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NHL Fake or For Real: What to make of the first week

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The Buffalo Sabres are undefeated and Tyler Bertuzzi is tied for the NHL's lead in goals.

Neither of these things was expected to be true at any point of the 2021-22 campaign, but here we are.

The NHL is a weird place through the first seven days of the season.

In addition to these oddities, a number of other noteworthy developments have occurred in the NHL over the first week and it's fair to wonder: which are fake and which are for real?

Fleury will have his worst statistical year

Marc-Andre Fleury is the NHL's reigning Vezina Trophy winner, but he's looked like anything but through his first three games of the season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

In his three starts, Fleury has conceded 12 goals, and he was pulled after a mere 11:25 of time-on-ice against his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on Saturday.

Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled through the first week of the season. (Getty)
Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled through the first week of the season. (Getty)

One stark difference for Fleury this year has been the number of high-danger shots he has faced. In 67:58 of time-on-ice through his first two outings, the veteran netminder saw 14 shots of this variety. Last season, behind a much stronger Vegas Golden Knights defence, Fleury faced an average of 7.4 high-danger shots against, according to Natural Stat Trick.

On Tuesday, the story was a little different. The Blackhawks only allowed three high-danger shots, but the 36-year-old still allowed four goals on 29 shots.

Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, and Alec Martinez aren't walking through the doors of the United Center anytime soon, which means we're probably not going to see a Vezina-calibre effort from Fleury.

Verdict: For Real

Canadiens looking like a team destined to miss playoffs

After making a run to the Stanley Cup Final during the 2021 playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens haven't looked the part of a contender to start the 2021-22 season.

This should've been expected, however. The three main contributors to the Habs' success last postseason - Shea Weber, Phillip Danault, and Carey Price - are all absent from the roster and it's unclear when its most valuable player, Price, will return. In its four losses this year, Montreal has scored just three goals. Highly touted youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield have combined for zero points thus far, and it doesn't seem as though the youngsters are ready to be the focal points of an NHL offence.

Although the team still has solid depth in its forward lines, it's missing the top-end talent required to make a push in a star-studded Atlantic Division.

Verdict: For Real

Marner is a changed player after postseason shortcomings

Mitch Marner has picked up from where he left off in the postseason.

After posting zero goals and four assists in a seven-game series loss to the Canadiens, Marner has begun the 2021-22 campaign similarly. Through four contests this season, the playmaking winger has just one lonely assist to show for his efforts. Already the subject of much criticism from his own fanbase, Marner's slow start has only been met with increased frustration.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans shouldn't be worried, however. Marner is a setup man, and his game is tailored around dishing the puck. Without Auston Matthews in the lineup for the first few games, Marner's production seemed likely to evaporate without his trusted sniper by his side. Now that Matthews is back and shooting at a ridiculous pace (eight shots in his season debut against the New York Rangers), Marner's going to start filling the stat sheet again.

Verdict: Fake

Senators are ready for the playoffs

It's hard not to notice what's going on in Canada's capital.

The fruits of the Ottawa Senators' rebuild are starting to bloom, and the squad owns an impressive 2-1-0 record after wins against the Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars. This, of course, is all without their best offensive player, Brady Tkachuk, in the lineup.

While the early-season success is encouraging, the playoffs may be a bit of a stretch. In a loaded Atlantic Division, not many, including Sens fans, had this team pegged for the postseason before the puck dropped this year. Regardless of a playoff berth, this still remains an important year for the squad, mainly centre Josh Norris and defenceman Thomas Chabot, who need to demonstrate that they can be No. 1s at their respective positions. No team in the NHL can get by without true alphas at these two spots, which makes their performances this year worth monitoring.

Verdict: Fake

Seguin isn't the same player after his torn hip labrum

Those expecting a big start to the 2021-22 NHL season from Tyler Seguin have been disappointed.

Through his first four games, the Dallas Stars' winger has produced zero points and has put a mediocre nine shots on goal.

Tyler Seguin warms up before the game between the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators. (Getty)
Tyler Seguin warms up before the game between the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators. (Getty)

I recommend Stars and NHL fans exercise a little bit of patience when it comes to the sniper, though.

Seguin is still just 29 years old and firmly in the prime of his career. Additionally, it shouldn't be forgotten that he rushed back at the end of last year and scored two goals in three games in a failed last-ditch attempt to help Dallas get into the playoffs. Averaging over 20 minutes of time-on-ice and still seeing minutes on the top power-play unit, he'll likely get it going sooner rather than later.

Verdict: Fake

Ducks can push for a playoff spot in Pacific Division

On paper, the Pacific Division appeared to be the weakest in the NHL. 

The way this season has started for the one truly elite team in this division, the Golden Knights, has only made that statement more relevant. Vegas's top forwards - Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty - are slated to miss pretty significant time with injuries, which could severely hinder the team's top-heavy forward group.

In a division full of just OK squads outside of the Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers, there is an opening for the Anaheim Ducks. With Jamie Drysdale and the rest of the Ducks' defence looking solid early on, this team could be poised to make some noise if young forwards Trevor Zegras, Maxime Comtois, Isac Lundestrom, Sam Steel, and Troy Terry can put together solid campaigns.

Verdict: For Real

The Bertuzzi breakout is here

Tyler Bertuzzi scorched the Tampa Bay Lightning for four goals on four shots last Thursday.

A performance like that, of course, unexpectedly placed the 2013 second-round pick atop the NHL's goal-scoring leaderboard. In the Detroit Red Wings' third game of the year, Bertuzzi tacked on another to bring his total to five and in a tie with Anze Kopitar for the most in the league.

After years of middling production, could this be the year he truly breaks out?

Likely not is the correct answer. There is a pretty lengthy amount of NHL experience to examine when looking at Bertuzzi's profile. Over 201 games spread across the past four seasons, the 26-year-old has recorded 54 goals and 126 points. On a Detroit team that's still rebuilding, it feels highly unlikely we see him put forward a truly elite goal-scoring effort.

Also, he's slated to miss nine Red Wings games due to his current decision not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This will prohibit him from playing any of the squad's games in Canada.

Already guaranteed to miss time and with a long track record behind him, it seems doubtful Bertuzzi cracks 30 goals for the first time in his career.

Verdict: Fake

Sabres are good

The fine people of Western New York should be happy with how their hockey team has performed to start the 2021-22 season.

Even with their star player, Jack Eichel, out and angry at the organization, the Buffalo Sabres have jumped out to an impressive 3-0-0 record to begin the year. With the Buffalo Bills rolling as well, is it fair to say that Buffalo is turning into the next Title Town?

Well, not quite. 

The Bills have a legitimate shot at contending for a championship, but the Sabres? Not so much.

While this run is nice and is giving the fans something to cheer about, the Sabres aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

I hate to snow on your parade, Buffalo, but this isn't going to last.

Enjoy it while you can, because like the frigid temperatures, a drop in the standings is coming.

Verdict: Fake

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