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Original Issue


The mystifying decline of some of hockey's top offensive talents is just one takeaway from the NHL's early-season report card

One quarter of the way through the 2011--12 NHL season, only two players among the 10 leading scorers from last year are again on the list. They happen to share the same name: Sedin. Other than the accustomed consistency of the Canucks' twins, Daniel and Henrik, there has been a shocking turnover among the league's top offensive players.

Contributing to the overhaul is the emergence of the under-25 crowd—the Flyers' Claude Giroux (23), the Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel (24), Anze Kopitar (24) of the Kings and Bruins sophomore Tyler Seguin (19)—but the fundamental issue is one of stars on ice. Or stars ice-cold. The Penguins' Sidney Crosby had been sidelined with postconcussion syndrome until he returned to the lineup on Monday night, so at least he has an excuse. But the reigning MVP and Rocket Richard winner Corey Perry of the Ducks has been a cipher (seven goals, seven assists, -8), the Flames' venerable Jarome Iginla has been virtually invisible (five goals, four assists, -10), and the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin has received most of his attention for having a wax likeness at Madame Tussauds and for mouthing an obscenity at coach Bruce Boudreau from the bench late in an overtime victory over Anaheim on Nov. 1. Ovechkin's goal production has declined in each of the last three seasons—from a career-best 65 in 2007--08 to a career-worst 32 in '10--11. Currently with seven through 18 games, he is roughly on pace to match his numbers from last year. Carolina's Eric Staal, who finished 11th in scoring last season, is tied for 148th with four goals and six assists, and is the first-round leader for the NHL's green jacket, at -16.

Four other snapshots from the NHL at the quarter pole:

Stanley Cup Hangovers

Through October it seemed the only things missing in Boston and Vancouver were a tiger, a baby and Mike Tyson. But the champion Bruins (11-7-0), who barely mussed their roster during the off-season, have bolted from the bottom of the Eastern Conference with eight straight wins. The Canucks (10-9-1) have steadied themselves but still muddle along on the fringes of the playoff race, less because of any "hangover" than because of the indispensable Ryan Kesler's belated return following hip surgery—he missed the first five games—and Roberto Luongo's .896 save percentage and 2.97 goals-against average, eerie echoes of his shaky performance in last year's Cup finals.

Calamity in Columbus

Only 19 games into the season, the Blue Jackets already are in midseason form. Unfortunately, they are in the midseason form of the 1974--75 Capitals, who won just eight games, the NHL record for failure in the modern, post-1967-expansion era. Columbus is on a not-quite-historic pace for futility among non-first-year teams, with four wins. (The Jets won nine in 1980--81.) G.M. Scott Howson's off-season moves have been disastrous. He wildly overspent on free-agent defenseman James Wisniewski (six years, $33 million) and acquired an apparently unhappy Jeff Carter in a trade with Philadelphia. Last Friday, Howson denied that Carter, with one goal and four points in nine games, had requested a trade.

Sherriff Shanny

In the wake of a law-and-order preseason in which Brendan Shanahan, the new NHL disciplinarian, handed out nine suspensions that added up to 31 regular-season games and cost miscreants more than $700,000 in fines, it seems his message has been received. The regular-season tote board: six suspensions totaling 18 games and $214,000 in lost wages. Maybe an ability to articulate decisions had helped gain him early support, although as Shanahan cheerfully noted last week, many comments focused on his decisions to wear, or not wear, a tie during the video presentations. His most controversial call thus far was to not suspend Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who had bulldozed Sabres goalie Ryan Miller at the face-off circle on Nov. 12. After being inundated with criticism, especially from Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, Shanahan told SI, "Most people think you're doing O.K. Then you make one call that goes against popular opinion, and they want to crumple everything up and start all over again."

Canadian Pretenders

When red-hot Toronto hosted stumbling Boston on Nov. 5, it was a matchup of the first- and 15th-place teams in the East. Beginning with that 7--0 defeat, the Leafs have dropped five of seven while being racked by injuries, most notably to No. 1 goalie James Reimer. Meanwhile, the Oilers stood third in the West until losing to the Coyotes on, yes, Nov. 5, touching off a string of four losses in six matches. With Ryan Whitney and now Cam Barker out, Edmonton has a wafer-thin blue line. Toronto now ranks fifth in its conference, and the green Oilers are hanging on to ninth place after a 9--2 win over the Blackhawks last Saturday. Still, envisioning both in the playoffs is a stretch.

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SINKING DUCK Perry (in white) led the NHL with 50 goals last year, but has staggered so far, tied for 36th with just seven.



GRIM BLUE LINE The Jackets spent a lot to sign Wisniewski, who has just one goal and is a dismal -9.