Alex Ovechkin is on pace for 123 goals. The Kings are on pace for 66 wins and 148 points. Of course, neither Ovie nor L.A. have a hope of keeping it up, but for the moment they’re among the top 10 hard-to-believe highlights in the early going of the 2017-18 NHL regular season.
Less than two weeks into the 2017-18 NHL regular season, the stats are skewed (Alex Ovechkin on pace for 123 goals) as well as skewering (Buffalo Sabres on pace to give up 68 shorthanded goals). So while we don’t put much emphasis on the early numbers, here are 10 highlights through the mid-October segment of the schedule.
The good: Just like we all predicted, the Kings (4-0-1) and Ottawa Senators (3-0-2) are the last two “undefeated” teams in the NHL – in regulation time, at least – and they’re vying for top spot in the overall standings with the likes of last season’s draft lottery contenders New Jersey (4-1-0), Colorado (4-2-0) and Detroit (4-2-0). Oh, and Vegas, too, as the expansion Golden Knights have roared out to a 4-1-0 start and have looked surprisingly solid in doing so. We’re barely a couple weeks into the 2017-18 season, so it’s a small sample size and a lot can – and will – change. The Tampa Bay Lightning, another non-playoff team last year, are riding a four-game winning streak for a 5-1-0 record and first place overall. Don’t be surprised if the Bolts keep it going – but be very surprised if the Avs, Wings, Knights or Devils do.
The bad: At the other end of the league standings, the Arizona Coyotes (0-4-1) are the lone-wolf team without a win so far this season. And the Sabres (1-4-1) and New York Rangers (1-5-0) aren’t much better. Edmonton and San Jose sit at 1-3-0, with the Oilers losing three straight after winning their season opener, while the Sharks have struggled despite opening the season with four home games. San Jose gets its fifth home start on Tuesday night, hosting the equally inept and offensively challenged Montreal Canadiens (1-3-1 record, with eight goals scored in five games).
The ugly: Want to score on the Sabres? Take a penalty. Buffalo has surrendered five shorthanded goals in six games this season. (By comparison, the Sabres gave up four shorthanded goals in 82 games last year.) Meanwhile, Buffalo has only scored twice in 22 opportunities on the power play, for a minus-3 differential when they have the man advantage. That’s … not very good. There is, however, a bit of a silver lining. On the penalty kill, the Sabres have scored two shorties of their own – both by Evander Kane – while giving up four PP goals, for a minus-2 differential. In other words, Buffalo has been better this season when they’re down a man versus a man up. That’s purely from a goal-scoring perspective, of course, but isn’t that what’s it all about?
Specialty items: The Anaheim Ducks (0-for-21 in six games) and New York Islanders (0-for-20 in six games) are the last two NHL teams without a power play goal this season. The Senators are the only team that’s still perfect on the penalty kill, going 15-for-15 on the PK through five games.
Saad happy: With six goals in six games, Brandon Saad certainly seems glad to be back with the Blackhawks. It helps that he’s scored the game-winning goal in all four of Chicago’s victories so far this season. Last year, he had four game-winners in 82 games with Columbus. It’s not like Saad is running away with GWG honors, though. Vegas’ James Neal, Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, Calgary’s Sean Monahan and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov are right behind him with three winners apiece.
No hat tricks in a whole week: After scoring seven goals in his first two games, Ovechkin only has two goals in his past four games. Sure, he leads the NHL with nine goals at the moment, but will he ever score again? Discuss.
Not Nico but not bad: There’s a couple of New Jersey Devils freshmen battling for first place in the NHL rookie scoring race, but neither one of them is named Nico Hischier. Defenseman Will Butcher and left winger Jesper Bratt lead all rookies with eight and six points, respectively. Butcher, the Hobey Baker Award recipient who won an NCAA title with Denver last season, was signed by New Jersey as an unrestricted free agent in the summer after he rejected Colorado, while Bratt was a sixth-round pick (162nd overall) in the 2016 draft. They represent a triumph of skill over size, as both Devils rookies are listed at 5-foot-10 and well under 200 pounds. Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, has two points, both assists, in his first five big-league games.
Stop right there: Corey Crawford isn’t going to maintain his league-leading 1.39 goals-against average or .960 save percentage for the whole season, but the Blackhawks goalie has gotten off to the best start among NHL netminders. The Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky (1.47 GAA, .952 save percentage), who just happens to be the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and the Avs’ Semyon Varlamov (1.76 GAA, .944 save percentage) also deserve mention for their ridiculously unsustainable hot starts to the season. It’s the Senators, however, who have the best team GAA, with the tandem of starter Craig Anderson and backup Mike Condon combining for a stingy 1.52 GAA (and .946 save percentage) through five contests. At the other end, the Coyotes (4.35 GAA), Penguins (4.15 GAA) and Panthers (3.75 GAA) are quickly falling out of contention for the William Jennings Trophy.
Superstar impersonator: Raise your hand if you knew that Chris Wideman could do a pretty good Erik Karlsson impression. The Sens blueliner leads all NHL defensemen with three goals through five games, helping to keep Ottawa competitive while the team waited for its superstar captain to return. After missing the first couple weeks due to foot surgery, Karlsson is slated to play his first game of the season against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
When Penguins attack: Of the top NHL’s 20 scorers, Sidney Crosby is tied for the most penalty minutes with 10. But hey, at least nobody’s picking on Ryan Reaves.