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First quarter sees power surges ? in some places

by John Kreiser

The NHL season reached the quarter mark this week. It's been a tough quarter for the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and the Washington Capitals, a brilliant one for the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. Power-play production is up, at least for some teams, but overall scoring is just about the same as it was last season -- and there's a surprise name at the top of the scoring race.

Here's a look at some of this season's trends though the first quarter:

Scoring: The average first-quarter game saw teams combine for an average of 5.34 non-shootout goals, barely changed from the 5.32 per-game total from last season. But this season's number has been dropping as teams get more used to their systems after a shortened training camp. The first two weeks saw an average of 5.55 goals per game; after that, it was 5.12.

The best offense and worst defense in the NHL came from the same state. The top offense belonged to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has 46 goals in 12 games, an average of 3.83. The Florida Panthers had the leakiest defense, surrendering 46 goals in 12 games, the same 3.83 average.

Power surge: The shortened training camps appear to have affected some teams much more than others when it comes to the power play. The first-quarter League average of 18.8 percent would be the best since 2008-09 (18.9 percent), and a noticeable jump from last season's 17.3 percent. But not everyone is sharing in the fun: Five teams were converting on more than 25 percent of their chances, and eight were beating Nashville's League-leading 21.6 percent last season. However, three teams were below 10 percent and four trailed last season's 30th-place showing of 13.5 percent by Dallas.

Though they were 8-1-2 in the first quarter, the Boston Bruins were just 4-for-43 with the extra man -- and 0-for-23 at TD Garden. Detroit, which went 9-for-38 (23.7 percent) at home, is 0-for-23 on the road.

OK on the PK: The Bruins' power play struggled in the first quarter, but their penalty-killers were superb. Boston led the NHL in penalty-killing at 93.5 percent, allowing only three power-play goals on 46 opposition attempts. Chicago's 10-0-3 start owes plenty to its penalty-killing unit, which gave up just four goals in 47 tries (91.5 percent).

Anaheim won nine of its 12 games in the first quarter despite having the NHL's 29th-ranked penalty-killing unit. The Ducks' 69.6 percent success rate (14 goals allowed on 46 opposition attempts) was worse than everyone except the Winnipeg Jets (67.5 percent).

Working overtime: In all, 47 games in the first quarter went past regulation -- 21 were decided in overtime and 26 in a shootout. Western Conference teams were far more likely to go past regulation than their counterparts in the East -- 31 of the 47 overtime/shootout games were in the West, including 19 of the 26 tiebreakers.

The Nashville Predators were unable to reach a decision in 60 minutes in seven of their 13 games. Chicago and Edmonton went past regulation in six of their 13. Tampa Bay, which lost a shootout to Montreal on Tuesday, was the last team to have a game decided after 60 minutes; the Lightning and Colorado Avalanche (an OT loss) were the only teams that had just one post-regulation decision. Five teams did not take part in a shootout; four of them were in the East.

Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek
Left Wing - BUF
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 23
SOG: 51 | +/-: 4
Must-see T.V.:  In this case, that stands for Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, who outscored everyone in the first quarter with 11 goals and 23 points in 12 games -- a pace that would give him 92 points in a 48-game season. For comparison, in 1994-95, the last time NHL teams played a 48-game schedule, Peter Bondra was tops with 34 goals, while Eric Lindros and Jaromir Jagr shared the scoring lead with 70 points.

Carolina's Eric Staal was the leader in even-strength goals (7, tied with Toronto's Matt Frattin), game-winners (4) and plus-minus (plus-11, tied with Anaheim's Saku Koivu). Staal's plus-minus number is a 180-degree turnabout from last season, when he was minus-11 after his first 12 games and finished at minus-20.

Speaking of turnarounds …: The Montreal Canadiens' offseason makeover appears to be bearing fruit. After finishing last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12, the Canadiens went 7-4-1 in their first 12 games, putting them seventh in the playoff race. In contrast, the Washington Capitals resided at the bottom of the League standings through the first quarter with a 4-8-1 record; that's a lot different than last season, when the Caps won their first seven games and were 9-3-0 after 12.

In the West, Anaheim is off to one of the best starts in franchise history at 9-2-1, a big jump from the Ducks' 5-5-2 start last season on the way to missing the playoffs. Chicago's brilliant 10-0-3 record in the first quarter actually isn't much different from last season, when the Blackhawks were 8-2-3 after the same number of games. The defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings played only 11 games in the first quarter but went just 4-5-2 for 10 points, down from 6-3-2 at the same point in 2011-12.

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