Bruins

Bruins, Flyers, Canucks rank among biggest surprises, disappointments so far

Bruins

We're only two weeks into the 2022-23 NHL season and there are already fanbases across the league panicking over their favorite team's poor start.

Early season struggles typically are a bad sign, too. Not many teams that are outside of a playoff spot by U.S. Thanksgiving end up getting into the tournament come April. We're still a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, but for some teams the time to show improvement is right now. Playing catch up late in the season is quite challenging.

Which teams and players have surprised and disappointed so far? Let's take a look at some notable names.

Surprises

Boston Bruins

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A lot of people thought the Bruins could fall out of the playoff mix this season, based on injuries to key players (Charlie McAvoy, Brad Marchand, Matt Grzelcyk) early on and other teams in the Atlantic Division expected to be much-improved (Red Wings, Senators).

Instead, the Bruins enter Wednesday with the league's best record at 6-1-0 after Tuesday night's impressive 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars. Linus Ullmark is a legit Vezina Trophy candidate thus far with a 5-0-0 record, a .936 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. 

David Pastrnak is tied for the league lead in points with 12 (five goals, seven assists). Taylor Hall is playing well, David Krejci looks like he never left, A.J. Greer and Nick Foligno (!) are giving the bottom six much-needed scoring depth, and Patrice Bergeron remains an elite two-way center.

 

The Bruins could not have asked for a better start. They've now afford themselves the luxury to be extra cautious with Marchand and McAvoy and give them as much rehab time as needed before returning to game action.

Philadelphia Flyers

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It's a good time to be a sports fan in Philadelphia. The Phillies have reached the World Series, the Eagles are the lone unbeaten team in the NFL and the Flyers have exceeded expectations with a 4-2 record entering Wednesday.

Most expert predictions had the Flyers finishing at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and in the running for the Connor Bedard sweepstakes as a draft lottery team. That could still happen, but Flyers fans have to be encouraged so far, especially with the resurgence of Carter Hart.

Hart looked like a star in the making after his first two seasons in the league, but the previous two were a disaster. He's turned it around with a 4-0-0 record, a .949 save percentage and a 1.75 GAA to begin 2022-23. Hart is the main reason why the Flyers are tied for the second-fewest goals allowed (14) this season.

It'll be interesting to see if this start is sustainable in Philly, but we know John Tortorella-coached teams are going to play hard and be difficult to play against.

Chicago Blackhawks

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The Blackhawks were supposed to be a disaster this season and a prime candidate to finish last and secure the top odds in the draft lottery.

The Blackhawks have won four in a row after an 0-2 start, led by veteran forwards Tyler Johnson (six points), Patrick Kane (five points) and Jonathan Toews (four points). Veteran goalie Alex Stalock has been surprisingly awesome, posting a 3-1-0 record and a .938 save percentage.

The advanced stats don't paint a pretty picture for Chicago, so we'll see if this run is sustainable. But so far, the Blackhawks have wildly exceeded expectations. 

Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Avalanche

The Avalanche needed one of their top-nine forwards to step up this season after the team lost center Nazem Kadri in free agency over the summer.

Valeri Nichushkin has filled that role. He's tied for the league lead in goals (seven) and points (12) through seven games. Six of those 12 points have come on the power play. We know the Avalanche's top players -- Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, etc. -- are going to produce, so if this team is going to win back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, secondary guys like Nichushkin need to be consistent drivers of offense. So far, so good in that regard.

Disappointments

Vancouver Canucks

What a DISASTER.

The Canucks are 0-5-2 and have allowed the second-most goals (30) in the league. They're also the only winless team entering Wednesday.

Injuries and playing five of their first seven games on the road have been two challenges for the Canucks.

 

If the Canucks struggle for another couple weeks, the front office will need to seriously consider becoming trade-deadline sellers and jumpstarting a rebuild. 

It's a good year for it, too. The draft lottery winner get super-prospect Connor Bedard. He's the franchise player the Canucks desperately need.

Minnesota Wild

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The Wild were a trendy pick to reach the Stanley Cup Final this season. They don't look anything like a title contender right now.

Minnesota started out 1-3-1 but bounced back with a 3-1 win over a bad Montreal Canadiens team on Tuesday night. Veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has appeared in five games and tallied a lackluster .869 save percentage and a 4.30 GAA. The Wild have a minus-10 goal differential at 5-on-5, which ranks 31st of the 32 teams.

It's obviously still very early, but the Wild need to play a lot better to earn one of the three playoff spots from the Central, which could end up being the most competitive division in the league.

Juuse Saros, G, Predators

Saros has been one of the league's best goaltenders over the last two years. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and finished sixth in the voting in 2020-21. He's really struggled to begin 2022-23, though, posting a 1-3-1 record, a .894 save percentage and a 3.04 GAA. 

Saros' lackluster performance is one reason why the Predators have a 2-4-1 record through seven games.

Timo Meier, C, Sharks

Meier set career highs with 35 goals, 41 assists and 76 points in 77 games last season. The star center has struggled mightily offensively so far with zero goals and two assists in nine games. His struggles are among several reasons why the Sharks have a 2-7-0 record and have been outscored by 10 goals through nine games.

Meier's poor start comes at a bad time given his contractual status. He's in the final year of his contract and able to become a restricted free agent next summer.