With Halloween upon us and October about to give way to November, it seems like a good time to take a look at the first month of the 2011-12 season. In today’s edition, we’ll take a look at players who are on “scary good” starts and see if they can keep it up. Tuesday’s column will focus on scary bad starts and see who might snap out of them.
Can Phil Kessel and other top scorers maintain their fearsome paces?
The Toronto Maple Leafs sniper leads all players with goals (10) and points (18) in what is starting to look like a revenge tour for the hockey world’s shared laughter when he was selected last in the All-Star fantasy draft.
(If you ask me, Kessel got hosed by the selection rules anyway. Defensemen and goalies had mandatory deadlines for their picks; I’m pretty sure that someone like NHL assists leader Erik Karlsson [12 helpers] would have gone last if those restrictions weren’t in place.)
The question is: will Kessel keep it up?
My guess is that it depends on what you define “it” as. If “it” means leading the league, then I’d still bet against it. One of the biggest indicators of an unsustainable run is a high shooting percentage and Kessel carries that; he’s connected on 26.3 percent of his shots so far. Even if he’s raising his game to a new level, it’s hard to imagine him being that much higher than his 10.9 percent career average over the long haul.
Still, Kessel has been a guy who delivers buckets of goals, tons of SOG (325 in 2010-11; 34 already this season) and respectable assist numbers. If he stays healthy, he should score at least 40 goals for the first time and has a great chance at 50, too.
The league’s top ranks are full of guys who are off to hot starts who will probably fizzle off at least a little bit. It’s not until you get to 9th highest scorer Daniel Sedin (4 goals, 11.4 shooting percentage) that you see a player who’s likely to maintain his current pace.
Of the surprising starters, James Neal might be an increasingly realistic Maurice Richard Trophy threat, though. His 52 SOG lead the league and he scored those 9 goals with Sidney Crosby on the shelf and Evgeni Malkin in and out of the lineup.