As every player on a sub-par NHL team is saying these days, it’s still early in the season and there’s still a lot of hockey yet to be played. But it’s never too soon to start identifying and analyzing some of the good, bad, and ugly surprises of the 2007-08 campaign.
Yeah, this is the team I believed would plummet to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings this year. And yeah, to paraphrase Slap Shot’s Denis Lemieux, I feel shame. I didn’t expect the Habs would get such a well-balanced scoring attack – Mike Komisarek, Tom Kostopoulos and Francis Bouillon are the only regulars who haven’t scored through Montreal’s first 11 games – and I definitely didn’t believe their power play would be even deadlier than it was in ’06-07. Can they keep it up? If you’re a Canadiens fan, I’m probably not the guy to ask.
Daymond Langkow, Scoring Machine
He doesn’t say much on or off the ice, but Langkow is one of the more dependable veterans in the game today. And just as quietly, the Flames center has improved his goal, assist and point totals for three years running. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, Langkow likely won’t continue on his current 55-goal, 116-point pace, but he’ll almost certainly score himself a sizeable raise next season – and it may not be in Calgary, either.
Pascal Leclaire, Shutout Machine
Anyone and everyone connected with the Blue Jackets who has watched the 24-year-old struggle through his first two NHL campaigns would’ve been happy if he shaved half-a-goal off his bloated 3.13 career goals-against average by the end of this season. Judging by his 1.25 GAA, four shutouts and .953 save percentage in eight games this year, it’s safe to say Leclaire has exceeded expectations. And then some.
The Predators (especially on the road)
Their special teams are atrocious, Chris Mason (3.90 GAA, .870 save percentage) has proven to be no replacement for Tomas Vokoun and, as of the beginning of November, they’ve yet to win a single game away from home. Jim Balsillie might be thinking twice about swooping back into the picture to purchase this bunch.
The Canucks (especially at home)
Vancouver has been simply abysmal at home, with just one win in its first six tries. Captain Markus Naslund wants the team to play a more open, creative game, but a quick look at some key numbers – an improved power play and weakened penalty-kill and 5-on-5 goals for/against averages – suggests they need to get back to the basics that won them the ’06-07 Northwest Division.
I know the Sabres have underwhelmed, but they could use Miller to steal a couple for them right now. His .896 save percentage and a 3.11 GAA must make at least a few Buffalo fans pine for the days of Martin Biron. I’m not saying it’s all his fault, but I am saying he shouldn’t be blameless.
Blue Jackets’ Attendance
Let me get this straight: Columbusites turned out an average of 16,000 at a time when the Blue Jackets stunk out Nationwide Arena on a regular basis, but now that they’re an above-.500 team, the team sits second-last in league attendance – behind Phoenix and Florida! – with 13,383 per game? What, was former GM Doug MacLean buying 3,000 seats a night last year?
Patrik Elias, Plus/Minus Liability
You’d have to look all the way back to Elias’ second NHL season (1996-97) to find a campaign in which the Devils’ star winger was a minus player. But here he is this year, a minus-six through New Jersey’s first 11 games, making him the worst player on an already-disappointing team. No wonder new coach Brent Sutter has already called him out in public.
Vincent Lecavalier, Pugilist
Dear Vinny: I know the usual proponents of fighting are all giddy that the Lightning star has been showing off even more of a mean streak this season, fighting Washington’s Shaone Morrison and Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell in back-to-back games, but can we have a little perspective, please? I mean, if Lecavalier gets seriously injured in either of those otherwise meaningless brouhahas – and please don’t tell me nobody gets injured in a fight – Tampa Bay is down to the Big Two. And since the Bolts apparently can’t win a game on the road with Lecavalier in the lineup, I’d imagine they’d prefer he leave the fisticuffs to professional punchers such as Shane O’Brien and Andre Roy, and get back to what he excels at.
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