NHL Week In Review: Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars Lead the Charge
A fresh week in the NHL showed what a mixed bag this season has the capability to be. With the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars tied for the top spot in the league and the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks in their conferences' respective cellars, anything is possible.
Meanwhile, talented teams struggle to find their identity, and young, revamped contenders fight for recognition.
This season has the potential to be one of the most competitive in ages with perennial favorites being pushed around by underdogs and former punching bags knocking their opponents out cold.
This is also a season of great scorers and a promising rookie class in all phases of the game. Meanwhile, controversy over the league's discipline policies and the continuing struggle for notoriety in a three-sport US market create the perfect storm for a great season to come for new fans and old faithfuls.
Disappointment of the Week: The New Jersey Devils
The Devils need to start praying for salvation, and fast. At 1-4-1 with a measly three points and a goal differential of -11, they are the undisputed cellar dwellers of the season thus far. What is worse is that they own the worst goal differential in the league due not only to lackluster scoring, but the worst goaltending tandem in the league.
The combo of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have managed a GAA of 3.50, the brunt of which being allowed by Brodeur as the starter in all six games this season. The four-time Vezina Winner has a save percentage of only .887. However, all the blame does not lie with him.
Saddled with salary cap issues, the Devils have struggled to dress a full roster thus far, skating only 15 against the Penguins and Sabres this past week. They have taken an average of 34 shots per game, good enough for fifth most in the league, and yet have netted a league worst 1.67 goals per game.
Add to all their other woes the pathetic display they have made on special teams, and you have a recipe for disaster for a team who many expected to be strong contenders once again in the Eastern Conference.
Surprise of the Week: New York Islanders
Revival must be the theme of this season. The Islanders are leading the Atlantic Division right now, in part due to the strong backup netminding of Dwayne Roloson.
Rick DiPietro will also get a chance to show that his 15 year, $67.5 million contract may still pay dividends, albeit almost a third of the way through the contract which has caused the Islanders and their fans more grief than goaltending.
The young forwards of Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau have stepped up, leading the team with seven and six points respectively; while Doug Weight has provided strong assisting play and veteran leadership. The 39-year-old captain shows no signs of slowing down and has a chance to play a vital role on a very strong playoff contending team.
What makes the Islanders' resurgence all the more impressive is the division they play in, and the fact that they are still missing their two assistant captains to injuries in Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo and have been without their young star John Tavares for three of their first five games after suffering a mild concussion in their season opener against the Dallas Stars.
If the Islanders can keep up this level of play, they have a chance to not only contend for a playoff spot, but to fight for their first Atlantic Division title, and their first Division title since 1993.
Rookie of the Week: Michal Neuvirth
Chances are that if you live outside the Beltway, you don't know who Michal Neuvirth is, and you wouldn't be alone. However, if the first two weeks is any indication of this Czech's skills, that will soon change.
Being a rookie in today's NHL is tough. Being a rookie goaltender is even rougher. The season is long and tiring, and the life of a goalie in today's game is more physically and mentally demanding than ever before.
This rookie, though, has played with poise and presence between the pipes and lead his Capitals to the top of the Southeast Divison with a 4-1-0 record. Along the way he has earned all four of those wins while allowing a paltry 2.16 GAA and racking up an impressive .930 save percentage.
These aren't just Rookie of the Year numbers, these are Vezina Trophy numbers, and with a strong team in front of him, there is nothing standing between him and top honors at the end of the season. It is too early to call, and it is a long year for any netminder, nevermind a rookie, but this kid may just have what it takes.
Goal of the Week: TJ Oshie
Watch the video and you'll see right away why this is goal of the week. TJ Oshie makes two great moves around the defense and scores possibly the best backhanded goal of the season.
Apart from maybe Brent Burns' spin-o-rama of course.
What more can really be said about these two wonderful goals? Enjoy.
MVP of the Week: Brad Richards
The Dallas Stars may be without their annual fan favorite in Mike Modano who is now in Detroit, the league's unofficial retirement home, but it seems unlikely they will miss him much if Brad Richards keeps up the pace he is playing at.
The Stars are 4-0-0, and in that run, Richards has tallied nine points, seven assists and a plus seven in those four stellar outings, leading the league in the latter two categories.
If he continues to play this way, he could well be leading his team to a Pacific Division title come April. Though with the competition as it is right now, that isn't saying much.
Either way, he's playing great, and a Star in every sense of the word.
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