Almost all of the teams have reached the one quarter mark of their season, and there have been a number of surprises, both good and bad. Here, I will look at some of the more pleasant surprises (at least to their own fans) and big disappointments. I will give a couple of samples from each Conference. I will also them pick who I would give the NHL Awards to, if the season had ended today.
PLEASANT SURPRISE – TEAM
Montreal Canadiens – I personally thought the Habs would be in the basement for most of the season. The fact that they are sitting 3 games above .500 is quite frankly shocking to me, as is the fact that Andrei Markov has stayed healthy. Thursday night’s game was his 13th of the season, matching his total of last season and almost double the 7 he played the year before.
New Jersey Devils – Quite frankly, the Devils sitting on top of the Eastern Conference is quite shocking. They lost their Captain, Zach Parise, for nothing and despite the fact they were Stanley Cup finalists last season, most people didn’t think they had another run in them. Martin Brodeur keeps on ticking, and may have some more years left after this one.
Chicago Blackhawks – Not that much of a surprise, but the dominance they have shown has served notice that they are ready to contend again after a bit of an off season. Goaltending, that had been the biggest question mark heading into the season, has been solid and has contributed to the team not having lost in regulation yet.
Anaheim Ducks – Having taken a step back last season, the Ducks have surprised many this year. Despite questions surrounding the future of stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks are 9-2-1 and lead the Pacific Division. Teemu Selanne is still producing like a 30 year old and along with Saku Koivu, have been carrying the Ducks as Perry and Getzlaf struggle to put up points. Viktor Fasth is a 30 year old rookie goaltender who has usurped the #1 spot from Jonas Hiller.
PLEASANT SURPRISE – PLAYERS
Thomas Vanek has jumped out to an unbelievable start, considering the lack of depth on his Buffalo team. Along with Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville, one of the league’s top lines of the first quarter are the only reason the Sabres are still in the playoff hunt.
Sam Gagner has been a steadying influence on the young Oilers team. A fixture on the second line, he has points in all but 2 of Edmonton’s games so far. Once thought to be on the way out to make space for the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he is now sort of the leader of that young group as they mature.
Viktor Fasth was a 29 year old Swedish project when the Ducks took a flyer on him and brought him over to be their backup. All he has done is go 6-0 in 6 starts with a 1.74 GAA, .933 SP, and knocked Jonas Hiller out of the Anaheim crease.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS – TEAM
The Washington Capitals can’t seem to get any traction in one of the weaker divisions in the league. Under new coach Adam Oates the shackles were supposed to be off, resulting in a more offensive team that plays more like the team that was a Stanley Cup contender a few years ago. They have given up more goals per game than any team not named the Islanders, and they sit in the basement of the East.
The Philadelphia Flyers expected to be where the New Jersey Devils are – on top of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Goals against is also a problem for the Flyers, while the offense has not been as productive as they had anticipated.
The Los Angeles Kings had an extra 3 months to get over the Stanley Cup hangover, but they are playing like they used the extra three months to party. They can’t score goals, but unlike last season they can’t keep them out either. That combination has them sitting near the bottom of the Western conference.
The Minnesota Wild committed a ton of money to the top 2 unrestricted free agents, but haven’t got the results yet. Zach Parise has been good, but not great, and Ryan Suter has been a disappointment. Mikael Granlund has disappointed in his rookie season and after getting 6 points in his first 5 games, Dany Heatley is pointless in 8 games.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS – PLAYERS
After getting just 2 goals in his first 10 games, Alex Ovechkin looked like less than a shell of his former self. A change of lines may have helped him as he seems to be coming out of his funk with goals in his last 3 games, but for Washington to be successful, he needs to get back the fire in his game that he seems to have lost.
The entire Buffalo defense has been awful, but Tyler Myers has stood out like a sore thumb. A healthy scratch for two games, the former Calder Trophy winner has only 1 point and is -9 as the Sabres have one of the worst defensive units in the league.
Jonathan Quick has been called out by his coach as not living up to expectations in light of his Conn Smythe Trophy from last season. The LA Kings will not score many goals, and Quick needs to be better at keeping them out if LA is going to claw back into the playoff race and get a chance to defend.
Jarome Iginla is getting up there, but is still only 35. With 1 goal and 5 points in 10 games, he is a prime candidate to be moved to a contender at some point this season, as the Flames are expected to start a rebuild. A change of scenery might be just what the doctor ordered for Iginla, who, like Ovechkin, seems to have lost the fire in his game.
1st QUARTER AWARDS
Norris Trophy (best defenseman)- Erik Karlsson had his season end prematurely and will not be able to defend his Norris, but up to the time of his injury he was head and shoulders the best blueliner in the NHL. Other contenders – Alex Pietrangelo, Andrei Markov
Calder Trophy (top rookie) – Cory Conacher has been a fixture on the top line in Tampa, and hasn’t looked out of place. The former AHL MVP has made the transtion to the NHL. While consistency had been a factor, the success of the Lightning has paralelled Conacher’s performance, and vice versa. Other contenders – Vladimir Tarasenko, Nail Yakupov
Jack Adams Award (coach of the year) – Bruce Boudreau has the Anaheim Ducks winning despite getting less than stellar performances from their two supposedly best players. The turnaround in Anaheim has been spectacular aided by a diamond in the rough Fasth. Other contenders – Joel Quenneville, Peter DeBoer
Vezina Trophy (top goaltender) – Craig Anderson has led the league in Wins, GAA, SP and shutouts as the quarter pole passed. He has been the best goalie statistically and aesthetically all season. He is about to be put to the test in the absence of Karlsson and Jason Spezza for the balance of the season. Other contenders – Pekka Rinne, Corey Crawford
Selke Trophy (defensive forward) – Jonathan Toews has been dominant at both ends of the ice and is probably the best all-around player this season. He is third in the league in +/- and is the leading force on the best team in the NHL. Other contenders – Eric Staal, Patrice Bergeron
Hart Trophy (most valuable player) – Despite his team’s shortcomings, nobody has been more valuable to his team than Vanek. At one point, remarkably late in the season, he had been on the ice for every one of his team’s goals for, and leads the league in scoring. Other contenders – Craig Anderson, Pekka Rinne