November 1, 2011 :: 5:19pm ET Early season surprises
Tab Bamford takes a look at the eye-opening shockers after the first
month of the NHL season.
CHICAGO, IL -- Four or five games isn't really a benchmark. A couple
weeks really isn't enough to tell how a team is playing. But a full
month is a good place to start looking around the NHL to see where
things stand. And the month of October gave hockey fans a lot to think
Looking around the Western Conference, we can only wish you good luck
in making sense of the standings. The Central Division has Chicago
sitting on top, 5-0-2 at home and 7-2-2 on the young season. Many
analysts predicted the Blackhawks would do well a month ago, but not
many thought they would do it with Patrick Kane winning 50 percent of
his faceoffs as a full-time center.
Nashville has played well, and St. Louis has been up-and-down. But
Detroit, after starting the year with five consecutive wins, has the
longest losing streak in the West entering November (four games). One
of which was the first win of the year for Columbus, who won twice in
12 contests. Yeah, right!
Dallas, which has spent more time in a bankruptcy court than first
place in the last few years, is looking down at the rest of the
Pacific. Only five points separate the Stars and the division's last
place team, the Ducks, as November begins, and San Jose won five of
seven on the road to start the year.
If the Central and Pacific feel a little out-of-place, the Northwest
is enough of a head-scratcher to render fans with the same hairline as
Vancouver has 11 points in 11 games, and is in fourth place in the
division after running away and hiding last year. They have as many
points as the Wild, and are behind Colorado and... wait for it...
first place Edmonton.
The Oilers have been a revelation to start the season, winning seven
of their 11 games in October to be tied for the top spot in the
Western Conference entering November. After two consecutive top
overall picks, the Oilers started the 2011-12 season 7-1-1 at home.
The Eastern Conference makes less sense than the West did in October.
Boston started their title defense with six points and only 22 goals
in 10 games. They're in last place in the conference, and have as many
questions as they do rings on their roster. Montreal is just ahead of
the Bruins in the Northeast with four wins, but had to win their last
three in the month to make a move. And Ottawa? How about starting the
year 1-5-0 and then rolling off six straight wins to finish the month.
The Southeast has Washington at the top, which, like Chicago in the
Central, wasn't shocking. But the Panthers are one point ahead of the
Lightning and their big summer spending appears to be working. Kris
Versteeg has been good (five goals) and Brian Campbell is near the top
of all NHL defenseman with 11 assists. Winnipeg has struggled, as has
Eric Staal in Carolina.
And where do we begin with the Atlantic? Should we focus on Ilya
Bryzgalov's issues for Philadelphia, or the fact that Pittsburgh has
the most points in the NHL despite playing without Sidney Crosby the
entire month and missing Evgeni Malkin for a stretch of time, as well?
If the trend continues, Dan Bylsma will only have to re-write his Jack
Adams acceptance speech for another trip to Vegas this summer.
What's more, the standings aren't even the most surprising part of
Phil Kessel is your league leader with 10 goals and 18 points, and
Toronto has jumped on his back and found first place. But who would
have guessed that the league's top five goal scorers on November 1
would include James Neal and Milan Michalek?
The best plus-minus in the NHL belongs to Matt D'Agostini of the
Blues, followed by castaway Sheldon Souray of the Stars and baby-faced
Tyler Seguin of the last place Bruins. Go figure.
Jonathan Quick had three consecutive shutouts for the Kings, but isn't
the biggest story among goalies so far.
Craig Anderson, dispatched by the Avs last year, had a tough start to
the year before winning six straight. He is tied with Quick and Tomas
Vokoun for third in the NHL with six wins; Dallas' Kari Lehtonen leads
the league with eight.
And the Oilers are in first place because of Nikolai Khabibulin
discovering the fountain of youth. After a rough 2010-11 season and a
summer that included time behind bars, The Bulin Wall has returned; he
has a ridiculous 1.12 goals-against-average and an unbelievable .960
Six starting goalies head into November with a goals-against-average
under two, including Brian Elliott in St. Louis. Why not?
Where will the next month of hockey take us? If it's as unpredictable
as October, it'll be worth every minutes of ice time.