The start of every NHL season is sure to bring surprises. Some teams get off to unexpected hot starts. Teams that were pegged to contend can sometimes stumble out of the gate.
Less than 10 games in, we're very much still in the "small sample size" portion of the season. Some hot starters will inevitably come crashing back to Earth. Some slow-starting squads will shake off the rust and soon kick it into high gear.
But some of what we're seeing is real, too.
With that in mind, our question this week is: Which team's hot start to the 2021 NHL season isn't a fluke?
Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone celebrates after recording an assistant during a game against the St. Louis Blues. (Photo: John Locher, AP)
Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights entered the year as a Stanley Cup contender and the early returns on their season (5-1-1, first in the West Division) have not disappointed. (Of note, four of seven games were against the Arizona Coyotes.) They rank in the top half of the league in scoring and goals against. Mark Stone is looking like a very, very early MVP candidate (two goals, 11 points), Max Pacioretty is tied for the league lead in goals (six) and Shea Theodore has seven points in seven games, good for third in the league among defensemen. Vegas is set to play its second game in a row Thursday with general manager Kelly McCrimmon behind the bench because the coaching staff is self-isolating “out of an abundance of caution” after someone on the staff tested positive for COVID-19. — Jimmy Hascup
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs and Washington Capitals are the only teams that have played more than three games and have yet to lose in regulation. The early key for Montreal? The highest-scoring offense in the NHL (4.89 goals per game), paced by shrewd free agent acquisition Tyler Toffoli (five goals, three assists in six games). Now the Canadiens probably won't score nearly five goals a game the whole season … but it certainly doesn't seem like their scoring is going to dry up completely. Montreal has the benefit of playing this season exclusively against its fellow Canadian teams, the worst of which – Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver – generally look like a mess on defense and the best of which – Toronto and Winnipeg – are hardly known as shutdown units. Factor in that Carey Price probably isn't going to post a sub-.900 save percentage all season … it seems likely we'll be seeing Montreal in the postseason. — Jace Evans
Winnipeg Jets: It’s rare to see three unhappy players as part of one trade, but the Jets’ deal with the Blue Jackets could help Winnipeg build on its 5-2 start. Newcomer Pierre-Luc Dubois, whose father is on the Manitoba Moose’s coaching staff, will give the Jets solid depth at center with Mark Scheifele and Paul Stastny once he clears quarantine. Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic are gone in the trade, but Laine was hurt and Roslovic was unsigned. Resurgent Nikolaj Ehlers and breakout Andrew Copp join Blake Wheeler and Scheifele in leading the NHL's second-ranked (goals per game) offense. With reigning Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck in net, the Jets could make some noise in the North Division.
— Mike Brehm
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