So what the heck is going on out there, anyways? Here, in all my obnoxiousness, is what I think:
The Good: Having 29 points after 22 games make this a far stronger start than last season!
The Bad: Lehtonen is not doing as well as Hedberg, but at least they have Hedberg.
The Weird: I respect Steve McCarthy and all, but he shouldn’t be leading your defense in scoring.
The Future: Eggs, meet basket. If any of the top three scorers (Hossa, Kovalchuk or the surprising Kozlov) gets injured for an extended period, the Thrashers could loose ground quick.
Note: Lehtonen is better than the sub-.900 save percentage he now has. He’ll pick it up.
The Good: Savard is continuing his torrid scoring pace with 25 points in 19 games.
The Bad: Increased expectations seem to be burdening goalies Thomas and Toivonen.
The Weird: Chistov finally scored his first goal November 22. Fifth overall pick, eh?
The Future: After a very shaky start, there seems to be some stability on the horizon.
Note: Defenseman Mark Stewart was recalled from the minors, skated with the team, and sent back down on the 20th.
The Good: Where to start? How about 4 losses in 23 games? Over 100 goals scored before anyone else reached 80?
The Bad: Goalie Biron has a GAA over 3.00 for the first time since the 95-96 season. It doesn’t seem to affect the record of the league’s highest scoring team.
The Weird: Chris Drury has picked up 12 of his 22 points this season in the last five minutes of games.
The Future: I know I picked Anaheim to win the cup, and I’m keeping that choice, and these guys look like the most likely opponents.
Note: There were seven hooking penalties called in the first period of their game against Toronto November 22nd. I thought the players were “getting it”?
The Good: 13 years ago, Rod Brind’Amour got 97 points in 84 games; he’s on pace for more this year.
The Bad: Goalie Ward wishes he was in the finals – you know, when there was no pressure (.894 save % so far this year).
The Weird: They have 6 regulars whose last name starts with “w”: Walker, Wallin, Ward, Wesley, Whitney and Williams.
The Future: Grahame has got to spell off Ward more frequently than he has – this should be a tandem, but Ward has started 20 games to Grahame’s four.
Note: Two of the Hurricanes’ best players from last season (Kaberle and Stillman) have yet to play a game after being injured in the pre-season.
The Good: Jokinen maintaining last year’s scoring pace.
The Bad: Bertuzzi possibly out until the new year.
The Future: Now that the Panthers and Lightning are both “mediocre with some star power” at the same time, could they please get a decent rivalry going? The last game was a good start (three fights, third period win for the visitors). See also: Edmonton-Calgary, Rangers-Islanders.
Note: There was a mysterious altercation in a hotel bar involving Auld and Belfour, which no one wants to talk about. Looks like Belfour’s acting up again…
LONG ISLAND (New York)
The Good: Yashin is ignoring the “C” on his chest and just playing. As a result, he could have his first 100-point season.
The Bad: After him and Blake, the scoring drops off precipitously.
The Weird: Dunham is outplaying DiPietro by a comfortable margin, but the fans have kept relative calm.
The Future: How long that lasts depends on whether the team makes the playoffs. Then we’ll see.
Note: Ted Nolan has picked up right where he left off, oh-so-many years ago: getting a marginally talented team to play hard and win more than they probably should.
MANHATTAN (New York)
The Good: The highest scoring team in the division, led by Shanahan’s 17 goals.
The Bad: After Jagr (34 points) and Shanahan (28), the highest scoring winger is Adam Hall, with 5 points: Straka and Prucha are both natural centres.
The Weird: For the first time in his 19-year career, Shanahan is on pace to finish a season with more points than penalty minutes, and he has only half the PMs of Jagr!
The Future: With six total goals from the defense, they need to diversify where the goals are coming from, or they are out in the first round of the playoffs again.
Note: After some shaky years, the goodwill built up with the fans last year is lasting into this one.
The Good: Cristobal Huet has established himself as the undisputed #1 goalie (.931 SV%).
The Bad: While the injury bug has left the team mostly alone, it did take out their best scorer (Higgins – 8g-5a-13pts in 13 games), probably until January.
The Weird: Two of their top three scorers are defensemen, Markov (17 points) and Souray (16).
The Future: Looks like Aebischer is going to take the ride for the rest of the season, returning to a back-up role he loathes.
Note: Ryder is on pace for 45-50 points for the season, and much more is expected of him.
The Good: The goals against is the best in the Eastern Conference (Hello, Brodeur!).
The Bad: The goals for is the worst in the Eastern Conference.
The Weird: Despite a 12-7-1 record, the goals for are actually lower (49) than goals against (52).
The Future: I didn’t expect sophomore Parise to be leading this team in scoring, and I don’t think he will be by the season’s end – not because he’ll falter so much as eventually Elias will remember who he is.
Note: As predicted, Clemmensen has started one game so far this year. Brodeur plays with one eye on the record books.
The Good: Emery is proving fully capable of a lead role in goal.
The Bad: Gerber was brought in to do that, and hasn’t.
The Weird: They still carry McGrattan, who’s a goon (1a, 46PM), while using Neil (7g-6a-52PM) who can fight and actually play.
The Future: The current standing (12th in the East) is an aberration. The team is too good not to make the playoffs. But then, Vancouver didn’t last year…
Note: So far, none of their very talented defensemen have taken command of the power play. That’s got to happen before the standings improve.
The Good: Heh. Um… The pissing match between former GM Clarke and former coach Hitchcock is over. That’s good, right?
The Bad: Five wins in 22 games can officially be considered “the bad”.
The Weird: The ankle giving Forsberg so much trouble this year is the surgically repaired right, instead of the also ailing left.
The Future: Pitkanen is doing what he can, but this is perhaps the worst defense in the league.
Note: No more masking a team that gets torn apart every playoffs – this bunch won’t make it without major revision, and before Christmas.
The Good: Improved just about everywhere, especially in goal.
The Bad: Thibault needs to be more reliable to give Fleury some days off.
The Weird: Hands up everyone who thought sophomore defenseman Ryan Whitney would be getting more ice time than Gonchar and have as many points. Anyone? Anyone? Liars.
The Future: A real threat to make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
Note: This team is going to be fiery death to anyone playing against them next year, and they’re pretty good this one.
The Good: Lecavalier is headed for his career first 80+ point season.
The Bad: Yet another season of wild mood swings. Where’s Andreychuk, again?
The Weird: Not many coaches would let one goalie (Denis) take seven goals in a period (vs. Buffalo, Nov. 20) without pulling him without some motivation…
The Future: Impossible to say, but unless Holmqvist is another Lundqvist, .500 may be as good as it gets this season.
Note: None of the team’s top 8 scorers has missed a single game yet.
The Good: Defensemen Kaberle and McCabe continuing last year’s torrid scoring pace.
The Bad: The incredibly durable Sundin being injured. The cracks that FINALLY started showing up last year seem to be continuing into this one.
The Weird: Before Wednesday’s game against Buffalo, the top five scorers all had exactly 19 points.
The Future: Despite Raycroft’s up and down play, there’s enough punch to get to the playoffs with him.
Note: After 15 seasons dry, Sundin is getting damn thirsty to drink from the cup.
The Good: Getting Semin back from Russia has paid off in spades.
The Bad: Zednik has misses several games already.
The Weird: John Erskine picked up a 10-minute “aggressor” penalty in their fight-filled game against Atlanta. I have no idea what this is.
The Future: No playoffs yet, but a respectable team, with improvements in every area over last year.
Note: Back-up goalie Johnson is getting his confidence back, and his numbers are going up accordingly.
Quick addendum: I forgot one interesting bit: Columbus has hired a new coach just before thier game against Philidelphia, the only other team to fire their coach this season. Their new coach is, of course, Ken Hitchcock.
Think they'll be ready to play?