With December closing in, the NHL has completed one-quarter of its regular season. (And as my colleague Ken Campbell points out, do not call this the quarter pole.) These points in the campaign always provide an opportunity to take stock of what we’ve seen so far and identify the teams that have stood out for the right and wrong reasons. With that in mind, here are the league’s three biggest pleasant surprises and bitter letdowns to this point:
Biggest pleasant surprises
NEW YORK ISLANDERS. When the Islanders started the season 6-4-0 in the month of October, fans and media were intrigued, if not bowled over; they’d seen the franchise do well in short bursts before, but it never lasted during the reign of GM Garth Snow. But in November, the Isles have been an orange-and-blue steamroller, losing only twice in 12 games since Oct. 30 and beating quality opponents – including Anaheim, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh (in both games of a home-and-home series last week). They’re currently riding a five-game win streak, and although there’s a chance they could fall back, as long as their key players can stay healthy, the Islanders should contend for a top-four seed in the playoffs. A big reason for that is Snow’s off-season acquisitions of Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, who couldn’t have worked out better thus far.
CALGARY FLAMES. Expectations for the Flames were about as low as could be entering the season, but under coach Bob Hartley, this young team has drastically exceeded them thanks to an impressive work ethic and some good fortune in the shooting percentage department. Many continue to expect Calgary will at some point take a step backward, but even if it all falls apart from here, what they’ve shown so far – thanks in large part to brilliant young talents such as rookie Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and the veteran calm of captain Mark Giordano – has earned them a special spot in the hearts of Flames fans. Read more
For those who like to portray junior hockey as a string of Mom and Pop operations that struggle to make ends meet in the face of mounting efforts to unionize the players, today could not have been a good-news day.
According to multiple reports, the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec League have been sold to media giant Quebecor. (Which, in the interest of full disclosure, recently negotiated the purchase of 15 magazines from Transcontinental Media, one of which is The Hockey News.) Read more
I’ll admit I was skeptical when I heard about the Colorado Avalanche’s “Game of Thrones” video intro – but once the buildings started moving in all the different cities, I was sold. Check it out for yourself below:
The big stories in the prospect world lately have been college related. Specifically, players changing their minds about where they want to go. Brock Boeser was headed to Wisconsin, but the 2015 prospect has re-opened matters. And Notre Dame has been bit twice in the past couple days, first by Matthew Tkachuk (2016) and now by Brent Gates (2015). Will these talented players end up in major junior, or just elsewhere on the college scene? We’ll keep you posted, but for now let’s look at some of the other kids making noise in the hockey world right now.
There are always early season surprises. That’s just the nature of hockey. A lucky bounce here and there, and you have Jon Sim fighting for the lead in preseason scoring, which is something that has actually happened in the past.
Over the course of the year, however, these things tend to even out. At the quarter mark of the season, trends are starting to develop. Of those trends, you’ll notice some are related, while others, not so much. These are the ten most unexpected stats at the quarter-pole. Read more
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward lines suffered a serious blow when veteran winger Pascal Dupuis was sidelined for six months with a blood clot in one of his lungs. It didn’t take long for rumors to surface over how they’ll address Dupuis’ absence.
USA Today’s Kevin Allen believes the Penguins have trade options to pursue. Among them are Buffalo Sabres wingers Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart, who are both eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, and Edmonton Oilers right wing Nail Yakupov. Read more
Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin has built a mile-long list of highlight reel goals – and he added some more footage to the collection with a dazzling, nearly end-to-end rush against the Colorado Avalanche Thursday that was the deciding marker in a 3-2 Washington victory.
The Caps’ captain picked up the puck at his own blueline, swiftly carried it down the ice, deked Avs defenseman Jan Hejda and tried to fire the puck on his backhand at Colorado goalie Reto Berra; the puck went past the net, but it rebounded right back to him, and Ovechkin made no mistake from close range on his forehand, even at a difficult angle and Hejda on his heels: Read more
There may be no two goaltenders in NHL history whose names are linked like those of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.
Roy was an innovator, has four Stanley Cup rings to his name, two of which came as a member of the same Colorado Avalanche which he now coaches, and he won three Conn Smythe Trophies, more than any player who has ever played the game.
Brodeur was his immediate successor. Of all the records Roy set during his playing days, and there were several, the only one Brodeur has left standing is playoff victories, of which he has 38 less than Roy. Brodeur is the all-time leader in regular season wins, wins in a season, shutouts, and playoff shutouts. He’s also a two time Olympic gold medalist.
With an injury to Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov, however, there lies a possibility they could be tied together for another reason: there’s a possibility Roy could become Brodeur’s coach. Read more