The 2016-17 NHL season is just over a week old, and no team has played more than five games yet. Despite the small sample size we are working with here, we are still deep enough into the campaign that we can pick out a few of the biggest surprises to this point. From a few different rookies setting the league on fire right out of the gates to the most disappointing teams, here’s a look at the biggest surprises of the young NHL season.
From a few different rookies setting the league on fire right out of the gates to the most disappointing teams, here’s a look at the biggest surprises of the young NHL season.
Vancouver Canucks 4-0 start (and the Pacific Division in general)
The Pacific Division houses some of the best teams in hockey, but the group has been topsy-turvey in the early goings. While most pundits expect the L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks to run the table out West, that isn’t the way things have gone in October.
There’s only one unbeaten team left in the Western Conference, and it isn’t the possession-happy Kings or the run-and-gun Dallas Stars. It’s the Vancouver Canucks — a team that seemed more fit to compete for a lottery pick in the draft than a playoff spot. They’ve sprinted out to a 4-0 start and have made the most out of their season-opening home stand.
That eight-point opening hasn’t given them a whole lot of breathing room at the top of the Pacific Division, however. That’s because the Edmonton Oilers have gone 4-1 in their first five games, riding high on one of the NHL’s most electric offenses. This is what everyone saw coming, right? The Canucks and Oilers boxing for the Pacific’s top seed as November approached?
Didn’t think so.
The bottom of the division is nearly as surprising as the top. Los Angeles lost its first three contests and is already six points behind the Canucks for the No. 1 seed in the Pacific. They have a minus-five goal differential, and things might not get easier anytime soon with Jonathan Quick set to miss the next three months due to injury.
Anaheim also opened its season by dropping three straight games before finally winning on October 20 against the Philadelphia Flyers. This will be an interesting division to watch if things continue to go this way for another few weeks.Brad Marchand continues to dominate
The World Cup of Hockey was a bit of a coming out party for Brad Marchand. Fans of the Boston Bruins have known how solid of an offensive performer he is for the last few seasons, but his name didn’t garner a lot of recognition on a national level. That changed during the World Cup, with the forward clicking on a dominating line with Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron.
It might have been easy to write Marchand off as a benefactor of Crosby and Bergeron’s elite playmaking skills, but that hasn’t been the case so far this season. After setting career highs in goals and points last year — and inking a monster eight-year extension worth $49 million this summer — the 28-year-old was facing some increased pressure heading into 2016-17.
He’s more than answered the call to this point, scoring nine points through his first four games and propelling the Bruins to a 3-1 start. Marchand has also been instrumental in getting David Pastrnak going, and the team’s top line (which also features Bergeron) has been outstanding in the early stages of the season.
Auston Matthews vs. Connor McDavid has lived up to the hype
Hockey is a young man’s game, and teams around the NHL continue to get younger and younger. Despite that, it’s still crazy to see a pair of 19-year-old phenoms towards the top of the league’s scoring race. Entering 2016-17, we knew we were in for some special hockey from Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid.
The hype was almost too much, though. Something had to give, right? Matthews was set to play his first NHL game just over a week ago, and he would have been forgiven for taking a few contests to settle in.
All he did was score four goals in his first NHL game and he is still the league leader with five goals in four contests. His red-hot start has been matched by McDavid, who is just one goal shy of Matthews at the top of the leader board.
There’s no Evgeni Malkin or Alex Ovechkin at the top of the heap right now. Instead, it’s two teenagers dominating. And it doesn’t appear Matthews or McDavid will slow down soon.
No Carey Price, no problem for the Habs
In 2015-16, the wheels came off of the Montreal Canadiens when they lost Carey Price for the season. They struggled to find their identity and win hockey games, leading to some massive changes over the summer. Fans of the Habs were suffering deja vu when this year started and Price was unable to play because of a nasty virus.
Instead of buckling without their All-World goaltender, the Canadiens managed to go 2-0-1 with Al Montoya in net. He’s still the league’s leader in save percentage (.962), GAA (1.30) and shutouts (one). This is obviously a case of small sample sizes messing with numbers, but winning without Price early on must have been a huge boost for a team that sank without him in 2015-16.
Montoya won’t get many starts down the stretch, but Montreal can clearly trust him whenever Price is unable to suit up. He was able to return recently, though, and the Canadiens were able to win in his season debut. They are now 3-0-1 and sit atop the super-competitive Atlantic Division.