It’s impossible to find trends this early in the season.
After all, most teams have played one or two games. One bad match can really skew numbers one way or another. But it is a good time to have a look at those games and see if you can find anything that is worth keeping an eye on to see if it develops into a trend.
There’s been lots of interesting takeaways to start the season. Things can change very quickly as coaches tinker with lineups, injuries and contract situations get resolved.
Here are 10 interesting takeaways from the first few days of the NHL season.
10. Steve Mason is the starter
There was some debate during the summer about whether the Winnipeg goalies would split starts, but it appears less likely that will be the case. After giving up five goals on 20 shots in the Jets first 40 minutes of the season, coach Paul Maurice went right back to Mason on Saturday. Mason then let in six goals on 45 shots. It’s important to note that Connor Hellebuyck is starting against the Oilers tonight. But I figure if this was going to be a 50-50 split, Hellebuyck would have started Saturday. Expect to see a lot of Mason for the next month unless Hellebuyck can prove he is a much better goalie.
9. Vegas’ poor contract management
They may be 2-0 to start the season, but they’ve only scored four goals total. You would think they would be looking for a way to get more offense in the lineup. The Knights screwed themselves over when they selected too many defensemen in the expansion draft on the assumption it would be easy to trade a few of them. Now they’re stuck with too many players and don’t want to put them on waivers in fear of losing those players for nothing. So instead, they sent Vadim Shipachyov, Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore to the AHL. We all thought it was a paper move and they would be back up in time for the weekend games. That hasn’t happened. Shipachyov hasn’t played a game with the Chicago Wolves, but Theodore has five points and Tuch four points in two games. And they may not get called back up unless Vegas makes a trade.
8. Patrick Kane’s new linemates
While much of the preseason focused on who would be playing with Connor McDavid, maybe we should have been focusing on who would be playing with Patrick Kane. Kane has six points in two games. Nick Schmaltz, whom most people assumed would be playing with Kane, has three points. The biggest surprise is Ryan Hartman, who has six points so far. Hartman is not getting any power play time, so don’t expect him to become the next Artemi Panarin. But he could be a surprise 50-point player this season.
7. Dallas’ trouble scoring
The Stars have scored just three goals in two games. That ranks them as one of the three-worst scoring teams. Dallas is looking to be more defensive minded under Ken Hitchcock. Their 25.5 shots against per game is tops in the league. But this is just a blip. They’re still shooting the puck a ton. They’ve just had some bad luck so far.
6. Youth is king …
It was a great opening week for several young players making their regular season debuts. Charlie McAvoy had a goal and an assist in his first game. Clayton Keller has a goal and is averaging 21:10 through two games. Will Butcher picked up three power-play assists in New Jersey’s first game. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Joel Eriksson Ek both have a goal through two games. Jakub Vrana has three assists and is playing regularly with Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. It’s a great start for some of these rookies.
5. … Except when it’s not
There was a lot of fantasy hype for some young players in the offseason. Josh Ho-Sang was a healthy scratch in the Islanders first game and then played a team low 11:08 in the second game. Brock Boeser was a healthy scratch in the Canucks first game of the season. The Sens sent Thomas Chabot to the AHL (they called him back up yesterday). Logan Brown played 10:18 in the Sens’ first game and was a healthy scratch in the second game. Kailer Yamamato played only 6:33 in the first game and was a healthy scratch the second game. Julius Honka was a healthy scratch in Dallas’ first two games. Dylan Strome is pointless and is averaging 12:09 a game. It’s been a tough start for some of these rookies.
4. Alexander Ovechkin’s scoring
Still expecting a decline for Ovechkin? I certainly was. I even traded him last December in my points only league. I figured 30 goals and 70 points would start to be a high for the 32-year-old. But he’s almost a quarter of the way to 30 goals after potting seven goals in two games. He looks like he’s on his way to another 40-goal season at the minimum. His scoring will start to regress — he’s not going to shoot 50 per cent the rest of the season — but it’s been an excellent start for the Great 8.
3. The number of power plays
The referees seem intent on calling everything, and it’s leading to an increase in power plays. The average number of power plays per game per team last year was 2.99. This year it’s at 4.28 (before last night’s Rangers-Habs tilt). Until that number gets back to normal, expect to see some inflated points totals.
2. Power play surprises
It’s early in the season and coaches are still trying things out. But there have been some power play surprises so far. Adam Lowry is on the Jets top power play unit. Chris Wideman in Ottawa is on the second PP unit but has averaged 5:10 a game since he and Dion Phaneuf are the only Sens defensemen used on the power play. Ryan Spooner led the Bruins in PP time in the squad’s first game at almost six minutes. The Avalanche seem to be all in on Sven Andrighetto succeeding as he leads the Avs forwards at 5:18 per game. I wouldn’t rush out to scoop these players off the waiver wire, but you should keep an eye on them for the next week or two to see what happens with their deployment.
1. Goalie struggles
A lot of top netminders have struggled with the increase in goals. Twenty-one goalies have a save percentage below .900, including top netminders such as Tuuka Rask, John Gibson, Matt Murray, Devan Dubnyk, Martin Jones and Henrik Lundqvist. Twenty-six goalies have a GAA of 3.00 or above. It’s very important to reiterate at this point that we are talking about a small sample size. But if you own Carey Price, Thomas Greiss and Devan Dubnyk this week, you pretty much lost all your goalie categories.
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