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 October 25, 2010 :: 12:31pm ET

Opening season eye openers

TORONTO, ON -- What a wacky and wild start to this NHL season. We’ve already seen a plethora of concussions, a player get a six game suspension for attacking a fan, and through six games the Toronto Maple Leafs, basement dwellers for much of last year, have two regulation losses.

While the season is, like most of today’s NHL stars, still young, we have already been shown some promising and some not promising things for this season. Due to all the chaos revolving around NHL rinks let's take a look at the three biggest surprises and disappointments that the new season brought with it.


1. The Tampa Bay Lightning – 5-2-1 through their first eight games, the Lightning has looked strong and sit atop the Southeast Division. Led by the league’s leading scorer, Steven Stamkos, the Lightning has a powerplay clicking at around a 30% success rate and have averaged close to 35 shots-per-game.

Still, Tampa has to be better defensively as even though they’ve only lost one game in regulation. Heading into Sunday’s action, they are posting a +1 goal differential thanks to a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the Florida Panthers. Since the Lightning finished the 2009-10 season 24th in the league, this hot start is necessary for GM Steve Yzerman’s team to return to the playoffs.

2. The Central Division – It is still early in the season, but the top-four teams in the Western Conference all call the Central Division home. With the perennial favorite Detroit Red Wings and defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks leading the way, what once was considered one of the worst divisions in hockey, with constant Red Wings division titles, has become the most competitive even if it was a year later than most expected.

Nashville has yet to lose in regulation and St. Louis’ 10 points put them right behind the leaders. Aside from those four clubs, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ eight points also puts them in an early playoff spot.

3. Nathan Horton – Horton came to the Bruins this off-season, as the team hoped he would be able to provide some scoring balance that was lacking last season. Horton has done just that as his nine points in six games, including at least one-point in each game, leads the way for the Bruins and this appears to be the year where he finally breaks out into the player many expected him to be when he was drafted third-overall by the Florida Panthers.


1. Ilya Kovalchuk – As if enough wasn’t written about Ilya during the summer when his contract drama seemed to be making headlines daily, here we are now nine Devils games into the season and New Jersey has yet to win a game at home.

Couple that with the fact that due to Kovalchuk’s monstrous contract and a few injuries, NJ had to settle for only dressing three forward lines for a game and the Kovalchuk contract appears to be quite the albatross in New Jersey. Kovalchuk started the season on a line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac and has since been demoted to second line duty. In a recent game Ilya was told to stay in the press box as a healthy scratch and his six points and minus-3 rating through eight games don’t exactly scream Devils hockey. Kovalchuk a healthy scratch and the Devils dwelling in the basement of the Atlantic division... is there any bigger disappointment?

2. Empty Arenas – Around the league there has been another set of issues when it comes to attendance. The most glaring example has been in Phoenix once again. This is a disappointment especially after the strong showing by the Coyotes just a year ago. When will the fans in the desert wake up and start going to games or when will the league decide it's finally time to pull the plug on the Phoenix experiment?

3. Rick Rypien – Speaking of fans, Rypien's attack of a fan in a recent game left the whole league and hockey world in shock. Although no harm was done to the fan, there is no excuse for that kind of treatment.

Without fans these players don’t make a dime and the league has done a good job in setting an example that players can not get into altercations with fans during the day. In a league that finds it hard to attract fans at the best of times, alienating them by compromising their safety isn’t exactly the smartest move.

Forward of the Week (Week Ending Sunday, October 24)
Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
3GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 Points, +3

Other than Stamkos being otherworldly as of late in his goal-scoring prowess, he has also been filling up the stat sheet across the board, winning more than half of his face-offs over this time as well. Stamkos’ early play makes it appear that he is poised for a run at not only the Rocket Richard but, the Art Ross this year, as well.

Close Second: Henrik Zetterberg, W, Detroit Redwings- 2GP, 3G, 3A, 6P

Defenseman of the Week
Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
3GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 P, +3

Benefitting from the extra minutes left behind with the departure of Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang has certainly picked up the slack. In the past week his offensive numbers speak for themselves and his plus-7 rating over his last five, combined with the 25+ minutes a game that he is playing routinely give him the no brainer nod for Defenseman of the Week honors.

Goalie of the Week
Tim Thomas, G, Boston Bruins
2GP, 2W, .971 SV%, 1.00 GAA

Coming into the season, Thomas was in some sort of goalie limbo, not quite sure if he was a starter in Boston, yet immovable because of his high money contract. Last week’s play showed that Thomas is still on top of his game, for the time being at least, and he isn’t ready to give up the Bruin crease quite yet. Thomas hasn’t allowed more than one goal in any of his four starts.

Tweet of the Week
I have a feeling the Tweet of the Week will be largely dominated by BizNasty2point0

BizNasty2point0 (aka Paul Bissonnette)
“morning folks. Guess we actually had more then 5000 fans for our game. Didn't realize it was dress like a seat night. Close to a sell out.”

MVP Watch
I know it’s early but as this column goes on we will be able to gauge the changing landscape of the NHL’s MVP Race.

1. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Hey Tampa, we’ve seen Stamkos. If there has been a better NHLer this year than Stamkos, please let me know who. He is a big reason why the Bolts are 5-2-1 through eight.

2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
A slow start by Sid has been overcome in the past week, as his stat line above proves. As Crosby goes, so does Pittsburgh.

3. Marian Hossa, W, Chicago Blackhawks
Dominated the first week of the season, scoreless in the last two, has packed much of Blackhawk punch, however.

4. Brad Richards, C, Dallas Stars
A return to MVP form for Richards would see a re-emergence of a Stars team who has fallen off quickly in recent years. So far, Richards and his first line have dominated.

Michael Grossi is the Features Editor of The Fourth Period Magazine.
His columns [The G-Spot] appear every Monday on TFP.
Follow Michael Grossi on Twitter



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