SI Staff
Tuesday October 21st, 2014

Welcome to the first installment of our 2014–15 NHL Weekly 10. Three scribes—Allan Muir, Sarah Kwak and Brian Cazeneuve—have submitted their choices for the league's Top 10 teams ... so far. The rankings reflect each club's play since Opening Night (Oct. 8) and are weighted according to how high each one came in on our writers' ballots. In some cases a purely intuitive, wholly unscientific and no doubt deplorable method was used to break ties, rank teams that were chosen by only two writers and antagonize the general public. Honorable mentions (teams that appeared on only one ballot) are included at the bottom of this monumental exercise along with the particular writer's trenchant commentary.

 
  • 1
    1Anaheim Ducks
     
    last week: NA
    record: 5-1-0
    KWAK (1): Take away their shaky debut against the Penguins—a 6–4 loss in which 21-year-old rookie goalie John Gibson gave up three goals in the first 14 minutes—and the Ducks have been excellent, winning five in a row. New acquisition Ryan Kesler (five points) seems to be fitting in just fine.
     
    MUIR (1): Make it five straight wins for Anaheim, a team that hasn't lost since opening night. Lots of attention for goalie Frederik Andersen and his record-tying start, but the early star for the Ducks has been the power play (25% this season vs. 16% in 2013–14). Ryan Kesler and Sami Vatanen (a pair of goals with the extra man on Saturday vs. the Blues) have given the unit a spark.
     
    CAZENEUVE (2): Anaheim has picked up where it left off last season, winning five of its first six games. Goalie Frederik Andersen has stopped 132 of 139 shots so far, and the addition of Ryan Kesler has given the Ducks the depth on their front lines that they badly needed.

    • 2
      2Chicago Blackhawks
       
      last week: NA
      record: 3-0-1
      KWAK (2): They haven’t played enough to wow us yet, but the Blackhawks have still been efficient, earning seven out of a possible eight points in the standings. They have room to improve: Their 14.3% power play, for one thing, could be a whole lot better.
       
      MUIR (4): Brad Richards hasn't turned out to be the second-line tonic Chicago hoped he'd be—and honestly, he hasn't really been all that great on the third line, either—but the Hawks continue to scratch out just enough offense to win.
       
      CAZENEUVE (1): Give a good team a little Cup-envy and see what it can do. Chicago hasn't given up more than two goals in its four games so far, and is allowing less than 24 shots per game. Don’t expect the Hawks to go 25 games without a regulation loss again, but don’t expect another third-place divisional finish, either.

    • 3
      3New York Islanders
       
      last week: NA
      record: 4-1-0
      KWAK (8): The oft-maligned Islanders ran off four straight wins to open the season for just the third time in franchise history. Brand new defensive acquisitions Johnny Boychuk (Bruins) and Nick Leddy (Chicago) have been welcome additions to a group that may finally be ready to reverse years of misfortune and malaise.
       
      MUIR (2): The season's biggest and best surprise has been New York's solid start. The Isles have superb, getting contributions across the board, including a league-leading nine points from John Tavares. The injury bug is biting (doesn't it always?)—second-line left wing Mikhail Grabovski will likely go on IR with a concussion and Travis Hamonic is battling a rib injury—but Lubomir Visnovsky will be back this week to help the team weather the storm.
       
      CAZENEUVE (4): Even though the club’s penalty kill has been atrocious (58.8%), New York is the league’s feel-good story right now. The club’s back end looks a lot stronger this season with the steady start of Jaroslav Halak in goal and new defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk plugging what, before the season began, seemed to be very large holes.

    • 4
      4Los Angeles Kings
       
      last week: NA
      record: 4-1-1
      KWAK (7): The Stanley Cup champs aren’t exactly known for their regular season excellence, but they’ve started the season strong, winning their last four games. Wingers Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli are leading the charge with seven points each, so imagine how fearsome L.A. will be once forwards Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and injured Marian Gaborik get going.
       
      MUIR (3): Gotta hand it to Jonathan Quick. The Kings' defense isn't quite where it needs to be, having already allowed 40-plus shots three times (they really miss you, Jake Muzzin!), but the keeper has been sensational (1.86 goals-against average, .951 save percentage). The ugly Slava Voynov situation casts a pall over this team, though.
       
      CAZENEUVE (6): For those who worry about the younger players matching the level of the more experienced ones, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, both 22, have been two of L.A.'s most consistent regulars so far. Toffoli and veteran Jeff Carter lead the league with a +9 rating. There is enough balance on this team that anyone can be king for a day.

    • 5
      5Montreal Canadiens
       
      last week: NA
      record: 5-1-0
      KWAK (5): They took a shellacking at the hands of the Lightning last week, but otherwise the Canadiens have been doing just enough to get the job done. All five of their W’s have been essentially one-goal games.
       
      MUIR: (7) I can't argue with five wins in six games, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to hop on Montreal's bandwagon just yet. The defense has been getting lit up so far, allowing too many shots (32.2 per game) and goals (3.33, only four other teams have been worse). The Habs have been great on the road, though, going 3-1-0 away from the Bell Centre.
       
      CAZENEUVE (5): Montreal won road games in Toronto, Washington and Philadelphia before knocking off arch-rival Boston in the home opener. The Canadiens would be higher on my list were it not for their brutal 7–1 loss in Tampa on Oct. 13. Montreal has played with zip and passion so far this season. Imagine how good this team can be when Carey Price is really on his game.

    • 6
      6San Jose Sharks
       
      last week: NA
      record: 4-1-1
      KWAK (6): The Sharks dropped a 4–0 loss to the Rangers on Sunday, but that was the second leg of a back-to-back toward the end of a long Eastern road trip. San Jose has played all but one game on the road. For a team that’s historically very strong in its own barn, this is actually a pretty good start.
       
      MUIR (5): Yeah, they got thumped on Sunday by New York, but you have to be impressed by a team that's banked nine of 12 points despite playing just once so far at home. There are concerns, of course, especially on the back end. Brent Burns' transition to defense has been something less than smooth, and that's made life tough on rookie partner Mirco Mueller. Not sure Mueller survives to play a 10th game this season in the NHL.
       
      CAZENEUVE (7): The early-season Eastern swing finally took its toll when the Sharks dropped a 4–0 decision to the Rangers on Sunday. San Jose won’t play its second home game of the year until Thursday. The road-weary Sharks, always a good regular-season team, can still look forward to three five-game home stands on their schedule in each of the next three months.

    • 7
      7Pittsburgh Penguins
       
      last week: NA
      record: 3-1-0
      KWAK (3): Early signs show that this is a team that’s hot out of the gate, having raced to multi-goal leads in the first period three times, with an unstoppable power play. Pittsburgh is averaging an otherworldly 47.1% success rate with the extra man through four games.
       
      CAZENEUVE (3): Who knows how well the Penguins will hold up over an 82-game schedule—depth becomes more important as the season progresses. But so far Pittsburgh is flying because its power play is sizzling. Pittsburgh’s success rate of 47.1% is tops in the league. Though the Penguins can’t possibly maintain that pace, they are making it deadly to take a penalty against them.

    • 8
      8Washington Capitals
       
      last week: NA
      record: 3-0-2
      KWAK (10): Winger Alex Ovechkin is scoring—five goals in five games—and the team’s defense has actually been effective. The Capitals have allowed just 11 goals, second best in the East, and are allowing only 25 shots-against per game, a marked improvement from last season, when they averaged 33.5.
       
      MUIR (6): Barely two weeks into his tenure and already coach Barry Trotz has transformed Washington into a defensive dynamo. The Capitals have allowed only 11 goals in five games, but check out the difference in shots-against. Last season, they allowed an average of 33.5, 27th in the league. This year? Just 25 per game, good for fifth. It's a lot easier to keep pucks out of your net when you keep 'em away from your keeper. And how about that +1 for Ovi? #fancystat!
       
      CAZENEUVE (8): Barry Trotz’s technical approach to the game may have run its course in Nashville, but it could be just what inconsistent Washington needs. Former coach Adam Oates supposedly gave his players freedom to make plays on their own, but not everyone is Alex Ovechkin. The superstar still has less structure than the rest of the team—and has five goals on 27 shots—but the rest of the Capitals look like they are moving in the right direction together.

    • 9
      9Ottawa Senators
       
      last week: NA
      record: 4-1-0
      KWAK (9): The Senators, despite a rather lackluster roster on paper, have a gleaming record thus far, thanks in part to their goalie tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, who each have save percentages above .930 and goals-against averages better than 2.02.
       
      MUIR (9): Ottawa has won four straight, including three last week over the Panthers, the Avalanche and the Blue Jackets. Problem is, the Senators are getting outshot every night, in large part because of an inexperienced blue line. That's putting undue pressure on Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, and while the keepers have been up to the challenge early on, this might not last.
       
      CAZENEUVE (10): This is what Ottawa should have been last season. The Senators are starting to form a new identity, having lost key veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza in the last two years. The new-look team isn’t much fun to play against, winning with speed and smothering neutral-zone play. Ottawa has given up only 10 goals in five games so far.

    • 10
      10Nashville Predators
       
      last week: NA
      record: 3-0-2
      MUIR (8): Despite the promise of more open offensive hockey under coach Peter Laviolette, the Predators still look like the Preds, limiting their opponents to eight goals through five games. Chalk that up to stronger possession numbers and some otherworldly play from Pekka Rinne (.948 save percentage and 1.22 goals-against average).
       
      CAZENEUVE (9): For 15 years, Nashville knew only one way to play, but new coach Peter Laviolette has opened them up and certainly made them more fun to watch. The Predators' defense can do the job as always, but the forwards have pucks on their sticks a lot more in the new system, and young players such as Filip Forsberg are going to have more chances to create and produce than they would have in past years.

Honorable mentions

CALGARY FLAMES (10th on one ballot): Maybe I'm being a little aggressive here (and maybe I'm just in the mood to punish the Lightning after they choked against the Oilers on Monday night), but why not give a little love to the Flames? They're miserable to play against—credit their commitment to coach Bob Hartley's system for that—and they're getting some terrific goaltending from Jonas Hiller, who stopped 83 of 85 shots to secure wins over the Blackhawks and the Jets. — Allan Muir

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (4th on one ballot): The news of defenseman Victor Hedman’s injury (out four to six weeks with a broken finger) puts a damper on Tampa Bay's early success. But the Lightning have some blue-line depth that should help keep them fighting for a top spot in the Atlantic. — Sarah Kwak

​ NHL was right to suspend Kings defenseman Voynov

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