Every couple of weeks during the 2009-10 season I will roll out my High Five/Low Five. The list is open to teams, players, coaches, and fans – basically anything hockey-related qualifies. The High Five are five things that have impressed me (with an emphasis on recent games), and the Low Five are five things that have me shaking my head.
Ilya Bryzgalov – Dave Tippett is a fantastic defensive coach, but even he is probably surprised at how quickly his message has gotten through to the Coyotes. Through five games, Phoenix has allowed a measly seven goals, and they already have posted two shutout victories. Bryzgalov is the most obvious candidate to benefit from the shift to a defensive style, as the scorers like Shane Doan will probably see a slight decline in production. Bryzgalov is a very capable goalie who now finds himself in a great situation. Nab him now before it is too late.
Smyth-Kopitar-Williams – The Kings top line has simply been dominant so far, combining for 23 points in five games. Kopitar looks poised to take the next step offensively (90 points), and Smyth has provided a net presence that the Kings have really been lacking. Williams flew under the radar this off-season because of his numerous injuries recently, but he is a proven 30-goal scorer. The Kings have depth up front and on defense, and they also boast a legitimate goalie in Jon Quick. This team is for real.
Craig Anderson – So far, Anderson has to be far and away the best signing of the off-season (correct me if mistaken), and he could even be the MVP of the league. That all could change if/when Colorado comes crashing back down to earth (you would be very rich if you predicted they would get off to a 4-1-1 start), but for now, Anderson is a must-start in all league formats. He plays with a ton of confidence, and it has rubbed off on his teammates. The Avs were a mess defensively last season, but it would have been hard for any defensive group to excel in front of either Budaj or Raycroft.
Matt Duchene – Sticking with the Avs, Matt Duchene has impressed the heck out of me so far. I knew he was going to be good, I just didn’t think it would be for another year or two. He is dominating against experienced NHL defensemen on a nightly basis, and he isn’t exactly skating with world-beaters either (Darcy Tucker and Marek Svatos). It may be optimistic to expect more than 40 or 45 points for Duchene, but he is going to be a STAR in this league, very soon. What has impressed me the most about him (aside from what I already knew with the incredible speed/skills/shot) is his strength on the puck. Imagine how good he will be when he puts on a bit more muscle!
Jamie Benn – I had a feeling Benn would be playing in Dallas this season, but I didn’t think it would be in October on the top line, alongside Morrow and Ribeiro. Benn is big, fast, skilled, and he plays a very smart game. Marc Crawford has helped develop young talent before (Forsberg, Drury, Tanguay, Hejduk, Bertuzzi, Naslund, Sedins, and so on), and he has taken a liking to Benn. As long as he is able to play with Ribeiro (far and away the most talented Star), Benn is fantasy-relevant, even in one-year leagues. He is a prime candidate to challenge John Tavares for the rookie scoring lead.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Not much else to say that hasn’t already been covered by Puck Daddy, TSN, Sportsnet, and so on. The Leafs can’t score, they can’t defend, and they can’t seem to get a goalie that can stop the puck. However, none of that is the worst part. Imagine Taylor Hall flying around the ACC next year… in a Bruins sweater. Ouch.
Cristobal Huet – Chicago is probably the only team in the NHL (Washington might also fit the bill) that can outscore brutal goaltending. However, they can’t come back from 5-0 deficits every night. Huet was a solid goalie in Montreal, but he has struggled mightily in his short time as a Blackhawk. Chicago may give Antti Niemi the ball and let him run with it, but Huet’s $5.6 million salary is hard to ignore.
Vincent Lecavalier – No goals in five games. He doesn’t get to play five-on-five with Marty any more, but he needs to start lighting the lamp soon.
Jarome Iginla/Olli Jokinen duo – The fact that Iginla and Jokinen play very similar games and don’t work well together was obvious to many Calgary fans even last season. However, Brent Sutter for whatever reason still seems oblivious to it. If I were the bench boss for the Flames, I’d stick Iginla with Langkow, and bump Jokinen down to the second line where he can shoot the puck all he wants. I wonder how long it takes for Backlund to be called up to get a shot with Iginla?
Roberto Luongo - Luongo has been better in the past two games (not surprisingly wins), but once again he starts off the season by laying an egg in October. Someone needs to break in to his house and change the date on his clocks and calendars ahead to November. He rebounded in a big way last season (finishing with over 30 wins and nine shutouts in less than 60 starts), so don't be surprised if this is his only appearance on the Low Five list.