Canucks, Capitals, Jets --ed predictions with October surprise

November 03, 1991|By Frank Brown | Frank Brown,New York Daily News

They will not receive a trophy and they will not be paid a penny for having earned this distinction. In fact, unless someone sends them a copy of this page, the Vancouver Canucks probably will go about their business without ever having learned that a select panel, consisting of yours truly, has named them the NHL's Surprise Team for the month of October.

There were other candidates. The Washington Capitals, famous for rotten starts, were a powerhouse in the opening month. And the Winnipeg Jets, who don't get noticed much, were playing shockingly strong defense until the final three games. There also were teams who should have started stronger and didn't.

So here is one ranking of the NHL's surprise clubs, in order of their ability to do unexpected things in October:

* Vancouver: The Canucks finally got the clutch scoring they have sought for years and won games that used to end as ties and tied games that used to end in defeat. They played 788 minutes, 32 seconds in October, and the score was within a goal either way for nearly 80 percent of that time (628:24), which adds luster to their 9-3-1 October record. The games were on the table and the Canucks did the things to win.

Vancouver's left side of Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso, Greg Adams and Gino Odjick is textured and productive. The defense is big and experienced. Goaltender Kirk McLean is on a roll, though 11 starts in the first 13 games threatens burned-out circuits later. Trevor Linden has been more or less unstoppable, Cliff Ronning -- known more for his power-play skills -- has been scoring at even strength. The power play produced 14 goals, double last October.

* Washington: Admittedly, eight goals came in the final October game, a rout of Pittsburgh. But when you see the Washington Capitals are second in the league in scoring, you reach for eyedrops. They scored 43 goals in 14 games last October, piled up 56 in 12 games this October. Todd Krygier and Randy Burridge added speed and grit, Sylvain Cote was a solid addition to a solid defense.

* Winnipeg: The Jets' Bob Essensa has seven shutouts in a career of three-plus seasons and nobody has heard of him. The Flyers' notorious Ron Hextall has one shutout in five seasons. Which of them is underrated, which is overrated? Jets had 14 October points, up three from last October, under newcomer John Paddock; but like all teams with new coaches, it takes the second half to evaluate progress.

* Edmonton: The Oilers have lost their megastars but not their grit or their championship veneer. They are more relaxed under coach TedGreen, who talks to them more and gives them more pats on the back than John Muckler did. Their 12 points doubled last October's output.

* Rangers: They aren't settling for ties in games they can win, aren't accepting defeat as willingly. They aren't over-reliant on the goalies any more, and they're protecting an extremely vulnerable defense by spending a lot more time in the other end of the ice.

* Montreal: Once they traded Stephane Richer, you had to wonder who would score.

But scoring has been fine and the defense limited the opposition to two goals or fewer in 10 of 13 October games.

* Hartford: It is stunning when the Whalers are anything but mediocre. Thanks to goaltending by Kay Whitmore and the deft coaching touch of Jim Roberts, the situation seems to be improving.

* Devils: Claude Lemieux (eight goals), Tom Chorske and Dave Maley (six each), and Stephane Richer (five) came from the Canadiens. Chorske's one-season high is nine goals, Maley's is eight. The Devils led the league in October scoring. What's going on here?

* Boston: Three October victories under new coach Rick Bowness. No Cam Neely, 10 goals over four home games. Not all surprises are pleasant.

* Pittsburgh: Worst goals-against in the conference is no surprise. They were a second-half team last year under Bob Johnson and they'll need to be one this year.

* Calgary: Best goal differential (50 scored, 38 permitted) in the Campbell Conference but no oomph yet.

* San Jose: You knew they'd be bad, but you couldn't have predicted they'd be this bad.

* Islanders: At least now they have a pulse.

* Chicago: Mike Keenan has only pulled a goalie once. Watch them in the second half; they've added a world of Stanley Cup success in Steve Smith, John Tonelli and Brent Sutter.

* Quebec: Owen Nolan's scoring has been a surprise, Quebec's lousy record is no surprise.

* Buffalo: In seven consecutive games, either they or their opponents were held to one goal.

* Los Angeles: Averaged 5.57 goals in seven October victories, 1.67 goals in their three losses.

* Philadelphia: Gave up just seven goals in final four October games but won only two of them, which is how you miss the playoffs.

* St. Louis: Sutters battle to the end, which explains why two of four ties were gained in the final minutes.

* Detroit: About where you might have figured them to be.

* Minnesota: People are coming back to the Met Center, but this was a 68-point team last season.

;/ * Toronto: Has anybody seen Glenn Anderson?

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