Let's start in Boston, where the Colorado Avalanche and netminder J.S. Giguere shutout the Boston Bruins to improve to 4-0-0.
The Avalanche are easily the biggest surprise of the 2013-14 regular season so far, racking up points against pretty good teams (the Ducks, Bruins, Maple Leafs in particular).
Colorado's early season success is probably not sustainable - Giguere and Varlamov have combined to post a Jonathan Bernier-like .984 sv% at even-strength - but the Avalanche have a lot going for them. Varlamov and Giguere should be good enough to post an above average save-percentage, and that top-nine is just nasty.
That blue-line, however...
I used the elipsis because I want to talk about a particular Avalanche defenseman from a fantasy perspective: Andre Benoit.
Benoit is a veteran journeyman, a guy who has toiled at the NHL's fringes for years mostly in the Montreal Canadiens organization. He's logging major minutes for the Avalanche this season, and obviously has Roy's trust (his minutes bumped up significantly in the third period on Thursday).
So far Benoit has been 3rd among Avalanche defenseman in even-strength and short-handed ice-time and is playing almost 4 minutes a game on the power-play. Actually because his teammate Erik Johnson is used as a forward on the Avalanche power-play, one could reasonably say that Benoit is receiving the most PP TOI among all Avs defenseman.He had a power-play assist on Ryan O'Reilly's goal on Thursday, his first point of the season.
Benoit's not a fantasy killer or anything, but if you're in a deep league and need a defenseman, it's possible that Benoit could have some upside if he continues to get this much burn from Roy.
As good as Nathan MacKinnon has been, he's still 18-years-old and Patrick Roy has treated himself as such. On Thursday night in the third period of a one goal game, MacKinnon took only four shifts in the third period and only two (both of which lasted less than 40 seconds) in the final ten minutes.
MacKinnon still registered four shots in the game, so he had an OK outing. But I'd wager that the "MacKinnon's minutes being curtailed substantially late in games when the Avs are narrowly leading" thing will be something of a trend this seaosn. Or, at least for the first half of this season.
Minnesota finally got off the schneid with a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. The results haven't been there (in part because Minnesota is shooting under 3% as a team at even-strength), but I think Minnesota might be the single most improved team in the league this season.
One othe note: Jonas Brodin scored again on Thursday night. I'm really high on Brodin as a player, but I didn't take him in fantasy this year because I was skeptical about his offensive upside. He's looked pretty good in the offensive end to start this season, however.
Jonathan Bernier has a .978 even-strength save-percentage through 4 appearances. That's insane and won't continue (whic his a really bold prediction on my part, I know).
On the other hand the Maple Leafs are 4-1-0 despite a depleted lineup, they're only narrowly below 50% in terms of shot attempts, and their PDO sits at a somewhat sustainable 102. Yeah it's early, but they've exceeded my expectations by the underlying numbers so far and this bit of success doesn't smell completely like a mirage to me (unlike last season). Obviously we'll know more in another 20 games...
James Van Riemsdyk makes the 2014 Sochi Olympic Team for the USA, right?
It was only a matter of time before Steven Stamkos had a breakout game, and what better way to do it than a Mario Lemieux hat-trick? Stamkos had a shorty, a power-play goal and a five-on-five tally against the Panthers on Thursday night, the first three goals of what I'd assume will be another 40+ goal season for the Lightning sniper.
Radko Gudas update: almost 20 minutes of ice-time, +2, 1 shot, and 8 hits. No PIMs for Gudas on Thursday night, however, because I guess he was slacking.
One thing about Gudas' sleeper value that I'd missed until I watched a bit of the second period on Thursday is that he's a right-handed shot. Against the Panthers on Thursday night, Gudas played only nineteen seconds on the power-play.
But when Sami Salo is inevitably injured, I'd suspect Gudas is first in line to take over those minutes. Worth watching for if you're in a league where Gudas is still on the wire...
Anton Khubodin played another stellar game for Carolina against Washington on Thursday night. Indeed, it's beginning to look like he's got a shot at stealing serious minutes from Cam Ward this season.
Khubodin is owned in only 6% of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues, and might be one to look out for if he keeps getting split duty with Ward...
Wouldn't you know it - the Coyotes get Derek Morris, Rostislav Klesla and Oliver Ekman-Larsson back in the lineup, and all of a sudden they can hang with teams like the Red Wings again! Shocker.
Ribiero was bumped to the wing with sneaky good fantasy player Radim Vrbata for Thursday night's game, and that might be a twosome to look out for.
Ribeiro in particular has dealt with a crazy low on-ice shooting% and is getting very favourable deployments from Tippett. Maybe you can sharp him for 50 cents on the dollar from a frustrated patsy in one of your pools. At least it might be worth a shot.
Alex Edler caught Tomas Hertl with a shoulder to the head on Thursday night. Here's a .gif if you want to do the CSI thing and debate whether or not it was suspendable.
The CSN broadcast crew of Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda certainly thought so, but I'm not so sure. You can see in that .gif how low Hertl is to the ground. Edler doesn't appear to play the puck, but his elbow is tucked, and the new "unavoidable" wording in the NHL's headshot targeting language would seem to apply here. Also, Hertl wasn't injured.
Maybe Edler will still get slapped with a ban of some sort, he is a repeat offender and Hertl is the toast of the league at the moment, but I don't think it's open and shut.
The Sharks are crazy good, obviously, but they're going to come back to earth somewhat. Remember how fast they started last season, then ended the year with an unsustainably low shooting percentage (one which disguised just how good they actually were offensively).
The lowest PDO among all Sharks players belongs to Dan Boyle after four games, and he's still at 105.9! Braun, Vlasic, Thornton and Burns are all above 120. What I mean to say is don't go overpaying for Sharks based on their hot start, the good times ain't going to last forever in San Jose.
The sample of games since the Sharks bumped Brent Burns up to wing with Joe Thornton is now approaching 30 games (28 games, to be precise). So it's beginning to get to a point where we can call the underlying numbers those two are putting up "meaningful." Here's what you need to know: together Burns and Thornton are shooting at an elevated clip (~8.5) and controlling about 60% of shot attempts. That's super, duper elite first line territory...
Antii Niemi should probably get more buzz as a potential starter for Finland at Sochi (everyone seems to think its between Rinne and Rask exclusively). Check this out from stats.hockeyanalysis.com, it's the goaltenders who have led the league in even-strength save percentage the past three seasons.
It's time we put Niemi in the category of "an elite" goaltender. It also might be time to question our assumptions about Carey Price and Jonathan Quick...
Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher were dynamic against Edmonton on Thursday, and have continued to produce at an absurd rate.
Watch for that to slow down significantly, however, especially for Galchenyuk. The Habs are shooting almost 20% with him on the ice at evens through five games and his IPP (individual point percentage) rate just won't continue. I still like both forwards to provide you with top-line point production this season, but consider moving either player for value if you can net a more proven multi-cat piece in a trade.
The question has to be asked: to what extent does P.K. Subban's individual dominance paper over some of the flaws on an otherwise pretty average Canadiens roster? If you watch Wednesday's game against Calgary in particular, the answer seems to be: significantly.
Maybe the Habs just miss the under-rated Alexei Emelin a lot, but seriously, when PK's not on the ice they look a bit lost in all three zones to me.
Speaking of lost in all three zones: what is going on with the New York Rangers? They have been just horrendous defensively this season, allowing 74.8 shot attempts against (pro-rated per sixty minutes). They're controlling games worse than the Buffalo Sabres and haven't been quite as unlucky!
It's crazy to see such a stingy team forget how to play defense this early in the season. There's some reasons for them to struggle: new systems, Rick Nash will be out for the weekend, they have some key out of shape pieces etc., but to be outscored 15-2 in consecutive games? Man...
Thomas Drance is a news editor at theScore.