The first month of the NHL season is in the books as October is over. And what a first month it was. It was a month full of surprises, for better or for worse depending on who you root for. The Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets were polar opposites in the first month, with one team scorching hot and the other cold as ice (pun not completely intended). A couple of teams got off to some rocky starts, but eventually turned it around. And some players who they casual fan has never heard of are near the tops in goals and scoring. We also figured out that the stellar rookie class can’t turn any team from worst to first, yet. If the rest of the season can live up to what happened in October, it should be one wild ride in the NHL.
First off, I hate the Canadiens. As a diehard Bruins fan it kills me to see them off to such a good start. They opened up the season by casually winning their first nine games, falling just one game short of the record of 10 set by the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. They sit pretty at the top of the league in points with 22 and have gotten strong play from all over the ice. Last year’s MVP Carey Price looks as good as he did last year, much hated PK Subban leads the NHL in +/- at +12 and he is tied for the lead league in assists with 11. Star left wing Max Pacioretty scored 37 goals last year and could hit the 40 mark this year, as he already has seven, tied for third in the league. The Habs certainly look like the best team in the Eastern Conference.
The start by the Columbus Blue Jackets was less than inspiring. They started off 0-8, fired their head coach and brought in an absolute nutcase in John Tortorella. Torts is a good coach but he wears down his players with his competitiveness on the bench. Even with that start, Columbus is still has as many points (four) as the Toronto Maple Leafs. The difference between the two is that Columbus was projected to be a borderline playoff contender, but there was no hope in Toronto. Toronto is probably the worst team in the league as they rank 28th in goals for average, goals against average, penalty kill percentage and rank last in power play percentage. Based off these starts, its going to be a long year in Columbus and Toronto.
There have been a few other teams that have surprised me to this point. First off, the Chicago Blackhawks, pardon, the DEFENDING CHAMPION Chicago Blackhawks, are sixth in their division right now. Although the division is stacked, there’s no excuse for this team. Patty Kane has been fantastic with 14 points, with six goals and eight assists. Captain Jonathan Toews on the other hand, has been less than impressive with only seven points through 11 games. For a team with as much offensive firepower as Chicago does, there’s no excuse to only average 2.2 goals per game.
Two other teams out west that have really disappointed this year are the Anaheim Ducks and the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs made it to the playoffs two years ago when nobody expected them to. Last year they were expected to take another step forward and failed to do so and don’t look like a contender again this year. The Ducks were supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender after making it to the Western Conference Finals last year. They’ve fallen on some tough times this year, as star players such as Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf have all yet to score a goal and only have a combined six points on the year. This team only averages 1.3 goals per game. Yikes!
As for some better scoring news, the dynamic Dallas Stars duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are ahead of the pack in points. Benn has 17 while Seguin has 16. Jamie Benn won last years Art Ross Trophy for the most points scored and it looks as though he’ll contend for that and the “Rocket Richard” Trophy for most goals, as Benn is tied with a surprise candidate Tyler Toffoli for the lead league with nine. Toffoli was projected a breakout candidate as he scored 23 goals last year, but nobody expected this from him. Some other surprising goal scorers this season have been Kyle Turris of Ottowa, David Krejci for the Bruins (he finally learned how to shoot) and Joel Ward, all of whom have seven goals, which puts them in a tie for third in the league. These guys have been hot all year, but there were two teams who struggled early and now look really sharp.
The Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins have been staples in the playoffs for the last seven years of so. Both have won Stanley Cups in the last five years. Both teams got off to rocky starts. Both teams started off 0-3. And both have rebounded nicely as the Kings have reeled off seven straight wins and now stand at 7-3 on the year. The Bruins have won six of their last seven to bring their record to 6-3-1. The Bruins have been lead by the number one offense in the league and the number one Power Play. To take the next step, Tuukka Rask needs to step up for the black and gold. Across the states in LA, the Kings have been lead by Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter, who each have 10 points. Jonathan Quick has also played well in net for the Kings as he’s looking to reclaim his top goaltender status in the NHL.
The NHL was blessed with a great rookie class this year. Top draft choices and prospects Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Max Domi have not disappointed whatsoever. McDavid looks as good as advertised with 12 points in as many games, including some great assists and a tremendous breakaway goal. Max Domi, son of former NHL nutcase Tie Domi, plays nothing like his father, but is exceptionally skilled with the puck, as he has 11 points in 11 games. Jack Eichel has only four points on four goals, but two of those have been absolute beauties from the Massachusetts native. In the offensive absence of Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks have found lighting in a bottle in Artemi Panarin, who has 10 points for Chicago. If and when Eichel turns the corner for Buffalo, this could be a legendary rookie class.
The NHL has gotten off to a flying start this year. Teams have surpassed expectations and failed to live up to others. Many players on pace for breakout years and the rookie class looks like all its been cracked up to be. It’s still early in the season and anything can happen in the NHL as we’ve seen, but this NHL season is looking very promising.