The Colorado Avalanche have been the hottest team in the league, but almost no one in Denver can watch them play.
Altitude Sports and Entertainment went dark after Comcast, Dish Network and DirecTV failed to renegotiate contracts with the regional sports network. The blackout has been in effect for nearly a month, cutting off access to customers in 10 states. Meanwhile, the Avs have jumped out to an impressive 7-1-1 start. Their rejuvenated offense has scored the fourth-most goals in the league, bolstered by offseason acquisitions Andre Burakovsky (four goals, four assists), Joonas Donskoi (three goals, three assists) and Nazem Kadri (three goals, two assists). Backup Pavel Francouz stonewalled the Lightning in his second NHL start. Even if Mikko Rantanen misses time with a leg injury, the Avs are good. It’d be nice to get them on local TV.
Elsewhere, Oilers are right on the Avs’ heels in the Western Conference. Connor McDavid has surpassed the title of “Best Player in the NHL” and has a stake as the best player in any major sport, and he still hasn’t even turned 23. Averaging close to 23 minutes of ice time per game, McDavid is the most entertaining show on ice and there’s no reason why he can’t produce the NHL’s first 130 point season in 24 years. Out east, the Sabres are leading the charge with an 8-1-1 start. Maybe Buffalo is for real this time. Maybe.
Here’s how we see teams stacking up this week, from 31–1.
31. Ottawa Senators | Record: 1-6-1
When the Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves caught Scott Sabourin’s punch mid-fight, that seems like an apt analogy for this season. But, hey, the Senators took a Stanley Cup contender to a shootout. Take the moral victories where you can find them.
30. Minnesota Wild | Record: 3-6-0
What. A. Mess. Jason Zucker called out teammates and coach Bruce Boudreau after the Wild lost 4–0 to the Canadiens. Zucker later apologized, then scored the opening goal in the team’s 4–3 win over Montreal, but Minnesota owns one of the league’s worst goal differential (-11). The plus side: the Wild might end up with it’s first top-three draft pick in 20 years at this rate.
29. New York Rangers | Record: 2-4-1
It was kind of the Rangers to provide a get-right spot for the Devils, losing the renewed rivalry’s first battle. Postseason expectations were never realistic, and New York is going to have a hard time sustaining success with a defense that’s allowing the most shots per game in the NHL. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin soften the pain of a rebuilding year, at least.
28. Los Angeles Kings | Record: 4-5-0
Jonathan Quick rebounded with his first win of the year after an awful three-game stretch, but his sharp decline seems inevitable. The franchise is at the wrong end of its contending years. The Clippers and Lakers will provide more than enough entertainment value for the Staples Center from here on out.
27. New Jersey Devils | Record: 2-4-2
Jack Hughes finally scored his first NHL goal! And he did it in front of the 75 members of the Hughes family that came to watch Jack and older brother Quinn play against each other. There’s work to be done, but coach John Hynes is safe from the guillotine for now. Even if it’s true that Hynes asked for assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald to join the bench, it still feels a bit ominous.
26. Dallas Stars | Record: 3-7-1
The important thing: No one was killed and badly injured after tornadoes tore through Dallas on Sunday night. Otherwise, the Stars 1-7-1 record was the franchise’s worst start in over 30 years, but back-to-back wins against the Flyers and Senators have restored an ounce of calm. They need to reel off a few more winning streaks to keep pace in the Central Division.
25. Detroit Red Wings | Record: 3-6-0
Looking for offense? You won’t find it in Detroit. They’ve been outscored 17–5 in their last four games. There are going to be more growing pains.
24. Blue Jackets | Record: 4-3-2
Even after the summer exodus of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets are respectable. They came back to beat the Maple Leafs in overtime, which counts for something.
23. Chicago Blackhawks | Record: 2-3-2
The Blackhawks kicked off their 2010 Stanley Cup anniversary celebration with Marian Hossa bobbleheads. That’s a gentle reminder that Chicago’s core is aging and well past any hopes for a title. There’s enough young talent—2019 third overall pick Kirby Dach made his NHL debut—to keep the Blackhawks out of the cellar, but not enough for a serious wild-card gambit.
22. Florida Panthers | Record: 4-2-3
When Sergei Bobrovsky (hopefully) turns things around, the Panthers will get right. It might take a little while before Florida reaches its full potential under new coach Joel Quenneville.
21. Philadelphia Flyers | Record: 3-3-1
The yo-yo of the NHL. After opening with wins against the Blackhawks and Devils, the Flyers dropped four in a row. Then they shut down the Golden Knights and limited Mark Stone to zero shots. They’re probably somewhere in the middle.
20. Winnipeg Jets | Record: 5-6-0
Can a Josh Morrissey-Neal Pionk-led defense hold the Jets together until Dustin Byfulgien returns? Probably not, but they locked down the Oilers and Connor Hellebuyck, Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele have been great to start the season.
19. Arizona Coyotes | Record: 5-2-1
Phil Kessel scored his first two goals of the season, right before the Coyotes rolled out the red carpet to honor Kessel for his 1,000th game milestone. Arizona scored four-plus goals in three-straight games, and they need more of that to end their seven-year postseason drought.
18. New York Islanders | Record: 5-3-0
If Nico Hischier received a seven-year, $50.75 million contract extension, what will Mathew Barzal get? Probably more, especially if he remains a consistent producer despite playing next to Tom Kuhnhackl.
17. San Jose Sharks | Record: 3-5-1
Will the real Martin Jones please stand up? He stopped 68-of-71 shots against the Flames and Hurricanes, and then delivered a clunker in a 4–3 loss against the Sabres. The Sharks’ defense has been serviceable and they have the second-best penalty kill in the NHL—even league-average goaltending could turn this team into a juggernaut.
16. Calgary Flames | Record: 5-5-1
The Flames transformed from one of the most exciting offensive teams to flat-out average. Cam Talbot staved off panic with a staunch road performance against the Ducks—after the Flames lost 4–1 to the Kings.
15. Montreal Canadiens | Record: 4-3-2
This seems like a team that needs to make another piece or two. Their top six is good—not great—and Shea Weber can’t do everything on defense. Throwing a few extra dollars at Sebastian Aho in the offseason wouldn’t have hurt.
14. Vancouver Canucks | Record: 6-3-0
Let’s agree to keep Quinn Hughes on the top power play unit for eternity. He lost the inaugural Hughes Brothers Bowl, but the 20-year-old defenseman has been electric with the puck this season. Goaltenders Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko are outperforming the rest of the blue line, which might hurt Vancouver sooner rather than later.
13. Nashville Predators | Record: 5-3-1
Did someone lead a hostile takeover of the Predators? They have the second-worst penalty kill (69.0%) in the NHL, but they’re getting it done on offense to make up for spotty defense and goaltending.
12. Anaheim Ducks | Record: 6-4-0
Goalies can steal a playoff series, but John Gibson might be able to steal an entire season. He needs help—and improving on a 4% power play would be a good place to start.
11. St. Louis Blues | Record: 4-2-3
Shutting down the Avalanche is as good a remedy as anything after a four-game losing streak. The defending Stanley Cup champions aren’t going to make things easy for anyone in a loaded Central Division.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs | Record: 5-4-2
Even if Auston Matthews scores 100 goals, that might not be enough to compensate for the Leafs’ defense. They blew a third period one-goal lead to the Blue Jackets, of all teams.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins | Record: 6-4-0
The Penguins are … gritty? They have survived and jumped out to a 6-3-0 record despite losing Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstand to injury. Another 100-point season from Sid the Kid seems likely.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning | Record: 4-3-1
After they were swept by the Blue Jackets in the playoffs, it’s not encouraging when Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph is saying the team was “outworked” in the ninth game of the season. Things will turn around, and by then Kevin Shattenkirk won’t be tied for the team-lead in goals.
7. Vegas Golden Knights | Record: 7-4-0
Marc-Andre Fleury earned his first win against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, and the 34-year-old goalie looked ageless during the 29-save shutout. Then, the Flyers trounced the Golden Knights 6–2 Monday night. Better games are ahead without Oscar Dansk in net.
6. Carolina Hurricanes | Record: 6-3-0
The Petr Mrazek–James Reimer goalie experiment is more Frankenstein than Einstein through nine games. Special teams are a work in progress, but the Hurricanes have proved they’re here to stay after a Cinderella season.
5. Edmonton Oilers | Record: 7-2-1
Two players might be all the Oilers need to make the playoffs. Bold strategy, but if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continue to combine for a gazillion points, it might work.
4. Washington Capitals | Record: 7-2-2
Braden Holtby bounced back from a shaky start, claiming two-consecutive wins in get-right games against the Blackhawks and Rangers, but former first-round pick Ilya Samsanov is playing well enough to make the Caps rethink their offseason plans. Otherwise, John Carlson became the third defenseman to score 18 points in the first 10 games of a season. Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr are the other two.
3. Boston Bruins | Record: 6-1-2
Let’s see if you’ve heard this one before: Secondary scoring is a problem for the Bruins. David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are responsible for 59% of the team’s total points. Help has to come from somewhere, eventually.
2. Buffalo Sabres | Record: 8-1-1
When Zemgus Girgensons is scoring the game-winning goal (and the first of his career) against the Sharks, you know something is going right in Buffalo. The Sabres’ 7-1-1 start matched their best nine-game start in a decade and its their third-hottest start in franchise history. Yes, the Sabres performed this same song and dance last year, but Ralph Kreuger’s squad overcame some adversity during its west coast trip. Maybe there’s something there this season. Either way, Carter Hutton has played above expectations, stopping all 72 shots during two consecutive shutouts wins against the Kings and Stars.
1. Colorado Avalanche | Record: 7-1-1
Mikko Rantanen exited Monday’s loss with an ugly leg injury, putting a chill on the Avalanche’s blazing hot start. He missed the tailend of last season, too, but Colorado managed to go 5-1-2 in his absence and made the playoffs. Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going anywhere, though, and Philipp Grubauer has quietly been one of the league’s best goalies since last March. There’s enough that the Avs are doing right to stay atop the West while Rantanen gets healthy.