Now that the NHL season is finally underway, three extra months of predications and prognostications are quickly evaporating as they turn to analysis. With everyone having played at least a pair of games, some teams are exactly where they should be, while others have unexpectedly fallen off in the first week.
The one prediction that has unfortunately become reality across the entire league is the increase in injuries early in the season.
The Detroit Red Wings, who fell seven spots in this week's rankings, may have been dealt the hardest blow on the injury front, losing four defenseman in the first week.
Another interesting trend in this lockout-shortened season is the rise in the number of draft picks making their NHL debuts less than a year after being drafted — just look at the Flyers' Scott Laughton. A combination of injuries and a lack of preparation time may account for this. However, teams may be testing the new kids earlier than usual, trying to determine if they are going to breakout early or if they will be sent to the the minor league affliates.
As the season rolls along, and the injuries continue to mount, keep an eye out for some of these rookies to be difference makers.
For now, here's a look at how the teams stack up after the first week of the season:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-0)
Previous week: 1
The Pens have started the season off right with Evgeni Malkin doing what he does best and setting up teammates like James Neal in netting some solid goals in the first couple of games. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has not been at his best, but he's been good enough to keep Pittsburgh on top.
2. Boston Bruins (2-0-1)
Previous week: 4
Tuukka Rask is proving he is capable in net for the Bruins, and he credits his success to great defensive help — from players like Aaron Johnson – in front of the net. The Bruins also have potential in rookie Dougie Hamilton. The 19-year-old defenseman showed his prowess on the ice during Wednesday’s overtime loss against the Rangers, notching an assist for his first NHL point.
3. New York Rangers (1-3-0)
Previous week: 2
The Rangers dropped their first two games, despite some great saves from Henrik Lundqvist, but with their current lineup they are in the right position to make a run at the Cup as games continue. Marian Gaborik showed his elite status in Wednesday night’s game against Boston by scoring a hat trick to lead the Rangers to a much-needed 4-3 overtime win. Thursday's loss to the Flyers will likely drop them next week.
4. St. Louis Blues (3-1-0)
Previous week: 3
The Blues came out on fire in their opener by wiping the floor with the Detroit Red Wings in a 6-0 shutout victory for goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Rookie Vladimir Tarasenko also came up huge for the team in their first couple of games along with budding star T.J. Oshie.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (4-0-0)
Previous week: 10
Marian Hossa leads the team in goals, and he is followed by young star Patrick Kane, who is proving how he matured as a player while in Europe during the lockout. Watch out for this team to parallel the 2009 championship team. With Hossa, Kane, and Jonathan Toews they have the talent, they just need the goaltending to get them there.
6. Nashville Predators (1-1-2)
Previous week: 5
The Predators' are determined to get back to the playoffs this year, which is evident by there ability to bring their first couple of games into an overtime period. But in order to get to the playoffs and have success, they still need to strengthen their D in front of Pekka Rinne’s net.
7. Ottawa Senators (3-0-0)
Previous week: 15
Despite injuries on the blueline, the Senators opened their season by logging two wins, thanks to forward Kyle Turris and defenseman Erik Karlsson, who are leading the team in points. Goaltending may be an issue as they look for a backup to Craig Anderson after sending Robin Lehner to the AHL.
8. San Jose Sharks (3-0-0)
Previous week: 12
The Sharks’ defense is hurting due to injuries, but they are currently on a win streak, and that is expected to continue after signing free agent Scott Gomez to a one-year contract. He’s sure to mesh well with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau who lead the team right now.
9. New Jersey Devils (2-0-0)
Previous week: 8
The Devils opened up their season on a win streak thanks to key goal scoring from David Clarkson and Travis Zajac, the latter proving why he was just signed to a multi-year deal. We also can’t forget future Hall-of-Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, who is still vying for another Stanley Cup title after last year’s flop.
10. Minnesota Wild (2-1-0)
Previous week: 21
What a jump for the Wild! Zach Parise has proven he can help struggling Minnesota as he snipes a few goals alongside Dany Heatley, giving the Wild a good chance at a playoff run this season.
11. Buffalo Sabres (2-1-0)
Previous week: 17
The Sabres opened their season by destroying the Flyers, 5-2. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville’s talents shone through in their opening win, and continued into their next game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Backed by Ryan Miller’s puck stopping power, the Sabres have the ability to get on top of the Eastern Conference this season. But a 6-3 loss to Carolina Thursday is a bit concerning.
12. Vancouver Canucks (1-1-1)
Previous week: 7
Roberto Luongo’s fate is still undecided, but Cory Schneider is not living up to the Canucks standards either, so the team will have no backup this season, but rather two starters (or is it two backups and no starter?). The goalie carousel will weigh huge on the team and has already negatively impacted them this early in the season.
13. Detroit Red Wings (1-2-0)
Previous week: 6
The Red Wings will have more holes to fill as defenseman Ian White is out for the next 2-3 weeks with a knee laceration. This is in addition to losing defenseman Jakub Kindl (groin), Jonathan Ericsson (hip), and Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder separation) all in the first week. The Wings have signed Kent Huskins to fill the gap in the defense, but it may not be enough.
14. Anaheim Ducks (2-0-0)
Previous week: 24
In the first week of the season, Teemu Selanne has been showing why the Ducks hope he never retires. Along with Finnish countryman Saku Koivu, the Ducks are ready to blow their competition out of the water this season.
15. Washington Capitals (0-3-0)
Previous week: 14
The Caps fell in their first three games, so they’re going to need to strengthen their defense in front of Braden Holtby’s net. Mike Ribeiro is leading the team in points right now, meaning they have some potential to improve as they go into their fourth game.
16. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (1-3-0)
Previous week: 9
Has the curse of the “C” fallen on newly-minted captain Claude Giroux? Giroux has had trouble scoring in the first three games, and the Flyers will be without a few key playmakers in Thursday’s game. Danny Briere is still out with a wrist injury, Scott Hartnell is out indefinitely with a foot injury, and Brayden Schenn was hit with a one-game suspension for an illegal hit on the Devil’s Anton Volchenkov in Tuesday night’s game. The Flyers play with a ton of injuries and gutted out a victory over slumping Rangers team Thursday. So things could be looking up them.
17. Dallas Stars (2-1-1)
Previous week: 16
There was a reason why Jaromir Jagr was so successful in Philadelphia last season, and the Dallas Stars are seeing just how valuable the free agent is early on this season. He leads the team right now as fellow veteran player Ray Whitney follows right behind him.
18. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0)
Previous week: 20
Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis have gotten the Lightning off to a good start this season. Adding rookie Cory Conacher was a good plan as well as he is right behind them and poised to become a new star in Tampa Bay.
19. Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0)
Previous week: 19
The Av’s may have bragging rights about defeating the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, but they still have a lot of work ahead of them this season to get to the playoffs. Captain Gabriel Landeskog will need to bring momentum to the ice - and to his team - if he wants to get there this year.
20. Florida Panthers (1-3-0)
Previous week: 18
Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau is a sleeper pick for this season with the phenomenal play he showcased in the Panthers’ opening game. However, the Panthers fell flat in their last three games, so they’ll need to find a way to bridge the age-gap on their team to start getting more wins.
21. Los Angeles Kings (0-2-1)
Previous week: 11
The Kings may be without Anze Kopitar, but that shouldn’t be enough to cause them to drop their first two games of the season. Like most returning champs, the Kings have “The Stanley Cup Hangover” as they struggle to remain among the league's elite teams. They also started out slow last season and barely made it into the playoffs before winning the Cup as an eight seed.
22. Phoenix Coyotes (1-3-0)
Previous week: 13
The Coyotes are trying to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, but it’s going to be hard now that starting goalie Mike Smith is day-to-day with a lower body injury. Veteran Shane Doan, who was re-signed in the offseason, continues to make an impression for the Coyotes, but defenseman Keith Yandle will need to cool it on the turnovers this season.
23. Winnipeg Jets (1-1-1)
Previous week: 23
The Jets have had an interesting start to their season with a win, a loss, and an overtime loss, so it’s not really clear where they are headed yet this season. Tobias Enström continues to be a team player with four assists as he and Dustin Byfuglien lead the team.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (1-2-0)
Previous week: 25
Despite having some talented players like Jeff Skinner, Eric and Jordan Staal, the Hurricanes haven’t started their season off well with two losses. Goaltender Cam Ward doesn’t appear to be helping them either by letting in so many goals. The 'Canes picked up their first win Thursday so maybe they can capitalize on the momentum.
25. Edmonton Oilers (2-1-0)
Previous week: 27
The Oilers have so much potential in their youth, especially with No.1 draft pick Nail Yakupov scoring his first NHL goal so early in his career. But despite having some good rookies, they continue to fall flat year after year. They are trying this season, by even employing the Mighty Ducks’ Flying V play for a scoring opportunity, so you have to give them props for getting creative. It seemed to have worked Thursday as the Oilers defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-2-0)
Previous week: 26
The Leafs have great potential in James Van Riemsdyk, who is quickly becoming a budding star in Toronto. However, they have topped the conference before and quickly fell down the ranks once the playoffs came around.
27. New York Islanders (2-1-0)
Previous week: 28
The Islanders have not been a good team in a really long time. Right now their only saving grace may come in the form of John Tavares. The only other thing they have going for them is getting early draft picks.
28. Montreal Canadiens (2-1-0)
Previous week: 29
Restricted free agent P.K. Subban is still in a contract battle with the Canadiens and has not suited up for the season yet, which will hurt the Canadiens who went into a downward spiral last year by not getting into the playoffs. Of the Canadian teams, Montreal usually has a good chance at the cup, but don’t count on it this year.
29. Calgary Flames (0-2-1)
Previous week: 22
Despite adding some much needed defensemen, the Flames have already continued to show why they remain a mediocre team, and why they deserve to be at the bottom of the rankings.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (1-2-1)
Previous week: 30
The Blue Jackets somehow managed to defeat the Predators in their opening game and even led the Red Wings to an overtime period, but don’t expect many more wins from them this season. There’s a reason why they continue to remain in the bottom of the league, and we’ll see why as the season progresses. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky may try to help them out of their slump, but he’s still not playing at the level that an NHL goalie should be.