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By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributor - Archive - Email
Early twists and turns in the NHL
(L-R) Filip Forsberg, Mike Smith, Jakub Voracek and Kari Lehtonen Not everything has gone according to plan for some teams and players this season.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The NHL season is well over a month old and not everything has gone according to plan for some teams and players.

Sure, there are the usual suspects.

Sidney Crosby atop the NHL points list and Ryan Miller leading all goaltenders in victories are on par with most fantasy draft boards and preseason predictions. Even the current division leaders -- Montreal, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Anaheim -- are all teams thought to be contenders for the playoffs.

But that doesn't mean the season hasn't already erupted with a few surprises, including these four that have really stood out.


Alex Steen, Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen are a trio of 30-goal scorers from last season that had breakout campaigns and it appears Nashville's Filip Forsberg is ready to put on his party hat and join them.

The Predators figured to improve on the offensive side of things with new head coach Peter Laviolette taking over for Barry Trotz and his shut-down defensive style that previously defined the Nashville franchise. The additions of forwards Mike Ribeiro and James Neal to captain and point-producing defenseman Shea Weber figured to lead the attack, but it is the 20-year-old Forsberg guiding the way with 20 points.

That is seven more than both Neal and Ribeiro and Forsberg is tied for the club lead with eight goals, matching Neal. Those three have formed a dominating top line that has the Predators near the top of the Western Conference.

Forsberg, acquired from the Washington Capitals late in the 2012-13 season, came into this campaign with just one goal and five assists in 18 NHL games. Under Laviolette, he is finally flashing the potential that saw him put up points in his native Sweden.

Coincidentally, Forsberg was never able to break through with the Capitals as a youngster and chances are he may still be struggling to find a home there, especially now that Trotz is the head coach in D.C.


The Philadelphia Flyers shook their foundation to its very core when they dealt former pillars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in separate deals back on June 23, 2011, and while those two have won a pair of championships since reuniting in Los Angeles, the haul that the Flyers got remains impressive.

Forwards Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds came from the Kings for Richards and have found their footing in Philadelphia, while a draft pick the franchise got from Columbus for Carter morphed into solid defensive center Sean Couturier.

Former Blue Jackets forward Jakub Voracek, though, could end up being the best of the bunch if his 2014-15 start is any indication.

Voracek hasn't struggled to score goals since joining the Flyers, with 63 in 208 games coming into this season. But along with durability, the 25-year-old has started to become a clone of linemate Claude Giroux, a pure playmaker who can score or set up teammates.

The Czech winger is among the league leaders in assists (16) and points (22) while proving to be a tough defensive assignment each night. Voracek has logged a point in all but one of his 14 games this season and entered play on Friday with four goals and 11 points over an eight-game point streak.

Every leader needs help and the Flyers may have their dynamic duo in Giroux and Voracek.


The Arizona Coyotes only had a small sample of success to go on, but things felt right when they signed netminder Mike Smith to a six-year, $34 million deal on July 5, 2013.

But like that $400 Wok from Williams-Sonoma, the Coyotes are starting to regret their impulse buy.

Similar to that finely-polished cookware on display, the franchise fell in love with Smith pretty quickly. After signing a cheap two-year deal worth $2 million in 2011, Smith had the best season of his career by going 28-18-10 with a 2.21 goals against average and .930 save percentage, adding in eight shutouts while leading the Coyotes back to the playoffs.

And while Smith wasn't bad during the lockout-shortened campaign of 2012-13, his GAA went up and his save percentage fell. Last season wasn't so great either, though a great finish saved Smith's numbers a bit, but he has been unable to restore confidence so far this season.

Through 13 games, the 32-year-old is just 4-9-0 with a 3.43 GAA and .889 save percentage. He has been tagged for at least five goals in four of those games.

Unfortunately for Arizona, there is no return policy on Smith so all the club can do for now is hope the netminder can get himself on track or risk getting buried in the back of the cabinet.


Dallas' rebuild picked up major steam last season under new head coach Lindy Ruff and breakout campaigns by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

Looking to keep the momentum going, the Stars acquired veteran Jason Spezza to solidify the offense and the move hasn't backfired on that side. Dallas is middle of the pack with 2.81 goals per game.

However, the Stars find themselves struggling at the bottom of the Western Conference with 16 points in 16 games, having just recently snapped an 0-5-2 slide with back-to-back wins.

A main concern for the club was its defensive depth and that has proved too much to overcome so far. Dallas is near the bottom with 3.35 goals allowed per game and starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen has been unable to capitalize on good health with a less-than-stellar 2.72 GAA and .912 save percentage.

Backup Anders Lindback, the safety net in case injury again strikes Lehtonen, hasn't been better in three starts, going 0-3-0 with a 4.41 GAA and .852 save percentage.

The Stars were expected to be playoff contenders this season, but their slow start has left more than a few folks scratching their heads in Big D.

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