The Colorado Avalanche entered last week winless after a 3-0 loss in their home opener to the Detroit Red Wings. They were entering a season-high five game road trip, and the offense had some serious question marks.
What a difference a week makes in the NHL.
Colorado is the most surprising team in the league so far after winning the first four games of their road trip en route to the top spot in the Northwest Division and tied for the top spot in the entire Western Conference. This week, there are three games on the schedule, against two teams with winning records.
The undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs are another of the surprise teams this season, having won all three games so ar this year. Forward Phil Kessel was the best player in the league during that first week, scoring five goals and three assists. His eight points is tied for the league lead -- and he's accomplished it in only three games. So far, young goalie James Reimer is justifying the three year extension he signed this offseason, with a stout 2.33 GAA in net.
It will also be a reunion of familiar faces, as Colorado will see longtime defenseman John-Michael Liles in a Leafs uniform for the first time since his trade this past June. Liles has been one of their top defensemen in ice time during this young season, though the offensive contributions have yet to come. Former Avalanche center Philippe Dupuis has also found a home in Canada, making their Opening Night roster after signing as a free agent this past summer.
After Toronto, Colorado will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, October 20 (their first game at home since the opener) before heading back out on the road to face the same Blackhawks in Chicago on Saturday, October 22.
The Blackhawks enter the week at 2-1-1, and have been playing the smart style of hockey that won them the Cup two seasons ago. Despite squeezing into the playoffs as an 8th seed last season, this remains a very dangerous team. Patrick Kane has six points in just four games, and late bloomer Dave Bolland leads the team with three goals. The bigger surprise? Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Jonathan Toews have combined for a total of three points this year. Chicago is getting it done with smart hockey (they have only faced 12 power plays) and good goaltending (Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have combined for a 2.23 GAA). Their stars won't remain dormant for long.
Colorado has already begun to turn some heads in the hockey world. The same thing happened in 2009, when a young team led by rookies Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly (with Craig Anderson in net) went 4-1-2 early in the season -- giving them a boost towards a surprise playoff run. Armed once again with a top three draft pick in Gabriel Landeskog and some legitimate goaltending with Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere sharing time, this Avalanche team has given themselves that same chance early in the season. If they can win two of three games this week, they will have taken a great step towards legitimacy.