The first month of NHL action is over and the surprises are multiple and massive. The NHL is never a league that is easy to predict and 2017-18 seems to be no different. It may not be the year of the youngsters that the 2016-17 season was, but the league is seeing new surprises from all branches of the NHL. Infact, 2018 may be the year of the bounce back and regression. Stars like Anze Kopitar and Claude Giroux – who looked have their superstar statuses slipping away – are looking like the game breakers they are known to be. These players are also outplaying the likes of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby.
2017-18 is already shaping up to be a fun year of hockey and the surprises are not going to stop any time soon.
Five Surprises From The NHL Season So Far
The Vegas Golden Knights
It is the first year of hockey in Vegas and they could not be treating their fans any better. On paper, Vegas looked to have the roster of a 20-win max team but through the first eight games of their inaugural season, the Golden Knights shocked the entire hockey world, going 7-1-0. Not too bad considering they lack top-end talent and have had their three best goalies – Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk – end up on injured reserve.
Their last 10 games have been a predictable 5-4-1 but when Vegas was playing at close to full health, they were electric. James Neal has nine goals through his first 16 games as a Golden Knight and has paired nicely with David Perron on the teams most productive line. Perron has 14 points through 16 games and is on pace to top his highest single season point total.
However, the biggest key to the The Golden Knights success has been their depth. 10 players on Vegas’s roster are averaging a point every two games and it has lead to an average of 3.56 goals per-game — good for the fourth best average among NHL teams. Players like Reilly Smith and Luca Sbisa, are helping keep a good end-to-end balance between offence and defence, and almost all of the goalies who have split time over the first 16 games have kept the door shut.
Vegas’s early success might be a fluke, but as of now they in 2nd place in the Pacific Division over the San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers and Anehiem Ducks.
Stamkos and Kucherov’s Scoring Onslaught
Anyone who watches hockey could tell you that both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are better than the average NHLer, but know one could have foreseen the furious pace that both have set so far in 2017-18. Over the first 18 games of the season, the two are back-to-back on the scoring leaderboards; Kucherov at 30 and Stamkos at 31. The closest to either of them is Blake Wheeler in third — seven points behind. To put that in contrast: there are seven points between Wheeler and 37th highest scoring player in the league.
Both Kucherov and Stamkos log significant minutes on the powerplay and have each collected points on 12 of the Lightening’s league leading 20 powerplay goals. Lesson to learn: don’t take penalties against Tampa. Stamkos leads the league in powerplay goals and points — collecting six of his eight goals with the man advantage. Kucherov on the other hand leads the league in goals with 16 and has a solid 12 powerplay points, including: three goals.
For Stamkos, a hot start is nothing new to him. Back in 2010 there were murmurs of the then 20 year old, putting up 50 goals in 50 games when he started off his season with 20 goals in his first 21 games. Stamkos would finish the year with 45 tallies in 82 games. This season, it could be Kucherov trying to join the five others that have completed the 50-in-50 feat, and the first since Brett Hull in 1991-92.
Both players are sizzling to start the season and though it is only 18 games in, they don’t look to be losing any steam. If the two can stay healthy, Stamkos and Kucherov could both be breaking records come April.
The Oilers Are Back To Being Awful
Just when Oilers fans though the hardship was over, thought that the McDavid era has washed all there troubles away; they have regressed back to Oilers we have gotten to know so well.
The Oilers and Connor McDavid look nothing like the team that took Anehiem to seven games in last years Stanley Cup playoffs. Infact, they more closely resemble the team that bottomed out to four first overall draft picks in six years. The most glaring resemblance: the inability to put the puck in the net. In 2017-18 so far, Edmonton is dead last in league scoring — averaging an abysmal 2.24 goals per game. This is coming off a season where they finished eight in scoring and looked to turn the page on the embarrassing decade of Oilers hockey.
One of the biggest reasons for Edmonton’s scoring stifle was the four game absence of star winger Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl started the year healthy – playing along side McDavid – but was forced to miss four games with concussion-like symptoms. Over this stretch, Edmonton went 1-3-0 and only scored seven total goals. Another hinderance has been inability to fill Jordan Eberle‘s role. Eberle was shipped to the New York Islanders over the summer for Ryan Strome and Strome has been unable to contribute depth scoring (six points in 17 games).
It really does seem like the Oilers can only score when McDavid is around the puck. He has collected a point on HALF of Edmonton’s goals all season. McDaivd may be a special talent but franchises lose and win as a team in the NHL. If the Oilers depth does not find a way to step up in the near future, it could be right back to the lottery for Todd McLellan’s squad.
Carey Price’s Horrible Start
When you see the name Carey Price, you think of Hart Trophies, Vezina Trophies and Olympic Gold Medals. You could also say that he has almost always been a top-five, if not top-three, goalie in the NHL. Unfortunately for Price, he is making every Habs supporter forget each one of those facts. His team currently sits in 5th in the Atlantic division and are three points out of a wildcard spot, behind four other teams.
To start the 2017-18 season Price has looked awful. Over his first 11 starts, Price’s goals against average is up by 1.5 goals per game from last season, and has only posted a save percentage of over .900 in three games. He has also only tallied three wins in those 11 games — a concerning total considering the Canadiens backups have won five of the seven games they have started.
The Habs have made a conscious effort to improve the support in front of Price since last years trade deadline, so far to no avail. The addition of Jordie Benn before last seasons playoffs and the offseason signing of Karl Alzner should have help soften the amount of quality shots directed at Price, but he is continuing to hurt himself. Routine saves seem to be giving Price problems and his feel for locating the puck looks precarious at best.
Whatever is wrong with Price, he will find a way to bounce back. But how long will the Montreal faithful have to wait?
Crosby’s Lengthy Goal Draught
Sidney Crosby has only won the Rocket Richard Trophy twice in his career; once in 2010 and one at the end of last season. Following up on last years performance, Crosby set a nice pace, starting 2017 by netting five goals in his first eight games. Since then, Pittsburgh’s offence has almost solely come from the sticks of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
Crosby has always been more of a playmaker than a goalscorer, but coming off the second highest goal total of his career, should have given him a boost of confidence coming into 2017-18. After his first eight games, Crosby has only gathered three assists and hasn’t found the back of the net at all. That is an 11 game span with only three points — the longest goalless streak for Crosby in the past five years. Crosby’s longest came between 2011 and 2012 when he went 12 games without a goal and missed almost three months of hockey due to a concussion. He had a similar struggle in 2015-16 when he started the season with nine points in 18 games. He would only mix in two goals during that span but would finish the year flying with 36 goals and 85 points.
Unfortunately for him, the rest of the Pens are not picking up the slack. During Crosby’s goal draught, the Penguins have only scored three or more goals twice in the 11 games. It is only a matter of time before Crosby finally gets the monkey off his back but letting it continue to spiral will hurt both his hopes for another Hart Trophy and the Penguins hopes at a third straight Stanley Cup.
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