Everyone knows everything leading up to the NHL season.
Who will surprise, who will disappoint, who will be in the hunt for the elusive Stanley Cup. Then the games begin and everyone is reminded that nothing goes as planned.
That’s certainly the case this season, as a few young teams have raced out of the starting blocks and some older contenders have stubbed their toes. After the first month, here’s one surprise, one disappointment and one thing that’s stayed the same in 2019-20.
Surprise: Buffalo, Edmonton and Vancouver break out
Buffalo, Edmonton and Vancouver would make the playoffs if the regular season ended in October. The three teams have one playoff berth in the last four years combined (Edmonton, 2017).
The Sabres (9-3-2) started fast last season before falling apart, but things might be different under first-year coach Ralph Krueger. The 60-year-old, who spent the previous five years working at the Premier League club Southampton, appears energized in his first NHL gig since 2013.
First-year coach Dave Tippett has given the Oilers (9-4-1) a spark, too. The team’s defensive structure is better, and stars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are playing more.
The Canucks (8-3-2) might be the best of the bunch. Their plus-16 goal differential is tied for first in the league.
Their start is a credit to their young talent. Rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes looks like a Calder Trophy candidate, and 20-year-old center Elias Pettersson, 22-year-old right wing Brock Boeser and 24-year-old captain Bo Harvat keep improving.
Disappointment: Aging Dallas and San Jose
The Dallas Stars made it to the second round of the playoffs last season, and the San Jose Sharks advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
Both tried to cement their contender status this offseason. And both have fallen flat on their face.
The Stars (6-8-1) added veteran forwards Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, but neither has lifted a listless offense. Also, Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop has regressed after a career season.
His .916 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average aren’t bad. They just can’t cover up his team’s offensive woes.
Meanwhile, Sharks goaltenders Aaron Dell (3.53 GAA) and Martin Jones (3.52) can’t cover much of anything. That’s not a good thing for aging San Jose (4-9-1), which is built to win now.
The same: Crosby, Ovechkin keep on keeping on
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals won’t go away thanks to their superstars.
The Penguins (8-5-0) appeared vulnerable after getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs. Then they sustained early-season injuries to key forwards Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad.
It hasn’t mattered. Center Sidney Crosby (17 points in 13 games) refuses to go away. The Penguins’ plus-15 goal differential is third-best in the NHL.
The Capitals (10-2-3) have amassed the most points in the league. They’re playing more aggressively under second-year coach Todd Reirden and have scored the most goals (60). Left wing Alexander Ovechkin has 11 of those.
RJ’s best and worst
Review-Journal hockey writer Ben Gotz gives his best and worst NHL teams each week (Record and goal differential are through Friday):
1. Boston Bruins (9-1-2, +16)
Right wing David Pastrnak was the NHL’s second star of the month after recording 12 goals and 12 assists in 12 games.
2. Washington Capitals (10-2-3, +13)
They haven’t lost in regulation since Oct. 14 and are 7-0-1 in that span.
3. Nashville Predators (8-3-2, +13)
They locked up their captain — and Norris Trophy contender — Roman Josi this past week with an eight-year contract.
4. Colorado Avalanche (8-3-2, +12)
They’ve started to cool off, but only because two-thirds of their top line is injured.
5. Vancouver Canucks (8-3-2, +16)
Their goaltender duo of Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko are exceeding expectations.
27. Minnesota Wild (4-9-0, -15)
The Ottawa Sun reported first-year general manager Bill Guerin is already contemplating roster changes.
28. Los Angeles Kings (4-9-0, -20)
New coach Todd McLellan wants to be aggressive. That might not be the best idea with this roster.
29. Ottawa Senators (3-7-1, -8)
Their offense is awful, but their defense has been decent.
30. Detroit Red Wings (4-9-1, -20)
They’ve won in regulation once since Oct. 10.
31. New Jersey Devils (2-5-4, -16)
They lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-6 in overtime last week. They keep finding new ways to lose.