5 Unsustainable Early-Season Trends in the Western Conference
As the first two weeks of the 2013-2014 campaign roll to an end, we’ve predictably witnessed a number of unfathomable starts out of the gates. Naturally, the full 82-game haul is a marathon, not a sprint. The tendency is for the most well-conditioned athletes from the summer to have a head start on performance over the opening weeks over those who came to camp not quite in mid-season shape. Some netminders traditionally take longer to get going. Take Mike Smith for instance, a notorious slow starter who has had near dreadful Octobers and sometimes Novembers for seemingly his entire career. However, over the past half decade, his numbers in the holiday season and beyond are typically top 10 in the league.
Whole teams tend to get on hot streaks to open a season, riding a wave of euphoria that is not likely sustainable over the long haul. Sometimes this is due to a high percentage of home games played in the first couple weeks. Case in point, this year’s Calgary Flames, have captured five of six points on their current three game homestand (more onCalgarylater). Other times, championship-built squads have a tough time hitting the ground running, with several veterans added in the off season to reload for a deep spring run. The right line combinations may need some tinkering to find the optimal chemistry required when several new faces are in the mix.
Another factor not often taken into consideration by fans and media is the patience required for teams with new coaching staffs to learn and fully integrate new schemes and outright philosophical changes to offensive or defensive approaches. Pre-season is not the ideal time for new bench bosses to preach to their troops how to incorporate their new tactics. A tonne of roster turnover during each exhibition contest prevents this, as organizations need to get looks at top prospects and must pace the veterans into regular action. That being said, the opposite can happen too, whereby a new voice behind the bench can also light a fire under the bottoms of a squad. A new head honcho can kick start a better than expected string of strong performances for fear of finding one’s self in the dog house early in a new coach’s (potentially lengthy) reign, before comfortability sinks in.
In the end, there will organically be plenty of market corrections to both individual and team trajectories delving into as late as the second month of the season. However for the most part, the cream will rise to the crop by the end of the first month.
Here is a look at 10 teams and individuals in the West with hot or cold starts that will not last the test of time.
1) Calgary Flames - Surge
The media-adjudged bottom feeding Flames have strongly displayed that they intend to be anything but a doormat this season. Through five contests, Calgary have yet to lose a game in regulation, garnering eight of a possible 10 points. The departures of Franchise cornerstonesJarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff, the banishings of Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and the significant injury to star playerMike Cammalleri from an already dreadful squad was supposed to be the perfect recipe to cook up a No.1 overall pick. So far - that's not the case.But allow some time to balance things out. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen some inspiring play by the likes of youngster, Sean Monahan and pseudo-vet, Jiri Hudler, but folks, this run will prove to not have the legs this year.
2 & 3) Colorado Avalanche + Semyon Varlamov/J.S. Giguere - Domination
The return to the Rockies for Coloradolegend, Patrick Roy and former fellow champion, Alex Tanguay, have yielded eye-opening results right from the get-go. The scintillating goalkeeping of Semyon Varlamov has been a major boon to poolies everywhere; especially those who clung on to him in dynasty leagues for dear life, through a rough journey after his promisingWashington origins. He’s shown, albeit in a very small sample size, that he’s finally re-claimed a level of play closer to his ceiling, given an otherworldly, .970% save percentage, along with a 1.00 GAA through four appearances. Whether he can be even remotely consistent over the long haul remains to be seen.
The introduction of number one overall gem Nate Mackinnon has already paid immediate dividends, as the stud has tallied six points over the first five contests of his career. He certainly seems comfortable at this level, with two multi-point efforts already. However, although I’m not suggesting this talented offensive core will eventually lend itself to a bottom three finish in the conference, the hapless blue line in Coloradowill inevitably cause Varlamov and Giguere to continually get peppered on a nightly basis. Sooner or later, the brick wall in the Pepsi center crease will have more of a Berlin Wall fate. While the 5-0 Avs will not even come close to continuing this pace, they may well end up being content settling for the seventh or eight playoff spots in the conference, still a marked improvement in the big picture.
4) Alexander Steen – Heating up
The St.Blues were rightfully tagged by pundits, prognosticators and fans alike to be well positioned for a championship contender this season. However, a middling piece of the puzzle, Alexander Steen, has led the charge thus far with four goals and four assists in four games, good for a share of second place in the NHL scoring leaders. He’s already through four games, a third of the way to last season’s total output, which he managed in 40 games! Now, while Steen possesses a decent offensive skill set in his own right, we’re talking about a guy, almost 30, who’s only once cracked 50 points (51) in a career that spans back to 2005. Absolutely expect the Blues’ impressive 4-0 start to be a sign of things to come. But Alexander’s current 2.0 PPG (Points per Game) rate (obviously a small sample size) is a far cry from his 0.57 career clip, so expect him to eventually dip back into the pack of Blues’ producers.
5) Vancouver Canucks – Preparing to Escape Mediocrity
The Canucks first half dozen regular season games have been all over the map; with their evenly split 3-3 record hardly telling the story. Their rocky start has already seen them tally three 4-1 losses, a 6-2 thrashing of Edmonton and two late come from behind victories from two goal deficits where they persevered when it seemed they were down and out. Luongo has been fairweather to be generous, while Eddie Lack got a win in his debut, although it was far more attributed to his teammates bailing him out. The Sedins will start to catch fire soon enough, while one can only assume Ryan Kesler will come out of hiding sooner rather than later. Finally, the infusion of John Tortorella’s typically stingy defensive structure is still clearly a work in progress, which has clearly not quite been mastered yet by Vancouver. However, when it does, watch out. Tortorella’s system helped Henrik Lundqvist earn top goaltender in the world status, while his absence in New York has seen the dominant Swede be not-sp-dominant so far. Expect Vancouver to get themselves firmly entrenched into a playoff spot in the coming weeks and months.
~~~ Follow Anthony Lancione on Twitter @ANTHISDAMAN ~~~
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