Today we debate which team has been the biggest surprise in the first two and a half weeks. Is it the Stars? Leafs? Islanders? Someone else?
Last year on this date, the Avalanche, Rangers, and Oilers were the surprise clubs (all ranked in the top five in points). Only one happened to make the playoffs.
Without further ado, Patrick, Anthony and I offer our two cents…
New York Islanders By Ryan Porth
How can you not come away impressed with what New York’s ‘other team’ has done in the first couple weeks? Without Mark Streit or Kyle Okposo due to shoulder injuries (even John Tavares has missed two games), the Islanders find themselves tied atop the Atlantic Division (4-1-2, 10 points).
I see a lot of similarities between this club and last year’s Avalanche. No one really gave them a chance to emerge as a playoff contender; they have a lot of impactful youth making key contributions; and they are playing with a lot of confidence and energy.
Their early-season schedule has been littered with challenges. Between road games in Washington, Pittsburgh, and Tampa, along with home tilts against the Rangers and Avalanche, Scott Gordon’s crew has held their own. They went 1-1-1 in those aforementioned road tests and took down the Blueshirts and Avs on home-ice.
Speaking of the team’s youth, they have stepped up in a big way. 30-goal scorer from a year ago, Matt Moulson seems to have found his goal-scoring touch again after many thought last year was a fluke. Josh Bailey, a first-rounder in 2008, has taken the next step with six points in six games.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though? P.A. Parenteau – yes, P.A. Parenteau – is leading the Islanders in points (7). The rival Rangers gave up on him, but he’s been a nice complement on the power play, which is ranked fifth in the league.
All of this young talent surrounds the face of the franchise, John Tavares. ‘JT’ quickly overcame a concussion in the early going, returning to score the overtime winner in Toronto on Monday.
Also, James Wisniewski has filled in nicely on the back end for the injured Streit, also recording six points thus far.
The longer the Isles keep up this success, the more people will expect them to eventually fade away. If those people learned anything last year with the Avs, youthful exuberance can go a long way. ---
Dallas Stars By Patrick Hoffman
With every new NHL season, there are always trending topics that come to the surface. Unfortunately for this sport, the topics haven’t been very good recently as the sport continues to get cuts and bruises.
With that in mind, it’s a good time to acknowledge the good that is going on in hockey; right now, that is the surprise start of the Dallas Stars.
After losing their franchise hero Mike Modano as well as long-time netminder Marty Turco, hockey pundits and fans alike did not know what to expect out of the Stars in the 2010-11 season. This was understandable given the team’s performance last season (37-31-14) and not making the playoffs for the second straight year.
In the early going at least, the Stars are looking like world beaters as they’ve charged out of the gate with a 5-1 record and sit atop the Pacific Division with 10 points. What’s even more surprising is that they’ve done it against some pretty good hockey clubs such as the Devils, Red Wings, and Blues.
A lot of this can be attributed to the outstanding play of their starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
After being injury-plagued all throughout in Atlanta, Lehtonen has a 5-1 record with a 2.60 goals-against average and .927 save percentage through his team’s first six games. He’s kept his team in every game this season and is providing the big saves when the games are tight.
The team is also getting terrific performances from Brad Richards (2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points), James Neal (4 goals and 4 assists for 8 points), Mike Ribeiro (7 assists), Brenden Morrow (5 goals and 1 assist for 6 points) and Loui Eriksson (4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points.
It may be a long season… but through the early going, all is good in the Lone Star State with the Stars being the surprise team in the NHL through two-plus weeks. ---
Toronto Maple Leafs By Anthony Curatolo
4-1-1 after six games (9 points) and the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference – as well as the first overall slot in the Northeast Division – is not something fans of the organization or the NHL as a whole were prepared for when the Toronto Maple Leafs started the 2010-11 NHL season.
Without a true top line center, and a mix of secondary players and energy- or grind-type players, Phil Kessel has taken charge of the offensive production in Toronto. They are backed with some great defense from a blueline that would have most of its six defensemen skating on top pairings with other teams around the league.
But just like these Leafs, Clarke MacArthur, a forward who was signed this off-season and virtually went unnoticed, has raised some eyebrows. In six games played both MacArthur and Kessel are tied for the team lead in both goals and points with five goals and seven points respectively. MacArthur even scored a pair of game-winners within the first three games.
Though he's shown to be average at times, J.S. Giguere's numbers are nothing short of outstanding at the early stages of the season. He carries a .911 save percentage along with a 1.96 goals against average. Add that to a record of 3-0-1 and it is no surprise as to why the Leafs are where they currently stand in the standings.
The NHL is a strange league at times, and expectations in reverse make it more of a joy to be a fan. The parity around the league every year is staggering. What we are witnessing this year proves how consistency and chemistry can make many things turn out differently then what they were expected to be.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.