The NHL: One Month In

Some have risen, some have fallen, and some have crashed and burned. Welcome to the new NHL season, one month in. Let's take a look at some of the winners, losers, and surprises so far:

The Winners

Buffalo, Anaheim, and San Jose are among the top teams in the NHL. That doesn't really surprise anyone — all three teams have their big guns firing on all cylinders.

In Buffalo, a balanced attack across three lines has combined with strong goaltending to create the best team in the league. In Anaheim, it's more than just the Chris Pronger/Scott Niedermayer connection. Coach Randy Carlyle's got his team playing an aggressive transition game that turns at full speed the instant a turnover occurs. Combine that with great special teams and a revived Jean-Sebastian Giguere and you've got a recipe for success.

As for the Sharks, they've got so many interchangeable parts up front, on defense, and in goal that when one player slumps, another one steps in. Case in point — when Joe Thornton went through a mini-slump for a few games, Patrick Marleau stepped it up.

These three teams have incredible depth, great skill, and a system that works for today's NHL. It won't be surprising to see them in the race for the President's Trophy when all is said and done.

The Losers

We knew that the Phoenix Coyotes weren't going to be a top-notch team, or even a pretty good team. However, it was kind of hard to imagine a team with a defense made up of Ed Jovanovski, Nick Boynton, Derek Morris, and Keith Ballard to be god-awful atrocious. When you're not scoring, your defense has no chemistry, and your goaltending looks like Swiss cheese after a machete attack, you know you have problems.

Up in Toronto, the Maple Leaf are a team consisting of inconsistency. Sure, Mats Sundin has been steady, but other than that, the time is haywire. Andrew Raycroft looks like his old Calder Trophy self for two games, then he looks like a shellshocked beer league goalie the next two games. Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe put up great points for a few games, then disappear for a few games. Same thing with promising youngsters Kyle Wellwood and Alex Steen. The Leafs are an awful combination of not-ready kids and over-the-hill vets — the only real question is where Mats Sundin will eventually be traded to?

The Calgary Flames thought that adding Alex Tanguay would solve their scoring woes. Hate to break it to you, Darryl Sutter, but adding one guy to an offense that only had one guy to begin with doesn't suddenly give a team depth; it just gives a team one superstar (Jarome Iginla) and one pretty good guy in Tanguay who always had Peter Forsberg or Joe Sakic to center him. The rest of the NHL has flown by, but the Flames are still treading in yesterday's news.

The Surprises

Who knew the Minnesota Wild could be a successful attacking team? Who knew that they could accomplish this without Marian Gaborik? The oft-injured Gaborik has been out for a bit with a groin problem, but the Wild keep rolling thanks to Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston, and a team that finally figured out how to play transition hockey instead of trap hockey.

The Atlanta Thrashers knew they had a good goalie in Kari Lehtonen. They knew they had firepower up front with Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. Still, having Niclas Havelid play like a No. 1 defenseman or getting career-pace contributions from aging Scott Mellanby are pleasant surprises — surprises that have propelled Atlanta to the top of the Eastern Conference.

On the other hand, the Ottawa Senators are essentially the same team that played in the regular season last year. Martin Havlat was injured most of last season, so it's not like his contribution was missed. Yes, Zdeno Chara bolted for Boston, but adding Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing helped alleviate the pain. The Sens' problem is two-fold: first, some of their big guns (Daniel Alfredsson) aren't putting up any points, and second, Martin Gerber has been wildly inconsistent. Once penciled in as the best team in the league, the Sens are now desperately in search of consistency and an identity.

No column would be complete without mentioning the total collapse of the Philadelphia Flyers. Awful goaltending, terrible defense, and a lack of speed in the forward position — the once-proud Flyers are now humiliated on almost a nightly basis. Don't look for the Flyers to move young guns Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, or Jeff Carter. However, they'll try to beg and plead anyone to take Mike Rathje and Derian Hatcher, and the bidding war for Peter Forsberg should begin around Christmas time.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site