The 2018-19 NHL season just turned two weeks old. At this point in the year, the early season surprise teams are starting to emerge. Some will have staying power, others will drift back to what they really are. This seemed like as good a time as any to ask the writers of Full Press Coverage NHL to weigh in on the matter.

So, who has been the biggest surprise during the first two weeks of the NHL season?

Ian Glendon: When it comes to this question, there are plenty of answers. The Senators are a good choice given their preseason outlook. Carolina has had a strong start to the year as well. However, the biggest surprise has to be the New Jersey Devils. The Devils, after barely making the playoffs a year ago, are the only team remaining who has yet to drop a game in regulation. In addition, they have picked up big wins over teams like the Capitals and Sharks.

That’s not all. As a team, they own a league-best plus/minus of +13. They have allowed just four goals in four games. Keith Kincaid has been stellar between the pipes for the Devils. He has turned away 99-of-103 shots through the first four games, including two shutouts in the process. One of which was against the Capitals. The Devils are middle of the pack offensively with 17 goals. However, Kyle Palmieri is off to a stellar star with seven of the team’s 17 goals. What is even more impressive is that reigning Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall, has yet to score his first goal of the season.

Roger Dier: The most surprising team Is the Ottawa Senators. During pre-season, management traded away their expensive talent and gave ice time to players who can’t yet grow beards.

Additionally, the message sent to high-priced, underachieving Zack Smith (waiving him the week before the opener) stunned the players and the fan base. No team claimed Smith (expensive contract), but the veteran Smith has new legs to go with his new attitude.

We’re only six games in, but Ottawa sits at 3-2-1 and positioned in the middle of the Atlantic Division.

Billy Morrison: Three weeks ago, few would have predicted the Ottawa Senators would have defeated the powerhouse Toronto Maple Leafs, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Dallas Stars in regulation victories on route to opening the season with a 3-2-1 record.

After trading Erik Karlsson and entering a full rebuild, Ottawa’s youth and inexperience were identified as major weaknesses. To the contrary, they have been Ottawa’s greatest strengths. Team chemistry is flourishing, and the young hockey club is playing with confidence. The Senators are motivated to prove the naysayers wrong. So far, they have defied expectations.


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Jack Woods: 
The biggest surprise for me has been the Blackhawks. Five games in, and they have 8 points and are tied for second in the Central Division. All five games have gone to overtime, and the losses are to the Wild and the Maple Leafs. But that’s obvious- why are the Blackhawks winning again?

Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews have been the difference makers. DeBrincat has 6 goals, while Toews and Kane have 5. They have to score- Cam Ward has allowed at least three goals per game.

In total, the Hawks have scored 9 goals in the first period while allowing 7. A fast start with lots of scoring gives Ward some room for error.

Overall, Toews is back, DeBrincat has been fantastic, and Kane is doing what Kane does. If they can keep up the relentless scoring, they might be a force later on this year.

Andrew Walsh: Brady Tkachuk has led the Ottawa Senators to a surprising start to the NHL season.  They were expected to struggle given that Erik Karlsson was traded to the San Jose Sharks in September.  Karlsson was not only a fan favorite but also the best player on a team that is in the midst of a rebuild.  The trade will help the rebuild but not necessarily the Senators in the short-term.

This is why the start of the 2018-19 season has been so surprising.  The Senators have been bolstered by their goaltender Craig Anderson, who has let in a total of only four goals in their past two games against both the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars.  Time will tell if the Senators can keep pace with the other teams in their division, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, two teams that are expected to finish towards the top of the league at the end of the season.

Paul Dier: After winning three Stanley Cups in five years from 2010-2015, the window on the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty appeared to be closing. They missed the playoffs last season for first time since 2007-2008 with a measly 76 points.

Not so fast. The Hawks have come out of the gate undefeated in their first five games, going 3-0-2. They have been competitive in all of their contests, each going into overtime.

Captain Jonathan Toews appears to be reinvigorated after an off year last year. Patrick Kane is off to a great start as well. The Blackhawks have an emerging star in Alex DeBrincat, who has netted six goals in five games so far.
The back end still appears to be an issue. Goalie Cam Ward has not been stellar, posting a sub-par ..879 save percentage so far. Starting goalie Corey Crawford is still on the shelf with lingering concussion issues. If Crawford is cleared to return, it will bode well for the remainder of the season.
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Kevin Gesterling: For me, it is the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens are off to a 3-1-1 record with two of those wins coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their only regulation loss came against the Los Angeles Kings in a 3-0 whitewash.

The thing that impresses me the most about Montreal is that they are doing this under Claude Julien who is not the best coach for a young team and yet he has this team clicking so far. I was expecting a bottom-five or bottom-ten finish for Montreal but that may have been short-sighted on my end.

 

Chris Bugajsky: The team I have found most surprising so far this season is the Chicago Blackhawks. They finished last season with the 3rd worst record in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and not too look forward to this season.

Last year the Hawks were bitten by the injury bug, especially in between the pipes with Corey Crawford who only played in 28 games. There was also a lack of scoring from everyone not named Patrick Kane.

The Hawks came into this season still with questions on Crawford’s health. Cam Ward was signed in free agency to help hold down the fort until Crawford can return. What’s is exciting to watch about this team is the new jolt of offense. Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews lead the Hawks so far with nine points apiece with Kane sitting behind them with eight. They have also gotten production from rookies Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju.

They sit at 3-0-2 through 5 games and all five games have gone into overtime. The Hawks are tied for second in goals per game with Boston at 4.40 GPG. This team could easily be 5-0-0 at this point in the season if it were for a healthy Crawford. If the team continues to play how they are and the scoring continues the Chicago Blackhawks playoff drought won’t last for long.

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