For this installation of North by Northwestern’s weekly hockey blog, I will be focusing on players, and not teams, that have been making an impact (or lack thereof) on the season so far.
1. Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals: With Washington’s other Russian Alexander in a bit of an early season slump, the third year forward has helped to jumpstart the Capital’s offense. He leads the team in goals, assists, and plus/minus rating. Some questioned Semin’s effectiveness after last season, in which he tallied only 42 points. But, it looks as if the 2007-2008 campaign was only a fluke for this talented winger. If Semin can keep his play at this level, the Capitals will be tough to face.
2. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: Miller had an up and down season last year, and as a result the Sabres missed the playoffs. This year, the netminder has been nothing short of stellar. He leads the NHL in goals against average, and ranks second in save percentage. Most importantly, he is not letting in the kind of soft goals that last season crippled his confidence and undermined his teams’ efforts. With both Miller and forward Thomas Vanek performing at All-Star levels, Buffalo looks like it will make up for last year’s playoff absence.
3. Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis Blues: What a start to the season for this 17 year veteran. Tkachuk scored in each of his first six games, and has eight goals so far for the surprisingly decent Blues. He, along with players such as Scott Neidermayer of the Ducks and Ray Whitney of the Hurricanes, keeps proving that the NHL is not just a young man’s league. Yet, Tkachuk’s hot start to the season does not really come as a surprise: he netted 27 for the Blues last year.
1. Marian Gaborik, Minnesota Wild: The Wild’s speedy Czech forward has only played in two games this season. Gaborik has a reputation for being injury prone, but this season has to be particularly frustrating: His contract with Minnesota is set to expire at the end of the end of the year, and so he should be motivated not only to help his team but to make himself look like he’s worth being paid millions of dollars to score goals. At this rate, Gaborik is only slated to play sixteen games, and his skill has taken a back seat to his propensity for being on the injury report.
2. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: After being named Vancouver’s captain during the offseason, Luongo, a nominee for the Hart Trophy last season, has underperformed during this year’s campaign. His .899 save percentage is much worse than last year’s mark of .917. He will have to start standing on his head to spark the Canucks, who have started a middling 6-6, to play well enough to keep up in a strong Western Conference.
3. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lighting: Sure, Vinny leads his team in scoring, as any great forward should. The problem is, that team is the Lightning, who have picked up their play of late but are still offensively challenged. Lecavalier was tabbed by some to be a contender for both the Hart and Art Ross trophies, and will have to step back into his accustomed role of offensive juggernaut in order to both meet expectations and help his team to continue to improve (as of Monday, the Lightning had won three straight).