Head coach Guy Carbonneau has the Habs playing much better than most expected.
Numbers don’t lie
1. Montreal, at 10-4-3, is tied with Colorado for the third-best winning percentage in the league (.676). Not bad for a team The Hockey News predicted would finish 13th in the Eastern Conference this season. The New Jersey Devils, at 7-9-2, were holding down 13th in the East through Nov. 15.
2. Buffalo, at 6-10-1, is 29th in the league in winning percentage (.382), ahead of only Washington (6-11-1, .361). And have you heard this one about Buffalo? They haven’t scored the first goal in 14 consecutive games; the Sabres are 5-8-1 in that span (which is pretty good, considering). As well, through the Sabres’ 3-2 loss to Ottawa Nov. 15, Buffalo hadn’t held a lead in regulation time in more than 487 minutes. That’s more than eight games…and counting.
3. The Central Division is a force. All five teams in the NHL’s formerly weakest division were above .500, and four were in a playoff spot in the Western Conference. And the only thing holding back the St. Louis Blues (8-7-0) was the fact they’ve played two to five fewer games than everyone else in the West.
4. The Edmonton Oilers are the NHL’s best team in the shootout so far this season, going 4-1 in the post-overtime skills competition. The bad news is, the Oilers are 3-11-0 in games that don’t go to the shootout.
5. Carolina (27 goals for, 17 against) and Ottawa (21-11) are plus-10 in third period scoring, the best differential in the league. At the other end are Phoenix at minus-11 (16-27) and Florida at minus-15 (14-29).
Can’t help but wonder whether Anaheim’s decision to waive longtime backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and his $1.36-million salary was really due to the altruistic reasons offered up by Ducks GM Brian Burke – to allow Bryzgalov the chance to catch on as a No. 1 with another NHL team – or if it has something to do with freeing up salary cap room for the return of defenseman Scott Niedermayer.
In any case, Swiss rookie Jonas Hiller, the Ducks’ new No. 2 behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere, isn’t complaining.
No. 19 to the rafters
The Montreal Canadiens are retiring Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson’s No. 19 on Monday, Nov. 19, at the Bell Centre before a game against Ottawa.
Robinson, currently an assistant coach with New Jersey, played 1,384 NHL games – plus another 227 in the playoffs – over 20 seasons, scoring 208 goals and 958 points before retiring in 1992. More than his stats, though, ‘Big Bird’ was renowned for his physical presence and the control he exercised over the outcome of games.
A longtime Montreal Canadiens observer once said that coming up with the Habs’ all-time all-star team would be an incredibly tough challenge because the franchise has had so many superstars over the years. But then he added: “Except on defense. There’s only two players it could be. Doug Harvey and Larry Robinson.”
Pittsburgh honors Coffey
Another legendary defenseman was honored when Paul Coffey was inducted into the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Hall of Fame Thursday night.
Following three Stanley Cups with Edmonton, Coffey was traded to Pittsburgh in 1987 – due to a contract impasse – and helped the Pens to the ’91 Cup. Coffey, the first of the all the Oilers stars over the years to leave Edmonton, said playing with Mario Lemieux at his peak was a career highlight.
“Probably the most exciting year I had a chance to participate in was 1988-89 when Mario had 199 points…and that’s not taking anything away from Wayne (Gretzky) when he had 212 and 215, but it’s looking at it from a pure talent point of view and taking the team on his shoulder.”
Everyone knows the Ottawa Senators have one of the NHL’s most lethal snipers. The thing is, though, everyone thinks that sniper’s name is Dany Heatley; the Sens left winger, after all, is coming off of back-to-back 50-goal campaigns.
But it’s not Heatley, it’s Ottawa’s other Dan.
Team captain Daniel Alfredsson was tied with Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk for the NHL goal-scoring lead, with 15 through 17 games. Alfredsson, who set a personal best with 43 goals (and 103 points) in 2005-06, has scored 29 goals in his past 37 NHL games, including a league-leading 14 in 20 playoff games last spring.
Alfredsson’s five highest-scoring seasons in the NHL have come in the past five campaigns; that is to say, the soon-to-be 36-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.
The first update on the voting for the 2008 NHL All-Star Game is due on Tuesday (Eastern Conference) and Wednesday (Western Conference), Nov. 18-19.
The game itself is in Atlanta on Jan. 27.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.