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From the Pressbox: Early Surprises

Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno

Paul is a 22-year veteran of the STATS INC reporter network, scoring play by play for the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. He is also the creator of the statistical platform which evolved into the NHL's Real Time Scoring System, which was unveiled in 1992. You can also hear him on XM Sirius and nextsportsstar.com, talking hockey and baseball.In addition to all of Toronto's teams, he is also a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

Today, in From the Pressbox, we focus on teams that are off to surprising starts, positive and negative.

Eastern Conference

Tampa - The Lightning are off to a 6-2 start and are being led by the usual suspects who are pacing their prolific offense, which has scored almost five goals per game so far. Steven Stamkos leads this pack with seven goals and nine helpers. Veterans Martin St Louis (14) and Vincent Lecavalier (11) are also producing at better than a point per game pace. Rookie Cory Conacher, size-wise a St. Louis clone) is right in that mix and leads all first year pros with 12 points. No fewer than seven players have scored at least three goals each.

On defense, four veterans have also posted some impressive numbers. In terms of scoring, they are led by Matt Carle, with a goal and five assists, while Eric Brewer has three goals and two assists. Sami Salo leads the club with a (+10) rating and Victor Hedman follows closely with a (+9) mark. In fact no one on the roster has a negative rating at this point.

As good as the offense has been, the Bolts are equally pleased by the goaltending of Anders Lindback (5-1, 2.83 GAA) and Mathieu Garon (1-1, 2.03 GAA) who have combined for a .919 save percentage.

If they continue to get that kind of goaltending they will be easy winners of the Southeast Division race.

Montreal - Not many people saw this team getting off to a 6-2 start, but they have done just that, largely on the basis of a 5-1 home mark.

Success or failure for the Habs will be measured by the effectiveness of their perennial MVP, goalie Carey Price. There were some concerns expressed when he did not play any games in a European league during the NHL lockout and people wondered if it would take him a while to get into game shape. His answer is a 6-1 record punctuated by a 1.70 GAA and a sparkling .938 save percentage.

Among the top performers, we find one of the league's early feel-good stories in the four goal-four assist effort of defenseman Andrei Markov, who is hoping to stay healthy for this abbreviated season. The Habs were dealt a significant injury setback with the emergency appendectomy that winger Max Pacioretty was forced to undergo. It is expected that he will be out until early February.

On the plus side, Montreal fans have to be thrilled with the fact that two rookies have made the grade and injected some much needed depth and spark to the offense. Top draft pick, rangy Alex Galchenyuk has a goal and six assists, while Brendan Gallagher has three goals and two assists. Perhaps even more surprising is that both players are at the top of the team's +/- ratings.

The challenge for the Habs will come when they go on the road to offset the heavy emphasis on their heavily skewed early home-ice-favored schedule.

On the flip side a couple of expected contending teams have sputtered out of the gate in the East.

Washington - The Capitals find themselves at the very bottom rung of the standings with a 2-6-1 mark.

Of course, the first player under the microscope in any analysis of the Capitals is Alexander Ovechkin. He is coming off the poorest season of his career when he slumped to 65 points in 78 games, marking the first time he averaged less than a point per game in a season, during his career. This season, he has not even met last year's pace in notching only two goals and two assists. To matters worse, he has not yet found a comfort zone with regular linemates in playing both wings with different partners to date.

At least their big offseason signing, Mike Ribeiro is producing offense, as he paces the Caps with two goals and eight assists so far. First-line center Nicklas Backstrom, is next with seven points. Hard-nosed winger, Joel Ward has gotten off to a hot start with four goals and a pair of assists.

Unfortunately, outside of Troy Brouwer (three goals) the Capitals have lacked consistent secondary scoring. That means the young goaltending tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby will be pressed to steal some games until the offense becomes more consistent. The keepers have been equally inconsistent, though, as they have combined for a 3.63 GAA and a poor .881 save percentage.

Philadelphia - The Flyers, usually among the leaders in the East, are currently mired second-to-last place in the Conference with a 3-6 record. The usually prolific offense has been limited to only 21 goals in the nine games and is a big problem when they have surrendered 26 tallies.

At least, the enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, has been pretty solid in posting a 2.40 GAA and a .920 save percentage. He has not been the problem.

The Flyers new captain and one of the league's most dynamic players from last season, Claude Giroux, has only six points to date. Matt Read's seven points lead the club in scoring, but he's scored all three of his goals in one contest. They also need much more than three points in five games from veteran Daniel Briere. It doesn't help matters that Scott Hartnell, the toughest player on the roster, and a team leader to boot, is out with a broken foot (four to six weeks, pun not intended).

Western Conference

Vancouver Most eyes have been on the Canucks, with an interest is seeing how they would cope with the uncertainty around their goalie situation, particularly after all of the off-season speculation surrounding Roberto Luongo. Give the man credit as he has shown tremendous focus and resolve in carving out a 2-0-2 record based on a glittering 1.46 GAA and a .944 save percentage. The expected successor to the number one goalie slot, Cory Schneider, has struggled with a 3.13 GAA and a sub-par .897 save percentage, prompting many Canucks fans to realize that sometimes the trades you don't make work out for the best. Long-term one of the goalies still is likely to be moved, owing to a combined $9.3M cap hit, but for now, Luongo has reclaimed his number one role here.

Zack Kassian, a budding power forward, with an impressive Junior hockey background, has thrived in the plum assignment alongside the Sedin twins, with five goals scored.

They have to be encouraged with the fact that Ryan Kessler, out with his ongoing recovery from a pair of off-season surgeries, is now back and skating at practice with the team. He will surely inject some life is an offense that has only produced 19 goals.

Anaheim The Ducks were a non-playoff team last year, but they have jumped out to a great 6-1-1 start.

This early success is based on their productive offensive, which is scoring almost four goals per game.

Signature players Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have gotten off to decent starts, while veterans Teemu Selanne (nine points) and Saku Koivu (eight points) actually lead the team. The best news is that a third line, featuring center Nick Bonino (three goals and two assists) is also clicking.

The high-scoring has obscured the ordinary start by top goalie, Jonas Hiller, who has a 3-1-1 record despite posting a 3.54 GAA and a sub-standard .871 save percentage. He is going to battle for playing time if rookie backup, Viktor Fasth (2-0, 1.44 GAA, .938 save percentage) builds on his early success.

Los Angeles The Kings, who are the defending champs, are currently mired in second-to-last place in the West, with a 2-3-2 record. They are too talented to continue at this pace and will need to improve quickly if they are going to be in a post-season berth after this short regular season.

Through their seven games only three players have scored more than one goal and they have only 15 in total. Oddly, the Kings struggled in much the same way early last season, before they went on their championship run.

Their collective malaise also translates to the defensive side of their game, where goalie Jonathan Quick has an .897 save percentage and backup Jonathan Bernier was pulled early after allowing four early goals in his only start.

All three of their above-noted multiple goal-scorers currently have a negative +/- rating to date. In addition, offensive mainstays Simon Gagne and Mike Richards have not yet scored any goals.

Drew Doughty, a lynchpin on the blueline, for both his offense and defense, has no goals, three assists and an unsightly -5 rating.

All of these numbers have to change quickly otherwise we will definitely see a new champion this season.

It may be viewed as a small sample size, in slotting these clubs as early surprises, whether good or bad, but the fact is that in a short season, time is of the essence. As always, teams that fall behind will have great difficulty in making up for lost ground.

Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).