Most Impressive NHL Teams in Wake of Season's Late Start
Despite the lack of a legitimate offseason due to the lockout, several teams in the National Hockey League are off to a very strong start and are showing that they are treating every game of the 48-game season as a playoff game.
Teams are having to deal with fatigue from players who did nothing during their time off, and some are still adjusting to new coaches and players on the rosters since they had only a week to get ready before the first game of the season.
However, that hasn't prevented teams that have flat-out dominated the competition from getting out to large leads in their divisions.
Some teams, such as the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, have been slowed down in this shortened season where every game matters.
While on the other hand, many teams, such as the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks, are showing that they are taking every game in the shortened season seriously and are ready to be in the playoffs right now.
The Bruins were 4-1 heading into their game against the New Jersey Devils and are currently leading the Eastern Conference's Northeast Division.
Boston's stars immediately showed up this season, giving the team two big wins so far, a 3-1 victory on the road against the New York Rangers and a 5-3 home win against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Captain Zdeno Chara has two goals and five points with a plus-three plus/minus rating. The team's leading center, David Krejci, also has five points.
The team can't afford to let up know, though, as it must face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a week-and-a-half, and it will face the Rangers for the third time already this season on Feb. 12.
Boston has looked like a very impressive team so far, and the Bruins appear they could beat any other team on any given night, considering the amount of talent that the team has on its roster.
Despite missing star goalie Tim Thomas this season, the Bruins haven't had a tough time against opposing teams, as Tuukka Rask has stepped up, making 107 saves in four games. Furthermore, he has only given up 1.96 goals per game.
If Rask can continue to stonewall opposing offenses, Chara, Krejci and winger Brad Marchand can easily provide the goals necessary to win night after night.
By record, the Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL so far this season. The team has a 6-0 record, giving them 12 points and the lead in the Western Conference and the Central Division.
The Blackhawks average 3.67 goals per game and only give up 2.17 goals per game to opposing teams.
Patrick Kane, not surprisingly, leads the team in points, goals and assists, and winger Marian Hossa has scored on 25 percent of his shots.
The goaltending hasn't been too shabby, either, as Corey Crawford has started five games, only giving up 1.78 goals per game with a .933 save percentage.
Chicago hasn't played the most intimidating teams this year thus far, outside of the defending champion L.A. Kings, but they have looked impressive in all of their games, and the offense hasn't been slowed down by anyone.
Look for the Blackhawks to still be in the division lead when the playoffs come.
St. Louis Blues
Coming off their first playoff appearance since the '08-09 season, the Blues look like they are the same team that was led by the coach of the year last season, Ken Hitchcock.
St. Louis' points have come from unlikely places this year, with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and winger Vladimir Tarasenko both putting up eight points.
Shattenkirk only had 43 points in 81 games last season, and the rookie Tarasenko is leading all rookies in points and overall play on the ice.
The Blues have mainly flexed their muscles on defense, as goalie Jaroslav Halak has recorded two shutouts already and has only given up 1.69 goals per game to opposing teams.
If the defense keeps up its play, captain David Backes and the rest of the offense should be able to follow suit, and the Blues could easily end up in the playoffs, just like they did last year.
San Jose Sharks
Just like the Blackhawks, the Sharks are undefeated this season, but they have played one less game.
The Sharks have pretty much blown out every team they've played, never winning by less than two goals. These games include road wins against the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks in their last two games.
Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton both have 13 points and both have a plus-six plus/minus rating.
San Jose has the best offense in the league up to this point, as three of the five league leaders in points are Sharks.
The Sharks trail only Tampa Bay in average goals per game with 4.6, and goalies Thomas Greiss and Antti Niemi have combined for a .944 save percentage.
It's tough to say if the Sharks are the best team in the league yet, but with scores like 6-3 and 4-0, it's very hard to count San Jose out of any game.
Tampa Bay Lightning
While Tampa Bay doesn't nearly have the most points in the league with nine, they certainly have the most prolific offense.
The Lightning score an average of 4.8 goals per game, and they are beating their opponents by an average of 2.2 goals per game.
The team's two stars, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, are leading the team in scoring, with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Stamkos and St. Louis have even gotten some help from Cory Conacher, Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell, all of whom have seven points or more.
The defense of the Lightning is questionable, however, as they are giving up more shots than they are taking, and starting goalie Anders Lindback is giving up 2.8 goals per game.
If the offense can keep up the pace it is on right now, then the defense shouldn't be a concern. But if the Lightning want to make a late run in the playoffs, they'll need the defense to improve, as Stamkos and St. Louis will likely continue their scoring spree throughout the whole season.
New Jersey Devils
With a 3-0-2 record, the Devils aren't going to impress anyone quite yet with their points, but they still haven't lost a game in regulation.
New Jersey isn't very impressive in offensive categories, ranking 17th in the league in goals per game, but they have stayed in many games because of their defense.
The Devils rank second in the league with 1.8 goals allowed per game, and their penalty-killing unit has been proficient, killing 87 percent of the power-play chances of other teams.
Goalie Martin Broduer, 40, has shown that age is just a number by posting one of the best goals-against averages in the league of 1.69.
The team could certainly benefit from more offense, as their highest scorers only have six points, and the Devils haven't gotten much production from players not on the first line.
Broduer could benefit from the shortened season, and his veteran presence, along with the offensive production of Patrick Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk, could make them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference.
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