Just as everyone suspected, as we near the 10-percent pole for the NHL season, the New Jersey Devils are at the top of hockey's toughest division.
Of course, no one suspected that, but that's the reality in which we live after another strong week from the Devils, who as you might remember picked No. 1 overall in the draft this past summer.
But while David Puddy's favorite team sits atop the Metropolitan after eight games, is it enough for the team to jump to the top of 1st Ohio Battery's rankings?
1. Pittsburgh (5-3-1, 11 points, LW: 1): Am I being stubborn here, considering the Pens boast a minus-9 goal differential? Kind of, but let's be honest – if you saw the Penguins or Devils on the schedule, which one would you get more amped for? Also, that entire negative goal differential can be explained away by Pittsburgh's blowout losses vs. Chicago and Tampa (combined scores: 17-2), and again, I'm still grading on potential as much as results this early in the season. Two consecutive Cups earn you some cred, too. The blowouts have to be concerning – especially as Pittsburgh continues to hemorrhage goals (4.33 per game, most in the NHL) – but the Pens are still among the most dangerous teams in the NHL with four players in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust averaging at least a point per game.
2. New Jersey (6-2-0, 12 points, LW: 3): With a game in hand on the Penguins and a one-point lead, I think we have to put the Devils here in recognition of the hot start that included extra time wins vs. Tampa and Ottawa last week. With nine points in eight games, Taylor Hall is off to a good start, while No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier is coming off a strong week that included two goals and an assist in the win vs. Tampa and a pair of helpers vs. the Sens. Two former Jackets, Brian Gibbons and John Moore, have five points in eight games as well.
3. Columbus (5-3-0, 10 points, LW: 2): After a win vs. Winnipeg pushed Columbus to the best start in franchise history, the team took a step back with home losses vs. Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. The two were very different, as the team couldn't solve Tampa's Andrei Vasilevskiy on Thursday and then lost a shootout (figurative, not literal) vs. the Kings thanks to a late goal Saturday. The Jackets weren't necessarily bad in either, though, so I'm not ready to hit the panic button. It might be worth wondering about the team on Saturday nights; in three such games this year, the Jackets have ceded 15 goals. That night might not be all right for fighting.
4. Philadelphia (5-3-0, 10 points, LW: 6): The team who drafted second last year, much like the team that picked first, is off to a strong start. The Flyers actually boast the Metro's best goal differential at plus-10 – amazing what happens when you no longer employ Steve Mason – thanks in part to the a goaltending duo of Brian Elliott (2.80 GAA) and Michal Neuvirth (1.36) that has the team second-best in goals allowed. Scoring hasn't been a huge problem, either, with Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek each with 10 assists and Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds joining them with more than a point per game.
5. Washington Capitals (4-4-1, 9 points, LW: 4): I have a sneaking suspicion figuring out the Caps this year is going to be an interesting proposition. Having to say goodbye to such players as Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Williams has left the team short of the depth that made last year's squad so strong. The defense seems to have taken a particular hit, with Washington allowing 3.44 goals per game, though it is fair to point out the difference in stats between starting goalie Braden Holtby (2.32 GAA, .928 SV% in six starts) and backup Philipp Grubauer (4.99, .848 in three). Here's some fun with stats: Evgeny Kuznetsov has zero goals and 12 assists, while Alex Ovechkin has 10 tallies and just one helper.
6. Carolina Hurricanes (3-2-1, 7 points, LW: 5): It's still hard to know what to make of the Canes since they've played at least two fewer games than anyone else in the division. Despite hitting the road this week, Carolina was solid, sweeping the points in Alberta before a 4-3 loss at Dallas to cap a four-game road jaunt. The Hurricanes' goal differential sits at zero, with the team scoring and allowing 2.67 goals per game, a stat that flatters the defense more than the offense. Scott Darling has been a solid acquisition so far while Jeff Skinner has five goals in six games.
7. New York Islanders (4-3-1, 9 points, LW: 8): A shootout win vs. the Rangers, not to mention a win vs. San Jose on Saturday night, boosts the Isles out of last place in my rankings. Another team that's even in goal differential (it's 2.88 goals per game each way) still makes me wonder as far as where the goals will continue to come from. Anders Lee (5-1-6) and Josh Bailey (3-3-6, plus-5) are off to solid starts, but it still looks like the roster is short of difference makes when it comes to putting the puck in the net consistently during the year.
8. New York Rangers (2-5-2, 6 points, LW: 7): With just two wins in nine games and a minus-8 goal differential, it's fair to start wondering if this is the end of the road for this Rangers squad. Yes, it's early, but the squad is in the bottom half of the league in both scoring and defense. Jimmy Vesey (1-1-2), Michael Grabner (1-1-2) and Rick Nash (1-0-1) just aren't scoring, while Mats Zucarello has seven points and is minus-10 so you can do the math on how it's going defensively for him thus far. In net, Henrik Lundqvist (3.00, .907) hasn't been great and Ondrej Pavalec (3.76, .860) has been even worse.