By Matt Citak
With the NHL season only a few weeks old, we have already seen our fair share of surprises. From several of last year’s playoff teams getting off to horrid starts, to the league’s newest team looking unstoppable, it feels like we have already seen it all. Fasten your seat belts, folks. It looks like we’re going to be in for a wild season.
Here are some of this week’s top NHL headlines.
Golden Knights off to hot start
The NHL’s newest expansion team has surprised just about everyone around the league with their amazing start. Vegas has opened the season 7-1-0, and is currently tied for the Western Conference’s second-best goal differential at +8. Led by veteran forward James Neal’s six goals, the Golden Knights are averaging 3.38 goals per game, the 10th-highest in the league. Their latest victory came on Tuesday night with an impressive 4-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban, the team’s top two goalies, on injured reserve. Oscar Dansk has stepped up in their absence, winning his first two starts with a .929 save percentage.
The Golden Knights are the first expansion team in NHL history to win seven of its first eight games. It’s about time everyone around the league starts taking this Vegas team seriously, as the Golden Knights have already shown that no matter what is thrown at them, they are not going away anytime soon.
Last year’s playoff teams look sluggish
While we are only about 10 percent of the way through the 2017-18 season, several playoff teams from last year must be worried about how the season has begun. In the Eastern Conference, the Rangers, who went 48-28-6 last season, have gotten off to a rocky start. New York has won only three of its first 11 games (3-6-2), while ranking 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.73) and 22nd in goals against per game (3.36). Meanwhile the Canadiens, owners of a 47-26-9 record in 2016-17, have mustered only five points in their first 10 games (2-7-1). As if that weren’t bad enough, they rank above only the winless Arizona Coyotes in goal differential at -20, and are currently sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The Western Conference also has a few teams off to disappointing starts. The Edmonton Oilers, a preseason Stanley Cup favorite after finishing last year with a 47-26-9 record, have registered just seven points (3-5-1) in their first nine games of the season. The Oilers averaged 2.96 goals per game last year, which ranked 8th in the NHL, but are averaging only 2.22 goals per game this season, which is the second-lowest in the league. The Wild (3-3-2) have also stumbled out of the gate, but their goal differential of +1 suggests a turnaround could be near.
Ovechkin wants to remind everyone he’s still really good at hockey
Alex Ovechkin has won three MVP trophies, has been named to seven NHL First All-Star Teams, and has racked up 558 goals in his first 12 NHL seasons. Despite all of these achievements, many people considered the 2016-17 season to be down-year for the talented forward, as he finished with the second-lowest goal total of his career (33). Thirty-three goals is still a lot, so it was surprising that expectations were somewhat low for Ovechkin heading into the 2017-18 season. Well anyone that doubted him before the season is certainly eating their words now. Ovechkin has been on fire to start the season, scoring 10 goals in the Capitals’ first 10 games while adding two assists. Even more impressive is the fact that seven of those 10 goals have been at full strength (17 of his 33 goals last year were on the power play). The 32-year-old Russian is playing some of the best hockey of his life, and if he keeps up this level of play, could break his career-high of 65 goals in 2007-08.
Kessel nets overtime winner, 300th career goal
After a slow start, the Penguins have picked it up over the last three weeks. Pittsburgh lost its first two games of the season, but have won seven of nine since. Their last two wins, over Edmonton and Winnipeg, have both come in overtime, and have both featured veteran forward Phil Kessel scoring the game-winning goal. Thursday night’s game-winner was extra special though, as it was Kessel’s 300th career goal. The 30-year-old becomes just the 18th American-born player to reach that milestone, and one of only two active American players with that many goals, joining Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild. Kessel now has four goals and seven assists through the Penguins first 11 games of the season.
Lightning forward duo off to an electric start
Through the first few weeks of the season, one team been far and away the best club in the Eastern Conference. The Tampa Bay Lightning have won nine of their first 11 games (9-1-1), are 6-0 at home, and are tied with the Los Angeles Kings for the best goal differential in the NHL (+17). A big reason for the Lightning’s hot start has been the stellar play of forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Both forwards have collected points in each of Tampa Bay’s first 11 games, and are currently the league’s top two points leaders. Stamkos has racked up four goals and a league-leading 17 assists, while Kucherov has seven assists to go with his league-high 12 goals. The two continue to make the case to be the best forward combination in the NHL.
Quick picks up shutout, reaches milestone
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick put on a clinic Thursday night, making a whopping 40 saves in a 4-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. The shutout was the 46th of Quick’s career, furthering his lead for the most shutouts by a U.S. goalie (Frank Brimsek and John Vanbiesbrouck are tied for second with 40) in NHL history. Since 2008-09, which served as his first full season in the NHL, Quick leads the league in shutouts. Thursday’s contest also represented a big milestone for the 31-year-old goaltender, as it was his 500th NHL game. Quick became the first goalie in Kings history, and just the seventh U.S.-born goalie in league history, to play at least 500 games.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.