Early season surprises are a dime a dozen, but with a quarter of the season in the books, the real unexpected stats are starting to come to light. From struggles to streaks, these are the 10 things we didn’t expect to see in 2014-15.
There are always early season surprises. That’s just the nature of hockey. A lucky bounce here and there, and you have Jon Sim fighting for the lead in preseason scoring, which is something that has actually happened in the past.
Over the course of the year, however, these things tend to even out. At the quarter mark of the season, trends are starting to develop. Of those trends, you’ll notice some are related, while others, not so much. These are the ten most unexpected stats at the quarter-pole.
10. Vladimir Tarasenko’s 12 goals
It’s not that we didn’t believe Tarasenko could be an NHL goal scorer. Rather, it was hard to believe Tarasenko would be halfway to his career-high goal total with three quarters of a season remaining. Not only has the 22-year-old Russian scored at a torrid pace, he’s potted more beautiful goals than anyone in the league. By the time the season ends, you could fill a highlight reel just with different looks at some of the 12 gems Tarasenko has scored.
9. Mark Giordano leads defenseman in scoring
Last season, Giordano put the league on notice. He came on strong late and made a serious case for Norris Trophy candidacy. While he didn’t get the Norris nod, it’s hard to imagine Giordano won’t be in the conversation this season. With 23 points in 22 games, the blueliner isn’t just leading defenseman in scoring, he’s tied for sixth in the entire league. It doesn’t hurt that he’s forming one of the most formidable defensive pairings alongside T.J. Brodie, either.
8. Pittsburgh’s power play
WARNING: Do not take penalties against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Unsustainable or not, it’s hard to imagine any team having a power play that operates at the rate Pittsburgh is currently moving along at. On exactly a third of the power plays the Penguins have had – yes, 33.3 percent – the power play unit is finding the back of the net. The trade for Patric Hornqvist looks better every single day, especially when he’s alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the extra man.
7. Four healthy Blue Jackets
With Nathan Horton’s career in question, Brandon Dubinsky on the injured reserve, injuries throughout the year to Mark Letestu, Matt Calvert, Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, Cody Goloubef, Sergei Bobrovsky… You get the point.
The Blue Jackets had high hopes for this season, but an injured reserve that reads longer than a holiday wish list has kept the Jackets from reaching their potential.
6. Marc-Andre Fleury’s four clean slates
Love it or hate it, Marc-Andre Fleury got a brand new contract this year and he’s doing his best to reward Pittsburgh’s good faith.
The Penguins goaltender has racked up four shutouts this season, including three in seven days from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1. Fleury’s efforts helped the Penguins go on an incredible shutout streak of 205:28, one that was snapped at the hands of a Nino Neiderreiter shorthanded goal.
Fleury has been wildly inconsistent over the past few seasons, but he’s remedied that early this year with his four blankings.
5. Buffalo’s bad first periods
The Buffalo Sabres are bad. This isn’t news. It was pretty much a given that the Sabres would fight for – if not end up in – the NHL’s basement this season. But just how bad have the Sabres been?
Well, the Sabres have been so lousy that they went 13 games without a first period goal. We’re talking 15 percent of the season that the Sabres failed to score a single tally in the first frame. They finally snapped the drought when they scored a first period goal in a 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
Even more shockingly, the Sabres have won their last three contests.
4. Islanders stay hot after quick start
The plight of the Islanders fan is, after any hot start, you’re inevitably waiting for the fall. This season it has not reared its ugly head, however.
After winning six of their first eight games, the Isles dropped two straight and it felt like the carpet was about to get pulled out from under the team once again. Instead, the team rallied off five straight victories and has won eight of their last nine games, including back-to-back wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If there has been a New York Islanders roster whose playoff contention you could actually get behind in the last decade, this is it. Led by John Tavares and new additions Johnny Boychuk (currently injured) and Nick Leddy, the Islanders look primed to make the playoffs.
3. Can’t stop Calgary
Like Colorado of last season, the Calgary Flames just keep finding ways to win.
In the shootout, in overtime, with a blowout or in a last-second comeback, the Flames have done it all this season. Like the pesky Sens or improbable Avs before them, Calgary is somehow stringing together wins and making hockey exciting in Cow Town again.
Though a fall back to earth feels somewhat inevitable, could you blame Flames fans for enjoying the ride right now? This is the kind of season you couldn’t even script. Take Saturday night against New Jersey, for example.
Down two goals with less than three minutes remaining, the Flames scored twice with their net empty, including a Curtis Glencross goal with five seconds left in the game. How Glencross got the puck up in such a hurry still boggles the mind. The Flames won the game 5-4 in a shootout.
2. The fabulous Forsberg
Do you think Nashville Predators fans even remember Martin Erat at this point?
It was Erat who was dealt to the Washington, along with Michael Latta, for Filip Forsberg in a trade that you can be certain Predators fans will make sure Capitals fans never forget. Coming over as a highly touted prospect, there was no doubt that Forsberg was a special player, but no one expected this.
In his first full NHL season, Forsberg currently sits alone in 12th in NHL scoring with 22 points in 20 games, which includes a stretch of play in which the 20-year-old Swede posted 13 points in seven games. During that stretch, Forsberg also iced the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilres, scoring the game-winning goal in both contests.
Everyone has been waiting for Forsberg to come back to earth, but it’s almost time to start asking if he ever will.
1. Jakub Voracek, NHL scoring leader
Raise your hand if you had Voracek leading the NHL in scoring a quarter way through the season. Now put it down because you’re a liar.
It’s hard to believe this is already Voracek’s seventh season in the NHL, but he’s sure making lucky number seven a big one. After setting career highs with 23 goals, 39 assists, and 62 points last season, the Czech Republic native isn’t waiting long to eclipse those marks. Already with 22 assists in 19 games, Voracek is on pace for an astounding 125 points, which includes 95 assists.
Will he get there? Probably not. Has he been fun to watch? Absolutely.
If Voracek can keep it going, he’ll be worth every single penny of his $4.25 million contract. And if this bleeds into 2015-16, the Philadelphia Flyers are going to have little choice but to hand Voracek a blank check when their newfound star winger becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016.