So we're just over a week into the season and because it's only October, there's no need for any massive overreactions. Logic dicates that's true. But the season's first month is nonetheless a time to start drawing some conclusions and watching for trends.
Remember the caveat we presented in our Sabres preview section through the math of Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman: Since the 2005 lockout, teams that end Halloween four or more points out of a playoff spot miss the postseason 87 percent of the time.
So if you want to take these snap judgments with a grain of salt, do so at your peril. The month is almost halfway over.
The Golden Knights are in trouble. They were a wonderful story, both in what they did for their community in its darkest hour and how they enthralled the hockey world on the ice all the way to Game 5 of the Cup final. But they had several years of good fortune mesh at once and it doesn't look like that's going to repeat.
Marc-Andre Fleury played to a Vezina level in goal last year (2.24/.927). He entered the weekend at 3.95 and .846. James Neal left for Calgary and Max Pacioretty has been a middling replacement so far. Paul Stastny could be out a month with a knee problem after colliding with Jack Eichel late in Monday's game here. Nate Schmidt, the go-to guy on defense, is out 20 games due to a PED suspension.
They have just 11 goals in their first six games and hit the weekend as the first NHL team to four regulation losses (the Rangers are the only other team with three). And that home-heavy schedule that got last year rolling to the point it never stopped is nowhere to be seen this year.
The Knights got trucked in their home opener by the Flyers, 5-2, and completed a five-game road trip Saturday with a 1-0 win Philadelphia. They open a five-game homestand Tuesday against the Sabres looking for a quick turnaround.
The Leafs' offensive numbers are from the 1980s. Entering Saturday night's showdown in Washington, Toronto was 4-1 in its five games. Auston Matthews (9-3-12), Morgan Rielly (3-9-12), John Tavares (6-4-10) and Mitch Marner (3-7-10) were all averaging at least two points per game and were the league's top four scorers. Matthews' nine goals were more than eight teams. Yes, teams.
Matthews, 21, has become the youngest player in NHL history to record multiple points in each of his team’s first five games (Wayne Gretzky did it at 22 in 1983 for Edmonton). Rielly finished one point ahead of some oldtimer named Bobby Orr for the most points by a defenseman in the first five games of a season in the last 100 years. But the Leafs are giving up four goals a game too. Offensive fireworks will be fun to watch but Mike Babcock is going to have to figure something out on defense.
Rasmus Dahlin is not the favorite for the Calder Trophy. The kid was been solid and steady on the Sabres' defense but Elias Pettersson has been spectacular up front for Vancouver. Dahlin's former World Junior teammate has four goals and seven points in his first four games.
Speaking of the Canucks, they will retire the Sedins' numbers (23 and 33) next season as part of their 50th anniversary celebration. Vancouver and the Sabres, of course, both started play during the 1970-71 season and will be celebrating No. 50 next season. It will be interesting to see how both teams present what should be a seasonlong celebration.
Hard to explain the Flyers. They win their opener at Vegas, 5-2, then give up 13 goals in their next two games – including an 8-2 loss in the home opener to San Jose that was their worst in the season's first home game since a 7-0 loss to Los Angeles in 1971. They still have very iffy goaltending and now have injuries piling up to the likes of James van Riemsdyk (5-6 weeks) and Nolan Patrick (7-10 days).
The Hurricanes will threaten to end their drought. The league's longest playoff-less run stretches to 2009 but new coach Rod Brind'Amour got them off to a 3-0-1 start and new captain Justin Williams got the team energized with postgame celebrations that set social media ablaze with a combination of the Minnesota Vikings' "Skol" clap and a team Lambeau Leap into the end boards.
It all started as a tribute to the first-goal celebration of No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov, who became the first born-in-2000 player to score in NHL history.
This team knows how to have fun 👏 pic.twitter.com/xKF4mwvqnJ
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) October 8, 2018
What's up with the Sharks? They started the season 0 for 10 on the power play until the Philly win. They had eight goals in that game – but just seven others in their other four games to start the season. Good start for Evander Kane though with four goals in the first five games. They start a homestand Thursday against the Sabres. Maybe that's all they need.
The Islanders will be better than advertised. New coach Barry Trotz told me point-blank in Oshawa prior to the Sabres' exhibition finale on Sept. 30 that he was glad people didn't think the Islanders would do anything this year. Why? Said Trotz: "I'm glad because I know we're going to do something."
One way things will look up is if Thomas Greiss and old friend Robin Lehner perk up the goaltending. So far, so good. Just five goals against in three games, including Lehner's emotional shutout in his debut against San Jose, and his first regular-season game since his breakdown with the Sabres last March led him to enter the NHL/NHLPA joint treatment program. You had to feel good for the guy after all he's been through.
Poor choices by Preds
What's in the water in Nashville? The Predators let Austin Watson participate in the pregame ceremonies prior to the home opener, even though he was on a 27-game suspension for a domestic violence charge that an arbitrator foolishly reduced to 18 games on Friday. Just a bad, bad look. If you're suspended, you don't get to participate in any team activities. (That should have applied to Capitals headhunter Tom Wilson being a part of the Stanley Cup ceremony while sitting out his 20-game ban as well).
Then the Predators looked downright amateurish by raising a banner that said 2017-18 Western Conference regular season champions. Sorry. That's bogus. That's a participation trophy. From this view, the only legit banners are division champion, Presidents' Trophy, playoff conference champion and Stanley Cup champion. Nashville isn't the first team to do this – the Red Wings, for one, had all kinds of craziness in the rafters at old Joe Louis Arena – but it's a scourge that should be stopped.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 10, 2018
Canucks center Bo Horvat told TSN the team was banning video games on the road so it could bond better in the wake of a 73-point season.
"Yeah, that's definitely a no-go on the road," Horvat said. "No more Fortnite. No more bringing video games on the road. It's strictly team meals, team dinners and hanging out with the guys. So we put an end to that."
Video games, of course, are a huge hit among the league's younger set. Winnipeg scoring ace Patrik Laine responded with a huge take-that to Vancouver when he was told of the ban: "They need something to blame after last year.”
Sour on Milk
Local hip-hopper DJ Milk has become a familiar fixture at Bills training camp, mixing tunes to provide atmosphere as the players work out at St. John Fisher College. It's well-known that Bills coach Sean McDermott is a fan. The University at Buffalo uses him as well. In true #OneBuffalo fashion, now the Sabres have yanked him over to their games.
It's a bad mix.
Do we really need a guy screaming at the top of his lungs into a microphone at the start of warmups, after warmups, during breaks in play and during intermissions? Is that what hockey fans want? Is that what we call entertainment? Seriously?
Maybe that whole scene works in football. In an outdoor stadium. Not here. You should have seen the eyerolls from visiting media during the team's opening homestand. Let's just say this corner isn't alone in being sour on the Milk screamfest.
Another note. It's "Let's Go, Buffalo." It's not "Let's Go, Sabres." Never has been. Shouldn't be now. But who need details through the screaming?
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) October 8, 2018
* Sounded like it was an opening-night organizational disaster at the concession stands for both the Sabres and Rochester Amerks. But social media and my email box quieted down dramatically starting with Game 2 for both teams, so that's a good sign of adjustments on the fly. Now about those $8 slices of pizza the Sabres are trying to sell ...
* The Sabres entered the weekend with 15 power-play chances, second in the league to St. Louis' 16. If they keep drawing penalties that well and put the power play in the 25 percent range, they have too much talent to not score goals. They were at 37.5 percent until Thursday's 0-for-7 showing against Colorado.
* Now in St. Louis, Ryan O'Reilly keeps winning faceoffs. He entered the weekend in the league's top five at 65.6 percent and was an astounding 20 of 23 for the Blues in last Saturday's overtime loss to Chicago.
"Every game’s different. Sometimes you’re kinda getting the bounces," said O'Reilly, who had no goals and four assists in his first three games with his new team. "I seemed to just find a rhythm. I take a lot of them, so it’s easy to stay engaged in them.”
Story topics: Auston Matthews/ Barry Trotz/ Buffalo Sabres/ DJ Milk/ Elias Pettersson/ Evander Kane/ New York Islanders/ Philadelphia Flyers/ Rasmus Dahlin/ Robin Lehner/ Ryan O'Reilly/ San Jose Sharks/ St. Louis Blues/ Toronto Maple Leafs/ Vancouver Canucks/ Vegas Golden Knights