If anyone tells you they know exactly how things are going to shape up in the NHL, especially in the early-goings, feel free to laugh because they’re likely very, very wrong. We’re a month into the season, and teams are already surprising fans and pundits alike.
This edition of the Weekly Lost & Found focuses on two teams that were expected to be higher in the standings than they are, and two that are right where they should be. We even have a team making their first re-appearance. Let’s dive in.
Lost: Colorado Avalanche Below Expectations, Boston Bruins’ Window Could Be Closing
Avalanche Had High Expectations Coming Into Season & Haven’t Lived up to Them
The Hockey Writers’ staff predicted not just that the Avalanche would win the Central Division, but they would win the Stanley Cup. They went 0-1-1 in two games this past week, which dropped their record to 4-5-1, sixth in the division. Forward Mikko Rantanen was particularly frustrated following their loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Their minus-6 goal differential is surprising considering their offensive firepower. It’s a little concerning to see Nathan MacKinnon with just a lone goal in eight games, despite his 10 points. JT Compher is the team’s leading goal scorer with five.
On the flip side of the puck, starting goalie Darcy Kuemper has been struggling. His 2.89 goals-against average (GAA) and .908 save percentage (SV%) isn’t going to get it done for the Avs. Especially when the team’s 3.60 goals-against per game is the fourth highest in the NHL.
The lack of goal scoring can be seen on the power play by their 10.5% conversion rate, 29th in the NHL. The penalty kill is just missing the top-10 in the NHL with an 84.6% completion rate, so that’s a bright spot for them.
All this to say, the Avalanche are not at all where they were expected to be. They’re totally off; trouble scoring goals and trouble preventing goals. It’s still early in the season, they have games in hand and at any second MacKinnon, Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog can explode and go on a tear. They should right the ship soon.
Bruins Slow Start Could Be a Sign That Their Core Is on Its Way Out
Could this be a preview of the Stanley Cup window closing for the Bruins? They were predicted by the THW staff to be a wild card team and currently sit on the outside looking in through nine games. They went 1-1-0 this past week and now sit at sixth in the Atlantic Division, sitting 5-4-0 overall. They do have games in hand, but it should be concerning when looking at the state of the team.
The team is firing at 25% on the power play, but have scored just 24 goals this season, 30th in the NHL. The Perfection Line is continuing their strong play, but the drop-off is steep after that. Their goaltending is doing alright, but could be better; the team is towards the lower-middle of the pack in both goals-for and goals-against per game.
There’s a bit more hesitancy for optimism here with the Bruins as they stand. Especially since teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings are off to unexpectedly decent starts. It’s just more obstacles for them that they might be too top-heavy to surpass.
It’s hard to bet against Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak, but if they’re the only horses pulling the cart, you’re not going to go very far.
Found: Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs Stars Leading the Way
Oilers McDavid and Draisaitl Bolster Steady Goaltending for a Strong Start
The Oilers are riding a four-game winning streak, and the bus is being driven by superstar Connor McDavid, with fellow star Leon Draisaitl as his co-pilot. The duo has combined for 18 goals and 45 points in 10 games, and are the top-two leading scorers in the NHL. It’s helped contribute to the Oilers’ plus-17 goal differential, which is ranked fourth in the league.
It can be easy to underappreciate what you’re seeing from someone like McDavid, who’s a human highlight reel. The frequency he produces remarkable plays has almost normalized them. It’s like some of these goals came straight from a highlight factory, such as this one:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi and the newly signed Zach Hyman have all started the year strong as well.
The Oilers’ goaltending tandem isn’t letting age define them and have been playing well to go with the goal support. Mikko Koskinen, 33 years old, has led the way with a 7-1-0 record, a 2.54 GAA and .920 SV%. Mike Smith, 39 years old, shares Koskinen’s .920 SV% but has a slightly higher 3.08 GAA.
The Oilers look to be in good shape again, and will definitely be exciting to watch. Look for the Battle of Alberta to be even more meaningful this year than in years past.
A Maple Leaf Mea Culpa
Their record over the past week was 3-0-0, which was a grand improvement, and it’s a part of a five-game winning streak. Over those three games, they have a plus-8 goal differential and have recorded a shutout. The Leafs’ backup goaltending has combined for a 1-2-0 record, so it’s clearly been Jack Campbell who’s been shutting the door for them.
Campbell’s 1.88 GAA ranks fifth in the NHL among goalies with at least five games played, and his .936 SV% ranks him seventh by the same metric.
After a slower start, the stars are shooting and scoring. The Leafs’ biggest paychecks are living up to their worth. Captain John Tavares and Mitch Marner are tied for the team-lead with 12 points in 12 games, while Auston Matthews has scored five goals and eight points in nine games. William Nylander has 10 points in 12 games to round-out the Leafs’ top-four scorers.
There was a bit of early-season panic fueling their first listing on the Weekly L&F, but the Maple Leafs have turned things around. There’s still a lot of hockey to play, but the Leafs look to be about where they should be. Campbell could see himself entering the Vezina race, and Matthews is looking to climb back towards Rocket Richard candidacy. The Leafs should be fine for the foreseeable future.