Last week's top stories at the quarter pole column brought in some passionate and informed responses from readers, so let's open the mailbag. (Thanks to all who take the time every week to weigh in. I truly appreciate your opinions and passion. Keep the mail coming.)
The theme of my column was surprises so far, and I fully expected Price to step up and perform well now that the number one job is his and his alone. I even
Last spring was a pleasant surprise for Canadiens fans. I covered the Habs-Penguins Eastern Conference semi-final series and the locals were enjoying the "bonus hockey" as the team exceeded expectations. But I thought the Canadiens would be confident this season. According to assistant coaches Perry Pearn and Kirk Muller, the team is one year further entrenched in their systems -- particularly on the forecheck. When they go, the Canadiens put serious pressure on their opponents.
As for the Flames, I've viewed them as a team on wane for some time. In other words, I'm not surprised in either instance. Until Iginla is actually traded, it is speculation and not news.
The Blackhawks' early relative struggles are noteworthy, but hardly surprising. Same thing with the Blues at home, since they turned their troubles on home ice around late last season and have just carried on under coach Davis Payne to begin this campaign. Regarding the Blue Jackets, you -- and many others -- have me there. In total, though, the Western Conference is comprised of well-constructed teams that have started the season generally as predicted. The West is stronger than the East overall and full of stories, but at the quarter pole, devoid of real surprises... the Dallas Stars notwithstanding.
That is a unique feat and the Blue Jackets certainly qualify as an early season surprise. New coach Scott Arniel has done a fine job getting them to jump up on the rush and include their defensemen in the attack. I think I even saw Mike Commodore up the ice and finishing off a 2-on-1 opportunity...
There is a certain amount of wait and see when it comes to this edition of the Jackets. Still, you and the other readers who wrote in are correct in asserting that this team deserves praise and recognition. And I don't believe the Jackets will lie down. Even while being swept in a home-and-home set against the Central Division rival Red Wings over the weekend, they proved they are strong enough to contend all season. Columbus is a good market with a lot of good people committed to making NHL hockey work long-term. The on-ice product is absolutely headed in the right direction, which is paramount to the franchise's overall success.
The Wild has had some good moments in the early going, but they don't qualify as a surprise to me yet. It's too early to tell if they will find their way and establish an identity during their second season under coach Todd Richards. I'll reserve judgment until I see them improve their 5-on-5 productivity and exhibit a pace of play that consistently puts pressure on opponents. That is what the Avalanche does so well.
Great topic and question. I think NHL players and referees are continuing to adjust. The added emphasis, due to the rule change regarding hits to the head and blindside shots, certainly has played a role in deterring such plays. It can only help, but the catch is that every reviewed play is unique and still has an element of subjectivity when it comes to supplemental discipline. Perfect? No. Progress? Absolutely.
Boyle put in plenty of time to improve his skating this past summer and he received an early chance to play more due to injuries up front in New York. He's a prime example of hard work and opportunity converging, and the Rangers are benefiting.