The biggest early season surprise team is most certainly the Calgary Flames. The Flames are currently in playoff position with a record of 8-5-2 …a record that was largely achieved through the stellar goaltending of Jonas Hiller (.929) and the league leading scoring of their top pairing D. Giordano (with 15 points) and Brodie (14 points) have had a remarkable early season and Dennis Wideman (9 points) hasn’t been too shabby either. Whether or not the Flames can remain respectable with so much offence coming from the back end is debatable but their forward group led by Sean Monahan and Johnny Hockey seems to have come alive recently. Monahan started slowly this season but is now on pace for a 27 goal 50 point season.
* An update from Saturday’s early game…Mark Giordano with 1G 2A, Gaudreau with 1G 2A and Monahan with 1G 1A.
At this early juncture, its wise not to make too much of team success that is based on playing weaker teams especially WC teams beating up on weaker EC teams. But, it’s worth noting that the Flames record against the WC is 5-2-0 while a team like the Edmonton Oilers is 0-6-1 when they play Big Boy hockey. The real surprise here is that the Vancouver Canucks are 7-3-0 against the WC although that record has to be tempered a bit since they have already beaten the woeful Oilers 3 times. The Canucks are in the middle of their Bataan Death March road trip through the Pacific but have already won 2 of 4 games with a huge weekend back to back against the Kings and Ducks on Saturday and Sunday nights. If the Canucks can win even one of those games, I think it’s fair to assume they are back.
And speaking of the Canucks, there were more than a few raised eyebrows when GM Jim Benning acquired Ryan Miller on a 3 year $18M dollar contract but it appears that may have been one of the best off season signings in the league. Miller has been nothing short of spectacular, leading all NHL goaltenders with 10 wins, 1 loss, a 2.19 GAA and a .920 SV%.
There was also some derision from tall foreheads and fans of other teams that the Canucks got fleeced in the trade that sent Ryan Kesler to Anaheim for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and a 1st round pick.
The criticism was that Bonino likely wouldn’t score much if he wasn’t getting PP minutes with Getzlaf and Perry but all he’s done thus far is lead the entire NHL with 7 even strength goals and has 12 points while playing second line minutes. Kesler, playing similar minutes has only 3 goals and 10 points. After a shaky start, Sbisa has settled in as a steady bottom pairing D while the pick Vancouver got from the Ducks was used to select Jared McCann who has done nothing but post 7 goals and 15 points in 11 games with the SSM Greyhounds. Early days, but it appears the one doing the fleecing was Benning. The acquisition of Bonino who is a much younger, cheaper version of Kesler, and McCann gives the Canucks an enviable group of young centres working their way to the NHL.
Bo Horvat (now on the Canucks roster)
Brendan Gaunce (1G 5P Utica AHL)
Cole Cassels (7G 28P Oshawa)
Jared McCann (7G 15P SSM)
Not too shabby.
Okay, everyone else who though Vladimir Tarasenko was an emerging superstar, please raise your hand. You may recall I predicted this a few weeks ago and the dynamic Russian is making me look like a genius. Tarasenko, while not having quite the wheels, reminds me of no one more than Pavel Bure. Tarasenko is currently 4th in NHL scoring with 16 points and, despite losing Paul Statsny as his regular centre, is quickly gaining ground on Sidney Crosby. The sky is the limit for this kid…seriously.
Speaking of Russians, here’s an update on the Russian forward scoring race based on PPG played.
Malkin – 1.33
Datsyuk – 1.25
Tarasenko – 1.23
Ovechkin – 1.00
Kucherov – 0.92
Kuznetsov – 0.50
Kulemin – 0.46
Anisimov – 0.44
Yakupov – 0.43
Namestnikov – 0.38
And, just for laffs…Semin – 0.30
Hey…remember Patrick O’Sullivan? He was the guy who, in his final season with the Edmonton Oilers back in 2009/10, fired 191 shots (and many dozens of misses) at the opposition goal in only 73 games played.
While he was a Corsi Monster, his 5.8 shooting percentage doomed him to 11 goals and 34 points.
Well, Nail Yakupov has taken to firing shots from everywhere and is starting to look a lot like O’Sullivan. His 32 SOG are second on the team and his SH% keeps dropping like a rock…now at 6.3%. You’d have to think some of those shots will go in eventually but as long as Yakupov remains a perimeter player, they just might not. When was the last time you remember Yakupov being anywhere close to the blue paint?
And speaking of shots…when does the Minnesota Wild’s unbelievable shot differential start paying off? The Wild are outshooting the opposition by an average of 12.6 shots per game and yet they have only a 7-5 record good for only 10th spot in the W. That dam will break eventually.