November 3, 2011

NHL Players of the Month for October

The players of the month in October have been named, and not a single one of these players would have been picked as a favorite for the award in the preseason. Phil Kessel, Kari Lehtonen, and Nikolai Khabibulin were all somewhat of underdogs coming into this season. Yet every single one of them, is not only playing at an extremely high level, but playing what is probably the best hockey of their respective careers. Let’s take a look at why each of these players were given the award.

Phil Kessel - Toronto Maple Leafs: 11 GP, 10 Goals, 8 assists, 18 points, +6, 3 GWG
Phil Kessel was voted the month’s #1 star of October, and for good reason! Kessel was essentially unstoppable. He ranked 1st in the league in goals, points, and game-winning goals for the month. Kessel was not only good, he was flat out dominant. He flat out took over some games, as he had 5 multi-point games (nearly half of his outings). For those of you who think this award was due to a few games, think again as he had points in 9 out of 11 games. His month was just about as consistent as could be. Kessel has been all over the ice so far this season, playing well in all 3 zones. That is nowhere more evident than in his +- for the month, as he posted a very impressive +6 rating. What makes Kessel’s 10 goals in 11 games even more impressive, is the fact that only one of those has come with a man-advantage. Meaning he has created 90% of his goals at even strength, that is the true sign of a dominant player. Kessel has always been a great goal-scorer, but this year we have seen him develop into a true NHL superstar, being able to set up plays for others just as well as creating his own scoring chances. For those of you who think that he will slow down in November, he has played one game in which he had 2 assists and was a +3. He now has 20 points in 12 games and is a +9. He now ranks 1st in the league in goals, points, gwg’s, and plus/minus. He also is top 5 in the league in assists, and is showing no signs of slowing down!

Kari Lehtonen – Dallas Stars: 9 GP, 8-1-0, 1.75 GAA, .947 save%
Kari Lehtonen was the 2nd star of the month due to his near perfect start to the season for the Dallas Stars. Lehtonen managed to win 8 of his 9 starts, and is the #1 reason why the Stars are at the top of their division. His wins aren’t the only reason he earned this spot, as his stats were equally as impressive. He posted a 1.75 GAA, and a .947 save%, and with numbers like that clearly gave his team a chance to win every single night. In his 8 wins, he never allowed more than 2 goals, so the wins were in large part due to him. His 1 loss was his only poor performance as he allowed 4 goals, but has been phenomenal in every other start. The Stars are vastly improved this year, considering they ranked dead last in their division last season. With the loss of Brad Richards, many people thought that the Stars would struggle out of the gate; however, they are off to an incredible start due in large part to Lehtonen’s performance. Remember they are 0-2 in the 2 games that he didn’t start!

Nikolai Khabibulin – Edmonton Oilers: 7 GP, 5-0-2, 1.12 GAA, .960 save%
He might be #3 on this list, but in my opinion, he could have equally been ranked #2, or even #1. The only reason he wasn’t ranked ahead of Lehtonen was because he only played in 7 games. But in those 7 games, Khabibulin never lost in regulation, banking at least 1 point for the Oilers in every single game that he started. It’s not just his record that has impressed me so far though; it’s how he has performed in those wins. He has yet to allow more than 2 goals in any game, which is very good after 7 games. But what’s even more impressive is that he has allowed 1 or less goals in 5 out of 7 games, which is just unheard of! For those of you who argue that his GAA is due to Edmonton playing good D, and a lack of shots, you are just flat out wrong. As he has faced 30+ shots in 5 of his games! Edmonton has 16 points in 11 games, and to put that into perspective, this is a team that managed to attain only 62 points all of last season. The Oilers have 25% of the points they had last year in the 1st month of the season, this is a vastly improved team, and it is in large part due to Khabibulin. Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of the kid-line have been great, but Edmonton is barely scoring over 2 goals a game. So the fact that they have a winning record is due almost solely to the goaltender. And his out of this world .960 save% is reminding us all why he was nicknamed the Bulin-Wall when he won the cup with the Lightning.

That covers the 3 players of the month for October, let’s see if they could keep it up this month.

Grant Robinson (@Thesportsgrind)

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