Well, this is going unexpectedly.
While this season is early, there’s plenty of teams having results that were not expected at this point of the year. With all of this in mind, we have to examine what stands out as legitimate and what’s just an early stretch of good fortune. For example, St. Louis and San Jose are off to strong starts, but their shooting percentages as a team are among the highest in the league. When the shots stop being as accurate, will the teams sink back to where they were expected to be? Meanwhile, Colorado and the New York Islanders haven’t gotten off to fantastic starts, but they are teams built for the postseason and should not hit the panic button quite yet.
What teams stand out as legitimate, however? No early results may be more telling of a team’s narrative than the Florida Panthers, who looks strong in nearly all phases of play. On the other side, Toronto and Vegas have legitimate problems emerging that could damage their hopes for this season, while Chicago and Montreal look flat-out terrible with little reason to expect much change. Of course, watch as a month or so passes by and at least one of these teams starts figuring it out, because sports loves to bust up narratives.
So where does your team stand?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based off of games played and stats recorded from October 24.
1. Florida Panthers (2): It’s one thing for the Panthers to be exceeding expectations this early; it’s another to be doing so with Sergei Bobrovsky matching the high play of his rookie counterpart in Spencer Knight. If Bobrovsky can finally regain his form after two sub-standard years in Sunrise, the Panthers’ Stanley Cup odds will skyrocket.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (1): It seems the reactions to the losses of Dougie Hamilton and Alex Nedeljkovic were more overblown than the on-ice results show. Also, it had to feel good for Carolina fans to watch Jesperi Kotkaniemi score his first goal as a Hurricane against his former team in Montreal (because the NHL needed another reason to dunk on the Habs, right?)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (7): Top two centers, top two wings, top defenseman, and top goaltender on the roster are all of the injured lists, and the Penguins are still putting up five goals a game. I’m not quite sure if the Cup window is still open like Penguins fans might think, but it’s a promising start nonetheless.
4. Edmonton Oilers (9): Connor McDavid’s already got six goals and 13 points in Edmonton’s first five games, which puts him on pace for a Gretzky-esque 200+ point season. It would be somewhat surprising if McDavid manages that total, and what matters to him at this stage is postseason success, but it’s still restoring his status as the best player in the world.
5. St. Louis Blues (13): They have the second-best power play percentage in the league at 42.9%, and the league’s best shooting percentage at 15.83%. It’s led the Blues to a hot start this season, but what happens when those percentages start coming down?
6. Boston Bruins (4): The Perfection Line is still dominating games, and their plan to replace Tuukka Rask in a Linus Ullmark-Jeremy Swayman combination has worked out so far. So long as that remains the case, the Bruins have a chance to win most nights.
7. Minnesota Wild (6): The Wild suffered their first loss of the season to the Predators on Sunday, but they’ve still managed to produce at an effective rate. Kirill Kaprizov hasn’t found the back of the net quite yet, but Joel Eriksson Ek’s three goals in five games have more than made up for it.
8. Washington Capitals (12): Alex Ovechkin is showing zero signs of slowing down, and the problem spots for the Capitals last season seem to be clearing up a bit. They did lose to Calgary to close out the week, but they showed a lot of fight to get a point despite the 3-0 deficit early on.
9. New York Islanders (11): Ilya Sorokin has worked himself into a position that he can claim the number 1 netminder role in Long Island. Despite the uncharacteristically-questionable defense, Sorokin has a .933 save percentage in six games, including ending the week with back-to-back shutouts.
10. New York Rangers (16): Igor Shesterkin has allowed only one goal in his last three contests. and the success has pushed him to second in the league in GAA and save percentage. The Rangers may have some small issues, but the elite play of their goaltender can make up for at least some of that.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (1): Since losing Nikita Kucherov to LTIR for the second straight season, the Lightning dropped back-to-back contests against the Panthers and Avalanche. They haven’t even held a lead yet in regulation, which can’t bode well for their chances to threepeat.
12. San Jose Sharks (27): The 13.87% shooting percentage for the team likely means the Sharks’ success isn’t sustainable, but strong starts from Erik Karlsson and Adin Hill are giving some substance to a surprisingly good unit. With the rest of the Pacific outside of Edmonton tripping over themselves, San Jose could put themselves in position for a playoff spot early.
13. Dallas Stars (15): The offense still hasn’t been performing, but Braden Holtby has managed to be one of the best under-the-radar signings of the offseason so far. It likely has more to do with Dallas’ defensive talent than anything, but strong goaltending should keep the Stars in games most nights.
14. Colorado Avalanche (5): Similar to last season, the Avalanche have some early-season issues to work out. Chief among them might be goaltending, where Darcy Kuemper has struggled with a .894 save percentage to start his time in Colorado.
15. Philadelphia Flyers (19): Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee have led the Flyers offense so far with four goals and six points, respectively, while Carter Hart has laid the Philadelphia fans’ doubts to rest with what’s looking like a bounce-back campaign. It’s looking good so far for Philly.
16. New Jersey Devils (20): The Devils are one of the bigger surprises this season, but analytics are suggesting that they are one of the more sustainable early success stories in the league. Losing Jack Hughes for a bit is unfortunate, but Dougie Hamilton has been as advertised in the early going.
17. Columbus Blue Jackets (22): The Blue Jackets aren’t exactly expected to sustain this hot start, but Elvis Merzlikins and Patrik Laine have both been solid to start the season. The latter has to be refreshing for Columbus fans to see, as Laine is finally emerging as the offensive driver that they needed.
18. Calgary Flames (24): Elias Lindholm’s six goals in four games is pushing the Flames off to a solid start. I don’t know where the Flames stand, but it’s a good start so far.
19. Winnipeg Jets (21): The Jets have scored five goals in three of their five games thus far, which has allowed them to shake off a rough first week. Kyle Connor’s six goals have pushed the Jets so far, while Pierre-Luc Dubois has also looked very impressive to start.
20. Vancouver Canucks (14): Conor Garland’s looked good to start, but the underlying analytics suggest the Canucks have been too reliant on Thatcher Demko thus far. It’s early in the season, but there will be trouble in Vancouver if some things aren’t fixed.
21. Detroit Red Wings (26): Tyler Bertuzzi is tied for the league lead with six goals, while rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have combined for four goals (all from Raymond) and eight points. As long as all three players are cooking, the Wings should continue to play better than expected.
22. Toronto Maple Leafs (8): The Leafs’ 5.7% shooting percentage is the worst in the league, and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have done virtually nothing to start the year. Things might get better with the talent they have, but they are clearly behind the likes of Florida, Boston, and Tampa Bay right now.
23. Vegas Golden Knights (10): Injuries have affected them dramatically but, unlike the Penguins, the Knights have struggled in horrific fashion. Ten goals and being the only team without a power-play goal isn’t going to cut it, and there’s a chance that a clean bill of health doesn’t save this from being a mediocre unit this time around.
24. Ottawa Senators (23): Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg have been solid in net so far, but the offense has let them down on a couple occasions already. They need more from Brady Tkachuk and Connor Brown, simple as that.
25. Buffalo Sabres (29): Back-to-back losses have dampened the optimism, but the Sabres have still been more competitive than expected. For a team with zero expectations heading into the season, that’s not a bad thing.
26. Los Angeles Kings (18): The Kings rewarded my “playoff contention” status on them last week by being held out of the win column this week. Even the win against Vegas isn’t looking as impressive as it normally would.
27. Nashville Predators (30): Philip Tomasino has looked good in his debut season, but it’s still a case of the Predators being carried by Juuse Saros. It’s impossible to figure out just where this team is headed.
28. Seattle Kraken (19): A four-game losing streak, including two blown third-period leads, has to be damaging for the NHL’s newest team. At least Climate Pledge Arena looks like it’ll be rocking all season long.
29. Anaheim Ducks (31): There’s a couple good spots here and there, even if the Ducks are still one of the worst teams in the league. That’s more than can be said for the three teams below them.
30. Montreal Canadiens (28): They got their first win of the season against Detroit, but les Canadiens were outscored 19-4 in the five games prior to that. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield have only combined for two points this season, which has been one of the key reasons Montreal has looked anemic in the opposite zone thus far.
31. Arizona Coyotes (32): There is nothing here, and the tank job is still on. Anyone have any good Shane Wright slogans?
32. Chicago Blackhawks (25): They’ve been outscored 10-1 with Seth Jones on the ice, Marc-Andre Fleury looks like he held on a year too long, and they now hold the record for the longest time to start a season without holding a lead. At this rate, it’d be a shock if Jeremy Colliton and Stan Bowman are employed at the end of November.