Over two weeks are now in the books of the new 2011-2012 NHL season, and we've begun to get a picture of how the early season standings will look.
Determining the true contenders and pretenders is still a long way off, nevertheless, a few noteworthy surprises and disappointments have already shaken up the league standings.
Expected powers Boston, Tampa Bay, and Montreal have slipped out of the gate, while up-and-comers like Toronto, Dallas, and Colorado have capitalized on the opportunities and made statements in the early going. Meanwhile, many of the perennial dynasties—particularly Washington, Buffalo, Detroit, and Los Angeles—remain kings of the hill.
On the scoring table, a surprise leader has emerged in the Leafs' Phil Kessel, who has set the pace with 14 points in just seven games played.
Reputable forwards such as Thomas Vanek, Anze Kopitar, and Daniel and Henrik Sedin aren't far behind, but nowhere near the top are typical superstars like Alexander Ovechkin or last year's goal-scoring leader Corey Perry. Tampa Bay's Marc-Andre Bergeron is a rather shocking player to lead all defensemen in scoring as well.
Still, some of the biggest free agent landings of the summer have failed to disappoint with their new clubs. Florida's Kris Versteeg has four goals and eight points; New York's Brad Richards has five points and a plus-two rating; Washington's new net-minder Tomas Vokoun is 6-0-0 with an incredible .944 save percentage and whopping 1.80 GAA.
Looking beyond the simple scoring leaders, however, leads to an even more amazing collection of statistics from the far-reaching corners of the NHL's mumble-jumble of numbers.
It's stats like the Columbus Blue Jackets' record in one-goal games (0-4-1) or Darcy Hordichuk's time on the ice this year (just four minutes and three seconds total in three games played) that really make hockey junkies drop their jaws and raise their eyebrows.
We've picked out 11 more mind-boggling statistics from the first two and a half weeks of the 2011-2012 campaign to examine, no matter how important or pointless they happen to be.
The young Edmonton Oilers have posted a decent 3-2-2 record and allowed just 1.43 goals per game against them so far this season, but they should be a lot better off than they truly are.
The Oilers have done a terrible job with handling their leads, as they've had the edge on the scoreboard at the first intermission four times already yet have failed to win a single one of those games. Among the heartbreakers that have led to this 0-2-2 mark was a desperate rally by the Calgary Flames, who scored twice in the last six minutes to win their meeting 2-1, and a goal by Minnesota's Dany Heatley with two seconds remaining that eventually led to a shootout defeat.
Thankfully, Edmonton is actually undefeated in three games when tied or trailing after 20 minutes of play, but many fans and players alike believe that the Oilers have deserved to win far more than only three times.
The Washington Capitals are back.
The offense that finished third in the league in '08-'09 and first in '09-'10 took an expected yet dramatic hit in production last year as they dropped to a mediocre 16th in goals scored. The defensive tendencies, however, failed to result in any more success than before, and the Caps' attack is back again with a vengeance.
Led by team stars Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, as well as emerging leaders like Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble, Washington sits untouched at 7-0-0 in the standings. They're also miles ahead of the rest in the goal-scoring department; the club is currently averaging a ridiculous total of 4.14 goals per game (last year's leading offense, Vancouver, averaged just 3.15 tallies per contest).
The budding breakouts of youngsters Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault will only add even more dynamite to the explosive attack budding in the United States' capital city.
One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the '11-'12 campaign up to this point has been the success of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs were a playoff combatant season before last but tumbled to 14th in the Western Conference in '10-'11 and looked to be beginning their rebuilding process all over again this summer.
Thankfully, they clearly have passed that stage already.
Colorado stands at a solid 6-2-0 where it counts, with all but one of those victories coming in games decided by just a single goal. The "Mile High Franchise" has toppled Boston 1-0, Columbus and Toronto 3-2, Chicago 5-4, and Montreal 6-5 to generate an impeccable 5-0-0 record in one-goal matches, much to the thrill of their growing fanbase.
By letting a summer of changes go to waste, the Vancouver Canucks clearly stated they believed that their '10-'11 squad—which claimed a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals before falling in seven games—had the firepower they needed to go all the way this year.
After two and a half weeks of the new season, it looks as if they might've been wrong.
Although the 'Nucks have scrambled to post a respectable 4-3-1 record as of October 25, they've had to put together more than a few rallies to earn those nine points. In fact, Vancouver has held the lead at the second intermission just one time in eight games (a 5-1 win over Nashville last Thursday).
Contributing significantly to Vancouver's struggles has been much-criticized goaltender Roberto Luongo, who's so far been outplayed by promising backup Cory Schneider. Luongo is just 2-2-1 with a miserable .877 save percentage and 3.17 goals-against average (GAA).
Albeit a relatively unsuccessful one so far, the Ottawa Senators '11-'12 campaign has been nothing if not peculiar.
They've hung with some of the league's best (against Toronto and Detroit), made furious rallies to earn their two points (against Columbus and Minnesota), and then been absolutely slaughtered on home ice (against Colorado and Philadelphia).
They've scored 2.88 goals per game, tied for eighth in the league, but given up a league-worst 4.25 per game. Their powerplay has fared quite well at 29 percent. On the other hand, the penalty kill has been murdered time and time again.
The strangest of all of the statistics coming out of Ottawa this year has been the team's insane imbalance of goals; three in the first period, five in the second, and a stunning 15 in the third. It has failed to earn them much in the way of wins—the Sens are 3-5—but it has definitely made for some clutch fireworks in a number of games.
We knew the Nashville Predators' offense was going to be bad. Having a first line of David Legwand, Sergei Kositsyn, and Patric Hornqvist will do that to a team.
But this bad? We had no idea.
For starters, the leading scorer on the Preds' offense has two goals...and yes, you heard that right. Even more appalling, still, is their remarkable lack of a shot presence—the club has averaged a mere 22.1 shots per game over their first seven games.
If they stayed on that pace throughout the entire year, it would be the lowest average in the history of the National Hockey League. Now there is a bad offense!
The winless Columbus Blue Jackets really, really want to forget about October. They're 0-7-1, are a league-worst minus-12 in goal differential, and just blew a lead in the final minute to lose in regulation a few days ago.
But that's simply the rest of their troubles. Arguably the worst facet of this '11-'12 Blue Jackets squad is their penalty kill, a unit that's been about as effective as a group of five second-graders would be.
Columbus has allowed a more-than-alarming 10 scores in just 23 shorthanded situations, an atrocious effectiveness rate of 64.3 percent that, if continued for much longer, will cause more than a few critics to suggest re-assignment of the team down to the AHL.
Furthermore, the Jackets have allowed a man-advantage goal to their opponent in all but one of their games so far, including two against the 27th-ranked Minnesota Wild powerplay.
Don't fear, though, for we have an idea: every time Columbus takes a penalty, how about just adding one goal to other team's total and taking two free minutes off the clock as a simple and fair compromise?
The 2010-2011 NHL season donated its share of violent games to the all-time stash of the most vicious games in history. Three contests that come to mind would be the Dallas Stars—Boston Bruins game on Nov. 1st, the Montreal Canadiens—Boston Bruins showdown on Feb. 9th, and the Pittsburgh Penguins—New York Islanders insanity two days later on Feb. 11th.
Well, the new year has found its first memorable battle on ice, and, as you could probably figure, it involved the Boston Bruins.
Actually, this particular game was quite a lot more lopsided than any of last season's fight fests. In their Oct. 18th hosting of the Carolina Hurricanes, who eventually defeated them 4-1, the Bruins racked up 72 penalty minutes (the 'Canes had only 22), including 47 in the third period.
Zdeno Chara got it started in the second when he hammered Jay Harrison before turning on Cam Ward, drawing a push-throwing crowd of onlookers. Later, all hell broke loose with 9:30 to play with a trio of skirmishes, soon followed by a Nathan Horton mugging of Tim Gleason, and then a parade of illegal hits and slashes by Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, and Dennis Seidenberg.
All in all, five Bruins were ejected, including coach Claude Julien; the Hurricanes capitalized on their five-plus minutes of 5-on-3 time, and a dozen or so bottles of gatorade and the like were tossed on the TD Banknorth Garden ice over the course of the final eight minutes.
You can watch all of the action in this Youtube compilation.
And now for a more meaningless statistic: what is New York Rangers enforcer Mike Rupp's shooting percentage this season.
Nope, guess again!
As crazy as that sounds, he's actually at 100 percent for the year! The 31-year-old forward, who has just 50 goals in 503 career games, has scored one time on his one shot of the season.
Now it's time to make some bets—how long can he keep that up?
Phil Kessel has never been a much-loved man in Toronto, and given the price they paid to acquire him a few years back, it's probably rightful criticism (although the unbalanced trade wasn't something he could've changed).
The 24-year-old right winger has blossomed suddenly this autumn. He's totaled eight goals, 14 points and a plus-six rating in seven appearances for the surging Leafs. That's good enough to lead the league by two points and put him on an unheard-of pace of two points per game.
It's simple math from there on out, for, indeed, Kessel is truly on a curve that would carry him to an incredible 164 points if he could keep it up. Compare that to last season's point scorer Daniel Sedin who scored only 104 points, and Toronto's Wisconsin-born superstar suddenly looks like a freak of nature!
We've unearthed a variety of fascinating statistics from the depths of the NHL database, but there's no way that the most well-known statistic of the year so far could be left off the list.
Los Angeles net-minder Jonathan Quick, entering his fourth season as the Kings' starting goalie, has always been a solid and promising young player. However, it's hard to imagine anyone predicting the start to the '11-'12 campaign that he's had.
25-year-old Quick, another U.S.-born star, is 5-0-1 on the year with a simply outrageous .972 save percentage and 0.81 GAA. The main reason why his stat line looks like that though is the fact that Quick just hasn't allowed a goal in his last 188 minutes on the ice.
"188 minutes?!" you say. "Why, that's over three games!"
Not since Claude Giroux's goal against him with 6:31 remaining in the third period of their game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 15th has Quick surrendered a goal. He held the Flyers scoreless from there on out in an eventual 3-2 overtime victory and has since stopped the St. Louis, Phoenix and Dallas offenses from breaking their goose egg on the scoreboard as the Kings ride their four-game winning streak.
Even more amazingly (if that's actually possible), he's doing all of this without perhaps his best supporting defenseman, Drew Doughty.
It's hard to see any player in the NHL having the skills to break Quick's psyche right now, and if he can maintain the streak through their game tonight against New Jersey, the Kings' next two opponents are teams that Quick has already shut out earlier on the streak (the Stars and Coyotes).
So, it's time for one final prediction of the day.
By December 13th, the NHL will be holding open auditions in the Staples Center for any daring and confident hockey player to see if he, for one, can crack Jonathan Quick's history books-bound shutout legend.