1. San Jose Sharks (4-0-1) – We're basing these rankings solely on the few games that have already happened this season and not the past. Therefore, San Jose has been the top team since they have nine points (unbeaten in regulation) and an NHL-best plus-9 goal differential. Even more impressive, they’ve only played one game at home thus far.
2. Montreal Canadiens (5-0-1) – The Canadiens have an NHL-best 10 points. Their goal-differential is zero which is misleading because of one terrible night: a 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay last Monday. By beating the Bruins 6-4 at the Bell Centre on Thursday, the Habs proved to still be in the Bruins’ heads like no other.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (3-0-1) – The Blackhawks have to be the most talented team in the NHL. They’ve only allowed seven goals in their first four contests. Captain Jonathan Toews’ shorthanded goal on Saturday helped them beat Nashville, 2-1, in overtime.
4. Los Angeles Kings (3-1-1) – The defending champs are on a roll, having won their last three games. Their defense and goaltender Jonathan Quick are still air tight, having allowed only nine goals. The race in the Pacific Division between them and their neighbors San Jose and Anaheim should be great.
5. Anaheim Ducks (4-1-0) – Speaking of the Ducks, they are tied with the Senators for the best current win streak (four games). Anaheim’s goal-differential is plus-5. Like the Sharks, they have played well on the road, going 3-1-0 away from the Honda Center to start the season.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (3-1-1) – With a healthy Ben Bishop (3-0-1, 1.71 goals against average, .933 save percentage) and Steven Stamkos (five goals, two assists including a hat trick), Tampa Bay looks like a contender in the Eastern Conference. They are tied with the Capitals and Wild for the second-best goal-differential in the league (plus-7). They just began a five-game road trip where they play three of the bad Canadian teams (Oilers, Flames and Jets).
7. New York Islanders (4-1-0) – The most pleasant surprise in the early going has undoubtedly been the Islanders. Their 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Saturday was their first of the season. They are tied with the Canadiens and Kings for the most goals scored (20).
8. Washington Capitals (3-0-2) – The Capitals appear to be a different team under head coach Barry Trotz. Alex Ovechkin (5 goals, 1 assist) is even getting back and playing defense! Goaltender Braden Holtby (2-0-1, 1 shutout, 1.85 goals against average, .932 save percentage) is the key to Washington getting back to the playoffs. The Metropolitan division should be wide open for them.
9. Nashville Predators (3-0-2) – Goaltender Pekka Rinne (3-0-1, 1 shutout, 1.22 goals against average, .948 save percentage) has long been Nashville’s most important player and we’ve seen that play out this season with him back healthy. Unfortunately for Nashville, it is in the toughest division in the NHL. That’s why its stay at the top should be brief with Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas all chasing.
10. Ottawa Senators (4-1-0) – Since losing its opener, Ottawa has rattled off four straight wins. The Atlantic division is top-heavy meaning that the good teams like the Senators will be competitive while also beating up on Florida and Buffalo - two of the worst clubs in the NHL. The Senators have a relatively easy week with home games against Toronto and New Jersey before things ramp up with a trip to Chicago and Columbus.
11. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1-0) – It’d be surprising if the Islanders and Capitals both finish ahead of the Penguins, but it’s only October so we can all relax. Sidney Crosby (four goals, five assists) is still the best player in the league and Evgeni Malkin (two goals, five assists) is also in the discussion for that honor. Newcomer Patric Hornqvist (four goals, four assists) hit the lottery for a forward: going from Nashville to Pittsburgh.
12. Minnesota Wild (2-1-0) – It’s easy to forget about the Wild since they’ve only played three games (fewest in the NHL). In that very limited sample size, they’ve looked solid with a goal-differential of plus-7. Zach Parise (two goals, two assists, plus-5, 21 shots) is off to a very fast start.
13. Detroit Red Wings (3-1-1) – The Red Wings are off to a fine start, but Jimmy Howard’s uncertain status with a groin injury leaves some worry. Backup Jonas Gustavsson earned a shutout against Toronto on Saturday, but the Maple Leafs are really struggling. Henrik Zetterberg had four assists in Detroit’s win over Toronto on Friday (the first game of a home-and-home).
14. Vancouver Canucks (3-1-0) – It’s hard to buy the Canucks as legit just yet, but they are playing well - Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay notwithstanding. We’ll start to learn more about Vancouver soon as it has a tough three-game road trip this week at Dallas, St. Louis and Colorado. Radim Vrbata (three goals, two assists, one power-play goal, two game-winners) looks like a great fit with the Sedin twins.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets (3-2-0) – With all their injuries and Ryan Johansen’s (three goals, four assists) return right before the season started, you have to say that the Blue Jackets are more stable than we could have imagined. They are off until Thursday but that comes with a catch: they go to California for a nightmare three games in four nights (San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles). With Curtis McElhinney hurt, Sergei Bobrovsky won’t get much rest in net.
16. Boston Bruins (3-4-0) – None of the top teams in the league (aside from the Rangers) had a bumpier first 10 days than the Bruins. They never adequately replaced Jarome Iginla on the top line, the trade of Johnny Boychuk was questionable at best and their offense has really stumbled out of the gate. Still, it’s hard to see the B’s being this mediocre for very long. They’re too deep and experienced.
17. Dallas Stars (2-1-2) – Nothing has changed in regards to Dallas being the most exciting team in the league. Witness their old-school, 6-5 overtime loss to the Flyers on Saturday. Tyler Seguin (4 goals, 4 assists) is making Boston look like it gave up on his mercurial talent way too soon.
18. St. Louis Blues (2-1-1) – Another good team that is off to a misleading start. The Blues have a goal differential of plus-6 which was helped with their 6-1 blowout victory over Phoenix at Saturday. Four of their next five games are against Anaheim (twice), Vancouver and Dallas, so we’ll find out more about them soon enough.
19. New Jersey Devils (3-2-0) – Would you believe that the Rangers in the very early going have been the worst team in the New York area? New Jersey won its first three games but it has quickly returned to Earth with two straight losses. The first installment of Devils-Rangers is on Tuesday in Newark, New Jersey - always a competitive showdown.
20. New York Rangers – Can you say Stanley Cup hangover? Theoretically, that shouldn’t be as much of a factor for the team that loses, but how else can you explain New York’s terrible start? The Rangers have allowed 20 goals and their goal-differential is minus-7. Ugly stuff.
Follow Metro sports writer Rich Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate