It appears that Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has set aside his last few playoff debacles. He has been stock solid in goal, giving this explosive offensive team a chance to win every game his plays.
That makes the Penguins the NHL team to beat this season, following closely by Western Conference powerhouses San Jose, St. Louis and Chicago.
Here is the whole breakdown:
GOOD NEWS: To nobody’s surprise, Sidney Crosby led the NHL in scoring through the first two weeks of the season.
BAD NEWS: The weeks-long absence of wing man James Neal is complicating life for center Evgeni Malkin. Dating back to last season, he scored just 10 times in a span of 36 games.
BOTTOM LINE: They will rack up lots of points scoring four goals per game.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
GOOD NEWS: Forward Tomas Hertl made an early play on the Calder Trophy with an explosive goal-scoring start.
BAD NEWS: None.
BOTTOM LINE: The Sharks outscored opponents 24-7 in their first five games. It is hard to imagine a better start.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
GOOD NEWS: They opened the season with a five-game home stand but didn’t get too comfortable.
BAD NEWS: Coach Ken Hitchcock can’t give all of his skilled forwards all the ice time they deserve. He has to juggle three combination of power-play forwards.
BOTTOM LINE: So far, anyway, the Blues are living up to their preseason hype.
GOOD NEWS: Patrick Kane is still Patrick Kane, the hockey player.
BAD NEWS: Most of the other forwards suffered slow starts. Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell scored just one goal between them during the first five games.
BOTTOM LINE: Once this team finds it secondary scoring, it could regain its top spot in the power rankings.
DETROIT RED WINGS
GOOD NEWS: Newcomers Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson have settled into the team’s offensive flow.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Jimmy Howard suffered an early hand injury.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite that minor setback, these guys are having lots of fun after moving to the Eastern Conference.
GOOD NEWS: Power forward Milan Lucic came to life in last spring’s playoffs and carried that success into this season.
BAD NEWS: The Bruins power play needs some work.
BOTTOM LINE: Their newcomers need a bit more time to build chemistry.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
GOOD NEWS: Joffrey Lupul is back! The top line winger scored five times in Toronto’s first six games.
BAD NEWS: Thus far James Reimer has not answered Jonathan Bernier’s challenge in goal.
BOTTOM LINE: The Leafs proved themselves legitimate by scoring three early road victories.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
GOOD NEWS: Their experience showed as they won twice in shootouts and once in overtime.
BAD NEWS: Newcomer Matt Frattin (no goals, minus-5 rating in his first six games) has failed to provide the expected secondary scoring.
BOTTOM LINE: A tough early schedule had them playing six of their first eight games on the road. They will be just fine.
GOOD NEWS: They won their first five games by a combined 18-4 score, thanks to a deep offense and Semyon Varlamov’s surprisingly long goaltending.
BAD NEWS: The NHL playoffs don’t start this week.
BOTTOM LINE: New coach Patrick Roy has the ‘Lanche flying at both ends of the ice. Few teams are more interesting to watch.
GOOD NEWS: Apparently defenseman P.K. Subban wants to win the Norris Trophy.
BAD NEWS: Newcomer Daniel Briere (no goals, one assist in his first five games) started poorly.
BOTTOM LINE: A busy offense and an effective power play allow the Habs to sustain constant pressure on their opponents.
GOOD NEWS: Veteran Jonas Hiller (four goals allowed in his first three games) is playing like a true No. 1 goaltender.
BAD NEWS: Sheldon Souray’s demise leaves the defensive corps vulnerable.
BOTTOM LINE: Newcomer Jakob Silfverberg freshened up an offense that was growing stale. If only the Ducks had a few more young forwards just like him.
GOOD NEWS: The Sedin Twins seem to enjoy playing for new coach John Tortorella.
BAD NEWS: Alexander Edler’s suspension for head hunting adds to the team’s defensive woes.
BOTTOM LINE: The Canucks split their first six games while struggling to play Tortorella’s tight-checking scheme.
GOOD NEWS: Winger Bobby Ryan settled in with his new team and scored at a point-per-game pace.
BAD NEWS: Top center Jason Spezza has been slowed by a lingering groin muscle strain.
BOTTOM LINE: If goaltender Craig Anderson can’t regain last season’s form, this team will slip back into the pack.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
GOOD NEWS: Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis combined for 14 points in their first five games.
BAD NEWS: Anders Lindback conceded the starting goaltending job to Ben Bishop without much of a fight.
BOTTOM LINE: If Bishop holds up in goal, the Lightning could ride its mighty top line into postseason play.
GOOD NEWS: Coach Dave Tippett led his team to three early road victories, making a strong statement to the rest of the Western Conference.
BAD NEWS: Defenseman Keith Yandle has yet to get his offensive game into gear.
BOTTOM LINE: The much-overlooked addition of goaltender Thomas Greiss takes a big load off Mike Smith’s shoulders. This team is more balanced than you think.
NEW YORK RANGERS
GOOD NEWS: After scoring just 11 goals in 46 games last season, Brad Richards scored four times in his first five games this season.
BAD NEWS: The loss of power forward Rick Nash (concussion) offset Richards’ surge.
BOTTOM LINE: The Rangers played tight defensive hockey under former coach John Tortorella. Under new coach Alain Vigneault, they allowed 20 goals in a three-game span.
GOOD NEWS: They converted seven of their first 12 power-play opportunities this season before cooling down.
BAD NEWS: The second line of Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer has yet to produce.
BOTTOM LINE: The Caps can’t afford to start poorly again this season. They no longer have an easy divisional path to the playoffs.
GOOD NEWS: Agitator Tuomo Ruutu returned to active duty and to add some spark up front.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Anton Khudobin, who outplayed Cam Ward during the first two weeks, landed in injured reserve with a leg injury.
BOTTOM LINE: The young ‘Canes defense remains prone to cave-ins. If that continues, this team won’t make the playoffs.
GOOD NEWS: Newcomers Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi help this team roll three solid offensive lines.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec saw 169 shots in his first five games. The results were not good.
BOTTOM LINE: The Jets put on a good show, but their defensive play leaves much to be desired.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
GOOD NEWS: John Tavares (three goals and three assists during a four-game span) is getting back into Hart Trophy mode.
BAD NEWS: Would-be scorers Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Moulson suffered poor starts.
BOTTOM LINE: The Islanders came up just a bit short in the early going, suffering one shootout and two one-goal losses in regulation.
GOOD NEWS: Young winger Alex Chiasson is proving that last season’s late outburst was not a fluke.
BAD NEWS: Offensive defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Alex Goligoski had minus-3 ratings and one assist between them after four games.
BOTTOM LINE: The Stars have played uneven hockey for new coach Lindy Ruff.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
GOOD NEWS: Marian Gaborik is taking his contract quest very, very seriously.
BAD NEWS: With Nathan Horton spending much of this team recovering from shoulder surgery, Gaborik doesn’t have much offensive help.
BOTTOM LINE: Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky gives this team staying power,
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Jonas Brodin is playing nearly 25 minutes per game and excelling at both ends.
BAD NEWS: Jason Pominville hasn’t done much to justify his massive contract extension.
BOTTOM LINE: Josh Harding has picked up for injured goaltender Niklas Backstrom to prevent an early season crisis.
GOOD NEWS: Somehow this team won two of its first five games despite getting outscored 15-9 overall.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Pekka Rinne struggled early as a lot of young defensemen received on-the-job training.
BOTTOM LINE: This team has a tiny margin for error. If Filip Forsberg doesn’t develop into an offensive threat, look out below.
GOOD NEWS: Injuries to veteran forwards Scott Hartnell (upper body) and Vinny Lecavalier (lower body) will force new coach Craig Berube to infuse some fresh blood into the lineup.
BAD NEWS: The Flyers lost five of their first six games in convincing fashion.
BOTTOM LINE: They are slow. Their defense is suspect. Their goaltending is questionable. Firing Peter Laviolette didn’t change any of that.
GOOD NEWS: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made a productive return from off-season shoulder surgery.
BAD NEWS: Winger Nail Yakupov played his way into the press box with his sluggish early effort.
BOTTOM LINE: Sloppy team defense and poor goaltending by Devan Dubnyk sent the Oilers spiraling toward the NHL basement.
GOOD NEWS: They somehow squeezed eight points out of their first five games.
BAD NEWS: Forward Sean Monahan cannot continue converting 31 percent of his shots.
BOTTOM LINE: Calgary’s save percentage of .897 after five games suggested that this team is headed toward a major downturn.
GOOD NEWS: Forward Tomas Fleischmann looked like his old self with a four-point game against the Penguins.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Tim Thomas, the team’s early season hero, suffered a groin muscle strain
BOTTOM LINE: GM Dale Tallon rounded up lots of interim help to support his young nucleus, but a long season awaits.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
GOOD NEWS: New No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider hasn’t been terrible.
BAD NEWS: When Jets goaltender Al Montoya shuts out your team, it’s official: your offensive stinks.
BOTTOM LINE: Top centers Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac need to elevate their play ASAP.
GOOD NEWS: Well, they have earned a point during the first two weeks of this season. So there’s that.
BAD NEWS: Just when you thought Tyler Myers could not play any worse, he scored no points in his first seven games while earning a minus-7 rating.
BOTTOM LINE: This lifeless team is sitting back and waiting for the first sale to start. What is Darcy Regier waiting for?