There’s always negativity in the NHL, whether it’s the constant disciplinary hearings and suspensions, injuries or certain star players struggling.
But why focus on the negative when you can look at the positive? And there’s no doubt this season there have been many pleasant surprises that fans have enjoyed watching.
So with that, here some of the more sanguine storylines and player performances thus far this season.
The St. Louis Blues are a well-rounded team with a deep roster, but up front they don’t really have any superstars. That hasn’t stopped Steen from playing like one, though.
Only Alex Ovechkin has more goals than the Canadian-born Swede’s 24, which is already tied for his career high; he was recently rewarded with a much deserved three-year, $17.4-million contract extension.
The Blues acquired Steen, along with Carlo Colaiacovo, from the Maple Leafs in 2008 for Lee Stempniak. Steen’s recent production and leadership makes that deal one of the more lopsided trades in recent NHL history.
There simply isn’t a better story in the NHL than that of Josh Harding. It’s not just that he won’t let his multiple sclerosis deter him from continuing his NHL career. But despite dealing with this life-altering illness, he has been the best goalie in the league.
After 27 appearances he has gone 18-5-3 with an NHL-leading 1.51 goals-against average and a terrific .939 save percentage. His performance so far this season has been remarkable, inspiring and pretty darn frustrating if you’re an opposing player.
Talk about an image makeover. The 21-year-old was criticized for partying and was branded as public enemy No. 1 in his final days with the Boston Bruins, but a July trade to the Dallas Stars and subsequent move from winger to centre has resulted in a dramatic shift.
We haven’t heard much of his off-ice antics this season because on the ice he’s having a career year. His chemistry with Jamie Benn is coming along nicely, something Stars GM Jim Nill was hoping for when he acquired him.
In the summer he was an afterthought for Sochi, but with 19 goals and 37 points in 34 games he’s now warranting some consideration for a spot on Team Canada.
A hearty tip of the hat to all the backup goalies that have made the most of their opportunities this season.
When Jonathan Quick went down with a groin strain, Los Angeles Kings fans were nervous. However, Ben Scrivens, the forgotten piece in the trade that sent Jonathan Bernier to the Maple Leafs in the off-season, has played the best hockey of his career. And when Scrivens was given a rest, rookie Martin Jones went on to start his career 8-1 with three shutouts.
Now, Antti Raanta with the Blackhawks and Cam Talbot with the Rangers are getting their names out there with solid play. Raanta has gone 8-1-2 in the absence of Cory Crawford, while Talbot is 8-2 when filling in for Henrik Lundqvist.
In Nashville, undrafted 28-year-old Carter Hutton has done an admirable job filling in for Pekka Rinne after the Finnish star went down with a hip injury. The Predators are by no means world-beaters but Hutton’s play prevented them from falling right to the bottom of the standings. Same goes for Justin Peters in Carolina, who kept the Hurricanes afloat when Cam Ward was out for an extended period of time.
Martin St. Louis
You’d think at age 38 and with Steve Stamkos out of the Lightning lineup nursing a broken leg that St. Louis’ output might start to wane. Nope. With 37 points and just four penalty minutes in 37 games, the two-time scoring champ is once again a leading candidate for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy — an award he’s already won three times.
Remember last season in the playoffs when it seemed the Penguins netminder couldn’t stop a beach ball? He allowed 17 goals in his final four appearances in the post-season before being pulled in favour of Tomas Vokoun.
The 2013-14 campaign has been a completely different story, though, with the 2003 first-overall pick of the Pens helping backstop his team to the best record in the East at the Christmas break.
In 32 appearances, he’s gone 21-9-1 with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. These are numbers that have put him back in the conversation for which goalies Team Canada should send to Sochi.
Belleville, Ont.’s Richardson is one of those players that gives his all on every shift and his efforts have paid off so far in his first season with the Vancouver Canucks. He’s one of the best penalty killers in the Western Conference, he’s on pace for a career year in goals, assists and points, and on top of everything he’s already potted a couple short-handed goals.
The last several seasons were not fun for Avalanche fans, but ever since Patrick Roy took over as head coach the team has completely turned things around.
Matt Duchene has been one of the best players in the world, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly have provided solid leadership and production, while Erik Johnson is playing his best hockey since the Avs acquired him in the 2010-11 season.
With a 23-10-3 record, good for 49 points in the standings, the team is expected to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Considering they finished last season’s 48-game schedule with just 39 points, it’s a dramatic improvement.