These are early days, but as most NHL teams hit the 10-game mark, there are a lot of surprising names among the statistical leaders.
Those not usually found at or near the top of the league’s leaders list include Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (nine goals, 15 points in eight games), Ottawa Senators winger Milan Michalek (10 points, in nine games), goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin of the Edmonton Oilers (0.97 goals-against average, .963 save percentage) and Florida Panthers rookie Jacob Markstrom (1.29 GAA, .967 save percentage).
The most intriguing name, though, is Marc-André Bergeron.
The Tampa Bay Lightning veteran never ran up more than 39 points in 10 seasons bouncing around the minor leagues and the NHL. He became known as a power-play specialist who could not play in his own end, which limited his ice time.
But now, at 31, Bergeron is leading NHL defencemen in points (10 in nine games). He is also averaging almost 19 minutes of ice time per game. Not bad for a guy who was signed as power-play insurance last January.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman also has a couple of other surprises on his team, although both are in goal so one is bad and the other is good.
Dwayne Roloson, 42, who was so good for the Lightning last season, appears to have lost his key to the fountain of youth. In four games this season, he has a fat 5.11 GAA and slim .858 save percentage.
Fortunately for the Lightning, who sit seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 4-3-2 record, Mathieu Garon, known as a decent backup for most of his career, is posting all-star numbers. He has a three-game winning streak since stepping in for Roloson, with a 1.78 GAA and .942 save percentage.
Yzerman seemed somewhat surprised Wednesday that Bergeron’s numbers are considered a surprise. He said, when Bergeron was signed during the 2010-11 season, both he and head coach Guy Boucher thought the defenceman could expand his role despite his relatively advanced years.
“As the season went on, we got some injuries, he started to play more and handled the responsibility well,” Yzerman said. “He’s a pretty smart player with very good skills. I think he knows where to go and where to stand on the defensive side.”
The Lightning then often dressed seven defencemen for games, which meant Bergeron was only used sparingly in 5-on-5 play. He had a modest eight points in 23 regular-season games and three points in 14 playoff games.
But Tampa wanted to get back to six defencemen this season. Yzerman says what they saw in the playoffs convinced them Bergeron could play a role.
Garon’s work in goal is a big help, Yzerman admitted, although he said Roloson is more the victim of circumstance than any sudden decline because of his age.
“My feeling is you don’t lose anything over the course of one off-season,” Yzerman said. “Some guys don’t start as well. The numbers are skewed.”
For example, Yzerman said, while Roloson has had a couple of bad periods here and there, the Lightning played sloppy in front of him.
There was also some bad luck.
“The puck bounces in the air, [Tampa blueliner]Victor Hedman reaches up to clear the rebound and knocks the puck into our net. We’ve had a few of those,” the GM said.
Roloson, of course, isn’t the only No. 1 goaltender to find himself sitting on the bench these days. Things are much worse for Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, who is off to what seems to be an annual slow start.
The big-money goalie had to be pulled in his last game, Tuesday in Edmonton, when he gave up three goals in little more than four minutes. Now, the fans in Vancouver are in full boil over whether the top job should belong to Luongo or backup Cory Schneider.
Thanks to Luongo’s $63-million (U.S.) contract, though, he is not going anywhere.