by the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets in one-goal victories to start the season, the Sharks stumbled in a 7-4 loss at the hands of the much more powerful-looking New York Rangers on Monday night. Goaltender Martin Jones' save percentage dipped to .815 on the night; the team looked overmatched and sleepy in the second period and couldn't catch up in the third.
The reality: The Sharks are no lock to return to the Stanley Cup Final this year. Jones is entering just his second season as a starter, and the team's aging stars may be feeling the impact of last year's lengthy run even now, following World Cup and preseason play.
St. Louis Blues
The reaction: Paul Stastny looks like a legitimate top-line center.
The reason: With six points through the first three games, the St. Louis Blues middle man is among the NHL's top scorers so far this season and is thriving in a top role following the departure of David Backes. Stastny has a massive contract to live up to with two more years at $7 million a season but appears to be on his way to his best statistical season since hitting 20 goals and 79 points in 2010.
The reality: Stastny has always been a talented player. He has had three 70-point seasons and scored 20 or more goals in six of his 10 NHL campaigns. He's getting an opportunity to play with a couple of great linemates in sniper Alex Steen and diminutive playmaker Robby Fabbri and is making the most of it early. If he stays healthy, he could crack 70 once again.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The reaction: The Tampa Bay Lightning are going with a goaltending platoon.
The reason: Even though Ben Bishop is the reigning starter and highest-paid goaltender on the team, the Bolts have given both Bishop and backup Andrei Vasilevskiy one start apiece. Bishop wasn't stellar in his victory and has a 4.02 goals-against average and .875 save percentage, which gives credence to controversy after Vasilevskiy posted a .941 save percentage and 2.02 GAA in his win.
The reality: This tandem will be broken up sooner or later with the Lightning unable to protect both for June's expansion draft. So Vasilevskiy will get at least a third of the starts if not closer to half along the way as the likely future starter for the Bolts.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The reaction: Auston Matthews is the best rookie who ever played the game of hockey. Maybe the best in any sport.
The reason: The first overall pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in June's draft made a historic debut with four goals in his first game—the first modern-day player to score that many in his opening contest. That inspired Sportsnet to put out a list of some of the best debuts across the sports spectrum. The hype was huge for the 18-year-old rookie and he certainly lived up to it in his first game.
The reality: Matthews isn't going to score four in every game. In fact, he might not score in a whole lot of them. He's going to be a great player by all early indications, but that goes beyond the score sheet. He's a strong all-around player but will go through growing pains just like the rest of the rookies in this class and previous years.
The reaction: The Vancouver Canucks are going to juggle lines a lot.
The reason: Head coach Willie Desjardins tried no fewer than 10 line combinations over the opening weekend of NHL action as he searched desperately for some offensive chemistry. The team has scored a half-dozen times and won both games so far, but Desjardins hasn't been able to settle on his even-strength combos outside of the Sedin Twins and Loui Eriksson.
The reality: With six players 24 or younger (Jake Virtanen, Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, Ben Hutton and Brendan Gaunce) playing regular roles to start this season, it's easy to envision the bingo ball selection of the team's trios continuing until Desjardins gets a sense of how to get the most balance beyond the top line. Things should settle eventually, though. Coaches typically enjoy all the shuffling even less than fans.
The reaction: The Washington Capitals offense is shooting blanks.
The reason: Not one of the Caps' five remaining 20-goal scorers from last year—snipers Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov—have scored yet this season. In fact, the Caps have only four goals total, two each from Daniel Winnik and Andre Burakovsky.
The reality: Let's be realistic, all of these guys will get their fair share of tallies this season. Ovechkin will flirt with 50 and the rest have a chance at reaching 20 again. And they've still managed to earn three of a possible four points in their first two games.
The reaction: The Winnipeg Jets miss Bryan Little a lot.
The reason: With all due respect to Mark Scheifele, the Jets' top center is Bryan Little. Since he went down with a suspected knee injury in the first game, per the Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe, the Jets have dropped two contests while allowing four goals against in each and scoring just four of their own.
The reality: Little is an unheralded but extremely important part of the Jets' front six. He's the only member who has a faceoff percentage of more than 50 per cent (winning 66.7 per cent of his draws in the season opener). He's dependable in the defensive zone and was third on the team last year in average points per game with 0.74.
All stats via NHL.com unless otherwise noted.