The National Hockey League regular season is almost two weeks old and we’re already seeing some fascinating early-season storylines developing.

With a reasonably slow schedule on deck for Monday, I wanted to use this window to investigate some of the trends we are seeing around the league. Some of these may surprise you, others not so much. But all of them are interesting and will be plot points to follow as the season progresses.

Let’s get started with the topic du jour around the league – the explosion of offence.

All offence, all of the time?

It’s all anyone can talk about. Most everyone around the league seems to love the “new-look” NHL – the one where defence and goaltending are optional.

Through Sunday, teams are averaging 3.15 goals per game against goaltenders stopping 90.7 per cent of shots. It seems like a massive deviation from scoring norms – over the last decade or so, scoring has been stable at around 2.80 goals per game against goaltenders stopping 91.2 per cent of shots.

So yes, the first two weeks of the 2018-19 season vary wildly from other full seasons. But knowing what we know about how the regular season generally unfolds – more offence earlier in the season, more defence and more three-point games later in the season – we need to check the first two weeks of this regular season against the first two weeks of past seasons to determine if something has materially changed.

Let’s focus on just the last five years. Here’s how each season played out by way of league average scoring through the first two weeks versus league average scoring by season end.

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The interesting piece here is that October didn’t always used to look like this. In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, October scoring was virtually indiscernible from the full season. But that has changed over the last three seasons.

These are admittedly small windows and you are going to run into some legitimate sampling issues, but descriptively speaking, this is now year three of October being the wild west of offence. (Side note: If you regressed 2018’s October scoring based on what we know for prior periods, you would expect to see an average of 2.90 goals per game. More than the last decade’s average, but marginally under last year’s big number at 2.97)

The driver behind the rate increase is the more interesting question and one that probably doesn’t have a single, concrete answer. I subscribe to the theory that the drafting and developing of more skilled attackers – and development and enhancement of attacking methodology, like stronger adherence to carrying the puck into the offensive zone versus dumping it in from the neutral zone – is having an impact. Combine that with the league’s general slowness at identifying skill on the blueline and you get a sizable divide between forwards and defencemen. The result is higher scoring.

Another theory: The depth at the forward position is much better than it ever has been. More teams are rolling out third and fourth lines with quality shooters and playmakers. A decade ago, you had an enforcer in almost every lineup. That’s just not the case anymore.

But that’s an article for another day. October scoring is through the roof and I expect we’ll see similar results to the 2017-18 season. That means an inevitable draw-down in scoring as the season progresses, but not enough to dissuade the 2018-19 season from being one of the bigger offensive seasons in recent history.

Anaheim’s bizarre start

The Anaheim Ducks opened up the season 4-1-1 and in a Pacific Division that’s looking stunningly mediocre, that’s a big development.

But these are still Randy Carlyle’s Anaheim Ducks and you know what that means – absolutely ludicrous and unfavourable shot disadvantages that will set this team back considerably in future weeks.

Their loss to the Stars on Saturday night was one for the ages. Anaheim opened up a 3-0 lead in Dallas with goals from Jakob Silfverberg, Kiefer Sherwood and Adam Henrique. Any team carrying a three-goal lead on the road is going to be susceptible to some sizable score effect impacts – most teams with this type of lead tend to play more conservative in all areas of the ice and try to safely ease their way to victory.

But Anaheim took it to another level. The Ducks were outshot 30 to 4 in the second period of that game. Attempts were 46 to 11 in favour of Dallas. And, not surprisingly, the Ducks ended up dusting that three-goal lead and losing the game in regulation.

The only thing more insane than being outshot by that type of margin is the fact that it’s not the first time that it’s happened to the Ducks this year.

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Anaheim has dealt with a swath of injuries (Ryan Getzlaf has a groin injury, Corey Perry is on LTIR and Ryan Kesler just returned from a hip issue) to key players and that’s undoubtedly had an impact on their results. But they also haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of a schedule here. The schedule alone would fail to explain how nearly half of the periods Anaheim has played this season have ended up with them being outshot by double digits.

This is a bad hockey team with a really, really strong goaltender. That matters, but you can’t imagine John Gibson will be able to bail this team out all season long.  Even a goalie of Gibson’s calibre can’t stop 94.4 per cent of shots over a full season, or anything close to it.

Carolina, possession monsters

The biggest surprise of the 2018-19 season has been the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina has been a team on the brink for quite some time and it’s possible we are witnessing their inevitable breakthrough.

I’ve often joked in this space that the Hurricanes would be the league’s best team if you removed the nets from the ice. Since the 2014-15 season (graphed below), the Hurricanes are actually third in the league in Corsi%. They have precisely zero playoff appearances to show for it.

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Why is that the case? Carolina has historically been a team loaded with poor shooting talent and even worse goaltending. So the shot differentials merely kept them out of the cellar in most years. They never had the requisite talent at either end of the ice to really turn that possession time and those shot advantages into goals, which is a huge problem.

The 2018-19 Hurricanes are different, at least so far. Rod Brind’Amour’s team is getting 63 per cent of the shots through the first six games, which leads San Jose by decimal points. But this year it’s translating to both goals and wins. At the skater level, nearly every Hurricane is above 50 per cent in Corsi%, which means the Hurricanes are seeing more shots for than against with that player on the ice. The same is generally true for Goal%, which is a big reason why the Hurricanes are 4-1-1 to start the season:

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Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s the coaching staff. Maybe it’s downright mysticism. Whatever the case is, the Hurricanes look terrifying. We knew this day would come. Now, the Metropolitan Division has to deal with it.

Pacific Division man (dis)advantages

The good news for Vegas and Los Angeles is that no one in the Pacific Division looks particularly strong right now. The bad news is that would include both of these teams.

The Knights started the year on a tough East-Coast road trip and have, like Anaheim, been dealing with key roster losses with Paul Stastny, Alex Tuch, and Nate Schmidt all out of commission. I’m not sure the Kings have any good excuse, though Dustin Brown’s loss clearly has thrown their top six into a bit of a funk.

Either way, we’re talking about two teams that have a combined zero goals on the power play this year. And make no mistake, the results (0-for-16 for Vegas; 0-for-18 for Los Angeles) are a pretty fair end product of what we are seeing. The one commonality is that both teams are struggling mightily to transition the puck through the neutral zone.

Vegas prefer to enter the zone with control, but they don’t appear to have the puck carriers in the right spaces to accomplish it. Opposing blueliners are harassing the Vegas carriers at the line, stripping the puck, and counterattacking the other way. What ends up happening on most of Vegas’ power-play shifts to start the year is an awful lot of time lost just trying to gain back the offensive zone. It’s hard to generate a lot of attack when that happens. (They are averaging 91 total shots and 18 “dangerous shots” per 60 minutes this season. League average last year: 100 total shots and 25 dangerous shots per-60 minutes. It’s bad.)

Where Vegas’ issues appear to be related to structure and style, Los Angeles is a different animal. I think it starts with Ilya Kovalchuk, who is probably one of five best shooters in the history of hockey. In early parts of the season, Kovalchuk was being used as a screener. And then, not at all. (He was temporarily moved off of the first power-play unit at one point, if you can believe it.) That seems counter-intuitive when you remember that Kovalchuk made his career being the one-time shooting option from the circle – this shooting map from years ago kind of emphasizes that point:

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Kovalchuk’s weird usage isn’t the only reason why the L.A. power play is struggling but it’s probably near the top of the list. The Kings were offensively starved last year and adding Kovalchuk was a way to bring some much-needed shooting talent to 5-on-5 and the power play.

Los Angeles needs to find a way to make this work.