By Amanda DiPaolo
Every team in the Western Conference has played at least 12 games. It’s a little early to say some teams are legitimate contenders while others have already played themselves out of the playoff race. But there are some early surprises. This week’s Wild Wild West looks at the top five surprises of the Western Conference through the first dozen games.
5. Chicago is still good — Through 17 games, Chicago is 8-8-1. Ok, it isn’t the best record in the league and they are sitting in fifth in the West a little bit because they have played two games more than Anaheim and four games more than anyone else. However, after losing 10 regulars from the lineup as well as both goalies from last season’s Cup winning team, it would not have been surprising if the Blackhawks found themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference standings along with Edmonton.
4. Nashville’s collapse: After starting the season 5-0-3, it appeared the Nashville Predators were for real. After all, the had accumulated all those points with significant injuries to their lineup. Sergei Kostitsyn had a broken toe. Marty Erat was out with back spasms. Marcel Goc separated his shoulder. Matthew Lombardi suffered a concussion. The worst injury of all was Olympic silver medalist Ryan Suter has been out of the lineup since October 19th when he suffered a lower body injury.
With all the injuries and the collection of wins and points, it seemed as though Nashville had depth only found in the truly great teams. The Detroits of the NHL. But the St. Louis Blues handed the Predators their first loss in regulation on October 28th and Nashville has not won a game or even collected a single point since.
Currently on a five-game losing streak, the Predators are spiraling out of control with an ineffective power play and some confidence issues in net. Anytime the Predators score three goals, they should win the game. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is usually such a fantastic goalie that he steals the Predators points. Right now, he is costing them points. In the last four games, Nashville is average 4 goals per game from a pair of goalies that earlier in the year were averaging 2.0 goals per game.
3. Patrick Sharp — Sharp has 10 goals on the season, tied for second in the NHL. Four of those goals came on the power play, which is good to be died for fourth in the league on power play goals. In 15 games, the Winnipeg native has a league leading 63 shots on the goal too. What is most surprising is that Sharp is a -10, despite the 10 goals. Last year, in 82 games, Sharp had 25 goals for the entire season.
2. Antti Niemi — Having only one win in five games, Niemi is going through the ultimate sophomore jinx. With a 3.90 goals against average and a .872% save percentage, the decision by Chicago to walk away from the Stanley Cup winning goalie seems to have been, at least for now, the right one.
1. St. Louis Blues — Most pundits picked the Blues to make the playoffs, but barely. So far, the Blues are showing the rest of the League why team management put faith in goaltender Jarosalv Halak, as if taking the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals wasn’t enough. With just one regulation loss this season, against central division rival Nashville Predators, the Blues have a 9-1-2 record. They are off the their best start in franchise history!