Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2013 11:02
The Boston Bruins are rounding back into championship form after a defeat of the Candadiens last week vaulted them back into first place in the East.
With the NHL season finally back up and running after the 113-day lockout that ended in early January, hockey enthusiasts are reveling in the league’s quick return to something near its pre-lockout form, with a number of teams jumping out of the gates to hot starts and young stars continuing to progress.
Though high-profile games like the NHL All-Star game and Winter Classic were canceled due to the lockout, this shortened season has thus far given hockey fans enough excitement and activity to cheer about. Here are some important things to watch for as the NHL season nears the end of its first month of play.
Standout team performances
To the joy of the Greater Boston area, the Bruins currently sit first in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins hold a 7-1-1 record and rank second overall in penalty-killing percentage.
Veteran center David Krejci leads the team in points with nine, while left wing Brad Marchand sits atop the team’s goal leaders with five. The Bruins have had heated overtime contests against the Winnipeg Jets and New Jersey Devils, both of which resulted in shootout victories for Boston.
Though Marchand and other key players have been struggling with injuries, the Bruins have shown resiliency, and will look to continue their success on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who currently sit just two spots behind the Bruins in the Eastern standings.
While the Bruins are dominating on one coast, the Western Conference is a bit more competitive after hot starts to the season from both the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks. Both teams have been handling their opponents, as the Blackhawks lead the league in penalty killing percentage and the Sharks are second in goals against.
The two powerhouses met Tuesday in the Shark Tank at San Jose, and it was the young gun right wing Patrick Kane who helped the Blackhawks escape with a 5-3 victory.
Kane, who ranks third in the league with 15 points, scored two goals against the Sharks to cap the win. Sharks standouts center Patrick Marleau and center Joe Thornton, who lead the team in goals and assists respectively, were both quiet during the loss.
Currently, the Blackhawks stand three points ahead of the Sharks for first place out west, but the two will continue to fight for control as the season heats up.
Players to keep an eye on
Among the league’s best offensive talents are left wing Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, center Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Sharks’ Marleau.
Vanek leads the league with 19 points and is second in the league with eight goals, despite the Sabres’ shoddy performance so far this season. Although Buffalo managed a big 7-4 win over the Bruins on Jan. 31, the team is second to last in the East with a 3-6-1 record.
Stamkos sits just behind Vanek with 16 points and seven goals to his name, good enough for second place and a tie for third place, respectively.
Lastly, while Marleau ranks just tied for fourth in the league in points, he is the league-leading goal scorer with nine through the first 10 games.
On the defensive end of the ice, several goaltenders stick out as promising leaders for their teams. The Ottawa Senators’ Craig Anderson, Viktor Fasth of the Anaheim Ducks and perennial Vancouver Canucks anchor Roberto Luongo are all doing their part to keep their teams at the top of their respective conferences.
The Ducks currently hold second place in the Western Conference at 7-1-1, and the impressive display of goaltending by Fasth is undoubtedly a factor in the team’s success. His 0.98 goals against average and 0.962 save percentage are good for first in both categories. Anderson ranks right behind Fasth in both categories with a .956 save percentage, while Luongo holds the third spot in both categories including a 1.53 goals against average.
Game to check out:
Coupled with the Bruins-Lightning game is another big Eastern Conference weekend matchup that will showcase some of the league’s premier talent, as the Penguins and Sidney Crosby travel to New Jersey to face the Devils in an Atlantic Division showdown.
The two teams have met once already in Pittsburgh, with the home team dominating a 5-1 victory in which Crosby scored one goal and assisted on two others. The Devils will look to regain their footing in the division, where they currently sit in second, just one point behind the Penguins.