Early-season NHL pulse check

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Anaheim Ducks

John Gibson is off to a hot start, and Trevor Zegras is getting more comfortable each and every game, but I need to see a whole lot more from this team because Gibson has struggled with consistency over the last couple of seasons.

Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes are bad. I mean really bad. However, goaltender Karel Vejmelka adds intrigue to an otherwise bleak situation. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about the 24-year-old goaltender, but he has pedigree and could throw a wrench into any plan that involves blindly betting against the Coyotes.

Boston Bruins

We’ve only seen the Bruins once so far this season, and they looked as good as ever. It’s possible that a door might open for the Bruins to become the class of the Atlantic Division once again, but it’s all going to come down to goaltending.

Buffalo Sabres

When I saw pundits and fans suggesting that the Sabres might actually be good, I thought it was sarcasm. I’m still not sure if it is or not, but I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt. This team is an abomination.

Calgary Flames

It’s been only two games, but the Flames have looked nothing like the team that I projected them to be. Maybe this team is broken.

Carolina Hurricanes

So far, the Hurricanes don’t seem to have missed a beat (despite lots of roster turnover), but it’s early. The Metropolitan Division is deep, too, so it’s going to take more than a two-game winning streak to create any buzz.

Chicago Blackhawks

Early returns on Chicago’s offseason moves haven’t been good. Seth Jones looks like he’s at the end of an eight-year contract, not the beginning. Marc-Andre Fleury might be able to prop this team up, but they’re not off to a good start. 

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche have had some obstacles in the early part of the season. First, Nathan MacKinnon was diagnosed with COVID-19. Then captain Gabriel Landeskog was suspended. However, both of those situations have been resolved and the Avalanche should be back at almost full strength when they visit the Panthers in Florida on Thursday.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus might just be a little better than I had projected them to be, but the verdict is still out because they haven’t played any good teams yet.

Dallas Stars

Injuries to Jason Robertson and John Klingberg have contributed to the Stars’ awful start, but the Braden Holtby experiment has gone as expected. Anton Khudobin isn’t a safe bet anymore, either. Meanwhile, Jake Oettinger is putting up great numbers in the American Hockey League.

Detroit Red Wings

Alex Nedeljkovic hasn’t looked very sharp, but some of Detroit’s young stars have. The Red Wings are a lot more interesting than last season, but there are still too many questions about the long-term viability of some of their options.

Edmonton Oilers

Connor McDavid and the Oilers have picked up where they left off last season and shouldn’t have many problems running lesser teams out of the building. It’s going to be important to see how they do when facing the league’s best, though.

Florida Panthers

Nothing out of the ordinary in Florida. The Panthers look like they can handle anything. The only question is can Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight keep up? 

Los Angeles Kings

We’ve only had a few chances to get a look at the Kings so far, but you have to like what you see. Their young players must take a big step forward in order for it to be anything, but early signs suggest this is an improved team.

Minnesota Wild

The Wild are 2-0, but those wins have come against the Kings and Ducks, who were starting backup goaltenders. I’m not sold on this team at all.

Montreal Canadiens

If the Canadiens don’t look like the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s because they’re not. No Shea Weber. No Carey Price. No Phillip Danault. Young stars Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield might be in over their heads.

Nashville Predators

In the 2021-22 NHL Betting Guide I wrote that even if Juuse Saros is great again this season, it might not be enough to get the Predators into the playoffs. Their 0-2 start hasn’t done anything to change my mind.

New Jersey Devils

We haven’t seen enough out of this team to make any real judgment, but it sure seems as if Dougie Hamilton and Jack Hughes are going to put on a show in 2021-22. However, I still don’t think this is a playoff team.

New York Islanders

The Islanders have dug themselves an early hole, but this team has struggled before and always seems to figure it out. It’s a situation worth monitoring, but I wouldn’t hit the panic button just yet.

New York Rangers

If you’re wondering who this Rangers team is, check out the overtime period from their win over the Maple Leafs on Monday. Igor Shesterkin stood on his head and eventually the Rangers’ talented forwards broke through. It was ugly, though.

Ottawa Senators

It’s all about the goaltending in Ottawa. The Senators are a scrappy bunch, with a lot of talent up front, but the difference between Matt Murray and the other two options is huge. Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson are better options in goal and the Senators are a live dog when Murray is riding the pine where he belongs.

Philadelphia Flyers

This team is as mediocre as they come and Carter Hart still has a long way to go. The eventual return of Kevin Hayes will give the Flyers a boost, but there’s no margin for error in a very crowded Metropolitan Division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Everything I said about the Penguins and how they would make out without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was wrong. I’m not sure how long they can keep it up, but Crosby is close to returning, so there isn’t as much pressure on the team as there was before.

San Jose Sharks

Evander Kane has been suspended for 21 games by the NHL for violating COVID-19 protocols, officially putting an end to the speculation surrounding a possible return to the Sharks. For now, at least. Adin Hill gives this team a bit of a different look, and rookie William Eklund has shown promise, but I don’t think there’s enough here for San Jose to be able to make any noise.

Seattle Kraken

I didn’t think the Seattle Kraken would be good, but I also didn’t think they’d look as bad as they have. They look more like the expansion teams of old than the Golden Knights. To be fair, I’ll give them a couple of weeks and see where it goes, but they certainly don’t look like they’re going to be threatening the Oilers or the Golden Knights for the top spot in the division.

St. Louis Blues

St. Louis is 2-0, but one of those wins came against a depleted Avalanche squad, and the other came against the Coyotes, so it’s too early to tell what we’re looking at here.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Once again, it looks like the Lightning are going to be without their best player, Nikita Kucherov, and that’s going to make things a whole lot more interesting in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews made his season debut on Monday and had six (!!!) shots on goal and 16 (!!!) shot attempts. The Maple Leafs lost, but if their best player brings that type of determination every night, mixed with the skill we already know he has, this team will be just fine.

Vancouver Canucks

Now that I’ve seen Conor Garland (I’m a big fan) in the lineup, I’m a lot more bullish on the Canucks. It’s never going to be perfect, and a lot of their wins will be ugly, in a sense, but Vancouver just has so much talent up front that it’s always going to be in the thick of things, regardless of the score. The Canucks haven’t put it all together yet, but I believe they will.

Vegas Golden Knights

Injuries to Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have left the Golden Knights in a bad place. Vegas simply doesn’t have the firepower to make do without their two best players for very long.

Washington Capitals

Slow and steady wins the race. That must be what Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals tell themselves. They’re not an elite team anymore, but it doesn’t look like they’re going away anytime soon.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets were a team I was high on coming into the season, and now I’m left wondering if that was a mistake. Maybe I missed something. But then again, it’s only a couple of games and once Connor Hellebuyck heats up, there will be no turning back.

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