Yes. We all got hyped-up for last night’s San Jose-Boston tilt and the top two teams in the league delivered. Sure, the Sharks pulled away in the third period, but the first 40 minutes was a constant end-to-end battle with great offensive chances and excellent physical battles. The fact San Jose used Boston’s winning strategy – weather your opponent’s early storm, then counterattack and dominate when they tire – against the Bruins was more than a little intriguing to witness.
But you can’t just win games with snipers and if there were two players who stood out for me in an underrated way in that game, it was Douglas Murray of the Sharks and Stephane Yelle of the Bruins. Starting with those two, here’s a quick list of players who are more effective for their teams than the scoresheet may indicate.
Douglas Murray, D, San Jose
With an improved blueline, Murray is actually playing about a minute less per game than he did last season, but he’s still a rock-hard force for the Sharks. The Swedish defenseman laid out some serious hits against the B’s and that’s par for the course for him; he’s tied with Mike Grier (another underrated Shark) for the team lead in hits with 114 and has a shot at breaching 200 for the season. He has just five assists and no goals on the season, but Murray is still a plus-4.
Stephane Yelle, C, Boston
One of the reasons San Jose didn’t take a lead over Boston until the third period was the work of Yelle, who has made a career out of grinding, hard-working hockey. With injuries paring down the Boston attack recently, Yelle has also brought out the best in enforcer Shawn Thornton and call-up Byron Bitz, both of whom have exhibited some offensive flair along with their lunch-pail duties flanking the veteran pivot.
Viktor Tikhonov, RW, Phoenix
All right, so maybe I’m a little biased because Young Vik does an Insider Blog for our website, but numbers don’t lie: Since the Cali-raised Russian rookie has been out of the Coyotes lineup with a fractured hand, the Dogs have been in a death spiral. Luckily, Tikhonov should be back Wednesday. The freshman kills penalties and has already earned coach Wayne Gretzky’s trust, which is nice, because the Coyotes are 19-15-4 with ‘Teeks’ in the lineup and 5-10-1 without him. During a conditioning stint in San Antonio, Tikhonov helped the Rampage earn points in three straight games.
Cal Clutterbuck, RW, Minnesota
We really need to do more on this guy in The Hockey News. Simply put, Clutterbuck gives Minnesota a rambunctious edge quite likely never before seen by the Wild. He crashes around the rink, throwing big hits and getting on the nerves of opponents. He fights, he scores and though he won’t win the Calder, there’s no question he’s had a legitimate impact on the State of Hockey in his freshman campaign. Instant fan favorite.
Dominic Moore, C, Toronto
In a season with few highlights, Moore has been a bright spot in Toronto. His speedy play and feisty attitude have elevated him all the way to the top line and his chemistry with Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman have at least produced numbers, if not wins, for the Buds recently. Moore’s spirited effort will result in at least a 50-point season and he has already demolished his previous NHL career-high of 18 points.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazi