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NHL Insider

Several surprises among first-quarter storylines

Thursday, 11.25.2010 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Twenty games does not make a season, but it does serve as a good sample size to examine trends across the League.

So, with a quarter of the season in the history books, it's time to look at seven of the most surprising story lines in the NHL so far this season.

1. Tim Thomas is practically unstoppable

What a difference a year makes.

Goaltender Tim Thomas was left for dead last season. After winning the Vezina Trophy in 2009, his game fell apart. It led to Tuukka Rask taking the starting the job with the Bruins and carrying them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Fully recovered, Pavelec is fueling Thrashers' surge

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 11:54 PM / NHL Insider

John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

DULUTH, Ga. --  For most of the Atlanta Thrashers, the NHL season started on Oct. 8.

For goalie Ondrej Pavelec, it didn't really start in earnest until 22 days later. Almost a month after he completed his first start, he's gathering steam to the point where his statistics rank him among the League's top goalies, as he ranked second in save percentage at .942 and in goals-against average at 1.84 after Wednesday's 5-1 victory against Detroit.

The unanticipated delay to Pavelec's season came because of his well-publicized fainting spell two minutes into the season opener. It left him with a concussion, along with the need for him to be hospitalized for several days until doctors determined the cause of the incident.

But now the 23-year-old Czech says that when the puck drops, his fainting spell is the furthest thing from his mind. It shows. In his 12 appearances this season, he has allowed four goals only once, three goals another time and in every other appearance he has allowed two goals or fewer, giving the Thrashers a chance to win almost every night.
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Sutter enjoyed time with Devils

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 2:09 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"At the end of the day there are things and life that is bigger than the game of hockey and that's why I chose to do what I did. Home is home for me."
-- Brent Sutter

NEWARK, N.J. -- It wasn't until Tuesday's bus ride across the river from Manhattan into Newark that Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter started to reflect on his two seasons as coach of the New Jersey Devils.

"I guess things become familiar with you when you're coming in from the city to here," Sutter said Monday morning, hours before he was going to stand on the visitor's bench for the first time at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m., TSN). "When you're in the coaching world, it's your own world a lot. You're so concerned about the group that you have and your mindset, that's where it is all the time. But to come in the building and see a lot of familiar faces, that's exciting."
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Montreal inserts Darche as power-play solution

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 1:04 PM / NHL Insider

Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

BROSSARD, Que. -- Mathieu Darche will be going from the press box straight to the No. 1 power-play unit when the Montreal Canadiens host the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Darche was a healthy scratch the past two games – a 2-0 win against Toronto and Monday's 3-2 loss in Philadelphia – but he is being looked upon to help revive a power play that has gone dormant.

The Canadiens power play started the season on a 3-for-47 slide before righting itself with a 8-for-23 run during a four-game winning streak. But, it is just 1-for-9 as Montreal has lost two of its past three games.

That one goal came after Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek made a tape-to-tape pass right on the stick of Canadiens sniper Michael Cammalleri in front, something you can't particularly count on happening every game.
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Friendship for Del Zotto, Stamkos began in Markham

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 12:59 PM / NHL Insider

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The Toronto suburb of Markham, Ont., isn't much different than other small towns across Canada. It has its own town hockey system, which grooms generation after generation of Canadian hockey youth.
 
Markham is remarkably successful in developing young players -- a fact the rest of the hockey world has seen while watching two of its most recent graduates come of age in the NHL.

Steven Stamkos, who played his youth hockey in Markham, was the first pick of the 2008 Entry Draft. In his short career, he's already won a Rocket Richard Trophy and currently leads the NHL with 20 goals and 35 points.

Not long after the Lightning picked Stamkos, the New York Rangers drafted another Markham graduate, defenseman Michael Del Zotto at No. 20. After playing one extra season in junior, he played 80 games with the Rangers last season, totaling 9 goals and 37 points. He led all Rangers defensemen and finished second among all rookie blueliners in goals, assists (28) and points. He has 2 goals and 6 points in 22 games this season, while playing 22:13 per game, a four-minute per game increase from last season.

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Niemi to start for Sharks against former mates

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 12:43 PM / NHL Insider

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said Tuesday that if he had to face former teammate Antti Niemi on Wednesday when the Hawks play the San Jose Sharks, he'd know just where to shoot.

He'll get the chance tonight, when Niemi starts in goal against the team he won the 2010 Stanley Cup with.

Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice at Wednesday's morning skate, a move that typically signifies who that night's starter will be.

Last week, Niemi talked about how much playing the Blackhawks meant to him.

"It's been in the back of my head," he told the San Jose Mercury News. "Not the thing I've been thinking of every day, but knowing it's going to come and thinking a little bit how it's going to feel, so of course it's big."
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Kings rookie goalie Bernier set for homecoming

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 10:25 AM / NHL Insider

Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

BROSSARD, Que. – The Los Angeles Kings have been waiting for some time for the Jonathan Bernier era to begin in earnest between the pipes, but with the way Jonathan Quick is playing, the waiting will likely continue for a while longer.

However, Bernier's two years of seasoning in the American Hockey League will be rewarded Wednesday night when the Laval, Que., native gets the start against the team he spent his entire childhood cheering for, the Montreal Canadiens.

"I've been watching the Montreal Canadiens for a long time, so when you're young you always see yourself out there," Bernier, 22, said at the Canadiens suburban practice facility Tuesday. "I was hoping to get drafted by Montreal. It's going to be a great feeling."
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Stamkos hoping to join the NHL's 50-in-50 club

Wednesday, 11.24.2010 / 10:00 AM / NHL Insider

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

With 20 goals in the Tampa Bay Lightning's first 21 games, Steven Stamkos has given himself a chance to join one of the NHL's truly elite groups: the 50/50 club.

Just five players in League history have managed to score 50 goals in their team's first 50 games (four others had 50 in the first 50 games in which they played, but missed games along the way). To say it's an impressive list would be a vast understatement. Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull are five of the greatest scorers hockey ever has seen.

For comparison, not even today's biggest gun, Alex Ovechkin, has come close -- in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals -- the most in one season in the past 12 years -- Ovi had "just" 39 in his first 50 games before closing with a rush, scoring 26 times in Washington's final 32 contests.
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A look at future European 1,000-point scorers

Tuesday, 11.23.2010 / 11:54 PM / NHL Insider

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Alex Kovalev of the Ottawa Senators joined an elite group on Monday night when he became the 76th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point mark in regular-season play. Kovalev reached the milestone with a first-period goal Monday night against Dallas, then started on his next 1,000 points by assisting on Jason Spezza's game-winner in Ottawa's 3-2 victory.

"It's kind of hard for me to imagine but I'm just really proud," Kovalev said afterwards. "It's a good achievement, I just don't know how to describe it."

But Kovalev also joined an even more select club when he reached 1,000 points -- he became only the 10th European born-and-trained player (Stan Mikita, though born in Czechoslovakia, doesn't count because he learned his hockey in Canada) to get that many points. He's also just the third Russian, joining Sergei Fedorov (1,179, 47th on the all-time list) and Alex Mogilny (1,032, 66th).
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Boudreau puts slumping Caps through tough practice

Tuesday, 11.23.2010 / 6:44 PM / NHL Insider

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- There were a lot of tired hockey players in the visiting dressing room Tuesday afternoon at RBC Center.

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau put his team, losers of three straight games -- two of them 5-0 blowouts -- through a rigorous practice that involved skating, some drills with a heavy focus on skating … and then some more skating.

"It begins with work ethic," defenseman Mike Green said. "Last night was prime example of us not playing -- it was probably one of the worst games we've played in two years. It was a lack of work ethic. Anytime we don't work hard, we get exposed and that's that. Our skill can hide it at times when we slack off, but when we're not working at all it is pretty clear how it affects us."

Added Alex Ovechkin: "It is hard after that kind of game. You expect to win and to take a day off, but we lost and we have to work. It was good practice for us."
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Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis