Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By JOHN MANASSO  |  Last updated 10/22/13
Who's Hot: Anaheim Ducks How much firepower do the Ducks have -- even after trading four-time 30-goal scorer Bobby Ryan in the offseason? Enough so that when they trailed Dallas 3-1 on Sunday at first intermission, they simply fired off five unanswered goals in a 6-3 win. Entering Tuesday's match in Toronto, the Ducks were riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, longest in the league this season. A win over Toronto gave Anaheim a chance for a franchise-best eight wins in their first nine games. The usual suspects are leading the charge for the Ducks: former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and ageless wonder Teemu Selanne, along with right wing Jakob Silfverberg, who came over in the Ryan deal. The Ducks' start is beginning to make general manager Bob Murray's decision to re-sign Getzlaf and Perry to deals for a combined 16 years and 135 million last March look prescient. It also goes without saying that coaching is a factor. Here at Penalty Minutes, we're a big fan of Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, not just because of his quotable, media-friendly nature but also because he just might be the best coach of offensive hockey in the NHL over the last decade or so. Boudreau pointed the finger in the direction of Getzlaf, the captain, who spurred the 6-3 win over Dallas with four points. "When the big man is leading and getting points, he's a tough man to stop," Boudreau told the 'Orange County Register.' "When he's going good, we usually go good as a team." Starting on Tuesday, the Ducks face a daunting task: eight straight on the road. If they can continue their torrid play, this season is shaping up as their best chance to win a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since they last did it in 2009. Who's Not: Washington Capitals Perhaps a snarky Wikipedia edit said it all last week: It listed New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as the owner of the Washington Capitals. The same goalie who has vanquished the Capitals in playoff Game 7s in each of the past two seasons notched a 2-0 shutout last Wednesday over the Capitals, prompting the Internet ruse. Looking at the issue more globally, the Capitals remain one of the NHL's most perplexing teams. Entering Tuesday, only five teams in the NHL had fewer points than the Capitals' six despite the fact that they owned the league's top power play and that Alex Ovechkin is tied for the league lead in goals with seven. Only a Hart Trophy-winning performance from Ovechkin saved them last year from failing to qualify for the playoffs. Will a similar Herculean effort be required to rescue them this year? Clearly, offense is not the problem. One thing that's hard not to notice is a series of moves that have hamstrung the Capitals. Last spring, they traded the 11th overall pick in 2012, forward Filip Forsberg, to Nashville in exchange for right wing Martin Erat. Until he broke out with a three-assist performance in a 4-1 win over Columbus on Sunday, Erat was reduced to a fourth-line role, totaling just 6:20 in the loss to the Rangers. Erat's deal is eating up 4.5 million in cap space this season and continues at that number in 2014-15. Meanwhile, Forsberg looks promising, as he has begun his rookie campaign with three points in seven games for the Predators who are 5-1-1 in their last seven. However, Forsberg could become a footnote when considering the Erat deal because Washington received that pick from Colorado in exchange for goalie Semyon Varlamov, who is off to one of the best starts in the league, tying for third in wins with a 5-1 mark, fifth in save percentage at .950 and eighth in goals-against average at 1.68. The Capitals also received a second-round pick in the Varlamov deal, which they sent to Dallas along with Cody Eakin in exchange for Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro left Washington via free agency and has seven points in seven games for Phoenix, whose 12 points tie them for the sixth-best record in the NHL. (Eakin, by the way, has four points in eight games, tied for fourth on the Stars.) Goaltending often can be a reflection of the team in front of it, but Washington ranks 25th in team goals-against average at 3.09, along with a .905 team save percentage. One can only wonder how the Caps might be faring if they had Varlamov in goal. Top 5 1. San Jose The Sharks still haven't lost in regulation and own an absurd goal differential of plus-24 -- which means they're winning by almost three goals per game. 2. Anaheim The Ducks have won seven straight, hottest team in the league. 3. Colorado The Avs went on the road and shut out Pittsburgh, the East's best team, 1-0, on Monday. 4. Pittsburgh Best record in the East, as Sidney Crosby again leads the league in points. 5. Chicago The defending Cup champions aren't scoring much but have lost only once in regulation. Martin Brodeur's current .865 save percentage stands as the lowest of his 21-year career. (Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports) Bottom 5 26. New Jersey Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur (.865 save percentage, 3.40 GAA) has struggled mightily. 27. New York Rangers After a 2-0 win over Washington earlier in the week, they slept-walked through a 4-0 loss on Saturday to rival New Jersey. 28. Edmonton Co-leader in points, Taylor Hall, will miss four weeks with a knee injury for the team with the fewest points in the West. 29. Buffalo Has improved from averaging one goal per game to 1.3. 30. Philadelphia Hard to believe the Flyers have the fewest points in the league. Stat line of the week: Mike Smith, Phoenix In a 5-2 win over Detroit on Oct. 19, Smith became only the seventh goalie in NHL history to shoot a puck into the opposing goal (a player is credited with a goal when he is the last one on his team to touch the puck before it goes in the goal, so other goalies have been credited with goals when the opposing team mistakenly shot the puck into its own net). In addition to Smith's goal -- which barely crossed the goal line before the final buzzer sounded -- Smith made 31 saves on 33 shots in 60 minutes to pick up the win. Honorable mention: Alex Chiasson, Dallas In handing San Jose its first -- and, to date, only -- loss of the season with the winning shootout goal in a 4-3 win last Thursday, the rookie right wing also had an assist, a plus-2 rating, six shots, two hits and two blocked shots in 18:58, 3:09 on the power play and 2:08 shorthanded. Dating to last season when he played seven games, Chiasson scored nine goals in his first 10 games in the league. After scoring in each of his first three this season, he has gone five straight without a marker. Dishonorable mention: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay In a 5-0 loss to Boston last Saturday, Hedman was on ice for all five of Boston's goals, causing him to finish minus-5 with two shots in 19:24. Hedman, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, ranks fourth among Lightning defensemen in average time on ice per game, having fallen behind rookie Radko Gudas. It's starting to look like Tampa Bay might have picked the wrong Swedish defenseman in that draft. Phoenix's Oliver Ekman-Larsson (sixth overall) has evolved into one of the league's better young defensemen. Game of the Week: Ottawa at Detroit, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern It's hard to say who will be more atwitter for this game, the Ottaouais (one of our favorite French words because of all of those consecutive vowels) or the Swedes. Yes, Daniel Alfredsson, the long-time Senator and formerly Ottawa's captain, will play his first game against his old team now as a member of the Detroit Red Wings after electing not to re-sign in the (Canadian) nation's capital. Alfredsson chose to play where oodles of his fellow countrymen also play -- the Wings have eight Swedes this season -- prompting feelings of betrayal from his former fans. Alfie, as he's affectionately known, was unhappy with Ottawa's contract offer after feeling he was under-paid for years. He currently ranks third on the Red Wings with nine points; Ottawa's best player entering the game is Swede Erik Karlsson, the 2012 Norris Trophy winner who is averaging a whopping 27:46 per game and ranks third on the Senators in scoring. The game also happens to be an Atlantic Division matchup, now that Detroit moved to the Eastern Conference as part of the league's realignment. Seth Jones' average ice time ties him for the most per game by a rookie defenseman since 2001. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports) Spotlight: Seth Jones and rookie defensemen When we saw Nashville Predators general manager David Poile mention his rookie defenseman Seth Jones in the same breath as Hall of Famer Scott Stevens to the 'Ottawa Sun's Chris Stevenson over the weekend, it got our attention and we wanted to follow up. Poile mentioned Jones' name in the sense that in his 32 years as an NHL general manager, Jones and Stevens are the only two rookie defensemen in their draft year to step in and play for his teams from the start of the season. "They're different types of players but we all know where Scott Stevens, his career ended up -- Stanley Cups and the Hall of Fame," Poile said. "My point was that Seth Jones, after six games, is making significant contributions, as was Scott Stevens right out of his draft year." It's also worth noting that Poile took Stevens fifth overall for Washington in 1982 and Jones fell to him at No. 4 overall this year, which is starting to look like the steal of the draft. After Jones' highlight-reel, game-winning goal on Saturday in Montreal, one of the league's hotbeds of the sport, more observers are going to take notice, if they weren't already. Jones is averaging 24:28 per game, which, according to research by the Predators' broadcast team at FOX Sports Tennessee, ties him for the most time on ice per game for a rookie defenseman since 2001. Atlanta's Tobias Enstrom averaged that much in 2007-08. Los Angeles' Drew Doughty in 2008-09 and Pittsburgh's Ryan Whitney in 2005-06 each averaged 23:50, tying them for third. Increasingly -- starting at about Doughty's draft year of 2008 -- rookie defensemen began stepping in right away and logging heavy minutes, a phenomenon that previously did not exist; sort of like NFL quarterbacks requiring years of learning on the bench, the same was true of defensemen, who toiled in the minors to learn their craft. Poile, general manager of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, credits these players' improved development, particularly in the case of the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. Jones came out of that program, as did Jacob Trouba, selected ninth overall this year by Winnipeg. Until he got hurt last Friday against St. Louis, Trouba was logging about 23-plus minutes per night. Other U.S. rookie defensemen to make an impact out of that program were Anaheim's Cam Fowler and Carolina's Justin Faulk, both drafted in 2010. "They're really cranking out a lot of good players, not only in quantity but also mostly in quality," Poile said. Poile said Jones has benefitted from his size (6-4, 205) and maturity but also from playing with two-time Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber on defense. With Jones being mentioned in the same sentence as Stevens and former Predator Ryan Suter, his expectations are sky high. But so far, he's showing why.
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