The NHL season is just over a quarter done so it is time to point out some surprises, dissapointments and general notes so far. I am sure I left several out so feel free to add your surprises and dissapointments or general thoughts on the season so far in the comments section. Also, I apologize if there is a slight east-coast bias. I am a Leaf fan living in Ottawa and as a result watch more eastern division games. In no particular order, here are my surprises,dissapointments and thoughts on the season so far.
Carolina Hurricanes – Even the most optimistic of people only predicted the Hurricanes to possibly compete for a playoff spot. But not only are they competing for a playoff spot, but they are leading their division and one of the better teams in the East so far. Two players can be thanks for that. Eric Staal who is on pace for 59 goals, 129 points and Martin Gerber who has a 2.29 gaa and .926 save percentage.
New York Rangers – The Rangers were probably thought to be even worse off than the Hurricanes before the season began but like the Hurricanes they have surprised most people. And like the Hurricanse, the Rangers success can largely be attributed to two players. Jaromir Jagr on offense and star rookie Henrik Lundqvist in net. Jagr has probably benefitted the most from the year off and the new rules which has seen him return to being an elite offensive forward. And Lundqvist has been nothing short of outstanding posting a 2.08 goals against average (3rd best in the NHL) and an equally outstanding .929 save % (also third best).
Boston Bruins – If the Hurricanes and Rangers are a positive surprises, the Bruins have to be the negative surprise of the year. With an 8-10-5 record they sit last in the northeast division and several points out of a playoff spot. Injuries on defense have been a significant reason for their woes but they haven’t played very consistantly either. I expect better things over the rest of the year.
Martin Brodeur – For years Brodeur was thought of as one of the best, if not the best, goalie in the world. He’s won stanley cups, olympic gold medals, and finally a Vezina in 2003-04. This year he is sporting a very weak 3.36 goals against average and an equally poor .886 save %. Sure, some of that can be attributed to the teams poor play in front of him, but not all of that. He isn’t the only goalie struggling this year but is certainly the highest profile.
Youth Movement – There is a dramatic youth movment in the NHL where future stars are being showcased and playing great to boot. This is particularly true in the eastern conference. Staal in Carolina. Crosby in Pittsburgh. Ovechkin in Washington. Spezza in Ottawa. Phaneuf has been excellent on defense in Calgary. Although a bit more experienced, Frolov is having a breakout year in Los Angeles, Heatley has been awesome in Ottawa and Kovalchuk is his usual self in Atlanta. These are the stars of the future and most are proving to be stars of today as well. The only one missing is Nash in Columbus who has been injured most of the year.
Chris Neil – Everyone knew that the Ottawa Senators would score a ton of goals this season but I don’t think anyone thought so many would come from Chris Neil (8 so far). On this American Thanksgiving weekend Chris has many people to thank for this. First, Chris McGratton. I always though Chris Neil was a reluctant tough guy who only fought because he felt he needed to. With McGratton around he doesn’t need to and can focus more on just playing hockey. Second Bryan Murray for not playing a defense-first system allowing Neil to take the odd chance. Third, Vaclav Varada for getting injured and opening up playing time for him. And most of all, the new rules comittee which now will allow Neil to stand in front of the opposing teams net looking for tip ins and rebounds without getting hacked, slashed, hooked or otherwise mauled. Most of Neils goals have come from tip ins and rebounds.
Bryan McCabe – Like Chris Neil, Bryan McCabe has to thank the rules committee for his success so far. Some people thought the new rules would hurt him, and maybe they have a tad in the defensive zone, but not in the offensive zone. With an additional four feet between the goal line and the blue line it is making it tougher for opposing teams to pressure the point man which has allowed McCabe to take full advantage of his hard, accurate shot.
Pierre Turgeon – I think a lot of people thought Turgeon’s time in the NHL was drawing to a close after a couple medocre years in Dallas. But not so. Apparently he can still skate a little and still has the offensive touch. Despite losing Peter Forsberg, maybe the NHLs best offesive forward, the Avalanche have somehow still managed to produced the third best offense in the game. A large reason for that has been Turgeon who has 8 goals and 23 points in 21 games so far (Marek Svatos has been another reason). In his previous three years he has had 47, 42 and 40 points so he had turned it around in a big way this year.