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Early surprises

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

We’re off and running and trends are starting to take form. One-game wonders are making way for the real stars of this rushed 2013 season.

The games are coming fast and furious, but that’s how we all prefer it, right? With a few games under each team’s belt, we take a look at some of the most surprising performances (or lack thereof) so far this season.

10. Lack of trades

Some assumed the end of the lockout would lead to a quick roster shuffle that would result in a flurry of trade activity. But the first domino that's supposed to fall is Roberto Luongo and the Canucks are in no rush to move him. Hip surgery to Eddie Lack will keep him on the sidelines for six months, so without a suitable backup, Vancouver lacks goaltending depth to simply offload Luongo from the crease. Phil Kessel's name has popped up, as has holdout Ryan O'Reilly's. If nothing happens in the meantime, the April 3 deadline should be busy.

9. Thomas Vanek

There’s so much potential for stardom in Vanek, a two-time 40-goal scorer who has fallen short of 30 in two of his past three seasons. So far, his full skill set is on display, teaming with Jason Pominville for some electrifying production through five games. Vanek has been a point-per-game player or better once in his career – in 2006-07 – and we may be witnessing a return to that level.

8. Thornton, Marleau, the Sharks

Usually a regular season behemoth, the Sharks struggled through 82 games last season, making it appear they were losing a step. Just when you thought the Sharks might be getting too old and their window of opportunity was closing, they sprint out of the gate this season with six straight wins and dominant offensive play from Joe Thornton and especially Patrick Marleau. The assist man and his sniper are 1-2 in league scoring. Marleau began with four multi-goal games followed by a single goal in Game 5. Dare anyone pick them as a Cup favorite?

7. Flyers, Kings struggle

The Flyers had a slew of players who passed the lockout in Europe, so they were expected to return in shape and game-ready, giving them an edge over some other teams. The Kings, meanwhile, got an extended break to recover from their gruelling Cup run, which was also expected to work in their favor. Not so. Blueline injuries have taken their toll on the Flyers, who are having a difficult time keeping pucks out of the net on the penalty kill. On the other hand, the Kings are falling back into the same old goal-starved problem that landed them in eighth in the West last season, as they average only two goals a game and have the league’s worst power play.

6. Mike Smith the Achilles' heel

Last season and into the playoffs, Mike Smith was a superhero. Who expected Phoenix to reach the Western Conference final? But early this season, Smith was holding his team back. The Coyotes actually have the league’s sixth-best offense at the moment, but are bottom five in goals-against. Smith has an .836 save percentage and 4.62 goals-against average, but hasn’t played in three games because of an injury. He left the Columbus game very early and since then Phoenix has won its first two of the season.

5. Ovechkin, Kessel can't score

Alex Ovechkin played, and starred, in the Kontinental League and was expected to hit the ground running in the shortened NHL season. Not so. It took Ovie six games to get his first goal and with only two points in six contests, panic is setting in, as the Caps only have one win. Meanwhile, Toronto sniper Phil Kessel still hasn’t scored, sparking trade talk.

4. Ryan Suter

The defenseman will be under the microscope more than ever this year after signing 13-year, $98-million contract with Minnesota in the summer. And as much as coach Mike Yeo doesn’t want to talk about it and considers it a non-issue, Suter’s plus-minus will be a talking point as long as it lags. With a minus-5 rating through six games, Suter is tied for 622nd of 636 players in the category.

3. New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders

Three teams were expected to contend for the Atlantic Division title, but the other two have taken the early lead. Naturally, after losing Zach Parise, the Devils should have lost a little luster, but, it’s the Devils – and the Devils just win. They have a point in every game so far as ageless wonders Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur continue to contribute at high levels. Meanwhile, the Islanders are top-five in both special team categories and in offense, though they allow too many goals. If the secondary scoring continues to come from Michael Grabner, Keith Aucoin and the like, the Islanders will be a team to watch (though their need for better defensemen will become more apparent).

2. Brendan Gallagher

Mikhail Grigorenko was mostly considered a lock to stay with the Sabres, Dougie Hamilton with the Bruins and Jonathan Huberdeau with the Panthers. Even Alex Galchenyuk was a good bet to stick with the Canadiens, but few anticipated Brendan Gallagher would be this explosive with the Habs, making for a dangerous duo with Galchenyuk. The three-time 40-goal scorer in the Western League – and fifth-rounder in 2010 – has two goals and is a point-per-game player through four contests.

1. Rookie race: Tarasenko, Conacher

When coming up with Calder candidates, the names Yakupov and Schultz reigned supreme, but two other dynamic players have jumped out front – and we shouldn't be at all surprised. Vladimir Tarasenko has four goals and eight points in six games, adding an electric offensive talent to the team-effort Blues. Meanwhile, Cory Conacher, last year’s American League MVP, has taken the early points lead and adds another layer of depth that has made the Lightning the most potent offensive team so far this season. Not to be forgotten, Dougie Hamilton has been sturdy on Boston’s blueline, while Schultz, Yakupov, the two young Canadiens and others make this year’s Calder race one of the most interesting in years.

The Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on For more great profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.


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