The Biggest Takeaways from Week 4 of the 2013-14 NHL Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistOctober 28, 2013

The Biggest Takeaways from Week 4 of the 2013-14 NHL Season

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    The NHL had a little bit of everything to offer its fans during the fourth week of the 2013-14 campaign.

    As the season starts to settle in, we've seen some early stories go quiet (hello, Tomas Hertl) while others have kept coming on strong (that's you, Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche).

    The scoring race is starting to look familiar with names like Crosby, Ovechkin and Stamkos near the top, though the Alexander Steens and Frans Nielsens of the world are doing their best to keep things interesting.

    The week capped off with a big, surprising trade among Eastern Conference foes.

    Here's a look at the biggest takeaways from the last seven days.

Garth Snow Can Still Make Us Scratch Our Heads

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    Early Sunday evening, the New York Islanders stopped the hockey world in its tracks when they announced they'd traded forward Matt Moulson plus two draft choices—a first-rounder in 2014 and a second-rounder in 2015—to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Thomas Vanek.

    That's a high price considering Vanek and Moulson are pretty similar at this point in their careers. Each is 29 years old and scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

    Vanek was younger when he made the NHL and put up bigger numbers in those first few years, as you can see by their career stats:

    Thomas Vanek: 598 GP, 254-243-497

    Matt Moulson: 333 GP, 124-109-233

    The last couple of seasons, however, tell a different story. Both players have nine points this year. Last season, Vanek had 41 points while Moulson had 44, and in 2011-12, Moulson had 69 compared to Vanek's 61.

    TSN's Bob McKenzie reports that despite the similar stats, Islanders general manager Garth Snow sees Vanek as an elite player: 

    NYI GM Garth Snow on Vanek trade: "We had opportunity to acquire an elite player and given where we we are right now (.500), you go for it."

    — Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) October 28, 2013

    Although the Islanders paid a premium price, McKenzie also confirms that there's no guarantee he'll re-sign on Long Island.

    Vanek's agent Stephen Bartlett said his client is "excited to be an Islander," but no contract extension is part of the trade.

    — Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) October 28, 2013

    The Islanders are an exciting young team. Vanek should love playing with their talented forwards, but at first glance it looks like Snow has once again made a trade that defies logic.

    As for the Sabres, the expected housecleaning is now officially underway. Watch for a Ryan Miller deal to follow soon.

Suspensions Aren't Stopping the Nasty Hits

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    This season, Canadian sports website has added a handy new feature to the NHL section of its website: the 2013-14 Suspension Tracker.

    With supplementary discipline being handed out on an almost-daily basis by Brendan Shanahan's Department of Player Safety, a list is becoming necessary to help keep track of who's in, who's out and what stage the process has reached.

    This week, John Scott of Buffalo came under fire after he knocked Boston's Loui Eriksson out of their game with a concussion. Scott won't even meet Shanahan for his hearing until Thursday, so it's likely his suspension will be a long one.

    With the constant flow of new material to analyze and dissect, highlights of illegal checks are becoming just as important in the nightly hockey wrapups as the goals and saves.

The Lightning Are Striking

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    While many teams in the Eastern Conference aren't living up to their preseason billing, the Tampa Bay Lightning have roared back into the playoff picture. Their 8-3 start gives them 16 points, enough to share top spot in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    The Lightning have been relying on their usual suspects Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis for their offense. This year, the difference has been improved defensive play and goaltending. Last season, they were 26th in the league in goals against, allowing 3.06 goals per game. So far this year, they've improved to an average of 2.82—good enough when you're third in scoring with 3.36 goals per game.

    Trade-deadline acquisition Ben Bishop has anchored the Lightning in net for seven of the team's eight wins, with a goals-against average of 2.47. 

    After finishing 27th in the league last year, Steve Yzerman's Lightning have made it clear that they're looking to get back to postseason play next spring.

West Is Still Best

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    As more games are played and the sample size grows, the Western Conference continues its unprecedented dominance over its brothers from the East.

    At the conclusion of Sunday's play, Western Conference teams were an amazing 50-19-8 against Eastern Conference teams. As a result of all the points being pulled from one conference to the other, four teams in the West have more points in the standings than the East's top teams, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

    So far this year, just one team in the Western Conference has a losing record against Eastern Conference teams—the Edmonton Oilers. 

    The West's record was 27-6-3 through the first two weeks of the season. Eastern teams have made a slightly better showing for themselves in Weeks 3 and 4 but still have a big hill to climb before they get back to level ground.

Matt Duchene Is the Poster Child for the New Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche are off to the hottest start in the NHL with a 9-1 record.

    New coach Patrick Roy has the entire team playing well. They've allowed the fewest goals in the league—a stingy 14 through 10 games thanks to Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere in net. 

    Up front, no one has embraced the new culture in Colorado more enthusiastically than Matt Duchene. Playing in his fifth NHL season at age 22, Duchene leads his team with 12 points and has already scored eight goals—many of the highlight-reel variety.

    Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports that Duchene committed to an offseason overhaul of both body and mind before the lockout-shortened season—moving to a gluten-free diet and engaging the services of a sports psychologist. His play was good enough to earn him a $30 million contract extension, but it's been the team's change of leadership that has really allowed him to move to the next level.

    Duchene has always had the skills. As he learns maturity and consistency, it won't be long before he becomes one of the game's most exciting stars.

Canucks Are Road Warriors

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    The Vancouver Canucks' new era under head coach John Tortorella is now firing on all cylinders after an uncertain start.

    The team put up a mediocre record of 3-3-0 through its first six games before embarking on its longest road trip of the season—a seven-game swing through the east.

    The Canucks returned to Vancouver on Saturday after going 5-1-1 over 11 days—the best record in franchise history for a road trip of seven games or more. Even more impressively, they got better as the trip went on. In Week 4, Vancouver was 3-0 with an overtime win on Long Island, a shootout win against New Jersey, then another overtime victory the following night, against St. Louis.

    Riding their star players and overcoming injury issues, the Canucks look to be gaining confidence and working as a team under Tortorella's guidance.

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