Beyond those crazy green men in Vancouver, it seems much of the hockey crowd creativity is stuck in the minor leagues.

We’ve reached that point in the season when we’re always counting something.

Leafs fans are counting how far back they remain in their pipe dream of a playoff hunt, in which the hockey gods are routinely concocting nightmare scenarios (see: Sunday). Habs fans are counting the number of goals their team has scored in the past six games, an effort that takes eight fingers. And Sabres fans are counting how many medical opinions Ryan Miller has received, hoping against hope that somewhere Dr. Nick can work his malpractice magic.

Most of all, we count down until the end of the season. The playoff races are exhilarating, but we’re ready for beards, mullets, and emotional CBC montages oddly mixed with early 90′s grunge. We’ve ready for overtime periods on top of overtime periods, causing that hangover-like affect throughout the office the following day, and the pride in being able to say that you beat the overtime, and stayed up until the final goal.

But out of every emotion we’re preparing for that comes with playoff hockey, the one that stirs the most anticipation is surprise. More specifically, the excitement of watching an unpredictable performance, whether it’s the goaltending heroics that we saw from Craig Anderson and Jaroslav Halak last year, or Joe Pavelski scoring nine goals over a stretch of 10 playoff games.

For that kind of youthful exuberance, it seems fitting to look to the game’s youth.

Top storyline: The myth of the sophomore slump

Depending on where the lower seeded playoffs teams lie once the thick cloud of dust at the bottom of the East settles, a nice handful of the league’s most exciting rookies could be under the spotlight of postseason play. If the Hurricanes can make a push, Jeff Skinner–who’s second on his team in scoring–will avoid the golf course, and if not then we’ll see Tyler Ennis and/or Derek Stepan. Barring an epic Habs collapse in the final week, P.K Subban–who is among the top 10 in defensive goal scoring– will bring his quiet, reserved act to the playoffs for a second time; ditto for Logan Couture.

With all of this thriving young talent emerging this season and potentially being tested in the playoffs, let’s freeze a moment and jump in the hockey time machine, beaming back to exactly one year ago. Often in our ridiculous and outrageous discussion of curses, black cats, and lucky marbles, we hear of the sophomore slump. In theory, the player in question thrives in his rookie season, and then takes a step backwards during his second year because of pressure, an adjustment by the rest of the league, or some other mythological power. All of this can be true, except that last part about myths and broomsticks. Players regress and adjustments are made by the opposition, but there is no wizardry at work.

Why look at this now? Simple perspective. A year ago Tyler Myers was being trumpeted as a giant gargoyle who just happened to hold a hockey stick. He was a no-brainer Rookie of the Year choice in 2010, but then started with a -10 rating over the first 12 games this year. Those famous two words–sophomore slump–were tossed around immediately last fall, but in reality Myers just had bad luck.

He bounced back just fine, along with most of 2009-10′s all-rookie team (sorry, Michael Del Zotto). Keep that in mind next year if James Reimer isn’t his teeny song-inspiring self right away in October.

Here’s how the rest of the 2009-10 all-rookie team fared this year. Del Zotto had the only massive drop off, although offensively he had been cold since the midway point of last season after scoring 20 of his 37 points over his first 33 games. The young defenceman was eventually sent down to the AHL this year before breaking his finger in early March.

There is certainly the expected second-year regression elsewhere, with Jimmy Howard struggling at times, and Niclas Bergfors’ goal-scoring dropping off, although his point total will hover around the same mark. But neither reached the lows of Del Zotto.

Jimmy Howard

Starts Wins GAA Save% Shutouts
2009-10 61 37 2.26 .924 3
2010-11 60 36 2.76 .909 2

Michael Del Zotto

Games played Goals Assists Points
2009-10 80 9 28 37
2010-11 47 2 9 11

Tyler Myers

Games Played Goals Assists Points
2009-10 82 11 37 48
2010-11 77 10 26 36

Niclas Bergfors

Games Played Goals Assists Points
2009-10 81 21 23 44
2010-11 69 12 24 36

John Tavares

Games Played Goals Assists Points
2009-10 82 24 30 54
2010-11 76 28 36 64

Matt Duchene

Games Played Goals Assists Points
2009-10 81 24 31 55
2010-11 76 27 35 64

Quick Hits

  • While we’re discussing youngsters possibly carving their name into playoff history, Couture is gaining momentum heading into the playoffs, and has four goals and six points in his last five games.
  • Steven Stamkos snapped what was a lengthy pointless streak by his standards with a goal Tuesday against Ottawa. But his three points in nine games are still troubling.
  • You either love Bill Simmons, or despise him. There’s no middle ground. But if you read his column from three years ago in the middle of the Habs/Bruins series, you quickly realize the power playoff hockey has in the league’s attempt to grow the game south of the border. You also realize that another Habs/Bruins playoff slugfest isn’t too far away potentially, which could result in a few more bloody couches around the Boston suburbs.
  • All but the truly delusional members of Leafs Nation have come to terms with their unofficially dead playoff dreams by now. It was a valiant second half run, but the hole dug in the first half was far too deep. Pick that chin up though, because there’s still a major reward coming from the surge, besides the obvious hope for next year with the improved play and the brilliance of Reimer. At one point, the Leafs’ first round pick being sent to Boston this year was as high as fifth overall. As of today the Bruins hold the 11th spot on draft day.

Plays of the Week(end)