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NHL PUCK DROPS: Olofsson, Neal, Mantha among early surprises

- Reuters
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The NHL season is nearly two weeks old but there have already been some early surprises.
Most experts predicted the New Jersey Devils to be a playoff contender. P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev and rookie Jack Hughes were brought in to bolster the roster. Meanwhile, all-star left-winger Taylor Hall was fully recovered from the knee surgery that ended his 2018-19 campaign. Entering this week, however, the Devils were winless in their first four games, in part because of an anemic power play and a league-worst penalty kill.
Hughes and New York Rangers winger Kaapo Kakko are considered this season's rookie-of-the-year favourites but Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson has stolen some of their thunder. With four goals and five points, Olofsson began the week as the NHL rookie scoring leaders.

The Sabres and the Edmonton Oilers are starting strong after missing the playoffs last season. Entering Monday's games against the Dallas Stars, the Sabres sat atop the Atlantic Division with four wins in their first five contests. The Oilers, meanwhile, found themselves first overall in the league standings after setting a league record with five consecutive come-from-behind season-opening victories.

James Neal managed just seven goals in 63 games last season with the Calgary Flames. Considered washed-up when he was shipped this summer to the Edmonton Oilers, the 31-year-old winger needed only four games to reach a league-leading seven goals.

Several of the NHL's top goaltenders are off to less-than-stellar starts. Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick's 6.43 goals-against average is the league's worst. Chicago's Corey Crawford (4.63) and Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk (4.56) are also stumbling, as are former Vezina Trophy winners like Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky (3.87) and Washington's Braden Holtby (3.67).

The San Jose Sharks were expected to remain among the top teams in the Western Conference.  However, they dropped their first four games before downing the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames in their last two contests. Despite a blue-line anchored by all-stars Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, the Sharks have been unusually sloppy in their own zone.

Joe Pavelski and Mats Zuccarello were among this summer's notable unrestricted free agents but both forwards are struggling with their new clubs. Coming off a 38-goal performance with the Sharks, Pavelski had just one assist through six games with the Dallas Stars. A six-time 40-point winger, Zuccarello failed to tally a point in his first four games with the winless Minnesota Wild.

The Arizona Coyotes’ off-season acquisition of Phil Kessel was supposed to provide a much-needed offensive boost. The 32-year-old right-winger has 11 consecutive 20-plus goal seasons on his resumé. So far, however, the results have been underwhelming. Through four games, the Coyotes are the league's lowest-scoring team (seven goals) and Kessel has just one assist.

Detroit Red Wings right-winger Anthony Mantha is off to a red-hot start. With six goals in five games, including a four-goal performance against the Stars, Mantha seems poised for his long-awaited breakout performance.


Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with the Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.

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