Colorado Avalanche the NHL’s team to beat after three weeks

We are only about three weeks into the NHL season and already it’s not going the way forecasters thought it would. Strong starts by the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers, plus poor starts by the Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks have us scratching our heads. What’s up with the Tampa Bay Lightning? Is John Carlson’s scoring for real? Let us help you sort out the fact and fiction:

Based on their start, the Colorado Avalanche are the NHL’s team to beat

Fact: The Avalanche are a quality team. They entered Tuesday tied for the NHL lead in scoring (four goals per game) and rank in the top 10 defensively (2.67 goals per game). Phillip Grubauer is getting the job done in net, and with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who left Monday’s game with an injury, this is a very dangerous offensive team. Rookie defenceman Cale Makar also has been an impact player with eight assists. The Avalanche have cap space to add a player or two.

The Lightning aren’t the team we thought they were

Fiction: Don’t be fooled by the 4-3-1 start. They were never going to duplicate last season’s 62-win regular season. But this is still a formidable group and Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Eastern Conference’s most talented goalie. It may be better for this group to finish behind Boston in the Atlantic.

The Oilers will win the Pacific Division

Fact: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two of the top four players in the game, and the arrival of GM Ken Holland has given this team the most positive culture it has known in years. Holland’s trade for James Neal has improved the team’s scoring depth. Edmonton’s defensive group is effective.

The Devils’ early struggles aren’t the end of the world

Fiction: It could mean the end of Taylor Hall in New Jersey, not to mention coach John Hynes. The Devils are trying to persuade Hall, a pending free agent this summer, to stay in New Jersey. The team’s poor start doesn’t help. Hynes is the same quality coach he was last season and Ray Shero has always been a loyal general manager. But he has to answer to ownership and the Devils are trying to compete now. The acquisition of P.K Subban told us that.

Hall could be a key factor in deciding who win the Stanley Cup

Fact: If the Devils know they can’t re-sign Hall, they have to trade him. Imagine if Hall ended up in Colorado. Could Shero work another deal with his mentor David Poile in Nashville? Hall, if traded, will be a big help for a contender.

Without Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, the Columbus Blue Jackets are dead to us

Fiction: The Blue Jackets are younger, but enough talent remains to qualify for the playoffs in this division. Joonas Korpisalo looks like he will able to shoulder the load in net. Coach John Tortorella gets a lot out of this team.

The Washington Capitals are the best team no one is talking about

Fact: So much attention is being paid to the early surprises, the Avalanche and the 5-1-2 Bruins, that we are forgetting about the 6-2-2 Capitals. If they get tighter defensive play out of Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen, they are as good as any team in the Eastern Conference.

With 18 points in 10 games, John Carlson has a shot at being a 100-point defenceman

Fiction: Carlson, 29, is playing his way into Norris contention, but it is highly unlikely he flirts with a 100-point season. No defenceman has registered 100 points since the New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch posted 102 in 1991-92. When Leetch did that, NHL games were averaging about seven goals per game. Today, the NHL averages about six goals per game. Carlson had a career-best 70 points last season.

We should believe the Arizona Coyotes have turned the corner

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Fact: You won’t be disappointed this time. The Coyotes have given up only 13 goals in their first seven games and younger players such as Nick Schmaltz, Conor Garland and Clayton Keller are producing. The goaltending is solid. This looks like a playoff team.

The St. Louis Blues have a Stanley Cup hangover

Fiction: They have points in seven out of nine games and beat the Avalanche on Monday night. But they are another team that needs to tighten up defensively as it has given up 30 goals in nine games.

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