Matt Duchene and the Avalanche are off to the hottest start in the NHL this season. Credit: Getty Images
1) Colorado Avalanche (14-3-0) – It is easy to doubt their staying power at the top of the NHL but for now, we have to give the Avalanche their proper due. They are off to the best start in franchise history with an NHL-best plus-25 goal differential. It is not hyperbole to say that absolutely nobody saw this coming in Patrick Roy’s first season behind the bench.
2) Anaheim Ducks (15-4-1) – The Ducks have three more points than the Avalanche or anyone else in the NHL but they are relegated to second since they have played three more games than Colorado. Anaheim is the only team that is still unbeaten (8-0-0) at home and they have scored an NHL-best 68 goals. An injury to Teemu Selanne didn’t slow them down but Ryan Getzlaf missing an extended amount of time could.
3) Chicago Blackhawks (12-2-4) – For all intents and purposes, the defending champions are still the team to beat in the NHL and they are off to another strong start. They are tied with St. Louis and San Jose for the fewest losses in regulation (2). Chicago has played particularly well lately, going 7-1-2 in its previous 10 games and winning the last three.
4) Phoenix Coyotes (13-4-2) – The NHL’s best kept secret continues to thrive in the desert. The Coyotes are 8-0-1 at home and 8-2-0 in their last 10 games overall. They have thrived behind Mike Smith (11-3-2) with one of the deepest rosters in the league. Nine players have 10 or more points for Phoenix, led by rising star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (4 goals, 11 assists).
5) San Jose Sharks (11-2-5) – Sense a pattern here: the West is already far superior to the East with three more teams over .500 (10-7) even though two less teams located in the West. The Sharks still score plenty of goals (66, tied with Chicago for 2nd most in the NHL) but they have to be careful not to burn out Antti Niemi (9-2-5) who has appeared in all but two games so far this season.
6) St. Louis Blues (11-2-3) – If they were in the Eastern Conference, the Blues would probably be the top team, at least at this juncture. Perhaps no player in the NHL is off to a more unexpectedly good start than St. Louis left wing Alexander Steen who has 14 goals (10 off his career-high), tied with Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin for the most in the NHL. Excellent at home (7-1-2), the Blues also have the fourth best power play (25.7 percent). 7) Boston Bruins (11-5-1) – This is by default since the Lightning have more points but with the loss of superstar Steven Stamkos (broken leg), which ironically occurred in Boston, the B’s are now the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have found their identity in a five-game homestand (3-0-1) which wraps up on Thursday vs. Columbus. Tuukka Rask (10-4-1, .948 save percentage, 1.52 goals against average, 2 shutouts) is playing like the best goaltender in the NHL.
8) Tampa Bay Lightning (13-5-0) – Tampa Bay passed its first test without Stamkos, a 2-1 shootout win in Montreal on Tuesday, but it’s tough to see them playing this well for a prolonged period of time minus him. They are also in a tougher division (Atlantic) than before (Metropolitan) which promises challenges. The timetable for Stamkos’ return is sketchy but it sounds like he’ll at least be out through the Olympics in February.
9) Minnesota Wild (10-4-4) – Another completely unheralded team from the heavyweight conference of the NHL. Backup goaltender Josh Harding (9-2-2, .947 save percentage, 1.22 goals against average, 2 shutouts) has been a revelation. The Wild have taken advantage of many home games (7-1-2) early on in the season.
10) Vancouver Canucks (11-7-2) – Former Rangers head coach John Tortorella wasn’t unemployed for long and he’s off to a decent start in Vancouver. Who knows how long it’ll be before the players tune him out like usual but it has to be a good sign that both Sedins recently signed extensions to stay with the only NHL club they’ve ever played for. The Canucks are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games even though they lost the past two.
11) Pittsburgh Penguins (11-6-0) – It is tough to gauge how good the Penguins are this season since they play in the NHL’s answer to the NFC East. The Capitals are the only other team in the lowly Metropolitan Division that is over .500, the six others have all been terrible at various points already. Pittsburgh will be one of the top teams in the East at the end of the season. That’s basically a foregone conclusion given the lack of true contenders.
12) Los Angeles Kings (11-6-1) – Another team that could take a tumble if irreplaceable goaltender Jonathan Quick’s injury suffered in overtime on Tuesday turns out to be serious. LA has already called up another goaltender (Martin Jones) to be the backup behind Ben Scrivens so they might be expecting the worst. With a healthy Quick, the Kings are another team built for the postseason that is allowed to put it in cruise control during the regular season.
13) Detroit Red Wings (9-5-5) – Odds are that you haven’t heard much about it but Detroit has really struggled at home, they’ve dropped their last six games at Joe Louis Arena following Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Winnipeg. That is almost as tough to explain as the fact that their goal-differential is -4. Four of their next five games are at home so expect the Red Wings to break out of their funk soon. 14) Toronto Maple Leafs (11-6-0) – It feels like Toronto has been better than their record would indicate but they have gone 5-5-0 in their last 10 games. Home-and-home games with Buffalo-the worst team in the NHL-on Friday and Saturday is a favorable time to get back on track. In an Olympic year, Phil Kessel (10 goals, 9 assists, 3 game-winning goals) is making his case for plenty of ice time with Team USA.
15) Washington Capitals (10-8-1) – The Caps got off to their usual slow start but predictably they have started to turn it around in no small part thanks to Ovechkin (14 goals, 7 assists, 7 points on the power play). They have their work cut out for them this weekend though: at Detroit (Friday), vs. St. Louis (Sunday) and vs. Pittsburgh (Wednesday). The Metropolitan Division figures to be only a three-team race at most (Penguins, Capitals and maybe Rangers).
16) Montreal Canadiens (9-8-2) – While they are not playing particularly bad, I’m sure more was expected of the Canadiens than this. Everything about them so far screams average, from their home record (5-4-2) to their road record (4-4-0) and how they’ve fared in their last 10 games (4-4-2). They will probably be battling Toronto and Ottawa for playoff positioning all season long.
17) Winnipeg Jets (9-9-2) – Is this the year the Jets return to the playoffs? They still look middle of the pack but they have won their last three games. They are 4-1 in shootouts this season but playing in the same division as Colorado, Chicago and St. Louis means that they’ll have to earn everything they get.
18) New York Rangers (9-9-0) – The Rangers suffered through a road trip from hell (3-6-0) to start the season but things have looked up since they returned to the newly refurbished Madison Square Garden. Rick Nash has been out since the third game with a concussion but he’s back practicing with his teammates. New York has two marquee home games coming up: Sunday vs. Los Angeles and Tuesday vs. Boston.
19) Dallas Stars (8-7-2) – Tyler Seguin (7 goals, 9 assists) has been fine and the Stars beat their trade partners-the Bruins-3-2 in a shootout in Boston last week. They have a three-game road trip in Canada (Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver) this week that at least, on the surface, doesn’t look too scary. Love their new uniforms!
20) Ottawa Senators (7-7-4) – Given the way they admirably performed while so ravaged by injuries last season and in the playoffs, this has to be a somewhat disappointing start for Ottawa. Goaltender Craig Anderson (neck) being hurt doesn’t help matters but Bobby Ryan (9 goals, 10 assists) and Erik Karlsson (6 goals, 12 assists) will still get their points. The question is if head coach Paul MacLean can get more out of his role players like he did last year.
Follow Metro sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter:@RichSlate