Just two weeks in to the hockey season and we have seen some teams play as expected, surprise us, and come out of the gate as major disappointments. Hockey is a long season so not much can be taken out of 5 or 6 games played, but there are some trends to keep an eye on.
Play as Expected: Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and the Chicago Blackhawks
All three of these teams were playoff teams last season, and were Stanley Cup contenders entering the year. A Penguins-Blackhawks matchup was predicted by a number of sources given the all around talent they possess. While the World Champion Pens sit atop the Atlantic division the New York Rangers are right behind them. The Rangers have the best goal differential in the NHL right now, scoring 10 more goals than they have given up.
Surprises: Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche
Now the Kings were going to finish better than what they did last season, last in the Pacific division and second to last in the Western Conference, but no one thought they would be turning it around so fast. Given the strong offseason and the young core they had, the playoffs were a possibility, but leading the Pacific seemed like a pipe dream. One reason to think they may begin to fall in the standings is their penalty killing units have been awful so far this season. If their defense overall doesn’t improve they have no shot at winning the division. The Avalanche were the only team worse in the Western Conference last season than the Kings, but so far this season they are off to a 4-1-1 start and leading the Northwest Division. The big difference between them and the Kings is, while the Kings were expected to get better and maybe challenge for the 7th or 8th playoff spot, the Avalanche were once again expected to be cellar dwellers. It will be interesting to watch to see if their resurgence is real or just a hot streak.
Major Disappointments: Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Carolina Panthers, and the Anaheim Ducks
All five of these teams were top contenders last season, entered the year with Stanley Cup hopes, and have some of the top players in the league filling out their rosters. So far this year they have all been major busts. None of them have a winning record, and all have shown major defensive issues so far this season. Of these five powerhouses, only the Capitals have a positive goal differential, (but that is only by one goal). If you don’t play defense you can only get so far in the postseason, no matter how good your forwards are. If the season ended today, only the Caps would squeak into the playoffs with the 8th and final spot in the East. These five teams will be ones to watch over the next few months, and they can’t get too far behind in the playoff hunt now. Whether its making a trade, benching a player, or calling up a top prospect something needs to change on these teams to right the ship. In the end, I think at least three of these teams will figure it out and make the postseason. But just making the playoffs for teams that had Stanley Cup expectations isn’t good enough for these teams. And none of these teams are playing at the level needed to get the Cup.