We already know two certainties about the 2016-17 NHL season:
The start of the regular season has revealed some unlikely trends, including the San Jose Sharks' Brent Burns leading the league in scoring, with nine points entering Friday's action. Between the pipes, Montreal Canadiens backup Al Montoya leads all goaltenders with a .962 save percentage, while Edmonton Oilers netminder Cam Talbot has four wins.
There's plenty of hockey left to be played, and the faces of those statistical categories will change soon. But here are five early predictions that will hold up:
Carey Price will lead the Canadiens back to the postseason. After he suffered a season-ending knee injury last November, Montreal's No. 1 netminder returned to health and led Team Canada to a World Cup of Hockey championship last month in Toronto. Once the regular season began, however, he was sidelined once again with what was diagnosed as a severe case of the flu. He missed the first three games, and the Canadiens posted a 2-0-1 record with Montoya in net. Price made his season debut on Thursday and posted a 27-save performance to help Montreal to a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes at Bell Centre. If Price can stay healthy, the Canadiens could compete for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Montoya has been solid, but its says here that Price will have a productive season and lead his team into the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are not in trouble. It's too early to claim a team is inconsistent, but after posting a 3-0-0 start to the season, the Lightning were ravaged in a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche (3-1-0) on Thursday at Amalie Arena in Tampa. That loss will serve as the early-season wakeup call the Lightning need. The Avalanche look like a team the will contend for a playoff spot in the Central Division, but Tampa, the team many "experts" predicted would win the Stanley Cup in 2017, should not be shutout by Colorado. Tampa's longest losing skid last season lasted four games from Oct. 24-31. The team's longest winning streak lasted nine games in late February and early March. The Lightning finished with 97 points in 2015-16 but expect the team to enjoy more consistent play and it will be rewarded with reaching the century mark in points.
The Ducks will heat up, the Canucks will cool off. The Anaheim Ducks are 1-3-1 in the first five games, which is a little bit concerning since they won the Pacific Division last season with 103 points. Take a deep breath and recall how the Ducks began the 2015-16 season. Anaheim lost nine of the first 10 games before turning around its misfortunes. The Ducks are too good to falter much longer. Plus, the team's first five games were on the road. The Ducks finally open at home on Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks, which happen to be 4-0-0 to start the season. This category is two-fold: The Ducks will start winning games consistently, and the Canucks will cool off. After all, the addition of forward Loui Eriksson is a massive help for the Canucks, but Vancouver can't sustain this type of success for the entire season, right? Maybe the Canucks will prove everyone wrong.
Brad Marchand will score 40 or more for the Bruins. The ink on his new eight-year, $49 million contract extension with the Boston Bruins isn't even dry yet, but the top-line winger has carried his World Cup of Hockey momentum into the regular season. After his shorthanded goal with 43.1 seconds remaining in regulation led Team Canada to a 2-1 championship victory over Team Europe last month at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Marchand returned to Boston and now has three goals and six assists for nine points in four games. Even though he has a fat new deal, he's not the type of player to relax and go through the motions. He registered 38 goals last season and you can bet he'll surpass that mark this season.
The Oilers will keep scoring, as will the Senators (sort of). In the early going, Edmonton leads the NHL in team scoring, with 20 goals in five games. With a strong pool of talent, led by captain Connor McDavid, the Oilers should remain near the top of that category for the remainder of the regular season. The Ottawa Senators, currently in a three-way tie for second place with the Chicago Blackhawks and Canadiens, with 16 goals each in four games, will stop to dip in this category. The Senators have missed the playoffs twice in the last three seasons, but they will compete for a postseason berth this spring. Ottawa will cool off, however, and but will likely still finish in the top 10 in the league in scoring thanks to the offensive production from defenseman Erik Karlsson, who already has two goals and five assists for seven points in four games.