Thursday, October 29, 2009

Around the League: Some Early Season Surprises. . .

I know it's still early in the NHL season, but there were just some things that you couldn't have possibly predicted happening.

The Good:

-The Avalanche have opened up to a 10-1-2 record with 22 points and are leading the NHL. The Avalanche. Yes, that team from Colorado who went into the season with big goalie questions and in the wake of the retirement of staple and gentlemanly captain Joe Sakic. I believe someone said if you say you saw this coming - you are lying! I very readily admit I picked them to finish dead last in the West. But if they continue at this clip, they may bulk up enough points by Christmas to make that almost impossible. I mean anything can happen (see: quick start in the first place), but you'd have to admit the Avs have a lot to be proud of, the best of which is the play of young kids Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene. Craig Anderson deserves credit as well, but he's less of a shock to me. He was a solid goalie in Florida when called upon too.

-As of today (*pre-tonights games) and despite the blech performance last night on the Island, the Rangers lead the league in goals for, with 47. Read that again if you have to. The masters last season of 2-1, 1-0 wins or losses, they have scored enough goals in the early going to average 3.6 goals per game. Now, that won't last, especially if they turn out crap-fests like they did last night, but for a team that couldn't score, they are getting ice production from the expected in Gaborik, the surprises in Prospal and Kotalik, and the extreme feel-good-story of young d-man Michael Del Zotto. Trust me, losses are a lot easier to take if the team is at least scoring goals and not just letting them in. We've seen the alternative and I'll take losses by way of 6-4, 5-3, just about every time.

The Bad:

-Now I was not one of the people suggesting they'd be a playoff team, but no one could have expected the Maple Leafs would have been this bad out of the gate. Could they? It took them 9 games, but the Leafs finally won their first game of the campaign, 6-3 over Anaheim on Monday. They are 1-7-2 in their first 10. We all predicted they'd have a problem scoring and that they'd spent the majority of the off-season addressing their defensive concerns. Sadly Burke's mixture has not seemed to create anything workable at the moment. Yes, much blame can fall on Vesa Toskala, the once great San Jose backup, who sadly, cannot seem to stop a puck. (For the record, I do not understand what he is going through, but it's upsetting to watch. I really thought he had a chance to rebound this year and this start has to have wiped away any of what little confidence he had left). The other guy I sympathize with is Ron Wilson. Ron Wilson is a smart guy, a smart hockey man, and I feel for him being in this position of what seems like no win. Literally, no win. Komisarek, on the other side of the Habs/Leafs rivalry this season, has been trying everything he can and he can't seem to make a difference. Opening night I thought he endeared himself to the fans with his energy, although at times misguided, but ten games in, he may be wishing he never left the belle province. The good news is that Phil Kessel is coming. The bad news might not make much of a difference.

-In the tale of the second to last conference teams, Anaheim and Florida were both teams I had as being about equal to last year. On a last minute prediction whim, and for lack of other options, I put Florida in the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Were Chris Pronger and Jay Bouwmeester really that vital to their former teams? In Anaheim, both goalies have GAA's of over 3.00, and their supposed top guys of Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan have not seemed to realize the season has in fact started yet. Niedermeyer, Selanne, and Koivu are a combined -18. As for the Panthers, both goalies have GAA's of well over 3.50, and Steven Reinprecht is leading their team in points with 5-2-7. Stephen Weiss is the only other guy on the team to have more than two goals; he has 3. And with injures a plenty, none looking worse than that to David Booth, I don't know where the help comes from.

The Feel-Good:

-I'm not going to sit here and say I'm either surprised or not surprised with the start the Phoenix Coyotes are having. They are 7-4-0 and have knocked off San Jose, Detroit, Columbus, and Pittsburgh on their way. That's been impressive. Very impressive. Perhaps more surprising than fans could have hoped for. And Ilya Bryzgalov, the other one time super Pacific division backup, is having a masterful start to the season. .917 save percentage and 1.97 GAA are his numbers. (Note, backup Jason Labarbera's are even better at .952 and 1.59). If we're being honest, that part surprised me a bit. Not because they are not capable, but because you just never know what you are going to get with goalies (see: Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur, and Cam Ward - Canada's Team Canada perennials and hopefuls. The guys getting it done for them on the scoresheet are guys you need to be the leaders in every regard - Ed Jovonovski (4-6-10) and captain Shane Doan (3-7-10). Those not appearing on the scoresheet as much are still getting it done on shots, energy, and undeniable work ethic (Upshall, and Czechs - Hanzal, Vrbata, and Prucha). This team had the pieces to be good; I truly believed that. Their fast start is just making those outside of their fanbase take notice of a team that is playing some really good hockey and that deserves every bit of success it has.

No comments: