Time flies when the Predators are on a winning streak and David Poile is rocking the hockey world with a massive trade. We are almost one quarter of the way through the NHL regular season. Thus far, there have been plenty of surprises — some are good and some are bad. We’ll look at which teams have exceeded expectations and the ones that have their fan bases with their finger on the panic button (or hammering into oblivion already).
New Jersey Devils: I might be able to say this about every team on this list, but the Devils are making me look like the dullard I am. I had them finishing in last place in a brutal Metropolitan Division, and yet there they are in first. I expected Taylor Hall to play well for them Who wouldn’t? What I didn’t expect was a quartet of rookies and second-year player Miles Wood to be ripping up the NHL. First overall pick in the 2017 draft Nico Hischier is second on the team in points. Jesper Bratt — the Devils 6th round pick in 2016 — has come out of nowhere and is third on the team in scoring. Will Butcher — stud rookie defenseman who pulled a bit of a Jimmy Vesey on Colorado — has 13 assists. Thanks in large part to them, New Jersey is scoring at a rate of 3.58 goals per game. A team most thought would stink out loud has actually been one of the most fun teams to watch.
Their potential downfall lies in defense and goaltending. They are allowing 3.17 goals against per game. Cory Schneider has been fine in goal, but hasn’t gotten a lot of help in front of him. If the Devils’s scoring cools off, they could tumble in the standings. For now. they are the NHL’s biggest surprise.
St. Louis Blues: At 13-5-1, they are first in the Central Division. I thought they were a playoff bubble team before the season, but they have been a machine in the early going. Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko may be the most lethal duo in the NHL outside of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa. Schawrtz and Tarasenko have combined for combined for 20 goals and 46 points on the season. They are the main cogs that drive an offense currently scoring over 3.25 goals per game. Another factor up front in St. Louis is that they have apparently robbed the Flyers in the trade that sent Brayden Schenn to the Blues and Jori Lehtera to Philly. Schenn has 22 points in 19 games.
Like the Devils, the Blues have masked some defensive struggles with immense firepower on offense. In net, the great Jake Allen hasn’t be his normal lights out self. Instead, it’s been Carter “I Like Bug Hutts” Hutton that has been more reliable in goal. He is 4-0-0 in his four starts with a 1.71 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
Los Angeles Kings: Keeping the puck out of the net wasn’t really the problem in LA last year. The fact that scoring three goals in a game was a near impossible task for them was the issue. So far in 2017-18, they have found a bit of a scoring touch again while still playing great defense and getting excellent goaltending from Jonathan Quick. The Kings sit at first in the Pacific and look like one of the best teams in the entire league. Anze Kopitar has found his all-world form in 2017 and Dustin Brown is apparently on a redemption tour with 17 points in 17 games. That’s pretty great considering he has strung together a few disappointing seasons prior to this one. Drew Doughty is his usual Norris Trophy-caliber self on the blue line, and Quick is making an early case to win a Vezina Trophy with a 2.27 GAA and .933 save percentage. Assuming Quick doesn’t go down with another devastating injury and LA’s offense can maintain at least an average pace, the Kings will be a force for the rest of the year.
Vegas Golden Knights: Hockey’s best story in 2017-18 has stumbled since late October, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a pleasant surprise. If you have Vegas as the sixth-best team in the NHL standings at this point, I’m going to ask you to put down the meth and get some professional help. Everyone knows things will come back down to Earth with them — maybe that’s already started. However, they’re having a ton of fun and giving a much-needed distraction to a community still picking up the pieces after a horrific tragedy. Real Deal James Neal, David Perron, and Reilly Smith have been the catalysts in Sin City. A defense most thought would be putrid has held up far better than expected. In the end, the most impressive thing about the Golden Knights has been how good their goaltending has been considering injuries forced them down to their fourth-string net minder. That is unheard of. It’s Tennessee Volunteers-level injury luck. Still, they’ve overcome it and managed to tread water in the meantime.
Edmonton Oilers: This has to be the biggest surprise around the league so far. It has to be. This team was picked by many in the media to go to the Stanley Cup Final. They currently sit at 7th in the Pacific Division. The only reason they aren’t lower is because the Coyotes only have two wins. Outside of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, this team has struggled to find any offense at all. Depth scoring has been totally non-existent. They are averaging 2.23 goals per game. That is dead last in the NHL. Then, you take into consideration that Cam Talbot — who was the definition of a work horse in net for them last season — just hasn’t played as well as he did in 2016-17. Without McDavid and Draisaitl working their magic in 3-on-3 overtime, it could be even worse. Things don’t look good in Edmonton at the moment.
Montreal Canadiens: Despite picking up a few wins recently, the Canadiens have been bad to start out the season. Like the Oilers, they have zilch for depth scoring. Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Jonathan Drouin are their most reliable options up front, and they have even been a little up and down. Naturally, Shea Weber has been the team’s best player on the blue line, but outside of him it hasn’t been pretty. Carey Price has struggled mightily to this point, and a poor effort from the team in front of him is a factor in that. In 11 starts, Price has posted a 3.77 GAA and a .877 save percentage. Those are unheard of numbers for him. As a team, the Habs are averaging 2.56 goals per game while giving up 3.38 per game. At least Montreal isn’t a rabid hockey market, so fans and media up there probably aren’t too upset their team is below .500 and 5th in the division.
Arizona Coyotes: Is it a surprise the Coyotes won’t be a playoff team? No. Did anyone think they’d have two wins in 19 games? Hell no. Well, that’s where they are. I thought they would be at least fun to watch based on some off-season additions and young talent. Boy, was I wrong. They are atrocious. They are already WAY out of playoff contention with seven points in the standings in 19 games. They are allowing nearly FOUR goals per game to their opponents. Three is bad. At four, you just aren’t even trying to play defense. Their goal differential is already a -30. To have a goal differential that bad before you’ve played your 20th game is borderline impressive. No, not borderline. It’s just impressive. The lone bright spot in the desert is star rookie Clayton Keller. No one hears about him because he plays in Arizona and they’re on pace to be one of the worst teams in NHL history. But, Keller has 11 goals on the year already and is a bona fide star in the making. At least in a few years he might be on a decent team in a market that gives a damn.
Honorable Mentions: Minnesota and Chicago, I’m watching you. Don’t think I don’t see you floundering at .500 in the standings. I want you to know that I know you both low key stink right now.