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Rink Reflections: NHL season kicks off with parity and an upside-down Pacific Division

Our regular look back at the week that was in the NHL.

Calgary Flames v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images

Congratulations on surviving the first [checks calendar] nine days of the 2016-17 NHL season! This has been weird. A lot of things happened.

Some lessons were learned about our preseason expectations. Sample size be damned; here’s a handful of takeaways from the first week (and change) of the new hockey year. Free of charge. No refunds.

Parity (relatively) reigns

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

When the final whistle sounds on NHL games tonight, we’ll have completed 5.2 percent of the season. Time flies!

It’s interesting to note the difference between the start of this season and the 2015-16 campaign. Specifically, the separation between teams just isn’t as pronounced as it was this time last year.

Here’s the 2015-16 standings after 5.2 percent of the season (via Drop Your Gloves):

NHL
Teams ranked by points over .500 GP WOT LOT GF GA P
Montreal Canadiens +5 5 5 0 0 0 16 6 10
San Jose Sharks +4 4 4 1 0 0 14 2 8
Winnipeg Jets +3 5 4 0 1 0 18 9 8
St. Louis Blues +3 5 4 0 1 0 17 12 8
Minnesota Wild +3 4 3 0 1 1 13 11 7
Florida Panthers +2 4 3 0 1 0 14 5 6
Arizona Coyotes +2 4 3 0 1 0 13 6 6
Vancouver Canucks +2 5 3 1 2 1 15 9 7
Detroit Red Wings +2 4 3 0 1 0 14 9 6
Dallas Stars +2 4 3 0 1 0 15 11 6
Nashville Predators +2 4 3 0 1 0 10 6 6
Tampa Bay Lightning +1 5 3 1 2 0 17 14 6
Ottawa Senators +1 5 3 1 2 0 16 13 6
Washington Capitals +1 3 2 0 1 0 9 9 4
New York Rangers +1 5 3 0 2 0 13 13 6
New York Islanders +1 4 2 0 2 1 11 12 5
Philadelphia Flyers +1 4 2 0 2 1 7 10 5
Colorado Avalanche 0 4 2 0 2 0 15 14 4
Chicago Blackhawks -1 5 2 1 3 0 10 13 4
Toronto Maple Leafs -1 4 1 0 3 1 11 15 3
Carolina Hurricanes -2 4 1 0 3 0 10 13 2
Pittsburgh Penguins -2 4 1 0 3 0 5 8 2
Buffalo Sabres -2 4 1 0 3 0 8 12 2
Boston Bruins -2 4 1 0 3 0 13 18 2
Calgary Flames -2 4 1 1 3 0 8 14 2
Los Angeles Kings -2 4 1 1 3 0 4 13 2
New Jersey Devils -3 4 0 0 4 1 6 13 1
Anaheim Ducks -3 4 0 0 4 1 1 11 1
Edmonton Oilers -4 4 0 0 4 0 5 13 0
Columbus Blue Jackets -5 5 0 0 5 0 12 26 0


Montreal and San Jose stand out as the only undefeated teams. But more importantly, four teams went without a win and very few were giving away as many points in overtime as they were in regulation wins. One, in fact!

Now, this season:

Teams ranked by points over .500 GP WOT LOT GF GA P
Vancouver Canucks +4 4 4 3 0 0 10 6 8
Montreal Canadiens +3 4 3 0 1 1 16 7 7
Washington Capitals +3 4 3 0 1 1 11 6 7
Edmonton Oilers +3 5 4 0 1 0 20 16 8
Minnesota Wild +2 4 3 0 1 0 15 11 6
Boston Bruins +2 4 3 0 1 0 13 9 6
Colorado Avalanche +2 4 3 1 1 0 14 11 6
St. Louis Blues +2 5 3 0 2 1 13 11 7
Ottawa Senators +2 4 3 2 1 0 17 16 6
Tampa Bay Lightning +2 4 3 1 1 0 13 13 6
Pittsburgh Penguins +2 5 3 1 2 1 12 14 7
Florida Panthers +1 4 2 1 2 1 11 10 5
Dallas Stars +1 4 2 0 2 1 14 13 5
San Jose Sharks +1 5 3 0 2 0 14 15 6
New York Rangers 0 4 2 0 2 0 15 12 4
Chicago Blackhawks 0 4 2 0 2 0 16 15 4
Toronto Maple Leafs 0 4 1 0 3 2 14 14 4
Detroit Red Wings 0 4 2 0 2 0 12 12 4
Carolina Hurricanes 0 4 1 0 3 2 13 14 4
Winnipeg Jets 0 4 2 2 2 0 14 16 4
Buffalo Sabres -1 4 1 0 3 1 11 12 3
Nashville Predators -1 3 1 0 2 0 7 9 2
New Jersey Devils -1 4 1 0 3 1 6 8 3
Philadelphia Flyers -1 4 1 0 3 1 13 16 3
Arizona Coyotes -1 3 1 1 2 0 10 15 2
New York Islanders -2 4 1 1 3 0 9 12 2
Anaheim Ducks -2 5 1 0 4 1 10 14 3
Columbus Blue Jackets -2 2 0 0 2 0 5 9 0
Los Angeles Kings -2 4 1 1 3 0 10 15 2
Calgary Flames -2 5 1 1 4 1 14 21 3

Not only are there no winless teams and only one undefeated team, but look at how many franchises are dancing along the median in points above .500 right now. Seven playoff squads from last season are between one point over .500 and and one point under .500 thanks to a great deal of overtime losses.

The Avs take down the Penguins one day, then lose to the Capitals the next. San Jose gets blown out at Madison Square Garden and then edges the Islanders the following evening. Edmonton gets run out of their new barn by Buffalo and beats the Blues a few days later.

None of this is especially shocking; sometimes even the best teams take awhile to find chemistry. But the scope of the NHL’s parity and unpredictability through a week and change is worth noting.

The Canucks are surprising even themselves

Calgary Flames v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images

Beyond the Sedin twins and recent arrival Loui Eriksson, you wouldn’t consider the Canucks a team capable of mounting comeback after comeback.

And yet, the Western Conference cellar dwellers of last season sit alone as the only undefeated team left in the NHL. Vancouver won four straight to start the year, setting a franchise record. They’re also the only team in NHL history to win its first three games without leading once in regulation.

Remarkable. The truth its, everyone is contributing. Brandon Sutter (of all people) leads Vancouver with three points. Eriksson and Markus Granlund have two apiece. When the Canucks make egregious errors early (like this, which is still incredible) they’ve managed to regroup, move on and win anyway.

Still not sold on Vancouver keeping this up for 77 more games, but this start is encouraging nonetheless.

Rookies don’t look like rookies anymore

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Last year we thought rookies seemed pretty well-acclimated to the NHL’s pace. Beyond Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the Calder Trophy race was crowded with the likes of Artemi Panarin, Max Domi, Shayne Gostisbehere and Dylan Larkin. More than ever, NHL teams seemed reliant on first-year players to carry heavy loads for them.

If the first week of the 2016-17 season is any indication, that wasn’t an aberration. Ever since Auston Matthews debuted with four goals, rookies across the league haven’t stopped scoring. Matthews and Patrik Laine, the first two picks in the 2016 draft, sit in the top 20 in scoring. Six others (William Nylander, Devin Shore, Travis Konecny, Jakob Chychrun, Zach Werenski, Ryan Hartman) are playing at a point per game pace.

It’s no surprise that many in the top 15 in rookie scoring are earning up to 20 minutes a game. In a sport that often places too much value in experience over skill, the NHL’s youngest are giving coaches no choice but to ride them early on.

Los Angeles is reaping the consequences of trading goalies

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s morbidly ironic that the Kings jumped at the chances to trade away backups Martin Jones and Jonathan Bernier when their value was highest. Now both are back in the division (Jones in San Jose, Bernier in Anaheim), Kings starter Jonathan Quick is out for the next few months and the Kings have no goalie depth to tread water.

Jeff Zatkoff did not impress in his first few starts; the former Penguins goaltender put up a paltry .820 save percentage at even strength and lost every game he started. Peter Budaj did backstop the Kings to their first win in Dallas last night. But he hasn’t played in more than 25 games since 2010-11. He’s as much of an unknown as third-stringer Jack Campbell. Whether the Kings can overcome this problem remains to be seen.

Colorado looks pretty good

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We wondered whether Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon could carry over their strong World Cup performances to the NHL regular season. So far, so good. MacKinnon has five points in four games and Duchene has a game-winner and a 22.2 shooting percentage.

The real news is what the rest of the team is doing. Additions like Joe Colborne (who had a hat trick against Dallas) and Patrick Wiercoch have added important depth while Mikhail Grigorenko and Gabriel Landeskog play at a higher level than they ever did last season. New coach Jared Bednar is a proven (and unparalleled, really) winner, and Colorado is taking after him so far.