The 2012-13 season is officially a week old, and the opening days have brought a flurry of highs and lows for teams around the NHL.
Shortened training camps and a compressed schedule have already led to high-scoring affairs and a heightened sense of urgency for teams off to slow starts. Several players and teams have had an unexpected start to the campaign, so let's take a look at the biggest surprises and disappointments of the first seven days.
Obviously, sample size is an issue and patience should be expected, but that's not any fun.
1. Patrick Marleau is on pace for 96 goals
No player has begun a season with back-to-back-to-back multigoal games since Peter Stastny of the Quebec Nordiques in 1982-83, so that's a pretty good indicator of Marleau's special start. The San Jose Sharks are undefeated, and their top line of Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski has been dominant, combining for seven goals and 24 points in three games.
2. Marian Hossa is back
The last image of Hossa during the 2011-12 season was a frightening one after the Chicago Blackhawks forward was injured by an illegal hit from the Phoenix Coyotes' Raffi Torres. Hossa had some extra time to recover, and he has returned in impressive form. The Blackhawks were the first team in the League to get to 4-0, and Hossa has been a big part of that with five goals, including two game-winners. Chicago has played possibly the toughest schedule in the League to date, defeating the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix and Dallas Stars with three of the four on the road.
Karlsson won the Norris Trophy last season but lost his typical defense partner when Filip Kuba signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers. The Ottawa Senators added Methot in a trade for Nick Foligno, and he has been a perfect fit alongside Karlsson to this point. The Senators yielded two goals in their three victories before a 6-4 loss Friday to Tampa Bay, and the Karlsson-Methot combo has been productive. Karlsson is tied for the team lead with five points (three goals), and Methot is tied for the team lead with three assists. The duo is tied for second in the League in plus-minus, while Methot has been on the ice for seven goals for and only one against at even strength.
4. The best line in the Eastern Conference is in New York … state
One high-profile night by the New York Rangers' trio of Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Brad Richards aside, the line that has been the most dominant in the East to this point resides in Buffalo. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have welcomed center Cody Hodgson to their line, and the results to this point have been strong. Vanek leads the Sabres with nine points (three goals), and Pominville and Hodgson also three goals each. The goaltending and the work in the defensive end (including Hodgson) let the Sabres down Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, but the trio produced a couple of highlight-reel quality goals.
5. Scoring depth looks great in Anaheim
The Anaheim Ducks have been defined by their star talents up front for years, but the ability to fill in around them has played a big part in making or breaking the team's seasons. It was only two games, but coach Bruce Boudreau had three lines rolling, as the Ducks scored 12 goals before being shut out Friday night by Vancouver. Daniel Winnik and Saku Koivu (five points each) have clicked on the third line, and Teemu Selanne (four points) has anchored the second unit. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have welcomed Kyle Palmieri to the top line, and they have combined for four goals and nine points.
6. The leader in ice time among first-year players is … Michael Kostka?
Kostka does not qualify as a rookie because he's 27 years old, but that makes his story even more remarkable. After four seasons at the University of Massachusetts and four in the American Hockey League, Kostka not only made the opening-night roster for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he earned a spot alongside Dion Phaneuf on the top pairing. He hasn't disappointed either, collecting three assists and logging more than 24 minutes per contest in the team's first three games.
7. Montreal's defense corps is producing plenty of offense
The Montreal Canadiens are missing restricted free agent P.K. Subban, but to steal from a famous line in "Office Space" -- "I wouldn't say they've been missing him, Bob." Now, the Canadiens would clearly love to have Subban and his dynamic skill set available, but Montreal has coped with his absence well to this point. A healthy Andrei Markov (three goals, one assist) has been a huge boost, and Raphael Diaz leads the team with five points (all assists). A full season of good health for Markov plus a new contract in short order for Subban could make the Canadiens a playoff contender one season after falling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
1. The champs are winless
The story of the late-season surge by the Los Angeles Kings will not soon be forgotten, but the Stanley Cup champions' title defense is not off to a good start. Los Angeles has one point and four goals after three games. Captain Dustin Brown is scoreless and tied for a League-worst minus-5 rating. Mike Richards is scoreless. Dustin Penner was a healthy scratch after two games. Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene are long-term injury concerns on the blue line. It is early, but coach Daryl Sutter has some work to do to get the champs rolling again.
2. Washington lacks killer instinct
This is not the welcome home party Adam Oates was expecting. The Washington Capitals are 0-3-1, and the new coach has myriad issues to deal with. The biggest at this point is the penalty kill. Oates was an assistant for the New Jersey Devils last season, and they were the stingiest team in the League on the PK, yielding 27 power-play goals in 82 games. Washington has allowed eight in four games already this season. Alex Ovechkin isn't doing much, the forward depth is an issue with Brooks Laich hurt, the defense in front of the goaltenders has been lacking -- Oates has plenty of fires to put out after one week on the job.
3. Phoenix is leaking goals
Dave Tippett has built the Phoenix Coyotes into a contender in the Western Conference the past two seasons with strong defense and goaltending to help mask the lack of elite offensive options. That's why it is hard to believe the Coyotes have yielded a League-high 16 goals. Goaltender Mike Smith struggled in the first two games and sustained what the team believes is a minor injury. Phoenix has averaged nearly four goals per contest, which would be the biggest surprise if it weren't for the four per game allowed.
4. The Flyers' offense is grounded
Philadelphia lost Jaromir Jagr to free agency and James van Riemsdyk in a trade this offseason, and Danny Briere is out with an injury. Still, no one would have expected the Flyers to have five goals in four games. Scott Hartnell is out for at least a month with a broken foot, and general manager Paul Holmgren told reporters he is looking around to add up front. If there was going to be a problem in Philadelphia this season, it was supposed to be on the blue line or in net -- not scoring goals.
5. Henrik Lundqvist is under siege
Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy last season, and the New York Rangers have become one of the stingiest defensive teams with coach John Tortorella. Well, Lundqvist has been mortal to start the season (3.47 goals-against average, .895 save percentage in three starts), and part of that could be because he's seeing a lot more frozen rubber. The Rangers are allowing six more shots on goal per game this season, up to 33.8 (25th in the NHL) from 27.8 (6th) in 2011-12. New York is still among the League leaders in blocked shots, so it could be an indicator of more defensive lapses.
6. Detroit has an even-strength problem
The Detroit Red Wings have been decimated by injuries, and there is that slight problem of trying to replace Nicklas Lidstrom. Clearly, they are a work in progress. It is still unexpected to see Detroit near the bottom of the League (tied for 25th after the games on Thursday) in goals for/against ratio at even strength. The Red Wings led the NHL in that category in 2011-12, and were in the top five during each of their two recent campaigns that ended with an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
7. Where are the comebacks?
The shortened training camps and lack of practice time has led to more mistakes on the ice, but it hasn't translated into more comebacks on the scoreboard. Teams that lead at the second intermission are 38-2-4 through the games on Friday. Los Angeles has lost twice (0-1-1) when leading after two periods, so the other 29 teams are 38-1-3. Teams that lead heading into the first intermission are a robust 28-6-3.
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