It’s a fair question to ask any team that gets off to a surprisingly strong start, especially on Halloween: is this team a real contender, or was it just disguising it?
With Jack Eichel’s scary overtime winner last night against the Winnipeg Jets, the Vegas Golden Knights have won four straight games and have the second-best point percentage in the league. Top marks go to the Boston Bruins, who are currently on a five-game winning streak after beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0 on Friday night.
Was there a pe season case that needed to be made, were these quality outfits? Certainly. But both sides sacked coaches last year and came into this campaign missing key pieces due to long-term injuries.
But here they sit, 1-2 overall, offering plenty of evidence that these hot starts have staying power. Both the Bruins and Knights have strong core numbers, and they rank first and second in the league on goal difference (Boston is best at plus-18, with Vegas right behind at plus-15).
The Bruins in particular have a number of things that raise eyebrows. Obviously they played a little possum on the schedule of Brad Marchand’s hip surgery recovery as the left winger has already returned from an injury we thought might be out until closer to December. And even if Charlie McAvoy also makes an early return from shoulder surgery (he trained with the team on Monday morning), the bottom line is that the club have managed without their blue-liner No 1 all year.
But look at what the guys are doing there. David Pastrnak is a point behind the league lead after his goal on Friday; Patrice Bergeron has nine points in nine games with nine more available for 1,000 in his career as head-to-the-hall. Meanwhile the other “Is he coming back or not?” Guy, David Krejci, also stars in a point-per-game clip alongside compatriot Pastrnak. Relative newcomer Hampus Lindholm has excelled on the blue line in McAvoy’s absence, while previously disgruntled Jake DeBrusk is making an encouraging start to the season under new coach Jim Montgomery.
Then there’s the game of Linus Ullmark, who – after Columbus’ whitewash on Friday – has the fifth-best five-a-side save percentage in the league among goalies by at least 200 minutes.
Speaking of goalies, the Vegas guys — and it’s probably worth identifying them as Logan Thompson and Adin Hill — have the highest five-a-side save percentage in the league. That helped make new bank chief Bruce Cassidy — remember him, Bruins fans? – smooth transition to his new appearance despite reigning starter Robin Lehner being lost for the season due to hip surgery.
Regardless of what upheaval has occurred in the fold, it seems like there’s a degree of calm in Vegas, which is a welcome respite given the frantic “just take every star we can” organization in the past. Acorn looking great in his first full year; Mark Stone is back to normal and playing as usual, while a few OG Knights – William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore – have all been good so far.
Look, these two teams played a lot of dates at home and didn’t exactly play the crème de la crème every night. The top two teams Vegas faced – Colorado and Calgary – beat them. Both teams are either just getting started or on the verge of long roadies so we can get a fuller picture of where they stand over the next week or so.
Don’t bet on a big Scooby-Doo-style unmask here, though; what you see is probably pretty close to what you get with Vegas and Boston.
• After losing to the Bruins, Columbus got worse with a 7-1 treble against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. The Jackets have been outplayed 17-4 in their last three games, and only two teams — Anaheim and San Jose — currently have points worse than Columbus’ .300 mark. The mercury feels like it’s rising in Ohio.
Meanwhile, Jesper Bratt’s show continues for the Devils as he scored two more points against Columbus and was on the scoring chart in all of New Jersey’s nine games this season.
• The once-0-2 Devils are a great example of steering out of a preseason slide, and to a lesser extent, the Minnesota Wild. After falling into a 0-3-0 hole, the Wild are 4-4-1 after Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Matt Boldy was the star for Minny with two goals and, man, can that second year play. The fast hands he showed on his first record show why the stakes are so high for this 21-year-old.
• If you slide the other way, after starting 3-0-0, make four Ls in a row for St. Louis. The Blues took a 3-1 lead against Montreal on Saturday, resulting in a 7-4 loss. St. Louis have been surpassed 20-7 that slide, and the Blues have netted just 10 five-for-five goals in seven games this season.
• Unfortunately, the Arizona Coyotes lost their first two games at Mullett Arena, but this giveaway during Friday’s opening night was a winner and an absolute no-brainer.
We just have to highlight a monster game by Brandon Montour against Ottawa on Saturday. The Cats defender already had two assists on the board when he broke a 3-3 tie with a big blast late in the third. Overall, he logged 27:49 in a rollicking Florida win.
Red and white power rankings
1. Calgary Flames (5-2-0): The Flames have three more home games this week to complete a stretch in which nine of their first 10 competitions are national affairs. It’s probably best to make a little more hay before heading out to play nine out of eleven on the road.
2. Edmonton Oilers (6-3-0): Man, does this team ever have Jakob Markstrom’s number? After Saturday’s big 3-2 win in Calgary, Markstom has an .884 save percentage going into the Flames against the Oilers.
3. Winnipeg Jets (5-3-1): They spoiled Arizona’s Mullett debut on Friday and then squandered Connor Hellebuyck’s 46-saver performance in Vegas on Sunday by not taking the extra point in overtime.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (4-4-1): They don’t want to reflexively dismiss the early struggles, but the parallels to last season are just too obvious to ignore. Toronto went 1-4-1 in Games 2-7 last year and actually trailed 2-0 in Game 8 against a pretty poor Chicago team before clinching an overtime win. If it gets worse from here, watch out. But there’s a chance that that awful five-game road trip may be a distant memory.
5. Ottawa Senators (4-4-0): Thomas Chabot was absent with 44 seconds remaining in the Sens’ 5-3 loss to the Panthers. Realizing that Artem Zub isn’t in the lineup, some other Ottawa D-men have to help lighten Chabot’s load.
6. Montreal Canadiens (5-4-0): To say the least, things have not always been smooth sailing for Christian Dvorak in Montreal since he arrived there from Arizona some 13 months ago. Saturday’s hat trick in a big win against the Blues had to feel great.
7. Vancouver Canucks (2-5-2): It was obviously an incredibly small sample size, but after allowing a goal in a much-needed 5-1 laugh of a win over Pittsburgh on Friday, Spencer Martin has a .944 save percentage in eight games with Vancouver. He was also unbeaten in regular time during his brief career with the Canucks.
• If Alex Ovechkin pulls off a heroic Halloween performance Monday night, he could match Wayne Gretzky for the most away goals in NHL history at Carolina. After scoring in Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators, Ovie has 398 goals in enemy territory, four fewer than Gretzky’s 402. Of course, breaking that record would also mean Ovechkin has the most goals for a team in the NHL history has scored, too. Gordie Howe had 786 for the Detroit Red Wings and No. 8, of course, scored all of his 783 for the Caps.
• Quinn Hughes is expected to return to the Canucks after missing four games through injury. He returns just in time to face his brother Jack and the rising Devils when they visit BC on Tuesday.
• We’re going back to Europe! Okay, the Avalanche and Blue Jackets are, but at least the rest of us get afternoon hockey on Fridays. Colorado and Columbus play in Finland on Friday and Saturday. It feels like the fighting jackets could use this time.
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