It was only last Wednesday that the NHL was getting ready to drop the puck on a new season. Hockey fans settled in for the long haul, ready for the ups and downs that inevitably visit every team over a six-month season. We would enjoy the games, yes. But we would not panic.
Seven days later, as the final horns sounded on last night’s games, hockey fans collectively stood up and shouted “Screw that.” Because right now, the standings are a mess. It seems like every team in the league is either a steaming tire fire or an unstoppable monster. No, you shouldn’t overreact to one week’s worth of action. But surely some of these teams are trying to tell us something. The key is figuring out which ones.
So what’s going on? Great question. Let’s see if we can sort this out with a look at a dozen developments from the NHL’s first week.
The Sharks Are Looking Sharp
If you wanted to get a handle on where the Sharks stood in the Pacific, you couldn’t ask the schedule maker for a much better indicator than opening-week matchups against the Kings and Ducks. Those are the two teams expected to represent the toughest hurdle on the Sharks’ way back to the playoffs, if not the division title, so they made for a good early-season test. It’s fair to say the test was passed.
The Sharks opened the season by going into L.A. and thumping the Kings 5-1, following that with a tidy 2-0 win over the Ducks in their home opener. Those were two big wins, and they came behind some strong goaltending by new starter Martin Jones. And, as Craig Custance points out, the Sharks were able to generate much of that offense at even strength, which has been a focus of new coach Peter DeBoer.
But if those first two games were a statement, Tuesday’s 5-0 stomping of a very good Caps team felt like an exclamation point. Jones has now allowed just one goal in three games, good for a .987 save percentage, and looks every bit like the bona fide starter the Sharks were hoping they’d acquired.
Will it continue? It’s worth remembering that not everyone was writing the Sharks off this season, with some pundits being quite high on them. That said, while the Sharks are a good team, let’s give it a few more weeks before we officially welcome them back to the league’s elite. After all, this sort of hot start isn’t exactly new in San Jose, and it hasn’t ended well in the past.
The Kings Have Been Awful
Hey, remember how last season was just a perfect storm of fatigue, slumps, and plain old bad luck, and the Kings were going to storm back into the league’s top tier this season? Maybe hold that thought.
Today, the Kings sit last in the Western Conference, at 0-3-0 with a stunning minus-10 goal differential. They can’t score, Jonathan Quick can’t make a save, and now there’s talk that Darryl Sutter could be on the hot seat.
And this all comes after what was supposed to be an easy schedule to start the season, one that featured home games against San Jose, Arizona, and Vancouver — two teams that missed the playoffs last season and a third that most thought would miss them this season. Not only did the Kings lose all three, but they weren’t close in any of them. This team is a mess.
Will it continue? It feels like “no” should be the easy answer; the Kings have plenty of talent, with essentially the same core as the one that won the Cup in 2014 except with Milan Lucic added into the mix. But this has the feel of a team about to implode, with everyone from the players to the coaches to (especially) GM Dean Lombardi looking awful right now. The Kings have earned some benefit of the doubt. But only some. They need to show some signs of life, and soon.