Tag:Kari Lehtonen
Posted on: December 27, 2011 5:10 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2011 5:15 pm
 

Lehtonen to return, Raycroft to waivers

By: Adam Gretz

The Dallas Stars are ready to get their starting goaltender, Kari Lehtonen, back in the lineup this week after he missed the past 12 games with a groin injury.

That's good news for the Stars, but it's bad news for backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft as he was informed on Tuesday that he will be placed on waivers, meaning that rookie Richard Bachman, the player called up when Lehtonen was originally sidelined with his injury, has taken over as the Stars new No. 2 goalie.

Bachman, a fourth-round draft pick by the Stars back in 2006, has appeared in nine games this season, starting eight of them, and posting a .912 save percentage. He was pretty much unbeatable during his first four appearances in the crease for Dallas, but has since slumped over his past five starts, including a 5-3 loss against the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

Still, he's looked better than Raycroft this season, as the veteran backup has struggled for much of the season with a .898 save percentage, while Dallas has won just two of the 10 games he's made an appearance in. He's played for five teams over the past seven seasons, including Dallas, Toronto, Boston, Vancouver and Colorado, and if he clears waivers Dallas will be able to assign him to the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.

Injuries have been a major struggle for Lehtonen throughout his NHL career, and before he missed time this season he had been playing extremely well, posting .926 save percentage in 19 starts. Dallas currently has 20-14-1 record, good enough for the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference, but is going to need strong play from its goaltenders, whether it be Lehtonen, Bachman or somebody else, as the Stars are allowing the most shots in the NHL on a per-game basis (32.5). Part of the problem is the Stars spend so much time on the penalty kill as one of the most penalized teams in the league, and because they also simply surrender a lot of shots (again, more than any other team in the league) during 5-on-5 play.

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Can Lehtonen continue his hot start?
Lehtonen placed on injured reserve

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 11, 2011 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 4:55 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Just stop it, Brian Elliott

By Brian Stubits

There was concern going into this season for the people in St. Louis regarding the team's goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had been subpar in his first year with the Blues, exacerbating the need for a quality backup should things not improve.

So with the choices on the board, who did they sign? Brian Elliott, a castoff by both the Senators and Avalanche. His signing was so underwhelming that there was no guarantee he would even open the season with the Blues. There was an honest-to-goodness competition for the second goalie spot between he and young Blues prospect Ben Bishop.

If you've been paying attention to the first third-plus of the season, then you know how that competition turned out. But it's my duty to pretend that my readers are dumb and don't know a thing (sorry people) so I'll just tell you that Elliott won out.

And he's been winning ever since.

Despite being the "backup" to Halak, Elliott is tied for the league lead in shutouts after Saturday's blanking of the San Jose Sharks. He also leads the league with his jaw-dropping save percentage (.947) and goals against average (1.45).

"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself," Elliott said after the 1-0 victory on Saturday. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."

Truth is, he has had to be that good. The Blues aren't exactly scoring like their division foes in Detroit.

While the coaching change from Davis Payne has worked wonders for the Blues and Halak, it would be unfair to credit Elliott's success to that, too. He was outstanding before the change, he's been just as excellent after it.

It's rather amazing when you think where he came from. As we mentioned, his signing was just a little underwhelming and uninspiring. Why? Consider that last season he played for both the Senators and Avalanche after a mid-season trade, a straight goalie swap for Craig Anderson. For the whole season, Elliott was 15-27-9, including 2-8-1 with the Avs. That .947 save percentage this season? Last season it was .893.

That's quite a turnaround. It's not like he's just become suitable this season, he's been outstanding. You could make the argument that he's been the MVP for the Blues this season. Honestly, I have a hard time making an argument for anybody but Elliott considering Hitchcock isn't a player.

"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the only goal in the game. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."

He had to make 11 saves in the third against the Sharks to preserve the win, obviously with no room for error.

I can't say that Elliott is the reason why the Blues are knocking on the Blackhawks' and Red Wings' doors in the Central. It would obviously neglect a lot of other factors at play. But Elliott could very well be at the top of that list.

Power boost

The Washington Capitals had one of the worst power-play units going into Friday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the worst penalty-killing units. Advantage: Capitals.

Among a lot of the concerns surround the Capitals, one was the power play's struggles. They had recently just gone through an 0-for-17 streak -- or skid, if you'd prefer. Then the Caps scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday with the man up.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

Originally three were credited to Dennis Wideman with an assist on the fourth goal, but it was reviewed at Wideman's request on Saturday and the hat trick was taken away. But for a night at least, Wideman had the first hat trick by a Capitals defenseman in more than a decade (Sergei Gonchar in 2000).

But more immediately, there is hope that the Capitals might have found some hope for the man-up. Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that it came against the Leafs.

There is no doubt that the PK continues to be the Achilles' heel for Toronto. After Friday's awful showing, the Leafs are above only the Blue Jackets in successful PKs at 74.3 percent.

Bachman overdrive

When it was announced that the Dallas Stars would be without Kari Lehtonen for some time due to injury, Stars fans were right to be worried at the process of Andrew Raycroft getting more time. Not a reason for much optimism.

However Richard Bachman is. The rookie got his first start of his NHL career on Saturday and he turned in a great effort, holding the Kings to one goal for the 2-1 Dallas win.

With the win, he likely earned himself a start for the Stars' next game Tuesday at the Rangers.

"He's a competitive guy, and he's pretty clean when it comes to rebounds," said coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the former Colorado College goalie in the minors last season. "I just told him when he went out there, `It's the same game that you've been playing.' He has that ability, and he's going through the natural progression. He deserves another start, and most likely we'll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it."

The two points put the Stars back on top of the Pacific Division, which has been surprising this season, and not so much in a good way. The Stars and Coyotes are tied atop the division, but they are each 10 points behind the top team in the West, the Wild. If the division winners weren't awarded the one of the top three seeds, the Stars would be the sixth seed.

On the other bench ...

What's going on with the L.A. Kings? I'll tell you one thing, Terry Murray can't be feeling very comfortable with his job these days.

There was so much hope coming into this season for the Kings. They had been growing every season, they added Mike Richards. It appeared the Kings were on their way to their best season since the days of Gretzky.

They still could be, but they'll have to right the ship in a hurry. Would you believe that there is no team in the NHL worse at scoring goals than Los Angeles? Its 2.21 goals per game ranks at the bottom of the NHL< including below the Ducks in nearby Anaheim. Nothing like low-scoring games to sell hockey in SoCal.

When your cross-town rival makes a move firing its coach and you are being booed off the ice, it's time to wonder if the end is in sight for Murray.

The Wings are good

Just in case you missed that memo.

I was getting ready to start talking about the Winnipeg Jets and how they were extremely quietly inching their way up the Eastern Conference. Then they went to Detroit and were railroaded.

The Red Wings had seven goals from six different scorers -- and none of them was Pavel Datsyuk. It was Detroit's ninth straight win at home where they are 12-2-1 this season. Those are the most wins at home for any team this season.

Some things never change.

One-sided rivalry

What is it about the Battle of Alberta that the Oilers are having so many problems with?

Half of the season's six games have been played between the Oilers and Calgary Flames this season, and the boys from Edmonton have yet to pick up a single point. Against the rest of the NHL, the Oilers are 14-10-3.

The most recent rendition of the provincial rivalry saw Jarome Iginla flash some of his old form with a pair of goals and the Flames took the game 3-0.

Most everybody would agree that the Oilers are likely the better team between the two, but they just can't beat their neighbors. I guess that's why they play the game (well that and winning, right Herm?).

Quote of the weekend

If I were to take a poll of NHL fans who have the Center Ice package which announcer is the biggest homer around? I think it would be a two-horse race between Paul Steigerwald in Pittsburgh and Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.

So for this week's QOTW, we're going to take a light-hearted look at a call from Edwards in the Bruins' win over the Blue Jackets.

On the play, Derek Dorsett is driving toward the net to try and beat Tim Thomas, but his shot attempt is stopped and he then goes skidding into the boards. Here is Edwards' call, you might be surprised (like me).

Yes, that is Edwards rather vehemently arguing against a penalty that went on an opposing player. Clearly he was right, in no way, shape or form was that goaltender interference. If anything, it was interference from Tomas in the form of a trip on Dorsett, who was a bit worse for the ware afterward.

Before you jump down my throat, calm down. I have no problems with local announcers catering to the home team, that is their audience. But sometimes it goes overboard and is comical. So when I hear somebody this adamant in another team's defense, it's "ear-catching."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 27, 2011 12:47 pm
 

Stars place Kari Lehtonen on injured reserve

By Brian Stubits

It seemed like it was just a matter of time before Kari Lehtonen went down with an injury. Turns out, it was.

The Dallas Stars goaltender who was a huge reason why the Stars jumped out to the best start in the NHL, had seen a bit of a regression to the mean in recent weeks, along with his team's return to earth. Unfortunately, he's also seen a return to old times ... going down to injury.

The Stars placed Lehtonen on injured reserve on Sunday, a day after he left the Stars' 3-0 loss to the Coyotes. The Associated Press reported it as a knee injury for Lehtonen, but Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News says it's Lehtonen's troublesome groin that's the problem. The team would only call it a lower-body injury.

Lehtonen's bug-a-boo with the injury bug has been his groin. In two different seasons (05-06 and 07-08) he missed at least 16 games with different groin issues. And probably the last thing that the Stars fans want to hear, Heika fears it could be a long-term injury. Ouch.

Lehtonen has been leaned on more heavily than most goaltenders across the league. When Andrew Raycroft is your backup, you sort of see why. So for the time being, Raycroft is going to get his shot and Dallas recalled Richard Bachman to be the backup.

The Stars were already slipping. They recently suffered through a five-game losing streak and have gone 3-6-1 in their last 10. Even with that, they are still in a three-way tie atop the Pacific Division. So the time without Lehtonen will be crucial to them.

The Finnish Lehtonen has been spectacular this season for the Stars, posting a 13-4-2 record with a 2.34 goals against average and .926 save percentage.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:01 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 2:10 pm
 

Can Lehtonen continue his hot start?

kl1By: Adam Gretz

The Dallas Stars have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL over the first month of the season, and as my Eye On Hockey partner Brian Stubits pointed out earlier this week, a lot of that success has been the result of some strong play by their top lines.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has also been a big factor and is currently playing some of the best hockey of his career. Given the volume of shots he's faced, the Stars have needed him to play at a high level.

Entering their game on Saturday in Detroit, only two teams (Nashville and Florida) are allowing more shots per game (and by a minimal margin) than the Stars. It doesn't help that Dallas has been one of the most penalized teams in the NHL and spend a great deal of time shorthanded, but in 10 of their 15 games this season the Stars have been out-shot by their opponents. Seven times they've been out-shot by at least 10 shots, which is a rather large deficit.

I asked Stars coach Glen Gulutzan following Friday's game, a 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh in which the Stars were out-shot by a 32-20 margin, if there was any concern that maybe the Stars are relying on Lehtonen a bit too much, and if he would like to see those shot totals change more in their favor.

"Well obviously you want to keep your shots down," said Gulutzan. "But it depends where those shots are coming from. If they're just slap shots from the outside we're more than comfortable that he can take those. He takes 32 a night and probably 180 in practice a day, so as long as they're not quality chances we're not going to concern ourselves too much about them."

In other words, in Gulutzan's view it's not the quantity, it's the quality.

There's been a debate taking place in the hockey analytical community as to what impact, if any, "shot quality" has on a team, and whether or not it all evens out throughout the season. While a slap shot from the outside obviously has a lesser chance of resulting in a goal than a breakaway, or a wide open one-timer from between the circles, it still has a greater chance of resulting in a goal than not allowing a shot at all. You run the risk of deflections, a puck hitting your own player and changing direction, or resulting in a second or third chance opportunity on a rebound. Since the 2005-06 season, teams that have finished in the bottom 10 in the league in shots allowed have qualified for the playoffs just 20 times (out of 60 teams).

The question isn't whether or not Lehtonen can physically handle that many shots (regarding Gulutzan's comment on facing 180 shots in practice every day), it's whether or not he can continue to stop them at this rate, and what happens to the Stars if (or when) he starts to play closer to his career norms.

Lehtonen's even strength save percentage currently sits at .952, which is tied for the best mark in the league among goaltenders that have started at least 10 games this season. That's not likely to last, no matter how far out the Stars are allowing shots from. (Just as an example, Tim Thomas led the league in even strength save percentage last season, a year where he was clearly the best goalie in the NHL, with a mark of .947, which was significantly higher than the rest of the league).

For his career, Lehtonen's even strength save percentage comes in at .926, and looks like this on a year-by-year basis: .928, .921, .923, .925, .926, .927. That's pretty consistent, and while it is possible for goaltenders to play a little better under certain coaches and systems, I have to think that eventually he's going to regress back closer to the level he's played at throughout his career. And that could be a problem if the Stars continue to allow over 32 shots every game.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 9, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 2:50 pm
 

Stars shining bright behind light of top lines

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- It's pretty hard to look at the Dallas Stars right now and not be star-struck. After all, they lead the league with 11 wins. No other team has even 10 yet.

You can't help but be impressed with the team's top line.

"I don't know which exact top line," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I think there are some arguments about who is the No. 1 line at times."

OK, so I guess it's possible you aren't impressed with the top line, but that's only when you can't tell which it is.

"The [Jamie] Benn line there with Ryder on it has just played I think two or three games together after the injury to Steve Ott. Benn and Loui [Eriksson] have had some good chemistry from the get go," Gulutzan said. "Then you've got Ribs [Mike Ribeiro] and [Brendan] Morrow who have had great chemistry as well for years.

"It's good to have some internal competition and that's kind of the battle in that room right there. The young guys vs. the old guard. They're having fun with it. But every night we're getting one of those lines to step up."

Let me be more specific then: I admit openly here to professing my love for the newly formed line of Benn, Eriksson and Michael Ryder. They are each fast. Heck, the whole team is fast. They are very skilled. And they look like they have been playing together for three seasons, not three games.

Just look at the numbers -- they never lie, just sometimes deceive. Since this line came together, Ryder has three goals and four assists. Eriksson has two goals, five assists and a star of the week honor. Not to be outdone, Benn has three goals and five assists. Again, those numbers have been compiled in three games! These three have averaged more than seven points per game combined since they were put together.

They go together like peanut butter, jelly and bread. (Seriously, why is bread never mentioned in this cliché? Do people actually just scoop PB&J in their mouth at the same time?)

"Those two guys have been playing together for a little bit and this is my third game with them and they've been flying," Ryder said after Dallas' impressive 5-2 win over the Capitals on Tuesday, in which he scored twice. "I just jump in there and I'm feeding off them. Guess we’re just going good right now."

Maybe the biggest breakout has been Benn. The 22-year-old is opening eyes everywhere with his play. Combined with Eriksson specifically, they are capable of some beautiful hockey. What has impressed me so much is the unselfishness of the two players. Somehow, they keep finding themselves in 2-on-1 situations and each time they are looking to pass. More often than not it leads to a goal, it seems.

Add Ryder to the mix, and, well let the fun times roll.

"Things are going pretty good right now," Benn said. "Ryder got put on our line right before this road trip and it seems like we're just clicking and we're having fun out there."

Five consecutive wins will help in that department too.

And what of this No. 44 on the blue line? My roster sheet told me that's Sheldon Souray. I could hardly believe it. This is the same guy they were so desperate to get rid of in Edmonton? It is, and he's playing as well as ever. He is averaging nearly a point per game. He seems to have found a home and the Stars are happy to have him.

His four goals are the third most for a defenseman in hockey, trailing only the great Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit and Florida's Jason Garrison. With his production, the Stars defensemen have picked up the scoring slack they had been leaving behind. Last season it took them until Dec. 29 to score nine goals, a total they have already reached.

For the most part, it's a somewhat no-name group. But it has been solid. As is the case with most every goalie, the defensemen deserve some of the credit for Kari Lehtonen's start.

Lehtonen remains probably the biggest reason why people are still hesitating to jump on the bandwagon. He is coming off a career year and has battled injuries throughout his still young career. He is just 27.

"He keeps us in every game and gives us confidence," Benn said.

Really, GM Joe Nieuwendyk has pieced together a quality team. And the good news? Once the ownership situation gets straightened out and Tom Gagliardi starts paying the bills, there could definitely be a green light to add some salary onto the league's lowest payroll in the form of trades or just finding some quality fits for his team the way he did with Souray and Eric Nystrom.

Nystrom was waived by the Minnesota Wild before the season and eventually made his way to Dallas. In 82 games last season he had four goals. In 14 games this season, he has four goals. Including one spectacularly awesome one on Tuesday night.

Heck, he's even a humanitarian by day. Nystrom took the time to try and make the day for a pair of presumably homeless gentlemen before the game.

"We always have so much food," Nystrom said. "I asked for a to-go box and I took it across the street to the park and gave it to two homeless guys. Gave them the best meal they've had in a long time."

And wouldn't you know it, this might be the best team they've had in Dallas in a long time. Well OK, it hasn't been that long, but you get the point.

"We're trying to gauge ourselves against the league," Gulutzan said. "Coming into Washington and then heading to Pittsburgh and Detroit, we thought this would be a real good measuring stick."

So far, so good. Especially if the Stars keep that, err, those top lines together.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:32 pm
 

Handing out some first month grades

octgrades

By: Adam Gretz

The first month of the NHL season is in the books and we're still trying to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad and which hot start is for real and which one is simply an early season mirage. Let's check in with a progress report on some notable players and teams for the month of October.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's pretend, just hypothetically, that Phil Kessel is able stay near the top of the NHL's scoring list all.

Now, you shouldn't expect him to maintain his current pace (his shooting percentage is currently 26 percent -- that's probably not sustainable for a full season), but what if he were to do something completely unexpected like, say, win the NHL's scoring title and help lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Would that do anything to change your opinion of the the trade that brought him to Toronto? Should it? Brian Burke has already said Boston won the trade because it has a Stanley Cup, but that trade -- which landed the Bruins two first-round draft picks, including a No. 2 overall selection used on Tyler Seguin, and a second-round pick -- had little to do with that championship. Seguin played about 12 minutes a game and scored 11 goals during the regular season, and only appeared in two postseason series. It's not like he was the driving force behind that cup run. The steep price Toronto paid still overshadow the fact that Kessel is a pretty darn good (three straight years of 30-plus goals) player and still only 24 years of age.

Even if he doesn't maintain this current pace he's been the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL this season and one of the biggest reasons the Maple Leafs are off to their best start in a decade, and that's worthy of a top-grade for the first month.

Other players and teams earning A's for the month of October

Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) -- had one of the best months of any goaltender in the NHL, including three consecutive shutouts; James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- for a Penguins team that continues to deal with injuries, Neal has been their best overall player and looks to be the young goal-scoring winger they've been searching for for years; Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) -- He leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average for what has been, so far, the toughest team in the NHL to score against; and the Dallas Stars -- winners of eight of their first 11 games, thanks in large part to the play of Kari Lehtonen.

Ottawa Senators: For the first two weeks of the season the Ottawa Senators looked to be every bit as awful as they were expected to be.

Over the next two weeks? They won six games in a row and end the month two game over .500. Even through the awful stretch to start the season the Senators were impressive with their determination to never quit in a game, regardless of the score, resulting in acouple of late come-from-behind victories (against Minnesota and the Rangers).

They've been outscored 27-15 over the first two periods but have outscored their opponents 21-18 in the third period. It's not likely they'll be able to continue to rely on huge third period comebacks to get wins, and they're going to have to start getting some better starts in games so they're not constantly trying to play catch up, but a 7-5 record at this point is more than could have (or should have) been expected.

Other players and teams earning B's for the month of October

Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) -- He's been the best player on a Nashville team that is losing the possession battle just about every single night and is facing more shots than any other goaltender in the league. He's keeping the Predators in it while they search for some offense; Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia Flyers) -- Three years away from the NHL and at 39 years of age Jagr opened the season and showed everybody that he can still play at the highest level with a point-per-game pace for the Flyers.

Detroit Red Wings: The A-plus honor student that brings home the rare and unexpected C. You know they can do better, and you expect them to do better. (And they will do better.) But after starting the season 5-0 the Red Wings dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 16-4. That streak includes a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, a game that was followed by a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first victory of the season. Their defense definitely took a hit when Brian Rafalski retired over the summer, and they're not the defensive stalwart they were a few years ago, but they should be better than they've looked over the first month.

Other players and teams earning C's for the month of October

Montreal Canadiens -- Injuries to their defense, as well as top forward Michael Cammalleri, didn't help, but a rather uninspiring start for the Canadiens that only started to turn around when an assistant coach was forced to take the fall.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula spent a ton of money this summer in an effort to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, and one of his biggest investments, Ville Leino, has been a complete non-factor through the first month of the season. In 10 games the 28-year-old Leino has scored just one goal to go with one assist and has recorded just five shots on goal, or one every other game. He's definitely talented, but based on what he's actually produced at the NHL level the six-year, $27 million contract was, at the very least, one hell of a gamble. And so far it's a losing one.

Other plays and teams earning D's for the month of October

 Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) -- And he's probably right on the line between D and F. Let's just say this: the only goaltender in the NHL that has a worse save percentage entering November is Ottawa's backup, Alex Auld.

Columbus Blue Jackets: An offseason with such excitement and a season that seemed to have so much promise was opened with … the worst start in franchise history and the worst record in the NHL. There is obviously time to turn it around -- and I still believe the Jackets can -- and the two big offseason acquisitions have been limited so far, which isn't helping things. James Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season, while Jeff Carter, acquired from the Flyers, was limited to just five games in October due to a foot injury, scoring zero goals. Still … the worst start in franchise history?

Other players and teams earning F's for the month of October

The Boston Bruins -- Defending champs with the second-worst record in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 10:33 pm
 

Weekend wrap: Bruins' slow start staggers on

By Brian Stubits

Before the season, there was a lot of lip service given to the Stanley Cup hangover. While I could see the thinking behind it, I wasn't sure I believed it would really have a negligible effect.

While it could be pure coincidence, I'm beginning to believe in the power -- or more appropriately pain -- of the hangover. That's because the Boston Bruins are 3-7 to start the season after being swept in a home-and-home by the not-long-ago struggling Canadiens (by the way, that's three straight wins since the Habs axed assistant Perry Pearn). For those keeping track at home, that's good enough to be last in not only the Northeast Division, but the Eastern Conference.

“Honestly, this is so frustrating,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after Saturday's 4-2 loss in Montreal. “I don’t know. It’s like we can’t buy a break right now and we just keep getting deeper. We need to turn this around.”

Maybe this is a team that used up all of its breaks last season.

But I didn't see this hangover coming this harsh to start the season. I mean, this is the kind I'd get in college when I'd sleep through breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I was a believer in Boston last season, picking them to win the Cup before the playoffs began. I'm a sucker for plus/minus stats for teams, and nobody was better than Boston in that category a season ago. I took that as a sign of quality balance and partly the product of Tim Thomas' career year.

Thomas hasn't been the problem this year, even if he's not living up to the standard of a year ago. But nobody, and I repeat nobody, expected that season again. It was record-setting as far as save percentage goes, the best in NHL history. That's tough to repeat.

No, instead it's been the offense. It's a group that doesn't seem to possess any elite scorers, but as the playoffs showed, there are numerous guys who are good enough. They have just 22 goals in 10 games. Defensively, there 25 goals allowed is the second lowest total in the East behind only Buffalo.

Claude Julien has tried to fix the issue. There has been line mixing. The team's best player has been sophomore Tyler Seguin, who has four goals and six points. Only five players have at least five points through 10 games.

For his part, GM Peter Chiarelli is not panicking yet. Why would he? This current roster is almost exactly the same as the one that won the championship a few months ago. Obviously it is good enough. But Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reported that Chiarelli might be working the phones already, trying to perhaps find a player to come in and inject some life into Boston.

“I’m always working the phones, but I am a little more diligent these days," Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Thursday.

This is the part where we normally remind you that we're only 10 games into the season. There is still a lot of time for the B's to wake up and defend their Cup in earnest. But it's also worth noting that the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference are looking better this season.

They can't afford to sleep in too long until the headache goes away.

Any be-Leafers now?

When do you start believing in what the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing? Ron Wilson's crew is 7-3-1 begin the year. The last three games, including Saturday's OT win over the Penguins, have been with starting goaltender James Reimer injured. They did get tripped up by the Sens on Sunday night in a great game.

We chuckled at the uber optimism Leafs fans were feeling with the quick start and statements such as Phil Kessel is headed for Wayne Gretzky numbers. Now there is a bigger sample size of 10 games and Kessel has 10 goals with eight assists. It's still a small sample size, however it's easier to take big projections. Don't expect Gretzky numbers, but it could be a monster season nonetheless.

Speaking of monsters, Jonas Gustavsson has fared certainly well enough in Reimer's absence. With Reimer sidelined for a little bit, this was Gustavsson's chance to show he could handle the backup duties himself. So far so good. He was good enough on Saturday for Ron Wilson -- one of the few coaches on Twitter -- to pronoune him the starter for Sunday night's game against Ottawa, a loss.

"Great win. Monster was huge and gets start tomorrow. Komo keeps getting better. Dion and Phil are the best at their positions in NHL!"

If nothing else, let's just say it's time to take Toronto a little more seriously.

Streaking Senators

Raise your hand if you saw the Senators winning six games by Thanksgiving before the season began.

Forget Thanksgiving, the Sens have won six games in their last six outings after a great comeback win over the Rangers on Saturday and then a solid win over the Maple Leafs on Sunday. Things seem to be coming together quickly.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but Jason Spezza has been his usual spectacular self. He has 15 points through 12 games (7-8=15). But also joining him in the better-than-a-point-per-game pace are Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson, who has an NHL-high 12 assists.

Before the season, a lot of folks had the Senators as the preseason favorites for the Nail Yakupov (top draft prospect) sweepstakes. While they still could be, they are at least giving the fans some fun along the way.

A Star is born

Has anybody noticed what Kari Lehtonen is doing in Dallas? Judging by the attendance, the majority of the Metroplex hasn't.

The Stars are 8-3-0 after Saturday's 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. In those 11 games, Lehtonen is 8-1. He carries a goals against average of 1.75. He has been simply stellar for a team now being led not by Brad Richards, but instead by a bevy of young guns and veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray.

Lehtonen is at that magical age in sports when they are supposedly at their peak, 27. After playing in 69 games a season ago, he looks ready to carry the load again this season.

Just another quality goalie from Finland. Ho hum.

As for the attendance? Well Saturday night only 11.740 were announced to be in the stands to witness the win. I understood the reasons for low attendance numbers earlier this season, baseball's Rangers were fighting for the World Series and, well, the Stars lost their big star in the offseason. But with this kind of start and the Rangers now done, I hoped to see more than 11,740 in the crowd. Baby steps, I guess. Baby steps. If the Stars keep winning, they will come.

Night Caps

The Washington Capitals took on the Vancouver Canucks in the Saturday night cap and it didn't last long for Tomas Vokoun. The Capitals goalie gave up three first-period goals, two of them being on Canucks power plays, and was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau to start the second.

The reason? Boudreau wanted to give the team a spark. Well, his Caps did come back to the tie game, but it all got away from them again in a 7-4 loss. (On a side note, a four-goal performance won't do much to change the Canucks fans' feelings about Roberto Luongo either.)

Some are seeing it as a deal. Boudreau said Vokoun wasn't particularly sharp. Vokoun said he felt fine.

But I'd like to point out that Vokoun had played every game since Michal Neuvirth was given the opening-night start. If nothing else, Vokoun deserved a break.

We're going streaking!

As already mentioned, the Ottawa Senators now have a six-game winning streak going. But they're not alone.

The San Jose Sharks have also won five in a row. More impressively, all five of those games were on the road, including Saturday's shootout win over the Islanders and a win on Friday over the Red Wings.

Speaking of Detroit, it has lost four games in row since beginning the year 5-0. Maybe that 7-1 beatdown at the hands of the Capitals sent them into a funk?

The Islanders are also in an early tailspin. Make that five losses in a row for them after Saturday's loss to San Jose.

Last but certainly not least, the Edmonton Oilers are very quietly in first place in the Northwest Division, surpassing the Colorado Avalanche. That's because the Oilers have won five games in a row after weekend wins over the Avalanche on Friday and Blues on Sunday. The Kids in the Hall are getting a lot of attention for that, but Nikolai Khabibuln has been spectacular.

Quote of the weekend

Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was very happy with his team's 3-2 comeback win over the Sabres on Saturday night. He took it as a chance to talk a little, umm, anatomy.

Let's just say he appreciated the marbles his team showed by scoring twice in the final four minutes for the win.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:29 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 10:57 am
 

Early season surprises: Avalanche take the cake

By Brian Stubits

The Colorado Avalanche have shown a little pattern in recet years, so maybe we should have seen this start coming.

Three seasons ago they came off a conference semifinal loss by finishing with 69 points, bad enough to get the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, which they used to select Matt Duchene (good call). The following season they were in the playoffs behind Craig Anderson in goal. That was followed by another miserable season to give the Avs the No. 2 pick, which is where they grabbed Gabriel Landeskog.

It is still incredibly early, but if there were a surprise from the first two weeks of the season, it is without a doubt the Avalanche. Colorado lost its home opener before embarking on a five-game road trip to the East, including the Eastern Canada swing, and lo and behold, the Avs took all 10 available points. It was the first time in franchise history they won five consecutive road games. Not bad for a team with only three players over the age of 30 -- Jean Sebastien-Giguere, Milan Hejduk and Jan Hejda.

"Now what we have to do is take this kind of game we played on the road -- keeping it simple, doing little things -- and translating it to our home ice," Giguere said Monday night after beating his former Maple Leafs team. "This was obviously a great trip for us. It should give us confidence going forward."

Obviously winning at this rate won't last. That goes without saying. Considering their youth and inexperience, they are more susceptible than most to higher highs and lower lows. But the prospects of not finishing near or at the bottom of the Western Conference like many foresaw? Those seem pretty good right now.

A good chunk of the team's success has come from the goaltending duo of Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. Desperate to get a goaltender to take the reins this offseason, the Avs signed the veteran Giguere, but it was their move for Varlamov that took the attention.

Colorado was the heavy favorite to court and then sign free agent Tomas Vokoun. It seemed to be a perfect match. But a funny thing happened; the Avs didn't seem to want to go down that road. Instead, they spoke with the Capitals -- Vokoun's eventual landing spot, oddly enough -- and worked out a trade to acquire Varlamov, who said he was done playing in Washington. The price of a first-round pick in return seemed like a quality deal for the Capitals. After all, Colorado was the second worst team in the league a season ago. Talk to people around Washington and they are all aware of how talented Varlamov is. That was never the issue. If he can stay healthy -- now we have our issue -- it could be a coup for the Avalanche

However they are more than the goaltending, obviously. What really jumped out of the screen watching them play the Leafs on Monday -- and again, this was the fifth of five games on the road in another time zone, so the excuses to be sluggish where there -- was their speed and energy. I guess you can call that youthful exuberance. Whatever words you use to describe it, I call it impressive.

A lot of people might have been sleeping on the Avs before this season began, but Joe Sacco's crew has opened some eyes in a hurry.

Surprises

Toronto Maple Leafs: Despite losing to the Avalanche in overtime on Monday -- their first missed point of the season -- Toronto is out of the gate strong. Now this isn't something entirely new this time of year. Remember the Maple Leafs started 4-0-0 last season, then they won only one of the next 12 games.

One difference this time around, however, is James Reimer -- or his Twitter world nickname Optimus Reim, if you prefer. The young goalie is giving fans hope that they have finally solved the riddle in the cage. That and the so-far spectacular play of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf gives you reason to believe the Maple Leafs just could end their six-year playoff drought this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: They are surprising, but not in a good way. The Eastern Conference runnerups from a season ago have looked, well, awful. They have picked up only four points from their first six games and given up four goals or more four different times already. Dwayne Roloson looks his age, which is now 42.

"Obviously, we're not happy," Steven Stamkos said Monday. "I wouldn't say we're in a panic mode, but we're worried. This isn't the start we wanted. We're taking way too many penalties."

They better figure it out soon because with some improved teams in the East this year, they don't want to fall too far behind.

Dallas Stars: So Brad Richards is winless with his new team while his old team, the Stars, are 4-1? That qualifies as a surprise to many.

Everybody wondered how Dallas would replace the loss of Richards. Signing Michael Ryder in the offseason didn't seem to be a void-filler. Maybe all they needed was another year for Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Brendan Morrow, Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson together. Oh, and a healthy Kari Lehtonen. Dallas is 4-0 when Lehtonen starts this season.

Then there is Sheldon Souray, who Edmonton couldn't get out of town fast enough. Dallas took a shot on the bought-out Oilers defenseman and so far it's looking like a good gamble. He has a goal and three assists as well as a plus-4 rating while averaging more than 20 minutes on ice per game.

Florida Panthers power play: Is this real life or is this just fantasy?

The Panthers had 35 power-play goals in 82 games last season. Let that sink in for a minute. As you would probably guess, that was the lowest in the NHL. Maybe it's the addition of Kevin Dineen and assistant Craig Ramsey, maybe it's the influx of new forwards, or, perhaps most likely, it's the arrival of Brian Campbell to run the show. Whatever the result, the Panthers have scored on eight of their 25 power-play attempts this season, including five in one game against the Lightning on Monday.

Heck, they even have a short-handed goal already, making them an even squad on the penalty kill.

No suspensions for hits: With how busy Brendan Shanahan was during the preseason, I was getting ready to request Shanny TV 24/7. It was like Hannukah, waking up every day for eight straight days to see the newest gift, or in this case video. But since the first puck was dropped in Toronto, the only suspension handed down was for the Wild's Marc-Pierre Bouchard and his high stick on the Blue Jackets' Matt Calvert.

But a funny thing happened when the season began, the suspensions stopped coming. That's because the head hits have stopped coming, which is exactly what everybody hoped to see in the first place, even the anti-Shanny crowd. I view it like Republicans and Democrats; everybody wants to get to the same prosperous place, they just don't agree on how to get there. This is the same. I have yet to hear one person say they want head shots to remain in hockey, just that they feel like Shanahan was going too far, or as Don Cherry and Mike Milbury put it, setting the bar too high.

The preseason over/under on the number of suspensions laid down by Shanahan was 40.5. That under is starting to look awfully tasty now.

But this could change later Tuesday after Kris Letang of the Penguins has his meeting with Shanahan.

Not surprising but still noteworthy

The Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings both remain perfect. But we wouldn't expect anything else from those two franchises these days. To the other hot starters like the Flyers and Ducks, consider it a compliment that your team isn't on here. They have rosters people thought were capable of doing just this.

Photos: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com