Friday, November 1, 2013

October Highlights, Lowlights in the NHL

There was lots to get excited about in October in the NHL.

One month of NHL hockey is in the books, which means its time to take stock of what has occurred on NHL ice thus far. What have we learned? Who has surprised us, disappointed us? And who is looking like the lead horse in the race to win the Stanley Cup? We'll ponder all this in more in Highlights and Lowlights...

Highlight: Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche

It all started with this:

It may seem like a bit of silliness or posturing to the casual observer, but the intensity that Roy showed here in his NHL coaching debut has rubbed off on his team.

The Avs, who seem as if they would jump on grenades if Roy asked them to (Roy would likely jump on grenades to get his team to win so the feeling is mutual), are 10-1 and 5-0 on the road, and they've allowed 16 goals in those eleven games. In their biggest win of the season, a nationally televised 1-0 victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh on October 21st, they proved just how far they will go to keep rubber out of their net. They blocked 22 shots and got great goaltending, a recipe that's worked well for them all season.

Lowlight: The Metropolitan Division

The name is bad enough. Don't you miss the days of the Patrick Division and the Adams Division in the old Prince of Wales Conference? But the play of the teams in the newly formed Metro Division has been even worse. Of the eight teams in the Division, only one (Pittsburgh) is over .500. They are 10-22-6 vs. the Western conference, and it's hard to imagine that winning percentage improving much as the season progresses. The good news? The division's second and third place spots will be up for grabs all year.

Highlight: Alexander Steen

The 29-year-old Winnipeg native is off to a fast start with 11 goals in ten games. He is the NHL's leading scorer and he has already notched two game-winning goals in the final minute of games, helping the Blues notch 16 of a possible 20 points in October.

Lowlight: Garth Snow

Credit the Isles GM for wanting to make a splash in the trade market, but shame on him for giving up two picks and their second-best player for Thomas Vanek, who very likely will end up signing somewhere else in the off-season. With the Islanders desperately in need of defensive help and goaltending, this was the wrong time for Snow to abandon what up until now has been a very successful rebuild on Long Island.

Highlight: The Western Conference

Has the Western Conference ever been this stacked? Besides Edmonton, which is talented but just too green, every other team is a bona fide playoff contender and many (San Jose, L.A., Anaheim, Colorado, Chicago, St. Louis) could be considered elite.

Lowlight: Hits to the Head, cheap shots, and the like

The NHL's Department of Player Safety has already handed out ten suspensions in the first month of play. Not all of them were cheap and malicious though. Many times aggressive players were caught by surprise when puck carriers ducked or turned away from their hits. Cody McLeod's hit on Niklas Kronwall, and Maxim Lapierre's hit on Dan Boyle could fit into this category.

That said, the NHL has done a good job of mediating discipline and letting people know that when a puck carrier is in a vulnerable position, that is time for the checker to pull back and "finish easy." It doesn't come natural to a lot of players, but maybe after sitting out and being docked significant pay for infractions, it will start to sink in.

Highlight: Tomas Hertl

Hertl scored the most ridiculous goal of the 2013-2014 season and we think it's going to be difficult for anybody to top it. He also leads all rookies in goals, with eight, and is a plus-8 in 13 games with San Jose.