As the NHL season rolls into its second month this week, we can start taking the standings a bit more seriously. Or can we? Every NHL coach and GM manager knows they don't want to emulate the St. Louis Blues' "worst to first" from Jan. 2 to a Stanley Cup win by mid-June.
Teams officially off to fast starts outnumber slow start by predicted playoff contenders by a ratio of 5-to-1. Some of the fast starters are surprises but most are legitimate choices who could well grow some gnarly playoff beards.
Let's get Week 4 of Weekly Warmup to its own quick takeoff:
New Coaches to Fifth Power
Five of the season's new head coaches sport winning records, including Dave Tippett's Edmonton Oilers still leading the Pacific Division and Ralph Krueger's Buffalo Sabres leading the Atlantic. Another new coach and former Hartford Whalers teammate of Seattle GM Ron Francis, Joel Quenneville, visited Edmonton with Florida Panthers charges Saturday night and left with a decisive 6-2 victory.
Q won three Stanley Cups in Chicago during the last decade, so no one is surprised the Panthers are playing more consistent defense, especially with free agent Sergei Bobrovsky patrolling the goal. But not a single pundit forecast such early sunny skies even if the team plays its home games in Sunrise, FL. The Panthers are 5-2-4 for 14 points in 11 games, 10 points coming from the win column and four more points from overtime/shootout losses. They have secured standings points in eight straight games. Florida continues its Western road trip at Vancouver Monday.
The Canucks are 6-3-1 and looking to rebound from losing a four-goal lead to visiting Washington Friday night, then losing to the Caps in a shootout. Michal Kempny, back in action paired with fellow defenseman John Carlson sent two slapshots through lots of bodies in front the net in the last eight minutes to tie the game. Before Friday, Kempny had 12 goals in 178 NHL games.
In Philadelphia, Alain Vigneault has the Flyers about the .500 mark or winning more than half of games played. Philly is 5-4-1 with trip to intrastate, intradivision, intra-intense rival Pittsburgh Tuesday night.
Buffalo is waiting for Arizona to show up Monday night for a battle of two teams with 15 wins against five losses and two overtime losses. That was not on the preseason expectation list either. Krueger is making mostly all the right moves with the Sabres, who are 9-2-1. After each loss, the team has bounced back strong, always a good sign even if it is still late October. The second-time NHL head coach decided at season's start to balance out his lines with star forwards Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner not pairing up but instead working separately among what is known as the top six or the first line and second line. So far, so pretty darn good. It helps that young winger Victor Olofsson has been turning heads alongside Eichel, who is simply one of the top players and leaders in the game. Krueger has been reluctant to break any of his lines or defensive pairings through 12 games. Anyone blame him?
Arizona is 2-1 on its New York state swing, beating New Jersey and the New York Rangers while dropping a close game to the Islanders. Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta have been stellar in goal, giving up just 22 goals in 10 games, leading the league in stinginess. The Coyotes have won four of their last five games.
Patience in Detroit
Edmonton plays in Detroit Tuesday as Oilers GM Ken Holland looks on his current team and former team that won Cups and made the playoffs year in and year out for two decades-plus. The team's records are a complete reverse: EDM is 8-3-1 and DET is 3-8-1. No one is expecting an instant rebuild from Steve Yzerman, legendary Red Wings captain and former top executive with Tampa Bay. But after a strong opening set of games, Detroit are winless in eight games, dropping a heartbreak to visiting St. Louis Sunday in overtime. The Wings were up 4-3 with less five minutes remaining in regulation, giving up an equalizer to Stanley Cup Final star Ryan O'Reilly at the 15:42 mark. David Perron notched his sixth goal and OT winner. Detroit coach Jeff Blashill is urging his younger troops to stay the course: "When you've lost a bunch in a row, you're going to have great mental toughness. I told our guys you keep playing these types of games [not giving up easy chances for opponents' shots on goal], you're going to win a lot of games."
Two for Tuesday/Thursday
Tuesday: Washington (8-2-3) has won five of its last six games, including an Oct. 16 home win against Toronto. The Metropolitan leaders face off at Toronto Tuesday. The Maple Leafs, much discussed and shouldering high expectations with young superstars and big contracts, are suddenly barely above even with a record of 6-5-1.
Thursday: The NHL schedule makers mostly concede Halloween to costumes and parties not in its arenas. But Montreal's stop at Vegas should have plenty of party atmosphere as per usual. The Canadiens is another Original Six team leaving its fans unsatisfied with a 6-5-1 start while the Golden Knights (8-5-0) look to be on track for a third straight postseason in its short history.
Here's the Scoring
We have a new leader for NHL points. Boston's David Pastrnak is tops with a league-leading 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points. Keep it up and people will begin to spell his vowel-challanged surname with no issues. Washington d-man John Carlson is next with 21 points, knotted with Edmonton's dynamic duo of Connor McDavid (6G, 15A) and Leon Draisaiti (9G, 12A). Brad Marchand makes two in the top 5 for Boston, too. Marchand has nine goals and 11 assists.
Video: VGK@CHI: Dach scores his first NHL goal
Draft Choices 1-2-3
Chicago's Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in June's NHL Draft, scored his first NHL goal in his second NHL game. He followed it up with his first NHL assist in the next game. It will be intriguing to see if the Blackhawks decides to keep the 18-year-old or send him back to his juniors team for one more season. In New Jersey, No. 1 choice Jack Hughes scored his second NHL goal. Both scores have some on powerplay or man-advantage situations. The New York Rangers' Kappo Kaako, the No. 2 pick last June, is stuck on one goal and one assist with a not-so-sightly minus-12, which means he has been on the ice for 12 more goals than goals for NYR.
Hat Tricks for October
Boston's Patrice Bergeron decided he wanted in on the Bruins early-season scoring bonanza, so he notched three goals in a 7-4 road over the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. That's the ninth hat trick of the young season and second in the last week. Vancouver's newly anointed captain Bo Horvat hit the trio of goals in a 5-2 drubbing of Detroit.
Sentimental and Successful
When San Jose signed Patrick Marleau to rejoin the Sharks early in the season, it seemed to be a big part sentimental choice with the former Shark returning to finish his career at age 40 (not the norm in the NHL). So far, so much more than sentimental: Marleau has two goals and six points in his first seven games. Those are better numbers than long-time teammate Joe Thorton and Timo Meier, who was renewed at big numbers this summer.
The Canucks have 13 points in 10 games, so why not celebrate Halloween a bit early. The team went with a Shrek theme. Captain Bo Horvat, actually nicknamed the same by some media members, dressed as Prince Charming. Here's a photo to allow fans to figure who played Donkey and other characters. Hint: Donkey doesn't play like one.