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A look at first month of the season

The first month of the 2007-08 season is just about in the books, providing a timely window to examine the players and teams that have made their mark around the NHL.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have surprised while the New York Rangers have disappointed.

Here's an early look at Canadian Press writers' best and worst of the season so far.

Overachieving player: Nik Antropov of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the most popular choice here with forward Mike Cammalleri of the Los Angeles Kings, goalie Pascal Leclaire of the Blue Jackets, Mike Comrie of the New York Islanders and netminder Peter Budaj of the Colorado Avalanche also getting votes. But Antropov stands out because the six-foot-six, 230-pound forward finally seems to be putting it all together - and so far avoiding the injury bug that has plagued his career - to sit among the leader leaders in points with 15 (8-7) in October.


Overachieving team: The Jackets were the overwhelming winners, getting all but one vote from our seven-member panel. Montreal deservedly got one mention given its surprising start. But Columbus has been the big story in the league in the opening month, having a chance to close out October at 7-3-1 with a win at Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The Jackets were ranked by most pundits as last-place fodder in pre-season predictions but winger Rick Nash is scoring again and Leclaire has been rock-solid.


Overachieving coach: Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock gets the nod. Also getting votes were John Paddock of the high-flying Ottawa Senators, Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins and Marc Crawford of the Los Angeles Kings. But Hitch is the man, devising a system that had the Jackets tied for first in the NHL at 1.90 goals against per game heading into Tuesday's play. Impressive.


Who's hot: Henrik Zetterberg, that's who. The Detroit Red Wings sniper entered Tuesday's game at Edmonton with an NHL-leading 21 points (9-12) and was showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Brad Boyes of the St. Louis Blues and Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators also got votes from the panel but Zetterberg was the overwhelming choice. The 27-year-old Swede is on pace to eclipse his career-best 85 points set during the 2005-06 season.


Who's not: Lots of choices available here and not surprisingly we've got a tie. Scott Gomez of the New York Rangers and Jarret Stoll of the Edmonton Oilers got two votes apiece. Todd Bertuzzi of the Anaheim Ducks, Brendan Shanahan of the Rangers and Markus Naslund of the Vancouver Canucks also got single votes. Stoll had only one goal and one assist for the month entering Tuesday's game, not nearly good enough for a player Edmonton is counting on to be a front-line offensive player. And what can you say of Gomez? Two goals and one assist in 11 games? Not exactly the return the Rangers were expecting on their US$51.5-million, seven-year investment. Pick it up Scotty!


Coach on the hot seat: Bob Hartley vacated the hot seat after being the first coach fired. The panel now believes Ron Wilson of the Sharks is currently sitting in it. Expectations were sky-high coming out of training camp for San Jose, a Stanley Cup-or-bust attitude that is taking a severe hit right now after a lacklustre 6-5-1 October record. Not good enough, which is why Wilson got four votes from the panel. There was also Cup talk in New York before the season so it only stands to reason Tom Renney got two votes for the hot seat as his team slumped to a 4-6-1 mark this month. Michel Therrien of the Pittsburgh Penguins also got a vote.


GM on the hot seat: Don Waddell was the panel's choice and he'd be the first one to tell you he understands he's under pressure to turn things around in Atlanta. The Thrashers GM bought himself some time, however, by firing Hartley. Also getting votes were John Ferguson in Toronto, Glen Sather with the Rangers and Doug Wilson in San Jose.


Developing trends: Two themes here. First, the numbers of fights are up in the first month of the season compared to last year. Second, the number of shootouts are down at this point compared to last season. Keep an eye on both of those trends to see if it continues.


Best goalie: Pascal Leclaire gets the October Vezina from our panel, he of the league-leading 1.29 goals-against average. The 24-year-old Jackets netminder has already posted four shutouts. This is what was expected when Columbus chose him eight overall in the 2001 NHL entry draft. But can he keep it up? Martin Biron of the Flyers, Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes and Martin Gerber of the Senators also got votes. Goalies who did not get a single vote, interestingly enough, were Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff - otherwise known as the top three goalies in the league. It's early, folks.


Best team: Only two teams got votes and they tied for the honour. Ottawa and Detroit lead their respective conferences after superb opening months. For the Senators, it was totally expected. For the Red Wings, while they were expected to once again be a powerhouse, it was believed San Jose and Anaheim would challenge them for the Western lead. That hasn't happened so far and the Wings stand alone right now in the West.


Worst team: The Phoenix Coyotes were the popular choice with Atlanta also getting a vote. The Coyotes are rebuilding under new GM Don Maloney, going with youth with an eye to the future. They'll take their lumps this season with the hope the building blocks are in place. In the meantime, the opening month shows it'll be a long year.


With files from Bill Beacon, Chris Johnston, Jim Morris, Donna Spencer, Neil Stevens, and Chris Yzerman.



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