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Surprises of the NHL season

The New Jersey Devils sit eight points out of a playoff spot with 16 games remaining. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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The New Jersey Devils sit eight points out of a playoff spot with 16 games remaining. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

As with every NHL season, there have been surprises - both positive and negative - that defy logic and expectation. In this week’s THN.com Top 10, we break down the biggest surprises of the 2010-11 campaign:

10. Brian Boyle, Goal-Scoring Menace

In 99 games over the past two seasons, Boyle scored just eight NHL goals. This season, he’s tied with Ryan Callahan in leading the Rangers with 20 – including the first special teams tallies of Boyle’s career with four power play markers and one while shorthanded.

9. The Stars Are A Playoff Contender – And Didn’t Trade Brad Richards

Few pundits had the Stars as a post-season threat this year, but thanks to stellar play from goalie Kari Lehtonen (28 wins, .915 save percentage) and GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s refusal to deal the soon-to-be-UFA Richards at the trade deadline Dallas looks to be staying in the playoff dogfight right to the wire.

8. Keith Yandle Still Leading The Coyotes In Scoring

On a team with Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, it’s quite the achievement for Yandle to still be atop Phoenix’s list of point-producers (54 points in 68 games) as a defenseman. That he already has more assists (44) this year than his previous career high in points (41) speaks volumes about the brightness of the 24-year-old’s future.

7. Al Montoya Springs Off The Scrap Heap

Once a sixth overall draft pick, Montoya seemed destined for a career in the minors before Isles GM Garth Snow plucked him out of the Coyotes organization to deal with a slew of goalie injuries. Since then, Montoya has a 6-2-2 record. 2.02 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. He’s a restricted free agent this summer and surely has earned another look on Long Island or in another NHL city.

6. Alex Ovechkin’s Power Outage

It’s hard to imagine last season’s Ted Lindsay Award winner suffering a precipitous drop in scoring muscle, but that’s exactly what’s happened to Ovechkin this year. After amassing 50 goals (including 13 power play markers) in 72 games in 2009-10, he has just 25 (and five power play goals) this season.

5. Total Norris Trophy Candidate Turnover

Last season’s three finalists for the league’s best defenseman - Washington’s Mike Green, L.A.’s Drew Doughty and eventual winner Duncan Keith from Chicago - are nowhere near the top names mentioned for this season’s Norris (which includes Yandle and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom). You rarely see that type of turnover from year to year.

4. Trades! Real Trades Featuring Good Players!

Whether it was James Neal and Matt Niskanen going from Dallas to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski, or Erik Johnson being shipped out of St. Louis for now-former Avs Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, the trading of potential future stars was a trend nobody saw coming.

3. The Flames Push Back From The Brink

When former Flames VP and GM Darryl Sutter stepped down at the end of December, Calgary was an unimpressive 16-18-3 and on the verge of falling out of the tough Western Conference playoff race. Since then, the Flames have gone 19-6-6 and are back in the thick of things thanks to the much more relaxed environment fostered by interim GM Jay Feaster.

2. Tim Thomas Keeps Tuukka Rask Patient

After Rask’s superb 2009-10 performance (including a 1.97 GAA and .931 SP) and Thomas’ slump that season, it was widely assumed Rask would be the go-to guy in Boston’s net. But the 36-year-old Thomas was a conditioning demon last summer and has been outstanding (29-8-7, 1.97 GAA and .939 SP) for the Bruins this time. The 23-year-old Rask will have to wait a while longer to assume the starting role in Beantown.

1. Jacques Lemaire Turns Around The Devils

New Jersey had an even worse start to its year than Calgary - 9-22-2 - and like the Flames, a member of the organization paid for it with his job when first-year coach John MacLean was fired Dec. 23. The old master coach Lemaire returned to the scene of some of his greatest NHL triumphs to replace MacLean and the team’s performance since then (21-10-2) has been nothing short of miraculous.

The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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