Ten statistical surprises

Surprises? You want to talk surprises? How about the fact the

Atlanta Thrashers made it to the holiday break in sixth place in

the East, while the vaunted Philadelphia Flyers are buried in 13th

— and with a different coach than the one who started the

year behind the bench? Or that Phoenix, Nashville and Los Angeles

each have a firm hold on a playoff spot in the West, while

Vancouver and Detroit — Detroit! — are on the outside

looking in?

What’s next, a breakout year from Dustin Penner?

Here are 10 surprises among the NHL’s scoring leaders, defense

leaders, goaltenders and rookies:

1. Marian Gaborik: The Rangers sniper is second overall in

league scoring (49 points) — and has the most goals in the

NHL with 26 in 35 games. Wild, eh?

2. Henrik Sedin: The playmaking Canucks center is right

behind Gaborik with 47 points in 37 games, including 16 goals. (His

career high in goals is 22, set last season.) Perhaps most

impressive is that Henrik continued to produce — and

prodigiously — without his lifelong linemate, brother Daniel,

who missed 18 games to injury in the first half.

3. Tomas Plekanec: Wasn’t Scott Gomez supposed to be

Montreal’s No. 1 center? Apparently nobody told Plekanec, who’s

sixth overall in league scoring with 43 points in 39 games. And

he’s second overall in assists, with 36, behind only San Jose’s Joe

Thornton (41). Gomez, meanwhile, has 17 assists and 21 points in 35

games.

4. Brad Richards: Maybe it’s not a surprise, exactly, when a

29-year-old with a 91-point season and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his

credit is tied for seventh in league scoring with 42 points in 35

games, but Richards hasn’t surpassed 70 points since the lockout.

So the fact that he’s on a career-best pace this season speaks to

his rededication — or maybe to the more wide-open,

free-flowing playing style that Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and coach

Marc Crawford have employed in Dallas.

5. Dustin Penner: He’s slowed down a bit of late — no

doubt, losing linemate Ales Hemsky for the remainder of the season

to a shoulder injury has contributed to that fact — but

Penner is still among the NHL’s top 20 in scoring, with 19 goals

and 38 points in 37 games.

6. Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton: Don’t look now, but the

Panthers linemates are on pace for nearly 80 points apiece. Can

playoff berth be next for the beleaguered Panthers?

7. Stephane Robidas and Marc-Andre Bergeron: If you

predicted Dallas’ Robidas and Montreal’s Bergeron would share the

goal-scoring lead among defensemen at the holiday break —

with nine — you would’ve been laughed out of the room.

(Especially since Bergeron didn’t even have a job at the start of

the season; the Habs signed him after Andrei Markov went down to

injury in Game 1.) But who’s laughing now?

8. Steve Mason: There’s the sophomore jinx — and then

there’s whatever is going on with Mason. The Columbus goalie was a

rookie revelation last season, claiming the Calder Trophy and even

earning a Vezina Trophy nomination, but he — along with most

of the rest of the Blue Jackets — is struggling to keep his

head above water in 2009-10. Mason is second-to-last in both save

percentage (.887) and goals-against average (3.40) among NHL

goalies who have played at least 10 games. Only Toronto’s Vesa

Toskala (.869, 3.81) had worse stats.

9. Ilya Bryzgalov: The secret is out on the Phoenix goalie,

but the fact he made it to the holiday break among the NHL’s top

five in wins (21; tied for third), goals-against average (2.02;

third) and save percentage (.926; fifth) is nothing short of a

Festivus miracle.

10. Dan Sexton: It’s been an up-and-down season in Anaheim

— mostly down — but the turmoil opened a window of

opportunity for (supposedly) 5-foot-10, 170-pound rookie winger Dan

Sexton and the lucky Duck has taken full advantage. After starting

the season with the Bakersfield Condors (13 goals, 26 points in 18

games) in the ECHL, the undrafted Sexton was called up to the

American League’s Manitoba Moose and promptly supplied a goal and

three points in five games. So the Ducks, hamstrung by injuries and

desperate for good news, promoted Sexton to the big-time —

and the little guy has responded with five goals and eight points

in his first 10 games.

Sam McCaig is The Hockey News’ senior copy editor and a

contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his

column, From The Point, appears regularly.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of

hockey,

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