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Stamkos among the top NHL stories through first two months

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TSN.ca Staff
11/23/2010 10:27:58 PM
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From goal scoring prowess, to surprising starts, and a much-needed injection of creativity and flare to the all-star game, it's been quite an interesting first quarter to the NHL season.

Front and centre is Steven Stamkos, threatening to become just the sixth player in league history to hit the elusive 50 goals in 50 games mark. After potting a career-high 51 in just his second season, Stamkos has 20 goals through 21 games.

TSN analyst Darren Pang said that Stamkos is the best player through the first quarter, with a big assist from his setup man.

"It's Martin St. Louis' magic touch to Steven Stamkos, the sniper," Pang said. "But Steven Stamkos, clearly, of Guy Boucher's Tampa Bay Lightning, has been outstanding."

While Stamkos sits atop of the scoring pace for the first time, he's being challenged by a regular incumbent at the top in Sidney Crosby. Heading into Tuesday, the two were tied at 35 points each.

"He's chasing Steven Stamkos (in the goal scoring race), so the obvious answer is Steven Stamkos," said TSN insider Darren Dreger. "The (best) all-around player for me is Sidney Crosby."

And the youth movement doesn't seem to be stopping. While much of the attention has been on 2010 first and second overall picks Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, other rookies have asserted themselves.

Hall's teammate, Jordan Eberle, kick started the goal of the year campaign with his highlight reel marker against the Flames in his first game - easily the goal of the quarter. Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Sergei Bobrovsky came out of nowhere to take the starter's job in Philly and has an 11-3-1 mark in 16 starts this year.

The biggest goalie news in the first quarter may be in Montreal and the much improved play of Carey Price. After Price went through a few years of growing pains, the Habs dealt last year's playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the Blues, leaving Price as the only choice in net.

And he has responded. Price leads the league in wins with 12 and shutouts with four. He ranks third with a .932 save percentage and sits fourth with a goals against average of 2.05.

He also leads all goaltenders with over 70,000 write-in votes for the all-star game, even though he was left off the 2011 NHL All-Star Fan ballot.

Speaking of the all-star game, the midseason showcase will have a new wrinkle. The NHL and the Player's Association agreed this month to alter the format of the game, which will be played in Raleigh on Jan. 30.

Captains will select the two teams from the pool of available players in a live draft. Fan balloting will account for six players - one to start at each position - while the NHL's hockey operations staff will select the others.

Two teams have surprised for entirely different reasons at the quarter-season mark.

In New Jersey, the Devils sit in 14th in the Eastern Conference with just six wins and 14 points. The slow start has only worsened with an elbow injury to Martin Brodeur.

And all season, the team has had to endure the Ilya Kovalchuk saga. In 20 games, the $100 million free agent acquisition has netted four goals and has been a healthy scratch in a game this season.

"I'm hanging out my research team," Dreger joked. "In the preseason, prior to the start – we're talking about NHL coaches – they picked the New Jersey Devils to be a Stanley Cup contender. Well, they're obviously not that."

 Both Pang and Dreger labeled the Russian winger as the biggest disappointing player thus far.
 
On the other end, the Columbus Blue Jackets are tied for the most wins in the Western Conference with 13.

"Scott Arniel has done a great job," Pang said " (Jakub) Voracek, (Derick) Broussard and (Rick) Nash are leading this team and Marc Methot on the blueline is very underrated."

Added Dreger: "It's easy to look at the offence that Rick Nash is (providing) but for me it's about the competition they have in goal and defensively this team is very strong across the board."

The Jackets would be first in their division if not for the outstanding start by the Detroit Red Wings. After their slide to fifth in the West last season, they have returned to typical Detroit status - at least for the quarter pole, anyway - sitting in first with a 13-3-2 record and a West-best 28 points.

Pang called them the best team of the first quarter.

"They never go away. They simply don't quit," Pang said. "Every single game no matter what the score, they believe they will come back and win and they've been doing that with regularity."

Plenty of attention was given to Canucks' fourth line tough guy Rick Rypien for his actions in Minnesota Oct. 19, when he grabbed a fan while leaving the bench. Rypien was hit with a six-game suspension.

That was the longest suspension of the first quarter, as 13 suspensions were handed out in all, totaling 29 games. Of those, eight involved some form of a check or hit to the head. Two were judged blindside hits, the first suspensions of their kind since a new rule was implemented last spring.

As for players that have surprised them this year, Dreger and Pang listed a pair of Colorado Avalanche players - forward Chris Stewart, and defenceman John-Michael Liles.

"I don't know why I say that, because (Stewart) scored 28 times last year for Colorado. I'm a little surprised he's sustained his scoring touch," he said.

"How many teams last year could have had John-Michael Liles last year for a draft pick? He wasn't very good early on, but in the playoffs, he was spectacular," Pang added. "He led the charge and he's been great. The transition game, getting up in the play. I really like the way he's playing."

Steven Stamkos (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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