It's important not to read too much into the early part of the NHL schedule. While it's entirely possible that the things we see are indeed the way things are going to be from now on, it's also just as possible that we're witnessing early anomalies, stuff that will be sorted out once the sample size becomes a little larger.
Still, it's hard to not to remark on these hot and cold starts, and what they might mean. Two weeks into the 2013-14 campaign, some teams are beginning to make us wonder if it might be time to adjust our expectations. Here are five:
The New York Rangers, who are bad at this all of a sudden
There are slow starts, and then there's whatever happened to the New York Rangers, whose games have been so gruesome they should have come with a viewer advisory warning. The Rangers are 1-4-0 and have surrendered 25 goals against in those 5 games, tied for the worst in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers allowing 5 goals a game? That's not all that surprising. They have to take an antihistamine an hour before they start defending or they get all stuffy. But the Rangers? Their defense corps is supposed to be pretty strong, and Henrik Lundqvist is one of the league's best goalies. It should be harder to score on them.
This may just be a team having some serious struggles to adjust to a new coaching system. They could turn it around in a hurry. But in the meantime, good golly.
Tomas Hertl's San Jose Sharks
It's not that the Sharks look unbeatable right now. That has happened before, and will happen again. It's who's leading the way. The NHL leaderboard has a familiar name sitting at the top: Sidney Crosby, who has 9 points in his first 5 games. (Only 9 points. He may be saving himself for the stretch drive.) But the next guy is the shock: it's nineteen-year-old Tomas Hertl, with 8 points. He's not supposed to be there. Granted, he's from the Czech Republic, so he probably doesn't know any better.
Even more incredible is that Hertl leads the NHL in goals with 7, two clear of guys like Crosby and Ovechkin. Hertl's got the stroke right now.
It's likely that Hertl is going to slow down at some point, and it's also possible that, speaking of stroking, his numbers are an early byproduct of playing with Joe Thornton, who once trolled the entire NHL by awarding Jonathan Cheechoo the 2005-06 Rocket Richard trophy. But either way, Hertl is a name we didn't expect to see kicking it with the NHL's top scorers at this or any point in the season.
If not for the exxon Valdez, the Calgary Flames would be the worst tankers ever
Looking at the Calgary Flames' roster, the safe assumption was that they were trying to lose. Matt Stajan as your first-line centre? Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo as the goaltending duo? One got the sense they'd have put Andy MacDonald back there if he'd have agreed to it. It was the roster-building equivalent of a cry for help, or at least a bid to get some with a high draft pick.
And yet the Flames have points in every game so far. Every. Game.
Part of the blame for this has to fall on Sean Monahan, a rebellious 18-year-old that's hellbent on doing things his way, scoring a bunch of goals and keeping the Flames in games even though that's not what's supposed to be happening.
Can the Flames keep this up? I'm saying no, but only because I'm so terrified at what yes might mean that I'd rather remain in denial about it.
The Colorado Avalanche are playing scared
Speaking of surprising starts, only three teams have zeroes in both the L and OT columns at the time of this writing: the San Jose Sharks, who have started this season as strongly as last season, which is about the only reason people aren't falling over themselves with praise for the club just yet, the St. Louis Blues, who made franchise history with their 4-0-0 start but were expected to be good, and... the Colorado Avalanche.
My theory: the entire Avalanche roster had a front-row seat for Patrick Roy's manhandling of the partition separating him for Bruce Boudreau in the season-opener, and they realized right then and there that the partition could just as easily be the back, neck or face of any one of them.
If I'm not on the ball, they realized, Patrick Roy might tear my spine out. That's how you motivate a team.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, class of the East
This is weird:
After last season's historic playoff collapse, believed by many to be the inevitable regression the underlying numbers predicted in some sort of super-concentrated regression event, not to mention an offseason of questionable moves, most assumed this year's Leafs would flounder. And they may still. But thus far, they're looking pretty okay.
The Leafs are scoring in bunches, second only to San Jose in goals for and first in their conference. Jonathan Bernier is goaltending up a storm, which has some wondering where the critics of Dave Nonis's offseason moves are now? (Granted, it’s impossible to assess any trade after so few games, which the author of that linked piece says in his next point, somewhat undermining all the crowing that came before, but still.)
Maybe that regression is still coming. But for right now, the Leafs look good. And in four games, they'll get David Clarkson back.
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