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NHL 2014-15 Surprise Teams

NHL 2014-15 Surprise Teams
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The Isles rising to the top of the Eastern Conference are one of the many surprises this NHL season.

The 2014-15 NHL season has had its fair share of surprises. Here are three teams that have been the most surprising thus far heading into the New Year.

At 25-11-1, the New York Islanders sit atop the Metropolitain Divsion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, trailing them only in regulation and overtime wins (ROW), and are tied with the Penguins with the second most points in the Eastern Conference.  

The Islanders offense was the strength of their team last season, and it continues to be in the 2014-15 season. They currently score the third most goals per game in the league with three, led by captain John Tavares with 15 goals and youngster Brock Nelson with 14. Other important players on offense have been rookies Ryan Strome and Anders Lee. Strome is tied for third on the team with 27 points with Nelson, and Lee's nine goals are good enough for third best on the team. 

But what has really changed for the Islanders this season has been their improvements on defense and between the pipes. The late off-season additions of defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have helped solidify an otherwise shaky defensive unit for New York, while Jaroslav Halak had had one of the best seasons of his career in net. Boychuk has 13 power play points, Leddy has 17 points, and Halak is 20-6-0 with a 2.26 goals against average and .917 save percentage. 

Whether or not the Islanders can maintain this pace is the big question going forward, but for now they are one of the best teams in hockey and show no signs of stopping. 

Another team that has caught the NHL by surprise is the Calgary Flames. Despite being 4-5-1 in its last 10 games, Calgary is only one point out of second in the Pacific Division and only behind the third-place Vancouver Canucks by one ROW. 

Much like the Islanders, the Flames have relied on thier youth to get them where they are thus far this season. Two of their top scorers are Johnny Gaudreau, 21, with 12 goals and Sean Monahan, 20, with 11 goals. Add in contributions by center Josh Jooris and defenseman T.J. Brodie and the Flames have a handful of young, talanted players making contributions.

The Flames' veteran players have also been crucial to this season's success. Jiri Hudler leads the team with 13 goals and 37 points, while defenseman Mark Giordano leads the team in assists with 25 and all NHL defenseman in points with 35. Fellow defenseman Dennis Wideman has also been a big contirutor with 10 goals and 22 points, which has also helped the young players on the team get more comfortable in the system and not have to carry the load themselves. 

Add in solid goaltending by Jonas Hiller (13-10-2, 2.31 GAA, .917 save percentage) and Kari Ramo (8-5-1, 2.69 GAA, .903 save percentage) and the Flames end up being one of the most dangerous teams in the leauge when clicking on all cylinders. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Flames continue to regress come 2015, but if they don't they can be a very dangerous team come playoff time. 

Moving to a team that is surprising for all the wrong reasons, the Colorado Avalanche. A team that finished first in the Central Division and second overall in the Western Conference last season, the Avalanche have struggled mightly in the 2014-15 campaign. They currently sit at the basement of the Central with a 14-15-8 record and find themselves close the bottom of the league in many major categories. 

The injury to goalie Semyon Varlamov early on certainly didn't help them, but even now that he is back he has nowhere near the player he was last season. He has a losing record in 18 games with a 3.00 GAA and .911 save percentage. Rookie Calvin Pickard (6-6-2, 2.21 GAA, .934 save percentage) was a bright spot for a short period of time, but even he regressed after a hot start to his NHL career and is now back in the AHL. 

But it's not all on the goaltending. The Avs are also struggling offensively. Only three players on their team have double digit goals and the roster's points are mainly coming from eight players. Nathan MacKinnon has 22 points and only six goals after a very impressive rookie season and 35 year old Alex Tanguay leads the team in goals with 12 and points with 25.

Perhaps the 2013-14 season was lightning in a bottle for a Colorado team with a new head coach in Patrick Roy, a young stud in MacKinnon and a very hot goaltender in Varlamov. Whatever the case may be, the Avalanche are not what they were last season and they'll need a monstrous last 45 games if they want to make the playoffs in the West.