by Aaron Dreger
Many teams in the CPHL are now around the 8-game mark, finished about 10% of their seasons. This may seem like an inappropriate time to look at standings, stats, and the like, but many GMs consider the quarter pole to be the point where you know what kind of team you have, and we are halfway there. Let�s examine four of last year�s disappointments, who are currently leading the charge in the CPHL standings early in the season. In order to be included in this list, a team must have finished out of the standings last year, but be in playoff position so far this year.
As of today, October 20, the Boston Bruins sit in 6th place in the Gretzky Conference, with the top two scorers in the entire league: the surprising tandem of Curtis Brown and Glen Metropolit, who have 14 and 13 points respectively. Last season, the Bruins ended up with a disappointing and surprising 70 points, good for 14th place in their conference and 27th in the league.
The Bruins are also experiencing a renaissance in some statistical categories. Their power play finished last season ranked 12th, this year�s squad has seen a modest improvement to 9th. They are standing 4th in team scoring this year with an average of 4.25 goals per game; last year, the squad stumbled to a 24th place finish in this category.
The team does need to tighten up some on defense. To this point in the season, fans in Boston have seen their team let in an average of 3.25 goals per game. This statistic must improve if the Bruins are to become a contender for the cup this year. Disappointing as the stat may be, however, it is a quarter-goal better than they achieved last season.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils must be considered one of the biggest surprises at this point in the young 2007-08 season. Today, the squad from the swamp sits in a tie for first place in their conference, with the second-highest winning percentage in the league. What a huge leap from where the team came from: expected to finish last-overall last season, with an actual finish of 26th overall in the league, 13th in the Gretzky Conference. The team is led by the veteran scoring presence of Doug Weight, acquiring in the off-season, who is tied for 2nd in the league scoring race with 13 points.
Statistically speaking, the Devils finished an abysmal 30th overall on the power-play last year. Their performance has been middle-of-the-road so far this season, ranking 13th overall with a 15.3% success rate. Offensively speaking, the Devils are scoring almost a full goal per game more than they did last year, while on defense they have also allowed nearly a full goal less per game, standing 6th overall in the league.
Unfortunately, the Devils are allowing very nearly the same number of shots against per game as they did last season. Coach Mike Babcock and his men will need to focus to improve this if the Devils wish to be the contenders they see themselves as.
Last years� Flames squad finished a disappointing 12th in the Howe Conference, while this season sees them flying high in second place in their conference. The Flames managed to be the second-to-last standing team in the unofficial CPHL Survivor Pool put on by some of the GMs, hardly a team pundits would have fingered for such success prior to this season.
The Flames have been punishing their opponents for taking penalties, with a power play clicking at an even 20% success rate, good for 6th overall in the league, a 4% increase from last year�s squad, which finished near the middle of the power play standings. In the other main offensive category, the Flames are scoring more than a full goal more this year than they did last year, ranking their potent offense sixth-best in the league.
The penalty kill is actually a sore spot for the Flames this year as much as it was the bright spot for the team last year. Finishing 2nd overall last year, this year�s stoppers actually look quite ordinary; a middle-of-the-road team that can be scored on with the man advantage. A look at the teams� shots-against ranking shows that the team is letting opponents get two more shots per game more this year than last; perhaps Flames GM Axel should re-think his rumored shopping of star netminder Miikka Kiprusoff.
The Ducks entered last season easily one of the worst teams in their league, and their record proved this assertion to be true. A measly 61 points ranked the Ducks 31st in the league, with only the truly pathetic Sharks team of last year below them. At this early point in the new season, the Ducks find themselves clinging to 8th place in the Howe Conference, admittedly, thanks to a pair of beatdowns of the Winnipeg Jets. It is difficult to truly judge this team (as it is to judge many others) at this early point, however, some trends have emerged.
The Ducks are producing the third best amount of goals in the league this season, scoring an average of 4.33 goals per game, whereas they managed only 2.70 goals a game last season, good for 30th overall in the league.
The team�s defense has allowed more or less the same number of goals against per game this year as they did last year (3.50 vs. 3.41), but this has resulted in a large drop down the standings where the Ducks sit in 24th overall. The Ducks have tried to acknowledge and remedy this situation with the controversial acquisition of Scott Neidermayer from the Sharks, a player rumored to be mulling retirement.
Honorable mention goes to the San Jose Sharks, a team that finished in 32nd in the league in overall standings last season only because there aren�t 33 teams in the league. After a season where many squads� AHL teams could have beaten the Sharks, management has turned things around to the tune where the Sharks are only not in playoff position due to being on the wrong end of the tie-breaker. Their .500 record at this point is a huge leap forward for the Sharks, whose fans are enjoying a season with promise for the first time in a while.
NEXT: Some of last season�s strongest performers who are not doing so well this year.