Believe it or not, roughly one-quarter of the 2019-20 NHL season is in the rearview.
It's featured a boatload of goals - 6.16 per game, to be exact, which is the highest average since 2005-06. Nine players are on pace for 100 points. Every night seems to feature at least one crazy comeback. Plus, the volatility (the Stars' roller coaster, for one) and the unpredictability (surprising start from the Oilers, disappointing start from the Flames) sure seem off the charts.
With all of that in mind, let's examine some statistical developments at the team level that are helping shape the season:
Resilience is the word that best sums up the Avalanche's first quarter of the season. Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, two-thirds of the club's incredible No. 1 forward line, have missed a combined 24 games. Yet, Nathan MacKinnon and friends march on. ManGamesLost.com estimates Colorado has lost the equivalent of five standings points due to injuries. Only the Penguins (6.3) have lost more.
It's impressive what the Avs have been able to wrangle out of 22 games, especially on an individual level. MacKinnon, who's sixth in league scoring, is crafting a compelling Hart Trophy case alongside guys like Matt Calvert, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky. He's taken it upon himself to drive the offensive train, firing 104 shots on goal, trailing just Alex Ovechkin in that department. On the back end, the dynamic Cale Makar is on pace for a ridiculous 93 points, and he doesn't look out of place defensively. The idea of MacKinnon, Makar, Rantanen, Landeskog, and another stud blue-liner, Samuel Girard, joining forces for a regular shift later on this season should strike fear into any opponent.
The Bruins' trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak once again is proving to be the NHL's deadliest line. Now 1,872 even-strength minutes into their partnership, their mastery has become routine. We probably take for granted how consistent they've been since becoming regular linemates in 2016 and how unique it is for one unit to perform at such a high level in an era of endless game-planning and analysis.
As the table below of shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals illustrates, the rink is almost always tilted Boston's way when Nos. 37, 63, and 88 are on the ice together.
When all three are on the bench, however, the Bruins certainly aren't world-beaters: In 717 even-strength minutes this season, the club's share of shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals dip to 48%, 46%, and 48%, respectively, according to NaturalStatTrick.
The line features an all-time two-way forward between an ultra-skilled pest and a world-class sniper. Together, they set the tone for the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins, who pace the NHL in goal differential (plus-22) and regulation wins (14). What more could you want seven weeks into the season?
There are many trademarks of a well-coached hockey club. The Islanders, who lead the NHL in points percentage at .825, check off several of those boxes.
Barry Trotz's squad doesn't crumble under pressure, having won nine of 11 contests in which it's surrendered the first goal. New York wins no matter who has been tapped to man the pipes, as both Thomas Greiss (.934 save percentage) and Semyon Varlamov (.912 SV%) are providing a reliable last line of defense behind a team that limits high-danger opportunities. In fact, nine of the Islanders' 13 wins have come in one-goal games.
Mat Barzal, the team's lone household name, has developed into a quality three-zone center. The crafty 22-year-old is on pace for 82 points, and according to The Point Hockey, averages 1:06 of offensive zone puck possession per game, which ties him with Connor McDavid for third best in the league. Also, Barzal is tracking toward career highs in virtually all shot metrics, suggesting he's found the right balance between creativity and conformity within Trotz's system. As a whole, the Isles have pieced together an excellent first 20 games and look equipped to defeat any and all opponents.
Coyotes general manager John Chayka is mainly known for three things: his age, background in analytics, and willingness to wheel and deal. Perhaps we should add "his selection of Conor Garland" to the list. Garland leads Arizona with 10 goals this season and is looking like a fifth-round steal for Chayka and his staff. The 23-year-old hasn't played nearly as many NHL games as some of his 2015 draft classmates, but he's tallied 23 goals in 70 career contests.
Thanks to a paltry salary, Garland's technically the league's best veteran bargain, according to CapFriendly's cost-per-point metric (entry-level deals excluded):
|Player||Salary||Points||Cost per point|
While Garland's been a nice story, Darcy Kuemper's been the club's early-season MVP. He's banked a Vezina Trophy-worthy first 15 games (league-leading .935 save percentage), and the best part is that he's been complemented well by partner Antti Raanta (.922 SV% in eight games). Given that these three standouts play in the desert, their performances have largely flown under the radar. Nevertheless, they've been essential to Arizona's 13-8-2 record and its quest to end a seven-season playoff drought.
Based off head coach Sheldon Keefe's first game behind an NHL bench - a convincing 3-1 win over the Coyotes on Thursday - the Maple Leafs might actually be OK. Stylistically, they looked like a vastly different team. The players, free of Mike Babcock's shackles, have enough skill and talent to stabilize this sinking season. It's essential now that they tackle some concerning trends head-on.
Case in point: Not only have both special teams been ineffective on the surface (17.6% power play and 74.1% penalty kill), the underlying data paints an even uglier picture. Last year, the power play generated a league-high 62.4 shots on goal per 60 minutes. This year, it's generating 50.9 shots to rank 22nd. The penalty kill, meanwhile, has gone from 10th overall in terms of shot suppression (48.3 shots against per 60) to 26th (61.3). The Leafs also struggle to, in Babcock's words, "start on time." Their period-by-period goal differential bears this out, with a minus-11 in the first period, plus-10 in the second, and minus-4 in the third. In order to salvage a key season, execution in all situations must improve drastically.
An interesting trend has emerged 22 games into the Blackhawks' season: 23.1% of the club's goals have been credited to first-year players, which is the largest share in the NHL. Columbus ranks second at 18.2%, the Rangers are third at 15.6%, and the other 28 teams fall between 12.3% and 0%. Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik have bagged five goals, Alex Nylander has four, and Adam Boqvist has one. Considering none of these rookies are playing major roles (Boqvist, who was demoted to AHL Rockford last week, leads the group in ice time at 14:27 per game), you have to wonder how much of their early production is smoke and mirrors. Regardless, it's an encouraging sign.
For a team trying its darndest to retool around 31-year-old franchise cornerstones Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, every contribution helps. Forwards Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome - 22 and 21, respectively - have blossomed into core members, providing hope for a return to glory. The Hawks are hanging out near the playoff cutoff line in the Western Conference at the moment. For a club that imploded last November and remains under construction, it's a decent spot to occupy.
John Matisz is theScore's national hockey writer.