It happens every year.
Though the first handful of games, fans are slamming their hands on panic buttons if their team is off to a slow start or they are cartwheeling with optimism during a surprisingly strong stretch to begin the NHL season.
Remember, it’s October and the team barely know themselves at this point. NHL goalies are getting used to smaller chest protectors and systems implemented by the coaching staff are still a work in progress. Trust me, most teams will be much better one month from now.
Still, there are some areas where we need to cool our jets.
Let’s take a look at 10 overreactions that we need to back off on this early into the season.
1. The Carolina Hurricanes are serious contenders in the east
The Hurricanes are 3-0-1 to start the season and they rank fifth with 4.25 goals per game in the early going.
They’ve also had the softest of soft schedules to start the year.
Carolina lost their first game of the year to the Islanders, but have since beat the Blue Jackets, Rangers and Canucks. Three of those four teams will almost certainly miss the postseason while the Blue Jackets will likely be on the playoff bubble. Their next three games take them through Minnesota, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay, a daunting road trip for any club.
As good as they’ve looked so far, the truth is Carolina is fairly thin up front and have taken advantage of weak competition in a month where goal scoring runs rabid.
The Canes have a history of being sneaky contenders, but let’s pump the brakes on their successful opening weak of the season given the level of competition.
2. The Sharks are not a very good team
San Jose dropped a 5-2 decision in their home and season opener again the Ducks, won their second game of the season over the Kings in overtime, dropped a 4-0 decision on Long Island in their third game before thumping the Flyers 8-2 in Philadelphia in their fourth game.
That’s quite a roller coaster of results, to be sure. However, San Jose has dominated the possession numbers early in the season. Their Corsi For percentage so far this season is 62.8%, the best mark in hockey. They have outshot their opponents by an average of 12.5 shots per game, the fourth best mark in the league.
They have arguably the top defensive pairing in all of hockey in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Erik Karlsson. They have three scoring lines, which is the case because Evander Kane has four goals so far while skating on the fourth line.
Don’t get it twisted. Despite some back-and-forth early results, the Sharks are a very, very good team and will be a force out west.
3. Auston Matthews will score 60+ goals
Well, he’s almost 1/6 of the way there though three games, so it’s possible.
That said, we have to keep in mind just how lofty that total is and how much easier goals come in October compared to the rest of the season.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves a couple questions. One, can Matthews accomplish something that hasn’t been done in six seasons (five including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season)? Two, can he score at least 11 more goals than the previous season’s leader for the first time in 11 years?
It’s also worth mentioning that his current shooting percentage is 50% with seven goals on 14 shots.
His start has given him a chance, but let’s wait a bit before we consider the 60-goal mark.
4. The Arizona Coyotes are brutal again
Well, that’s only half true.
Through three games, the Coyotes have scored two regulation goals. That said, they have only allowed six, or two per game. If there has been an explosion in goal-scoring league wide, the Coyotes haven’t heard about it.
We knew this young group of forwards were going to scuffle for stretches as this is indeed a tough league for young players to score, if your name isn’t Matthews. Arizona actually has a rather solid group of blueliners and have the league’s quietest stud goaltender at their disposal in Antti Raanta.
After producing Vezina-type numbers in the form of a 2.24 GAA and a .930 Sv% in an injury-shortened year last year, Raanta owns a 1.96 GAA and a .914 Sv% this season through three starts. The Coyotes rank third with a +13.3 average shot differential this season and their 23.3 shots against per game ranks second. Yes, we shouldn’t overreact to those numbers either, but if Arizona can remain solid defensively they are going to surprise some teams, especially with top-tier goaltending.
5. The Penguins are cooked without Murray
Matt Murray is once again concussed, without a timetable for a return. This isn’t the start neither the player nor the team needed in what was set up to be a bounce back campaign for the young goaltender. However, don’t be lowering expectations for the Penguins as a result.
First, Murray hasn’t been good with a 5.47 GAA and .831 Sv% in two starts. Second, Murray missed a big chunk of last season and the Penguins finished second in the Metropolitan Division.
Expect Casey DeSmith to start for the Pens for now. DeSmith posted a solid 2.40 GAA and .921 Sv% in 11 starts and 14 games last season. With the goal support he will get with this offense, that is going to be more than enough goaltending for the Penguins to win games with Murray sidelined.
The Pens will continue to be lethal regardless of who is in goal, so don’t put a whole lot of weight into Murray’s absence.
6. The Islanders have cleaned things up defensively
Sure, they shut out a good Sharks offense already and allowed just five combined goals in their other two games, but the Islanders have been beaten badly in the possession game.
They have been outshot by an average of 8.3 shots per game while their 34.7 shots against per game ranks 24th. Their 38.8% Corsi For ranks 30th league-wide. Advanced stats aren’t the end all and be all, however, they are a decent indicator of future performance, and if that’s the case, the Islanders are in trouble.
With Barry Trotz running the show, I don’t expect the Islanders to be as bad defensively as their league-worst defense from last season. However, I wouldn’t take their three-game sample overly serious at this point as the underlying numbers are not pretty.
7. Elias Pettersson is a shoe-in for the Calder Trophy
He’s been as advertised so far with three goals and three assists through three games, that’s for sure.
However, there’s still some worthy candidates over the next 78+ games of the season, namely Andrei Svechnikov who was my pick before the season started.
While Pettersson has received the press, Svechnikov has bagged a pair of goals and added two assists in four games. What’s more is Svechnikov is doing so in bottom-six duty for the Hurricanes on just 11:56 of averaging ice time per game compared to Pettersson’s 15:00 mark.
There’s a long way to go, and Pettersson has been fantastic, but there’s still far more than one horse in this race.
8. Injuries are cooking the Ducks
The Ducks are being destroyed by injuries once again this season and it’s hard to fathom how bad their injury luck is again this time around.
The Ducks dealt with injuries to Patrick Eaves, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler, Ondrej Kase, Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson, and Kevin Bieksa last season.
This year, both Eaves and Kesler got late starts, although Kesler returned and scored in last night’s shootout loss. Still, Corey Perry is out long-term with a knee injury. Getzlaf is day-to-day with a groin ailment and Kase is out indefinitely with a concussion.
That said, the Ducks managed to rack up 101 points last season despite all of those man games lost because they remained stout defensive and Gibson was fantastic when healthy.
Fowler, Brandon Montour, Lindholm, and Josh Manson are a very good, young top-four blueline group that ranks among the game’s best. Add in Gibson’s strong start (.955 Sv%) and the Ducks are well on their way to being one of the NHL’s best defenses again, something that will have them competing regardless of the injuries up front.
9.The Blackhawks are back in business
The Blackhawks sit without a regulation loss through three games, and they’ve scored 15 goals in that span, good for five per game.
That said, they have also allowed 14 goals themselves and have allowed four power play goals in just 11 times short on the season.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get Corey Crawford back in goal and feel him out for a while. The Blackhawks are incomplete without Crawford as Cam Ward’s 4.63 GAA and .843 Sv% just hasn’t got the job done despite winning two of three games this season with an overtime loss to the high-flying Maple Leafs mixed in.
The Central division is going to be an absolute war of attrition for the full 82-game schedule, and the Blackhawks still seem behind most of the other clubs in terms of talent and defensive structure.
Regardless, let’s check back with the Blackhawks once Crawford is back and see how they are making out.
10. The Sens and Habs are sneaky-good.
I’m all for a good story in sports, and what Vegas did in their expansion year last year showed that any team can compete in any season regardless of preseason expectations.
However, let’s not get it twisted, we’re still very much dealing with a couple of non-contenders with these two Canadian clubs.
The Sens have actually scored 3.75 goals per game so far to rank 11th in the league. The downside? They have allowed five goals per game to tie for 30th after surrendering seven last night at home to the Flyers.
The Canadiens clobbered the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and their speed has surprised to the upside after outplaying the Maple Leafs as well on opening night. Still, this team lacks scoring depth and is very thin on the back end. Carey Price is going to need more than a Vezina-type season to keep these guys in contention.
Personally, I would be shocked to see either of these clubs close to a playoff spot at Christmas.