Oh Canada! How Are The Canadian Teams Doing Thus Far?
Prior to the start of the 2011-12 season many “experts” had the Vancouver Canucks as Stanley Cup favorites with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators being hard-pressed to make the playoffs.
While it is still very early in the season, Canada’s teams look to be holding their own in the NHL standings with Toronto currently sitting in second spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Edmonton Oilers currently occupy third spot in the Western Conference.
Both Toronto and Edmonton can be referred to as early season surprises, but the bigger surprise may be the absence of the Canucks from a playoff spot as they currently sit 10th in the Western Conference.
Toronto is getting it done with their potent offense which is currently ranked third overall at 3.14 goals per game, while Edmonton is getting it done with their surprising defense (which is currently the NHL’s best) averaging just 1.54 goals against per game and stellar goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin.
For Toronto, Phil Kessel has emerged as the NHL’s hottest sniper, scoring ten goals and netting 21 points in his first 14 games. His early season play earned him player of the month honors for the October—no easy feat.
In Edmonton, the young trio of Tyler Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have combined for a total of 12 goals and 32 points through 13 games played. Their inspired play has the fans of Edmonton talking playoffs for the first time in what feels like a decade.
That said, it is veteran Ryan Smyth who leads the team in scoring with six goals and 12 points. Smyth’s return to Edmonton has given the young team a veteran presence and leadership they so badly needed. Smyth’s passion for the game of hockey and the city of Edmonton is contagious, a fact not lost on the Oilers brass when they picked him up from the Los Angeles Kings.
Of course, one cannot mention Edmonton without throwing props at goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin who is playing his best hockey since winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04, posting a 6-0-1 record to go along with his sparkling .963 save percentage (second overall) and league leading 0.98 goals against average.
Edmonton’s attention to defense has gone a long way in determining Khabibulin’s success as the Oilers have allowed just 29 shots against per game (ninth overall).
Young, fast and highly skilled, the Oilers look to be poised to make a run at a playoff spot a little earlier than many experts had anticipated.
At 7-7-1 on the season the Vancouver Canucks early season play can hardly be referred to as a disaster.
Up front Daniel and Henrik Sedin continue to lead the team offensively, combining for a total of 11 goals and 36 points through 15 games. With 18 points each the Sedin’s haven’t been as dominating as they were last season, but it’s hardly worth calling a Vancouver Lawyer about.
Defenseman Alexander Edler and Sammy Salo have been the Canucks go-to duo both five-on-five and on the power play. The two D-men have combined for a total of six goals and 23 points through 15 games while also posting 39 and 32 shots on goal, respectively.
While few fans are willing to call the battle between Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider a “goaltending controversy”, Luongo’s early season play (or lack thereof) has led to Schneider playing six games thus far.
Schneider’s 2-3-0 record pales in comparison to Luongo’s 5-4-1 record, but that has more to do with hard luck than anything else as Schneider’s 2.51 goals against average and .917 save percentage is superior to Luongo’s paltry 3.06 GAA and troublesome .894 save percentage.
For the fans of the Vancouver Canucks, watching Luongo get off to a slow start is nothing new. That said, should Luongo continue to struggle between the pipes that goaltending controversy that everyone wants to put on the back burner may rear it’s ugly head before long.
In Montreal, the Canadiens got off to a poor start, but have heated up of late, mostly due to the fine play of Carey Price between the pipes.
Price won just once in his first seven outings, but has turned things around, winning four of his past five games, allowing just six even strength goals during that stretch.
Montreal’s 23rd ranked power play has been a factor in Montreal’s struggles early on, as has the lack of offense from P.K. Subban (three points in 13 games) and Mike Cammalleri (seven points in ten games). Both players have looked like a shadow of the players that were so vital to the Canadiens success last season.
Of course, every Montreal fan knows the refs are completely against their beloved Canadiens, which has contributed to much of the teams lack of success early on! (That was a joke—sort of).
At 6-6-1 on the season the Flames organization continues to get mediocre results from a roster which some people expect more from. To be fair, the Flames were not in the playoff picture for many pundits, but with a Home record of just 3-3-1 on the season and just 30 goals scored, the Flames have failed to impress early on.
Calgary currently owns the 13th ranked power play, 15th ranked penalty kill and rank 18th in shots against—none of which is overly alarming.
Where the Flames have failed is allowing too many shots where, at at 26.3 shots against, the Flames currently rank 25th overall.
Still, with Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes the Flames can usually take a few chances defensively. Kipper is having another great season for the Flames posting a 2.19 goals against average and a .925 save percentage, ranking him 13th and 17th, respectively in each category.
The Flames have lived and died with the performance of Kiprusoff for far too long. An injection of new blood may be required before this team finds itself on the right track as the current collection of players seem to be out of synch on more nights than not.
Which brings us to the Ottawa Senators.
Ottawa currently sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 19 points in 15 games—not bad for a team that many expected to compete for the first pick overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Early season hero’s Jason Spezza (six goals, nine assists) and Milan Michalek (nine goals, five assists) have led the team offensively up front through 15 games, while Erik Karlsson has shown moments of brilliance on the backend, playing a complete all-round game while posting one goal and 12 assists.
With a 25.5 percent success rate (third best in the NHL), the Ottawa Senators power play has paced them to their early season success. As good as the power play has been the Sens penalty kill has been an area of concern at a 75 percent kill rate.
Ottawa averages 31 shots against per game, which has contributed to goaltender Craig Anderson’s bloated 3.50 goals against average and ugly .888 save percentage. At 6-4-1 on the season Anderson has done well in keeping the Senators in the playoff conversation, that said, something tells me the wheels are not far from falling off for this team.
Going forward, look for the Toronto Maple Leafs to slip back to reality. The loss of starting goaltender James Reimer is slowly starting to hurt the team, while the loss of Colby Armstrong (one of the Maple Leafs more physical forwards) is also starting to hurt the team.
Off-season acquisition Tim Connolly will be out for up to two weeks with what team officials are calling a “upper body injury”. China-doll-Connolly has had little impact on the team early on due to injuries, but with a tough schedule coming up for the Buds, his presence would have been a shot in the arm for a club that is in danger of slipping in the standings.
One area Toronto has to be better is on the penalty kill. Toronto currently owns the NHL’s worst PK, an area most playoff clubs can hold their own.
Montreal lives and dies with the play of Carey Price. As long as Price can continue to stand on his head the Habs will be alright. That said, Montreal’s offense must improve if this team is going to have any chance of making the playoffs.
P.K. Subban needs to find his game. Far too often Subban has been out of position, leading to a number of odd-man rushes for opponents. Ultimately, Subban’s gambling style has cost his team in the win column, as has his penchant for taking bad penalties.
In Vancouver look for the Canucks to start heating up. The Canucks 6-2 victory over the mighty Chicago Blackhawks served notice that Vancouver is on the cusp of finding their legs and, with five power play goals against the Hawks, the Canucks special teams look to be hot as well.
Luongo is known for his poor starts to the season, but November always seems to be better. Look for Vancouver to ride Luongo through November and into a playoff spot before long.
For the Calgary Flames it appears as if change is imminent. Simply put, Jay Feaster is not going to accept mediocrity on his watch. Look for Feaster to look for a trade and/or consider a coaching change.
If you are a fan of the Oilers success looks to have come early. The trio of Hall, Eberle and Nuggent-Hopkins is as excting as it gets in the NHL, look for them to continue to excel with Ryan Smyth leading them both on and off the ice.
Agian, it’s still early, but with Toronto and Edmonton surprising us all with their early season success and Vancouver and Montreal slowly turning things around, Canada’s teams have a chance to have a succesful season, which is always good for hockey.
Until next time,