Intriguing NHL Storylines at the Ten Game MarkPosted on October 25, 2013 by Thomas Mee
The NHL season has basically reached the 1/8 point, as most teams have reached the 10 game mark or are close to it. At this point, some trends have developed which are worth noting and following to see what they mean in the context of the long season. What follows are the most intriguing storylines, in this writer's humble opinion, in no particular order.
1. The Western Conference's utter dominance of the East in interconference play. At this writing, the West has an astounding 44-21-8 mark vs. the East, indicative of clear dominance. Only 1 Eastern squad, Tampa Bay, has a clear advantage thus far. Four others (Toronto, Pittsburgh, Montreal and the Caps) are slightly above water. No comparisons with last season are possible, as there were no interconference matchups in the shortened season. The domination by the West has playoff implications. Most observers had believed that it would be more difficult to make the playoffs in the East as a result of the fact that there are now 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West after realignment. If the West continues to dominate, it will be possible to make the playoffs in the East with a mediocre record.
2. The Colorado Avalanche are the NHL's most surprising story thus far, in a positive sense. The Avalanche, who finished dead last in the Western Conference in the lockout shortened season, are 8-1-0. Most NHL pundits had them out of the playoffs again. Instead, they are flat out dominating teams, behind the stellar goaltending of former Cap Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere. Last summer's overall #1 draft pick, Nathan MacKinnon, seems to be the real deal. Lastly, the team is clearly responding to the emotional leadership style of new coach and former Avalanche Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy. They seem to reflect his intensity. Whether that wears well in the long run remains to be seen. Still, they should be an interesting team to follow as the season moves along.
3. The Buffalo Sabres are really bad. This franchise is clearly in need of a rebuild. It's hard to imagine that longtime GM Darcy Regier can survive. The team is a mess, and seems to be getting worse by the night.
4. Can the Flyers and Rangers recover from their early season struggles? Both of the Caps Metro Division rivals have come slowly out of the gate. The Flyers fired their coach 3 games in and have not shown much improvement thus far under new coach, Craig Berube. The Rangers start is even more puzzling, given their status as one of the division favorites going into the season. The uneven play of all world goaltender Henriq Ludqvist has to be particularly troubling to Rangers followers. As with the Caps last season, the Rangers are adapting to a new style of play under new coach Alain Vigneault. They do get something of a pass due to opening the season with a nine game road trip as a result of renovations to Madison Square Garden. Of the two teams, one would think that the Rangers have a better chance of recovering, but time will tell.
5. The return to form of Caps star Alexander Ovechkin. It's hard to believe that at this time last year, most NHL observers saw Ovi as a player whose luster had dimmed considerably and speculated as to whether he could get back to his prior superstar status. That narrative has been shredded as a result of his scorching play which started in the second half of the lockout shortened campaign and has continued into the first 10 games of this season. The role Adam Oates has played in this renaissance cannot be overstated.
6. The Penguins and the Bruins are clearly the class of the East thus far. No, I don't want to write about it and you don't want to read about it either.