Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins: JKlau's NHL Early Season Shockers

With the close of the first month of NHL hockey, and with most teams in the league hovering around 11 games played, the NHL season is starting to take shape.

Every year, the Conferences, Divisions and final playoff spots always seem to come down to the few final days of the season, making these early points all the more important. While good starts from teams like the Chicago Black Hawks and Washington Capitals come as no shock, a few other teams, and players, are changing the game in the NHL, and surprisingly putting their stamp on this young season.

Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers, who finished last in the NHL two years in a row, are showing the hockey world what they’ve got. And what they’ve got, is Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent Hopkins, the last two first overall picks. Nugent-Hopkins, or RNH as he’s referred to in Edmonton, is scoring at a point per game clip, and is as good a skater as you’ll see in the league. Many questioned his size and if he would be ready to play at this level, and RNH has answered those questions early. Taylor Hall is avoiding the sophomore slump.

Edmonton's D, which originally looked like it had some depth issues, is playing well. Corey Potter, who has already played more games this year than in his entire career before this season, is shaking off the "career minor leaguer" title and is on their top PP unit. Nikolai Khabibulin is proving age is just a number, reclaiming the starting job even though Devyn Dubynk is also having a stellar year in net.

The Oilers will have to answer some questions though. People will continue to question whether or not they can keep up this kind of pace for a full season. Those answers have yet to be seen, but they have already surprised us with this start, no reason they can’t surprise again.

Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent Hopkins share a post-goal, October giggle.

Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs
Look atop the scoring leaders and who do you see? None other than Phil Kessel. Yes, the same Phil Kessel who Leafs GM Brian Burke was blasted for trading all the draft picks he did to acquire him. OK, so the Bruins did use the first round pick they got to pick Tyler Seguin, and they did go on to win a cup, but that’s beside the point.

The Leafs are leading their division, largely because of Kessel’s 18 points through the first 11 games. Joffrey Lupul, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, is at a point per game clip, and so is defenseman, and captain, Dion Phanuef. Goalie James Reimer got off to a good start before suffering a concussion. They definitely need to have him back soon.

With Jonas Gustavsson in net right now, the Leafs instantly look a little less dangerous. Still, the hot start of Phil Kessel has propelled them in to a division lead, something nobody expected to see at any point this year.

Tim Connolly and Phil Kessel express mirth as they MTG.

Boston Bruins
A negative surprise here, the Boston Bruins sit last in the Eastern Conference. Could it be that the defending cup champions have lost their edge? Tyler Seguin is producing and Milan Lucic doesn’t look so bad. But the Bruins will need more from Brad Marchand, and Dennis Seidenberg on D if they are going to turn this around.

The Bruins are surprisingly struggling to get the early points. While I fully expect them to turn it around, it is definitely worrisome for beantown to see their boys in the black and gold struggle this early on in the Cup defense. Perhaps skating the Cup around their ice in a their Banner celebration has left a curse?

Sure looks like a curse from here, brah.

Even though the season is still young, these early points will prove to be crucial in the long run. Of course, Boston has the potential to turn it all around and be a major contender. And Edmonton, and Toronto still have a lot to prove. But these 3 shockers are looking like they will prove this writer wrong.

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