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Top 10 intriguing NHL storylines one month into season

Quick starts by Golden Knights, Devils, Kings among most newsworthy narratives

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The NHL 2017-18 season will be one month old on Saturday. There have already been 197 games played. There are still 1,074 to go, but before we look ahead, let's take stock of where we are now.

Here are 10 of the most intriguing yet still developing storylines so far this season:

 

1. Best expansion team ever?

The Vegas Golden Knights are 12 games into their first season, and though they've been grounded by a three-game losing streak, they're on pace for 95-plus points, which would break the NHL record for most points by an expansion team, 83, held by the 1993-94 Florida Panthers.

Vegas became the first team in NHL history to win eight of its first nine games in its inaugural season. The Golden Knights already have had a five-game winning streak, tying the NHL record for longest winning streak by a team in its inaugural season. They went 6-1-0 and averaged 4.29 goals per game on a seven-game homestand from Oct. 10-27. 

And they've done it despite playing four goaltenders because of injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion), Malcolm Subban (lower body) and Oscar Dansk (lower body). Maxime Lagace has started the past two games, and made 26 saves in a 2-1 loss at the Bruins on Thursday.

Video: Golden Knights mic'd up for emotional home opener

 

2. Electrifying linemates

There is no better pair on the same line than Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning lead the League with 22 points (10-2-2). 

Stamkos leads the League with 18 assists and 24 points. He was named the first star of the month for October. Kucherov is first in the NHL with 13 goals, including at least one in each of Tampa Bay's first seven games. He's second with 21 points.

They were linemates at the start of last season too, and racked up 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 17 games before Stamkos was lost for the season with a knee injury. Kucherov finished with a League career-high 40 goals, including 32 in 56 games without Stamkos.

He's obviously even better with Stamkos as his center.

 

3. Young Devils hot out of the gate

The New Jersey Devils were supposed to show improvement and there was hope for a bright future with the additions of forwards Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson along with defenseman Will Butcher, but first place this season? Too soon, right?

Apparently not.

The Devils (9-2-0) lead the Metropolitan Division with 18 points in 11 games. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets also have 18 points, but the Devils have played fewer games and have the best points percentage (.818) in the NHL.

New Jersey also leads the NHL in rookie scoring with 29 points.

Video: NJD@OTT: Hischier blasts home first NHL goal in front

In addition, there's forward Brian Boyle, who sent shockwaves through the hockey world on Sept. 19, when he announced he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. He put smiles on faces everywhere by making his season debut in a 2-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.

 

4. Looking like Kings again

It's amazing what healthy goaltender Jonathan Quick and added room for creativity has done for the Los Angeles Kings, who are first in the Pacific Division (10-2-1) with 21 points through 13 games.

Quick is 8-2-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. 

He missed 4½ months because of a lower-body injury on opening night last season. The Kings went 29-27-4 without him, including a regulation loss the game he was injured, and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Coach John Stevens, who took over for Darryl Sutter on April 23, has brought some creativity back into the Kings' game and their best players are flourishing, most notably forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.

Video: LAK@STL: Brown tips home Doughty's shot for PPG

Kopitar has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists). He didn't score his seventh goal until March 2 last season, when he finished with 12. Brown has 13 points (six goals, seven assists). He averaged 29.5 points through the past four seasons despite playing all but five games.

 

5. Offense on the rise

Goals are up, significantly.

The League average for goals per game is 6.1 through 197 games played, an increase from 5.6 goals per game through the same number of games last season. The final League average last season was 5.5 goals per game.

If the current pace continues, the 31 teams will combine to average more goals per game than in any of the previous 11 seasons. The average goals per game was 6.2 in 2005-06.

 

6. The Price has not been right

The Montreal Canadiens' biggest issue might also be their most surprising: Goaltender Carey Price has an .877 SV%, 28th in the League among the 28 goalies who have appeared in eight or more games.

In previous seasons, Price's brilliance masked some of Montreal's other issues, such as center depth, puck possession, power play problems and average 5-on-5 scoring. He hasn't been able to mask the Canadiens' issues this season and it's the biggest reason why they are 4-8-1.

Price has allowed four or more goals in seven of his 11 starts, including five on 26 shots in a 6-3 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. 

The Canadiens aren't doing Price any favors either. 

They are tied for 17th in 5-on-5 goals for (23), 28th on the power play (13.5 percent) and have scored the first goal in four games. They are 1-2-1 when they do. They're 0-6-0 when trailing after the first period, having allowed a League-high 22 goals in the first period.

 

7. St. Louis isn't singing the Blues

Judging by how the St. Louis Blues have played, you would have no idea that injuries mounted as the preseason wore on, including the loss of promising 21-year-old forward Robby Fabbri (knee) for the season. 

The Blues adopted a next-man up philosophy and it clearly hasn't bothered them; they lead the Central Division with 21 points (10-3-1). 

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (ankle) hasn't played yet. Neither have forward Patrik Berglund and Zach Sanford, each recovering from shoulder surgery. Alexander Steen missed the first six games with a wrist injury. 

Video: LAK@STL: Schwartz cleans up the rebound in front

Forward Jaden Schwartz is tied for fourth in the League with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists). Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is tied for first among defensemen with 13 points (four goals, nine assists). Goaltender Jake Allen has been solid with a 2.34 GAA and .923 SV%.

The Blues have allowed four goals in the first period and 17 goals at 5-on-5, tied for second fewest in the League behind the Vancouver Canucks (16), who have played two fewer games.

 

8. Bright spot in the desert

Rookie forward Clayton Keller is at least giving the Arizona Coyotes something to be happy about. The rest hasn't gone as planned for the Coyotes, who are 1-12-1, but Keller leads all rookies and is tied for 11th in the League with 15 points (nine goals, six assists). 

Keller, 19, who also leads all rookies and is tied for fourth in the League in goals, had a seven-game point streak end in a 5-4 loss against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. 

Max Domi, who plays on a line with Keller and center Derek Stepan, said Keller reminds him of a younger version of Patrick Kane, who won the Calder Trophy in 2007-08. Keller is the early favorite to win it this season.

Video: ARI@NJD: Keller steals the puck then goes five-hole

 

9. Marleau branching out with young Maple Leafs 

Center Patrick Marleau, 38, left the San Jose Sharks after 20 years to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs and join one of the youngest forward groups in the League. He looks like a perfect fit.

Marleau, who drives up the average age of Toronto's forwards by nearly a full year (from 25.7 to 26.6) has nine points (five goals, four assists) in 14 games. He's contributing on the power play and already has two game-winning goals, averaging 16:53 of ice time per game.

Fittingly, though, Marleau got a long and loud standing ovation from the Sharks fans at SAP Center on Tuesday, when he returned to San Jose as a visitor for the first time in a 3-2 loss against the Sharks.

 

10. Digging for Oil

The Edmonton Oilers were supposed to build on their success last season, when they went to Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round before losing against the Anaheim Ducks. So far, the only steps they've taken have been backward.

The Oilers are seventh in the eight-team Pacific Division with seven points (3-7-1). Center Connor McDavid, last season's Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner, is getting the job done with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 11 games, but he needs help. 

McDavid has a goal or an assist on 10 of Edmonton's 17 goals at 5-on-5. Leon Draisaitl has points on eight of them and Patrick Maroon seven. Nobody else has more than five even-strength points.

Video: PIT@EDM: Draisaitl cashes in on McDavid's silky feed

Not surprisingly, the Oilers are tied for 29th in the League with the Boston Bruins in 5-on-5 goals. Only the Nashville Predators (13) have scored fewer. The Oilers are also 29th on the power play at 13.2 percent. It has all led to Edmonton scoring a League-low 2.18 goals per game.

For the optimistic readers, the Oilers shooting percentage is bound to go up. They're scoring on 5.8 percent of their shots (24-for-414). The League average is 9.5 percent, so if the Oilers start approaching that they'll start scoring more goals and, ideally, start winning more games.

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