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EJ: Realignment, Bruins and Lidstrom share spotlight

Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 9:33 AM / NHL.Countdown

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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EJ: Realignment, Bruins and Lidstrom share spotlight
Realignment, Bruins and Lidstrom share the spotlight
The League's dramatic realignment plan, which was approved by the Board of Governors on Monday, isn't a perfect solution. There is no such thing. Commissioner Gary Bettman himself was quick to point out that fact in his comments Monday evening.

During the coming years, I'm sure there will be at least a few unintended consequences that will grab our attention. Despite the best intentions, those type of things just happen.

The new alignment does, however, address the concerns of several clubs.

"We're ecstatic," said Stars President Jim Lites. "We're where we should be."

That sentiment was shared by executives in Detroit, Minnesota, Columbus and Nashville, just to name the most obvious beneficiaries of the new conference structure.

Here's hoping they'll be feeling as good about things three or four years from now as they do today. That's when we'll be in a much better position to judge just how smart this change really turned out to be.

Here's the Tuesday 10:

1
With their 3-1 victory against the Penguins on Monday in Pittsburgh, the Bruins improved to a scalding 14-0-1 in their past 15 games. Still rock-solid with Tim Thomas working behind a strong defense (the Bruins are giving up a League-low 2.04 goals per game), the defending champs have been a more prolific offensive group through the first few months of the new season.

Tyler Seguin
Center - BOS
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 25
SOG: 66 | +/-: 19
Boston currently owns the second-best offense, scoring 3.40 goals per game. That's nearly half a goal better than last season's 2.98 goals per game average.

The biggest difference has been the quick maturation of super sophomore Tyler Seguin, who leads the team in goals (13) and points (25). Last season, serving almost as a rookie apprentice, he contributed just 11 goals and 22 points. This season, Seguin's speed and skill have become a central part of the team's attack.

Right now, this edition of the Bruins is a more complete group than last year's Cup winners. Their increased offensive punch gives them the ability to win games in different ways. They'll try to keep the good times rolling Tuesday in Winnipeg.
 
2
Oh … one more thing about the red-hot Bruins. They're dominating the faceoff circle, winning a League-high 55.3 percent of their draws. That's up from 51.9 percent last season.

Now, that number likely is impacted in a positive way by the large number of home games the Bruins have played in the first two months of the season (16 of their first 25 games have been at TD Garden). At home, you get an advantage in the circle because the visitor must put his stick on the ice first.

Of course, I have to think having Patrice Bergeron doesn't hurt, either. The versatile center has won 57.7 percent of his 518 draws to date. Julien clearly likes taking advantage of Bergeron's face-off skills -- he's taken 231 more faceoffs than any other Bruins center.
 
3
Clearly, Minnesota has been among the most pleasant surprises of the new season. The Wild enter Tuesday's game against the Sharks with a League-best 37 points. That kind of success should put first-year coach Mike Yeo into the early Jack Adams Award conversation.

Among the biggest reasons for the club's turnaround has been their improved play at even strength. So far, the Wild's 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio is 1.03. That's up significantly from last season's 0.85.

For clarity, numbers below 1.00 are viewed as a negative.
 
4
The Islanders seemed to find their way -- and their offense -- during their recent road swing, getting seven of a possible eight points with wins in New Jersey, Buffalo and Dallas.

They open a three-game homestand Tuesday against the Lightning and they play four of their next five at Nassau Coliseum. Can they bring the same strong effort on home ice? If they want to climb back into the playoff chase, they'd better.

Despite scoring nine goals in their past two games (Matt Moulson scored five of the nine), the Isles still rank last in scoring, averaging just 2.17 goals per game.
 
6
Nicklas Lidstrom
Defense - DET
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 19
SOG: 60 | +/-: 8
One of these seasons, Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom isn't going to be a serious candidate for the Norris Trophy. Apparently, that won't be this season.

The graceful 41-year-old has been terrific in the first two months of the season. Entering Tuesday's game against the Blues (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2), Lidstrom ranks fourth in scoring among defensemen with 19 points and second among defenders with 6 goals. Averaging just a few ticks shy of 24 minutes per game, he has produced a solid plus-8 rating.

If Lidstrom were to garner enough votes to win his eighth Norris Trophy, he'd become just the second defenseman to capture that honor eight times. Bruins icon Bobby Orr won eight straight Norris trophies from 1968-75.
 
6
Speaking of the crew in Hockeytown, I think it's pretty clear that goalie Jimmy Howard doesn't get near enough credit for the club's success. After all, he's 15-5-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average. Howard's .931 save percentage ranks sixth in the League.

The Wings have some very accomplished, high-profile veterans, but they wouldn't be near the top of the conference standings if it weren't for Howard's stellar goaltending.

If the former University of Maine stopper continues to play at this high level, I suspect he might finally get some of the attention that he deserves. Heck, he might even be mentioned in the Vezina Trophy race.
 
7
Eric Nystrom is writing a pretty terrific story for himself in Dallas. The former Flames first-round pick seemed headed to the minors (AHL Houston) before a CBA quirk required the Stars to add payroll to stay above the salary-cap floor.

In that unusual bind, the Stars made a deal with the Minnesota Wild to acquire Nystrom, who already had passed through both waivers and re-entry waivers (which made him available to the 29 other clubs at half his annual salary).

Nystrom has taken full advantage of his new opportunity, scoring 10 goals in 21 games for the Stars. That's particularly shocking when you consider he scored just 4 goals in 82 games for the Wild last season.

The 28-year-old former University of Michigan star has found a nice chemistry working with linemates Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak. While there's no way to predict if he can keep up his goal-scoring pace, I think it's safe to say Nystrom has found a new NHL home in Dallas.
 
8
On Saturday, Blues sniper David Perron returned to action to the rave reviews of coach Ken Hitchcock. After missing more than a year (97 games) after suffering a concussion as a result of a collision with Sharks center Joe Thornton on Nov. 4, 2010, Perron scored a goal and played nearly 20 minutes in a 5-2 loss to the visiting Hawks.

"At times, he was the best player on the ice … for both sides," Hitchcock said.

The coach felt his returning forward had so much energy, he gave him a shade more than 19 minutes of ice time -- something he hadn't planned. It will be interesting to see if Perron has as much gas in the tank for his second game back, Tuesday against the Wings.
 
9
Phil Kessel
Right Wing - TOR
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 34
SOG: 91 | +/-: 0
If you're looking for another way to determine which offensive players are producing for their respective teams, you might want to check out the even-strength point leaders.

Through Monday's games, Leafs ace Phil Kessel, who has been right at the top of the overall scoring race, leads this category with 24 points.

Kessel's 2010 U.S. Olympic teammate, Hawks forward Patrick Kane, is second on the list with 23 ESPs.

Kane's Chicago sidekick, Jonathan Toews, and Oilers veteran Ryan Smyth are next, both contributing 22 even-strength points.

Tampa superstar Steven Stamkos rounds out the top five in this category, totaling 21 ESPs.
 
10
Finally … Why am I not surprised that Toews leads all players with 20 road points? The Hawks' quiet captain leads by example. And in the toughest situation, Toews seems to rise to the challenge. On the road (and in even-strength situations), he finds a way to get it done. At this point, I suspect he'll be among the front-runners for the Hart Trophy.
 
Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans. Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets