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M.H.L. News Returns
Here's a Recap of What You Might Have Missed
Calgary Flames' Peter Forsberg currently leads the M.H.L. with 46 points.
December 7th, 2006. After a lengthy shutdown due to finance issues (like, specifically, this author's finance course!), M.H.L. News is proud to be back as the 2006-2007 M.H.L. season is quickly racing towards its midway point. The first 35 or so games have seen countless surprises, several blockbuster trades, and the emergence of some unlikely heroes. In light of this being the first piece in quite some time, we will look at 5 of the top stories of the first part of the season, in no particular order.
1) Chris Osgood Turns Ducks' Season Around
Early season results had this reporter's pre-season predictions looking pretty awful. The predicted favourite Anaheim Mighty Ducks couldn't win a game for a long while, and sat out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. But as they say, it's a long season, and on a team full of superstars, it was an unlikely candidate who turned things around. Prior to the first game, the plan was for goaltenders Chris Osgood and Henrik Lundqvist to split the duties, with Osgood the veteran mentoring the young Lundqvist into becoming Anaheim's goaltender of the future. However, that didn't work out, as both goaltenders were underperforming, with the Ducks regularly outshooting and outchancing their opponents, but finding themselves on the losing end. In order to shake things up, the team started third-string goaltender Chris Mason - signed last summer as an insurance policy - for 4 consecutive games and he impressed. This put some pressure on the other two netminders, and Osgood responded tremendously, leading the Ducks to rattle off 8 straight wins, and sending his statistics to the top of the league. Osgood has cooled off a bit lately, but he remains #1 in GAA at 2.36, and #4 in save percentage at .906. With this streak, Anaheim finds itself back in contention for post-season home-ice advantage, and the outlook is much brighter.
2) Brodeur, Sabres Tops in the League
Currently, the team to beat in the M.H.L. is the Buffalo Sabres, whose 21-12-3-1 record gives them an amazing winning percentage of .621. While not spectacular offensively, the team has been backstopped brilliantly by veteran star netminder Martin Brodeur, resulting in Buffalo having allowed the fewest goals in the league, 88. Up front, Henrik Zetterberg has led the troops with 33 points, though at present he is slowed by a minor injury. If the team is to continue to win in his absence, and down the stretch, they will need more goal scoring contribution from some of their top forwards, like Zetterberg's linemate Maxim Afinogenov, and aging left-winger John Leclair who has no goals and 1 assist in 12 games since coming over in a trade with Detroit. A bright spot offensively has been the play of historically inconsistent Vyacheslav Kozlov. Kozlov has found great chemistry with center Brian Rolston, and the two have 31 and 30 points, respectively.
3) Preds Climb Standings in East, While Bruins Freefall in West
While the Sabres may be the team to beat in the league, the title of hottest team right now would likely go to Patrick Marleau's Nashville Predators, winners of their last 6 games. Marleau's 39 points tie him for 9th overall in M.H.L. scoring, and are 3 better than linemate Ladislav Nagy who is second in team scoring. The club's streak has skyrocketted them all the way up to 4th place in the East End Conference, and they sit just one point back of third place Colorado. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the league, the Boston Bruins have had the opposite kind of streak going, losers of 6 straight, and plummeting to 7th place in the West Island Conference. The Bruins are a very young team, led by the likes of Jason Spezza, Marian Gaborik, and Ales Hemsky, and this youthful inexperience may be partially to blame for the skid. The other cause has been the highly disappointing play of starter Manny Fernandez, who has had to battle for playing time with Curtis Joseph since coming over in a trade from Philadelphia, and neither of which are putting up the kind of numbers you'd expect, both having GAAs above 3.00, and save percentages below .900. With Columbus closing quickly, and Ottawa only a few points behind, the Bruins will have to turn things around fast if they want to remain in a playoff spot.
4) Columbus Reshapes Its Squad... Over and Over Again
The Columbus Blue Jackets, who already had likely the brightest future in the league, decided that there is no time like the present, and aggressively made moves to beef up their team for this season. And then they did it again. And again. In looking to find that perfect chemistry, Columbus has made regular deals of blockbuster proportions throughout the season, adding names such as Brad Stuart, Dan Hamhuis, Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood, Tomas Kaberle, Olaf Kolzig, and Alexander Frolov to a roster filled with young talent. Perhaps the biggest move the team has made was bringing in its own mini French connection in winger Alex Tanguay - who leads the club with 44 points - and center Vincent Lecavalier. The two play with Marek Svatos on the club's top line and have contributed greatly to stabilizing the team's success after an up-and-down start to the year. Of course, bringing in all these players comes at a price and the team did have to say goodbye to future stars like Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Carter, but when your stockpile of prospects it that full, you are trading from a position of power. The Jackets still have some kinks to work out in their team game as is often the case with a team with such a high turnover rate, and they are battling to stay in a playoff position right now, but once the club finds its groove, it will be 'look out, league.'
5) Vokoun At It Once Again
In addition to the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff M.V.P., Colorado Avalanche goaltender Tomas Vokoun took home the James T. Kirk award last year for dominating the league in terms of regular season "Star Points". Vokoun has picked right back up where he left off this year, already having amassed 58 star points, putting him 13 above his nearest competitor, Buffalo's Martin Brodeur. Vokoun continues to show how important he is to the Avalanche, as he has picked up all 19 of the club's wins, with back-up Martin Gerber showing an 0-4-0 record. Those 19 wins, along with 2 ties, have Colorado in 3rd place in the East, and 4 of them have been shutouts, which tie Vokoun for tops in the league with Brodeur. To say that the show has been all Vokoun would be an injustice to winger Jonathan Cheechoo, who leads the team in goals with 20, powerplay goals with 6, and points with 38. The young Cheechoo has clicked nicely with playmaking center Marc Savard on the team's #1 trio.