As the 1,230-game schedule passes the quarter mark with tonight's games, seven clubs that did not qualify for the 2008-09 Stanley Cup Playoffs currently hold a top-eight Conference position – four in the Western Conference (#2 Colorado, #4 Los Angeles, #7 Phoenix and #8 Dallas) and three in the East (#3 Buffalo, #6 Ottawa and #7 Tampa Bay). The Islanders and Thrashers are a whisker behind the Eastern pack through a first quarter-season that saw outstanding individual and team performances along with stunning last-minute, game-changing dramatics.
Just a few of the highlights through the season's first 300 games:
• 2009 #1 overall pick John Tavares of the New York Islanders (age 19), leads all rookies and his club in scoring with 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 21 games. Tavares also leads all rookies in goals, power-play goals (four) and shots (64).
• 2009 #2 overall pick Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning (18) leads all rookies and ranks second on his club in average ice time per game (23:59). Only one other rookie, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, has logged an average over 20 minutes (21:19).
• 2009 #3 overall pick Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche (18) has appeared in each of his club's 22 games and ranks second to Tavares among rookie forwards in average ice time per game (17:09). He has tallied nine points (two goals, seven assists), including one shorthanded goal, and is tied for third on the club in shots (41).
• 2009 #4 overall pick Evander Kane of the Atlanta Thrashers (18) has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 18 games, including three game-winning goals. He has posted a +8 rating, just behind rookie leader Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche (+9).
• 2009 #33 overall pick Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche (18) ranks fourth on his club in scoring with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 22 games and leads all rookies in plus-minus (+9).
• 2007 #2 overall pick James van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers (20) is scoring at more than a point-per-game pace in his first NHL season, ranking second to Tavares among rookies with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 15 games. He also shares the NHL lead in game-winning goals (four), shares the rookie lead in assists and is tied for second among rookies in plus-minus (+8).
• 2008 #12 overall pick Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres (19) ranks second among rookies and on his club in average ice time per game (21:19) and is third among rookie defensemen in scoring with nine points (three goals, six assists).
• 2008 #20 overall pick Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers (19) leads all rookie defensemen in scoring with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 21 games, a 58-point pace over a full season. The last rookie defenseman to record as many as 50 points in a season was the New York Islanders' Vladimir Malakhov in 1992-93 (14-38--52).
• 2008 #1 overall pick Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning (19) has 14 goals, just one off the NHL lead. Going back to last season, when he led all rookies in scoring over the second half, Stamkos has scored 23 goals in his past 32 regular-season games.
• 2008 #2 overall pick Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings (19), in his second NHL season, ranks fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 23 games.
• 2008 #3 overall pick Zach Bogosian of the Atlanta Thrashers (19), also in his second NHL season, leads all NHL defensemen in goals with eight.
There were two more last-minute, game-tying goals last night, increasing the tally during the first quarter of the season to 15. Erik Cole of the Carolina Hurricanes scored at 19:57 in a 6-5 shootout win over Toronto and Maxim Afinogenov of the Atlanta Thrashers tallied at 19:18 in a 4-3 shootout loss to Boston.
Cole's was the fifth game-tying goal to come with fewer than three seconds remaining in regulation. Rene Bourque of the Calgary Flames cashed in at 19:58 in a 4-3 shootout win at Edmonton Oct. 8, Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators connected at 19:58 in a 6-5 overtime loss to Nashville Oct. 22, Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils scored at 19:59 in a 4-3 shootout win against Tampa Bay Oct. 8 and Bill Guerin of the Pittsburgh Penguins scored at 19:59 against Boston Nov. 14.
No lead was safe in the season's first quarter. The Hurricanes' shootout victory over Toronto last night marked the fifth time that a team won a game it had trailed by three or more goals and was the 36th winning comeback from a two-goal deficit. The most dramatic comeback occurred Oct. 12, when the Chicago Blackhawks allowed five goals in a span of 5:29 during the first period vs. Calgary but roared back with six unanswered tallies for a 6-5 victory. It was the biggest comeback in Blackhawks history and tied the NHL record for the biggest deficit overcome.
Colorado Avalanche Revival
Craig Anderson) and a pair of 18-year-olds (Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly) after placing 28th overall in 2008-09, the Colorado Avalanche lead the Northwest Division (13-6-3). Anderson has appeared in 20 of Colorado's 22 games, posting a 12-5-3 record with a 2.40 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
The Phoenix Coyotes (12-9-1) are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race despite a turbulent off-season. Head coach Dave Tippett, who joined the club less than a week before the start of the regular season, has the Coyotes on pace to post their lowest goals-against average in a decade and third-lowest in franchise history (2.43).
Return of the Kings
Led by fourth-year center Anze Kopitar, the Los Angeles Kings (13-8-2) are making a serious run at their first playoff berth since 2002. Kopitar leads the NHL in scoring with 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists), recording points in 18 of 23 games. It took the 22-year-old Slovenia native 40 games to reach to his current point total last season (Jan. 8) and 50 games to reach his goal total (Feb. 5).
Sabres Top Northeast
The Buffalo Sabres have surged to the top of the Northeast Division thanks to the goaltending of Ryan Miller and a balanced scoring attack. Miller is tied for the League lead in victories (12-3-1) and ranks second overall in goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931). The club's top seven goal scorers are separated by just two goals (Clarke MacArthur, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek have six; Tim Connolly, Paul Gaustad, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy have four).
Thrashers Flying In Southeast
Red Wings Seek Another Century
The Detroit Red Wings have won eight consecutive division titles, one short of the NHL record set by the Colorado Avalanche from 1994-95 through 2002-03, and are vying to extend their NHL record of nine consecutive 100-point seasons.
Canadiens Work Overtime
The Montreal Canadiens are 8-0 past the 60-minute mark (4-0 in overtime, 4-0 in shootouts). The Canadiens could challenge the mark of the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers, who recorded the most combined overtime/shootout wins in a season (19). The Oilers went 4-2 in overtime and 15-4 in shootouts.
Gaborik A Hit on Broadway
Five-time 30-goal scorer Marian Gaborik is off to the best start of his nine-year NHL career in his first season on Broadway. Gaborik shares the League lead in goals with Washington's Alex Ovechkin (15) and in power-play goals with San Jose's Dany Heatley (seven). He has recorded points in 17 of 19 games and ranks second in the League scoring race (15-12--27), five behind Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar (14-18--32).
Oilers' Penner A Force
6-4, 245 lb. Edmonton Oilers left wing Dustin Penner is on pace to smash single season career highs in all offensive categories. Penner leads the Oilers in scoring with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 22 games and also has posted the club's top plus-minus figure (+11). Penner tallied 37 points in all of 2008-09, his lowest total in three full NHL seasons.
Pronger Doing It All In Philadelphia
Garon Boosts Impressive Shootout Record
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Mathieu Garon has won both shootouts he has contested this season, improving his career record to 18-4. He has stopped 61 of 75 attempts for a save percentage of .813.
Brodeur Continues Record Chase
New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who last season became the NHL's all-time victories leader, is continuing his assault on the League record book in 2009-10. Brodeur recorded his 102nd career shutout Oct. 17 vs. Carolina, closing within one of Terry Sawchuk's NHL-record 103. With 1,017 career games and 60,116 career minutes, Brodeur also is bearing down on Patrick Roy's NHL records of 1,029 and 60,235, respectively. He also is on pace to match Roy's record of 13 career 30-win seasons. Brodeur has started 18 of the Devils' 20 games, posting a 12-5-1 record with a 2.19 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
Lemaire Return Has Devils Surging
Head coach Jacques Lemaire has made a successful return to New Jersey after nine seasons behind the bench of the Minnesota Wild. Lemaire has guided the Devils to the Eastern Conference's top points percentage (14-5-1), including victories in each of their first nine road games. As head coach of the Devils for five seasons from 1993-94 to 1997-98, Lemaire went 199-122-57 and captured one Stanley Cup.
Two-time reigning NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has been dominant over the first quarter, tallying 15 goals in 15 games. He shares the League lead in goals, has posted the top points-per-game average (24 points in 15 GP, 1.6) and ranks second in shots (87).
Capitals' Supporting Cast Shines
The Capitals continued to win games and score goals during Alex Ovechkin's absence due to injury. The Capitals went 4-2-0 without Ovechkin and scored an average of 3.67 goals per game. That's slightly above the club's 3.64 average over the 14 games with Ovechkin in the lineup. Nine players have tallied game-winning goals for the club this season, tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the most in the League.
Sharks' Thornton, Heatley Form Dynamic Duo
San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, the League's premier set-up man in three of the past four seasons, has formed a productive partnership with new linemate Dany Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer. Thornton has 20 assists in 23 games, tied for second in the NHL, while Heatley is on pace for another 50-goal season with 14 tallies in 23 games.