The first month of the 2016-17 NHL season is almost over, and every team in the league has played between six and eight games. There’s still a long way to go before we can even start thinking about playoff hockey, but that doesn’t mean we should write off hot and cold starts all together.
Games played in October matter as much as contests played in November or February, and today we’re going to examine a handful of players and teams that have had notably positive (or negative) starts to the season so far. In no particular order, here’s why we’re buying or selling what these teams and players have done since sprinting out of the gate a few weeks ago.
What better place to start than with the only team left in the NHL without a regulation loss?
Remember when the Montreal Canadiens started the 2015-16 campaign by rattling off nine straight wins? That was the best start in franchise history, but it all went down the tubes when Carey Price was injured. From then on, the Habs tumbled down the standings and missed the playoffs, which lead to a dramatic restructuring of the team’s core.
Pundits almost universally panned the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber deal, but the early returns have been fantastic so far in Montreal. Weber has fit in wonderfully with his new team, scoring three goals and nine points in eight games to this point. He’s been a monster on the power play, and has helped propel the team towards a similar start to the one they had last year.
Carey Price has also been dominant, while Al Montoya proved to be a capable backup in the opening weeks of the season. But can all of this last? Last year we saw how quickly things can go south, which could lead some to wonder if that’s something we could see again this season.
Barring an injury to Price, this Canadiens team seems to be legit. They aren’t riding overly high shooting percentages to wins–they are converting on 9.69 percent of their shots, which is a little high but not worth fretting over–and are a middle-of-the-pack possession team through eight games.
Some individual contributors will slow down. For instance, Torrey Mitchell isn’t going to continue to score in every other game the Habs play. But the power play hasn’t been too effective to last, and the team’s high-end players are earning their paychecks. The Canadiens will hit a rough patch eventually, but they seem to be the real deal as long as Price is healthy.
After looking at the hottest team in the NHL, now we will shift to look at one of the coldest. The Carolina Hurricanes entered this season with hopes of improving on their 35-31-16 finish a year ago. So far that hasn’t happened for the ‘Canes, who sit towards the bottom of the league standings with a 1-3-2 record.
The good news in Carolina is that they are only three points off in the Wild Card race and still have more than enough time to not only make up that difference, but sneak into the playoffs as well. There’s reason to believe that this squad is capable of doing so, to some degree.
Only the L.A. Kings have had the puck more often than the Hurricanes this season, and Carolina has been a poweful possesion team in 2016-17. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since they were also solid in that department a year ago. If posession leads to wins, then why aren’t the Hurricanes winning?
The answer lies in goal, where Cam Ward and Eddie Lack have been downright awful. No two goalies in the league have combined for a lower save percentage than these two, and the Hurricanes are suffering in the standings as a result. If Carolina once again decides to plow forward with this duo, then it’s tough to imagine the wins coming at a faster rate.
If general manager Ron Francis decides that he doesn’t want to throw away a second consecutive season on Ward and Lack, then maybe we could see and trade and perhaps a push to the playoffs. But not until.
Los Angeles Kings
The 2016-17 season didn’t start according to plan for the Kings. Jonathan Quick was injured in the team’s first game while trying to pick a fight with the rival San Jose Sharks, and L.A. went belly up in early October. They lost their first three games by a combined score of 12-6, and nothing seemed to be going right for the team.
Since losing 6-3 to the Minnesota Wild on October 18, the Kings have managed to rattle off four consecutive wins. This has catapulted them to the top of the Wild Card race in the Western Conference, but they still trail the first-place Edmonton Oilers at the top of the Pacific Division by four points.
Los Angeles is one of the most intriguing teams in the NHL right now. They are clearly crushing their opponents when it comes to hanging onto the puck, but they have yet to win a game in regulation this season. Three of their wins have come during overtime, while the other was acheived via shootout.
Clutching these games out is obviously better than losing them, but how long can the Kings continue to win in these coinflip scenarios? With Quick not expected back until the new year, L.A. will need to continue to keep their shots against low if they want to win. So far they’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the league, and if they can keep holding opposing teams to less than 25 shots a game like they have been, the Kings should be just fine.
A few paragraphs ago you read the phrase “first-place Edmonton Oilers.” It’s been a long, long time since someone had to write that phrase during the regular season, but here we are. The embattled franchise has gone 6-1 through their first seven contests, and they own the second-best goal differential in the NHL with a plus-10.
The goals are coming easy for the Connor McDavid-lead oilers, and Cam Talbot has been outstanding for Edmonton so far.
From a scoring perspective, the Oilers are due for a slight regression from their current 10.62 shooting percentage, but not much. Especially not when you consider the high level of skill that the team has up front. Topping out the league average with so-so shooters isn’t sustainable, but lighting teams up with the likes of McDavid and Jordan Eberle just might be.
If the Oilers are going to come back down to Earth, it’ll be because Talbot slows down or the defense slips and starts giving up more shots. They are allowing 31.2 shots against on average right now, which is a tad high but it’s not quite playing with fire. Still, getting that number below 30 could do wonders for this offensive powerhouse team.
The Pacific is one of the tougher divisions in hockey, but the Oilers are doing everything they can to rack up the points early. Their possesion numbers might indicate they they are due for a bit of a backslide eventually, but don’t expect to see this team slide all the way to the bottom of the standings anymore.
Those days appear to be over in Edmonton.