A few weeks into the season and all is good on Earth. Never mind the Presidential race or the latest gossip following that nightmare Kardashian family. Let’s look at what’s happened so far in the NHL, and talk about a few of the biggest surprises thus far. For starters, someone tell the Vancouver Canucks they’re not supposed to be beating anyone let alone holding a 4-1-1 with nine points. The Canucks trail another of the big surprises, the Edmonton Oilers at 5-1 with ten points. Lastly, the play of my Detroit Red Wings has really caught me off guard, as the team has been firing on all cylinders during their five-game win streak.
Vancouver is not supposed to be this good. Sure, their first line of forwards is as impressive as any other team, but the Sedin twins are considered old men at 36, and Vancouver’s big free agent signing of Loui Eriksson was to add scoring punch to a very thin team up front. So far, Eriksson has four assists and zero goals with a plus/minus -1 and is tied for second with those four points with Daniel Sedin. The team leaders with five points are Henrik Sedin (3g, 2a, 5pts) and Brandon Sutter (1g, 4a, 5pts).
The Canucks have gotten points from 16 different skaters so far and the team has battled well with three wins in overtime or shoot-out. Those wins were over Calgary (2-1 in shoot-out), Carolina (4-3 in OT) and St. Louis (2-1 in OT), along with a 2-1 win over another predicted cellar dweller, Buffalo. All four wins came at home. Then on Wednesday, Vancouver suffered a 3-0 shut-out at the hands of the Ottawa Senators in what was the Canucks' first home loss of this early campaign. The team does have a full weekend with Edmonton coming to town tonight and the Washington Capitals visiting Rogers Arena on Saturday.
Vancouver has the 4th best Goals Allowed per game at 2.29, and their goalie tandem of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom have a combined .918% Save Percentage, with Markstrom locking up three wins in the process. Will this last forever? I’m betting against it, but Vancouver fans can enjoy it while it does because history tells me that teams that start strong have an advantage when the mid-season doldrums arise.
Has the play and presence of Connor McDavid really been that powerful? I’m saying yes so far. Per an interview on the Sirius-XM NHL Channel 91 Show, "Power Play" with Scott Laughlin and Corey Hirsch, Oilers forward Mark Letestu noted that McDavid really has a contagious work ethic in practice that has carried over into the games and has the Oilers humming.
Edmonton is currently second in Goals with McDavid leading the way with four, but 11 other players have contributed as well. The universe thought that the Oilers got the raw end of the deal in the Taylor Hall/Adam Larsson trade, but that appears to be not. Larsson is still just 24 years old, and most defensemen find their stride around age 27, after playing in the league for five or six years and learning all the little nuances in the process. While he only has one assist, Adam is +/- plus four early on, and Larsson will be a defensive anchor for a long time in the Oil City. With four wins coming at home and a 12-7 goal differential to start the season, I’m really looking forward to seeing where this team is headed and how they grow together as a very young talent laden team. After a sound beating given to the Washington Capitals, I’m drinking the Oilers Kool-Aid.
Lastly, we come to the Detroit Red Wings, my favorite team. I bet my brother Dan a million dollars that the playoff streak ends this year. By the look of things, I may have to start collecting cans after work. After getting shellacked by Tampa Bay to open the season, followed by a pounding two nights later down in Miami against the Panthers, it’s been a five-game winning streak since. Last season, the Wings started the year very strong and it paid off down the home stretch as they limped into the playoffs.
The most impressive players in this early campaign have been newly acquired Tomas Vanek and line mate Darren Helm. While Vanek plays on the top power play unit, Helm does not, and he gets a lot of gritty minutes killing penalties and at even strength with a team leading four goals and a whopping +/- plus 8. Most players pour it on during a contract year, but Darren was locked up for five years at $3.85 million per season in the early summer and has been lighting up the Motor City.
Another key is the return of Gustav Nyquist, who has three goals and four assists early on, and it’s much needed. Trying to fill the skates of Pavel Datsyuk is not a one person job, but a return to form from Nyquist and hopefully Tomas Tater would be steps in the right direction.
And finally, there’s Jonathan Ericsson, and his return to his physical play that has sorely been lacking the last three years, and has potentially been reestablished. I do not want to jinx it and have it disappear, but Detroit is clearly lacking a personality on the blue line and Ericsson’s return to physicality and Mike Green scratching his offensive potential could be key in a 26th consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Remember, you can follow me @polkapat.