Just over a week into the new 2021 NHL Season, we have had our fair share of quality hockey as well as some evident rust amongst some teams in the league.
In the North Division, the Montreal Canadiens are yet to lose a game in regulation, the Leafs offseason additions such as Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds seem to be integrating themselves into the young core, and teams with high expectations are faltering.
In the West Division, the Vegas Golden Knights appear as the early President’s Trophy favourite, the addition of Alex Pietrangelo has allowed players like Shae Theodore to break out even more.
Over in the East, things are tighter than in any of the other three divisions. The Bruins took back to back games over the Flyers after struggling to score even strength goals out of the gate. Washington, while missing their starting goalie, captain and other key pieces due to COVID-19 protocol, are proving they are also a deep team. First overall pick from two years ago, Jack Hughes is emerging as a breakout star for the Devils.
And finally, in the Central, the teams have had their troubles containing COVID. The Stars won their long awaited first game of the season very convincingly over the Predators, the Hurricanes and Panthers have had games cancelled and the Lightning are back to their high scoring selves.
Overall, it has been a good start to a season that began very quickly to start the new calendar year.
Here are what I believe to be the top 10 teams in the NHL after week one.
- Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas is a team that has a chip on their shoulders this season. A couple deep playoff runs with nothing to show for it will do that for a squad. Recently naming Mark Stone the first captain in franchise history, he is off to a hot start on the stat sheet and defensemen Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo are proving plenty of offensive opportunities from the back end. This team is built to win a lot of games over a short season, as well as long after the regular season ends.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay could be put infront of Vegas, but for arguments sake, Tampa has looked like their regular selves against lessee teams like Chicago. Without their dynamic scorer Nikita Kucherov, offence is coming from everywhere in the Lightning lineup. Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman are the three headed monster that will consistently produce all year long for Jon Cooper’s team.
We might be going out on a limb here, but Mark Stone could be the best captain we've ever had pic.twitter.com/JCmP4brAAa
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 21, 2021
3. Colorado Avalanche
This team’s top line is something to watch on a nightly basis. Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantenen and Gabe Landeskog are off and running, dominating all of their games so far other than the opener. Cale Makar looks to have taken another step in his development and is easily one of the best puck movers in the NHL. To think they couldn’t get more offensively potent was wrong, as they have recently added former Vancouver Giant Bowen Byram to their already stacked lineup.
4. Washington Capitals
After failing to abide by the strict protocols the pandemic has brought to the teams, the Capitals lost their captain Alex Ovechkin and starting goalie Ilya Samsonov for a delayed stint. Outside of that, Washington has handily gone 3-1-0 against Buffalo to open the year, and split a two game set with the Penguins. When at full strength, the Caps have a very good power play unit and an experienced defensive core that can provide stability during their teammates absence’.
5. Montreal Canadiens
This may be quite the recency bias, but when I watch Montreal play, it reminds me a lot of the old Canadiens teams from the early 2010’s that were fast, big and skilled. Carey Price is back to making acrobatic saves and he isn’t playing on a nightly basis this year. Montreal is loving the development of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, they are a team to watch out for.
— NHL (@NHL) January 21, 2021
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Coming of a thrashing at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Philly should be higher in this list. Goalie Carter Hart showed his frustration by smashing his stick to smithereens after the game, proving that this squad is ready to win now and won’t accept being a mediocre team. A hot start against the Penguins was halted with back to back losses against the B’s, so Philly will be looking to get back on track this week and avoid any further regression.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have looked like the Leafs really. Inconsistent, but when they are on they are a difficult team to beat. They defence looks to be shaping together in the early going, and additions they have made are contributing early. Mitch Marner is being aggressive with the puck and it is allowing Sheldon Keefe to utilize him with or without Auston Matthews. This is crucial for a team that needs scoring up and down their lineup to be successful.
8. Boston Bruins
After starting off very slow on offence, failing to score a goal five on five for the first three games of the campaign, the Bruins lineup woke up in their weekend series with the Flyers. Brad Marchand is a machine when it comes to generating scoring opportunities and the forward depth of this team is shining in the absence of David Pastrnak. Look for the Bruins to begin to look like their normal selves once Pasta returns.
9. Calgary Flames
The Flames have had an extended time off to rest after quite frankly embarrassing the Canucks in a two game home set during the week. Goalie Jakob Markstrom has been his usual solid self, and fellow former Canuck Chris Tanev leads the league in blocked shots through four games. Where Calgary will be challenged is staying out of the penalty box, teams in the North have the power play talent to make them pay.
Oh my Markstrom 😱 pic.twitter.com/febiRtBP77
— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) January 15, 2021
10. Carolina Hurricanes
Another team from the Central to be heavily impacted by COVID protocol, the Canes have looked great in their brief showings early on. Young star Andrei Svechnikov is proving why they were spot on with selecting him second overall a couple years back, and their defence remains once of the most underrated in the NHL.
What a start to the new NHL campaign we have been treated too. I will try to keep up with what is going on around the league and fill in the public on the best of the best in the NHL all season long.
Evan Power, Evolution 107.9