NHL Power Rankings: Early Disappointments Edition

Former Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

We know all about how awesome Auston Matthews has been this month, thank you.

We’re well aware that Nikita Kucherov and Alex Ovechkin could give 50 goals — 60 goals? — a scare with the efficiency of their wicked shots.

The Golden Knights are the greatest expansion team that ever expanded, and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Corey Crawford are stopping pucks like they want a 2015 Stanley Cup rematch.

We’ve become familiar with the early feel-good tales of the 2017-18 NHL campaign.

But what about the slow starters and underwhelming performances?

In this week’s evaluation of the hottest teams in hockey, we take a look at an aspect of or player from each team that needs to step up, preferably soon.

It’s the NHL Power Rankings: Early Disappointments Edition.

No, we’re not mad. We’re just disappointed.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs
Fake news! Mitch Marner is not the biggest disappointment of the Leafs season. When 19 of your 20 skaters have points, it’s difficult to lay much blame, but the defensive performance of the van Riemsdyk–Bozak–Marner line (a combined minus-15 heading into Washington) has been underwhelming.

2. New Jersey Devils
You’d have to look long and hard to find a lunch-bag letdown here. The Devils play a fast, fun brand of hockey; Cory Schneider is back to his old tricks; and the rookies are all shining. So the only disappointment rests with us analysts. We picked Carolina and not Jersey as the hipster wild-card pick.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets
Alexander Wennberg and Artemi Panarin are instant fire, but longtime core forward Brandon Dubinsky is still hunting for his first goal after six games. He has one assist despite seeing 17-plus minutes per match.

4. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks lead the NHL with a plus-12 goal differential, sit atop the Central Division again, and have production throughout their lineup. Disappointments are hard to come by, so we’ll go with this: They’re getting outshot by four and a half pucks per game and relying too much on Corey Crawford’s excellence.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning
An older D-man, Dan Girardi, and a younger one, Jake Dotchin, have both been given plenty of ice this season. Neither has particularly impressed, going a combined minus-4 on a plus-5 squad. Dotchin said publicly that the crackdown on slashing hurts his game.

6. Vegas Golden Knights
A bummer from a fan standpoint that George McPhee still hasn’t traded a defenceman, but the depleted health of his roster hasn’t hastened a move. The Knights could dress a full IR lineup — Mikhail Grabovski, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Marchessault, Erik Haula, Clayton Stoner, Duke Reid, David Clarkson — and yet they keep winning games.

7. Philadelphia Flyers
Brian Elliott (.884 save percentage) is struggling to adjust as he did this time last season in Calgary. At this rate, he could end up playing fewer games than the cheaper Michal Neuvirth. Goaltending is rarely a position of comfort in Philly, and that’s unfortunate with the way the big offensive guns have jumped out. Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds are all better than a point per game.

8. Los Angeles Kings
The Pacific-leading Kings are being led by the resurgence of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and a Norris-form Drew Doughty. So you may not have noticed that sniper Jeff Carter and new guy Mike Cammalleri don’t have a goal to rub between them.

9. Ottawa Senators
After the organization’s first perfect Western Canada road swing, a feat the Senators accomplished without their captain, the greatest disappointment is me — for going on record saying the Sens will have difficulty winning without Erik Karlsson. Karl returns, and they get shutout. I know nothing.

10. Winnipeg Jets
Free agent goalie Steve Mason. After two starts, both losses, and a .831 save percentage, Paul Maurice has placed his faith in young Connor Hellebuyck.

11. Washington Capitals
The most surprising stat a couple weeks into the season might be that mighty Washington — who is crowding the overall scoring race with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom — actually entered Tuesday’s contest versus Toronto with the fewest shots on goal, averaging just 25 a night. Quality over quantity. Depth in the Caps’ bottom six is an issue.

12. Calgary Flames
Calgary exorcised its Anaheim curse and most of its young stars are producing. The club’s October success has done a nice job of overshadowing Sam Bennett’s zero points and minus-1 rating.

13. St. Louis Blues
The obvious disappointment in St. Louis is the Blues’ rash of injuries. On a micro level, hotly tipped rookie Tage Thompson struggled to find his feet through four big-league games. The young centre was demoted to the minors after posting a team-worst minus-three, committing two penalties, and failing to register a point.

14. Dallas Stars
Lady Luck is a disappointing mistress in Texas. The Stars are out-shooting opponents by 10 pucks a night and still don’t have a winning record.

15. Colorado Avalanche
Nice that Matt Duchene is co-leading the club in scoring (six points), but it’s disappointing that the relationship between the star and team is still on the rocks behind the scenes. The rejuvenated Avs are likely to lose one of their best players mid-season.

16. Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard is in the zone, Mike Green is contributing like he’s in a contract year (oh, he is), and the Dylan Larkin line is flying. But Tomas Tatar is goal-less and Andreas Athanasiou is game-less.

17. Nashville Predators
Plenty going right as the Predators have dealt with injuries to two top-four D-men in the early going. The $16.4 million given to Nick Bonino in free agency has yielded just one point and minus-2 rating through five games, however.

18. Carolina Hurricanes
Hurricanes fans hate when you point this out, but to say anything other than Carolina’s attendance issues are the biggest disappoint so far would be a lie. The Canes have averaged 13,286 fans through two home dates. Their 71.1 per cent fill rate is dead last in the league by more than 10 per cent (Florida is selling 81.3 per cent of its seats).

19. Florida Panthers
Depth centre Michael Haley is finding it difficult to contribute when he average time on ice over four games is team-low 6:45 and his average time in the penalty box is a team-high five minutes.

20. Minnesota Wild
Bruce Boudreau’s groups typically take pride in a tight defensive style of play. In the early going, the Wild have let opposing offences have their way, allowing a league-high 36.5 shots against through four games.

21. New York Islanders
Jordan Eberle’s Twitter game. The Islanders’ shiny, new front-line winger poked fun of his pal Taylor Hall’s slacks on social media, only to get silenced by facts.

22. Pittsburgh Penguins
The two-time defending champions are off to a winning record, but their defence is suspect. The Penguins’ early team stat line has been skewed ugly by that atrocious 10-goal giveaway to Chicago, but overall this is a group that is getting outshot and outscored 20-25. Without the safety net of Marc-Andre Fleury, we’re concerned about the Pens’ dependecy on Matt Murray’s health.

23. Boston Bruins
The Bruins grew impatient with top goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban to the point where they gave him away for free to Vegas. Then Boston flies to Sin City and 23-year-old Subban gets more career NHL wins in a week with Vegas than he did in five-plus years in the Bruins system.

24. Vancouver Canucks
Yes, scoring is an issue. Even with goals up league-wide, the Canucks are finding the back of the net at a rate of just 2.4 goals per game. But the biggest disappointment may be Jacob Markstrom, who was given four games to seize the starter’s role. “Backup” Anders Nilsson may have swiped the gig in 60 perfect minutes Tuesday night.

25. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks’ power play is nonexistent. In a month when refs are tossing dudes in the box for love taps and side-eyed glances, Anaheim has failed to take advantage, going 0-fer on the PP through its first six games.

26. San Jose Sharks
The star players. Through four games, do you know who the Sharks’ leading scorer was? Kevin Labanc. And, no, he did not play Joey on Friends. Logan Couture had a big game Tuesday, but Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski have yet to make a big impact on the score sheet, and Martin Jones’ save percentage through four starts is .895.

27. New York Rangers
The goal-getters. Mika Zibanejad has five, forward J.T. Miller and defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk each have two, and no one else has more than one. Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Jimmy Vesey… time to get off the schneid, boys.

28. Montreal Canadiens
The complete lack of finish. Montreal’s abysmal shooting percentage has improved of late because it had to. Still, when the club firing the fourth-most shots on net (36.7 per game) is scoring the fewest goals per game (1.5), something is amiss. Too early to break up Jonathan Drouin and Max Pacioretty?

29. Edmonton Oilers
Much to choose from here, as all those outsiders who tabbed the Oilers as Cup favourites race to fetch their erasers. Cam Talbot has been a shade of his 2016-17 self, the porous Edmonton PK (68.2%) ranks dead last, and secondary scoring is only something they’ve read about it. But the biggest disappointment is coach Todd McLellan calling out his anonymous superstars in the media. That wasn’t a thinly veiled shot at Connor McDavid, was it?

30. Buffalo Sabres
De-fence. The Sabres were expected to take a step this season but have stumbled out of the gates. Their 27 goals allowed through seven games ranks second worst overall, their minus-10 goal differential puts them third worst in that category, causing Jack Eichel to express frustration.

31. Arizona Coyotes
The only NHL team still looking to secure a victory, the Coyotes’ disappointments are bountiful. The all-backup goaltending tandem of Louis Domingue and Antti Raanta, for instance, ranks 31st overall with a goals-against average of 4.17. Also, Arizona recently partnered with Uber to bring fans to its poorly located rink. Up north, Mike Smith could not be happier.

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