Most teams in the NHL are at or near the 1/4 mark of their schedules, a time where many clubs are taking stock of what they have done so far and compare it with what they expected. Some will be pleasantly surprised, while others will be bitterly disappointed.
With the extended break in the Senators schedule, I will spend the next few days looking around the league pointing out the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Today, I will look at the good stories from the NHL so far.
Playing without the best player in the NHL for the first 20 games, the Penguins didn’t miss a beat. They sit first in the Eastern Conference, largely due to the play of James Neal, Kris Letang and Marc Andre Fleury. Sidney Crosby finally returned after missing over 11 months with a concussion, and all he did was put up 2 goals and 2 assists in his first game back. If Crosby is indeed at 100%, the Penguins will be tough to beat this season.
One of two clubs to uncharacteristically open up the pocket books in the offseason, the Florida Panthers are one of the feel-good stories in the early going. They sit first in the Southeast Division, and second in the Eastern Conference. New acqusitions Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell are leading the way offensively, and Jose Theodore is enjoying a resurgence in South Florida. The Panthers are loaded with good stories, reclamation projects, second chances and good young players.
Finishing dead last two seasons in a row was difficult on the franchise and its fans, but it allowed the Oilers to draft two cornerstones for the future – Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. So far, so good, and combined with Jordan Eberle they have the makings of one of the top lines in the NHL for the next 10 years. Or at least until they reach UFA and are bought by another team for more than the Oilers can offer. Nikolai Khabibulin, recently thought to be on the slippery slope of his career, has been stellar behind a suspect and banged up defense, providing All-Star calibre goaltending. The Oilers are on pace to beat last season’s point total by about 25, and they are in the playoff mix for the first time in 4 years.
Speaking of the Oilers, thier long drama with Souray ended when they bought him out. He bacame one of the best bargains in the league when he was given a chance by the Dallas Stars, and after spending 2010-11 in the AHL, he hasn’t missed a beat and probably has a chip on his shoulder. Souray has 13 points through 20 games and is a +10, while his former team, the Oilers, is struggling to put out 6 NHL defensemen.
Minnesota Wild & their goaltending
Despite not haveng a player among the top 90 in scoring, the Minnesota Wild have ridden the success of Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding to the top of the Western Conference. Both goalies have a GAA well under 2.00, and SP well north of .900, while the Wild are not exactly in a defensive shell, allowing over 30 shots per game.
Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs
Kessel has led the league in scoring pretty much since day 1 and has been in on almost 50% of Toronto‘s goals (29 point on 61 goals). Joffrey Lupul has been a consistent threat on the other wing (25 points) and their success is even further illustrated by the revolving door at centre between the two of them. Also, they have received up and down goaltending since the injury to James Reimer, and they are still in the battle for playoff positioning and attempting to qualify for the postseason for the first time since before the lockout.
Boston Bruins & Tyler Seguin
After the first 10 games of the season, the Bruins would be put into tomorrow’s “bad” post or even Thursday’s “Ugly” offering. It is funny what a 9 game winning streak will do to move you from near the bottom to near the top of the conference standings. Second year forward Tyler Seguin has built on his emergence in last season’s playoffs and stepped up big time as a sophomore. Seguin is in the top 15 in league scoring and his +17 rating leads all NHL forwards (2nd overall).
The Ottawa Senators
Last but certainly not least, our own Ottawa Senators. Picked to finish dead last by a majority of pre-season prognosticators, the Senators have surprised many by holding their own through the first 20 games. They sit in a grouping of teams that are battling for playoff positioning, from 1st to 14th. When many thought the Sens would be out of playoff contention already, the likes of Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Craig Anderson have been streaky but have exceeded expectations overall.
This is by no means a complete list of the good things that have happened so far, or the good stories. This are just the ones that I have been paying close attention to or have caught my eye.
What are some of your “goods”?
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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Topics: Boston Bruins, Brian Campbell, Erik Karlsson, Florida Panthers, Jason Spezza, Jordan Eberle, Josh Harding, Milan Michalek, Minnesota Wild, Nicklas Backstrom, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ottawa Senators, Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sheldon Souray, Sidney Crosby, Taylor Hall, Tim Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Seguin