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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 about.

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 Don Cherry.

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. Not bad.

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 October.

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 save percentage.

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.

Tam Bamford is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the Chicago Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.


 

 

Archives:
Oct. 28, 2011 The trade that kept Belfour in Chicago
Oct. 25, 2011 It's a young man's game
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