Tag:Colorado Avalanche
Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 3:56 pm
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Avs goaltending, defense still struggling

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By: Adam Gretz


PITTSBURGH -- Milan Hejduk has spent his entire career with the Colorado Avalanche organization, playing over 920 games (and still counting). He's scored over 360 goals and been a member of a Stanley Cup winning team, and on Tuesday night he played his first game as the team's captain, just the third different one the franchise has had since 1992-93, when it was still based in Quebec.

After a strong first period that included Hejduk registering an assist on Matt Duchene's highlight reel goal, everything unraveled over the final 30 minutes of regulation as the Avs dropped a 6-3 decision to the Penguins, spoiling what should have been an exciting night for the 13-year veteran.

"It's a great honor," said Hejduk after the game. "I'm very proud to have the 'C' on my jersey, but I wish tonight could have been a different result."

The result, unfortunately, has been a common one for the Avs over the past month, as the loss is their ninth in their past 12 games, and follows what had been a promising start that saw the team win six of its first eight games, with all of the wins coming on the road. Whether it's been at home or on the road, finding the win column has been an issue lately for a team that has won just three games in regulation all season, and only one since Oct. 13.

Still, for all of their struggles lately you have to say this for the Avalanche: their games are definitely not boring.

Their forwards are young, fast and exciting, especially Duchene, who was one of the best players on the ice for either team on Tuesday night. When that all meets at the confluence of poor defense and goaltending, well, you're going to see a lot of goals. Last season Avalanche games were the highest scoring games in the league, and they're not far off that pace this season averaging over six goals per game. The NHL average is just 5.56.

Though, a lot of that has been -- and still is being -- driven by the aforementioned issues on the blue line and in the crease. That has to be a concern given the emphasis that was placed on both areas over the summer to improve a team that allowed the ninth most shots in the NHL and owned, by a pretty large margin, the worst save percentage.

In an effort to fix those weaknesses the Avalanche assembled one of the biggest defenses in the NHL (seriously, these guys are huge ... four of their regulars are each listed over 6-feet-3, 230-pounds) by signing Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien to go with Erik Johnson and Ryan O'Byrne, two players that were acquired in mid-season trades during the 2010-11 season. Those additions on the blue line were accompanied by what was perhaps the most controversial move of the summer, by any team, when the club sent its 2012 first-round pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for goaltender Semyon Varlamov. At the time of the trade it was thought that pick could turn out to be a lottery pick, and it still very well could be.

Varlamov did his part to silence the critics of the move early in the season, basically standing on his head during his first three starts. But to say he's struggled since would be an understatement. While the Avs have managed to cut down the number of shots they allow, the goaltending has still been an issue with Varlamov posting a save percentage below .900 in eight of his past 11 apperances, including Tuesday, while their team mark is still in the bottom-three of the NHL.

"When you're going through a stretch like this, you rely on your goaltender," said coach Joe Sacco following Tuesday's game, which saw Varlamov allow six goals on 33 shots. "He (Varlamov) made some big saves, but I'm sure there's a few he'd like to have back. Everybody has to be better including him."

Of course, there are still plenty of question marks as to whether or not they will -- or can -- be much better.

Their defense is massive, but how well does that size translate to success in the current NHL? And outside of Johnson, a former No. 1 overall pick by the St. Louis Blues, how much long-term upside is there with the current group? In the crease, Varlamov is still a major Wild card. He's definitely a gifted athlete with impressive quickness, but his career has been plagued by injuries and bouts of inconsistent play.

If their play on the back side doesn't improve it could be another long season in Denver, and this time there will not even be the prospect of a top draft pick there to help salvage it.

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

Posted on: November 15, 2011 11:13 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 10:47 am
 

Duchene vs. Malkin: Which goal is better?

By: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- After racing out to a two-goal lead in the first period the Colorado Avalanche had a bit of a meltdown on Tuesday, allowing five consecutive goals in Pittsburgh to fall by a 6-3 margin, losing for the ninth time in their past 12 games. The game had a great flow at times as the two teams exchanged chances, and it also featured two of the nicest goals we've seen across the NHL this year.

First, Colorado's third-year standout, Matt Duchene, made a ridiculous move between the circles to drag the puck between his legs and dangle around Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to deposit the puck into an empty net for his seventh goal of the season. Duchene was one of the best players on the ice for much of the game, especially through the first two periods, recording seven shots on goal -- including the one he scored on -- in just over 17 minutes of ice-time.

Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin scored what proved to be the game-winner early in the third period when he forced a turnover behind the net, and then proceeded to turn Gabriel Landeskog and Semyon Varlamov inside-out on his way to his fifth goal of the season.

Two outstanding plays, but which one tops your highlight reel for the night?


I know it came in the losing effort, and the goal itself is probably no consolation on a night where his team surrendered five unanswered goals (and it wasn't), but I'm tempted to go with Duchene's as the better play. But it's close. To be able to pull that move off at that speed is incredible.

Said Duchene after the game, "I kinda forgot about it, but it was a great play by Pauly (Stastny). He made a great pass to me and I was just able to free myself up for an open net. I think we're a little but disappointed as a line because we felt like we played a good enough game to score two or three more and just weren't able to do it. Had some bad bounces, a post, some chances that just didn't go in. We could have put the game away early with any luck."

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

Posted on: November 4, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 3:22 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Streaks, stats on the line

By Brian Stubits

It's amazing how quickly things can go from being so hot to being so cold. I mean 72 days for a marriage? That's a quick flameout.

Oh, and there are also those Red Wings from Detroit. Just two weeks ago, the NHL eyes were locked on a battle of the unbeatens; 5-0 Detroit at 6-0 Washington. Fast-forward to Friday and the Red wings have picked up one single point since, sitting now at 5-5-1.

In this six-game losing streak it hasn't been what we figured would be the team's Achilles' heel -- defense - that has let them down. I mean it could be much better -- it could ALWAYS bet better -- but it's sufficed, even if Jimmy Howard has slumped a little, too.

Instead, it's been the offense, the unit that carried the team a season ago. During the six-game losing streak, the Wings are averaging exactly one goal per game. Once they scored two, once they were shutout, the other four games they scored once. That means Detroit has the second-fewest goals in the NHL -- incidentally still six clear of the last-place Islanders, who have scored just 18 goals in 10 games.

At that kind of scoring clip, the Red Wings were lucky to even pick up one point.

"We've got to believe in ourselves, stay positive," Henrik Zetterberg told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "Here we go again -- same quotes, but there's nothing else we can do."

We can chalk some of that up to bad luck, though. Detroit is carrying a shooting percentage of 6.2 percent right now. As Jesse Spector of the Sporting News points out for comparison's sake, the Devils were at 7.3 percent last season for the worst in the league.

Statisticians will tell you shooting percentage is more a byproduct of luck than anything else. The Wings are too talented to shoot at that low of a level for the season. These things do even out. If you believe they will continue to shoot that low of a percentage this season, I have some beach-front property in Nebraska to sell you. Real cheap, too.

Maybe Ken Holland crossed a black cat's path sometime just before Halloween or something. Seven games of bad luck, perhaps?

If the streak stretches to seven, it will have to come at the expense of the similarly struggling Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. The Ducks themselves enter on a nasty little losing streak, having lost four in a row, the last two in overtime.

As they say, something's gotta give.

Lucky Seven

The opposite of the Red Wings and their six-game losing streak? Try the Edmonton Oilers and their six-game WINNING streak. (Boy, the NHL standings look awfully wacky right now ... can it last?) The last time the Oilers won six in a row? You have to go back to 2002.

They will have a chance to run that streak to seven on Saturday when they visit the Coyotes.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Nikolai Khabibulin, who is back to being the Bulin Wall. He spent a couple weeks in jail back in Arizona for a DUI offense. Who knows what kind of impact that might have had on Khabibulin, but he's been spectacular.

He was deservedly named one of the NHL's three Stars for the month of October. He has been maybe the biggest surprise of the season from an individual standpoint. He is still averaging less than a goal per game (0.98) in GAA and has a spectacular .963 save percentage.

Just like Detroit's shooting percentage, you don't need a genius to tell you that's not going to last. Still, for a guy that people felt was going to be as useful as an empty Twinkie wrapper, this qualifies as outstanding.

He will have a chance to keep his stats low for another night, though. Considering the Oilers and Coyotes are two of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, a 2-1 battle or so is probably in store. Of course, now that we mention it, the game will more likely be a 7-5 breakout.

Speaking of bad shooting percentages ...

Remember that start the Colorado Avalanche had? The one where they were 5-1-0 and the early talk of the NHL? Yes, life on the road was nice.

Well home has not provided very friendly confines. At all.

The Avs are 1-4-1 at home while still 6-1-0 on the road. Since you are clever readers, I'm sure you know where this is going ...

Colorado is at home for the weekend capper on Sunday evening when it hosts the Calgary Flames. The key to getting on the right track at home? Again, we return to the that luck theme.

In their home games, the Avalanche have a 3.8 -- 3.8!!! -- shooting percentage. Either they continue to shoot directly into the opposing goalie's chest, or things just aren't going their way.

More starting trends

One more shooting percentage trend and then that's it, we promise.

Here are two reasons not to go all in on the Toronto Maple Leafs quite yet. First, their shooting percentage is unusually high at 12.9 percent as a team. Secondly, Toronto is actually being outshot by an average of five shots per game. They are in first place in the Northeast.

On the other hand, the Bruins are plus-five in shots per game and they are in last place in the Northeast.

The means exist for a reason. Teams usually regress toward the mean over the course of a season. Of course, in the meantime these trends are still being bucked.

Now the table is set for their showdown on Saturday in Toronto. By the way, Phil Kessel is still on pace for that monster season with 10 goals and 11 assists through 13 games.

Net issue

Very quietly there is the rumblings of a goaltending controversy in Buffalo. Like we said, very quietly.

Backup Jhonas Enroth has been very solid in his backup work of Ryan Miller, including the relief appearance earlier this week against the Flyers. In that game, Enroth held the Flyers scoreless for the majority of the game after Miller was pulled early in the first period with three quick goals.

It comes as little shock then that Lindy Ruff is going to start Enroth on Friday night with the Calgary Flames in town. Ruff is electing to start the hot goalie and likely trying to flip Buffalo's fortunes at home.

Like the Avs, the Sabres aren't finding home so nice in the early going. They are 2-4-0 at the First Niagara Center or whatever they call the arena these days.

The champs are here!

That would be baseball's champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Friday night in St. Louis will be a chance for the Blues to honor their winning neighbors.

Chris Carpenter, the Cards' ace pitcher, practiced with the team this week. In case you missed it, it was brought up countless times during the playoffs that Carpenter played hockey growing up.

Also, now ex-Cardinals manager (retirement) Tony La Russa will drop the ceremonial puck before the Blues face the Canucks. The Blues would love it if some of that winning magic can rub off on them as the Blues enter having dropped their last two games and are a quiet 5-6-0.

Photo: US Presswire

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

Posted on: November 1, 2011 4:50 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 8:01 pm
 

Andy Sutton suspended 5 games



By: Adam Gretz


Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andy Sutton had an in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan on Monday for his hit to the head of Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog on Friday night. Because the hearing was done in person the NHL had the option of suspending Sutton for at least five games, and that's exactly what it did on Tuesday when Shanahan announced that Sutton will be forced to sit out Edmonton's next five games, which also result in him forfeiting over $57,000 in salary.

"The video shows that as Landeskog looks back to receive the pass in the neutral zone," said Shanahan in his latest suspension video (shown above). "Sutton steps up in anticipation of delivering a hit. Sutton takes an improper route to Landeskog and does not deliver a full body check. Instead he picks Landeskog's head. This is a clear violation of the illegal check to the head rule."

He continued: "At the moment of impact, it's clear that the head is the principal point of contact and has been recklessly targeted. Landeskog is looking back for the pass and rotates his head, but the position of his head does not dramaticallly change. Regardless of whether there is brushing of Landeskog's shoulder, the head is the principal of contact and the head is picked by Sutton."

Shanahan also added that it was taken into consideration that throughout his career Sutton has previously been fined and suspended for various illegal checks and while he is not considered a repeat offender according to the CBA, he felt they could not ignore his history of illegal hits.

Sutton will not be eligible to return to the Oilers lineup until Sunday, Nov. 13 against the Chicago Blackhawks, which is the final game of a six-game road trip the team starts on Thursday. He will miss games against Los Angeles, Phoenix, Montreal, Boston and Detroit.

In 10 games this season Sutton has recorded one assist and logged an average of 16 minutes of ice-time per game.

Said Sutton in a statement released by the team: "I have been informed of and understand the League's decision, however, I had no intention of delivering an illegal check.  For 14 years, I've always played the game with respect and integrity and I will continue to do so when I return."

More NHL Discipline News Here

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

Posted on: October 29, 2011 10:58 am
Edited on: October 29, 2011 4:04 pm
 

Video: Andy Sutton hit on Gabriel Landeskog

By: Adam Gretz

The Edmonton Oilers continued their hot start on Friday night with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche, their fourth consecutive victory, improving their early season record to 6-2-2, good enough for the top spot in the Northwest Division.

Defenseman Andy Sutton tallied one of the goals during the win, registering his first of the season late in the second period to give Edmonton a 2-0 lead. He also may have drawn some attention from the NHL for an elbowing penalty in the third period when he clipped Avalanche rookie sensation Gabriel Landeskog coming across the neutral zone.

UPDATE: The NHL has announced that Sutton will have an in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's disciplinary expert, on Monday, which gives him the opportunity of suspending Sutton for more than five games. He will not be eligible to play in Edmoton's game against St. Louis on Sunday.



Along with the five-minute fighting major that he and Shane O'Brien received for the post-hit altercation, Sutton was also issued a two-minute minor for elbowing.

Hello, rule 48.

“They may look at it, they might not," said Sutton following the game, via Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal. "I’d do it (that play) again.”

Shanahan may have a busy day on Saturday as Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reported that Chicago Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo has a hearing scheduled for 1 PM ET for an incident with Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen during Chicago's 3-0 loss on Friday. There was no penalty called on that play.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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

Posted on: October 21, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2011 5:57 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Will Trotz lose it? Wings-Caps

By Brian Stubits

The Barry Trotz tour of tantrums continues with a stop in Calgary on Saturday to conclude the Predators' first Western Canada swing of the season.

If you haven't been paying attention to the Predators for the past week, you've been missing out. Not so much with their play -- Nashville enters Calgary on a four-game losing streak and a minus-7 on the season -- but from Trotz, the well-renowned head coach for the Preds. He has been less-than pleased about his team's recent performance and hasn't been afraid to tell everybody.

After the Predators lost to the Oilers 3-1, Trotz was clearly upset, saying the team had to "start from scratch." But the majority of the sound bite came from Jarred Smithson, who undoubtedly echoed Trotz's frustration.

"It’s not one guy, it’s not two guys, it’s the whole group. Pekka [Rinne] is the exception. He’s the only guy playing his balls off right now and if it wasn’t for him, we don’t have any points. I don’t know what to say about tonight, it was terrible.”

Oh, but the fun was only just beginning. Because Thursday night brought about a 5-1 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver and more Trotz frustration. A lot more. (Quotes courtesy of Twitter feed from Joshua Cooper of the Tennessean)

His assessment of rookie Mattias Ekholm? "I thought he was horrible, just horrible." Ouch.

How about his feelings on his younger players having to go up against the likes of the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and the rest of the Canucks? “You’re going to have to line up against the best in the league, if you’re scared of that, get a dog.”

Finally, he took the time to thank Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. Seriously. "“I want to thank Alain Vigneault for not playing his top two lines the last 10 minutes.”

Making matters worse before they face Calgary, it looks like they will be without star defenseman and Norris candidate Shea Weber after the hit he laid on Jannik Hansen of the Canucks. That won't help the struggling offense get any better.

The Predators better hope they show up with a better effort in Calgary or it might be a lot of bag skates coming their way.

Somebody's got to lose

There are only two remaining unbeaten teams in the NHL, and they will meet on Saturday. Hopefully they will both be perfect as that makes for one delicious matchup.

The Capitals are sitting at 6-0-0 for the first time in franchise history of their 5-2 win over the Flyers on Thursday. So they enter the battle against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in Washington unblemished.

The Red Wings will have to go through the winless Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night first, but considering the struggling Jackets will be without Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, you have to like Detroit's chances.

One thing to keep an eye on, Detroit is the only team in the league not to have played five games entering Friday. They're last game came a week ago Saturday against the Wild. So the legs are as fresh as they can get.

Brotherly love

The Carolina Hurricanes have a pretty famous hockey brother on their team. Captain Eric Staal gets chances to reunite with siblings whenever he plays against the Penguins (Jordan) and Rangers (Marc) while his youngest brother (Jared) is in the Hurricanes farm system.

But Friday night will bring about another sibling rivalry for the 'Canes. When they take on the Blues in St. Louis, Anthony Stewart will go up against his brother Chris Stewart. It marks the first time the brothers will play in an NHL game against each other.

"I'm excited," Chris said. "I felt like it's been a long time and a long time overdue. We went for dinner [Wednesday] night, and I'm sure we'll go for dinner again tonight. I look forward to tomorrow."

"It's a big day for our family. They're going to be watching," Anthony said. "They're not going to make it in, but they're definitely excited and the buddies back home are texting us asking if we're going to fight. We'll be fighting on the score sheet. That's probably about it."

Here's their shot

Let's just assume the Red Wings take care of the Blue Jackets on Friday night. Seems like a pretty safe bet. So they will be 0-6-1 headed into Saturday, their final game without Wisniewski. They will have a very winnable game in Ottawa against the Senators.

Ottawa is a league-worst minus-11 on the season, tied with Winnipeg at the bottom of the league. The Sens have given up 31 goals in seven games, that's more than four per game.

If they can't get the win in Ottawa, then you really have to wonder how long it will be. After playing the Senators, Columbus will play Detroit (4-0-0) at home, go to Buffalo (5-1-0) and Chicago (4-1-1), play the Ducks (4-1-0) and Maple Leafs (4-1-1), visit Philadelphia (4-1-1) then host Chicago again. Finally, they'll get a reprieve and face the Jets at home.

Columbus could sure use one or both of the games this weekend.

Mile(stone) marker

San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton will play in his 1,000th career game this weekend when his team plays the Devils Friday night in New Jersey. Then on Saturday he'll play No. 1,001 in Boston, the city where he began his career.

Thornton was a member of the Bruins from 1997 until the 2005-06 season when he was sent to the Sharks for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart.

To show how good he's been throughout his career, here's a stat courtesy of fellow Eye On Hockey blogger Adam Gretz (@agretz on Twitter): Only five players have at least two 90-assists seasons: Joe Thornton is one of them. The others: [Wayne] Gretzky, [Mario] Lemieux, [Bobby] Orr, and Adam Oates.

"It goes by incredibly fast," Thornton said. "As a young guy everybody says enjoy it because it goes by very quickly. It sure does. Now I'm the older guy telling the younger guys."

Of course with all his accomplishments, including the Art Ross and Hart trophies in 2005-06, he's missing the biggest one, the Stanley Cup. That's the goal this season, but the Sharks are slow out of the gate.

"We're obviously 1-3 in the standings but I feel we've played pretty well," he said. "Just stay positive and start getting some points."

Quick start

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has himself quite a little streak going. He has recorded back-to-back shutouts, one against the Blues, the other vs. the Coyotes on Thursday night.

Assuming he gets the start on Saturday back home in Los Angeles, he'll get a stern test from the Dallas Stars, who are off to a quick start themselves.

They come into the weekend in Tinsel town with a 5-1-0 record and will not only face Quick's Kings, but first must go through the 4-1-0 Ducks on Friday. Throw in the Sharks' potential and the Pacific Division might be on its way to being a monster this season.

There will be some good hockey in Southern California this weekend, so enjoy.

Southeast Winnipeg

The most awkward divisional alignment begins this weekend when the Jets will host the Hurricanes. It is Winnipeg's first taste as a member of the Southeast Division, an arrangement that is just a touch unnatural, something that will be remedied before next season.

Hockey night indeed

It's always worthwhile when the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens do battle. They played the first game of the season (get the honor thanks to Boston's pregame Cup ceremony) and will have Part II on Saturday in Montreal.

Let's play two

We'll also have a pair of division leaders doing battle for the second time in three days. The surprising Colorado Avalanche, a perfect 5-0 on the road this season, will be in Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Saturday night. Chicago won the opening game of the home-and-home series, beating the Avs 3-1 on Thursday.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 20, 2011 4:06 pm
 

Slide risks: Who returns to juniors, who stays

By Brian Stubits

One of the rules of the CBA I love is the ability to give young prospects extended tryouts with the parent organization without risking a contract kicking in. It's a great opportunity for players to learn from some NHL experience and, in some cases, prove they are too good to be sent back to their junior team.

These players are known as "Slide-Risk" players. Here's what the CBA rule states specifically:

"In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old player signs a Player Contract with a Club but does not play at least 10 NHL games (regular season and/or playoffs) in the first season under that player's Player Contract, the term of his Player Contract and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a player who is age 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs a Player Contract."

To summarize, if a player under the age of 20 doesn't play more than 10 games at the NHL level, his contract doesn't kick in. So that's one more year to hold off restricted free agency. What's not to like about the provision?

This season, there are 12 players who could be returned and have their contract years delayed. Without further ado, let's see the names (in alphabetical order, of course).

Brett Bulmer, Minnesota Wild: Bulmer was selected 39th overall by the Wild two drafts ago, but his toughness and energy seem to be welcome as far as first-year coach Mike Yeo is concerned. Bulmer seems like he has earned a spot on the third line, although he hasn't been playing all that much (9:38 per game). He does have a pair of assists in that time. He might not play a whole lot, but Yeo talks pretty glowingly about him. Verdict: Wild ride continues.

Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay Lightning: This is an iffy call. Connolly, taken sixth overall two drafts ago, has the skill. That's evident by his playing alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis at times already this season. Here's what coach Guy Boucher told the Tampa Tribune: "He eventually will be an NHL player. Now will he be an NHL player starting this year for a long time? It's up to him and it's up to, I think, circumstances, too, for us to see if he can manage it because we don't want to hurt the kids." Verdict: 50/50 still.

Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers' top pick in this summer's draft might have surprised a few by earning such a strong look from the staff in Philly, but he has continued to impress. Couturier at this point seems like a fixture already on the team's penalty-killing unit and he is averaging 14:53 minutes on ice per game. He also has a goal and two assists through the first five games. Verdict: Looks like a lock to stay.

Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers: The rough-and-tumble defenseman who went third overall two years ago has found himself a defensive partner in Ed Jovanovski, the veteran the Cats brought in this summer. He has only managed 11:49 of ice time in five games, but that's partly because he has racked up 24 minutes in penalties already, getting himself into a pair of fights against the Lightning. Verdict: There seems to be no inclination to send him down. Fine in Florida.

Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets: He has played in only three of the Blue Jackets' six games this season, getting on the ice for just 8:18 per game. If he sticks around, his role won't be a big one, likely finding a home on the third of fourth lines. He is their big prospect in Columbus, but he might benefit from more time in the WHL, especially if the team isn't committed to playing him night and night out. Verdict: Could go either way still.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche: Landeskog was the player who was universally dubbed with the "most NHL ready" tag prior to this past summer's draft. The expectation for whichever team took him, he would become a fixture almost immediately. That still seems to be the case in Colorado as Landeskog is playing close to 17 minutes a game, has shown solid speed and strength and amassed three points (two goals and an assist). Things are going good in Colorado with him there, that should say enough. Don't mess with a good thing. Verdict: Get comfortable in Denver, kid.

Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils: Many believed the Devils got a steal by grabbing Larsson with the fourth pick of the draft this summer. But the three that went before him look pretty darn good too, so it's understandable. But that doesn't mean he might not be the best rookie of them all. The Calder candidate has been averaging a whopping 24:14 of ice time with New Jersey and is expected to be a rock on the blueline at the Rock. Verdict: Jersey boy for sure.

Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders: The fifth overall pick two years ago was given an extended look last season when he played nine games for the Islanders, totaling two points. He was expected to earn a roster spot this year but he has yet to play because of a groin injury. When he's ready, he'll get his nine-game tryout started and they will go from there. Verdict: Good chance he's staying on the Island.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: There was some skepticism if Nugent-Hopkins was ready for the grind of an NHL season but the Oilers would keep him anyway, it's important the franchise show the future. Well if he's shown anything in the first few games it's that he's good enough to stick around on his own merits anyway. He leads the team in scoring thanks in part to a hat trick already in his career. Verdict: Bundle up for an Edmonton winter.

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets turned lots of heads with their selection of Scheifele early in the draft, but he was impressive during camp and the preseason. So he earned his right at an extended look from the team. He does have a goal on the power play but he has averaged just 11:25 of ice time. "We'll do what's best for him," was coach Claude Noel's cryptic response to Scheifele's place. Verdict: A little more seasoning in juniors before a full season in the NHL.

Devante Smith-Pelly, Anaheim Ducks: It wasn't long ago that Smith-Pelly seemed like a bit of a long-shot to make the roster. But he's giving his best effort to make it a tough call on the staff. He has seemed to work well with Andrew Cogliano and Andrew Gordon on the third line. Averaging a little more than 11 minutes per game, he has picked up one assist. Verdict: Have a feeling he stays since he can't be recalled if he's sent to juniors again. Few more games will tell the tale for sure.

Mika Zibanejad, Ottawa Senators: This is a tough call. From a physical standpoint, Zibanejad seems ready. This hit from his European days pre-draft drew a lot of attention. And earlier this year, GM Bryan Murray said Zibanejad would stay with the Sens. But with just one assist in 12:35 per game and Ottawa being as dreadful as it has been, you wonder if he wouldn't benefit more by being sent down. Verdict: Should probably return to Sweden but gut tells me he stays in Ottawa.

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