Each week we’ll look at current and historical stats, who is hot, who is not, and any trends that catch our eye.
Alex Ovechkin has eight goals in four games and now has 566 all-time. When the season began he was 26th all-time in goals. He has now moved up to 22nd, passing Guy Lafleur (560 goals in 1126 games), Mike Modano (561 in 1499), Joe Nieuwendyk (564 in 1257) and Mats Sundin (564 in 1346).
Ovechkin has 566 goals in only 925 games. Retired Mike Bossy (573 goals in 752 games) and Mario Lemieux (690 in 915 games) scored 550 goals in fewer than 1000 games. As did others, but when you compare Ovechkin’s goals to game ratio to others around him it is very impressive.
If Ovechkin reaches 50 goals this year, he will finish with 608 goals, which would leave him tied for 18th all-time with Dino Ciccarelli (1232 games). Ovechkin has a very realistic chance to become only the eighth player to score 700 goals, joining Wayne Gretzky (894 in 1487), Gordie Howe (801 in 1767), Jaromir Jagr (765 in 1712), Brett Hull (741 in 1269), Marcel Dionne (731 in 1348), Phil Esposito (717 in 1282) and Mike Gartner (708 in 1432).
Through four games, Ovechkin is off to the best start of his career.
In October of 2005, as a rookie, he had three goals in four games. He scored his eighth goal in his 11th game and finished with 52.
In 2006, he had two goals in four games. He scored his eighth goal in his 15th game and finished with 46 goals.
In 2007, he had two goals through four games, scored his eighth goal in game eleven and finished with a career-best 65 goals.
2008 — two goals in first four games, scored his eighth in game 16 and scored 56 goals in total.
2009 — five goals in four games, tallied his eighth goal in game number eight and ended with 50 goals.
2010 — four in four, eight in 13 games and finished with a career-low 32 goals.
2011 — one in four, eight in 23 games and totalled 38 at season’s end.
2012 — he had zero in four, eight in 17 games and finished with 32 in 48 games (lockout). Prorated to 55.
2013 — five in four, eight in nine games and ended with 51 goals.
2014 — five in four, eight in 15 games and totalled 53 by season’s end.
2015 — four in four, eight in 12 games and finished with 50 goals.
2016 — he tallied two in four, eight in 16 games and ended with 33 goals.
Fifty goals looks very realistic for the Great Eight, but could he reach 60 for only the second time in his career? If he does he’d become the second oldest player to score 60 — Phil Esposito turned 33 on February 20th, 1975, and scored his 60th goal on April 1st versus Buffalo. He added his 61st goal of the season two days later.
Only 20 players have ever scored 60 goals, and only eight have managed to do it twice. Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy five times, Mario Lemieux and Esposito four times, Brett Hull three and Steve Yzerman, Pavel Bure and Jari Kurri did it twice.
Ovechkin would also have the largest gap, ten years, between 60 goals seasons if he can accomplish what seems highly unlikely. I hope he does.
I’m a huge fan of goals, so his production is something I’ll be watching closely all season.
Did anyone have the New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Nights as the last undefeated teams in the NHL? I doubt it, but both are 3-0 and looking for their fourth consecutive victories tonight. The Devils should be better than last year simply due to Cory Schneider. He had the worst season of his career in 2016/2017, posting a .908sv% and 2.82 GAA. In his six previous seasons his lowest sv% was .921 and his highest GAA was 2.26. I’d expect him to be above .920sv% again. The problem for the Devils is they’ve allowed 116 shots in three games. They will need to tighten up defensively, but early on they are scoring goals. In the past two seasons they’ve scored the fewest goals in the NHL at 362. That is 40 fewer than every team except Arizona, Buffalo, Colorado and Vancouver, and 100 fewer than ten teams.
This year they have 16 goals in three games. Jesper Bratt leads them with 3-3-6 in three games. The 19-year-old was the 162nd pick overall in 2016. He’s been the surprise of the league thus far. Only four players from the 2016 draft have more goals than Bratt — Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matthew Tkachuk and Jacob Chychrun — and he’s only played three NHL games. He might be a flash in the pan, or he might turn out to be the steal of the 2016 draft. But early reports out of New Jersey are he is a player. “Bratt has really impressed me. He and Nico (Hischier) have been very good,” said Taylor Hall.
The Vegas Golden Knights have been quite the story. James Neal has five goals and all three game winners. Marc-Andre Fleury has three wins, a .963sv% and a 1.32 GAA. They’ve produced the best start by an expansion team in NHL history. However, their most impressive moment was their home opener. The pre-game ceremony honouring the 58 people who lost their lives (you can read their names and short bio here) in the senseless shooting was emotional, captivating and perfect. The organization did a fantastic job honouring those who lost their lives, but also the outstanding first responders who saved many others. Kudos to their entire organization.
Nail Yakupov has three goals and five points in four games for the Avalanche. He is also +6. He has never finished a season as a plus player. His best was -3 in 40 games with St.Louis last year. Yakupov only had three goals with the Blues, and he’s already matched that in Colorado. He is back to shooting the puck with eleven shots in four games. He only had 35 shots in 40 games with the Blues. St.Louis had a much deeper roster and when he did play on their top two lines he never looked comfortable. He came into Colorado and has looked much better. Playing with Matt Duchene helps — those two, along with Alexander Kerfoot, have shown good chemistry early and collectively they all have something to prove.
Mike Smith has been outstanding for the Calgary Flames. He has faced 160 shots in four games and only allowed eight goals. Their supposed ‘best defence core in the league’ has not been stellar early on, but Smith is the main reason they are 3-1.
Ryan Hartman has eight points in five games. The most points he had in an AHL season was 37. He did score 31 points last year for the Blackhawks, but so far he has looked very comfortable alongside Patrick Kane. Kane is such a dynamic player he can make others look good, but Hartman still needs to think the game at a high level to play with Kane. So far he’s played great. If you picked him late in your fantasy hockey draft you should give yourself a high-five.
Brayden Point has seven points in Tampa Bay. He had a solid 40 points as a rookie, but he’s always been a dynamic player. He had 266 points in 180 games over his final three years of junior with the Moose Jaw Warriors. He stepped right into the NHL last season and didn’t look out of place. His head coach John Cooper trusts him. He’s averaging 20:06/game and has played 2:53/game on the PK and 3:24/game on the PP. That shows how much the coach likes him considering all the weapons Cooper has in Tampa Bay.
Carey Price has a .899sv% in four starts. He has allowed 11 goals on 109 shots. The Canadiens have only allowed 27.5 shots/game, but Price has looked very average early on. The Canadiens offence is an anemic as we expected, with only four goals in four games, but no one predicted Price would be below average early on.
Henrik Lundqvist has a .898sv% in four games. He’s allowed ten goals on 98 shots. His numbers trended downward last season and it is fair to wonder if he can return to being an elite goalie. At 35 years of age it will be very difficult for him to remain a solid goalie. The problem for the Rangers is if he falters, Ondrej Pavelec is their backup. He relieved Lundqvist in one game and in 38 minutes he allowed three goals on 24 shots. I thought the Rangers could struggle this year, and early on they have not looked very good.
Gustav Nyqvist is playing 19:24/game in Detroit and has no points in four games. Kyle Okposo has 0-0-0 in 18:40/game for Buffalo and he’s already an ugly -6.
Nick Hjalmarsson is missing Chicago. In four games with the Arizona Coyotes he has an CF% of 44.44 and FF% of 46.05%. I’ll be curious to see how their season unfolds. They have a new coach, and many new defenders and forwards, so it likely will take them time to gel, but despite many being excited about their off-season, I wasn’t enamoured with their moves. The other major question to be asked is what has happened to Oliver Ekman-Larsson? He struggled last season, although he was battling injuries, and early this season he has looked average. Two years ago he was a lock in most people’s eyes as a top-ten defender in the game. He should be there again, but so far he looks closer to last year’s player than the dominant one of seasons past.
I picked Buffalo as my surprise team in the East, and after four games I look very foolish. The Sabres have not played well. They’ve been outscored 18-9 and have an ugly team CF of 45.71.
IT IS EARLY
I realize it is early, and trends can change quickly, but for individuals, a good start can boost their confidence and carry them a long ways, while others who get off to slow starts can remain average or below average all season. Team trends seem to change, but very few teams can overcome horrendous starts. Buffalo and Arizona needs some victories or their season will be over before it begins. They aren’t as good as the 2015/2016 Anaheim Ducks who started 1-7-2, but rebounded to win their division. They’d won the division the three years prior and just got off to a slow start. The Sabres and Coyotes aren’t as good and a bad October could very well extinguish any hopes of the playoffs.
The Minnesota Wild have been hit hard by the injury bug. Nino Neiderreiter, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Foligno were injured last night in Chicago. With all the injuries, and the Wild right up against the cap, they’ve had to send D-man Mike Reilly down, no waivers required, and recall forward Luke Kunin. The Wild finished last night’s game versus Chicago with eight healthy forwards. They started the game with only eleven healthy forwards as Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund already injured and then Neiderreiter, Coyle and Foligno got hurt.
The problem for the Wild is cap space. If they place a player on LTIR to create enough cap space to recall some player, then that player is unavailable for 10 games or 24 days. Parise and Granlund are skating so they likely aren’t that far away. Foligno looks to have a facial fracture from his fight with John Hayden, so he would likely be moved to LTIR, but the capologist in Minnesota will be earning his paycheck today. The Wild have their home opener tomorrow and will need to make some moves in order to recall some players from the AHL.
**Update at 2:35 p.m. Wild have placed Coyle on LTIR, with a right fibula fracture, which frees up space to recall some forwards.***
The Columbus Blue Jackets have seven power plays in three games. The Oilers have had nine. At the other end, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had 24 powerplays in four games and have scored eight powerplay goals. The Blue Jackets had the fewest PP chances in the NHL last year, 211, while the Oilers were 15th at 245 and Toronto was 16th at 244.
The Leafs, however, have been shorthanded 22 times. Their games have been penalty-filled, averaging over eleven totals penalties per game. The Blue Jackets have been shorthanded six times in three games, and the Oilers nine. Edmonton and Columbus were tied for the fifth-fewest PK opportunities last year and early on they have remained disciplined.
The obvious stat that shows it is very early in the season: Connor McDavid sits 52nd in league scoring. He has four points in three games, which prorates to 109 on the season, so don’t fret Oilersnation, he is fine, but a light schedule for the Oilers combined with some hot starts by other players has the scoring race looking a bit off.
Recently by Jason Gregor: