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October surprises

Taylor Hall has nine points in 10 games as the Oilers are off to a hot start. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Taylor Hall has nine points in 10 games as the Oilers are off to a hot start. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL season is roughly a month old and there is no shortage of surprises. Here is the top 10 so far this season:

10. CHICAGO’S SPECIAL TEAMS

Last season, the Hawks had the third-best power play in the league (23.1 percent) and the sixth-worst penalty kill (79.2 percent). This year, their power play is 29th at 8.9 percent and their penalty kill is third at 91.7 percent. If you can figure out why, contact coach Joel Quenneville immediately.

9. LUKE ADAM AND CRAIG SMITH

Big things were expected from the Sabres this season, though few outside of Buffalo thought Adam would give fellow rookies Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog a run for the Calder Trophy. But with six assists and nine points in 10 games, that’s just what Adam is doing. Same goes for Nashville’s Smith, who was tied for the team lead in goal-scoring with four goals and second in points with nine.

8. ALEX OVECHKIN, NON-GAME-BREAKER

In each of his first six seasons, Ovechkin led the Capitals in game-winning goals, averaging more than eight per year. This season, the Russian superstar doesn’t have a single GWG and trails sophomore Marcus Johansson (three), Nicklas Backstrom (one), Dennis Wideman (one), Mike Green (one) and Roman Hamrlik (one) in that department. Is that part of the reason why he’s getting testy with coach Bruce Boudreau?

7. SIGNIFICANT RED WINGS SLUMP

Detroit’s longest losing streak last season was an 0-2-2 skid that didn’t come until early March. Unfortunately, after starting the current year with five straight wins, the Wings dropped five straight (0-4-1), including losses to Columbus and Minnesota. Time for a shakeup, or just a wakeup?

6. THE STARS

Without Brad Richards, the Stars weren’t given much hope to contend for a low playoff seed, let alone top spot in the tough Pacific Division. Yet thanks to goalie Kari Lehtonen, new coach Glen Gulutzan and a group of blue-collar workers on the roster, Dallas is 8-3-0 and second in the Western Conference. Oh, and there’s another reason…

5. SHELDON SOURAY

Banished to the American League by the Oilers for the entire 2010-11 campaign, Souray has found new life in Dallas. The 35-year-old veteran has five assists, eight points and his plus-8 rating is second-best in the entire league (behind St. Louis’ Matt D’Agostini, who is plus-9). If Edmonton wasn’t doing so well, they’d be raked over the coals for letting him go.

4. PHIL KESSEL

That the 24-year-old Kessel is again a dangerous offensive force isn’t a surprise. But to see him leading the league in goals (10) and points (18) in Toronto’s first 11 games (while also playing solid defense) is definitely something nobody predicted.

3. THE BRUINS

If Bruins fans who’d waited decades for a Cup win were told a year ago they could have their championship if Boston plummeted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings the following season, they’d have leaped to accept the deal. However, there’s something deeply unsettling and utterly shocking about seeing that play out. The Bruins are only four points out of a playoff spot, but if they don’t turn around their sub-par special teams and overall play soon, there’ll be too many teams to leapfrog to get there.

2. ILYA BRYZGALOV, NET DEFECTIVE

Some worried the former Coyotes goalie would crumble under the increased exposure and pressure of Philadelphia, where he signed to play for nine years and $51 million. But nobody imagined it would happen quite this quickly. Bryzgalov hasn’t just stumbled out of the gate – he’s just about fainted (4-4-1, 3.16 goals-against average, .880 save percentage) and already has been embroiled in a controversy over talking to the Philly media. Right now, 2020 seems a long way away.

1. THE OILERS

Everybody – THN included – predicted another rough season for Edmonton, but after 11 games, the team has the best record in its division, a 6-1-1 home mark, 18 goals-allowed (fewest in the league) and a five-game win streak. Whether the Oilers can maintain this pace is another story, but for now, long-suffering fans deserve to bask in the glow of unexpected success.

 

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

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