Trends start to emerge

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It’s been one week since the NHL returned. Yes, even in 2021, one week can feel like an eternity.

But hockey is back and so far, things have gone as planned. The majority of these arenas are not hosting fans and piped-in crowd noise has made viewing experiences nearly unbearable early on. Other than that, everything is great.

Through a normal NHL season, you’d find trends to pick up on in the opening week. You’d have an idea how the contenders fare and what kind of teams are being the early surprises through a few games. Unfortunately, that’s not the case this year.

Every game is crucial in a 56-game slate. Teams will have already played 1/14th of their schedule to this point (sans the Dallas Stars), but we’re not going to understand who stands above the rest for another month.

Take the Vegas Golden Knights, for example. Surely, they’re excited about the fact that they’re 3-0-0 to start a season for the second time in franchise history, but take into account who they’ve played; an inferior Anaheim Ducks team twice and an anomaly of an Arizona Coyotes squad. Two of those wins required late rallies in the third period, and Vegas hasn’t looked like a complete Stanley Cup contender early on.

In a season that had no preseason, maybe playing the Ducks and Coyotes enough times is a good warmup before facing the likes of St. Louis and Colorado. Vegas does host the Blues next week, so hopefully these next three games against Arizona are enough of a tune-up.

Even the Toronto Maple Leafs look promising at 3-0-1, but how promising is it given they’ve looked lackluster against the Ottawa Senators and needed an overtime comeback to beat a very improved Montreal Canadiens squad on opening night? I still don’t have much faith that Toronto can keep this up, no matter how the division looks as a whole.

But meanwhile, there are teams playing how we expected. The San Jose Sharks, for example, believed the best way to upgrade their team was to actually downgrade their goaltending. Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk have come as advertised; not very good. And it shows.

The Chicago Blackhawks were going to be bad, but not to the point of having a minus-10 goal differential through three games. Losing Kirby Dach for the season was going to be a major blow as is, but to have Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia play as bad as they have is not good for the souls of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Hopefully getting the likes of Slava Demin was worth trading Robin Lehner.

There’s even a tier of teams that aren’t good but are more exciting to watch than the likes of San Jose and Chicago. The New Jersey Devils getting three points against the Boston Bruins was the biggest shock of the week. Not only do they look fun, but Jack Hughes looks 10 times better in Year 2. Not that that’s all of a shock, but an improved Hughes will make that team better.

Even the Buffalo Sabres, despite one win, have been fun because Taylor Hall makes them fun. He and Jack Eichel have been ultimate set-up men for Buffalo (11 assists combined). All the Sabres need is some competent goaltending and they’ll be fine.

Every word of what I just said could be completely flipped in a week. That’s the situation of this weird season. What may look right now could be topsy-turvy by tomorrow. And if that’s at least keeping your interest in this condensed season, then that’s all anyone can ask for.

Thursday

Lightning at Blue Jackets: This is the first real test for the defending champs this season. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, Columbus is still in a weird spot with the Pierre-Luc Dubois situation. Unless these games at Detroit woke the Jackets up, Tampa should be favored and should win this first matchup. LIGHTNING

 

Friday

Predators at Stars: It’ll be the season debut for Dallas after its COVID-19 outbreak that postponed its start. Being at home, and against an odd Nashville team, expect the Stars to come out strong and motivated. STARS

Saturday

Canadiens at Canucks: It’s been a slow start for Vancouver, but there’s a feeling they’ll cash at home against Montreal. A game at Rogers Arena may be what they need to get on track. I still have faith they’ll contend in the North. CANUCKS

Last week: 2-1

Season: 2-1

About the Author

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on NHL.com, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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