Undefeated: Why these four teams are off to blazing-hot starts
Heading into Wednesday's slate of games, with two weeks of action wrapped up, four NHL clubs remain undefeated - the Edmonton Oilers (5-0-0), Florida Panthers (6-0-0), St. Louis Blues (5-0-0), and Carolina Hurricanes (5-0-0).
Naturally, almost everything is going right for these teams. After all, you don't just stumble into a lengthy season-opening winning streak in a league obsessed with parity. But we've tried to identify what's been unsurprising and what's been surprising about each blazing-hot start.
(Note: All advanced statistics collected from Evolving Hockey.)
Unsurprising: Connor McDavid is good at hockey. To start his sixth NHL season, McDavid leads the league in points with 13 in five games, which is a 213-point pace over 82 contests. (Maybe 150 isn't a pipe dream?) Meanwhile, super sidekick Leon Draisaitl isn't far behind with 11 points. McDavid, Draisaitl, and Zach Hyman, the new winger on McDavid's line, account for seven of the Oilers' league-leading eight power-play goals.
Hyman is fitting in perfectly with Edmonton, doing exactly the kinds of things he was doing in Toronto alongside Auston Matthews. On top of scoring, Hyman's regularly retrieving pucks, screening goalies, issuing body checks, and attending to his defensive responsibilities.
Surprising: A combination of blah goaltending and a lack of defensive depth had many pundits, myself included, questioning the Oilers' ceiling in 2021-22. Edmonton's final scores so far: 3-2, 5-2, 6-5, 5-1, 5-3.
Aside from the 6-5 game, the Oilers are holding down the fort defensively. Backup goalie Mikko Koskinen owns a .943 save percentage in 148 minutes, while starter Mike Smith (who's currently injured) has a .920 mark in 156. Darnell Nurse, who has a league-high average ice time of 27:37 a night, has steered the defense corps toward respectability. Originally paired with Tyson Barrie, Nurse is now dominating with Evan Bouchard. As for polarizing offseason acquisition Duncan Keith, well, he's been fine, which might be good enough from a 38-year-old.
Unsurprising: Last season, the Panthers finished tied for fourth in goals scored. It's been much of the same this year: They're tied for third in goals per game while outscoring the opposition 27-12. Florida plays an uptempo style, and so far, no other team is generating more five-on-five shot attempts per 60 minutes than the Panthers' 68.1.
As expected, a couple of recent additions up front are making a tangible impact, with Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett ranking first and second, respectively, among Panthers forwards in individual five-on-five shot attempts for. Together, they've chipped in 12 points. Also of note: Blue-liner Aaron Ekblad, shelved for most of 2020-21, has been terrific in his return. He and rising star MacKenzie Weegar make an elite top pairing.
Surprising: How real this dominance appears. The Panthers have defeated the Penguins, Islanders, Lightning, Avalanche, Flyers, and Coyotes, who are the only pushover in that group. Another significant positive: arguably the biggest question for this team - goaltending - has been more of an exclamation mark.
The much-maligned Sergei Bobrovsky, for one, has been nothing but steady, earning a quality start (when the goalie achieves at least the league's mean save percentage in a game) in each of his four starts, according to Hockey Reference. There's been no drop-off when 20-year-old Spencer Knight takes the net, either. The vet-rookie tandem has teamed up for a .937 save percentage.
St. Louis Blues
Unsurprising: There are two predictable developments with respect to the Blues. The first is David Perron once again producing at a high rate with little fanfare outside of St. Louis. The 33-year-old winger has accumulated six goals and two assists in five contests for a 1.60 points-per-game rate. Will he keep up that pace? Probably not. But he's in damn good shape to meet, or improve upon, his career average of 0.68 points per contest.
The second is the penalty kill stymying opposing power-play units, allowing only one goal on 16 opportunities for a league-leading 93.8% kill rate. In 2020-21, the Blues ranked 25th in penalty-kill percentage, but the results never seemed to align with the plethora of penalty-killing talent, namely Justin Faulk, Colton Parayko, and Ryan O'Reilly.
Surprising: The Blues have used 20 skaters thus far, and all 20 have recorded at least one point. That's impressive given that St. Louis' secondary players aren't world-beaters, at least on paper. The club's 26-and-under forwards (Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Pavel Buchnevich, Jake Neighbours, Klim Kostin, Ivan Barbashev) have all found success in the early going, contributing a combined nine goals and 12 primary assists.
The veterans aren't being left behind, though. Vladimir Tarasenko, fresh off an offseason trade request and scuttlebutt about his long-term health, has been excellent. The same goes for two-way wizard O'Reilly.
Surprising: In the offseason, the Hurricanes turned over nine spots on their 23-man roster. It's typical (and understandable) for teams with such a high volume of changes to struggle out of the gate. So, Carolina's strong start, with so many new faces, is borderline shocking.
Frederik Andersen, who's manned the pipes every game so far, is headlining the fresh-faced standouts. The 6-foot-4 Dane currently boasts a .946 save percentage while sitting atop the NHL leaderboard in a couple of advanced goalie stats: goals saved above average and goals saved above expected. Forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a goal against his former team, the Montreal Canadiens, last week. Defensemen Ethan Bear, Tony DeAngelo, and Ian Cole have looked solid in Dougie Hamilton's absence.
Unsurprising: Not to contradict the spirit of the above paragraphs, but even with the turnover, Carolina was primed to contend for the Metropolitan Division title. For a few years now, the franchise has been knocking on the door as a fringe Stanley Cup contender; it's not like Rod Brind'Amour, the club's wildly popular head coach, has changed his tactics.
The 2021-22 Hurricanes are still a team that dictates the flow of action most nights, ices a lethal power play, and employs a handful of game-breakers. One of those high-impact players, winger Andrei Svechnikov, is so far living up to his fat contract extension with five goals and four assists in five games. Captain Jordan Staal, more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of player at age 33, continues to post stellar underlying numbers, such as a 56.3% expected goals for percentage. Same old.
John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).