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Stanley Cup Final

From Europe to Winnipeg, a memorable first month

Monday, 10.31.2011 / 4:51 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

If the rest of the 2011-12 season is anything like the first month, then we're in for quite a ride.

From starting in Europe to returning to Winnipeg, October seemed like a big party throughout the hockey world.

There have been surprising rises up the standings, and stunning early struggles.

So as you get ready to start November, let's take one last trip down memory lane to rehash some of the best moments in October.

Halloween brings us ghosts, goblins, jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treaters and, of course, candy. On the East Coast, it also brought the first signs of winter.

However, Halloween also signifies the end to the first month hockey.

So as you get dressed as witches, werewolves, or whatever your heart desires, come with us on a trip down memory lane to rehash some of the best moments in October.

THE TOP EVENTS

1. Teemu, Henke, Hecht and the Compuware NHL Premiere

Teemu Selanne brought the Anaheim Ducks to his hometown of Helsinki to open the season. Upon arrival, the Ducks saw a gigantic poster of Selanne hanging outside Hartwall Areena. It provided an early indication of the affection that would be poured over the Finnish Flash from those who long have considered him a national hero.

Henrik Lundqvist was the main attraction when the Rangers went to Gothenburg, Sweden to play his old team, the Frolunda Indians, who are captained by the goalie's twin brother, Joel. Lundqvist, who led Frolunda to a Swedish Elite League title in 2005, was feted as an ambassador to the city in an emotional pregame ceremony.

A concussion kept Jochen Hecht out of Buffalo's game in his hometown of Mannheim, Germany, but he was cheered loudly when he skated onto the ice at SAP Arena following the Sabres' practice. Hecht was disappointed that he couldn't play in front of all his friends and family, including his parents, who still live in Mannheim, but the ovation warmed his heart.

Once all the preseason celebrations were complete, the Rangers, Ducks, Sabres and Kings went after it in three European cities for the 20111 Compuware NHL Premiere. Buffalo was the only team to win both of its games and the Rangers were the only team that left Europe without a win. All four teams left with at least two points.

2. Faceoff Winnipeg

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The return of the Winnipeg Jets brought a celebration to The Forks and put Winnipeg back on the hockey map. Then the Jets finally went out and played a game, losing 5-1 to Montreal on Oct. 9 in their first regular-season opener since 1995.

The loss stung, but it could not erase the feeling of euphoria that still exists in Winnipeg nearly a month after the 2011 NHL Face-Off festivities officially brought the hockey city back into the NHL spotlight.

Fans poured into The Forks to soak in the pomp and circumstance surrounding in the return of their old and new favorite franchise. MTS Centre rocked as if it was a Stanley Cup Final game when the Jets took the ice for warm-ups. It got louder when the players were announced and the puck finally was dropped.

The game didn't live up to its billing and the Jets may not yet be contenders for the Stanley Cup, but don't tell that to anyone in Winnipeg, or across Manitoba. The team has returned, and so has hope for a springtime celebration to match the festival this fall at The Forks.

3. Champs raise banner, slump through month

The parade continued in Boston on Oct. 6 as the Stanley Cup made its way into TD Garden and the banner signifying the Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup championship went to the rafters. Bobby Orr and a handful of his teammates from the 1972 championship team returned to help raise the banner in front of a sold-out crowd that stood throughout the pre-game ceremony.

Then the Bruins struggled to channel their emotions in the proper way and lost 2-1 to Philadelphia. It's been a struggle for the defending champs ever since.

Boston will finish October last in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the NHL with six points on a 3-7-0 record. They have one more point than the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Bruins' dreadful start has historic consequences. They have the worst record through 10 games of any defending Stanley Cup champion since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994 -- they're just the third defending champion since 1994 to have a sub-.500 record, but both the Rangers in 1994-95 and the Ducks in 2007-08 went 4-5-1.

THE INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES

1. Phil the Thrill

Phil Kessel has scored at least 30 goals in three straight seasons, including a career-best 36 with Boston in 2008-09, but he's never come close to challenging for the Rocket Richard Trophy or Art Ross Trophy.

Well, Kessel appears to be taking the next step in his career.

Phil Kessel
Right Wing - TOR
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 18
SOG: 38 | +/-: 6
Kessel leads the NHL with 10 goals and 18 points through 11 games. If he keeps up his current pace, he'll finish the season with between 75 goals and 134 points.

Kessel has ignited the Leafs' surge into contention in the Northeast Division. They are 7-3-1 for 15 points, one better than the streaking Ottawa Senators, who will be examined closer a little further down in this article.

2. Making Quick work of 'em

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is among the top three goalies in wins (6), goals-against average (1.52) and save percentage (.947) largely because he leads the NHL with three shutouts. They all came in a row.

Quick set a franchise-record by going 202:11 without giving up a goal. Flyers defenseman Matt Carle beat him 13:29 into the third period Oct. 15, and Quick didn't let another puck cross the goal line until Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley scored at 14:01 of the first period Oct. 27.

Along the way, Quick shut out the Blues, Coyotes and Stars. He made 92 saves during his shutout streak.

3. RNH tricks Vancouver, helps Oilers to hot start.

It took 2011 top-pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 18 shifts in his first NHL game to score his first goal. It took him until his third game before he registered his first hat trick.

Nugent-Hopkins, who scored in the third period of Edmonton's season-opening shootout win against Pittsburgh, burned Vancouver for three goals in his third career game. He scored four of Edmonton's five goals over their first three games, proving he belongs in the NHL despite overtures for him to spend another season in junior with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

The Oilers, the League's last-place team two years running, seem to have found some type of inspiration from their new 18-year-old star, who leads all rookies in goals (5), assists (6) and points (11). Edmonton will head into November as the first-place team in the Northwest Division riding a five-game winning streak.

THE STREAKING SQUADS

1. All Caps

Washington surged out of the gate, winning its first seven games of the season despite getting only 3 goals from Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals' 7-0-0 start set a franchise record for best start to a season and they became the 10th team in NHL history to win at least its first seven games.

The seventh win was the most impressive. Detroit came to Washington after playing in Columbus the night before, and the Capitals made the Red Wings look pedestrian in a 7-1 thrashing. Fourteen different players had either a goal or an assist, including at least one member of each forward line.

The Capitals since have hit a bit of a snag as their streak was snapped in Edmonton in a 2-1 loss and their defense didn't show up in a 7-4 loss at Vancouver on Saturday. They hold a two-point lead over Florida and Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division.

2. No roughin' it on this road

Six points and a couple of wins would have been sufficient, but the Colorado Avalanche, who won only five of their final 32 games last season, set the bar a bit higher than that on their first road trip of the season. They scaled it without even breaking a sweat.

The Avs set a franchise record by going 5-0-0 on a road trip, winning in Boston, Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto from Oct. 10-17. Colorado won twice in regulation, once in overtime and twice in a shootout. Ten different players scored goals during the trip, led by a team-high 4 goals from David Jones.

The Avs scored 18 goals over the five games and allowed just 10. They finally suffered their first road loss Oct. 26 at Calgary.

3. Explanation please?

Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the 2012 Stanley Cup Final between the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers.

Oh wait, it's only Halloween. Sorry, getting ahead of ourselves here.

That said, how could anyone have predicted that the Oilers and Senators would be among the hottest teams in the NHL entering November? The Oilers, 30th in the NHL two seasons running, won only twice in their first six games. The Senators looked similarly brutal, winning only one of their first six games and giving up 30 goals in the process.

Now, thanks to a five-game winning streak, the Oilers will enter November leading the Northwest Division. And thanks to a six-game win streak, Ottawa is only one point behind Toronto for the top spot in the Northeast Division.

The Oilers have done it with terrific goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin, who has a 1.12 goals-against average and .960 save percentage.

The Senators have done it with terrific play in the third period, when they've scored a League-high 21 goals. They've won two games by scoring the winner with five or fewer seconds left on the clock in regulation, and they beat the Rangers in a shootout this past Saturday after scoring three times in the final 11 minutes of the game.


AND JUST BECAUSE WE COULDN'T IGNORE IT, THE WILDEST GAME

Seventeen goals and a goalie lost in the woods

Of all the games played prior to Halloween, none was as wild as the one played in Philadelphia on Oct. 27 between the Flyers and Jets.

Winnipeg wound up with a 9-8 victory despite blowing all of a 6-2 lead before coming back to score three of the final four goals in the game. Andrew Ladd beat Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov for the winner with 1:06 left.

Nine different players scored for the Jets and 15 of their 18 skaters wound up on the score sheet. The Flyers had six different goal scorers and 13 players with at least a point.

Bryzgalov came on in relief of Sergei Bobrovsky, who allowed the Jets' first five goals. Bryzgalov stopped only six of the 10 shots he saw over the final 35 minutes, leading to his memorable post-game comments, when he said he had no confidence and "is lost in the woods right now."

The Jets scored three goals in the final 10 minutes of the first period and another two in the first five minutes of the second to take a 5-1 lead and chase Bobrovsky. After giving up a power-play goal to Evander Kane that made it 6-2 for the Jets, the Flyers scored five unanswered goals over a span of 8:51 to take a 7-6 lead at the 3:02 mark of the third period.

But the Jets weren't done. Alexander Burmistrov scored at 3:30 to tie the game and Mark Stuart potted the go-ahead goal 61 seconds later.

The scoring stopped for nearly 12 minutes (and the goalies made a combined eight saves) until James van Riemsdyk tied the game at 16:21. Ladd, though, scored a few minutes later to send the Jets off with what likely will be the strangest win they'll have this season.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery