Top Shelf: Shortened season full of surprises

3:24 PM, Feb 12, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the 2013 campaign was set to begin nearly a month ago, we knew some players would thrive during the lockout- shortened season while others would suffer.

With most of the league already a quarter-way through this year's 48-game schedule it's a little bit clearer which players fall into the first category and which ones are still trying to get their seasons on track.

Of course, the same goes for teams. Some clubs, like the Chicago Blackhawks, for example, have started 2013 like they were shot out of cannon while other teams such as the St. Louis Blues and the defending Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles Kings have begun the campaign with a case of lockout lethargy.

Here's a look at some players and teams -- both the good and bad -- that have grabbed our attention in the early going.

MOST SURPRISING TEAM - ANAHEIM

Few things went right for the Ducks in 2011-12 when the team managed 80 points and finished 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference, the club's worst showing since a 76-point campaign in 2003-04. Anaheim appears determined to put that ugly campaign behind them in 2013 and a boost in the club's offensive numbers has been key to the Ducks' 8-2-1 start to this season. The Ducks are averaging 3.36 goals through 11 games (3rd in the NHL) after ranking 23rd in the league with only 2.45 goals per game in 2011-12.

A great deal of credit has to go to head coach Bruce Boudreau, who has slowly brought the team back to respectability since taking over for the fired Randy Carlyle early in the 2011-12 season. Boudreau, who is 35-25-9 since taking over for Carlyle, led Washington to four straight Southeast Division titles before being fired by the Capitals in November of last season. With the way he has Anaheim playing in 2013, Boudreau may add a Pacific Division crown to his resume.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM - ST. LOUIS

Of course it's tempting to go with the Kings here, but St. Louis has the defending champs beat for this dubious title. While Los Angeles' poor start has Cup hangover written all over it, the Blues have flat-out lost their identity as a defensive juggernaut during the opening weeks of the season. St, Louis started the campaign with a 6-1-0 record in January before coming unglued in February with an 0-5-1 stretch to begin the month.

Although the Blues easily led the NHL by allowing a stingy 1.89 goals per game in 2011-12, the team is 25th in the league this year with an average of 3.25 goals surrendered a night. Head coach Ken Hitchcock is a stickler for details and is obviously frustrated at how sloppy the team has played in the early going. So far, Hitch has been unable to find a fix and he won't have much time to tweak things during this compacted schedule. Much of the blame for the slow start has been placed in the crease, where Jaroslav Halak already has missed significant time due to a nagging groin problem and an ineffective Brian Elliott has been unable to pick up the slack. The duo formed the league's most efficient goaltending tandem in 2011-12, but that seems like forever ago at this point.

M.V.P. - PATRICK KANE, CHICAGO

Coming off his worst NHL season, Kane had an even more difficult offseason thanks to the controversy surrounding his highly-publicized display of public intoxication during an infamous weekend in Madison, Wis. last spring. For months and months, Kane had to listen to the detractors find different ways to label him an immature brat. Since this wasn't Kane's first experience with bad publicity (a run-in with a Buffalo cab driver led to Kane being arrested in 2009) the pot-shots were more than fair, but it seems the former No. 1 overall pick decided to use the criticisms as fuel heading into 2013.

Kane -- the top pick of the 2007 draft -- played in all 82 games in 2011-12 but his 66 points marked a career-low and his 23 goals was his second-worst output after his rookie season tally of 21. So far this season, he has compiled nine goals and 10 assists, leaving Kane behind only Buffalo's Thomas Vanek for the NHL scoring lead. The fact that Chicago has begun the season with a 10-0-2 mark only makes his case for the Hart Trophy even stronger in the early going.

M.D.P. (MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER) - CLAUDE GIROUX, PHILADELPHIA

Although Flyers' fans seem ready to point the finger for their slow start (5-7-1) at just about anybody else, Giroux is clearly the player holding the team back. Maybe it's the lockout or problems adjusting to his new role as team captain, but the Flyers won't scare anybody as long as Giroux is playing like anything other than his club's best weapon.

At a glance, his three goals and four assists through 13 games doesn't seem too awful but his drop-off in points-per-game is nothing short of alarming. Giroux had 93 points in 77 games in 2011-12 for an average of 1.21 ppg, but he's only scoring at a rate of 0.54 ppg in 2013. Some folks blame the centerman's poor showing on the loss of winger Scott Hartnell, who played in only three games before breaking his foot, but the loss of one of his linemates isn't a good enough reason to explain away Giroux's lack of success. After all, Giroux entered this season as a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate and is supposed to be the type of creative player who can pick his linemates off the street and still make them look like NHLers.

Prominent players on other teams may have fewer points than Giroux at this stage, but none of them have hurt their team this much. Plain and simple, with Giroux at the top of his game in 2011-12 the Flyers were tied for second in the NHL in goals scored. This year, Philadelphia is ranked 22nd and the only way that's going to get better is for Giroux to pick up the pace before it's too late.

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