To me, the top story has been the plethora of injuries sweeping through the league. That, and the amount of injuries caused by blows to the head, as well as the GMs consideration of tougher penalty calls for such violent hits.
The biggest surprise, in my opinion, is the play of the Colorado Avalanche, though both the Islanders and Coyotes deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Avs. First place in the Northwest and third overall in the Western Conference, the sorry Avs of a year ago have been replaced by a plucky bunch backstopped by the somewhat-suprising, and quite dependable, Craig Anderson.
The most disappointing team has been the Carolina Hurricanes, hands down. An Eastern Conference finalist last spring, the 'Canes returned much of the same lineup this season, just with much worse results. Their 14-game winless skid (0-10-4) was as shocking as it was embarrassing.
The top rookie? Tough call because this is a really, really deep freshman class this year. Two that have really impressed me ar Philly's James Van Riemsdyk (6-12-18 in 17 games, with four game-winning goals) and Evander Kane of Atlanta (7-5-12 in 20 games, with three game-winners and, like Van Riemsdyk, a +7 plus/minus mark). John Tavares of the Islanders, Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay, Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers, and the Avs precocious duo of Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly will all continue to bear watching as the season moves along due to their strong play, too.
Now, who has been the most valuable player through one-quarter of the season? Anderson deserves consideration for what he has done in Colorado, though his numbers are not eye-popping great. Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, despite injuries that sidelined both for a spell, are averaging just about a goal-per-game and have both been phenomenal so far this season. Philly's Chris Pronger has been a beast, playing 27 minutes a night in every important game situation, averaging nearly a point-per-game as a defenseman, and carrying a +13 along the way. Anze Kopitar leads the league in scoring and has helped push the Kings into second place in the Pacific Division.
And what about Joe Thornton or Dany Heatley, both of whom have played huge roles in helping the Sharks stay ahead of the resurgent Kings? Or Ryan Miller and his sub 2.00 goals against average and 12-3-2 record for the Sabres?
There are a host of players off to great starts this season. But who is most valuable to his own team? I'd have to say Marian Gaborik of the Rangers.
Gaborik's numbers certainly back this argument. In 21 games played (he missed two because of an injury), Gaborik has 18 goals---nearly one-per-game---and 32 points. He is tied with Heatley for the league lead in goals, and is second behind Kopitar in points. He has also scored at least one point in 19 of the 21 games in which he has played, showing tremendous consistency this season.
Dig deeper and you find out that Gaborik has also been a workhorse, averaging more than 22 minutes of ice-time, among the leaders for all forwards in the NHL. He has also been an excellent penalty killer, while thriving on the power play with seven power play goals, second most in the league.
But dig some more and you find out the real reason why I think Gaborik is the MVP of the first quarter of this season.
Gaborik has put up these elite-level numbers with little-to-no help from his teammates. In fact in a stretch that spanned more than 200 minutes of hockey and ended in the first period of last night's victory over the Blue Jackets, the Rangers did not have a goal scored by a player not named Marian Gaborik or Vinny Prospal. That's a total of six goals, and Gaborik either scored or assisted on all six.
The Rangers have scored 71 goals this season, and Gaborik has a hand in 32 of them.
So even as the only legitimate offensive threat wearing a Rangers jersey every night, Gaborik has still found a way to keep scoring. With that target etched on his jersey, and every coach game-planning against him---and pretty much only worrying about him---Gaborik has delivered game-in and game-out.
Even last night when the story was about a seven-goal outburst by the Rangers, with five goals tallied by others on the Rangers' roster, it was Gaborik who scored the biggest goal of the game. The Rangers surrendered the first two goals of the contest, and trailed 2-0 just 9:31 into play. As head coach John Tortorella and goalie Henrik Lundqvist both told me after the game, had Columbus scored a third goal before the Rangers scored their first, it would likely have been lights out for the Blueshirts. But instead Gaborik scored a huge goal two minutes after the Blue Jackets went up 2-0, and the Rangers took off from there.
"Who else but number 10," Lundqvist said of Gaborik.
There's plenty of hockey left to be played yet this season. But one quarter of the way through, Marian Gaborik has been the most valuable to his team.