Biggest surprises, disappointments at NHL’s quarter mark
Believe it or not, but we are already through the first quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season.
So far, a lot of things have played out as we expected on a team and individual level. Alex Ovechkin is scoring a lot of goals, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are raking up points, and teams like Toronto, Washington, Carolina, Colorado, Tampa Bay, and Florida are winning a lot of games.
But there are still a lot of surprises -- and disappointments -- around the league so far, and we are going to dig into a few of them.
Surprise: Andrew Mangiapane’s goal scoring
The Calgary Flames have transformed into a defensive juggernaut thanks to Darryl Sutter’s work behind the bench and some fantastic goaltending from Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar. But they also have a pretty good offense to go with that defense and goaltending, and there is no bigger surprise among that group than Mangiapane.
He already has 15 goals through the first 21 games of the season. He scored 17 and 18 goals over the past two seasons in 68 and 56 games respectively.
Still solid numbers, but nothing close to what he is doing this season. Maybe there is a shooting percentage regression ahead for him over the last three quarters of the season, but he is still a very good player having a career year.
Disappointment: Seattle’s goaltending
This was supposed to be the position that gave the Kraken a chance this season.
They made a huge investment in their defense and goaltending positions in the expansion draft and free agency, starting with Phillipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger in net.
While the team has been one of the best in the league from a possession, scoring chance and shots perspective defensively, their .873 all situations save percentage as a team (32nd out of 32 teams) has made it all meaningless. There is still time for the Kraken to turn this around if the goaltending gets it together, and that might be starting to happen. They have won three out of their past four during a stretch that saw them play Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida.
Surprise: Sergei Bobrovsky’s bounce back
It is not a surprise that the Florida Panthers are good. They had a great 2020-21 season, had a strong offseason, and have a deep, talented team with a couple of all-star offensive talents (Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau) at the top of the lineup.
What is a surprise is the bounce-back season of Bobrovsky in goal.
After signing a seven-year, $70 million contract in free agency his first two years in Florida were a massive disappointment, seemingly setting the stage for Spencer Knight to eventually take over this season. Maybe he still will, but so far Bobrovsky has been one of the league’s best goalies and is a driving force behind the Panthers’ strong start.
Disappointment: What happened to Elias Pettersson?
The Vancouver Canucks struggling is not a surprise.
But Elias Pettersson being one of the causes of those struggles is a surprise. HIs first three years in the league he was one of the game’s most exciting players when healthy. But so far this season he seems to be struggling with confidence and has not yet found his game. The good news: His possession numbers are still strong and he is getting crushed by a 5.1 shooting percentage that is dramatically lower than his first three seasons. Eventually that number will jump back up and the goals will start to come back. But three goals in 22 games is not what the Canucks were expecting this season.
Surprise: Vladimir Tarasenko is back
This is a surprise in the sense that we just did not know what he would be capable of this season.
After two injury plagued, unproductive seasons there was some real question as to what kind of player he would still be. He wanted a trade this offseason, but nobody bit on it. He was left unprotected in the expansion draft, and Seattle passed. He not only returned to the Blues, but has been averaging nearly a point per game and already has seven goals in 21 games despite a down year with his shooting percentage. A lot of teams should be regretting that missed opportunity.
Disappointment: Cole Caufield’s start
Given their return to the Atlantic Division and the way the offseason took shape there is no way anybody could have expected the Montreal Canadiens to repeat their 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff run. But the reason for optimism came from young players Nick Suzuki and Caufield potentially taking a big step forward.
Suzuki has been fine, but Caufield, a preseason Calder Trophy favorite, has fought through some early struggles.
He looked like an emerging star in his limited role last year, but has just one goal and two assists in 15 games this season and had a brief demotion to the American Hockey League mixed in.
Surprise: Tristan Jarry
The Penguins stuck with the same goaltending duo after the playoff debacle a year ago, and it was seen as a risk and potential wild card for this group. So far, Jarry has been the Penguins’ best player this season and has helped keep them in the playoff race in a tough Metropolitan Division. He has also been one of the league’s best goalies.
Disappointment: Another lost season for Buffalo
Having already missed the playoffs 10 years in a row, the Sabres seem destined to continue that streak for another season with no hope of it ending anytime soon. The trades of Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart just made it clear that another rebuild is on the horizon, and in that division it is not going to be a quick or easy path.
Surprise: Troy Terry and the Anaheim offense
There is some question as to how good the Anaheim Ducks are going to be this season, but their offense has been a huge surprise so far this season after being one of the worst in the league the past few years. At the center of that has been Troy Terry who has already shattered his previous career highs in goals and points including a 16-game point streak.
Surprise: Immediate impact of Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider
The bad news for the Detroit Red Wings: Probably another year outside of the playoffs.
The good news for the Detroit Red Wings: The two players that are eventually going to help them get back there, Raymond and Seider, are already in place and looking like emerging superstars in the NHL. They are going to be front-runners in the Calder Trophy race all season.
There was always an expectation they would be promising players this season. But not sure anybody expected them to be this good, this quickly in the NHL.