6 NHL Players Who Can Sustain Their Hot Starts in Lockout-Shortened Season

Sam Stryker@sbstrykerContributor IIIFebruary 5, 2013

6 NHL Players Who Can Sustain Their Hot Starts in Lockout-Shortened Season

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    The NHL season is young, with no team having played more than nine games, but that hasn’t stopped some players from getting off to torrid starts.

    Courtesy of the lockout, the regular season is a shortened 48 games long, so it will be easier than ever for a streaky start to carry over for the full season.

    Some players, like Steve Stamkos and Thomas Vanek, are lighting up opposing goaltenders, while some netminders, like Roberto Luongo and Antti Niemi, are practically brick walls.

    While some players may cool down, some of the season’s top performers should continue to produce through the remainder of the schedule.

    Here is a list of those NHL players off to scorching starts who can sustain that production throughout the season.

    All statistics are from ESPN

Sidney Crosby

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    While the Penguins superstar “only” has four goals and nine assists in nine games, those numbers are nothing to sniff at. When he’s at the top of his game, Crosby is one of the best, if not the best, players in the NHL. 

    The key to Crosby maintaining his hot start is staying healthy. He only played 22 games last season and 41 the year before that. But if he can avoid injury, opposing defenses better watch out.

    Crosby benefits from a top-heavy Pittsburgh lineup, with teammate Evgeni Malkin also a legitimate MVP threat, so look for the Penguins forward to continue to fuel the team’s high-octane offense.

Roberto Luongo

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    The Canucks goaltender currently ranks second in the league in goals-against average (1.46) and save percentage (.944). Luongo wasn’t even supposed to be the Vancouver starter this season, as Cory Schneider had supplanted him on the depth chart.

    In fact, Luongo has been rumored to be on his way out of the Pacific Northwest for months. As recently as Jan. 21, The Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole reported that the Canucks had a potential deal in place for Luongo. But at the rate Luongo is playing, don’t expect him to move anywhere fast.

    Luongo has always been a top-flight goaltender, and he is fully capable of keeping up his torrid start to the season. 

Steve Stamkos

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    The Lightning center is off to a scorching start, potting seven goals and tallying nine assists in eight games this season. That’s an average of nearly a goal per game, and it is quite possible Stamkos can continue to produce at a dizzying rate.

    Last season was the Tampa Bay sniper’s best, as he potted 60 goals. NESN named Stamkos as the best bet to score 50 goals in the lockout-shortened 48-game season, and he hasn’t disappointed yet.

    With winger Martin St. Louis and center Vincent Lecavalier helping out on offense, look for Stamkos to continue to produce at a near goal-per-game rate and possibly even hit that 50 goals in 48 games milestone.

Antti Niemi

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    Along with forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, Niemi is one of the prime reasons for the surprising start to the Sharks’ season. 

    The San Jose netminder is among the league leaders in goals-against average (1.80) and save percentage (.936). He is also tied for the league lead in wins with Montreal goaltender Carey Price at six.

    San Jose is off to a surging start and looks to be among the top teams in the Western Conference. With the team playing so well in front of him, expect Niemi to produce for the rest of the season at the rate he has so far.

Thomas Vanek

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    The Buffalo left winger is off to a blazing start to the season, leading the league with 19 points and standing second with eight goals.

    Don’t expect him to continue producing more than two points per game, but he certainly can be an offensive force for the rest of the season.

    Vanek has scored 40 goals in a season twice before, but he has displayed more of an all-around offensive game this year.

    The Sabres sniper is more than capable of keeping pace with his hot start. Expect him to remain near the top of the offensive leader board through the rest of the season.

Kevin Shattenkirk

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    The young Blues defender is off to a blazing start, producing at more than a point-per-game rate (nine points in eight games), and he is the second-highest scoring defender in the league.

    Shattenkirk seems to be in the midst of a breakout year after having scored at least 40 points in his first two NHL seasons. 

    The St. Louis defender benefits from sharing power-play time with fellow defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, so don’t expect him to let up his scoring pace.

    It’s quite likely the Blues whiz will remain among the top scoring defenders in the league for the rest of the season.