As another page turns on the hockey calendar, still short of the All-Star break, 2010-2011 already looks drastically different than it did just a year ago in the Atlantic Division. Though the Pens are on their always steady pace, hovering towards the top of both the Divisional and Conference standings, the landscape surrounding them has changed quickly and decisively… Now that this season’s sample size is large enough to draw some conclusions what have been the biggest surprises thus far?
1. The Devils’ Demise – The logic doesn’t follow that an already potent team could bring in Ilya Kovalchuk, the biggest goal scoring free agent acquisition on the market, and still struggle to put the puck in the net. Then again, no one ever promised hockey would make sense. A season ago, the Devils not only won the Atlantic Division but took a 2 seed into the playoffs. Since then it’s been all downhill without warning for New Jersey. At this point, the Pens are so far out in front of the Devils, unless they splurge for Center Ice on DIRECTTV Pittsburgh may be completely out of sight.
2. Philadelphia Flying – Philadelphia was a playoff team in 2009-2010, but not by a safe margin, finishing just one point ahead of the Rangers who spent the post-season on the outside looking in. They have spent a significant chunk of this season pacing the Atlantic, the primary foe for the Pens in a hotly contested divisional race.
3. Inspired Play of Sidney Crosby – Perhaps there’s absolutely no reason for Sidney Crosby playing well to raise a single eyebrow, but the degree to which he is dominating up to this point is no less than remarkable. Still in contention at this point to lead the league in both goals and assists while amassing a massive total points lead, more than making up for a sluggish start to the season from partner in crime Evgeni Malkin.