Early-season ups and downs

And so the NHL enters its second month.

Too early for panic? Maybe not if you're in Arizona, Carolina or Buffalo.

Too early for unbridled enthusiasm? Maybe not if you're in Nashville or Minnesota or Anaheim.

One thing is certain, though: What we believe we know in the first week of November might not necessarily be the case a month or two from now.

That said, here's a look at our top surprises and disappointments through the first month of the season.

Good surprises

1. Startling stoppers! OK, hands up, those of you who thought Darcy Kuemper, Frederik Andersen and Jonas Hiller would be a combined 19-6 heading into the first full week of November.

Kuemper made noise about going to the Kontinental Hockey League before training camp but now backstops the stingiest team in the NHL in Minnesota. Of the Anaheim Ducks' two young star goaltenders, Andersen was thought to be behind John Gibson, but Andersen is the one who is third in the league in goals-against average (1.60) and save percentage (.941).

Then there's Hiller, who left Anaheim because of the Andersen/Gibson duo and ended up in Calgary, where the Flames were expected to be a doormat. But Hiller's solid play (he's 6-2-1) has helped the Flames emerge as one of the surprise teams of the first month.

2. Talented Tarasenko: The St. Louis Blues have been ravaged by injury and illness virtually from the start of the season, and while we've been impressed with newcomer Jori Lehtera, the guy who has really started to step forward is linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. Although he managed just one goal in the first seven games, Tarasenko is starting to get in a groove and poured in seven goals in his next five games, including an early candidate for goal of the year against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. He possesses one of the deadliest shots in the league and is learning how to use it.

With the Blues playing without key personnel every night, Tarasenko is getting a chance to prove he's the real deal, and is making the most of it while the Blues are inching their way back toward the top of the crowded Central Division standings.

3. Jumping Jets! We're not exactly sure how they're doing it, but the Winnipeg Jets suddenly don't look so much like the old Atlanta Thrashers. After starting the season with four losses in their first five games, the Jets have gone 6-1-1. And wonder of wonders, they're doing it with sound team defense and terrific goaltending, thanks to consistent work from the oft-criticized Ondrej Pavelec and anonymous backup Michael Hutchinson.

The Jets have allowed just 11 goals in their past eight games and have beaten quality opponents: the Blackhawks, Rangers and Devils. They have a five-game road trip coming up, but right now the Jets are getting the job done in a way that historically has eluded them.

4. Penguins can fly: Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins are always good in the regular season. We get that. Still, rookie coach Mike Johnston has deftly handled significant lineup overhaul -- including the departure of mainstays Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and James Neal -- and the Penguins just kept on trucking to an 8-2-1 record through their first 11 games, and boasted an NHL-best plus-22 goal differential heading into play Wednesday.

Patric Hornqvist has been a dynamo with 15 points playing mostly with Sidney Crosby. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who received a four-year, $23 million contract extension Wednesday, is playing with poise and confidence and has a 7-2 record and .931 save percentage.

5. Surprising Severson: Whenever we sit down to pick our preseason rookie of the year, it's always a bit of a mug's game as to just how a first-year player will be used or whether a team will feel it's best served by sending a player back to juniors, as the Buffalo Sabres just did with top prospect Sam Reinhart. And there's also the issue of youngsters such as Tanner Pearson in Los Angeles and Filip Forsberg in Nashville, who are both technically rookies but did get a good taste of NHL life with late-season appearances in 2013-14.

Pearson, a member of That '70s Line, and Forsberg have been key to their respective team's early-season successes and as such are early favorites to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. But we'll shine a light on New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson, the 60th overall pick in 2012, who leads all rookie defenders with four goals and eight points. All four of his assists have come on the power play as the Devils hit November as the top New York-area team, something few would have predicted.

Bad surprises

1. Kings struggling: It's a good thing Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli are getting the job done offensively for the Kings, because they're not getting a lot of help. Marian Gaborik has missed significant time with injury (where have we heard that before?) and Anze Kopitar missed a couple of games as well, but the big line of Kopitar, Gaborik and captain Dustin Brown, so deadly in the playoffs for the defending champs, has been a whisper, combining for a total of four goals and two assists. Yikes. That's a good night's work for the '70s line.

This isn't a new storyline for a Kings team that always seems to take until, oh, early April to get into gear. But the lack of productivity from that big line is also a factor in why the Kings, as of this writing, have won only a single road game this season.

2. Torn Jackets: So many factors are conspiring against the Columbus Blue Jackets that you have to wonder if it's just going to be one of those seasons for a team many picked as a potential dark horse in the Metropolitan Division.

No Boone Jenner, no Nathan Horton (maybe for the long, long term), injuries to assorted other pieces and goaltending that just hasn't been as good have conspired to put the Blue Jackets not in the hunt for the division lead, but among the worst teams in the conference. They have lost six in a row, and former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is sporting a .908 save percentage that has him tied for 26th among goalies with at least five starts.

Lots of time for the Blue Jackets to get healthy and get back in the hunt -- they were terrific down the stretch last season and entered the playoffs as the seventh seed -- but certainly not the start they wanted after taking a big step forward a year ago.

3. Drying up in the desert: Maybe it was just asking too much, but all eyes (OK, all eyes in the desert) were on newcomer Sam Gagner in the hopes he would help the Arizona Coyotes get over the hump offensively. But it hasn't happened the way general manager Don Maloney was hoping. Gagner has struggled, with just two goals and two assists in his first 12 games.

He's not alone, though. Mikkel Boedker leads the team with five goals, but three of those came in one game. Martin Erat is the only other Coyote who has more than three goals, and the penalty kill ranks 27th in the league. And worse, the goaltending has been ugly, ranking dead last in GAA (3.58).

4. Caps falling short: Things started out so well for the Washington Capitals -- who earned at least a point in each of their first five games -- that it looked like they'd committed to a new era of team defense under new coach Barry Trotz. But the Caps have fallen into old patterns while losing five straight. During that time, they've allowed a whopping 22 goals against.

Some of that is the fact Braden Holtby simply hasn't been good enough, turning in an .891 save percentage in nine games, and Justin Peters has been just meh. Brooks Laich, a heart-and-soul guy, has struggled again with injuries, playing in just five games. But it's a sobering reminder that installing a new coach doesn't automatically suggest a team can change its identity.

5. Feeling low in Denver: When we ran into Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and defending rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon in New York before the start of training camp, they were all about tempering expectations for the coming season. And in truth, not many expected the Avs to repeat as Central Division champs. By the same token, we're not sure anyone expected them to manage just three wins in their first 14 games and find themselves in last place in the Central Division.

MacKinnon has struggled out of the gate in his sophomore season, and the Avs have had more than a few ups and downs defensively as Semyon Varlamov once again faces a ton of rubber in goal.