Our friends up in Canada have been enjoying some early season success with almost all their home town teams. Six of the seven Canadian NHL teams are above .500 and trending up, two of which are arguably among the best in the league. Let’s take a quick look at each of them, and figure out how, if at all, they keep it up.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The team with the highest expectations, and the most to lose, coming in to the season was Toronto. They wasted no time showing off their shiny new toy John Tavares. At 6-1 and on a five game win streak, they’re not slowing down anytime soon. They’re averaging just under five goals a game, yet they still give up just over three. The 23 goals against in seven games is more worrisome now after Goaltender Frederik Andersen when down with a knee injury. The defense is going to have to get better in order for them to make a deep run in the playoffs. That said, Auston Matthews is on fire, Mitch Marner is showing out, and it looks like Kasperi Kapanen is taking advantage of his opportunities early and often. If new GM Kyle Dubas can figure out William Nylanders contract situation, they’ll be the most lethal offense we’ve seen in the cap era.
Teams that rely too heavily on their goalie normally make me nervous. This time around, I think the Canadiens may have actually figured it out. Even with Max Pacioretty on the team, Carey Price was the centerpiece of that unit. When the Habs traded their captain to Vegas, the expectations for their 2018/19 campaign plummeted. By some miracle though, they’re winning games, and doing it in impressive fashion. A hot start by Tomas Tatar, acquired from Vegas, has propelled the offense into a more consistent and sustainable play style. If Montreal can continue to get good goaltending, and contribution from the likes of Drouin and Domi, they’ll be a contender late into March.
Let’s go through a quick Ottawa summer checklist before we start; Locker room drama, got it. Trade probable second best player? Check. Trade BEST player, big check. Watch the front office double down and commit to the fans? You know they did. Yet here we are with a 3-2-1 Senators team that has beaten Toronto, LA, and Dallas. They’re scoring four goals a game and Craig Anderson has been nothing if not solid. Matt Duchene and Thomas Chabot are refusing to let the Senators go down easy, even though many predicted they’d be far and away the worst team in hockey. Playoff team? Probably not. But the best thing Ottawa can do is prove taking Brady Tkachuk in last year’s draft was enough to devalue the first round pick they owe Colorado this year.
Winnipeg became my Cup favorite as soon as they were eliminated in the conference final last year. Maybe the most offensively gifted team in the league, they still play above average defense and have Connor Hellebuyck. The big names in Winnipeg will continue to work to hit their stride, which you have to figure will happen soon. The only burning question surrounding this team is whether they’ll miss Paul Stastny centering Patrik Laine’s line. Winnipeg will have problems down the road as far as keeping this core together, there’s no doubt about that. Although, right now all their focus is on finishing the job next June, thus rewarding GM Kevin Cheveldayoff for building this team slowly, but oh so efficiently.
Calgary is coming off a very disappointing 2017/18 campaign in which they missed the post season. This year has a different feel from the jump, especially when watching Johnny Gaudreau. He’s off to a hot start with eight points, five on the PP, including an OT goal against Colorado on Saturday. They’re also getting plenty of contributions from Matt Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan. The Flames spent the offseason trying to change it up, while filling their glaring needs. A trade with Carolina landed them Linholm and Noah Hanifin, and they were able to sign FA James Neal, who adds depth scoring. Mike Smith is still wildly inconsistent in the crease, but this team is built for a 4-3 game. If Smith can do just enough to keep them within reach, the Flame will be a force in a weak Pacific division.
These guys have to be the biggest surprise so far. The Sedin twins retired in the off-season, and the meddling Canucks were basically a corpse just trying to scratch and claw their way to game 82. So we thought. Elias Pettersson has been a spark plug for Vancouver so far, making up for Brock Boeser’s slow start. The idea alone that they would be 3-2, scoring just under four goals a game should get fans excited for the season. Pettersson will miss about a week while in concussion protocol, so they’ll need 2018 Rookie of the Year finalist Boeser to find his shot soon. While Sven Baertschi and Alex Edler are producing alongside Elias, Canucks Head Coach Travis Green has to hope Anders Nilsson continues to impress in net. A gauntlet schedule awaits the young team over the next 10 days, so we shall see sooner rather than later if they can keep this up.