NHL: 5 early pleasant surprises in the 2019-20 season

Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images
Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images /

The 2019-20 NHL season has been full of surprises so far. Here are the five biggest.

The anticipation of a new NHL season hits us all like a massive swelling tide.  One that knocks us off our feet once it comes. Once the new season begins, however, many mysteries will unfold and many predictions from experts and fans alike will come to fruition.

But not all things are predictable. Each time October swings around, many pleasant surprises await. With that being said, here are five nice surprises so far in the 2019-20 NHL season.

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1. More league-wide scoring

Now, it may be confusing when I say this, because as of fifteen days into the season, league scoring is down from 2.92 goals per game last season, to 2.38 this season. So, what I am talking about when making such a claim? Although there are fewer goals, the scoring is more evenly distributed.

Last season, there were a total of 153 shut outs recorded. Nothing sucks more than your favorite team absolutely shut out. In fact, I’d rather lose 6-1, than 1-0.

This season, after fifteen days, there have only been seven shut outs. If you do the math, as I have, that total is half the amount of last year, over the course of a full season. I know it’s early, but it’s exciting.

2. Surprising Rookies

Every year the new crop of talent in the NHL is exciting. Draft season brings joy and excitement when thinking of which young studs could take your team to glory. Then, in October it finally happens. Although many high ranking rookies will be heralded, some lesser-known ones will succeed as well. This year is no different, except the number of those doing well that is surprising to many.

It wasn’t long ago that Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby matched a seemingly impossible record of 48 wins in a season. He did it fashionably too, accomplishing the feat in 12 fewer games. Although I disagree, many people think he needs to worry about Ilya Samsonov taking his job. He ranks fifth in save percentage and goals against average among those who have played three games or more.  He’s been simply sensational. There are also more examples among forwards, too.

Seventh-round pick Victor Olofsson from the Buffalo Sabres leads the NHL in goals and has at least twice the number of powerplay goals as anyone except for one player. Undrafted Ilya Mikhayev of the Toronto Maple Leafs ranks 10th among right wings in points and has played the least amount of minutes of anyone with six points or more. And fourth-round pick Sam Lafferty of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a point per game after being called up unexpectedly due to Pittsburgh’s injury woes.

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3. Fantastic Parity

Unless you cheer for the juggernaut team, most people like to see different teams in the mix every year. I suppose there can be an exception for rivalries, but for those suffering in the basement or just below the cusp of the playoffs, you simply need to see success to stop hockey depression.

If the playoffs started after fifteen days, there would be four new teams in the postseason than that of last year. Not only that, but three of the top six teams weren’t there last season. It’s even more impressive to see that Edmonton and Buffalo, who were second and fourth worst in their conferences respectively, are two of those top playoff teams mentioned.

4. New League Leaders

There are those who continue to have success for sure, but there are a number of players either having comeback campaigns or killing it for the first time. Not only that, but there are a few players leading the league in certain areas that usually don’t.

After a miserable campaign last season, James Neal has really turned it on with Edmonton. 15 days in and he’s one goal away from last season’s total while leading the NHL in said category.  There is also a three-way tie for wins among goalies. Two of them are Carter Hutton and Petr Mrazek, with four wins in four games apiece.

And let’s not forget the most surprising of all. Plus/minus is a fickle statistic. It’s one of the only stats that can be rewarded or punished based on what others on your team are doing. That being said, it may be shocking to know that after fifteen days, Zack Kassian leads the league while almost being a point a game player, by the way.

5. Even More Nail Biters

Admittedly, I didn’t go through historical data on this one, but I did run the numbers in the first 15 days of the season, and it was interesting. In the first 15 days, 96 games were played. Of those 96 games, 37 of them were decided by one goal. Even more interestingly, one out of every five games went past regulation.

Now, as I said before, I apologize for not knowing whether that’s actually better than normal, but it sure seems that way. In the end, the NHL seems to have more parity than the other pro leagues and it’s shown by how tight the games are.

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There are empty seats in the last period from blowout wins too often. And, as much as I love seeing my team smack around its opponent, I love it far more when it is a nail-biting, teeth clenching, on the edge of your seat adventure until the very end. All being said, this year is sure to be a good one; still full of surprises waiting to reveal themselves.