Western Conference: First Few Games Fly in The Face Of Expert Opinions
I know that it is probably way too early to be writing this article, but there have been so many surprises in the first week of NHL action that I just couldn't resist.
Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim, who just about everyone predicted to either win or be near the top of their respective divisions, are the bottom four teams in the conference.
Colorado, who everyone had pegged to be the bottom dwellers, has the third most points in the conference, coming off spectacular back to back games from their new goaltender, Craig Anderson, and stellar performances from their top line of Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk.
Calgary's revamped defense was widely touted to be one of the stingiest in the league, and their offense was expected to have trouble scoring. Three games, 106 shots against and 13 goals later, no one knows what to expect. Uncharacteristic early season good play from Miikka Kiprusoff in the first week, along with copious amounts of secondary scoring, have led the Flames through three close contests.
Detroit lost their first two games to division rivals St. Louis, due in large part to the play of NHL Third Star of the Week, Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya. Tkachuk's two goals and two assists lifted the Blues over the Wings in the two games series, while Kariya's two goals in the first game gave the Blues the win.
Notably missing from Detroit's performances was both Nicklas Lidstrom, who played both games and failed to register any points, and Detroit's power-play. While the PP went two for 10, it was moments like 1:36 of five on three in the first game where Detroit failed to find the net, and their inability to register more than four shots over three power plays during the second.
Vancouver's Roberto Luongo has been especially mediocre this season, as the Canucks are 0 for 3 in the first week of play, getting no help from their star goaltender who has posted a .820 save percentage and a 4.55 GAA. This is particularly disappointing, considering Vancouver's undefeated pre-season, which left many people with extremely high hopes for the year.
Also notable is amount of shots that the Canucks have registered. Over three games, Canuck players have taken 120 shots, an astounding 40 shots per game! Unfortunately, they have only managed to find the back of the net six times.
Shut down defenseman Willie Mitchell leads the team in points (3) while All Star and perennial top goal scorer Daniel Sedin has yet to light the lamp. Daniel is fifth in the league with 14 shots taken to date.
After losing 5-2 against Craig Anderson and the Colorado Avalanche, the Sharks had a convincing 4-1 victory against Anaheim, only to register a disappointing 6-4 loss to the LA Kings. The Sharks rallied from a four goal deficit, but had their comeback hopes squashed only 26 seconds after tieing it up on a behind the net shot from Teddy Purcell that went off backup goaltender Thomas Greiss' skate and into the net.
Much like Vancouver, San Jose has not benefited from the suspect play of former first team All-Star and 2008 Vezina runner up, Evegeni Nabokov. He has given up an atrocious 10 goals on 65 shots, and averages 3.95 goals against per game.
Lack of chemistry seems to be a major issue over the first three games as offseason addition Danny Heatley waited until game three to score his first goal as a Shark, and the defense looked strikingly porous in games one and three.
A 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks and blown three goal lead against Minnesota leaves the Ducks near the bottom of the conference with only a single point.
It took a while for the Ducks to get started this season, with two periods of pretty lousy hockey that saw them drop four goals to the Sharks. The next period was better, outshooting San Jose 14-8 and getting their first goal of the season from Ryan Whitney, but it wasn't enough to do significant damage to the four goal lead.
The Ducks started game two against the Wild strong, coming out of the first period still tied at 0 and netting three goals in the second, to enter the third up by three. Unfortunately, a poor showing in the third allowed Minnesota to catch up and poor discipline allowed Andrew Brunette to score Minnesota's game winning overtime goal on the power-play.
All in all, the Ducks haven't been too bad, no one has really stood out, just a few bad periods that Anaheim should be able to iron out in a couple games.
I fully expect that these teams will get their problems sorted over the course of the next couple of weeks, but until then, I for one, will enjoy seeing Detroit and Vancouver at the bottom of the charts.
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