Hockey, hockey, and more hockey

October 23, 2007 | Ed Frankovic

We are already about a 10th of the way through the NHL regular season, can you believe it? Below are some observations on what is going on around the league:

–     As of Monday night the #1 penalty killing percentage in the NHL belongs to the Columbus Blue Jackets at 92.1%. You could have given me 10 guesses on that question and I still would not have gotten it. Clearly Ken Hitchcock has this team playing as well as can be expected and former #1 overall pick Rick Nash is off to the best start of his career.

–     As of Monday night the #1 power play in the NHL belongs to the New York Islanders at 27.8%. The Isles would not be one of my top 10 guesses either. The formula for Coach Ted Nolan has been simple: Have point men Bryan Berard and Chris Campoli blast away from the point while Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko create havoc in front of opposing goalies.

–     Caps GM George McPhee didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement from his head coach about the personnel he currently has as witnessed by this quote from Glen Hanlon about the lack of goal scoring after the Caps 4th straight loss last Saturday night: "We have two players who played in the American Hockey League last year and one player who has played in seven games," he said, referring to forwards Joe Motzko, Tomas Fleischmann and rookie Nicklas Backstrom. "If you go through the rosters of a lot of teams, that’s not their makeup of their top six offensive forwards."  Caps fans are hoping Alex Semin is the answer to the Caps scoring woes. I’m not sure one guy can make that much of a difference for this team. The money spent on Tom Poti, Viktor Kozlov, and Michael Nylander was supposed to help the team score goals. I’ve never been a Kozlov fan and Nylander seems to only play his best with Jaromir Jagr.

–     Minnesota is off to another great start at 7-0-1 with the only loss coming in a shootout. Last year the team started 9-1 en route to the playoffs but the difference this year is the Wild have won every game in regulation where last year they won three of those nine in shootouts and two others in overtime. The key for the Wild is to keep Marian Gaborik healthy.

–     With Todd Bertuzzi out once again due to injury (another concussion) look for Ducks GM to either make a trade for a top 6 forward or try and convince Teemu Selanne to come out of retirement. They have backup G Ilya Bryzgalov (unrestricted FA at end of season) to offer as trade bait.

–     The Ottawa Sun is reporting that Alexei Kovalev and Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau are not getting along and Kovalev might be shipped to Calgary in exchange for Alex Tanguay. Don’t believe a word of this as Tanguay has a no trade clause and would have no interest in going to tax heavy Quebec. In hockey, The Ottawa Sun rivals the New York papers when it comes to trumped up stories about trades and personnel happenings. By the way, who can forget when Kovalev played for Mike Keenan in New York and the time Keenan taught Kovalev about taking shorter shifts by keeping him on the ice for over 7 minutes straight one night?

–     Nice problem to have: Ottawa has two #1 goalies right now with Martin Gerber (6-1, 93.6 save %) and Ray Emery (1-0, 96.9 save %; just returned from a wrist injury). Emery played well in the playoffs last year while Gerber struggled in the playoffs for Carolina two years ago so look for Emery to eventually take over the job. Having Gerber allows the Senators to bring Emery back slowly from the wrist injury.

–     The Flyers are 6-1 but have given up 30 or more shots in 5 of those games including 38 and 44 in their last 2 games, respectively. It will be interesting to see how they do on their upcoming 8 game road trip that starts in Florida this week. Martin Biron has been sensational but is historically very streaky so the Flyers need to shore things up in front of him or the fast start could go by the wayside with a bad road trip. With experienced leader Jason Smith on defense I see no reason why they won’t adjust and lower the shots against totals. This is a very good hockey team and if Mike Richards and Jeff Carter continue to develop they could be Stanley Cup Final contenders after finishing dead last in 2006-07. The Eastern Conference race is wide open once again.

–     Peter Forsberg is skating in Sweden after ankle and hernia surgeries and several teams have interest in his services. Forsberg was with Philadelphia most of the last two years but according to they only have just over $2M of cap room left for the year and Forsberg made $5.5M for a full year last season. Colorado has $5.2M and Detroit has $4.9M of cap room so perhaps Peter the Great will end up in one of those cities? Forsberg will likely cost a team around a pro-rated $4M based on the number of games he plays so teams will likely find ways to make cap room if they can convince him to play for them. Forsberg is not anywhere near the dominant force he once was but still would be a great #2 center on a contending team.

–     Most surprising team start from a positive perspective: Chicago Blackhawks (5-3). Rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have meshed well with veteran Robert Lang. If they make the playoffs ESPN’s John Buccigross will look like a genius for picking them in his pre-season predictions. I still don’t see it happening but they do have a great goalie in Khabibulin.

–     Most surprising team start from a negative perspective: New York Rangers (2-4-1). Adding Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to go along with Jaromir Jagr seemed to be the recipe for a great team but with Martin Straka hurt and Michael Nylander now in DC Jagr has been unable to get untracked. 1 goal in 7 games for Jagr will not get it done for the Blueshirts. Drury and Gomez have 5 Stanley Cup rings between them so Jagr should be taking advice from those guys more often but Jaromir is a very stubborn individual.

–     Best forward in the league so far: Henrik Zetterberg (17 points in 9 games and +5) of the Detroit Red Wings. Zetterberg has a point in all 9 Red Wings games and has goals in 7 separate contests. That is consistency.

–     Best defensemen in the league so far: Dion Phaneuf (2 goals, 5 assists in 8 games, +6 and logging almost 28 minutes of ice time a game). Phaneuf has just dominated the play when he has been on the ice and he is reminding me of the seasons Al Iafrate had for the Caps in 1991-92 and 1992-93 when he simply took over hockey games with his shot, size, and skating ability. Phaneuf is doing the same thing in only his 3rd year in the league. If you get a chance to watch a Calgary game you will enjoy seeing #3 play.

–     The Can’t Miss Game of the Week on TV is Tuesday: The New York Rangers at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Versus HD. Can the Rangers get untracked against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins?