While you were away: Workhorse to get his due; West surprises
Welcome to the latest installment of While You Were Away. We’ll be tracking stories you may have missed and players who are trending up and down, as well as offering a few predictions and generally keeping you updated on all things hockey beyond your favorite team.
• Last season Mark Giordano of Flames emerged as a surprise Norris Trophy candidate until he was sidelined in February by a torn biceps that required surgery. And while Roman Josi of the Predators finished fifth in voting, early indications are that one of the most underappreciated defenseman in the league will be getting his due this time around. Josi scored two goals on Tuesday night, one on the power play and one short-handed, in a 3–1 victory over the Devils. He also ranked second on his team in ice time, logging 22:23.
Usually Shea Weber and his monster shot make most of the headlines out of Nashville but this season may represent a changing of the guard. Josi was tied for second in plus/minus (+15) on the Predators last season and also led the team in ice time. He’s a workhorse at both ends of the ice: Not only are his offensive totals dependable and likely to rise, he ranked second in the NHL in blocked shots (209) last season.
The Predators are in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL and a playoff spot won’t be easy to come by, but they're off to an encouraging 3-0 start despite mustering only seven goals, the lowest total in the Central. Josi’s importance to this team has never been clearer.
• Expectations in Vancouver were cautious entering the season. The direction in which the Canucks were heading wasn’t clear but they’ve come flying out of the gate with a 3-0-1 start, thanks in large part to some surprise secondary scoring.
Case in point: Adam Cracknell, a 30-year old who’s played parts of the last five seasons with the Blues and Blue Jackets while never logging more than 24 games and three goals in any one campaign. Cracknell, who was signed this summer to a one-year, two-way deal reportedly worth $575,000, had the game winner on Tuesday night and Vancouver’s only goal in regulation the night before.
With the Sedin twins aging, the Canucks will need this kind of secondary scoring to continue to have any chance of making it out of the Pacific Division. Cracknell can enjoy the spotlight now, as his 25% shooting percentage is likely to drop. The Canucks are also hoping that goalie Ryan Miller’s stats don’t tumble, however. He’s been lights out so far with a .955 save percentage.
It’s early still, but the Canucks look like one of the more surprising teams out of the gate.
• Speaking of surprises, how about Sharks goalie Martin Jones and his back-to-back shutouts? Jones blanked the Alex Ovechkin-less Capitals on Tuesday night and the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, leaving him with a total of one goal allowed in his first three starts.
When the Sharks decided to roll with Jones as their number 1 goalie this season it was worth wondering if he could shoulder the load throughout the long season after having played only 34 games combined as Jonathan Quick’s backup with Los Angeles during his two previous seasons. Acquired from Boston in an off-season trade, Jones has begun to silence his doubters while helping the Sharks to a +11 goal differential through three games, good for best in the NHL.
After failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and bringing in a new coach in Peter DeBoer, the Sharks entered the season as one of the bigger question marks in the West. But so far, so good. They’ve been getting smart play at both ends of the ice, some depth scoring (nine different Sharks have scored) and sharp penalty killing (12-for-12 so far). The addition of versatile hardworking veteran forward Joel “The Big Cheese” Ward, who is a true character guy as well as clutch, DeBoer's more defense-minded system, and the stellar play of Jones all bode well.
Of course, this being the fourth year in a row that they’ve started 3-0 means it’s hardly time to get carried away by irrational enthusiasm, but these Sharks may not be due for the continued plunge that many observers expect.