Islanders’ Rise Among Five Takeaways From First Week Of NHL Season

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IslandersThe first week of the 2014-15 NHL season is in the books.

While some teams such as the New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks and New Jersey Devils are making early statements with impressive performances, other clubs, including the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, are putting themselves in an early hole with three losses already.

Let’s look at five takeaways from the first seven days of the new season.

1. “That 70’s Line” Is The Best Trio In Hockey
Tyler Toffoli (two goals, three assists), Jeff Carter (three goals, two assists) and Tanner Pearson (four goals, two assists) have been nearly unstoppable in the early part of the the campaign. This trio combined for four goals and three assists in the Los Angeles Kings’ 6-1 rout of the winless Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, including a spectacular short-handed tally by Toffoli.

The Kings pride themselves on being a team of great depth, with four lines capable of creating offense, but it’s helpful to have one dominant line to pull the team through slumps when the other forwards are struggling.

2. Edmonton Is In The Connor McDavid Sweepstakes
The Oilers have been absolutely awful to start the season. Not only has their talented offense failed to score enough goals, their defense has been even worse than expected.

Edmonton has a league-worst minus-9 goal differential, while also ranking 30th in goals against (5.00/game), 22nd in shots allowed (31.7/game) and 26th in penalty killing (66.7 percent).

The Oilers currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with a single point, and don’t be surprised if they stay in that spot for the remainder of the season. It doesn’t help that Edmonton plays in a division with the three California teams, all of which are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Luckily for the Oilers, if there’s a year to lose lots of games and win the draft lottery, it’s this one. Connor McDavid — the likely top pick in the 2015 NHL draft — projects to be a generational talent.

3. Victor Hedman Is On His Way To Being A Norris Trophy Finalist
Hedman enjoyed a breakout 2013-14 campaign and will become a legitimate superstar by the time the 2014-15 season concludes. He leads all defensemen with three goals and seven points, and his five power-play points tie Johnny Boychuk for the league lead.

The Swedish defenseman has tallied a point in each of Tampa Bay’s first three games, including a four-point effort in the team’s 7-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night. He also helped Steven Stamkos earn a hat trick with an unbelievable pass out of his own zone.

GIF via Twitter/@PeteBlackburn

GIF via Twitter/@PeteBlackburn

Hedman’s biggest improvement since he came into the league has been defensively, and the 23-year-old will be one of the top Norris Trophy candidates if he continues to excel in is own end.

4. Same Old Sharks After Embarrassing 2014 Playoff Exit
The Sharks were expected to make major roster changes after blowing a 3-0 first-round series lead to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings in last season’s playoffs. Instead, San Jose stripped the captaincy from Joe Thornton, made him, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Marc Edouard Vlasic alternate captains, and let top-four defenseman Dan Boyle leave in free agency.

Despite the lack of substantial changes, the Sharks appear to be the same great team that dominates the regular season. They are 3-0-0 with two shutouts, including an opening night 4-0 win over the Kings at Staples Center. San Jose’s 13 goals are the second-highest total for any team that has played three or fewer games.

But the most impressive aspect of the Sharks’ hot start has been their goaltending. Starter Antti Niemi and backup Alex Stalock have stopped 93 of the 98 shots with a 1.20 GAA.

5. The New York Islanders Are For Real
The Islanders were a playoff bubble team entering the season, but after an impressive 3-0-0 start (including a plus-6 goal differential and four-plus goals scored in each game), it would be surprising if New York failed to at least secure a wild-card berth.

The Isles’ most glaring weakness last season was goaltending (ranked 28th with a 3.18 GAA), and newly signed netminder Jaroslav Halak has addressed this issue with two solid performances, highlighted by a 6-3 win over the rival New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The blue line in front of Halak was bolstered by two trades that added Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy to the mix, which has eased the burden on Travis Hamonic. Boychuk’s six points rank second among all D-men.

Superstar center and captain John Tavares, who returned to the lineup after suffering a season-ending injury at the 2014 Winter Olympics, has dominated offensively, with at least two points in each of the first three games. Tavares’ excellence, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson’s emergence, and the offseason additions of Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski have given New York real impressive forward depth.

It’s still early, but this Islanders team is well-equipped to make a playoff run, largely because of the veteran experience that was absent from the roster in recent seasons.

Photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images

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