Yesterday, we took a look at a few things that were surprising in the Western Conference. Today, we’re going to give the same treatment to the East. I can’t say there have been as many surprises in the Eastern Conference thus far—but that’s mostly due to the fact that most people had NO idea what to expect in the East. We knew the Capitals, Penguins and Devils were going to be good. And they are. We figured the Lightning and Thrashers would be near the bottom of the standings. And they are. But just like the West, there are some things that are going on that would surprise most NHL fans.
Team that has most exceeded expectations: Buffalo Sabres. Before the season, the Northeast Division was one that no one could really figure out. You could have asked 5 different people what they thought was going to happen with the division and could have heard 5 different answers. But no one saw the Sabres absolutely running away with the Northeast, did they? This is what happens when an entire team buys into the defensive philosophy of their head coach and the GM provides the right TYPE of player. It helps to have the odds on favorite for the Calder Trophy develop before our very eyes. And that Ryan Miller guy—he’s pretty good.
Others receiving consideration: Ottawa Senators
Team that has been most disappointing: Carolina Hurricanes. Let’s face it—they’re awful. Last season they eliminated the New Jersey Devils and top-seeded Boston Bruins en route to an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. This season—they might have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by the Winter Classic. They bounced Rod Brind’Amour from the captaincy hoping that Eric Staal might be able to lead them towards the next generation of Canes hockey. But seriously, did one of the best leaders in the game—who lead his team to the Eastern Finals last year AND led his team to a Cup—suddenly forget how to lead? I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.
Others receiving consideration: Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens
The player who has most exceeded expectations: Matt Moulson. This category might be a bit of misleading—considering there were absolutely NO expectations for Moulson coming into the season. The former Kings castoff made the team in Long Island for two reasons: he had a history with John Tavares and because they desperately needed warm bodies that could play at the NHL level. His 19 goals and 13 assists add up to about 30 points MORE than some Islander fans expected out of him. His scoring pace has slowed as of late, but just watching him from game to game, it’s apparent that he’s made the transition from AHL/fringe NHLer to legitimate Top 9 forward for years to come.
Others receiving consideration: Tomas Plekanec, Maxim Afinogenov, Tyler Myers
The most underwhelming player: Chris Drury. The easy answer here is Vesa Toskala, but he’s been so bad that there’s an entire site that has been re-dedicated to cheering game days when he’s benched (Pension Plan Puppets). Instead, I’ll go with the captain in that other media market that covers its team with a microscope: Chris Drury. The man is currently 206th in the NHL with 8 goals and 262nd in the NHL with 11 assists. Let’s put into perspective: Fedor Tyutin has more points than Drury. The apologists will wax poetically about how he brings leadership that can’t be measured in goals and assists. But considering he makes over $7 million per season, he doesn’t bring THAT much leadership.
“’Chris Drury’s scoring woes can be overlooked because he does the other things, like win faceoffs and kill penalties.’ Heard that four or five times this season, right? Well he lost a defensive zone faceoff that initiated Montreal’s first goal of the night (by the damned MexiCan’t) and he was on the ice on the penalty kill for Montreal’s sixth. Great work Cap.” –Scotty Hockey
Others receiving consideration: Evgeni Malkin, Alex Tanguay, Jason Blake, Bryan Little, Vesa Toskala
Other surprises: Toronto Maple Leafs’ penalty killing unit. To call the Leafs PK bad doesn’t even begin to adequately describe their futility. Thus far this season, they have been HISTORICALLY bad. The surprising part is that Ron Wilson has always coached teams that were good on the PK. With guys like Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin and the maturation of Luke Schenn, Toronto looked like they would have a much improved blueline. At least they expected to. 69.6% is a hair below those expectations.