The NHL’s first month is nearly done, and though COVID-19 postponements have dominated the news, there has been some good action on the ice.
So what have been the biggest surprises of the early season? USA TODAY Sports’ hockey experts weigh in.
New York Rangers: Last season, they ranked fifth in goals per game and now they’re 25th. It’s puzzling because they have lots of talent. Artemi Panarin is producing as expected, but Mika Zibanejad has one goal this season and one point in his last nine games. Second-year Kaapo Kakko, a No. 2 overall pick in 2019, hasn’t taken the step forward that 2019 No. 1 pick Jack Hughes did with the New Jersey Devils this season. No. 1 overall 2020 pick Alexis Lafreniere has been limited to one goal. The team has only three goals from its defense, and the power play ranks 24th in the league. The Rangers are 1-3-3 in one-goal games. — Mike Brehm
Florida Panthers: It took the 7-1-2 Panthers until their ninth game to lose their first game in regulation. What’s even more surprising for the Central Division’s second-place team is that there has been an early split of goaltending: their big-money goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who is 4-0, has an .899 save percentage, while backup Chris Driedger, who is 3-1-1, has posted a .937 SV%. They rank in the upper-third of the league in Corsi-for % and expected-goals for percentage at five-on-five play, per naturalstattrick.com, so their play hasn’t been a mirage. The next week’s worth of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars will be a good barometer of just how good this team is.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Can the defending champions really surprise? Yes,because I did not think the Bolts would be this good this season. Coming off the shortest offseason of any team (with the exception of the Dallas Stars) and without the services of the recuperating Nikita Kucherov – their leading scorer each of the past five seasons – I expected Tampa to start slowly . Instead, the Lightning sit at 9-1-1 and atop the Central Division while sporting a league-best plus-22 goal differential. A big key to their success? The return of captain Steven Stamkos after he missed nearly the entire playoffs due to injury. He leads the team with seven goals and is tied with Brayden Point for the team points lead with 14. — Jace Evans
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL standings: Which teams have surprised early this season?