Heading into today’s action, every team in the NHL has played between three and seven games. That’s not a huge sample size, but it’s enough to spot certain trends. The PHT Face-Off will break down some of the early-season storylines around the league.
Here we go:
• Arizona can’t score:
The Coyotes made a blockbuster trade to acquire Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately for the ‘Yotes, that hasn’t translated into more goals. Through four games, Arizona has found the back of the net a total of seven times. More than half of those seven goals (four) came in their 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night. They scored one goal against Anaheim, none against Boston and two in an overtime loss to Colorado on Saturday night.
The encouraging thing about Arizona’s start, is that they’re ninth in the NHL in Corsi For Percentage at 52.09 percent and ninth in High Danger Chances For percentage at 54.9 percent (stats provided by Natural Stat Trick). You have to think that if they can continue to post similar numbers, the pucks will start going in at some point.
Arizona will head into Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg with a 1-2-1 record. That’s not terrible considering their lack of scoring. The fact that they’ve given up just seven goals helps in a big way.
• What’s wrong with the Lightning?
Last season, the Lightning ran away with the President’s Trophy crown, as they amassed a 62-16-4 record which was good for 128 points. The Calgary Flames, who had the second-highest point total in 2018-19, collected 107 points. That’s a huge gap. Heading into Tuesday’s clash against the Montreal Canadiens on NBCSN, the Bolts have a 2-2-1 record.
Prior to Thursday’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, head coach Jon Cooper admitted that his team still felt the pain of being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I would be lying if I didn’t think there was a burden carried over,” Cooper told assembled media in Toronto on Thursday morning. “But we’ve talked to the players about it. We can’t change last year. We’re defending nothing, so let’s go and attack, and wherever people pick us, that’s for everybody else to talk about. It’s not how we feel. As I said before, we have a completely different team. Yes, a lot of our core is the same, but there’s no question, there’s a little bit of a burden you carry from last year. If we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs and, hopefully, if we do win a round, we’re probably going to hear it until then. So let’s brush it off and play hockey.”
Give Cooper credit for providing us with an honest answer, because most coaches would’ve denied that there was any carry over at all.
Tampa may not put up another 62-win season, but they should be just fine.
• High-Flying Oilers:
If you look at the list of NHL scoring leaders, you’ll notice that the first two games at the top belong to Edmonton Oilers players. Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have registered 12 and 11 points respectively through their first five games. Also, James Neal is the only player in the league with seven goals this season. That’s a pleasant surprise considering he scored just seven times in 63 games with the Calgary Flames in 2018-19.
Sure, four of those goals came in one game, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s been really, really good for his new team.
Even though there’s no way Neal is going to keep this pace up all season (breaking news: he won’t score 115 goals this year), it’s encouraging to see the Oilers get offensive production from someone other than McDavid and Draisaitl.
It’s early, but the Oilers are sitting atop the Pacific Division standings with a 5-0-0 record.
You can catch McDavid and the gang on NBCSN (9:30 p.m. ET) this Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.
• Quiet start for top two picks in 2019:
The first two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft were both able to crack their respective squads. Jack Hughes is with the New Jersey Devils, while Kaapo Kakko is taking a regular shift with the New York Rangers. The expectations were pretty high for both teenagers heading into this year, but the offensive output they’ve provided has been limited.
Through five games, Hughes has failed to pick up a point. We know that he’s fast, we know that he’s talented, but it may take a little bit of time for him to get used to the pace of play and the lack of time and space in the NHL. Head coach Jon Hynes has kept his rookie’s minutes fairly consistent, as he’s played between 14:23 and 17:36 this season.
Don’t get it twisted, it’s not Hughes’ fault that the Devils are 0-3-2 right now. After trading for Nikita Gusev and P.K. Subban, and then signing Wayne Simmonds in free agency, the expectations were that New Jersey would be much better. Expecting their prized rookie to light it up in his first year just isn’t fair. The points will eventually come.
According to Scott Cullen, Hughes is the first first overall pick since Steven Stamkos in 2008 to open his career with no points in five games.
As for Kakko, he collected his first goal/point in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers (he scored the opening goal of the game). Is this the moment that gets him rolling? It’s way too early to tell, but we’ll find out soon enough. Kakko has played two fewer games than Hughes, but their minutes have been similar (Kakko is averaging 15:25/game, Hughes is averaging 15:31/game).
Can Kakko continue to build his Calder Trophy case?
Both players will go head-to-head for the first time on Thursday night on NBCSN (7 p.m. ET).
• Gibson’s Finest:
The Anaheim Ducks have played three of their first five games on the road, but they managed to go 4-1-0. Their only loss came in Pittsburgh, as they held the highest scoring team in the league to just two goals in a 2-1 defeat. Yes, the Ducks appear to be giving starting goalie John Gibson some help, but he continues to be one of the top goalies in the NHL.
That loss to Pittsburgh was also the only time this season that Gibson has allowed more than one goal in a game, which is totally ridiculous. He has a 3-1-0 record with a 1.26 goals-against-average and a .961 save percentage this season. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but you’d have to think that he’ll be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy if he can keep his team’s season on the rails.
Gibson got the night off against Columbus on Friday, which means he’ll be fresh for tonight’s tough matchup in Boston.
What’s coming up this week?
• A lot of afternoon hockey on Columbus Day, Mon. Oct. 14, starting at 1 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Canadiens, Tue. Oct. 15, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
• Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko, Thu. Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET( NBCSN)
• Bruins vs. Maple Leafs for the first time since they faced each other in the first round, Sat. Oct. 19, 7 p.m. ET
WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
Avalanche vs. Penguins, Wed. Oct. 16, 7 p.m. ET
NHL on NBCSN
Flyers vs. Oilers, Wed. Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m. ET
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.