We're 20 Games In, So…What's Up?

Amazing how we are 20 games in and it feels as if the season started just a few games ago. It has also been a strange start to the season, but that’s not new. So where do teams stand after 20 games?So, thirteen teams have reached the 20-game mark. Some went up and down, a few cruised their way up in the stands, and some just flat out struggled. Here’s my analysis.

New York Rangers

12-7-1 and 25 points. Many expected a hot offense and a great goaltender to lead the Rangers while labeling the defense as mediocre. What’s happened with this team thus far? The defense is ranked number one in the NHL. A no name defense that ranks numero uno. Talk about mediocre. And here is something else, it scored all of the four goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night when trailing 2-0, and they go on to win 3-4 in OT. The system for these Rangers works. The offense has struggled due to some chemistry issues, but the Rangers have won nine of their last ten games. They find ways to win and that what makes up a good team. Scotty Gomez is finally starting to come around with Sean Avery and Brendan Shanahan as his wingers. Chris Drury still has UFA jitters and he struggles to do too much, but the guy is giving 100% effort every night. He is a winner and a good long-term investment. Jaromir Jagr has changed his game and he is playing like a true captain. He committs to backchecking, forechecking, and has improved Brandon Dubinsky’s game. The one part of that line that doesn’t seem to fit in is Marcel Hossa. Nonetheless, even Drury’s line with Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha has shown to be an offensive threat, and now the Rangers have three scoring lines. What happens if they don’t score? The defense does the work. Henrik Lundqvist has been at the top of his game as well.

Things are going well for these Rangers, and they have yet to reach their potential.

Pittsburgh Penguins

8-10-2 with 18 points and why is anyone shocked? Why did people rate them so high in season previews anyway? Their defense was mediocre last season and M-A Fleury very questionable. Just because Sid the Kid is on the team, doesn’t make them winners. But let me start by saying to leave Fleury alone. The guy has been poorly developed by the Penguins, he has no guidance, no good goaltending coach, if they even have a full-time goaltending coach. Don’t blame him for much. He started out as a young teenage goalie in the NHL and was never given the confidence he needed. I watch him play and he has amazing skills to be a top five goaltender, but he keeps making these rookie-like mistakes that definitely show he does not have a good teacher. He will NEVER be a solid goaltender in Pittsburgh and I believe he will need a trade at some point to be with a team that grooms him into the goalie he should become. The Penguins have more struggles as they are playing as a one-line scoring team, obviously Crosby’s line. Jordan Staal is struggling to find the net. The defense is in the bottom ten of the league, why am I not surprised though? Changes will eventually occur for the Penguins, and Michel Therrien may be the victim.

New Jersey Devils

8-10-2 and 18 points. When was the last time you saw the Devils be 14th in defense? New Jersey is a team that looks to have a strong second half, though. I have faith in Martin Brodeur to lead this team to the playoffs. I have been disappointed in Patrick Elias, who once showed me what a great leader he was, and his approach to the game. He does not seem interested. Zach Parise is stil lshowing his amazing skills and leads the team once again in scoring. So what’s wrong with this team? I think the defense is weak, their attitude is different, and it’s just not the same Devils team I’ve come to know in years. I believe they will make the playoffs, I like how Danius Zubrus is starting to come around, and I have faith in Coach Sutter too. I think this is a second half team, but definitely not as tough as the Devils were for years.

Toronto Maple Leafs

8-8-5 and 21 points. I waited to see how they would respond against the Ottawa Senators, and they did well. Ottawa played poorly, but the Leafs really came out and did everything that Coach Maurice wants them to do on a nightly basis. Thing is…..it’s not going to be a trend for this team to play like that. With a defense that is worth nearly $20M it’s just not right to be in the bottom of the league in goals allowed. The Rangers defense is worth about $10.6M and they are number one, while Toronto’s is worth nearly double and it’s nearly dead last. Goaltending has also been an issue. Both Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft have above 3 GAA, and are under .900 in SV%. Mikael Tellqvist of Phoenix has better numbers than those two goalies. What’s there more to say other than JFJ Jr. will be fired at some point this season. I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again. I like JFJ Jr. I think he is a good GM who is still learning and who has the right ideas. He has attempted to address every single issue on this Toronto team. They needed defense, he got defense, they needed a goalie, he got the goalie, they needed a winger, he got the winger. He had the right intentions, but poorly executed. He spent way too much on a defense that is second worst in the league. His goalies are troubled, and his offense is doing well but it can’t win games alone. JFJ needs to go to a small franchise team, with a low budget where he can really work hard to build a solid team through drafting.

Speaking of drafting, Jiri Tlusty will be an excellent player for the Leafs and what a cheap shot by whoever reported his silly photos when he was a youngster. That’s like trying to dig up dirt for politicians, cheap meaningless dirt. I found that to be disgracefull. We’ve all done crazy and stupid things in our lives, get over it. He didn’t have to apologize either. See, this is why Toronto is becoming a least favored team to play for. The pressure is ridiculous and the attention in your private life is too much. Bryan McCabe was considered a god, now he is considered a player worth dumping for a bag of pucks. He is having bad games, he makes mistakes that he’s always made. The guy grew up as a forward, is a great character player on the team, and so what if he sucks in some games. Yet, in Toronto……it does matter, you get boo’d. Now prospects are also picked on. Ridiculous. Tlusty is a great young hockey player, and the last thing this guy needs is such a distraction.

Carolina Hurricanes

12-6-3 and 27 points. This team confuses the hell out of me. They go through a stretch of games where they are unbeatable, and then they go through a stretch of games where they look average at best. Very inconsistent Hurricanes team this is. First of all, though, I am really not high on their defense. I think THAT’S a mediocre defense that plays lousy on some nights and plays correct in other nights. I am still not sold on the Hurricanes and I have a feeling they will fade by the second half of the season. Their offense is superb, though. All the forwards work great in every aspect of the game. The skill, the forechecking, backchecking, zonal positioning. When this team plays very well, it’s nearly flawless. Cam Ward is also starting to come around and has a good start to the season. This team needs to prove its consistency in the second half in order for me to consider it a top team.

Florida Panthers

8-12-1 and 17 points. Once again they are struggling in November. What is with this team and the month of November? One of the mian issues this team had was lack of character and passion on the ice. Tomas Vokoun has called out on his teammates who have slacked too much and he did right. Richard Zednik and Radek Dvorak have been effective additions to the squad, but overall this team still has problems. They still make too many mistakes and when they do the opposition capitalizes on them. Jay Bouwmeester has been unimpressive to say the least, and I will add to this that I expect this to be Bo’s last season as a Panther. Also, Coach Martin doesn’t seem to be getting his message across well enough. I really believe it is the double duty position that he is in that inteferes too much, so I’d approve of Martin stepping down and finding a coach to take over the bench. Martin has proved to be a good GM and he should stick with that. I still believe that this is a good team that just needs to come into its own more consistently. When it plays well, it really plays like a winner that usually outshoots the opponents. I think they could use more skill up front, like a puck possession type of forward. Nathan Horton and Olli Jokinen are the best forwards so far. I’ve been really impressed with David Booth’s game. Once this team gets it right, it will roll.

Chicaco Blackhawks

11-8-1 and 23 points. Could this be the year that the hawks make the playoffs? I’d count on it. I just keep raving about this hockey club and the players. Can you believe I saw this unit of five out on the ice outplaying the mighty Detroit Red Wings in some shifts? Patrick Kane, Jonny Towes, Tuomo Ruutu, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. They average out to be 21 years old. Twenty-one years!!! What a great, young team. So much fun to watch and I think I am even getting myself a Kane 88 Hawks jersey. Whenever these guys are on Center Ice, I watch them play. I admire how they bonded. I admire how Robert Lang is appreciating this group of young players. You know what I like about this team? They play hockey. They have fun playing hockey, and they show it. I am thrilled with this Hawks team and I really hope to catch more Hawks fans on this Web site. And Patrick Kane………man is this guy good or what? He has got to be the best young US born player in the NHL right now.

Edmonton Oilers

7-12-1 and 15 points. They are the Canadian version of the Hawks, but not succeeding. And you know what? Who cares, but to a certain extent. Good young group of players that are trying their best to win. Will they? Of course they will do more losing than winning, but Oilers fans should be happy with what they are seeing from a really young group of NHL’ers. The only thing that irritates me on this team is Dustin Penner. I still say the guy is nothing more than a 3rd line goal scorer, and Kevin Lowe should get a kick in the ass because the Ducks are awaiting a top five, eight overall pick in 2008’s Entry Draft. For what? An overpayed average player. Anyway, just five games under .500. It’s not so bad and the Oilers can still find ways to patch things up and actually be a .500 team. Nonetheless, they are a cool Oilers team to watch.

San Jose Sharks

11-7-3 and 25 points. They are great and they also suck at times. Sharks defense is a bit of an issue even if numbers say otherwise. Generally speaking, they play solid D, but they ahve these moments of the most untimely defensive breakdowns that make the opposition score big goals. Jonathan Cheechoo is struggling and I am wondering if he will remain a Shark for the rest of the year. Devin Setoguchi is one heck of a player. Seven goals in 10 games, this kid is the next Cheechoo for the Sharks. Cheechoo is a very marketable winger. Only 26 years of age, and his contract is not too bad either. What many people don’t say about the Sharks is that they are one hell of a young team with Matt Carle, Setoguchi, Cheechoo, Marc-Andre Vlasic, and Milan Michalek. What a solid young nucleus that is with Steve Bernier also making attempts to be a heck of a player. Evgeny Nabokov is also playing very well as the starter. The Sharks are a great team, but their record should be much better than that. Only four games above .500 in twenty games isn’t not impressive, at all.

Anaheim Ducks

10-8-3 and 23 points. Stanley Cup hangover, and losing two top NHL players will get your team to lose, for sure. The Ducks have a lot of talent, but you can tell that they miss Scotty Niedermeyer, who may come back soon. I really did not understand Brian Burke’s reasoning behind waiving Ilya Bryzgalov. I just did not get it. Sure he could not get anything for him….now, but what about later on in the season when weaknesses become glarring for teams? Burke had nothing to lose by keeping Bryzgalov as his back up for 15 more games or so. Nothing to lose. So, he is definitely up to something and if not I must say it was a bad move. A huge issue for the Ducks is offense. It should be scoring a lot more as they are ranked just 26th in the league, and it appears like it won’t get much better either. Still, the Ducks have won four games in a row and things will change for this Cup defending team. Will it be a trade, or will it be #27 coming back? By the way, speaking of the number 27, how classless is it for the New Jersey Devils to allow a minor leaguer, Mike Mottau, to wear that number? I thought they should have showed more class for Niedermeyer.

Anyway, that’s all the teams that have reached 20 games. Soon I will write up another part for the next teams reaching the 20 game mark. Enjoy this fun hockey season. It’s very interesting and quite a crap shoot, but that’s what makes it fun.

Thanks for reading as always,

Micki Peroni