A couple weeks ago I picked Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes as the top goalie in the league so far this season. He has played a lot of games and played very well so far this season behind a team that has allowed a lot of shots. Another goalie has played a little bit better in a very heavy role with his team in Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. I think he is current best goaltender so far this season.
There are some other goalies who are bigger names than either who have played well, but have played behind better defences and have not faced as many shots, who might be better candidates to maintain their current level of play the entire season. They are Tim Thomas of Boston and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Brian Elliott of St Louis and Josh Harding of Minnesota have also posted some very good numbers, but neither have been clear cut starters so far this year.
It is usually a good rule of thumb that a team shouldn’t fire their coach if that coach would become the top available coach for the next team to hire. The Washington Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau on Monday. On Thursday the Anaheim Ducks hired Boudreau as their new coach and fired Randy Carlyle.
Anaheim has been struggling this season. After a playoff berth last season, they are second last in the West Conference. Perhaps their drop in the standings was predictable by their league-worst even strength Corsi last year, but there are enough positives on the team to expect they would have stayed out of the draft lottery.
It is easy to imagine that the current first place team might hold onto their lead for a while. They are the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a 14-10 record with four regulation tie points. Their +18 goal differential places them second best in the league. This record may not be a dominant one, but the impressive part of it is that most of the season so far has been played without their best player Sidney Crosby.
Crosby has only played four games so far, but he has posted a ridiculous nine points and a +7 +/- rating. Those are dominant numbers. He is eclipsing his past scoring rates. It is reasonable to suggest that Crosby won’t keep up that point per game rate over a full season but will likely still have the best point per game rate in the league.
This morning two Southeast Division teams have fired their coaches and replaced them with new coaches. The Washington Capitals have fired Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with former player Dale Hunter, who coached the OHL London Knights. The Carolina Hurricanes fired coach Paul Maurice and replaced him with Kirk Muller who had been coaching the AHL Milwaukee Admirals.
Boudreau’s firing is because he lost the star players, particularly Alexander Ovechkin, on his Capitals team. Ovechkin and Boudreau had public disagreements an Ovechkin’s playing time has been reduced compared to previous years. Ovechkin has 17 points in 22 games. That isn’t good enough from a player many picked to win the scoring title with Sidney Crosby missing the start of the season due to concussion.
A couple weeks ago I noted that TJ Hensick of the Peoria Rivermen (St Louis affiliate) was the top scorer in the AHL. He has been passed last night by Keith Aucoin of the Hershey Bears (Washington affiliate). Aucoin got four assists last night in their 5-4 loss against Lake Erie (Colorado affiliate).
Aucoin has 28 points, with a remarkably low four goals to go with 24 assists. Hensick is one point back at 27. Aucoin’s teammate Chris Bourque is the third serious player in the scoring race with 26 points. Nobody else has more than 23.
Aucoin is a veteran AHLer. He has been in the league since 2002. He has played 75 NHL games in that time. At age 33, he is no longer seen as a prospect to have a serious NHL career, but he is depth in event of injuries.
The Selke Trophy is given to the best defensive forward in the NHL. Reputation is a large part of how this award is decided in many people’s minds. I try to reject this because it is essentially gives an award for past accomplishments and not what was accomplished this season. When I pick the best defensive forward in a season, I am trying to pick a player based only upon this season. I last picked Boyd Gordon of the Phoenix Coyotes. He is a very good penalty killer who is having a good season. He isn’t the traditional Selke Trophy candidate because he isn’t much of an offensive player and you need a few points to get noticed for the award.
There are several very good Selke candidates who are better offensive players. There is Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, but I think the best candidate right now is Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars.
The NHL season is about a quarter over. Currently in first place is a surprise team the Minnesota Wild. They have a 13-8 record with three regulation tie points for 29 total points. This record is not outstanding for a first place team. It shows that no team has run away with the league (at least not yet). Minnesota has only a +8 goal scoring differential. That is remarkably low for a first overall team.
The Minnesota Wild have thus far succeeded due to goal prevention and not goal scoring. They have the best goals against in the NHL right now at 1.95 goals against per game. Both Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have posted very good numbers in goal. They have benefitted from a strong defensive system played in front of them.
Brian Elliott is into his fourth NHL season. He came into the NHL as an Ottawa Senator. After two mid-level seasons he was entrenched as the Sens number one goalie. This is more of a testimony to the lack of a top goalie in Ottawa than it is to Elliott’s top level play. In his third season his playing level dropped. By the end of it, Elliott found himself traded to the Colorado Avalanche. He posted an .893 saves percentage and a 3.34 GAA. These were such poor numbers that he was the worst player in the league by goals versus threshold last season.
Elliott’s NHL career was in jeopardy. He was given another chance when he signed as a free agent with the St Louis Blues this summer. It was potentially a last chance. He was slated to be the Blues seldom used backup behind Jaroslav Halak. If he failed, Jake Allen and Ben Bishop are young goalies ready to step in.
The Boston Bruins got off to a poor start this season. They were in last place in the East Conference in late October. Since then they have pulled off a streak of nine straight wins. This moves the Bruins into fifth seed in the East and they have the best goal differential in the league. Despite early problems, the Boston Bruins will be fine this year and that should surprise nobody.
The simplified explanation is that Boston was suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover at the beginning of the season but it has worn off. That is over-simplified. The Bruins were never as poor a team as their early record showed. They had a strong goal differential throughout it. They also have required a lot of luck to pull off a nine game winning streak. Their pattern has perfectly fit the Stanley Cup hangover model and it is a combination of reality and random effects lining up in the same direction.
Ever since the NHL came back from the 2004/05 season that was lost due to the lockout, the story had been that Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were developing into and soon became the two best players in the league. By that story line, now that Ovechkin is 26 years old and Crosby is 24 years old, they should be closing in on their primes and their dominance should be near its maximum. Ovechkin has won two Hart Trophies and Crosby won one, but their last win was in 2009. Since that time they have both fallen from dominance.
Sidney Crosby lost the last half of last season to concussions. He is yet to play this season. He is slated to play his first game this season tonight. It isn’t clear if Crosby will be the same player he was before the concussions. Even with a step backwards he would remain an NHL star. He might come back as he NHL’s top player, but I would guess things won’t be that simple.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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