The first quarter of the NHL regular season has come and gone; let’s check in on the top performers of the first two months of the season:
MVP: Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit
There are several worthy candidates – Sidney Crosby, Daniel Alfredsson, Roberto Luongo, Vincent Lecavalier – but the Wings winger has been a consistent driving force in Detroit’s lineup.
He kicked off the 2007-08 campaign with points in 17 consecutive games, and has barely slowed down. Like former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov in 1994, Zetterberg is a two-way demon and a threat to win both the Hart and Selke Trophies.
Top defenseman: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Considering he’s on the cover of the upcoming issue of The Hockey News – as the “best European NHLer ever” – it would be hard to deny Lidstrom his due as the league’s top rearguard.
He has won five of the past six Norris Trophies – and was the runner-up three straight years before that – and shows no signs of slowing at age 37.
He’s playing more than 28 minutes per game, as much as anybody, and is among defenseman leaders in scoring (23 points) and NHL leaders in plus-minus (plus-13).
Chris Pronger, Andrei Markov and Zdeno Chara are in the running, but once again, Lidstrom has been the league’s best defenseman.
Top goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers
If it wasn’t for ‘The King,’ the Rangers would be in a lot of trouble.
The team that signed Scott Gomez and Chris Drury in the summer to complement Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan couldn’t score in its first 15 games – the Rangers managed 27 goals en route to a 7-7-1 mark – but Lundqvist’s brilliance kept the team competitive.
He’s looking good to be a Vezina Trophy finalist for a third straight season. With a 1.82 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, he’s on track to win it this time around.
Other notables are Pascal Leclaire, Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokov and Tim Thomas.
Top rookie: Patrick Kane, Chicago
The just-turned 19-year-old had 25 points in 24 games to edge out linemate Jonathan Toews for the honor.
Don’t be surprised if these guys hog this award all season; they’re both that good. Good health willing, they give Chicago a lethal No. 1 line for the next decade…which is a lot more than the Hawks have had in the past 10 years.
Montreal goalie Carey Price (6-2-1, 2.71 GAA, .916 save percentage) also warrants a mention, as does Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom – he’s the highest-scoring rookie defenseman with 14 points in 24 games, which is also good for a tie for third among all rookie scorers. More impressively, though, Enstrom is playing more than 23 minutes per game on the Thrashers blueline and is plus-5, easily the best mark on the team.
Top coach: Ken Hitchcock, Columbus
Give Andy Murray credit for the job he’s doing in St. Louis, but Hitchcock wins this hands-down.
The Blue Jackets’ playoff chances are traditionally a lost cause by the start of December, but that’s not the case this year. From Leclaire’s five shutouts to Rick Nash’s dominance to the fact Nikolai Zherdev is a factor all speak to Hitchcock’s influence. And you know he’ll keep the pedal to the metal the rest of the way.
Surprise team: New York Islanders
While the Rangers weren’t quite the sum of their parts in the first quarter of the season – although they had certainly picked it up by mid-November – the crosstown Islanders were overachieving beyond belief.
A lot of people snickered at coach Ted Nolan’s top line of Ruslan Fedotenko-Mike Comrie-Bill Guerin, but the unit has produced more than expected. Nolan’s teams always seem to perform better than expected, but he’s setting a whole new standard with the Isles’ play so far in 2007-08.
The Blues, Blue Jackets, Flyers and Blackhawks also surprised.
Disappointing team: Calgary Flames
Jarome Iginla and a couple other forwards (Alex Tanguay, Daymond Langkow) were putting up points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Miikka Kiprusoff’s slow start and Mike Keenan’s fast hook.
The Flames – with ample scoring, a solid blueline and a perennial Vezina candidate in Kiprusoff – were expected to be Stanley Cup contenders this season. The way they played in the first quarter, they’ll be lucky to make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh, Buffalo, San Jose and Tampa Bay also sputtered in the first 20-plus games.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at [email protected].
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