NHL Western Conference news and notes
The big story out of the gate is the Edmonton Oilers starting a perfect 5-0-0. Two players the Oilers acquired from their rival Calgary Flames have been instrumental to the quick start. James Neal already has a league leading 7 goals after only scoring a total of 7 last year and Mike Smith has solidified the goaltending position with 3 wins, 2.67 GAA average and .907 save percentage.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl are already in double digits in scoring and the Oilers are averaging 4+ goals a game. As long as they get dependable goaltending from Smith and the backup Mikko Koskinen and McDavid can stay healthy for the season the Oilers could return to being a playoff team.
Also a surprise out of the gate is the Anaheim Ducks with a 4-1-0 start to their season. Goaltender John Gibson has been the best goaltender in the early season with 3 wins, a 1.26 GAA, and a .961 save percentage. Even with their poor record last year Gibson kept the Ducks in most games and is capable of having a Vezina type season. It is still a struggle for the Ducks to score goals with only 11 goals in 5 games but if Gibson can keep dominating and veteran backup Ryan Miller can regain his form their defensive style will keep them in most games.
The Colorado Avalanche are also off to a great start opening 4-0-0. This team will score a lot of goals with arguably the best line in the NHL with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. But they now have added scoring depth with the additions Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and J.T. Compher. Goaltender Phillip Grubauer has carried over his hot 2nd half of last year's season into this year with 3 wins, a 2.34 GAA, and a .931 save percentage. Also they have a rookie of the year candidate on defense with young and talented Cale Makar who as a rookie is anchoring the power play on the blue line and has already contributed 5 assists on the season.
Conversely it could be a long season for the Minnesota Wild as they have started 0-4-0 and coach Bruce Boudreau is your early favorite to be the first coach fired. They have given up 21 goals in 4 games and goaltender Devan Dubnyk is off to a miserable start with a 4.56 GAA and a .862 save percentage. Zach Parise, Eric Staal, and Mats Zuccarello have only combined to score 1 goal and they only have 5 goals from all of their forwards to start the season.
The San Jose Sharks who made it to the Western Conference finals last year have also stumbled out of gate with only 1 win in 5 games. The big surprise with the Sharks has been their inability to score goals as they only scored 5 goals in their first 4 games but did finally break out with a 5-4 win over the Blackhawks. Logan Couture, Thomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin LaBanc, and Joe Thornton have combined to score only 2 goals.
Another team off to a slow start is the Dallas Stars with only 1 OT win in 6 games. This team is a little snake bit as 4 out of their 5 losses have been by a single goal. Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov have only combined to score 2 goals with Pavelski yet to score a goal. I wouldn't panic if I was a Stars fan as I expect this team to right the ship but the veterans on the offensive side must produce.
Veteran goaltenders you have to be concerned with are Corey Crawford for the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Quick for the Los Angeles Kings, and Martin Jones with the San Jose Sharks. Crawford is winless in 2 starts with a 4.63 GAA and .875 save percentage and Quick is winless in his two starts with a 7.17 GAA and .750 save percentage. Jones is winless in three starts with a 4.55 GAA and .854 save percentage. Normally you wouldn't panic this early in the season but all three goaltenders struggled last year and all three could be relegated as back up goalies with the Blackhawks signing Robin Lehner who played well in his debut despite losing, Jack Campbell who won both of his starts with the Kings despite lackluster numbers with a 3.48 GAA and .885 save percentage, and Aaron Dell who has played relatively well with a win and 3.48 GAA.