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Pens' start to title defense, Avs' spectacular rise among big stories from exciting October

NHL.com @NHL
NEW YORK (November 1, 2009) -- The first month of the 2009-10 NHL regular season ended Saturday with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins serving notice they will be tough to dethrone, the upstart Colorado Avalanche at the top of the Western Conference standings, reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals on pace for a career year and a talented rookie class making their mark.

The Penguins shrugged off any suggestion of a 'Stanley Cup hangover' by tying the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers and 1992-93 Penguins for the most points after 10 games by a defending champion (18, 9-1-0) and finishing the month with the Eastern Conference's top record (11-3-0). Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went 9-2-0 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, while captain Sidney Crosby led the club with nine goals and 16 points.

Under the guidance of rookie head coach Joe Sacco, backstopped by the brilliant goaltending of free agent Craig Anderson and infused with youthful talent and enthusiasm from 18-year-old forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, the Avalanche roared out to a 10-2-2 record. Anderson started all 14 games, led the NHL in wins (10) and save percentage (.939) and ranked third in goals-against average (2.04). He tied the NHL record for goaltender victories in October set by Detroit's Manny Legace in 2005.

The Washington Capitals, bidding for their third consecutive division crown, surged to a seven-point lead in the Southeast with an 8-2-3 record. LW Alex Ovechkin, the reigning NHL MVP, is off to a torrid start, leading the NHL in goals (14), points (23), shots (85) and tied for second place in plus-minus (+10). C Nicklas Backstrom is tied for second in the NHL in assists (14).

The flood of young stars entering the League continued unabated, following the trend set by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin (2005), Evgeni Malkin (2006), Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (2007), plus Steve Mason and Steven Stamkos (2008). Six members of the 2009 Entry Draft class have earned an NHL roster spot: New York Islanders C John Tavares (1st overall, 4-6--10), Tampa Bay Lightning D Victor Hedman (2nd overall, 0-4--4, 25:00 in ice time per game), Colorado Avalanche C Matt Duchene (3rd overall, 2-5--7) and C Ryan O'Reilly (33rd overall, 2-9--11, +10), Atlanta Thrashers LW Evander Kane (4th overall, 3-2--5) and Florida Panthers D Dmitry Kulikov (14th overall, 0-4--4).

Other rookies making the grade     include 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers, who is tied for third in scoring among NHL defensemen with 4-8--12 in 14 games, D Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres, also 19, who has tallied 2-3--5 and a +7 rating in 20:44 of ice time per game, and 20-year-old Philadelphia Flyers LW James vanRiemsdyk, who has averaged better than a point per game (2-8--10 in 9 GP).

No lead was safe in October. The Penguins' shootout victory Friday at Columbus and the Ducks' win over Vancouver later that night marked the 21st and 22nd times that a team won a game it had trailed by two or more goals. 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.

The Toronto Maple Leafs scored last-minute, game-tying goals with their goaltender on the bench for an extra attacker in consecutive road games this weekend, the latest of several dramatic finishes in October. Mikhail Grabovski scored a shorthanded goal at 19:22 at Buffalo Friday, followed 24 hours later by Tomas Kaberle's tally at 19:06 against Montreal.

Six game-tying goals were scored in the final 30 seconds of play. David Krejci of the Boston Bruins capped a late two-goal rally by tallying at 19:38 vs. Ottawa in a 4-3 shootout win Oct. 24. The same night, Drew Stafford of the Buffalo Sabres scored at 19:43 vs. Tampa Bay in a 3-2 shootout win. Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks scored at 19:44 in a 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia Oct. 10, 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 and Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils scored at 19:59 in a 4-3 shootout win against Tampa Bay Oct. 8.

In a harbinger of the intense, season-long playoff race to come, there are six clubs in addition to the Avalanche currently ranked 1-8 in the Eastern and Western Conference who missed the playoffs in 2008-09:

* The Phoenix Coyotes overcame a turbulent off-season by recording an 9-4-0 mark in October, highlighted by shutout victories at Pittsburgh, San Jose and St. Louis. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov won eight of 11 starts, led all goaltenders in goals-against average (1.78) and shutouts (three) and ranked third in save percentage (.930).

* The Buffalo Sabres jumped out to an 8-2-1 start and first place in the Northeast Division. Goaltender Ryan Miller went 8-1-1 and ranked second overall in goals-against average (1.86) and save percentage (.936).

* C Anze Kopitar was a key factor in hot start of the Los Angeles Kings (8-4-2). The 22-year-old Slovenia native ranks second in the League scoring race with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 14 games. LW Ryan Smyth, acquired in an off-season trade, earned a spot on the top line alongside Kopitar and contributed 15 points (six goals, nine assists).

* The Edmonton Oilers (7-6-1) were sparked by a resurgent Dustin Penner, who was fourth in NHL scoring with 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 14 games. Penner tallied 37 points in all of 2008-09, the left wing's lowest total in his three full NHL seasons.

* The Ottawa Senators (6-4-2) finished October three points out of the Northeast Division lead. Pascal Leclaire provided stability in goal (4-3-1, 2.76 goals-against average) and captain Daniel Alfredsson led the club in scoring (5-11--16).

* The Dallas Stars (6-3-5) earned points in 11 of 14 games under new head coach Marc Crawford, who celebrated his 1,000th NHL game behind the bench Friday vs. Florida. The Stars benefited from the return of captain Brenden Morrow, who missed most of 2008-09 with a knee injury. Morrow ranks third on the club in scoring with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 14 games.

Other statistical notes:

* The Montreal Canadiens (7-7-0) worked overtime for their success in October, posting a 6-0 record after 60 minutes (4-0 in overtime, 2-0 in shootouts).

* Buoyed by last year's run to the Western Conference Final, the Chicago Blackhawks posted their best start in 27 years by going 5-1-1 in their first seven games and finished the month atop the Central Division with a 8-4-1 mark. The Blackhawks have received tremendous offensive support from their blueline as four defensemen are among the top eight in team scoring (Duncan Keith and Cam Barker, 3-5--8; Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell, 1-6--7).

* Tampa Bay Lightning RW Martin St. Louis posted the NHL's longest consecutive-game scoring streak, recording points in all 11 Tampa Bay games (3-12--15).

* Lightning C Steven Stamkos' 32 points led all rookies in the second half of last season and he is off to a blistering start in his sophomore campaign. Stamkos, 19, has 10 goals in his first 11 games.

* Center Joe Thornton entered the season averaging nearly an assist per game since arriving in San Jose in November, 2005 and that trend has continued with new linemate Dany Heatley. Thornton, who started the campaign with 292 assists in 304 regular-season games as a Shark, is tied for second in the NHL with 14 in 14 games. Heatley, meanwhile, tallied a hat trick in the Sharks' home opener Oct. 8 vs. Columbus and has nine goals in 14 games.

* RW Marian Gaborik tallied at least one point in each of the New York Rangers' first eight games (6-6--12), tying the franchise record for the longest point streak by a new Ranger to begin a season set by Dave Creighton in 1955-56.

* Atlanta Thrashers captain Ilya Kovalchuk stormed out of the gate with goals in each of his first three games, including two-goal performances vs. Tampa Bay on Oct. 3 and at St. Louis, Oct. 8. He tallied nine goals in eight games before being sidelined with a broken foot Oct. 24.

* Matt Carle of the Philadelphia Flyers tied an NHL record for most assists in one period by a defenseman, collecting four in the second period of a 6-5 overtime win over the Washington Capitals Oct. 6.

* The eight goals scored by defensemen in the Nashville Predators' 6-5 overtime win at Ottawa Oct. 22 set a League record. Nashville blueliners scored five goals (Ryan Suter 2, Shea Weber 2, Cody Franson 1), Ottawa's tallied three (Chris Campoli 1, Anton Volchenkov 1, Chris Phillips 1).

* Several players reached significant milestones. Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils became the second goaltender in NHL history to play 1,000 games Oct. 3 vs. Philadelphia, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings became the eighth defenseman to record 1,000 points Oct. 15 vs. Los Angeles, Mark Recchi of the Boston Bruins became the 13th player in NHL history to reach 1,500 games Oct. 24 at Ottawa and Ray Whitney of the Carolina Hurricanes played in his 1,000th game Oct. 21 at NY Islanders.

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