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THN.com Blog: The NHL's October surprises

2008 No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos has managed just a single point through eight games before picking up three in his final contest of October. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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2008 No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos has managed just a single point through eight games before picking up three in his final contest of October. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Every time there's an election in the U.S., the possibility of an "October surprise" arises. It's the idea that a big, late-breaking story will sway people to vote in droves for a particular candidate.

In hockey, the "October surprise" concept is less about changing the world than it is about changing a player's (or team's) expectations and/or output. The first month of the season offers a peek at players who are ready to break out. Some will fade after a hot start, of course, returning to their usual levels of productivity and performance. But others will take confidence in their good start and build on it.

SURPRISINGLY, NO SURPRISES
But how's this for an October surprise: the fact there isn't one surprise team in the standings. Not one NHL team performed substantially above – or below – expectations in the first month of the season. Maybe it's just me, but I find it surprising there have been no real surprises in the standings.

The club that comes closest is the Dallas Stars, with a less-than-stellar 4-5-2 mark in the first month. But considering Marty Turco's goals-against average is well above 4.00 and his save percentage is below .850, the Stars actually aren't doing that badly. Besides, we all know Turco will come around and the Stars will, too.

The team that might qualify as a mild positive surprise in October is Minnesota. The Wild put up a 6-2-1 record to lead the Northwest Division in the first month, and Mikko Koivu is playing even better than Saku (who also has had a great start in Montreal). Then again, the Wild are now just five points ahead of basement-dwelling Colorado, so Minnesota can't exactly put it into cruise control and coast into the post-season.

SEMIN'S SURPRISING OUTBURST
There was never any doubting Alexander Semin's skill level, but his desire to play in North America and embrace the NHL game was called into question a few years ago when he returned to Russia rather than report to Washington's American League farm team for development.

Now, there's no doubting Semin belongs in the NHL – he led the league in scoring in October, with eight goals and 16 points in nine games – and his loyalty to the Capitals is blatantly evident in his recent "What's so special about Crosby?" quote.

Maybe Semin thought it wasn't fair that his teammate, Alex Ovechkin, is always outnumbered 2-to-1 by Pittsburgh superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Whatever the case, it's great to hear a young player speak his mind and say something controversial.

Not many people would pick Chicago's Patrick Kane over Crosby – Semin suggested Kane is a more exciting and "interesting" player than Crosby – but let's give the Caps winger credit for ratcheting up the rhetoric in the Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry.

Would there be anything more exciting than a Capitals-Penguins series in the playoffs, preferably in the Eastern Conference final with the right to play for the Stanley Cup on the line?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, no, no.

SELECTED SURPRISES
October surprises that probably won't sway the U.S. election either way:

•The Red Wings' GAA in October was 3.36, 24th in the NHL. Last season, Detroit's 2.18 GAA was the lowest in the league.

•Despite scoring just 2.6 goals per game, the Rangers were off to a franchise-best start (through 13 games) of 10-2-1.

•The leading defenseman point-producer in October? Four D-men were tied with 11 points, and they're not exactly the usual suspects: Nashville's Shea Weber, Detroit's Brian Rafalski, Montreal's Andrei Markov and Ottawa's Filip Kuba. San Jose's Christian Ehrhoff and Florida's Keith Ballard were in the group right behind the leaders, with nine points. Other unexpected blueline outbursts include the Rangers' Daniel Girardi (eight points) Atlanta's Ron Hainsey (seven points) and New Jersey's Andy Greene (six points in six games).

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•The power plays for the Blues (31.7) and the Wings (30.4) were operating at above 30-percent efficiency – a ridiculously prolific scoring rate – while the Panthers were barely registering at 10.5 percent. (Generally speaking, teams aim for 20-percent proficiency with the man advantage.) To put it another way, the Wings scored 14 power play goals in October (14-for-46) and the Panthers scored four (4-for-38).

•Minnesota's penalty-killers gave up just two power play goals in 32 man-down situations in October. Anaheim, meanwhile, surrendered 14 PP goals, but was in the middle of the NHL pack (16th) with a kill rate of 80.3 percent because the Ducks took so many more penalties than anyone else (71 times shorthanded; Vancouver was next with 58).

•Tampa Bay surrendered nearly 37 shots per game… the Sharks took 13 more shots per game than they gave up (36.9-23.4)… San Jose is also the last team to remain perfect at home (6-0-0)… Chicago was 4-0-2 at home and 0-3-1 on the road.

•Seven of Teemu Selanne's eight goals in October came on the power play…

They might not believe this in Columbus, but Rangers winger Nikolai Zherdev led the league in October plus/minus with a plus-11 rating…

They wanted Scott Gomez to shoot more, so the Rangers center led the league in shots in October (51). Of course, he played 13 games compared to about 10 for most other players…

Maybe the Blue Jackets let Zherdev escape to New York because they knew they had a couple of young guns in rookie forwards Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek. The linemates ranked 1-3 in NHL rookie scoring through the first month…

Tampa's Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 draft pick last June, had all of one assist in eight games before a two-goal, three-point night against Buffalo Oct. 30…

Only one Western Conference goaltender ranked among the NHL's top 10 in GAA: Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom, ninth in the league with a 2.29 GAA…

The same holds true for save percentage: Backstrom, in ninth place (.923) was the only Western netminder in the top 10…

San Jose backup goalie Brian Boucher had a share of the league lead with two shutouts; he's only played two games. Boucher, remember, holds the NHL record (in the NHL's modern era) for consecutive shutout minutes when he didn't give up a goal for 332:01 in the 2003-04 season, a stretch that included five straight shutouts. (In 1927-28, when forward passing wasn't allowed, Ottawa netminder Alec Connell recorded six shutouts in a row and went 461:29 without being scored upon.)…

Detroit sniper Marian Hossa took an NHL-best nine-game point streak into November. Malkin was on an active seven-game streak – now an eight-gamer after Saturday’s games. Kuba started the season with points in eight straight games for Ottawa, all assists (which is a pretty good way to make friends on a new team).

Sam McCaig’s From The Point column appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at smccaig@thehockeynews.com.

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