Surprises emerge in October
New blood in NHL playoff mix is fun
RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
|The Oilers were due for a step forward with all that young talent, one of the surprises in the first month of the NHL season. (Al Charest/QMI Agency)
CALGARY - Some hockey followers believe you don't get a read on a team until U.S. Thanksgiving.
Others believe the tell-tale sign is how a club performs from Games 21 through 40.
Still, it's wild to see what took place in the opening month of the 2011-12 NHL season.
At or near the top of the standings are a bunch of teams not expected to be there prior to puck-drop.
The Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and even the Florida Panthers are all in that boat. It's incredible how they've come out of the blocks.
The Oilers were due for a step forward with all that young talent, while the Avs should have been expected to bounce back to the playoff picture, and there was a thought the Leafs would be in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Bigger surprises have been in Ottawa, Florida and Dallas. Either way, they all deserve mounds of credit for the early season achievements.
As somebody who watched closely as the 2001-02 Flames started with a 13-2-4-2 record but gradually fell apart to the point they were again golfing early, I know it's not likely all those teams will sustain their early success through the first week of April.
Who knows? Maybe the Oil will start to fall apart during their six-game road trip. It's hard to imagine they'll remain atop the league in goals-against or be able to keep winning with so little offence.
Perhaps the Stars will plummet on their pending four-game trip, the Avs will struggle during a home-heavy schedule this month, the Maple Leafs' offensive attack will fizzle, the Senators will fall apart starting with that loss in Boston or the Panthers will have their clock strike midnight. Or maybe they'll all remain just as strong until the regular season ends.
Admit it, new blood in the playoff mix is fun to have.
It's curious to think about what the Flames will do when centre Mikael Backlund returns from injury. The obvious move to get down to the 23-man roster would be to send rookie Roman Horak to the minors since he doesn't have to clear waivers, but that would go against the plans to keep players based on merit. That means figuring a way to get rid of one of the three veterans on one-way contracts -- Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Pierre-Luc Leblond ... Not a good sign when your best line the past few games involves both Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos. Not a slight against them but more indictment on the other forwards not pulling their weight.
Talk about being torn. As much as the thought of seeing John Tortorella get to another Stanley Cup final makes the skin crawl, it would be fun to see the New York Rangers face the San Jose Sharks. Joe Thornton's assessment of the Rangers being soft started a war of words which would make a final meeting even better ... Speaking of the Rangers, thankfully Sean Avery is back in the NHL after his banishment in the minors. We were almost feeling sorry for him. Oh wait, we were glad he was out of sight for a couple of weeks ...
Cheers to Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau for having the guts to leave Alexander Ovechkin on the bench for the final minute while his team had the goalie pulled and needed a game-tying tally. It will pay dividends for the Caps if Ovechkin realizes he's not going to be given every opportunity if he's not performing up to standards ...
Another great war of words took place after the Nashville Predators beat the struggling Anaheim Ducks. Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf told the Orange County Register: "I'm tired of watching Jordin Tootoo out there, a guy who runs around and hits and does everything else, but the first little slash, he's laying on the ice and he's out the next shift. It's embarrassing, and I'm sick of it."