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Sharks, Rangers class of the NHL at quarter pole

Saturday, 11.22.2008 / 1:00 AM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

The NHL reaches the quarter pole this weekend, with nearly every team reaching the 20-game mark, our first logical milestone to see how things are developing.

Let's take a look around the League and see how everyone is shaping up.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

San Jose Sharks -- Short, sweet and to the point -- the Sharks have been brilliant to this point at 16-3-1 entering the weekend. It's all good.

Detroit Red Wings -- It ain't half bad in Hockeytown either, as the Red Wings are 13-2-3 heading into weekend play and sure look like a team eager to repeat as champions.

Vancouver Canucks -- Weren't the Canucks predicted for the basement this season? A lack of offense was supposed to be their Achilles heel. Tough to prove after a 12-6-2 start. Roberto Luongo already has five shutouts and a 2.18 goals-against average. Not an offensive juggernaut, the Canucks still have nine players in double digits in points.

Minnesota Wild -- The Wild have allowed 34 goals in 17 games. Yes, Jacques Lemaire coaches here. You expect the Wild to be stingy after all these years. But with Marian Gaborik out for all but two games, the Wild could have been in very deep trouble offensively (their 44 goals are second fewest in the West). Still, Minnesota has gotten by with timely scoring. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you win 2-1 or 10-1.

Chicago Blackhawks -- A slow start cost Denis Savard his coaching job and could have ruined a much-anticipated season for the Blackhawks. But things have fallen into place for new coach Joel Quenneville. Patrick Kane has been terrific (10 goals, 14 assists in 18 games), rookie Kris Versteeg (7-12 in 18) a revelation and Patrick Sharp (10-8 in 18) solid. Martin Havlat (6-10 in 18) has stayed in the lineup and defenseman Brian Campbell (4-10 in 18) has jumped into the offense. Jonathan Toews' goal total is down (2), but he has 12 assists in 18 games.

Calgary Flames -- Adding Mike Cammalleri (5-11 in 19) and Todd Bertuzzi (7-7 in 20) has helped the Calgary offense. Daymond Langkow has been solid and that Iginla fellow has been terrific with 11 goals and 12 assists in 20 games. Miikka Kiprusoff's 3.17 goals-against average is a symptom of inconsistent play, however.

Anaheim Ducks -- The Ducks are another team that has overcome a very slow start (1-5) to climb back into the thick of things. Ryan Getzlaf (8-16 in 19) and Corey Perry (6-17 in 20) have carried the load offensively, and Teemu Selanne hasn't been far behind (10-9 in 20).

Edmonton Oilers -- Fourteen of the Oilers' first 20 games have been on the road, including a seven-game trip, so a 9-9-2 mark is not cause for panic. But the negative goal differential (53-62) through 20 games isn't great as the Oilers have gone the scoring-by-committee route, with defenseman Sheldon Souray leading with 7 goals so far. The Oilers need more from Dustin Penner and Erik Cole.

Nashville Predators -- Almost a mirror image of the Oilers at the quarter pole, the Predators have allowed over three goals per game, but started to get their act together at the end of a recent road trip. Defenseman Shea Weber has been a bright spot offensively with 8 goals and 10 assists in 18 games.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- At 8-8-3 through 19 games is the glass half full or half empty for the Blue Jackets? They have scored more goals (58) than Nashville, Edmonton, Calgary and Minnesota, but have allowed more goals than those four teams ahead of them in the conference standings. Derick Brassard has been terrific with 8 goals and 11 assists in 18 games, but R.J. Umberger, acquired in June for a first-round draft pick, has struggled in his move to center (7-3 in 19).

Los Angeles Kings -- Picked by many to be a bottom feeder this season, the Kings have been very consistent approaching the quarter pole at 8-8-2, scoring 47 goals and allowing 47. All in all, signs of progress are evident for the young Kings, who see 18-year-old defenseman Drew Doughty a team-best plus-8 after 18 games.

Phoenix Coyotes -- Like the Kings, the Coyotes have been consistent at 8-8-1, with 42 goals scored and 44 allowed. That probably isn't the improvement coach Wayne Gretzky wanted to see, but this is a team with a lot of young players learning the ropes. Olli Jokinen (7-10 in 17) and Shane Doan (10-8 in 17) have meshed beautifully. Peter Mueller is playing well, as is Mikkel Boedker.

Colorado Avalanche -- Strange season for the Avs, who need stability in net in order to make a move. Peter Budaj hasn't been as solid as his 2.73 goals-against indicates, and Andrew Raycroft has played in just three games. Up front, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Wojtek Wolski all are in double digits in points, but all are minus players too.

Dallas Stars -- After a 45-30-7 mark last season, the Stars appeared ready to make a leap up the standing this season, but Dallas has struggled defensively, a very unusual development for a Dave Tippett-coached team. Through 18 games heading into the weekend, the Stars were in the Pacific Division basement at 6-9-3. Marty Turco has struggled, playing to a 3.68 goals-against average and an .867 save percentage.

St. Louis Blues -- If you believe in omens, Erik Johnson being lost for the season in a golf cart accident didn't set things up for the Blues. Injuries have been a constant in St. Louis, with Manny Legace, Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund all out at one time or another. Again, no excuses, but that kind of list explains a 6-8-2 mark through 16 games.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

New York Rangers -- A strong start has vaulted the Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference, but the team has lacked crispness of late. Overall, however, an excellent start for a team that is changing its core from Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan to Chris Drury and Scott Gomez.

Boston Bruins -- The B's get A's for a terrific start. Heading into play Friday, Boston's 45 goals-against made them the stingiest team in the Eastern Conference. Great starts for Tim Thomas and Marc Savard.

Washington Capitals -- An 11-5-3 mark through 19 games as of Friday would make you think Alex Ovechkin has been carrying the load. As of late he has, but "AO" got off to a slow start, "only" 8 goals in 17 games, making the Caps' overall record more impressive.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- Another strong Eastern team at 12-4-3. As expected, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are leading the way offensively, Marc-Andre Fleury is winning and you would never know Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are out with long-term injuries.

Montreal Canadiens -- Looks like we will see a slew of Canadiens starters at the All-Star Game in January, and based on their first-quarter performance, it's well deserved. Alex Tanguay has been solid in his Montreal debut. Ditto Robert Lang.

Carolina Hurricanes -- At 10-7-2 through 19 games, the Hurricanes rank just "OK" so far. Eric Staal only has 5 goals in 19 games and Sergei Samsonov just 1 goal in 19, so those are two big holes in the offense. Not helping is having Joni Pitkanen limited to 11 games by injury.

Buffalo Sabres -- A hot start has given way to a cold last 10 games for the Sabres, but you've got to love Thomas Vanek's season, with a League-best 15 goals in 18 games. Not so much for Max Afinogenov, though, who only has 1 goal in 18 games.

New Jersey Devils -- Considering the lengthy injury list in New Jersey, most notably goalie Martin Brodeur for 3-4 months, the Devils have to be thrilled to be at 9-7-2 after 18 games. GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Brent Sutter are loathe to use injuries as an excuse, but when you add Brian Rolston, Bobby Holik, Paul Martin, Andy Greene and seemingly countless others to the list with Brodeur, injuries indeed become a factor.

Philadelphia Flyers -- A 0-3-3 start got Philly behind the 8-ball early, but the Flyers are climbing out of the hole in recent weeks, going 7-3-1. Better news for the Flyers has been the play of Simon Gagne (11-11 in 16 games) and the continuing emergence of Mike Richards (5-14 in 17) and Jeff Carter (11-3 in 17).

Toronto Maple Leafs -- The Leafs still have to plug a leaky defense that has surrendered 67 goals in 19 games, so the onus is on goalie Vesa Toskala to step up his game. Youngsters Mikhail Grabovski and Luke Schenn have been bright spots, and coach Ron Wilson continues to change the culture here.

 
 
New York Islanders -- The Isles are in the same boat as the Devils, seeing their top goalie, Rick DiPietro, head to the sideline with a long-term injury. New coach Scott Gordon still is learning the ropes in his first go-round in the NHL, but he will have to get more scoring from his forwards if the Isles are going to climb into playoff contention.

Atlanta Thrashers -- The abysmal season many predicted for the Thrashers hasn't happened as Atlanta checks in at 7-9-2, but there is plenty of room for improvement here. Atlanta needs Kari Lehtonen to establish himself as a No. 1 goalie, and the ageless Slava Kozlov (11 goals in 18 games) and youngster Bryan Little (9-8 in 18 games) need help up front.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- With 39 goals in 18 games, you have to wonder what happened to the Bolts' offense. No one can blame rookie Steven Stamkos (2 goals) for a lack of offense when Vinny Lecavalier (7 goals in 18 games) and Martin St. Louis (4 goals in 18 games) have struggled. Radim Vrbata (1 goal in 12 games) also has disappointed.

Ottawa Senators -- This is a hard one to figure out because there is plenty of talent on the roster, but the Sens have struggled mightily and at 6-9-4 through 19 games, Ottawa realizes it better get things moving in the right direction very, very quickly.

Florida Panthers -- Stuck in the Eastern Conference basement, the Panthers are getting good goaltending from Tomas Vokoun, but are not getting the scoring needed to take advantage of his play. David Booth leads Florida with 8 goals, but only 1 assist. Nathan Horton is next with 6 goals.

Talking Roy -- It's a special weekend in Montreal, and we aren't talking Grey Cup here. Unless you have been asleep, you all know the Canadiens retired Patrick Roy's No. 33 Saturday night. Here are some comments from around the NHL on Roy and his impact on goaltending:

"I just remember not only a fantastic goalie, probably the best of his era, but how competitive a guy he was. I love that in any guy. You could see the passion in his eyes and passion to succeed and win and that's what I remember about him. Yeah, it's easy to pinpoint the other stuff, how great a goalie he was, but I love watching elite athletes and the passion they bring to the game each and every night and their out-and-out desire to do anything they can to win that game." -- Rick Bowness, Vancouver associate coach

"The guy just won, he was a great competitor. He just wins. He's one of those guys who come along every 20 years. I'm just fired up that I had a chance to score my first goal in the Montreal Forum against him. I tied it up late in the third period off a rebound with five minutes to go and it's something I'll never forget." -- Retired forward Jim Dowd  

"I don't know him personally, but he was the one goalie I always had a hard time scoring on. My first goal against him didn't happen until four years into my career. He was a great leader and one of the best goalies to ever play the game." -- Vancouver forward Pavol Demitra

"Patrick Roy was kind of an amazing player. In a way, like Marty (Brodeur), he came in and at a very young age, showed brilliant play. And Patrick Roy, just give him credit. So much of it was just the force of his will and the supreme confidence in his ability. He could intimidate shooters in a way that few goalies are able to do. Again, you don't get those records unless you're playing very, very well over long periods of time. To do what he did in Montreal and then have a total career change and win a couple of Stanley Cups in Colorado and just make that city fall in love with the sport, it's an incredible feat that he had. He had a really special career." -- Retired goalie Mike Richter

"The way he played, it was great to watch him. Every save, his body was right there, compact with the puck. And if he needed to make a desperate save, he'd make it." -- Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo


Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins