Every year a few teams overachieve, and a few teams do the opposite. Because we’re positive happy people here at Backhand Shelf (and to counterbalance the podcast today), I thought we’d take a look at three teams exceeding expectations from both conferences.
During preseason prediction season, there weren’t many people who picked Florida to succeed (I did, but again, I thought the Jets would be okay too). Hell, a lot of people laughed at them after they overpaid a number of middling NHLers that few thought could carry a hockey team. But man: Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleishmann and Stephen Weiss have combined for 73 points over the teams initial 24 games, meaning they’re averaging slightly over a point-per-game per player. They might be the best line in the league so far. Jason Garrison has emerged as a stud, and his d-partner Brian Campbell is making his contract seem less ridiculous.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Phil Kessel has been the MVP of the league so far, with 31 points (including 16 goals) in 24 games. To help him out, Joffrey Lupul is on the front page of the scoring leaderboard as well, with 29 points in 24 games. Combine that with Dion Phaneuf’s Norris-esque play, and a major increase in depth, and it’s not hard to see why this team is being taken seriously this season.
New York Rangers
“Overachieving” is subjective, but I don’t think many people thought they’d be FIRST in the NHL in point percentage (grabbing .690% of all available points so far) with 25% of the season schedule completed. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards are humming along near a point per game, Lundqvist is shutting the door as he always does, and they’ve been getting extremely solid defensive play from the likes of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. There’s plenty of reasons for Rangers fans to be happy with their squad this year.
The Wild have acheived their place atop (yes, atop) the Western Conference standings largely because of spectacular goaltending. Both Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have crazy numbers: Backstrom: 2.09 GAA, .932 save percentage. Harding: 2.10 GAA, .933 save percentage. That’s some Jennings Trophy stuff right there. The team is deeper than they have been in the past, and it’s all adding up to something special for them thus far.
Dave Tippett. Dave Tippett Dave Tippett Dave Tippett. The team’s leading goal scorers are Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney – not your typical offensive stars. Their suddenly-stud of a goalie is…Mike Smith. It’s just confounding that this team continues to win, year in, year out, but they do. There’s nothing you can say here except “credit where credit is due: Dave Tippett is doing a spectacular job in the desert.” …So…credit where credit is due, Dave Tippett is doing a spectacular job in the desert.
They’re starting to fall back to earth of late, but for a team many picked to finish 13th and below, they’re not in a bad position. The Stars, like the Wild, have also gotten great goaltending. Kari Lehtonen has carried the load: 19 games played to the tune of a 2.34 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson have excelled, becoming point-per-game players for the Stars, while surprises like Sheldon Souray (13 points) and Eric Nystrom (8 goals in 19 games) have given the Stars the spark they’ve needed to push their way into the mix this season.