9 Most Confident NHL Teams at the Quarter Mark of the Season

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2013

9 Most Confident NHL Teams at the Quarter Mark of the Season

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    Winning begets confidence, and the first quarter-plus of the NHL season has shown that several of the best teams in the league have gotten off to sharp starts in the 48-game 2013 season.

    That's the strategic thing to do in a league where three-point games often hamstring slow-starting teams.

    That's especially true in a shortened season.

    Smart coaches know the danger of falling behind early in the season. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten off to stellar starts this year, and they have confidence in their ability to take things even further as the season progresses.

    All of the teams on this list have confidence that they can go on long and successful runs in the postseason.

    All but one of these teams have winning records at this point in the season.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Whether it's the Stanley Cup hangover or not, the Los Angeles Kings have gotten off to a dreadful 5-6-2 start.

    They are sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference after their Feb. 17 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, and they have a lot of work to do if they are going to make the playoffs again.

    However, this is a complete team with an explosive roster. They have the ability to go on a long streak that would allow them to reel in opponents and climb the standings steadily from this point forward.

    There is no loss of confidence in the Los Angeles locker room. There may not be a lot of happiness, and head coach Darryl Sutter may not be the most pleasant individual to be around, but the Kings can still make a run.

    When you have Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quicks, you have an excellent team and a good chance to play 60 solid minutes.

    The Kings may or may not make it back to the playoffs. If they fail to earn a spot in the postseason, it won't be the result of a lack of confidence.

New York Rangers

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    The Rangers got off to a disappointing start in this shortened season, and that had to rub head coach John Tortorella the wrong way.

    However, you can't look at the New York Rangers' roster and say they are not one of the better teams in the NHL.

    The Rangers have not yet hit their full stride, yet they have improved to the point where they have an 8-5-1 record and are sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

    They are trying to chase down the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils in the Atlantic Division and climb higher in the Eastern Conference.

    They will be a tough team for any opponent to beat in the postseason. Tortorella's defense-first philosophy allows the Rangers to block shots that no other team would be able to stop and they also have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Henrik Lundqvist.

    Rick Nash has not started to put the puck in the net with regularity—he has only three goals—but he leads the team with 12 points. His presence gives the Rangers more offense than they had last year, and this team should be difficult to beat the rest of the season.

St. Louis Blues

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    Few teams played more efficient hockey last year than the St. Louis Blues, and they were expected to jump out and continue their growth this season.

    But the team's greatest strength became a question mark as goaltending became an issue early in the season. Brian Elliott has struggled in the early part of the season, and Jaroslav Halak (strained groin) has injury issues.

    However, while the Blues lost a few games that they would have been expected to win, their confidence level never slipped. They brought up minor-league goaltender Jake Allen, and he has been solid with a 3-0-0 record and a 2.76 goals against average. His .888 save percentage is a bit concerning.

    It's not an issue to this point, because the Blues have the ability to play relentless hockey and check their opponents all over the ice.

    Left wing Alex Steen leads the team with 15 points, while defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is right behind with 14 points. However, it's T.J. Oshie who sets the tone for this team: He has five goals and eight assists with his aggressive approach.

    The Blues have also gotten a lift from rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, who has scored six goals and added six assists. He makes them a more dangerous offensive team than they were a year ago.

New Jersey Devils

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    Quite a few observers felt sorry for the New Jersey Devils at the start of the season because they lost Zach Parise, the team's emotional leader.

    Parise signed a big-money deal to play with the Minnesota Wild. Assistant coaches Adam Oates and Larry Robinson also left, and it seemed inevitable that the Devils would slip a few notches this year.

    However, general manager Lou Lamoriello may be the best at his position in the league, and unassuming Peter DeBoer is an outstanding head coach. They have given the Devils a solid team once again.

    They are rolling with a 9-3-3 record and they have their eyes on catching the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

    Start with future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, who may have slowed down a tad but still has a 7-2-2 record with a 2.42 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.

    Veteran Patrik Elias has 19 points and is among the NHL's most consistent players. David Clarkson has already reached double digits with 10 goals scored.

    This team is loaded with belief in itself. They know that they are capable of going on a long postseason run.

Vancouver Canucks

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    The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL since the 2008-09 season. They appear to be fully capable of finishing first in the Western Conference once again, and even of winning the Stanley Cup.

    However, the Canucks have been stopped by the last three Stanley Cup champions.

    They have done a good job of putting those painful memories behind them and are still a formidable team. Daniel and Henrik Sedin once again lead the team in scoring, while talented defenseman Alexander Edler knows how to trigger the attack from the blue line.

    The Canucks have gotten sharp goaltending from Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider this season. Luongo has been startlingly effective with a 4-0-3 record, a 1.63 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.

    Any opponent knows that if they are going to have a chance to beat the Canucks, they must play their best game to do it.

Boston Bruins

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    The Boston Bruins are one of the most physical and deepest teams in the league, and they have gotten out of the gate by playing consistent hockey.

    Their 9-2-2 getaway indicates they are capable of playing deep into the playoffs and have a chance to regain the Stanley Cup that they won in 2011.

    The Bruins have a stellar defensive team, and goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have allowed them to overcome the loss of Tim Thomas—to this point in the season. There's still a lot for Rask to prove, but he won't have the chance until the Bruins are playing postseason hockey.

    The Bruins have stellar talent on the blue line with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg leading the way. Rookie Dougie Hamilton appears to have the skills to become a future star.

    The Bruins have plenty of clutch scoring ability with David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron leading the way, but the Bruins don't usually fill up the net and bury the majority of their scoring opportunities (source: CSNNE.com). That has given head coach Claude Julien cause for concern, and it could be a problem in a series against a high-scoring opponent.

    Nevertheless, this is a confident and capable team.

Anaheim Ducks

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    There are not a lot of surprises at or near the top of either conference, but the Anaheim Ducks are the exception.

    The Ducks never threatened for a playoff spot last year, but they are a much more confident and productive team this season. Head coach Bruce Boudreau has seen his team get off to a shocking 11-2-1 start.

    The Ducks are big, strong and have the ability to dominate. Viktor Fasth is one of the top stories of the year. He has been stellar in goal, recording an 8-0-0 start, with a 1.78 goals against average and a .933 save percentage.

    Veterans Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are at the top of the scoring list for the Ducks, but Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Daniel Winnik are right behind, and all of them are capable of carrying this team a long way.

    The Ducks may be a surprise this year, but when the players look around the locker room, they believe in themselves.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    When Sidney Crosby is healthy, the Pittsburgh Penguins are always going to be a difficult team to beat.

    The Philadelphia Flyers and their fans may not want to hear it, but Crosby is an all-time great player and is capable of leading the league in scoring and being the best player in the NHL. He is nearly at that form right now.

    But the Penguins are far more than the Crosby show. Evgeni Malkin is probably Crosby's equal in offensive talent and is an excellent leader, as well. James Neal is an offensive force, and Kris Letang is one of the best defensemen in the league.

    Marc-Andre Fleury had an abominable showing in last year' s playoffs as the Penguins' defense broke down, but he has bounced back with a strong start this season. Fleury has an 8-3-0 record with a 2.34 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

    If the defense and goaltending can hold up for the Penguins, they will be difficult to knock out this season.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have been rolling since the lockout ended.

    They set the tone in the season opener by beating the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings the day they raised their championship banner.

    The Blackhawks have not tasted regulation defeat with a 12-0-3 record, and they are playing with the same form they had in 2009-10 when they won the Stanley Cup.

    They are dominating with their offense and puck possession. The Hawks seem to be attacking most of the time, and they have a league-high plus-20 goal differential through the early part of the season.

    Patrick Kane (nine goals, 12 assists) is playing sensational hockey and appears to be far more serious about his game than he has been in the past. Goalies Corey Crawford (1.65 GAA) and Ray Emery (2.17 GAA) have also given the Hawks a boost with their consistency.

    The Hawks were beaten in the first round of the playoffs the last two years, and there is pressure for this team to once again assert itself in the playoffs. Head coach Joel Quenneville has gotten the players' attention, and the Hawks are playing confident and winning hockey.