Analyzing the First Five Weeks of the NHL Season

Kyle HollandCorrespondent INovember 7, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 02:  Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on November 2, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Kings defeated the Coyotes 5-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The season is already a month old and so much has been happening in the league. Teams that were expected to be basement dwellers are living in the penthouse, elite teams are struggling, injuries galore to superstars, elite players aren't meeting expectations, while others are making a name for themselves, and some players maybe thinking way too much about the Olympics and aren't focusing enough on their respected teams. Here's a look at all of the above.

First off, let's start with the most surprising story of the season so far, shall we? Everyone with an opinion of hockey, had the Colorado Avalanche finishing either 29th or 30th in the league this season. While a month doesn't make an entire season, still it's amazing to see them on top of the NHL so far.

Craig Anderson is starting to look like the best free agent pick up this season so far, and as well came at extremely affordable cap hit of 1.812 million dollars. He, along with a very underrated defensive corp and surprising contributions from rookies have the Avalanche sitting on top after 17 games.

The Avalanche haven't been able to fight off the injury bug or swine flu epidemic that's been spreading around the NHL, but it's not slowing them down either. Back up Peter Budja has been out with the Swine Flu, Darcy Tucker, Ruslan Salei, John Micheal Liles, Chris Mcleod, Matt Hendricks, and Tom Pressing are out of the line up or have missed time due to injuries.

Along with Anderson, being the first reliable goaltender since the St. Patrick days, Foote is still showing that at age 36 he's still one of the best shut down defensemen in the game. He's at a plus five and logging an average of 21:22 minutes a night. He's certainly making the transition from the Joe Sakic era as painless as possible and showing everyone their rebuilding was short lived.

Kyle Quincey is paying dividends from the Ryan Smyth trade. He is their best puck moving defensemen since maybe when Rob Blake first came to the franchise about a decade ago or even perhaps the slick Sandis Ozolinsh back in the 90's.

Peter Stastny is proving to everyone that this is his team now,leading the team with 16 points in 17 games. Milan Hedjuk is having to bounce back from last season with a respectable 14 points, Ryan O'Reilly, who has 14 points as well, has about 29 other GM's wondering why they didn't pick him before the Avs did with their 33rd pick.

Matt Duchene is having trouble adjusting though with seven points and a minus six rating. But the Wojtek Wolski is powering their offense with his team leading eight goals and 14 points to have a three way tie for second place in points.

Quality goaltending, solid sound defense, and timely scoring, has the Avalanche on top in the NHL so far. How much longer will this hold up? Will they hit a major slump and fall out of contention before the end of the season or will they be the Cinderella story for this season and possibly win the Northwest Division right from under the noses of Calgary and Vancouver?

Phoenix seems to not be having trouble focusing on the ice with all the drama surrounding the club off of it. They have had a strong start and that's mainly due to their goaltending duo of Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason Labarbera. Bryg's currently has an amazing 1.81 GAA and a .93 percent while Labarbera's has a 2.28 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Ed Jovanovski is proving he isn't too old anymore and can still move the backout and as always Shane Doan is providing his steady contributions. However, the additions of Jim Vandermer, Robert Lang, Adrian Aucoin Vadim Vrbata, and Matthew Lombardi, is what is propelling this club. Young players such as Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, aren't showing their promise and potential. Mueller has three points so far, Turris isn't playing with the club, and Boedker has only played one game.

The Los Angeles Kings are showing they are becoming what many thought them to be. Will the playoffs go Hollywood though this spring? The addition to Ryan Smyth has paid dividends, as Anze Kopitar has taken his game to a whole new level to propel this team. He currently leads the NHL with 26 points in 16 games(13-13).

The first line of Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth, and Justin Williams are showing they are one of the best top lines in the NHL right now, but how long can they keep this up? If they do it for a whole year, the Kings will make the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and may possibly challenge the Sharks for the Pacific crown...possibly.

Kings management showed they knew what they were doing with putting all their goaltending stock in the young Jonathon Quick, who is playing himself onto the U.S Olympic team as the third goaltender. He has 10 wins in his 15 games with a shoddy 2.58 GAA and a .902 save percentage, but the team is winning.

Drew Doughty is having a hell of a sophomore year with 14 points so far and is giving the Kings fans a lot to look forward to, more so than he did last year. He has a positive rating so far with a plus five. Along with a rookie defensemen who many may not know yet, Davis Drewiski, who is a plus 10. Jack Johnson has some improvements to make as he only has five points and is a minus three so far.

The biggest success for the Kings so far has been their offense. Last year, that was their worst department. But so far, the Kings have three lines that can score and have six forwards who have 10 or more points and two players with nine so far. If they improve defensively a tad bit more, continue their offensive pace, the Kings become one of the biggest threats in the NHL. That's something no one has probably heard of since the early 90's when they had Wayne Gretzky, Lucky Luc, and young Rob Blake.

The New York Islanders are now sitting in the top 10 in the Eastern Conference. They have been fairly competitive in every game so far this season. However, they have been known for giving up in the third period and giving up leads to walk away with one point in overtime.

The Islanders are being powered by a very young team and are getting majority of their offense from John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and surprisingly Matt Moulson. If the Islanders get more out of their defense and some more secondary scoring, as well as play a whole 60 minute game, could they be in the running for a playoff spot this year?

If they have a lot going for them by the time Rick Dipetro comes back from his umpteenth injury since signing his career life contract, maybe the Islanders should think of other options to not mess with the goaltending chemistry of Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson.

The Carolina Hurricanes shocked everyone when they beat the Boston Bruins in the second round to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, but this year they are the worst team in the NHL and only have two wins. They built a team on veterans possibly though they're all too old. It's possible that they're will be a fire sale this year and everyone on the team will be available besides Eric Staal and Cam Ward. Things don't look too well for this club.

I know I had picked them to be the sixth or seventh seed this year, but I don't see them being anywhere else but 15th all year long. Them and Toronto will be duking it out for the basement this year. However, Toronto's fortunes may change as Kessel has sparked this team, but still there's no playoffs this year. They'll be trying to make sure that Boston doesn't get a lottery pick this year or a top five pick.

The Boston Bruins are a team that isn't meeting expectations, but maybe those expectations were a little too high given the off season they have had along with current injury woes. Last season, seems to have been their best chance to have won the Cup in the short term. This season, they should make the playoffs, unless teams such as divisional rivals Buffalo, Ottawa, or Montreal keep one step ahead of them.

There's a lot of factors to why they are doing so terrible so far, that doesn't make it a mystery. When you trade your top goal scorer for future drafts picks, you're going to struggle in the beginning. As well as when you have a player such as Marc Savard get injured seven games into the season and your game changer Milan Lucic in six games.Those three players were Boston's top line last year.

Savard is highly underrated and it's surprising he wasn't invited to the Canadian Olympic camp in August. Savard has been the most consistent play-maker since the lockout and is a great two way player, can play under pressure, is great in the face off circle, and has a great character to have in the locker room. Anyone who listened to him when he was mic'd up during the All-star weekend last year, can tell he's a pretty funny guy and can lighten up tension, but can also be serious when it matters.

Lucic has sometimes been compared to a young Cam Neely, but he'll probably never reach that goal prowess. He does contribute a lot though with his physical play, momentum changing hits, and fights. Boston needs a player like him in the corners battling it out or his presence in front of the net to create traffic.

Along with those three, Boston traded away Aaron Ward, who although is towards the end of his career, is a good shut down defensemen who can play minutes as well. Along with Stephane Yelle who was their checking center, but might not even be a missing factor as he couldn't stay up with Carolina and got sent down to the minors a couple of weeks ago.The Bruins were struggling to score from the get go, which is puzzling why, they traded Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota for more draft picks.

The Bruins have six draft picks in the first two rounds for the 2010 and 2011 draft and may be getting a lottery draft pick from their trade of Kessel to Toronto. But Bruin fans want a Cup now, they deserve one since 1972 when they last won the big one. Trading Kobasew voided the Bruins of a 20 goal scorer and a gritty forward.

Finally though, the Bruins may have put too much on Tim Thomas. Thomas has for every season while with the Bruins, showed he belonged in every single game. He had to prove himself every single minute. After winning the Vezina Trophy last season, he was rewarded with a five-year contract worth $25 million. Maybe Thomas is tired from his style of playing like every game was his last, or maybe his big contract and terms has made him complacent. Whatever the reason may be, he needs to be better than he was last year until this team gets going again.

There have been some quite a few struggling players this season so far. Vincent Lecavalier is playing himself off of Team Canada with only two goals so far this season. Vinny does have 14 points in 16 games so far, but Vinny has been more known as a scorer than a playmaker. The pressures of making Team Canada, along with still adjusting to off season surgery on his wrist and shoulder, may have contributed to him not finding the back of the net. A bigger factor may be though, not having Vascal Prospal on his line anymore.

If Prospal was still with the Lightning, maybe Lecavalier would have had more goals and the Ligntning would have two lines that can score. As of right now though, Vinny is the most overpaid player in the NHL with an 11-year contract with an average cap hit of $7.5 million dollars. Luckily for them, sophomore Steven Stamkos is continuing his production from the second half of last season.

Am I seeing things or has Andrew Raycroft been out playing Roberto Luongo? Luongo has been puilled twice so far and is injured with a broken rib. Luongo has gone 6-6 in 12 games with a 2.87 GAA and a .902 save percentage, While Raycroft is 4-1 has a 1.60 GAA and a .936 save percentage. Could this be the Andrew Raycroft who dazzled everyone in 2003-2004 season when he won the Calder trophy?

Has he found his game again after four seasons? I still don't believe it, but the Canucks have to be thankful they took the gamble on Raycroft as their backup as he'll be keeping the Cancucks competitive without Luongo in the lineup, which isn't clear when he'll return.

The Ducks thought they were getting two lines that could score when they traded Pronger for Lupul and Sbisa; that hasn't transformed so far. Both lines haven't been clicking at the same time and it's taken some time for Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne to find their chemistry they've showed together in the past during international competitions.

However, they do seem to be a geling with each other now. The biggest concern is Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf not finding the back of the net. In 15 games, Getzlaf has a one goal, while Ryan has five. Corey Perry has been consistent and has been leading the charge with 10 goals. Hopefully, his play rubs off on others.

It would also be nice if either Jonas Hiller or Jean-Sebastian Giguere played like the number one goalies they have in the past.

Now many people are writing the Detroit Red Wings off. A lot of people are saying that they're too old and their run is now over as one of the best teams in the NHL. Well, they may not win the Central Division and probably won't be better than the sixth seed, but anything can happen in the playoffs. This team knows how to win, they have enough players who have been their enough times to know what they have to do.

A team like the Red Wings,not only have Mike Babcock as a coach, who is the first coach to coach a team to four straight 50+ win seasons in his first four years with a club, they have veterans such as Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Nicklas Lindstrom, and Tomas Holmstrom who have battled a great deal in their careers to be like a secondary coaching staff to all its other players.

The Red Wings lost a lot in terms of offense. Marian Hossa, Mikkeal Sameulsson, Jiri Hudler, and now Jonas Franzen and Valtteri Filppula are all injured. Amongst those names are four of the top six forwards from last year. A 40 goal scorer, a powerplay quarter back, a great secondary scorer, their cluth 30+ goal scorer, and third line center, who'd be a on the second line on any other team in the NHL.

With the signing of Hossa last year, the Wings relied too much on outscoring other teams instead of playing a solid two-way puck controlling game that has been their success back to when Scotty Bowman changed their style of play back in the 1996-1997 season.

Mike Babcock is trying to instill this system back into the minds of their players and after blowing leads all throughout October, the Red Wings have improved with beating the Flames, 2-1 Saturday, a 2-0 victory over Boston, and a 2-1 shootout win against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. The Red Wings are playing like they did that when they won those championships. Ozzie seems to have found his game and is as focused much like he was throughout the playoffs for the Wings.

Datsyuk and Zetterberg are finding their grooves again. This team is going to come back and come back strong. They won't be as fancy or entertaining to watch, but they won't be boring or dull either. They'll be playing solid two-way hockey and a puck control system that have won them four Stanley Cups in 11 years.

Wow, the injuries are just piling themselves on top of each other this season so far. As I already mentioned above, Jonas Franzen is out with a torn ACL (four months), Valtteri Filppula broken wrist (4-6 weeks) Marc Savard broken foot (4-6 weeks), Milan Lucic broken finger (4-6 weeks). The Russians are seemingly to be taken the biggest hits to their lock players of their Olympic team this year; Markov, Gonchar, Volchenkov, Ovechkin, Malkin, and Kovalchuk.

Ovechkin is shooting to be back by next week, as Malkin is sitting out with a shoulder injury that he has said is playable, but wants to rehab it and heal it so nothing serious happens later on. He also said he should be back by Thanksgiving weekend. However, Kovalchuk is out until possibly December with a broken foot which doesn't bold well for the Thrashers who are trying to stay competitive to convince the pivotal left winger of signing a long term extension with the club.

Gonchar (broken wirst) and Volchenkov (elbow) will be back by at least late November as Andrei Markov is indefinitely after only playing 17 minutes in change of the first game of the season.

Other star players include Eric Staal, Simone Gagne, Shea Weber, David Booth, and Daniel Sedin. All of who are seriously valuable to their respected clubs.


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