You can’t put too much stock in the early days of the NHL regular season, but it’s still interesting to dig into the numbers and see what has transpired so far. Here are some stats that jump out as teams hit the five-game mark of 2019-20:
Kevin Labanc’s league-worst plus/minus rating through San Jose’s first five games. It’s safe to say it’s not the start the 23-year-old Sharks winger was looking for after signing an extremely team-friendly one-year, $1-million deal in the summer. Labanc has been a minus player in all five games so far for the 1-4-0 Sharks, including going minus-3 in San Jose’s lone win so far this season, a 5-4 decision over Chicago on Thursday. At least he scored his first goal of the year in that game, a power-play marker.
With starter John Gibson and backup Ryan Miller, the Ducks are getting the goaltending in the early going, as the team’s NHL-best save percentage attests. Gibson was a Vezina Trophy contender last season until injuries – and the Ducks’ eventual spiral – took their toll. Expectations are low for Anaheim, but the Pacific Division isn’t exactly stacked, especially if San Jose’s early struggles turn into something more serious. Calgary and Vegas look good for the post-season, but third place in the Pacific is up for grabs.
It’s early. Really early. There’s a long, long way to go, and what happens in a few games in (early) October isn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of what’s to come. That’s what they must be hoping in Chicago (0-2-0), Minnesota (0-3-0) and Ottawa (0-3-0), anyway, as the Blackhawks, Wild and Senators enter the second weekend of the regular season looking for their first point. New Jersey (0-2-2) is the only other team without a win.
Perhaps ‘Battle of Alberta’ should be Milan Lucic’s new nickname. Edmonton didn’t work out, so now he’s in Calgary doing what he does best – leading the league in fighting, with two scraps in four games. There have been six fights league-wide so far, and Lucic has been in two of them. (And Sidney Crosby has been in one of them, his first bout since February 2015.)
Los Angeles’ goals-against average through three games is…not good. Jonathan Quick has been shelled in the early going, giving up 14 goals on 70 shots in two games for a 7.18 GAA and .750 save percentage. Those stats can only improve, but it’s a rough way to kick off the season for a Kings team coming off a terrible 2018-19 campaign.
James Neal, we never doubted you for a minute. Well...why don't we say that we don’t doubt you anymore and leave it at that? Neal, of course, is off to a dream start with Edmonton, scoring seven times in four games to match his output in 63 games with Calgary last season. The highlights so far: Neal leads the league in goals (seven) and power-play goals (five), he’s tied for the lead in game-winners (two) and he hung a four-goal game on the Islanders. Talk about taking advantage of the opportunity to skate with likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s gone so well that Neal has already made some history in Edmonton: his seven goals are the most ever by an Oilers player through the team’s first four games.
It’s no surprise to see McDavid’s name atop the NHL scoring race, as the 22-year-old Oilers superstar already has a pair of Art Ross Trophies to his name. But Patrik Laine? The guy who slumped in 2018-19, including just two points in his final 12 games of the season? That was then and this is now, and the 21-year-old Jets winger is vying for the early scoring lead. Laine can run hot and cold but he’s sizzling right now, with points in all five games he’s played, including seven in the past two contests. That noise you heard in the pre-season about Laine wanting “top-line time” with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler? Turns out Laine was onto something with that.
Granted, it’s a bit of an obscure stat, but Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf is leading the way with 11 takeaways through five games, which is three more takeaways than runner-up Sebastian Aho of Carolina. Getzlaf, it should be noted, is also winning 63.9 percent of his faceoffs – he’s 39-22 in the circle -- and he ranks among the top 30 forwards with 13 hits and among the top 20 forwards with four blocked shots. There’s still some pluck in the old Duck.
Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes is the only NHL rookie who’s playing more than 20 minutes per game, although there are four other first-year D-men who are close. Nashville’s Dante Fabbro (19:56 average ice time in four games), Winnipeg’s Ville Heinola (19:17 in five games), Colorado’s Cale Makar (19:17 in three games) and Edmonton’s Ethan Bear (18:52 in four games) round out the five busiest rookie blueliners. Up front, Buffalo winger Victor Olofsson (18:11 in five games) is playing more than any other rookie forward. If you’re wondering about Quinn’s brother Jack, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft sits fifth among forwards , averaging 15:26 in four games with New Jersey. And just like in the draft, he’s one spot ahead of the Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko (14:43 in two games).
You want to know the secret to the success behind Edmonton’s hot start? It’s that the Oilers have one or both of Leon Draisaitl and McDavid on the ice at all times. Or at least it seems that way. Draisaitl, who played a massive 26:46 in Edmonton’s season opener, is leading NHL forwards with an average ice time of 25:06 per game through four contests. That number is ridiculously high and will inevitably drop – only eight NHLers averaged 25-plus minutes a game last season, and they were all defensemen -- but it sure looks like Draisaitl can expect to play 22-23 minutes on most nights for coach Dave Tippett’s Oilers. The same, of course, goes for McDavid, who’s currently second among NHL forwards at 22:56. Among defensemen, it’s San Jose’s Brent Burns (26:44) and Erik Karlsson (26:41) on top through five games. (Note: They’re not on top in plus/minus, with Karlsson minus-8 and Burns minus-4.) Among non-Sharks defensemen, Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang (26:12), Washington’s John Carlson (26:05) and Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot (25:58) are seeing the most ice.
New Jersey’s penalty-killing unit has not gotten off to a good start. The Devils have been shorthanded 13 times in four games, and they’ve surrendered seven goals. Meanwhile, the power play is 0-for-11. The good news? It’s only going to get better from here. It has to.
The Sabres’ Olofsson, the 181st overall draft pick in 2014, sits No. 1 in the early stages of the rookie scoring race, with four goals and five points in four games. Toronto’s Trevor Moore, an undrafted 24-year-old who barely retained his rookie status after playing 25 NHL games last season, is the only other freshman with more than one goal. He’s got two in five games.
To quote a recent NHL press release: “Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 248th and 249th career power-play goals in the regular season to pass Luc Robitaille (247) for sole possession of fourth place on the NHL's all-time list, trailing only Dave Andreychuk (274), Brett Hull (265) and Teemu Selanne (255).” End quote.
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