The San Jose Sharks are playing faster than they ever have under coach Todd McLellan, and it has given them a chance to have the puck more too. The combination of speed and possession has provided some staggering early-season results.
The Sharks lead the NHL with 21 points because they're also first in goals (3.92 per game) and shots on goal (37.8 per game). They are a League-best plus-160 in the shots on goal department (454-294) and are second to only the Colorado Avalanche in goals-against per game (1.58).
"That's all speed," NBC analyst Pierre McGuire told NHL.com. "Their general manager [Doug Wilson] realized something that some of us recognized a long time ago: His team was too slow so he started to jettison some slower players. Dany Heatley was moved. Ryane Clowe was moved. Douglas Murray was moved. They brought in younger legs, quicker legs. They put a huge emphasis on speed, and it's really paid off."
All of what McGuire mentioned is true, but Sharks coach Todd McLellan noted that the speed in his team's game didn't come solely because Wilson rejiggered his roster by trading Heatley after the 2010-11 season and then Clowe, Murray and Michal Handzus before the trade deadline last season.
The holdovers from the slower Sharks teams, most notably Joe Thornton, have had to adapt to playing faster as well.
"There is a group of players still here that didn't play fast and was stubborn enough not to," McLellan told NHL.com. "I hope we've changed that. We've got them believing, and it has to continue."
The Sharks were in the midst of a line change, but Scott Hannon forced Erik Karlsson to give up the puck at the San Jose blue line. Desjardins, who had just come onto the ice, then undercut Karlsson to beat him to the loose puck on the half-wall. He quickly moved it across the ice to Brad Stuart, who carried the puck around Jean-Gabriel Pageau and up the right-wing boards.
Desjardins and John McCarthy went to the net. Stuart shot from the top of the right circle, the rebound came out to the high slot, and Desjardins used his backhand to whip it past Craig Anderson from the left hash marks.
"They're quick and then they have a fast transition," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "They get the puck in the defensive zone and, bang, they're going the other way. They're aggressive on you with their speed so they don't give you a lot of time and space, and then they transition and get going up the ice quick. They hold the puck in the offensive zone for the same reason, for that same quickness and speed."
Pavelski broke up the ice as Tommy Wingels got to the puck. Wingels moved it up to Pavelski in transition. Sharks defenseman Justin Braun joined the rush, beating Senators forward Cory Conacher up the ice. He got the puck on the right side and used his body to ward off Conacher so he could carry the puck through the circle before feeding it to the middle, where Pavelski was able to slam it in.
"It was a team that in the past you'd always say, 'They're good, but can you take them seriously?'" Button said. "I watch their team now and I think they're real, I think they're legitimate, and I'm talking Stanley Cup contenders. I'm not talking about let's wait and see, I really like this team, I like the way they play. I see them as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender."
Megna could have place in Pittsburgh
Bylsma started by saying Megna, who scored his first career NHL goal and added an assist in a 3-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, was signed by the Penguins two summers ago after impressing in their development camp. Bylsma told NHL.com Megna was the best player in training camp last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. He played in three exhibition games and scored a goal in each of them.
However, Megna struggled during the regular season because of limitations from a high-ankle sprain, an injury he sustained early in the season. He had 12 points in 56 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
"He never really was able to use his speed effectively last year," Bylsma said. "It was kind of just an OK year after the beginning of the year started with a lot of promise."
Megna came to Pittsburgh's training camp this season and impressed again, showing the speed, skill and grit that earned him a contract in the first place. He went back to the AHL and didn't skip a beat. He had five points in six games, and Bylsma said he was an effective penalty killer.
Megna earned a call-up to the Penguins on Oct. 24 and made his NHL debut the next night against the New York Islanders.
"His first game was OK, but [against Carolina] last game, every time he touched the ice he was effective with his speed in some way," Bylsma said. "He used it wide, made plays, drove the net. He had a great assist for a goal for Tanner Glass, and got a couple of shifts and a goal with [Sidney] Crosby in the third period. He played a really effective game for his second game in the NHL."
Megna will have a chance to stick around because forward Chuck Kobasew will be out for what could be close to a month with an injury. James Neal is still out and considered week-to-week. Beau Bennett isn't ready to return to the lineup yet either.
"I don't want to draw comparisons, but when you look at other teams and their bottom-six group, how they're effective, they have speed like that and a player like that," Bylsma said. "I don't want to be too boisterous, but he has that. There is room on our team for someone like that. If everyone was 100 percent healthy, I still think there is room."
He's no Chris Pronger, but he could be special
In addition to wins, the New Jersey Devils needed a positive story to help get their season going in the right direction. Along came rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas, who played well in his first two games after being called up from Albany of the AHL. He scored a goal against the Vancouver Canucks and helped a struggling power play light it up for four goals against the Boston Bruins.
The local media caught on and started talking and writing about Gelinas, the team's 22-year-old prospect who was their second-round pick (No. 54) in the 2009 NHL Draft. However, Devils coach Peter DeBoer attempted to tame the enthusiasm when he was asked about Gelinas on Tuesday.
"I want to be real careful anointing this guy the next Chris Pronger," DeBoer said. "We've done a lot of talking about him."
DeBoer knows why, though. Even he couldn't stop himself from talking more about Gelinas, who played his third straight game Tuesday paired with Adam Larsson, New Jersey's 20-year-old defenseman and the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft.
"He brings some things to our group that we don't have a lot of," DeBoer said of Gelinas. "He's big. He can skate. He can move the puck, and he can shoot it. He's come up the right way. He's paid his dues in the minors. He hasn't been handed any jobs. He's come up, gotten some looks and gone back down. This guy has gotten here the right way."
Gelinas isn't a lock to play in New Jersey's next game, which is Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Devils captain Bryce Salvador might be able to come off injured reserve in time to play this coming weekend, a move that could push Gelinas back to Albany.
Even if Gelinas gets sent back, at least DeBoer and Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello have gotten a taste of what the future of this team's blue line could look like with Gelinas and Larsson together. New Jersey also has 2010 second-round pick (No. 38) Jon Merrill getting some professional seasoning in Albany.
"He looked like he was NHL-ready in training camp," DeBoer said of Gelinas.
More on Alex Steen, the scoring machine
NHL.com correspondent Louie Korac wrote about St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen and his surprising 10 goals Tuesday. In the story, Korac quotes Blues coach Ken Hitchcock talking about Steen being an elite player because he's "smart, competitive, plays the game the right way, sees the game the right way."
Hitchcock also knows that Steen's 38.5 shooting percentage, which he had heading into the game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, is most likely not sustainable through the course of an 82-game season. Twenty percent would be unbelievable. Fifteen percent would put him in a class with some of the elite scorers in the League.
However, neither the goals nor the shooting percentage have caught Hitchcock's eye.
"I think the offense is a direct reflection of a lot of things with him," Hitchcock told NHL.com in a separate interview this week. "It's an accumulation of a guy that plays with a great conscience. He's constantly in the right position defensively and that allows him to be in the right position offensively. He has scored on his chances, but a lot of his chances have been pretty good quality chances because that line has created a number of odd-man rushes."
The line includes David Backes and T.J. Oshie. It's been the Blues' best line this season, and not just because Steen has lit the lamp at an Alex Ovechkin pace. They're consistently outplaying the opposition's No. 1 line by turning their strong defense into offense. Entering the game Tuesday, Steen led the Blues with 15 points, while Oshie and Backes had a combined 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists. They're a combined plus-21.
"I just think [Steen] is having a really good start to the year offensively, but he's having a better start in the 200-foot game," Hitchcock said. "He's an easy guy to follow if you're a teammate."
Bishop's other weapon
However, when DeBoer was asked about Bishop prior to the Lightning-Devils game Tuesday, he pointed out something unexpected, especially considering he was talking about such a tall goalie.
"The biggest asset he has next to his size is his puck-handling ability," DeBoer said. "He's an excellent puck handler. If you don't put the puck in the right place, it's very tough to get a forecheck. Surprisingly, he's real good with the puck."
Lightning coach Jon Cooper took it one step further.
"To tell you the truth, to me he's an elite puck handler," Cooper said. "You can throw him up there with the Mike Smiths, and I think Marty Brodeur is a big-time puck handler too. Now all of a sudden you're not a one-trick pony coming out of the zone. Other teams have to think, 'Oh, this guy has the ability to blow it by me.' It's a great asset to have for us."
This and that
* Bylsma said he remembers arriving in West Point, N.Y., near the end of training camp and thinking how amazing it was the Penguins got through six exhibition games and 22 days of camp without any injuries. He probably should have thought of something else.
Kris Letang was injured in a post-practice drill in West Point and missed the first nine games of the season. The day after the regular season began, James Neal, who was fine when he left the rink the night before, showed up the next day complaining of an injury. He'll miss his 12th straight game Wednesday.
Rob Scuderi broke his ankle blocking a shot in the game this past Saturday against the Islanders. He needs surgery and will be out 6-8 weeks. Kobasew sustained an injury Monday and will be out 3-4 weeks.
* The Minnesota Wild have found a second line that seems to work with Mikael Granlund in between Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter. Pominville has four goals in the past three games and Granlund has assists on all of them.
"I like the fact that Granlund has really started to go," NBC analyst Pierre McGuire told NHL.com. "I think that's a huge thing for the Wild. He's really starting to get comfortable as [an] NHL player."
* Wingels has three goals in 12 games for the Sharks this season after scoring five goals in 42 games last season and a total of eight in his first 80 NHL games. McLellan said there is no difference in Wingels' game other than he is playing with confidence.
"I think he's just finding the back of the net," McLellan said. "His game is confident right now, which is important. He has a little more power-play time now because of injuries, but he hasn't produced his goals in those situations. It's been more 5-on-5, and maybe playing with Pavelski on a consistent basis has helped him."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock discussing one of the reasons the play in the Western Conference is elevated this season:
"I think there are six or seven teams in the West that are deep down the middle, and that's the key. You look at the emergence of Colorado, [it's] because of their depth at center. Our improvement is our depth at center. [The Chicago Blackhawks are] deep at center. [The Los Angeles Kings are] really deep at center. That seems to be what the West is, there is a lot of depth at the center-ice position. San Jose is deep at center too. They've got four centers who can all play the game. We still expect all of our third center-icemen to contribute offensively."
NBCSN's Pierre McGuire's answer when asked about some of the trends he's seeing so far this season:
"I'm really noticing some goalies are struggling with the different pads. I'm seeing more wraparounds and short-side goals because of the extra room behind the net. I'm seeing more slot-area chances because of zero tolerance on obstruction and because of the different nets, and teams are starting to understand how to play it. I'm seeing more stretch passing, which is leading to more breakaway situations and/or odd-man rushes. I'm seeing more of an attack-oriented NHL."
Can the Avalanche keep up their winning ways? -- @Emasty10
I do think they can continue to be a winning team, but there are some red flags. For one, the Avalanche are minus-27 in shots on goal. They give up more than 32 shots per game. Only six teams were giving up more per game entering Tuesday. It's been a non-factor because Colorado's goaltending has been phenomenal, but asking Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere to keep up their current pace is asking for too much. The Avalanche will slump at some point, maybe soon, but they're putting points in the bank now that will help them down the road.
Who do you think is the most underrated team right now? -- @KylePineda2
The Anaheim Ducks. They're deep and balanced. They're winning with skill and solid goaltending. They're getting contributions from a lot of guys who aren't household names. I bet a lot of people don't know who Hampus Lindholm is. Same with Frederik Andersen and Patrick Maroon. These guys are all contributing in addition to Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Jonas Hiller and Francois Beauchemin.
Are the Canucks' injuries a concern moving forward? -- @jonomack
They shouldn't be. Alexandre Burrows returned to the lineup Monday, giving Vancouver's top six the boost it needed. A healthy top six of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins, Mike Santorelli and Burrows is a handful to deal with from an opponent's perspective. Jannik Hansen is a quality energy player, but the Canucks can't go into a nosedive because he's out of the lineup. It's the same with David Booth.
Is Minnesota going to be a more popular free-agent destination over the next couple of years? -- @devster192
I'd argue that it already is. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter made it that way. Pominville chose to re-sign with the Wild instead of going to the free-agent market next summer. Matt Cooke signed there when he was a free agent last summer. Many fans believe that Thomas Vanek won't re-sign with the Islanders because he'd prefer to sign with Minnesota. If that's the case, it would be a major win for the Wild.
Is Vanek's reputation tarnished in Buffalo as he admitted that he did not want to be part of a rebuilding team? -- @StevenSazant
He scored 40 goals twice, went for 30-plus two more times. He scored 20 goals in 38 games last season. Vanek was a solid citizen in the community and a solid player for the Buffalo Sabres. He should be remembered that way by the fans in Buffalo. He didn't want to be a part of a rebuilding project. Can you blame him? He's 29 years old and he wants to win the Stanley Cup. John Vogl of the Buffalo News reported that the Sabres were willing to make Vanek the highest-paid player in the NHL. He'd rather win than take all the money and rebuild. There is something noble about that.
Do you think Rick Nash will return this season for the Rangers? -- @surlysailor
It's way too early to tell and way too early to be asking that question. Concussions are hard to get a handle on, and right now it doesn't look good for Nash because the Rangers aren't offering anything in the way of a positive update and he has not resumed skating. However, things can change quickly because Nash could wake up tomorrow feeling better and ready to try to get back at it. It's hard to say right now and it's too early anyway.
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