SUN Hockey Pool

Avs, Isles two feel-good stories

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Imagine 2009 first-rounders Matt Duchene and John Tavares taking the ceremonial faceoff as the glitzy curtain-raiser to the Stanley Cup final.

The Colorado Avalanche versus the New York Islanders battling for Lord Stanley's battered beaker? Isn't that a bit far-fetched?

Perhaps. But not as much as you might think.

While no one is engraving their names into the coveted silver mug as of yet, the Avs and Isles are two of the feel-good stories through the first quarter of this NHL season.

Meanwhile, fans of the underachieving Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild are feeling things too -- mostly nausea and disgust.

As the NHL season reaches the quarter pole, here is Sun Media's team-by-team analysis as winter approaches.

(In order of overall standings as of yesterday. Point totals in brackets).

1. San Jose Sharks (32): We've seen this high-flying regular season act before. Call us at playoff time.

2. Washington Capitals (30): Proved there is, in fact, life without Ovie. Not in the post-season, however.

3. Colorado Avalanche (29): No one saw this coming. Matt Duchene has been solid for most part.

T4. New Jersey Devils (28): When are we going to stop doubting The Lamoriello Plan? Brian Gionta leaves, John Madden leaves, Jersey keeps winning.

T4. Pittsburgh Penguins (28): Struggled without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Sid rightfully gets the ink, but it's time No. 71 feels some love too.

T4. Los Angeles Kings (28): Like the Avs, no one saw this coming. Drew Doughty, still 19, is a stud.

T7. Calgary Flames (26): Memo to Olli Jokinen -- this is not Florida or Phoenix any more. Disappearing acts that feature 11 points in 19 games are unacceptable in Cowtown.

T7. Chicago Blackhawks (26): By re-signing Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, Hawks will have a salary cap nightmare next season -- unless the league bumps it up to $70 million next season. Good luck with that.

T9. Philadelphia Flyers (25): There was actually a Daniel Briere sighting recently. Honest.

T9. Buffalo Sabres (25): A good coach in Lindy Ruff, a great goalie in Ryan Miller, a potential blueline stud in Tyler Myers.

T11. Columbus Blue Jackets (24): Have overcome an average start by Steve Mason. Rick Nash keeps getting better, if that's possible.

T11. Dallas Stars (24): Not a lot of household names here, just a lot of kids who can play. Having Marty Turco return from his 2008-09 siesta is a huge boost.

T11. Phoenix Coyotes (24): Like Avs and Kings, no one saw this coming. Shane Doan's leadership is huge.

T14. Detroit Red Wings (23): Only four regulation-time losses since returning from Europe. Injuries to Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula, among others, have tested team's depth and management's patience.

T14. New York Rangers (23): Defenceman Michael Del Zotto is a Calder frontrunner, but this team will not go far with scoring from just one line. Isn't it about time for Marian Gaborik's annual rash of injuries?

T14. New York Islanders (23): Like Avs, Kings and Coyotes, no one saw this coming. John Tavares a main reason.

T17. Tampa Bay Lightning (22): Steven Stamkos outplaying Vinny Lecavalier. That says a lot about both.

T17. Vancouver Canucks (22): Injuries to Daniel Sedin and Roberto Luongo were crippling. Nevertheless this team still has underachieved.

T19. Atlanta Thrashers (21): If they don't lock up Kovalchuk, turn out the lights on the NHL in Dixie. Have shown some offensive pop.

T19. Ottawa Senators (21): The team can't draw fans, Jason Spezza can't score and, on too many nights, Alexei Kovalev can't be found.

T19. Nashville Predators (21): No one has done more with such little talent than Barry Trotz. We're not sure if he deserves a medal or our sympathy.

T19. Edmonton Oilers (21): Any more injuries, and coach Pat Quinn might have to dress. No cracking guys over the head with your stick, Pat!

T23. Boston Bruins (20): Some of us picked these guys to represent the East in the Cup final. Right now we'll just settle for a playoff spot to justify our prognostication pride, thanks.

T23. Montreal Canadiens (20): Bob Gainey's off-season spending spree has not worked. If this continues, neither will Gainey.

25. Florida Panthers (18): Peter DeBoer is one of the fine young coaches in the game. If only he had some talent around him.

T26. St. Louis Blues (16): With all that young skill up front, there are no excuses for this team's lack of offence. If it doesn't change, coach Andy Murray could take the fall.

T26. Minnesota Wild (16): Calling Martin Havlat. Hello Martin Havlat. Are you out there? Two goals? Minus-14? And you're supposed to be the offensive catalyst?

28. Anaheim Ducks (15): Brian Burke's former team not doing much better than his present one. Visiting the sin bin all the time is lethal when you can't kill off penalties efficiently.

29. Toronto Maple Leafs (11): Time to start shipping some of the overpaid deadweight to the AHL Marlies. Now. There certainly are plenty of candidates.

30. Carolina Hurricanes (11): No Staal, no Ward, no chance.


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