Panthers, Sabres, Wild, Oilers off to 3-0 starts: Who is for real?

We are now one week into the 2021-22 NHL season and a number of groups are currently off to excellent 3-0 starts, consisting of the Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, and, rather shockingly, the Buffalo Sabres.

Let’s take a glance at each start and see which one signifies things to come (Florida) and which one may be a mirage (sorry Buffalo).

The Panthers are legitimate competitors

This is most likely the very first time the Panthers have actually ever gotten in a season with the practical objective of a Stanley Cup. They was among the very best groups in the league a year back and included Sam Reinhart and Joe Thornton to that lineup in the offseason. They are not just 3-0 to open the season thanks to Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, they have actually been primarily dominant and regulated play versus 3 exceptional groups.

They opened their season with a remarkable come-from-behind win versus Pittsburgh.

Controlled the New York City Islanders.

Then closed down the back-to-back champ Lightning.

They have actually managed play at 5-on-5, have an extremely aggressive forecheck, are quickly, have a number of stars at the top of the lineup consisting of a bonafide MVP prospect in Aleksander Barkov, and they likewise have a young star goalie waiting in the wings. They ought to be here to remain.

Are they genuine: Quite so. They have the skill, the best playing design, and a great deal of gamers in their prime years.

The Wild are residing on the edge

The Wild was among the the most amazing — and unexpected — groups in the league a year back and set a quite high bar on their own this season.

While their long-term outlook is made complex offered the income cap scenario, this is still a respectable hockey group. They have actually resided on the edge a bit up until now this season, winning 3 one-goal video games versus Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Winnipeg.

They beat the Ducks in the season opener when Marcus Foligno scored the game-winning objective with 8 seconds to play, held back the Kings in video game 2, and after that finished a, *ahem*, wild 3rd duration return on Tuesday night versus Winnipeg that saw them score 2 objectives in the last 5 minutes of policy.

Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello have actually both been terrific, the goaltending has actually been strong, Joel Eriksson Ek began the very first season of his brand-new long-term agreement with a hat technique on Tuesday night.

Are they genuine: Are they a competitor on the very same level as a Colorado, Vegas, or Tampa Bay? Perhaps not. However they ought to be a playoff group.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Early season reactions (and overreactions)]

The Connor McDavid–Leon Draisaitl Death Star is heating up

There were a lot of reasons to doubt the Oilers entering this season. The defense is not great on paper. The goaltending is a huge question mark. We are still not sure what their forward depth is going to look like and if it is good enough.

But they also play in a lousy division and have two of the four best offensive players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. And wow are they dominating so far.

They each have eight points through the first three games of the season, while they have been on the ice together 10 of the Oilers’ 15 goals as of Wednesday.

In other words: It is the same story as it has always been.

[Related: Puljujärvi showing he belongs after rocky start to NHL career]

Just to get a sense of how dependent the Oilers have been on McDavid and Draisaitl the past five years, here is a quick look at their goals for percentage and shot attempt differential when neither player is on the ice during 5-on-5 play.

2015-16: GF%: 42.5 percent; CF%: 48.0 percent
2016-17: GF%: 50.3 percent; CF%: 48.5 percent
2017-18: GF%: 41.2 percent: CF%: 49.3 percent
2018-19: GF%: 41.2 percent: CF%: 47.5 percent
2019-20: GF%: 37.6 percent: CF%: 47.2 percent
2020-21: GF%: 35.8 percent: CF%: 44.1 percent
2021-22: GF%: 40.0 percent: CF%: 46.6 percent (only three games)

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

If you look at the percentages from 2016-17 onward, the supporting cast has progressively gotten worse across the board. That can not continue, and that will ultimately determine whether or not this group is for real.

Are they for real: Given the overall state of the roster they will go as far as McDavid and Draisaitl can drag them. They might be able to drag them pretty far because they are that good. However it takes more than two megastars to win a championship. They are a playoff team in this division, but probably not a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Not again Buffalo!

The Buffalo Sabres have missed the playoffs 10 years in a row and are almost certainly staring at an 11th consecutive season outside of the playoffs. The roster without Jack Eichel is probably the worst in the league on paper, and not much better even with Eichel.

So of course they start the season with three consecutive wins and outscore their opponents by a 12-4 margin.

Very encouraging!

Until you realize the Sabres have done this before over the past decade, storming out of the gate with a fast start (remember the 2018-19 season when they were 17-6-2 after 25 games in early November?) before having reality set in.

There is likewise the fact their first three opponents have been Arizona, Montreal, and Vancouver — 2 likely lottery teams and a total wild card team that is badly flawed.

Are they for real: Fun start to the season. Enjoyable for Sabres fans looking for some excitement from a consistently bad team. But they are not going to play Arizona, Montreal, and Vancouver every night.

More NHL News

NHL Rink Wrap: Eriksson Ek leads Wild comeback; unbeaten Sabres Blues’ Buchnevich suspended two video games for head-butting Lawson Crouse NHL suspends Evander Kane 21 video games for COVID protocol violation

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panthers, Sabres, Wild, Oilers off to 3-0 starts: Who is genuine? initially appeared on NBCSports.com

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.