As we head into the second full week of the NHL season, most teams have played enough games where you can start to get an idea of what they are. There aren't any conclusions to be drawn yet, no proclamations to be made about one team or the other, but there are little signs here and there that are worth taking note of.
When you look at the very early standings, a lot of things stick out. Things like three of the four top spots in the standings being occupied by Canadian teams a season after none of the clubs north of the border made the playoffs. The eyes bulge a little, regardless of how early the season is, to see the Edmonton Oilers in first place and to see the Montreal Canadiens as the last team without a regulation loss despite having to start the season without Carey Price.
It's too early to say whether surprising results like that will continue over the course of a long season, but the early returns make these teams worth watching more closely if only to see if they can keep it up. The same goes for the teams that are struggling.
Here's a quick look at three of the teams with hot starts and two going the opposite way that warrant closer attention in the early goings of the season.
After the Penguins skated the Rangers right out of the building in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, New York did very little to adjust its defense while losing the highly mobile Keith Yandle in the process. That didn't mean the Rangers were sitting on their hands, though.
New York improved its forward group and it also got younger. New additions like Mika Zibanejad, who was acquired for Derick Brassard; budget-buy Brandon Pirri; and Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey, who signed as a free agent, have paid immediate dividends, giving the team some scoring depth. Meanwhile, the defense has not been the total disaster it was in the playoffs.
The Rangers haven't been amazing to start, but they've been good enough to start the season atop the Metropolitan Division with a 4-2-0 record. Five of their first six opponents were playoff teams last season as well. They're also turning in solid games without Henrik Lundqvist at his sharpest to start the season.
Early indications can be deceiving and it's still too early to say that the Rangers have plugged the holes on defense, but they've given Blueshirts fans at least a few reasons to be more optimistic about the season ahead.
2. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have been pretty fascinating to start the season. They've had one loss through six games, a truly ugly defeat against the Buffalo Sabres that led the team to cancel a CBA-mandated off day to practice. Aside from that hiccup, they're playing at a fairly high level and benefiting from not having to go too far from home to start the season.
A lot of the optimism surrounding the Oilers comes in the form of a healthy Connor McDavid, who is tied for the league lead with nine points, are proving to be more difficult to contain. Jordan Eberle and Leon Draisaitl are also off to tremendous starts with six points apiece. Their forward group as a whole looks a lot more dangerous, particularly at the top of the lineup.
Meanwhile, goaltender Cam Talbot has been excellent to start the season, save for one rough start. New addition on defense Kris Russell has been much better than expected to start, while veteran Andrej Sekera has looked like a strong No. 1 defenseman so far.
It is difficult to get a good read on the Pacific this early, but there are a lot of teams with some question marks. That opens the door for the Oilers to challenge for a playoff spot if they can continue progressing. McDavid is probably the single biggest reason to believe such a progression is possible.
3. Montreal Canadiens
Last season, the Habs were a cautionary tale about reading too much into early results, but the collapse after their franchise-best start can be traced back to losing goaltender Carey Price. If any Habs fans were having flashbacks when an illness sidelined Price for the team's first three games, no one could blame them.
However, the team was rewarded early for its decision to address the goaltending depth issue by going out and getting experienced backup Al Montoya. He went 2-0-1 in Price's absence, with a .962 save percentage over his three starts. Now Price is back and looks like his old self.
Habs fans are also buzzing about new arrival Shea Weber. He is making the transition to Montreal rather well after the blockbuster trade that wasn't terribly popular with fan favorite P.K. Subban going the other way. Weber has been playing massive minutes and has five points.
What Montreal should be most pleased with, however, is the continued rise of Alex Galchenyuk as the team's No. 1 center. His late-season explosion was no fluke as he has consistently been one of their best players through five games. Meanwhile, Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty are also having strong starts as offensive leaders for the team.
Most expected the Habs to be better this season. A healthy Price is reason enough, but watching how their defense evolves over the course of the season and whether their star forwards continue to produce will tell the tale of just how much better this team is compared to last season.
It has been a middling start for the Blackhawks, who probably feel a little fortunate to be 3-3-0 at this point. The transition to a roster that had to get even younger due to cap concerns hasn't been smooth, but it certainly hasn't been a disaster either, unless we're talking about Chicago's penalty kill
Through six games, the Blackhawks' PK has gotten off to a borderline historically bad start. Twelve of the 23 goals they've given up this season have come while shorthanded, four more than the next closest team.
The Blackhawks' biggest early problem should be fixable, though. They can adjust the PK, which will in turn help Corey Crawford's save percentage improve. He's at .966 at evens and .615 shorthanded. There's no way it can be that bad over the course of a full season.
The sky is not falling, by any means. Patrick Kane, last season's scoring champion, has picked up right where he left off, as has reigning Rookie of the Year Artemi Panarin. Meanwhile, the club is getting big starts out of top-six forwards Artem Anisimov and the biggest individual surprise of the season, Richard Panik, who is leading the NHL with six goals. The team isn't going to bank on Panik shooting 66 percent all season, of course. How much he cools off could expose additional holes.
Scoring depth also remains unpredictable. Rookies like Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Vincent Hinostroza are being given chances to fill the gaps. Motte has been a real bright spot, but it's hard to know where the youngsters' contributions will max out or if any of them will manage to stay up with the big club full time. If Stan Bowman is going to swing a deal this season, it likely is in search of more scoring, but they still have time to give the kids a chance.
It has been a rough start for the Kings in the standings, but more so because they know they'll be without Jonathan Quick for at least the next three months. Being short a No. 1 goalie is bad, but not having any depth at the position is probably worse.
Quick's primary backup Jeff Zatkoff has 38 NHL appearances and a .910 save percentage. Behind him it's Peter Budaj, who has a lot more NHL experience but has become more of a minor-league journeyman. Behind him, it's Jack Campbell, who is a reclamation project after he fell short of expectations in the Dallas Stars organization. This could become a problem that Dean Lombardi has to address on the trade market, which is obviously not ideal for a cap team.
One area that also needs to improve is scoring. They're averaging just 2.60 goals per game while much of the rest of the league is finding goals easier to come by this year. This is a problem that could be solved over time, but there are challenges.
Marian Gaborik remains out for weeks, putting a bigger burden on Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. That's because the team's scoring depth isn't quite where it needs to be to offset losses to top-six players. That said, Tanner Pearson has been an early bright spot this season.
It's way too early to panic on the scoring front, but it's an issue that seems to be carrying over a bit from last year. The good news for Los Angeles is that they continue to be a dominant team in possession, which helps keep some pressure off the goalies and should theoretically lead to more offense as the season progresses.
Managing Quick's absence is going to be a real challenge, though, which is why they're a team that should be watched closely.