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How far can speed and work ethic take a team?

A number of pre-season underdogs have sprung out of the gates sharply. Now the mission will be to prove that success is sustainable

As much as I hate axioms, the old sports chestnut of “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” is seeming pretty prescient so far this season. A number of teams that were pegged for the murky bottom of the NHL standings have gotten off to great starts and it’s worth noting, even if it’s hard to say whether or not their success is sustainable.

When the Ottawa Senators beat Toronto in the second game of the season, it was an upset. But given how the Maple Leafs seemed to be sleepwalking in the early portions of the contest, perhaps the result should not have been too surprising. Senators rookie Brady Tkachuk wasn’t in the lineup that night due to a minor groin injury (now he’s on shelf for a month with a torn ligament in his leg – but at least he got into four games with Ottawa, racking up six points), but I asked him about the team and he pointed out that they knew they would have to be a fast, hard-working squad every night in order to be competitive.

Far from 31st overall – where, I believe many people had the Senators finishing before the season began – Ottawa is a mid-table team in the East right now. The Sens’ next opponent is Montreal, another team we all thought would suffer this year. But the Habs have been scrappy (what’s gotten into Tomas Tatar?) and are tied for second in the division.

I asked sophomore defenseman Victor Mete about the team before their season opener and the young puckmover was pretty excited about the game plan.

“With the new system we’re playing, it will be a big advantage for me to jump in the play more often,” he said. “Now we’re playing faster, moving the puck up and getting the fourth guy in so we have another option.”

Ironically, Mete has just one assist so far, but fellow defenders Jeff Petry and Mike Reilly have been hitting the scoresheet regularly and the Habs are winning, so it doesn’t really matter where the goals are coming from.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Kings have struggled and quickness is an obvious shortcoming. Over in Missouri, something just isn’t right with the St. Louis Blues – another team that doesn’t have many burners in the lineup (especially since Robby Fabbri is on the shelf).

Of course, there is always a fly in the ointment. The Detroit Red Wings appear to be trying very hard, but they haven’t won a game all season, heading into the eighth contest. Detroit’s not a slow team – employees include Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou, after all – but the results just aren’t coming. We knew the Wings would be bad this year and they have not disappointed.

And as I said at the beginning of this article, the sustainability for these surprise teams is unknown. New Jersey just lost its first game of the season to Colorado, while Carolina has lost two straight after a sizzling start to the campaign. Both teams still sit atop the Metropolitan Division, so were these mere blips, or something more ominous?

Yes, it’s ridiculously early in the season and something something sample size, but it’s interesting to me that in a league where they say you can’t take a night off, some teams are proving that idea true.


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