Why are Sabres, Rangers, Oilers, Ducks off to hot starts?

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It’s far too early to talk about hot streaks for the Ducks, Sabres, Rangers and Oilers … but it’s far too fun not to. But before we get into that, you might be wondering: are any of these teams for real?

The quick answer isn’t sexy: we don’t know much of anything yet.

In 2018-19, the Devils began the season with a four-game winning streak, yet they were bad enough (31-41-10) to win the draft lottery and land Jack Hughes. Meanwhile, the Avalanche started off last season 6-1-2, and ended up proving that their 2017-18 breakthrough wasn’t a fluke.

So … yeah, apply your grains of salt here, but let’s dive into what’s driving some quick starts.

(Note: this post is limited to four teams that are off to hot starts who missed the playoffs in 2018-19. Hence, no Hurricanes, who made it to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, for example.)

Anaheim Ducks (3-0-0, six points)

If someone told you that the Ducks began the season on a three-game winning streak, you’d probably assume that goaltending would be the key. And you’d be right.

John Gibson has earned all three wins, generating a ridiculous .970 save percentage, making at least 31 saves in each game so far.

As all-world as Gibson is, this pace is unsustainable. The Ducks have killed every penalty so far, going 7-for-7. Looking at Natural Stat Trick’s all-strengths stats, there are some absurd numbers, including Gibson making the save on a league-leading 94.12 percent of the high-danger scoring chances he’s faced.

It’s not all bad news for the Ducks, necessarily. The early returns on Dallas Eakins seem positive, as Anaheim is more or less breaking even in possession stats, which wasn’t always a safe assumption under former coach Randy Carlyle, who was notorious for submarining his team’s puck possession numbers.

The formula of Gibson (and, to an extent, strong backup Ryan Miller) plus respectable overall play and timely offense might just work for the Ducks. If nothing else, there’s a decent chance that they’ll make gains after a lousy 2018-19.

Just don’t expect Gibson to remain superhuman.

(If I had to bet on any goalie to be superb in 2019-20, it would be Gibson, though.)

Buffalo Sabres (3-0-1, seven points)

While the Ducks have had a perfect penalty kill so far, the Sabres’ power play has been outrageous. Buffalo leads the NHL with eight power play goals, converting on eight of 15 opportunities.

The Sabres have a power-play shooting percentage of 25. Last season, the Lightning led the NHL with a 21.64 power-play shooting percentage, while no one else even hit 19 (Boston was second at 18.84 percent).

Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin are tied for the league lead with five power-play points, while Victor Olofsson chisels out a reputation as “Goal-ofsson” for his deadly work on the man advantage.

So far, the Sabres’ expected goals on the power play was 3.17, which ranks third in Natural Stat Trick’s listings, so there’s certainly some strength to the unit. Perhaps that’s where Ralph Krueger really picked up some especially strong tricks in soccer?

The Sabres are playing over their heads, yet there are positive signs possession-wise.

Edmonton Oilers (3-0-0, six points)

With 14 goals on 80 SOG, the Oilers lead the NHL with a 17.5 shooting percentage.

Not shockingly, James Neal is on fire after that four-goal game, generating six goals on 14 SOG for a 42.9 shooting percentage. Connor McDavid‘s hot hand isn’t so surprising (22.2 percent), but Zack Kassian won’t convert three goals on five SOG (60 percent) very often.

Looking deeper at the Oilers’ stats, they’ve struggled with the seventh-worst Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages, although they’ve generated slightly more high-danger chances for than against (34-30) early on under Dave Tippett. There are worse strategies than “being middle-of-the-pack while having McDavid.”

New York Rangers (2-0-0, four points)

The Rangers have the highest PDO (1.098) so far this season with a high shooting percentage (16.13) and save percentage (93.67). You probably won’t be stunned to realize that the Oilers rank second in PDO (1.077), the Ducks come in fourth (1.058), and the Sabres are ninth (1.043).

Mika Zibanejad‘s been worthy of more attention during the last couple of years, but he won’t generate four points per game (he has eight in two games so far). Artemi Panarin could very well maintain strong chemistry with Zibanejad, but this pace will inevitably subside.

New York’s underlying numbers are rough thus far, even when you factor in score effects.

The Rangers’ 6-4 win against Winnipeg to open the season on Oct. 3 might be the template for the Rangers: lots of goals and chances going both ways, goalies ending up miserable, and chaos generally ensuing. It might not always be pretty, but it could end up being fun to watch.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.