Ten Most Surprising NHL Teams Thus Far
While it is still very early in the 2010-11 NHL season there are already more than a few surprises in the overall standings.
Teams that were supposed to be world beaters are sitting in the basement, while other teams that were supposed to struggle have come out flying right out of the gate and sit amongst the NHL’s best.
Let’s take a look at the Ten Most Surprising NHL Teams Thus Far, for better, or for worse.
Ok, so not everybody thought the New Jersey Devils would be world beaters this season, but there sure were a fair amount of experts out there that were suggesting the Devils would be a contender for the Atlantic Division title and/or the Eastern Conference’s top team.
Through 13 games the Devils sit dead last in the NHL standings with a paltry record of 3-9-1.
The Devils have scored just 20 times over that 13 game span, have seen super star forward Ilya Kovalchuk benched for one game for allegedly coming late to a meeting, have been dealing with significant injuries on the blue line and now must deal with another young star—Zach Parise—being out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
I said from the get-go that the Devils would struggle to find their chemistry until the 20-25 game mark, that said, given their poor results thus far, I’d say the Devils are definitely the NHL’s most disappointing team thus far.
Without a true super-star in the entire forward group (although you could argue that Tomas Vanek is a super star), it always amazes me that the Buffalo Sabres seem to find a way to be amongst the best teams in the NHL.
Of course a lot of their success can be attributed to the fantastic coaching of line-time bench boss Lindy Ruff and the stellar goaltending of Ryan Miller.
Well, through 12 games the Sabres own a record of 3-7-2, which is both troubling and shocking to many NHL pundits.
Averaging 2.50 goals for per game the Sabres rank 25th out of 30 teams. Meanwhile, the Sabres’ are averaging 3.27 goals against per game, which is killing the teams chances of winning.
Defensive breakdowns has been the biggest cause for the rise in goals against, but with a save percentage of .903 (26th overall) and a goals against average of 2.71 (22nd overall), Miller is far off the standard he has set in each of the past two seasons—where he was lights out on a nightly basis.
Given the Sabres’ consistent play over the past few seasons and the way the team seemed to grow by leaps and bounds last season it is shocking to see where they are today—29th overall in a 30 team league.
Hands up all three of you that picked the Tampa Bay Lightning to be a top five team in the Eastern Conference this season…not raising your hand, you are not alone, but I did pick them to finish fifth and, thus far, the Lightning are making me look good.
Through ten games the Lightning own a record of 7-2-1, good enough for second overall in the standings.
While the club has been mediocre defensively (30 goals in ten games), the Lightning have made up for it with a powerful offense (35 goals in ten games) that has a knack for timely goals.
Leading the NHL with only one loss this far, the St. Louis Blues are off to a 6-1-2 start through their first nine games.
Much of their success can be attributed to the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak who, despite being cast aside by the Montreal Canadiens this summer, has proven to be the “real deal”, posting a record of 6-1-1 to go along with an impressive 1.71 goals against average (third overall) a tremendous .932 save percentage (fourth overall) and two shutouts (second overall).
Outside of the Boston Bruins who average 1.38 goals against per game the Blues have been the NHL”s best defensive team thus far, averaging an impressive 1.78 goals against per game—a huge improvement from the 2.66 goals against per game in 2009-10 (11th overall).
Thought to be a leading candidate to win the coveted Presidents Trophy as the NHL”s top regular season team, the San Jose Sharks have disappointed thus far, going a mediocre 5-3-1 in their first nine games.
Last season the Sharks finished with a 2.55 goals against average (8th overall) and scored an average of 3.13 goals per game (4th overall).
This season the Sharks have hit a few bumps in the road with regards to keeping the puck out of the net, but it’s not as bad as one would think. Averaging 2.78 goals against per game (15th overall), the Sharks appear to be fairly solid in net, even without the services of long-time all-star goaltender Evgeni Nabokov between the pipes.
Offensively the Sharks are actually up, averaging 3.22 goals per game. As it turns out, It’s not the Sharks that are the big surprise, it’s all the teams that are in front of them that are. That said, we are not used to seeing the Sharks occupying 19th spot overall in the standings—that much is a huge surprise in my eyes.
Lot’s of people (including me) thought the Rangers would be out of the playoffs by the time the season ended. While it is still early and there is plenty of time for the wheels to fall off the track in New York, the Rangers have impressed me early on—especially in light of having to play without super star forward Marian Gaborik for an extended period of time.
Through 11 games the Rangers have earned a 6-4-1 record, including an impressive 4-1-0 record away from Madison Square Gardens. The Rangers quick start has them in tenth place overall.
Bolstered by an offense that is averaging 3.09 goals per game (seventh overall) the Rangers are scoring nearly half a goal more per contest while holding fairly steady in the goals against department (2.61 GAA in 2009) and 2.91 in 2010-11.
Given the fact the Nashville Predators were coming off a 100 point season in 2009-10 and their subsequent strong showing in last years playoffs I was shocked to see how little respect the Predators were getting in the pre-season predictions.
I too thought the Preds would struggle—especially offensively—which led me to predict they would be a playoff bubble team.
Through ten games the Preds are sitting in ninth place overall and looking very good.
Sure, averaging just 2.30 goals per game (28th overall) the Predators have struggled offensively, but their 2.50 goals against per game average (11th overall) has bailed them out thus far, leading them to a very strong start to the 2010-11 season.
While the jury is still out on the Preds keeping the opposition off the scoreboard through 82 games, it appears as if many experts have underestimated them, which is kind of the norm, right?
Many of us had the New York Islanders pegged to be a bottom feeder in 2010-11 once again. Through 11 games the Islanders have earned a record of 4-5-2. leading many to say, “hey, those Islanders?—they don’t suck!”
While it is too early to tell if the Islanders are for real it appears as if they are on their way to being somewhat respectable, which means their are exceeding a lot of people’s expectations.
The Islanders finished the 2009-10 season with the 26th ranked defense, averaging an ugly 3.15 goals against per game. Offensively the Islanders averaged 2.61 goals scored per game—good enough for 21st overall.
This season the Islanders are averaging 3.27 goals against per game (26th overall) and 2.82 goals scored per game. While not a huge difference overall, the Islanders are demonstrating the ability to score timely goals, which, in the end, is partially responsible for the Islanders early success.
In the end it all comes down to two players—goaltender Dwayne Roloson and John Tavares, who, with all due respect to defenseman James Wisniewski (who has been excellent), have been the teams two best players on the ice on more nights than not.
Given the tough start the Flyers had in 2009-10 and their ensuing long run in the Stanley Cup Finals, many felt the Flyers may start the 2010-11 season off on a bad note.
The news of Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton’s injury only furthered the doubt surrounding the Flyers, which, in hindsight, was completely misdirected.
Through 12 games the Flyers have a record of 7-4-1, earning them top spot in the Atlantic Division, fourth in the overall standings.
Offensively the trio of Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux have emerged as the Flyers best players, while goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (6-2-0, 2.39 GAA, .918 save percentage) has been one of the biggest surprises in the entire NHL thus far.
Given all of the struggles the Flyers worked through last spring you’d think we’d all learn just how resilient the Orange and Black can be…sadly, it appears as if it takes some a little more time to figure this out than others…I got egg on my face on this one!
Suffice to say I think we all knew the Boston Bruins would be an improved team on the 2009-10 version. That said, I don’t think anyone would have guessed the Bruins would be “this good”, especially when you consider how dominant the team has been defensively—giving up just 11 goals in their first eight games.
Leading the way is veteran goaltender Tim Thomas who, through six starts, has given up a miniscule three goals, giving one of the nicest guys in hockey an unbelievable 0.50 goals against average and a stunning .984 save percentage.
Needless to say, as good as the Thomas has been the entire team should be congratulated on their defensive prowess.
With a record of 6-2-0 through eight games the Bruins own the second best winning percentage in the league at .750 percent (just behind the St. Louis Blues at .778 percent).
With 12 points the Bruins are currently sitting 13th overall, seventh in the Eastern Conference. It’s just a matter of time before the Bruins catch up in the games played department, which, in turn should see the Bruins rack up a few more wins, allowing them to gain a few potions in the standings.
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Until next time,