Last week, the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes met up in a game that seemed like a snooze-fest before the season started. But instead of a battle for last place, the two teams are setting up to not only make the playoffs, but even challenge for home ice advantage in the opening round. I’m not ashamed to say that I had no clue that BOTH of those teams would be decent at this point in the season.
We all have expectations going into every season. You might expect your team to be a playoff contender and you might expect them to finish dead last—but you have expectations. The funny thing about the NHL season is that teams and players will do things that we couldn’t have anticipated.
Team that has most exceeded expectations: Phoenix Coyotes. Looking at the Western Conference standings, there are a few teams that could have made you a ton of money in Vegas. Very few people expected the Preds climb to out of the basement in the Central Division and the only thing the Avs were supposed to win was the draft lottery. But while both of those teams exceeded expectations, they were just dealing with actual hockey problems on the rink. Not only have the Coyotes thrived against competition in the tough Western Conference, but they have persevered as their ownership’s bankruptcy problems were the biggest story of the offseason. It’s almost like they’ve been a real life version of Major League—minus the California Penal League and JOBU.
Others receiving consideration: Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators
Team that has been most disappointing: Columbus Blue Jackets. The Edmonton Oilers might be miserable, but their expectations were a little lower. Not everyone thought the Oilers were going to make it to the second season. But last season, the Blue Jackets looked like a young team that was on the verge of becoming a perennial playoff contender. Young guys like Steve Mason, Rick Nash and Derick Brassard gave fans in Columbus the feeling that things were finally going to be different. Well, Steven Mason has played so poorly that he lost his starting job, there are people in Columbus that want to rip the C off of Nash’s chest and none of the young talent has managed to take the next step needed.
Others receiving consideration: Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues
The player who has most exceeded expectations: Dustin Penner. Since his arrival in Edmonton, he’s provided little more than material for jokes towards the Oilers’ management. He’s already reached both the 20 goal and 20 assist plateaus in less than 50 games. How good is that you ask? He’s already passed his goal total from all of last season, equaled his assist total and is about to BLOW by any totals he’s ever put up in Edmonton. In addition to his offensive exploits, he’s 3rd on the team with a plus/minus of +4. Not bad when you consider that there’s someone on the team at -22 (Horcoff).
Others receiving consideration: Henrik Sedin, Patrick Marleau, Brad Richards, Jimmy Howard
The most underwhelming player: John-Michael Liles. Liles entered the season as one of the candidates to represent the United States in the 2010 Olympics. Now, he’s fighting just to play on the Avalanche every night as he’s already been a healthy scratch in the 1st half of the season. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. After the coaching staff made an example out of him, he’s turned his play around. It still doesn’t change the fact that he’s fallen TERRIBLY short of all expectations.
“He was in the Tony Granato doghouse for awhile there and may not have fully climbed out of it, but he’s playing like a man who’s pretty pissed off now. He has seven points in six games since his healthy scratch. Poolies love it when their players get the ‘I’ll show ‘em’ attitude.” –Dobber (via Puck Daddy)
Other Surprises: Paul Kariya, Derick Brassard, Devin Setoguchi
Random Surprises: A couple of random surprises have come from the Central Division this season. The St. Louis Blues have had a hell of a time winning at home so far this season. To be honest, they’ve had a hard time winning games period—but the inability to win at Scottrade Arena ended up costing Andy Murray his job. For a team that had such a good finish to the season last year—and was getting Erik Johnson back healthy—the season has gone sideways from the very start.
Another shocker from the Central has been the Detroit Red Wings’ injury problems. No one could have foreseen the amount of injuries that the Wings would have to endure this season. It’s not just that they’ve had injuries—but they’ve had SERIOUS injuries to IMPORTANT players. In the past, a couple of secrets to the Red Wings’ success were health and depth. They didn’t get hurt often, but when they did they had capable players to step up. There’s never a good time to lose Mikael Samuelsson, Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky—but the Wings injury problems have just magnified the problem.
There are plenty of things that have been surprising to plenty of different people. What have you seen in the West that floored you? Are there any players or teams that we should have mentioned but left out? I’m sure that there will be no shortage of opinions in the comment sections.
Tomorrow, we’ll get into the Eastern Conference and some of the Things That Made Us Go Hmmm. I don’t want to ruin the suspense—but no, we’re not surprised the Capitals are good.