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What we've learned from a quarter of the season

by Dave Lozo /
Not everyone reaches the quarter point at the same time in the NHL, and with an 82-game schedule, it's impossible to pick the exact moment when one-fourth of the season is in the books.

But that doesn't mean we can't take a look back at the first seven weeks of the season with a nostalgic and critical eye and see what we've learned.

• We've learned Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller is ruling the NHL the same way he ruled the "Yo Mama" competition circuit in Japan. His 12 wins, 1.77 GAA and .939 save percentage lead the League.

"He is playing as good as any time I've ever seen a goaltender play," Sabres defenseman Chris Butler told the Olean (N.Y.) Times Herald. "You can tell he gets in that zone where the focus is there. You can see before the game there's nothing that can throw him off. He's unbelievable right now."

"He's our best player and he's playing tremendous for us," Sabres forward Tim Connolly said. "We can talk about what the team's doing, but when it comes down to it, he's the most important player on the ice, and he's just done a tremendous job for us."

• We've learned the New York Islanders have lost five more games than they have won, but are tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference with 23 points.

• We've learned the Vancouver Canucks have won one more game than they have lost, but currently are in the No. 10 spot in the Western Conference with 22 points.

• We've learned that Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Joe Thornton have replaced Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby as the League's leading scorers. At least for now.

• We've learned power plays are clicking with amazing efficiency. Nine teams converted with the extra man at a 20 percent or better rate in 2008-09. This season, 15 teams are scoring on at least one of every five chances. Calgary's 20.3-percent effectiveness is 15th in the NHL this season. Last season, that number would've had the Flames in ninth.

• We've learned job security for coaches has improved. Last season, the Blackhawks axed Denis Savard on Oct. 16 and the Lightning parted ways with Barry Melrose on Nov. 14. As of today, all 30 coaches who were behind the bench on opening night still are there.

• We've learned the significant injuries that were striking goaltenders last season now are hitting big-name skaters. Just to name a few, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Daniel Sedin, Johan Franzen, Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar, Milan Lucic, Marc Savard, Jonathan Toews and Thomas Vanek all have missed multiple games this season due to injury.

OK. That was more than a few.

Last season, it was goaltenders Martin Brodeur, Evgeni Nabokov, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo (this year, too), Ryan Miller, Rick DiPietro and Pascal Leclaire missing time. Like a rampaging iron in a dry cleaner full of wrinkled clothing, everything always gets evened out.

• We've learned there could be a changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference this season. Of the eight teams that made the postseason in 2007-08, seven of them returned to the playoffs in 2008-09. After Wednesday's games, there are three teams (Buffalo, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders) sitting in the top eight spots in the conference that missed the playoffs last season.

The Thrashers are ninth in the East with 21 points, but are two points behind the Islanders and Rangers with four games in hand.

• We've learned the more things change, the more they stay the same. Many believed this would be the season the New Jersey Devils would fall off a cliff and into a pit of mediocrity after an offseason that saw Brian Gionta and John Madden depart. Instead, they once again are near the top of the conference with coach Jacques Lemaire back at the helm.

The same can be said about the West. San Jose stripped Patrick Marleau of the captaincy and acquired Dany Heatley in a blockbuster deal just before the start of the season, but they once again are ruling the Western Conference. And the injury-riddled and Marian Hossa-less Red Wings are finding their groove after a slow start.

• Finally, we've learned what we probably knew all along -- it's a young man's game. Last season the only rookies to top 50 points where Anaheim's Bobby Ryan (57) and Chicago's Kris Versteeg (53). This season, that number is on pace to triple.

Only including rookies who have played at least 10 games this season, there are six (John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan O'Reilly, Niclas Bergfors and Evander Kane) who are on pace to score at least 50 points.

Slightly off that pace is Stars left wing Jamie Benn, with 11 points in 19 games. He's on pace for about 45 points, but luckily for him and everyone else, we've got another three-quarters of a season still to play.

Contact Dave Lozo at
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