Out of Town Notebook: Surprises and Disappointments in the Eastern Conference

With the NHL season entering the home stretch, it’s easy to take a look around the league and evaluate what’s gone right, and what’s gone wrong, for each team.

So let’s take a moment to highlight the surprises and disappointments the 2010-11 NHL season has had to offer.

First, the Eastern Conference:

Atlanta Thrashers

Biggest Surprise: That Dustin Byfuglien could become an impact defenseman and potentially the face of a franchise.

Biggest Disappointment: Ondrej Pavelec has not given the Thrashers the consistent goaltending they need, and Craig Ramsey hasn’t been good-as-advertised behind the bench. This team has just not been able to pick up the defensive side of the game all year.

Boston Bruins

Biggest Surprise: It would be easy to suggest Tim Thomas’s Vezina-calibre, if not record-breaking (save percentage), season should be the biggest surprise, since Tuuka Rask was effectively the number one goalie last year. However, I’m not sure Milan Lucic scoring 30-goals was expected when this season started.

Biggest Disappointment: Obviously it’s Marc Savard’s concussion issues, which robbed the team of arguably their most dynamic offensive player for most of the season. That being said, the Bruins are still waiting for Tomas Kaberle to show up from Toronto.

Buffalo Sabres

Biggest Surprise: Drew Stafford has found consistency for the first time in his pro-career and with some luck as the season winds down may get to 30-goals.

Biggest Disappointment: Tyler Myres sophomore slumped his way through the first-half of the season, but better play of late rules him out as a candidate. So we’ll go with Tim Connolly, who was expected to do more, especially with the injury to Derek Roy.

Carolina Hurricanes

Biggest Surprise: No one expected Jeff Skinner to be NHL ready this year.

Biggest Disappointment: Joe Corvo has brought it offensively, but defensively he’s ECHL capable. Carolina was hoping for more. Chad LaRose is a solid roleplayer, but -19 is an ugly stat for a shut-down checking centre.

Florida Panthers

Biggest Surprise: Mike Santorelli, an afterthought in the Nashville Predators system, will score 20-goals this year. Jason Garrison has also played pretty well on the blue line.

Biggest Disappointment: The Panthers have been waiting, and waiting, for Rostislav Olesz and Shawn Matthias to contribute at the NHL level. It’s starting to look like neither will become top-six regulars.

Montreal Canadiens

Biggest Surprise: James Wisniewski, who’s never had more than 35 points in pro hockey at any level, has 45-points this year. He was good playing for the Islanders. He’s been better in Montreal.

Biggest Disappointment: Scott Gomez, who looks nowhere near the player he once was in New Jersey.

New Jersey Devils

Biggest Surprise: That Jacques Lemaire’s coaching could have such an impact on the team. He should be an Adams finalist for the job he’s done salvaging New Jersey’s season.

Biggest Disappointment: The Devils are saying all the right things, but one has to wonder if this team would be in the playoffs if Martin Brodeur’s save percentage was better than .901.

New York Islanders

Biggest Surprise: Two reclamation projects have given Islanders fans reasons to be excited for next year. Michael Grabner and Al Montoya have demonstrated that sometimes all it takes is the right situation for talent to develop.

Biggest Disappointment: For all the skill Josh Bailey has, he’s rarely been on the score sheet this season. New York desperately needs him to become a top-six player to take the next step.

New York Rangers

Biggest Surprise: Brian Boyle potting 20-goals. Also, Derek Stepan giving the team three scoring options down the middle (along with Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky).

Biggest Disappointment: Michael Del Zotto has taken another step back, and Ruslan Fedotenko hasn’t made much of an impact. However, another injury-filled season from Marian Gaborik has jeopardized the team’s playoff chances. Healthy, this team is too good to not make the post-season.

Ottawa Senators

Biggest Surprise: That Bryan Murray and Cory Clouston are still employed. It’s become a lost season in the nation’s capital.

Biggest Disappointment: Where do you start? The last time Sergei Gonchar was healthy and this unproductive was more than a decade ago (1998-99). The team might not have a single 20-goal scorer. Peter Regin looks over-his-head on most nights. The team has used six goalies this year, and their present solution, Craig Anderson, is an injury-prone UFA. It’s a nightmare in Ottawa.

Philadelphia Flyers

Biggest Surprise: Sergei Bobrovsky has given the Flyers solid goaltending for most of the season. With all the “famous” names on the roster, Claude Giroux is the team’s current leading scorer.

Biggest Disappointment: Picking up Nikolai Zherdev didn’t make sense in the off-season, and hasn’t made sense during the regular season. A number of injuries to Chris Pronger makes one wonder if he can be counted on to log the big minutes anymore.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Biggest Surprise: That Dan Blysma, on the fly, has taught this team how to win playing tough, tight, defensive hockey. It’s a performance worthy of Adams Trophy consideration. Honourable mention goes to Kris Letang, who has come into his own this season.

Biggest Disappointment: The injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, obviously. Also, the offense the team was hoping to get from James Neal (3 points) and Alex Kovalev (2 points) hasn’t materialized down the stretch.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Biggest Surprise: Teddy Purcell becoming a regular top-six contributor. He’ll crack 50-points this year.

Biggest Disappointment: Simon Gagne. The former defensive stalwart is a team-worst -18.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Biggest Surprise: James Reimer, who saved the team’s season. Honourable mention to Mikhail Grabovski, who has been the teams offensive MVP.

Biggest Disappointment: Tyler Bozak did not take the next step, and looks like a third-line centre in the NHL, not a top-line player.

Washington Capitals

Biggest Surprise: Braden Holtby, whose goals against average is currently under 2.00 with the Caps. The team may try and ride this 21-year old through the post-season. It should also be noted that, with all the “what’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin” stories this year, it’s a surprise he currently sits fifth in NHL scoring. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Biggest Disappointment: Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr have been really inconsistent this year, which made the Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm acquisitions all-the-more important at the trade deadline.

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