Checking in With the NHL


This year’s NHL season is off to a strong and surprising start. Three weeks in, the teams to watch have begun to stand out. The Colorado Avalanche has been the season’s breakout team, re­bounding from a disappointing 2010 sea­son and shutout loss in its home opener to top the standings by winning five in a row on the road, including a victory over the defending cup champions in Boston. The young team has been banking on the strong goaltending of Semyon Var­lamov and its two upcoming home games versus Chicago will put it to the test. Still, the Avalanche have an easy look­ing schedule for the rest of October and the team is eager to prove themselves to their fans.

Of the 30 teams, only two remain unbeaten. The Red Wings and Capitals each sit at 4-0 and will face each other this Saturday. Eastern Conference favor­ite Washington leads the league in goals per game averaging 3.5 but suffers on penalty kills. However, this may pose no issue for Detroit, who is an abysmal 1-for-19 on the power-play.

On the other end of the spectrum, the winless Columbus Blue Jackets (0-4-1) had the roughest start in the NHL. Their highest profile offseason acquisition, defenseman James Wisniew, hasn’t even seen the ice as he serves out an eight-game suspension. With a tough upcom­ing schedule don’t expect too much out of Columbus unless goaltender Steve Ma­son can improve in the crease. At .889, his save percentage is the worst among starting goalies in the league.

Keeping Columbus company at the bottom of the standings are the Ottawa Senators (1-4) and the Winnipeg Jets (1- 3). The Jets, who returned to Winnipeg this season after relocating from Atlanta, were able to squeak out a win against the Penguins on Monday, but for the most part their performances have been unin­spired. The team is still getting settled north of the boarder and expects this season to be a building year.

The Buffalo Sabres recovered well from their first loss of the season against Carolina with a road victory over Pitts­burgh. At 4-1, they lead the league in goals per game thanks to powerful of­fensive performances by Thomas Vanek, Luke Adam and Drew Stafford, each with three goals apiece. Ever consistent goaltender Ryan Miller should make sure Buffalo is a team to watch throughout the season.

Unexpected wins have come from the New York Islanders, who ousted rival New York Rangers 4-2 to increase their record to 3-1. The Islanders have benefited from some of the strongest defensive plays in the NHL and a second best 1.5 goals against average. The winless Rangers (0- 1-2) face tough road games at Vancouver and Calgary, and with a league-lowest 1.7 goals per game and 0 percent on the pow­er-play, the Rangers need to find some inspiration soon.

Last year’s Stanley Cup contenders, the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, are both struggling to keep up with ex­pectations. The Canucks (2-2-1) have al­lowed 16 goals so far this season and the Bruins (2-3-0) have been coming up short on the power-play, just one for twenty. The season is still very young, and we can expect a lot of excitement on the road to the 2012 Staley Cup.

Contact John Palasqua at [email protected]