Column: What we learned in the NHL: Kings have turned things around, Vegas has been golden

Kings center Tyler Toffoli (73) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 14.
(Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

What we learned during the past week (and more) in the NHL:

Kings enjoying a royal reversal

The Kings are off to a franchise-best start at 4-0-1, looking every game like kids who have been freed from detention in a stuffy classroom. They’ve maintained a strong defensive game while capitalizing on the offensive freedom given them by new coach John Stevens. Defenseman Drew Doughty is making the most of his skating skills, and center Anze Kopitar (four goals, eight points) and winger Dustin Brown (four goals, seven points) have been active and involved. It’s a big turnaround from last season under Darryl Sutter, especially the last joyless months.

Vegas earning its (golden) knighthood

Club officials showed great class in scripting a touching home opener that honored victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas and the first responders who helped them. The Golden Knights rode that emotion to their third straight win. They lost for the first time on Friday but came back on Sunday to beat the Boston Bruins for goaltender Malcolm Subban’s first NHL win. They’re only the third NHL team to win four of its first five games but they have a cloud looming over them: franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on Friday and is on injured reserve.

Hold the howling

After making sweeping changes last summer — including parting with longtime coach Dave Tippett and hiring Rick Tocchet — the Arizona Coyotes knew it would take them a while to find their rhythm. Their 0-4-1 record and minus-11 goal differential shows how difficult the process is. Tocchet was upset after his team flailed through a 6-2 loss to Boston at home last Saturday. “I’m embarrassed,” he told reporters afterward. “I apologize to the fans.” The Coyotes have enough good pieces to be able to pick up the pace once they’re comfortable with one another, but they must clean up their defensive game and their goaltending.

Not so well-Oiled

A funny thing happened on the way to the Edmonton Oilers becoming the next Stanley Cup champions. They won their opener but lost the next three by a combined 14-5 and may have lost top-line forward Leon Draisaitl to an eye injury. Their power play is one for 12 and their penalty killing has a league-worst 70.6% success rate. It’s early, but so far they’ve gotten goals from only three forwards: Connor McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They have the depth but must prove they have the motivation to take that next big step.

Little guys making a big impact

The top two rookie scorers each stand 5 feet 10, play for New Jersey, and were passed over in the first four rounds in their draft years. Defenseman Will Butcher, who was chosen 123rd by Colorado in 2013 but didn’t sign and became a free agent, and winger Jesper Bratt, a sixth-round pick by the Devils in 2012, have eight points and six points, respectively. Butcher, whose points are all assists, is the first defenseman in NHL history to record eight points in his first five games. The Devils (4-1-0) have been solid.


Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen