This will be an article about the good and the bad of this young season. I'm talking win-loss and how to fix what's broken and leave what isn't.
But first, I thought I'd use this forum to set my prediction in stone at the start of the season to legitimize it before you call me a bandwagon jumper.
The St. Louis Blues will challenge for the Division title this year.
I made this prediction three years ago when their 25 year streak ended and they missed the playoffs. My friends and I were talking hockey, St. Louis came up and I said, "wait three years, I bet they'll win the Central or come pretty close."
So far, so good. St. Louis is 4-1, with a telling match-up coming up against the reigning champs, Detroit. They're also the Blues competition in the Central. It should be a great game.
While we're on the subject, let's look at the unbeaten teams: Buffalo Sabres. Minnesota Wild...Edmonton Oilers...Montreal Canadiens (Besides the loss in the extra period)?? Sure, I thought the Habs would be ok out of the gate, but I thought they'd lose a few early before getting on a role and then settling into the 1st or 2nd position in their division around the new year. Well so far as much as I hate them, I can't deny, the work of Price and leadership skills of captain Saku Koivu has paced this team to a great start. It doesn't hurt that they barely allow two goals a game.
The other three teams are more surprising. Buffalo hasn't been a legitimate threat since losing both captains in the same off-season. Now they're unbeaten in the first handful of games, and looking for more. I'm interested to see how long the streak lasts-and if they can rebound once they get pegged with that loss.
Then we get Minnesota. They're doing it again with great defence. Unheralded as they are, the D is making Backstrom and Harding's job much easier. But remember the season is young.
The Oilers are looking scary right now. Four games in seven days...and they win em all?? Look out for this young team. Edmonton has looked shaky in their games. I'll admit that. I saw them break out on Saturday night though, and if they play like that for 60 minutes, the youth on this team could burn the older squads. I can't talk about Edmonton without mentioning Mathieu Garon. He's from Quebec, but I won't hold that against him because he's playing superbly. When Roloson gets a chance with the ball, we'll see what happens. Imagine a team with Moreau, Hemsky, Cogliano, and two netminders who can win any game?? They could really make some noise.
Let's take a look at three down: Tampa Bay, Philly, Anaheim...and Toronto. Oh how they're missing that big shot from the point and the garbage goals Sundin collected sneaking in. What the Leafs should look for throughout this season is a player who plays defence or the wing well, and can step up to the point with that Al MacInnis blast they need to create more chances. They don't need Sundin back, this is just a tough testfor the Leafs in a year they're expected to act as doormats all the way to the no. 1 selection in the 2009 entry draft. We'll see.
The other three teams are actually doing worse than Toronto, if you can believe it. At least the Leafs continued their interesting trend of beating the Cup champions each year (they're at 11 for 13 dating back to 1996). The Flyers, Ducks and Stamkos-led Lighting haven't won a single game as we near the final week of October. The Lightning, I expected to play poorly. They have three great scorers, but only two are seasoned enough to really be counted on out there. The other may be a No. 1 pick, but he's still learning, and should thank his lucky stars he landed in the NHL's weakest division. Let's hope Stamkos can start living up to his billing soon.
Then there's the Ducks. How the mighty, pardon the pun, have fallen. In games where the Ducks have lost even a goal, they haven't come away with the two points. That has to be discouraging. Or maybe, this will reinvigorate the goalies to play better as the season rolls along.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, prognosticating, predicting for you layman's out there, is a crapshoot. It's why we play the game. Sure, teams in the pros can look good on paper, but if any factor is missing, from the right coach to the best energy player, it can fall apart pretty fast. I hate to do this, but check out my Senators slow descent last season. It was so hard to watch as they blew their home ice advantage and then got blasted by the younger, but more impressive Penguins. But, that's the great thing about being a fan. Eventually, every team's time will come.
By looking at the teams in the penthouse and the basement in the National Hockey League, it looks like some teams will have to wait longer than others. Then again, if you're a fan of any team in trouble right now, follow these steps.
-Wait till Thanksgiving, check the record.
-Follow the rest of the season, and see if they made it back. Chances are, if their coach isn't Bruce Boudreau, they didn't.
But a real fan watches for fun. Just keep telling yourself that, besides, Toronto is a great city in the summer. There's golfing, I know that...but you might want to call ahead.
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