We’re about a quarter of the way through this truncated NHL season, and that seems like a good time to have a look at some of the players who are putting up impressive numbers so far.
But while it’s not exactly a shock to see names like Stamkos, Crosby, and Rinne near the top of various categories, some of this year’s other leaders are less predictable. Granted, we’re dealing with a dozen games or so in most cases, so your “small sample size” warning light should be blinking rapidly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to recognize some early season surprises.
When you look around the NHL, you find several teams with unquestioned no. 1 goaltenders. Barring injury, players such as Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, and Pekka Rinne will be starting every big game for their teams all year long, with an occasional break when the schedule serves up an also-ran.
But not every team’s situation is quite so settled. In some cases, the starter’s hold on the job is shaky. In others, two guys are splitting time equally.
Let’s take a look at some of the teams where the title of no. 1 goalie is still up for grabs.
It’s probably foolish to try to read anything into two days’ worth of games, especially when half the players in the NHL are still trying to get back to pre-lockout form. But that’s no reason not to try, so here are 10 random observations from the NHL’s opening weekend:
The Blues made a statement
The St. Louis Blues entered the season as a trendy pick to win the Western Conference. They looked the part Saturday, pummeling the Detroit Red Wings, 6-0, and outshooting them, 17-2, in a first-period display that played out as a near-perfect depiction of Ken Hitchcock hockey.
The game also featured the breakout performance of opening weekend, with Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko scoring a pair of goals, including a filthy individual effort in his NHL debut. The 21-year-old 2010 first-round pick has spent the last few seasons in the KHL, and could make a major impact if he can bring consistent production to a Blues offense that wasn’t exactly intimidating last year.
But while Tarasenko could be the league’s next big star, let’s hold off on the hype until we see him do it against an NHL-caliber defense.
After an exhaustive six-hour training camp, the NHL makes its long-awaited return Saturday. And while it’s been easy to forget over the past few months of lockout negotiations between grim-faced men in suits, hockey is a sport played on ice by actual hockey players.
Let’s take a look at some of them now. Here are 10 players who’ll be especially interesting to keep an eye on over the next few months:
The Ottawa Senators reserve goaltender Robin Lehner sure picked a good time for his first career shutout: two days after the Senators traded for St. Louis's highly touted netminder Ben Bishop. A little competition never hurt anyone! The trade took place after Senators starting goalie Craig Andersonsliced his finger badly enough to preclude him from playing; Lehner was also called up from the AHL's Binghamton that day and made 28 saves in a 5-2 victory over the Islanders.
It was on Tuesday, though, that the fiery 20-year-old — who became the youngest Swedish goalie to play in the NHL last season when he debuted just two months after turning 19 — really made his mark. Lehner stopped all 32 shots that came his way for the 1-0 shutout victory in Boston, where he was named the game's first star. (Bishop, who was assigned to Binghamton, picked up first-star honors for the AHL affiliate the same night.)
It will be interesting to see what unfolds between Lehner and Bishop. Last season, Lehner helped lead the Binghamton Senators to the AHL's Calder Cup and was named MVP of the playoffs; this year, Bishop has been the AHL's top regular-season netminder for the Peoria Rivermen and was even named the MVP of the All-Star Game.