NHL: The Good & The Bad So Far For The Canadian Teams

BLASTING OFF: Riding the rocket shot of Dustin Byfuglien the Jets find themselves at 3-1-1 to start the season.

BY JEFF ANGUS

Although the 2013 NHL season is still in its infancy stage, we are starting to get a better read on players and teams. The Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks have been dominant in the West, while the Eastern Conference juggernauts from New York, Pittsburgh, and Boston are still finding their legs and shaking off some of the lockout rust.

Among the seven Canadian NHL teams, none have really stood out in the early going. Let’s see what the short term future holds for Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (2-2-1)
Vancouver Caucks at LA Kings (-150, 5)
THE GOOD
The Canucks are currently without two of their top six forwards (Ryan Kesler and David Booth), and they have performed pretty well in spite of that. Zack Kassian looks very solid to start the season – the hard work he put in last summer is already paying off. He has been seeing a regular shift with the Sedin twins at both even strength and on the power play.

THE BAD
The Canucks were blown out on opening night, and their defensive play is still showing some cracks at times. Alex Edler has had a bit of a rough adjustment to the right side (most notably a brutal turnover against the San Jose Sharks last night). Kesler and Booth aren’t going to be back for at least a few more weeks, which means the depth forwards need to find a way to start contributing offensively.

CALGARY FLAMES (1-2-1)
THE GOOD
Calgary has had solid goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff, just as they have for almost a decade now. They are still trying to find chemistry on their forward lines, but young Swede Mikael Backlund has been very impressive. He looks much bigger, stronger, and more confident than at any point previously in his NHL career.

THE BAD
Calgary doesn’t boast a lot of defensive depth, and Kiprusoff’s endurance and stamina are both going to be tested during this shortened season. Calgary isn’t very deep up the middle either, and that is going to be a problem against teams with better centers (which is almost the entire Western Conference).

EDMONTON OILERS (2-2-0)
Colorado Avalanche at Edmonton Oilers (-150, 5.5)
THE GOOD
The Oilers are getting offensive contributions from rookies Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov, and they have full confidence in Devan Dubnyk as their starting goaltender. Jordan Eberle also looks really strong this season, as he is carrying over his elite play from the AHL (when the lockout ended, Eberle was leading the AHL in scoring).

THE BAD
The defensive play continues to be a problem. Schultz adds a lot offensively, but he is still a work-in-progress in his own zone. Edmonton’s depth up front isn’t great either, and the young Oiler forwards are often overmatched when they don’t have the puck. Dubnyk has had a few poor outings, although he hasn’t been the main culprit to blame in those starts.

WINNIPEG JETS (3-1-1)
Winnipeg Jets at Montreal Canadiens (-175, 5.5) 
THE GOOD
Winnipeg boasts a lot of depth and versatility up front, and that has been a significant reason for their strong start. Ondrej Pavelec has been good in goal, and the defense has once again been led by the solid duo of Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien. Olli Jokinen is a huge upgrade at center compared to what the Jets had last year, and Evander Kane looks poised to take another step forward offensively.

THE BAD
The season has been too short to get a true read on Pavelec – he had great stretches of play last season mixed in with a few stinkers. Consistsency is going to be the key for him (and the Jets) in 2013. Blake Wheeler got off to a slow start, and as the main offensive catalyst on the team, he will need to turn things around in short order.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (2-3-0)
THE GOOD
Newcomer James van Riemsdyk has provided instant offense on the wing, and that will be especially useful with Joffrey Lupul on the IR (broken arm) for a month or two. The Leafs have had adequate goaltending from the duo of Ben Scrivens and James Reimer, and that has quieted the Roberto Luongo trade rumours (for now). Nazem Kadri has been playing the best hockey of his young NHL career as well.

THE BAD
Lupul’s injury is a significant blow to the team, and the team needs to bolster it’s defensive group a bit. Career AHLer Mike Kostka has been skating on the top pairing with Dion Phaneuf, but Kostka has been in over his head at times, and he definitely isn’t a 25-minute-a-night defenseman in this league. Scrivens laid an egg in a recent game against Long Island, and the two goaltenders are under a lot of pressure to get the Leafs into the playoffs this yaer.

OTTAWA SENATORS (3-1-1)
Washington Capitals at Ottawa Senators (-175, 5.5)
THE GOOD
The surprising Senators are picking up where they left off last season. Craig Anderson has been providing stellar goaltending, the defensive play has been pretty solid, and Jason Spezza is leading the charge up front. Ottawa is also getting contributions from an impressive collection of largely-unknown forwards like Colin Greening and Erik Condra. Kyle Turris is also off to a great start – he looks very comfortable now that the second line center spot is all his.

THE BAD
There isn’t really much not to like about Ottawa’s strong start. Anderson’s play isn’t sustainable (0.74 goals against average and a ridiculous .975 save percentage), and the team obviously knows that. They will have to continue to find ways to get contributions from the star players and the depth players in order to keep winning.

MONTREAL CANADIENS (3-1-0)
Winnipeg Jets at Montreal Canadiens (-175, 5.5) 
THE GOOD
Rookie forwards Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have both been productive for the Habs. Andrei Markov (and his bionic knee) has been a major weapon on the power play – Montreal has really missed Markov’s ability to shoot the puck over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, Carey Price has been rock solid in goal.

THE BAD
Still no PK Subban for Montreal, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie speculated last week that the standstill between Subban and the Habs is likely to end in a trade. That would be unfortunate for Montreal, as they would be unlikely to get full value back for Subban (in most cases the team trading away the best player in a deal ends up losing it), and PK is much better defensively than given credit for. In 2011-12, he saw the second toughest minutes among Montreal defensemen, after Josh Gorges.