Here are 10 snapshots from around the league, from the rise of the Kings to a brawler named Konopka:
1. Who knew the two California-based teams vying for Western Conference supremacy would be San Jose and Los Angeles? And that Anaheim would be w-a-a-a-y at the other end, at the bottom of the standings in the West? Congratulations, Kings – you’ve got a great chance at finishing ahead of the rival Ducks for the first time since the NHL lockout. Not to mention, a great chance at making the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
2. Who figured Nashville and Phoenix would be solidly in a playoff position in the West and tied for sixth place with identical 18-11-2 records? The Predators, which qualified for the spring fling for four consecutive seasons from 2004 through 2008, are trying to return to the playoffs after missing out last year, while the Coyotes – like the Kings – are desperate to play post-season hockey for the first time since 2002.
3. Given that the Florida Panthers traded away Jay Bouwmeester – just before he walked via free agency – last summer, it’s not a big surprise the NHL’s longest active playoff drought appears set to continue. The Panthers, which last played a “meaningful” game in 2000, have lost four of their last five games and sit 11th in the Eastern Conference standings.
4. Of the 376 NHL players who have at least five assists, only one is averaging an assist per game. Who? Who else? San Jose perpetual playmaker (and NHL leading scorer) Joe Thornton, with 35 helpers in 32 games. His cross-state rival, Ryan Getzlaf, who is 30-for-31, is close, though.
5. Marian Gaborik, injury-prone? Not on your life, bub. Oh, sure, he’s missed two games, but come on, he’s not a robot. Well, except when it comes to scoring goals – Gaborik leads the NHL with 21 in 28 contests and he’s scored 13 more points (and 15 more goals) than his closest Rangers teammate, Vinny Prospal (39-26). That’s the biggest discrepancy between the top two scorers on any team in the league. Here’s hoping we didn’t just jinx him…
6. The New York Islanders also know a bit about drop-offs. (Insert joke here…) John Tavares has 15 goals in 31 games and Matt Moulson – yep, that’s right, Matt Moulson – has 14, but no other Isles player has more than seven.
7. The NHL’s leading scorers are forever in a state of flux, but it’s interesting to note only two Eastern Conference players placed among the top 10: Gaborik, in second place; and, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, in fourth place with 37 points (and an Alex Ovechkin-tying 20 goals).
8. A couple names jump out among defenseman scoring leaders: St. Louis’ Erik Johnson, who missed all of last season with “golf cart knee,” has 21 points in 30 games; and, Vancouver’s Alexander Edler, with 19 points in 30 contests.
9. Don’t look now, but Washington Capitals rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov – you may remember him from the 2009 playoffs – has a rather gaudy 12-1-2 record. Heck, it makes Boston rookie goalie Tuukka Rask’s 9-2-2 mark look positively pedestrian. Carolina’s Cam Ward, meanwhile, returns from that awful thigh injury with the mission of improving his awful 2-10-4 record and the Isles’ Martin Biron might attract a few more trade suitors if he could do a little better than 2-9-2.
10. Finally, Tampa Bay’s Zenon Konopka is on pace for 330 penalty minutes – he has 125 PIMs in 31 games so far – which would be the most in the NHL since Florida’s Peter Worrell terrorized the league with 354 PIMs in 2001-02. Konopka only has two assists this season, but he’s not without some skill, as evidenced by three consecutive 50-plus point campaigns in the American League from 2006-09.
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