With week 1 of the NHL regular season in the books we have a small sense of what the teams are going to look like, along with a few surprises. Here are the good, the bad and the unexpected of the week.
The Eastern Conference
The Best: Toronto Maple Leafs (3-1-0)
The Toronto Maple Leafs look good, like really good. The Leafs started off their season on the road in Winnipeg where they dismantled the Jets 7-2, then heading back home beating the Rangers 8-5 and the Blackhawks 4-3 in an OT thriller. Their only loss during that stretch coming against the New Jersey Devils. You can make the argument that New Jersey could be considered “the best”, but let’s be realistic here folks, the Devils don’t have the roster to sustain this for the rest of the season. While the Leafs will be fine and should be top 2 in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs young guns are looking great, Patrick Marleau looks 5 years younger out there and the resurgence of Dominic Moore adds great depth. One of the most important things to take away from this is depth scoring, all lines are putting pucks in the net and only 7 players don’t have goals, 5 of which are defencemen. The only things the Leafs should be concerned about is their goaltending, Frederik Andersen has struggled through 4 games with a save percentage of .871 and a GAA of 3.97. The Leafs also need to learn how to turn their switch back on when they get down by a few goals and get themselves back into the game. Other than that, the Leafs look like a real contender in the East.
The Worst: New York Rangers (1-3-0)
Starting off the season losing to the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 in Madison Square Garden is not the way you want to start the season off. The Rangers have started a disappointing 1-3-0, with their only win coming against the low scoring Canadiens. Lundqvist has not looked like the King early on in the season allowing a GAA of 3.06 and a save percentage just under .900. The only highlight of this less than stellar start seems to be Mika Zibanejad who has 5 goals in 4 games, this might be a good individual stat but as a team, Zibanejad has half of the team goals, not a way you want to start the year. Alain Vigneault has his hands full right now, if he’s not able to rally the Rangers, you wonder if he could be on the hot seat at some point during the year.
The Surprise: New Jersey Devils (3-0-0)
The Devils are coming out hot, they have yet to lose a game this year, outscoring opponents 16-6. Cory Schneider has been their best player by far, with a save percentage of .948 and a GAA of 2.00. As of now they rank second in the league in goals per game and are tied for fourth in goals allowed. I can’t see the Devils keeping this up in an 82 game season, but they might as well ride the hot streak as long as they can. Marcus Johansson seems to be fitting in fine in New Jersey with 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games, however the thing New Jersey fans should be feeling happy about is their rookie. No I’m not talking about Nico Hischier, but in Jesper Bratt. The 19 year old Swedish left winger now has 3 goals and 3 assists in 3 games, while posting a +5 rating. I can’t see New Jersey snagging a playoff spot in the loaded Metropolitan Division, but hey, you never know.
The Western Conference
The Best: Chicago Blackhawks (3-0-1)
Nothing against all you St. Louis Blues fans out there but Chicago might be the best team in the NHL. Their only loss coming against the Maple Leafs in overtime by a Matthews nip, you have to put this team at the top. Leading the season off with a 10-1 win against the Penguins on the road, then going into Columbus to dismantle them 5-1, that’s impressive. Outscoring their opponents 21-7, the Blackhawks seem to have shaken off their awful first round playoff exit last year. Remember the last time Toews led Chicago to the promise land? They had a kid named Brandon Saad on their team, since returning back to the red, white and black, he has 5 goals and 2 assists in 4 games, while his counterpart Toews has 5 points in 4 games. I’m not going to lie to you, the Blackhawks aren’t going to get knocked out against the first rounds this year, it’s early yes, but this Blackhawks team looks as good as ever. Meanwhile on the backend, Corey Crawford is looking great between the pipes, a GAA of 1.00 and a save percentage of .971, Crawford looks like he could lead this team to a Stanley Cup finals yet again.
The Worst: Nashville Predators (1-2-0)
The Predators will be tested tonight against the Dallas Stars, if they can get a regulation win here, they’ll move out of my “Worst” spot in the West. However for now I can say, what’s going on in Nashville? Their only win coming against the Philadelphia Flyers (with a little Power Play luck), they should be winless. After scoring 2 goals in under 60 seconds to end the game, the Predators barely squeaked out a win. They started the year losing to a young Bruins team without Bergeron, then getting shutout by the Pittsburgh Penguins two nights later. Have have allowed 13 goals over their first 3 games, for a team that is considered having one of the best defensive cores in the game, this is a really disappointment. Losing James Neal to the expansion draft might have been the worst thing to happen to the Preds over the summer, with that and the Stanley Cup finals loss hangover, they do not look like the same team as last year. However if they can get past all that, expect the Predators to bounce back soon, especially from the backend.
The Surprise: Las Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0)
I had a feeling the start for the Golden Knights was gonna be magical, and I was right. Las Vegas has yet to lose a game with their most impressive win coming against the Arizona Coyotes in their first ever home games. The Golden Knights came out hot with 4 first period goals, giving the fans something they needed in Las Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury has looked fantastic for them posting a fantastic GAA of 1.32 and a 3-0-0 start, although I’m still sadden to see him not in a Penguins uniform, I hope he and Las Vegas have great year. In the front end of things, James “The Real Deal” Neal seems to be loving Las Vegas, with 5 goals in 3 games, he’s off to a very hot start in the desert. I don’t expect them to make it to the playoffs, but I don’t think they’re a last place team. Expect the Golden Knights to be a surprise team this year and hopefully they can get a devoted fan base behind them.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Alexander Ovechkin, 8 goals in 4 games, including back to back hat tricks. It’s not a coincidence that since switching back to CCM, he’s back to his old scoring ways.