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Neutral Zone Wrap: When Panthers Attack

Evan Berofsky

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After weeks of wading through varying degrees of nonsense, we're back to the standard subject matter. And while you may not realize it yet, you'll be glad we started the team trends later than normal. If we've learned anything from the past, it's that early stats can often mislead us – and make us believe ideas that aren't true. In reality, not many people wanted to hear about Matt Cooke's goal scoring prowess or Johan Hedberg's run for the Vezina. Except maybe for friends and family of these two individuals. Or those in really deep keeper leagues.

Since this marks the inaugural review, then we'll be looking at what teams have started hot and which ones can't do anything right. You can decide who belongs in what group.

(NOTE: Throughout the season, the following will generally be based on information ending with Wednesday night games - unless stated otherwise.)

If you were to peg one franchise from the Sunshine State for improvement, then it would have to be Florida. The reports of Brian Campbell's demise were definitely premature, thanks to his role in the Panthers' league-leading eight power-play goals (assists on six of them). Kris Versteeg has also benefited with the extra man (five of his seven points), while fellow newcomer Tomas Fleischmann (three) looks to be comfortable on the top line. Unfortunately, other recruits Sean Bergenheim (one goal) and Scottie Upshall (no points, minus-4) haven't fared as advertised. Jose Theodore (2.47 GAA, .920 SV%, one shutout) may be the starter for now, but it won't be long until 2008 draftee Jacob Markstrom (solid NHL debut on Tuesday) takes control.

The Avalanche, unlike their name, are not in the process of falling. After a tough loss at home to Detroit, Colorado has gone on to five straight road victories. One would assume either Matt Duchene (three) or Paul Stastny (four) would be leading the club in scoring. It's early, so that honor currently rests with the quartet of David Jones, Milan Hejduk, Ryan O'Reilly, and Erik Johnson (all with five). Rookie Gabriel Landeskog (three, but leads with 23 SOG and second with 13 hits) doesn't look out of place on the pro ice. And take note Kyle Quincey (three, 10 PIM) is back and grabbing his share of the PP ice time. Both goalies have shown their skills, but the Avs invested too much in Semyon Varlamov (2.17 GAA, .940 GAA, 1 shutout) to let him sit on the bench.

Edmonton have been offensively anemic (10 goals in six), but are surprisingly solid on the back end. The exception to the former lies in the twin #1 tandem of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (five, including a hat trick vs. Nashville) and Taylor Hall (four). Ryan Smyth (three, 21 PIM) looks as if he hasn't left the Prairies, but Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark (both at zero) appear to be preparing for their joint vacation ... in the press box. Welcome back, Ryan Whitney (out since December after ankle surgery)! But beware of Corey Potter (two PPAs in three since being called up), who is stealing minutes and looks to be the Oilers' new man-advantage specialist. Devan Dubnyk or Nikolai Khabibulin? Don't judge by the early figures, but Edmonton may ride the Khabby Train (started two of six, but only allowed two goals combined) until it breaks down again.

Another club experiencing trouble scoring is Boston, as they have managed a whopping 11 goals in six outings. The problem is they blew seven of them in their two wins while wasting many opportunities in defeat. Without David Krejci (abdomen issue, could be back within a game or two), Tyler Seguin (leads with five) has assumed pivot duties on the first unit and hasn't disappointed. Rich Peverley (three goals) is certainly earning those new dollar bills while Brad Marchand (four, 20 PIM) has filled the stat sheet from both ends. Don't blame Milan Lucic (one, 14 PIM) for a slow start, but you may want to look at why Zdeno Chara (nothing but 25 PIM) seems to have stalled at the starting gate. And yet another goaltending battle is Bruin, er, brewing as old man Tim Thomas (1.98 GAA, .930 SV% in four) will continue to fend off young whippersnapper Tuukka Rask (2.52 GAA, .920 SV% in two) by trying to shoo him off the lawn.

Montreal have thrown the puck often at the opposition (first in NHL averaging just under 35 shots a night), but haven't been getting the results (only one win in five). Michael Cammalleri (leg injury, returns Thursday) is proving to be a key commodity out of the lineup. The kids are doing all right, namely Max Pacioretty (five) and David Desharnais (three, but receiving more power-play opportunities). Want to know who isn't doing OK? Erik Cole (one), that's who. Proving once again that you can take the boy out of the man, but don't you dare take the Cole away from the (Eric) Staal. And with Andrei Markov's (post-knee surgery complications) immediate-future up in the air, the Swiss blueline duo of Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz (both at two) have impressed so far. And while we've detailed the goings-on between the pipes the previous four paragraphs, there's no need to do the same here. Carey Price (2.78 GAA, .890 SV% playing every minute), your job is safe.