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Early Season Reviews | October

We are now a few weeks into the regular season and every team in the NHL has played somewhere between six and ten games. I believe that it takes a good 20-25 games before we have a true barometer of a team’s outlook on the rest of the season, but we’re halfway there, so let’s look at each team’s record and how that compares to the expectations the team had in the preseason.

Atlantic Division

Penguins-5-3-1/11 points-It took a few games before they earned their first home win and their new arena, but the Penguins are where most thought they’d be. Now it’s just a matter of staying there and not blowing the division lead as they’ve done the last couple of seasons.

Islanders-4-2-2/10 points-Despite a few key injuries, the Islanders are off to the same hot start they had last season before they faltered down the stretch and fell out of the playoffs. If they can keep themselves around the middle of the conference, somewhere between sixth and tenth, until they are fully healthy, than perhaps they can do what the Kings and Avalanche did last year and make the postseason with a young team before most people thought they’d be able to.

Rangers-4-2-1/9 points-Drury, Gaborik and Prospal are all injured and that doesn’t bode well for the Rangers. Even though they’re above .500 now, it may be difficult to remain there over a stretch of time until they’re healthy. But a decent start puts them on par with expectations.

Flyers-3-3-1/7 points-A slow start for the defending Eastern Conference champions, but with questions in net, this may not be a surprise to some people. They certainly have the offense talent to go along with a great defensive unit, but the goaltending situation is what will keep early season detractors of this team in the right for now.

Devils-2-6-1/5 points-A defensive team for over a decade that finally developed and/or acquired the offensive players needed to balance out the team had many thinking this was a legitimate Cup contending team this year. Maybe a lot of people didn’t expect them to win it all, but to at least make and then be a force in the playoffs. Instead, the Devils find themselves at the bottom of the division and conference. Needless to say, spectators are surprised as much as the team is.

Northeast Division

Maple Leafs-4-2-1/9 points-One of the last two teams to get their first win last year, Toronto turned into one of the last two teams to lose their first game this year. Expectations were higher than their last place conference finish of last year, but few had them leading the division this early.

Canadiens-4-2-1/9 points-A trip to the conference finals last year brought even higher hopes to the Habs this year and so far they aren’t disappointing. There is still a long ways to go, but thus far they’ve done their best to prove last year wasn’t a fluke.

Bruins-4-2-0/8 points-Determination was expected to be a large driving factor for the Bruins after blowing a 3-0 series lead in the playoffs last year. The above average start may not be surprising to some, but the fact that it’s been mainly on the heels of Thomas in goal and not Rask is.

Sabres-3-5-1/7 points-Backstopped by one of the best goalies in the league and driven by an early playoff exit, the Sabres had high hopes for this year. Early on though, they’ve struggled to find their game and their outlook was not to be below .500 this early in the year.

Senators-2-5-1/5 points-For a team that gave the then defending champions a run in the first round of the playoffs last year, the Senators were thought to possibly have a breakout year. So far though, it’s been a breakdown year, and a team that finished fifth in the conference just last season is now fifth in their five team division.

Southeast Division

Lightning-5-2-1/11 points-Before he even made one personnel move, just hearing that Steve Yzerman was hired as Tampa General Manager made people believe that this team could make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. Then once Yzerman started putting his stamp on the team, people had concrete reason to believe the Bolts would finish in the top eight. And with Tampa sitting atop a division that also has the powerhouse Capitals, it’s safe to say the Lightning are exceeding expectations so far.

Capitals-5-3-0/10 points-A decent start, evening if they aren’t leading what may be the weakest division in the league. That the defense has been the scapegoat for recent playoff failures coupled with the fact that the Caps have had one of the hottest penalty killing units to start the season means leading the division or not, the defense is working, so expectations are currently exceeded.

Hurricanes-4-3-0/8 points-A much better start to the season compared to that of last year, Carolina has to be feeling pretty good right now when you consider the situation they were in this time last season. Only one point above .500 is good enough to say this team is likely on par with preseason outlooks.

Thrashers-3-4-1/7 points-Not having as hot a start as they did last year, but there were a lot of new faces that came into this team and it takes a while for the players to get acclimated with one another. But unfortunately for Thrasher fans, all 46 of them, below .500 puts this team even with expectations.

Panthers-3-3-0/6 points-This team has the potential to be a lot worse than .500, but they are at least not surprising anyone with their current standing of last in this division. Most likely, these Panthers are now where they’ll be all year.

Central Division

Predators-5-0-3/13 points-Has any team ever done so much with so little at their dispense year after year like the Predators do? First Pekka Rinne, but now Anders Lindback? Where do they keep pulling these goalies from? The only team without a regulation loss earning points in every game they’ve played, and not only first in the division, but first in the League? Expectations exceeded beyond reason at this point of the year.

Red Wings-5-1-1/11 points-Many said that this was the last year before the window of opportunity closed itself on the Wings for a few years. And whether they buy into that notion or not, Detroit is playing like it. Off to a strong start compared to the injury riddled slow start they had last year, anyone other team with this record this early would be exceeding expectations, but for Detroit, they’re on par for what we’ve come to expect from this team.

Blackhawks-5-4-1/11 points-Only a single point above .500 for the defending Cup champs, but let’s not overlook the fact that they’ve played more games than any other team so far this year. A lot of changes to the roster over the season means a period of meshing for all the new faces. This is likely just early season growing pains, they’ll be fine in due time.

Blues-4-1-2/10 points-A good young team that had too many injuries to overcome last year, St. Louis is off to a good start. This is the only division in the NHL where fourth is considered a good start because the Central is so strong, so despite being low in the division, they’re high in the conference. Expectations are also high for this team, almost a playoff or bust season for this young squad, so they’re meeting their outlook so far.

Blue Jackets-4-3-0/8 points-A winning record by the slimmest of margins means they are currently exceeding what was expected output wise from this team for the year. However, it’s early and they still have plenty of time to wind up being the bottom of the conference dwellers they were expected to be this year.

Northwest Division

Flames-5-3-0/10 points-Jokinen and Tanguay take two wasn’t supposed to yield anymore results than it did the first time around, so the fact that Flames are currently first in a competitive division means they’re doing better than what was expected. But, we’ve seen this year after year from the Flames; have a great start and finally look like the team on ice that they look like on paper, and then come March they pack up and leave with 15 games remaining on the schedule and are left out come April.

Canucks-3-3-2/8 points-A .500 record isn’t what most people were calling for the experienced Canucks to have this early in the year. Perennial Cup favorites by many prognosticators, even though they’re second in the division and only two points out of the lead, their lack of a winning record has to mean Vancouver is thus far below the bar they have set for them this year.

Avalanche-4-4-0/8 points-An even record isn’t bad but is probably below what most thought was possible from the Avalanche. They took large strides forward last year making the postseason and even more was expected out of them this year so a .500 start isn’t what this team was looking for early.

Wild-3-3-1/7 points-Another .500 team in this division, this might be one of the higher winning percentages this team has throughout the year, however. This is the second year of turning a once defense first team into an offensive unit, but like the first year, there are likely to be growing pains ahead. For now, they’re above expectations, but it won’t take long for them to fall down the standings and be more on par with what was expected.

Oilers-2-4-0/4 points-There isn’t much to say here; they were last in the NHL last year and early indications show that they’ll be back in the hunt for the first overall pick again this year. The expectations are quite low, but they’re meeting them so far.

Pacific Division

Kings-5-2-0/10 points-Like the Avalanche, LA made the playoffs a year or two before what was actually expected of them. And like Colorado, they were expected to do more than just make the postseason this year. But unlike the Avs, the Kings have gotten off to a strong start and lead the division early. Good things were expected from this team this year, but even this record has to be above what was projected for them.

Stars-5-2-0/10 points-After missing the playoffs the last two years, few probably saw this kind of a fast start coming from Dallas. Definitely exceeding expectations at this point in the year, but let’s see if they can maintain this level of play all season before deeming them a breakout team.

Sharks-3-3-1/7 points-Despite having two new goaltenders, this is too good a team to only be .500. They have the players and the experience to be well above the mark they currently have. It is highly likely that they’ll soon get it together and start to string together wins like they have done for the last several years, but right now they are below par.

Ducks-3-3-1/7 points-They’ve lost too much on the defense in the last two off-seasons to still be considered one of the elite teams. Yes, they do have a solid offense and a strong goaltender in Hiller, but their defense is too weak and will hinder this team. A .500 mark is likely where the team will hover around all year, finding difficulty to string together wins.

Coyotes-2-2-2/6 points-There were two sets of expectations for the Coyotes. One was that last year was an aberration and they’d fall to the cellar of the standings again this year. The other was that last year was just the beginning and they’d not only make the playoffs, but get beyond the first round this year. So far, the former of the two paths rather than the latter is what road they’ve taken.