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NHL surprises, disappointments at quarter point of season

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — If you blink, you may have missed it.

The NHL is a quarter of the way through its schedule, most teams right around the 20-game mark. It's never too early to formulate opinions of how the league is shaping up.

The schedule has been fast and furious. The Red Wings played 20 games in 37 days. Injuries ensued as did some good and bad surprises.

Some things stayed the same.

Raymond has thrived while playing on a line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, leading all rookies with seven goals, 12 assists and 19 points. Seider trails only Raymond with 11 assists and 13 points.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have remained outstanding in Edmonton, pacing the Oilers to a fast start. Two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa is again formidable. As expected, the Arizona Coyotes have struggled.

With the schedule at warp speed, here is a look at the surprises and disappointments so far.


►Calgary Flames: Everyone assumed the Flames might be a playoff team, one most wouldn't want to face in the playoffs. But the sizzling start they've had is beyond most expectations. The Flames are 11-3-5, while playing 11 of their games on the road. They are 9-2-2 away from home. Coach Darryl Sutter has them playing his gritty, defensive, physical style and it's working. 

►Andrew Mangiapane: Mangiapane had a career-high 18 goals in 56 games. He has 15 goals already this season in 19 games. Mangiapane has shown skill the last two seasons. But nothing like this. Mangiapane has only has two assists this season.

►Troy Terry: In his fourth season, Terry, 24, is showing the offensive chops scouts projected earlier in his career with the Anaheim Ducks. He already has career highs in goals and points (22). It took only 18 games to get there. Included is a prolific 16-game point streak that ended Monday.

More: Taking stock: What we like and don't like about the Wings at the quarter mark

►Carolina Hurricanes: No one is surprised the Hurricanes are good. They were projected to be despite several interesting personnel moves in the offseason. At 14-2-1, Carolina is off to a terrific start.

►Jack Campbell: The Port Huron native has one of professional sports' toughest jobs,  goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Last season ended with a bitter Game 7 loss, and Campbell was expected to share the workload with Petr Mrazek. But Mrazek was injured his first game, and Campbell has been sensational (1.66 GAA, .944 SVS, 3 shutouts) sparking a fine Leafs' start.

Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) celebrates his goal with Jonathan Huberdeau (11) and MacKenzie Weegar (52) in overtime.

►Florida Panthers: Another team that no one is surprised is doing well. But the level of success (13-2-3 record) despite key injuries (notably forward Aleksander Barkov) certainly raises eyebrows. This team appears set for a long playoff run.

►Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider: There was so much hype about the Red Wings' rookie duo heading into the season. To both young players' credit, they've matched the hype. Raymond has thrived while playing on a line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, leading all rookies with seven goals, 12 assists and 19 points. Seider trails only Raymond with 11 assists and 13 points. The two look like cornerstones of the Wings' organization for a long time. 

►Anaheim Ducks: Two straight losses have dimmed the optimism, but the Ducks had won eight consecutive games and with a 10-6-3 record. They are firmly in the Pacific Division race. The Ducks have a bevy of prospects, but most thought they were a couple of years from being a factor. 

►Sergei Bobrovsky: The Panthers goaltender wasn't expected to be the clear-cut starter. But Bobrovsky has fueled Florida with a superb season (1.99 GAA, .937 SVS) that harkens to his play from early in his career. 

►Columbus Blue Jackets:  All the departures from the past several seasons were expected to catch up with the Jackets this season. But at 10-6-0, Columbus is playing its usual brand of fast-paced, in-your-face hockey and being quite successful.


►Montreal Canadiens: Whatever could go wrong has for the Canadiens, who reached the Stanley Cup Finals last spring and currently are a mess (5-13-2). There's more talent than the record would indicate. Goaltender Carey Price has been out dealing with mental health issues. This team should be a lot better.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Teddy Blueger (53) scores past Montreal Canadiens goaltender Sam Montembeault during third-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

►COVID-19: It's still around. The Ottawa Senators were forced to reschedule three games when 10 of their players were in protocol. The New York Islanders, Vegas, Chicago and San Jose have all had to deal with severe outbreaks.  The virus continues to impact the NHL, and you wonder if the league's participation in the Olympics could ultimately be impacted.

More: Struggling Red Wings trying to regain defensive identity

►New York Islanders: It's great they have a new arena and there's a lot of excitement surrounding the new digs. But they're currently dealing with COVID issues and a season-opening six-week, 13-game road trip as the new arena was being finished. that put the Islanders in a hole. What looked like a Stanley Cup contender doesn't look so sure now.

►Chicago Blackhawks: On and off the ice, the Blackhawks have been inundated with bad news. Assault charges against a former video coach and an alleged cover-up by members of the organization rocked the organization. Disastrous results on the ice, with key acquisitions playing below par, forced a coaching change and trade rumors.

►Alexis Lafreniere: He's only age 20 and has played 74 NHL games. But the much ballyhooed 2020 No. 1 overall pick has four goals and one assist this season (and 26 career points). While Raymond stars with the Red Wings, the Rangers might just be a little amped to see Lafreniere begin to become a force.

New York Rangers' Alexis Lafrenière (13) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders won 3-0.

►Seattle Kraken: They are an expansion team, so expectations were tempered. But given what Vegas accomplished five years ago, people felt the Kraken could surprise. The goaltending has been awful, Seattle has struggled to score and this looks like an overmatched squad.

►Injuries: Stars such as Carey Price (Montreal), Nikita Kucherov (Tampa), Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie (Washington), Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang (Pittsburgh) and Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado) have missed all, or the majority, of the season. That's a lot of lost star power.

►Elias Pettersson: The young Vancouver forward, who appeared headed toward stardom, has taken a major step backward with only three goals and 10 points in 19 games. Part of a team-wide poor start.

Twitter: @tkulfan