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  • Five early-season NHL mirages Print
    Written by Frank Seravalli   
    Wednesday, 16 November 2011 09:00

    Fans of the Oilers, Bruins, Stars, Canucks and Senators shouldn't rush to conclusions about their teams based on the beginning of the season. For better or worse, there's plenty of hockey left to be played.

    Frank SeravalliIn October and November, with limited sample sizes and not enough contests to create distance in the standings, some NHL teams should come with a warning like those pasted on passenger-side car mirrors:

    Teams may be better or worse than they appear.

    Less than a quarter of the schedule has been played in a long season. However, the vetting process for teams' true identity is well underway. Here are five mirages in the standings through the first month and a half:

    1. The Edmonton Oilers are worse than they appear: After jumping to the top of the Western Conference standings, the Oilers are already beginning to fall back to Earth in the middle of November.  Yes, it has been an exciting start to the season. Edmonton city council approved a plan for a sorely needed new downtown arena and the Oilers' lottery draft picks are starting to show promise. That has been a welcomed, different sight in Oil Country.

    But the Oilers simply don't have the depth to continue to skate with the big boys in the West. Their five leading scorers – Ryan Smyth, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Shawn Horcoff – have combined for 63 points so far this season. The remaining 19 players who have played at least two games have combined for 41 points.

    Plus, Edmonton benefitted from playing nine of their first 11 contests in the province of Alberta. Their record was 7-2-2. They've since started November with six straight road games. Their record? Just 2-4-0. Welcome to the big league, boys.

    2. The Boston Bruins are better than they appear: Just one team, lowly Columbus, skated off to a poorer start than the Bruins, who were mired in the bottom of the Eastern Conference cellar on Nov. 1. They had collected just six points in the first 10 games. Clearly, the hangover came from a single Amstel Light ordered during their Stanley Cup celebration at the Foxwoods Casino.

    What a difference two weeks makes: Heading into Wednesday's action, Boston has reeled off six straight victories to climb back into the Eastern Conference race. They're simply too talented with Tim Thomas in net, the man who evens everything out for Boston.

    Boston's most telling stat is its plus-18 goal differential through 16 games, the best (by 14 goals) of any team not currently in a playoff-qualifying position in either conference. That will soon change.

    3. The Dallas Stars are worse than they appear: Speaking of goal differential, which NHL team raises an eyebrow for most questionable ratio in the Western Conference? How about the Dallas Stars, who have suddenly lost three in a row and are just 5-5-0 in their last 10 games after leading the conference at one point during November.

    Jamie Benn has a one-way ticket to superstardom – no pun intended – for those that haven't had the chance to watch him much. For my liking, though, the Stars are awfully thin down the middle. Their four centers are Mike Ribeiro, Vernon Fiddler, Toby Petersen and Jake Dowell. Does that sound like a Stanley Cup playoff team to you?

    Still, Kari Lehtonen (11-3-0, .925 save percentage) seems to have answered any lingering questions about his health and frame of mind. He could singlehandedly keep Dallas in the hunt, but not at the top of the standings.

    4. The Vancouver Canucks are better than they appear: Shocker. Let's not forget, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin have missed the linemate, Ryan Kesler, that helped carry them to within one win of the Stanley Cup. Kesler has played 13 games but is a shell of his former self after August surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip.

    With a goals against-average pushing 3.00 and a sub-.900 save percentage, Roberto Luongo has been far from good. Canucks fans have mercilessly let him hear it. Luongo will rebound. The defense has been suspect in front of him. Only three teams in the West – Chicago, Columbus and Colorado – have given up more goals this season.

    I firmly believe in the addition of David Booth, who needs more time to get acclimated after a somewhat surprising and emotional trade from Florida. Booth has seven points in 10 games. Once Kesler and Booth click, the Vancouver offense will regain its once-feared former status.

    5. The Ottawa Senators are worse than they appear: I've seen it first hand, having witnessed back-to-back seven-goal drubbings in October in Ottawa. Somehow, after a 20-minute closed door meeting with coach Paul MacLean after an Oct. 18 loss to the Flyers, Ottawa went on to win seven straight. Surely, the streak was powered by MacLean's mustache, the best ‘muzzie' in the league. Since Oct. 18, the Senators have collected 17 points with an 8-5-1 record. It's nothing short of a miracle.

    Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek have awoken to lead the Senators, but how long can it last with such a thin roster?

    Thankfully, the Senators made the right move by sending lottery pick Mika Zibanejad back to Sweden to play amongst his countrymen. Why have his contract expire in the summer of 2014 instead of the summer of 2015 to play in what will ultimately amount to a lost season?

    Jury still out: Minnesota, New York Rangers, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Toronto.

    Frank Seravalli covers the Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News. On Twitter: @DNFlyers

    Comments (2)

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    good article. I agree on all of them.
    M , November 16, 2011
    Actually, Benn is the Stars top line center. Mike Ribeiro is on the second line. The hugely underrated Vern Fiddler is on the third line. It's a good grouping.
    Ken , November 17, 2011

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    Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 November 2011 04:14