At The Quarter Point In The NHL, What Teams Are For Real?
We are a quarter of the way through the 2008-2009 NHL season already. I can't believe it.
Some Quick Notes
Ryan Getzlaf was held to one point and a -5 in his first six games. Through 22 games he is now tied for second in the NHL in points with 27 at +4.
Shea Weber has 21 points in just as many games, with 10 goals. Is he this year's Mike Green?
Not exactly, he has been around, some people just forgot about him after an injury-plagued season last year, but he is the current Norris Trophy favorite. He has a cannon of a shot and won't hesitate to knock opposing forwards into Imaginationland.
Regardless of stats, these guys have impressed me the most this year:
Zach Parise—an unstoppable force and will have success through another two decades.
Marc Savard—A monkey with a broom could score 20 goals on this guy's wing.
Mike Richards—It's an absolute treat to watch him compete.
Derick Brassard—is the real deal. Finally, someone to take the pressure off of Rick Nash.
Luca Sbisa and Drew Doughty—They are 18. Human years in age. They have as much patience as veteran defensemen, but make fewer mistakes than most. The Calder Trophy will go to a D-man this year if Brassard finishes under 80 points.
What Teams are For Real?
San Jose Sharks
They have been the trendy team to pundits as a Stanley Cup favorite for about three or four years now, which has been their jinx. But the stats this year don't lie, even though they seem fictitious: The Sharks are out shooting their opponents 37.4 to 25.7 on a per game average. That is a margin of almost 12. The median average shots is 29.8 per game. Based on this, the average team gets 30 shots per game, 10 each period. What this means is that the Sharks are out shooting their opponents on average by an extra period. That is ridiculous.
What is even sillier is that they have won 100 percent of the games in which they have been out shot. What this means is that they are unbeatable. Not really, but this team is for real. Eklund from Hockeybuzz.com said on Nov. 17, "The Sharks will not lose 10 games this season." Anything short of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance is a disappointment for this team.
Goaltending is the question. The answer: score more goals. They are 25th in goals against so they must be fifth in goals for in order to have a stranglehold on the top spot in the Southeast. No surprise there, they have an Alexander that lights the lamp with regularity—OK, they have two.
Alexander Semin has been sidelined for a week with a groin injury, but that hasn't dethroned him from leading his team in goals (13) or points (27) in just 16 games played. Ovechkin has answered the call with Semin going down and has scored 15 points in his last eight games.
If they can stay healthy, which they currently are not, through the rest of the season, and can continue to play enough defense to make up for their spotting goaltending, they can do some damage in the East. Look for Brent Johnson to make a strong bid for the starting role by the end of the year. With this much firepower, they are for real.
New York Rangers
In direct contrast to the Capitals, the Rangers are strong from the back out.
Henrik Lundqvist is one of those few goaltenders that come along and carry a team on his back to success. He has been terrific this season and has stolen no less than five games for them. He will continue to do so, backing up a new cast of young skaters that are looking much more like a young group from a playoff hopeful team than the typical high profile Rangers-type of roster.
They now have it all: solid goaltending, hard working, puck moving defensemen, and talent shooters mixed with some gritty grinders, that somehow all play together seamlessly.
Currently, their biggest problem is consistency, with the exception of Lundqvist. They will either win the competitive Atlantic or slip behind Pittsburgh or Philly and still start the post-season with a No. 4 seed.
If only someone could bottle the Chicago Blackhawks for mass distribution. They have it all: skill, speed, toughness, size, talented D-men, and, goaltending? (I'm Ron Burgundy?) This is all mixed into the pot decorated in Original Six heritage.
While the Calder Trophy winner and runner-up from 2007-2008 try not to have sophomore slumps, the Blackhawks are getting scoring from everywhere, which will ultimately take the pressure off of Toews and Kane, enabling them to have productive seasons.
Also, a new young gun has come to town by the name of Kris Versteeg, and he is an absolute firecracker of energy and potential. Aaron Johnson joins the already talented young adult duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and the off-season addition of Brian Campbell is worth every penny.
Goaltending? OK, I admit that Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin (nailed it) aren't exactly franchise net-minders, but they are playing fairly well despite a somewhat rocky start. I like having two solid net-minders, and it looks like Coach Q is using internal competition as a spark plug, and sticking with who is hot.
I love this strategy, but ultimately a go-to guy must be selected for the playoffs. If Huet can step up into that role, which he was brought into fill, and the young skaters can keep doing what they do best, the Blackhawks are for real.
Overtaking the Wings in the Central is a mammoth challenge, which is why there are eight playoff spots. Look for them to finish somewhere between fourth and sixth in the West.
The Jury is Out on These NHL Franchises
Dubbed by many to be Western Conference favorites, the Stars have started the season as anything but contenders.
We finally learned just how important Sergei Zubov was to this team. He missed the first 12 games of the season and the Stars went a dismal 4-6-2. They since are not much better, as the entire team has struggled finding their identity, that of the all-heart, fast-skating, hard-hitting, defensively water-tight, and sound between the pipes team of the 2008 playoffs.
Now, with Brendan Morrow out for six months with a torn right ACL, they may not acquire that identity again this season. To get back over .500 and have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, they will have to adopt a new one, with the added youth of Fabian Brunnstrom.
Brad Richards will have to take over as the on-ice leader, and Mike Modano will simply have to continue to sip from the fountain of youth. Also, Marty Turco has to become Marty Turco.
The Boston Bruins are tied for third in the NHL in points with 32.
This rag-tag roster of Bruins has turned into a group of you-name-him-I'll-take-hims from a group of take-him-or-leave-hims. With nine players in double digit points and the rest not far behind, these Boston Bruins are a true example of cohesive team play.
Not only that, they are exciting. Marc Savard has been skating with Phil Kessel on the top line with Milan Lucic on what is one of the most fun lines to watch in the NHL.
Lucic shadows his smaller line-mates, like Chuck Norris on skates. OK, not really, but he will drop the gloves with anyone.
Phil Kessel is as explosive as anyone in the league, and with Savard centering, should easily flirt with 40 goals this season.
Also, remember what was mentioned about internal competition in net? That is what is happening with the return of Manny Fernandez amidst the success of Tim Thomas. Thomas is nutcase, in a good way. He hates to lose and I'm sure that having his No. 1 spot challenged only fuels him to perform. So far, the proof is in the pudding.
I just don't know if this team can hang on. The Northeast Division is not what it used to be, but it is no picnic either.
I am certain they will make the playoffs, I just don't know if they will finish top three in points in the East as they are now. They don't have a lot of playoff experience on the roster, and for some reason they seem to be cursed lately.
I like this team, but for some reason, I don't seem them being able to beat Washington, Pittsburgh, New York, or Philadelphia in a seven-game series.
With this all said, there is not a bad team in the NHL.
Tampa has struggled, but has world-class talent. The Islanders haven't impressed, but with DiPietro can beat anyone on any given night. The Los Angeles Kings are a different team this year, and have had marginal success without Jack Johnson. The Leafs are putting the puck in the net regularly. Atlanta finally has removed the scoring problem off the back of Kovalchuk. Phoenix is a quick, tough team to play against. Florida has inconsistent talent, but consistent goaltending.
In the NHL, anything can and will happen.
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