We’re back into the thick of NHL hockey and it was an exciting first week. There are a few surprises here, but with a small sample size (two or three games) for each team, it’ll make for a shuffle at the top over the next few weeks. Overreactions are abound and it’ll take some time before teams show their true colors. It’s been a fun first week and the second should be even better.
(Note: I don’t do preseason rankings because there’s no reason to hold teams to a spot based on what they did in an entirely different season)
1. Minnesota Wild (2-0-0) – after beating the Avs in the playoffs last year, Minnesota took a big step towards showing that last year’s playoff run was not a fluke by dominating the Avalanche in two straight games. This team is deeper and if they can get solid goaltending from a healthy Darcy Kuemper all year, this is going to be a very dangerous team. Maybe they’re not going to win the Central, but no one is going to want to play them come playoff time.
2. San Jose Sharks (2-0-0) – Another new season and another great start from the Sharks. Patrick Marleau (2g, 2a) is off to a nice start. Both Alex Stalock and Antti Niemi posted shutouts so far for the Sharks. Though that’s a good thing now, but one of them is going to have to wrestle away the job eventually. This team seems focused.
3. Montreal Canadiens (3-0-0) – They’re the only team with three wins on the season, but two of them came via the shootout. Tomas Plekanec is on fire to start the season, with four goals in his first three games. In a division where most of the talk was about the Bruins or the Lightning, its Montreal out of the gate first. They tangle with the Lightning on Monday.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (2-0-0) – So much for my prediction that the Pens would struggle early on. It seems like Mike Johnston’s system is already working well. They’ve scored 11 goals, which is excellent, but they’ve given up six. They’ll need to tighten things defensively. Patric Hornqvist looks like he’s poised to have a breakout season after moving from a barren offensive wasteland in Nashville last year to the high-octane Pens.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (2-0-0) – The Blue Jackets are off to a nice start and seem poised to grab one of the three guaranteed playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division. They notched a huge 5-2 win over the defending Conference Champion Rangers. Sergei Bobrovsky is off to a strong start, with wins in his first two and a 1.50 goals against average and .938 save percentage. If he’s able to put up strong numbers, the Jackets will be tough.
6. New Jersey Devils (2-0-0) – After two games, the New Jersey Devils are tied with the Penguins for most goals scored. Wait, the Devils? It would be more than insane to think that the Devils will continue peppering goaltenders to the tune of five goals or more on a regular basis, but their offense seems much more dynamic than last season. 20-year-old blueliner Damon Severson has impressed at both ends of the ice.
7. Chicago Blackhawks (2-0-0) – Not exactly a thrilling start, but two wins and no losses is what it is. That was a great game against the Stars, which will be one of many intriguing matchups between Central Division foes. Corey Crawford had a sensational game against the Stars, keeping what might have been a blowout, close, so that the Hawks could win it in the shootout. If he’s good, the Blackhawks are just as dangerous as years past.
8. Nashville Predators (2-0-0) – The Peter Laviolette era is underway in Smashville. They erased a 1-0 defecit in the third to hold on and beat the Senators, then followed it up with a dominating 4-1 win over Dallas. Perhaps the best news for the Preds is that Pekka Rinne looks like his old self. In two games, he has a 1.50 goals against and a .921 save percentage.
9. New York Islanders (2-0-0) – It might be a bit of an overreaction to be that high on a home-and-home sweep over a a depleted Hurricanes team, but give some credit to the Islanders for taking care of business. They scored nine goals in those two wins, despite giving up six. Second year man Brock Nelson (3g, 3a) is off to an excellent start. Should the Isles find some consistent secondary scoring, they could be dangerous.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0-1) – I’m not sure if an overtime win over the Panthers and a shootout loss to the Senators counts as a very good start, but it’s three points in four games, nonetheless. Tampa has a big early-season test this week when they host the Montreal Canadiens, the team that swept them out of the playoffs a year ago, followed by the Devils at home.
11. Washington Capitals (1-0-1) – A 4-0 shellacking of the Boston Bruins was a big step for this club. Barry Trotz will instill defensive discipline in this club and if Alexander Ovechkin has nights like he did against Boston, this is going to be a very solid hockey team. If the Caps can play solid defense in front of Braden Holtby, they’ll be right in the playoff picture in the Metro.
12. St. Louis Blues (1-1-0) – They laid a stinker against the Rangers when they gave up a late third period goal, but they followed it up with a 4-1 win over the Flames. Newcomer Paul Stastny has produced right away, notching a goal and three assists in just two games, thus far. St. Louis has a few days off before a three game road trip against the Kings, Coyotes and Ducks.
13. Anaheim Ducks (1-1-0) – Their Eastern Conference road trip continues after the Ducks split the first two games. They scored against the Pens, but couldn’t do anything to slow Pittsburgh down, that has to change. Ryan Kesler already has four points (1g, 3a) which is an excellent sign. John Gibson was rocked, so it’s Frederik Andersen’s turn now after his win over the Red Wings. They have to find stable goaltending.
14. Vancouver Canucks (2-0-0) – The Canucks are 2-0 after erasing multiple two-goal deficits to the Oilers. Ryan Miller hasn’t exactly been stellar and if the Canucks hope to hang around in the playoff race, they’ll need more from him. They’ll face Edmonton again later in the week, this time, after five days off.
15. Los Angeles Kings (1-1-0) – What an absolute stinker of a game against the Sharks on the night that they raised their second Stanley Cup banner. The regular season thing really isn’t the Kings bread and butter anyway. They’ll win their games and be just a dangerous come playoff time.
16. Detroit Red Wings (1-1-0) – Their opening night win over Boston was a big one. Through two games against two good teams, the Red Wings have allowed just 43 shots. That’s a recipe for success. They have a tough stretch coming up, with games against Boston, Toronto twice, Montreal and Pittsburgh.
17. Ottawa Senators (1-1-0) – The Sens played a good game against the Lightning to come away with a shootout victory. They’ve given up a ton of shots though (77) in two games. They open up a four game homestand against the Avalanche before games against the Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets and Devils.
18. Boston Bruins (1-2-0) – After winning a close 2-1 game on opening night, the Bruins followed that up with two straight losses. The Bruins are getting an unnecessary amount of flak from the media and fans alike that they’re too old, etc. Relax, it’s three games. This team will be fine. Colorado, Detroit then Montreal is a tough stretch.
19. Arizona Coyotes (1-1-0) – After getting embarrassed on opening night against the Jets, the Coyotes bounced back with an overtime win over the Kings. After how bad Mike Smith looked on opening night, followed by a strong performance from Devan Dubnyk, Smith has to know that he has someone breathing down his back if he’s unable to right the ship quickly. Already three assists from Keith Yandle.
20. Toronto Maple Leafs (1-2-0) – They probably should have had a point against Montreal, but they lost late. The follow up game against the Penguins was alarming, but they took it to the Rangers in a much needed victory on Sunday night. Same old from the Leafs so far. We know they can score, but they don’t do much to stop the opposing offense. Right now it’s James Reimer who has vastly outplayed Jonathan Bernier in net. Round and round it goes on the Maple Leafs goaltending carousel.
21. New York Rangers (1-2-0) – After the Rangers won in St. Louis on opening night and Rick Nash potted two goals, it seemed like the Rangers were off to a great start. Then they got their rear ends handed to them by the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs. No need to panic, yet. The Rangers started slow last season and we all know how they finished up. With a lot of new bodies, it’ll take some time for Alain Vigneault to find the right combinations.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (0-2-1) – The Flyers dropped their first two before picking up a point against Montreal. This team started last year slow as well, but with Columbus, New Jersey and the Islanders all looking improved, they’ll be in for a season-long battle in the Metro. Wayne Simmonds has four goals and has become a power play monster for the Flyers.
23. Dallas Stars (0-1-1) – Dallas opened the season with an excellent game against Chicago, but then dropped a tough one against Nashville. For a team that just made the playoffs last year, they’ll need to start fast in what is an incredibly crowded Central Division. Through two games, only six players have points. Now where was the depth scoring that we heard about all offseason?
24. Winnipeg Jets (1-2-0) – When the Jets skated to a 6-2 win on opening night, it looked like maybe they had a little swagger coming into the season. Then, they go up against some of the Western Conference elite in San Jose and Los Angeles and they looked over-matched. The Jets are off until Friday when they welcome in the Predators.
25. Calgary Flames (1-2-0) – The Flames book ended a 5-2 victory over the Oilers with losses to the Canucks and Blues. They embark on a tough for game road trip that sees them play the Predators, Blue Jackets Blackhawks and Jets. No goals yet for Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau.
26. Colorado Avalanche (0-2-0) – The Avs shouldn’t be this far down for very long, but after two completely uninspiring performances against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs, there is some reason for concern. They haven’t scored and have surrendered eight goals. This team will find it’s way offensively, but if Semyon Varlamov isn’t able to post the same kind of numbers as he did last season, the Avs will struggle in a tough Central Division.
27. Carolina Hurricanes (0-2-0) – The Canes are banged up, but any time you lose both ends of a home-and-home, it’s not good. Jiri Tlusty is off to a nice start and with Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal both out, they’ll need any scoring they can find.
28. Edmonton Oilers (0-1-1) – The Oilers should be 1-1 right now, but they couldn’t protect three separate two-goal leads against the Canucks. They play on the road against the Kings and Coyotes before a seven-game homestand.
29. Florida Panthers (0-1-1) – The Panthers played a pretty good game against the Lightning, but then got blown out of the water against the Devils. If Roberto Luongo isn’t able to give this team solid enough goaltending on a regular basis, it’s going to be a long season in Sunrise.
30. Buffalo Sabres (0-2-0) – This is about what is expected from the Sabres this year as they go head-on into their rebuild. They may have found a diamond in the rough in Zegmus Girgensons. The 20-year-old Latvian already has two goals on the season.