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NHL Standings And Avalanche Schedule Preview, November 22

Previously, we have examined the Western and Eastern Conference trends. Now that the NHL season is approaching the quarter pole, it's time to look at Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, whose phenomenal start has the normally struggling Lightning eyeing a high seed in this year's playoffs. This will be followed by a preview of the next week's slate of games for the Colorado Avalanche.

The biggest surprise in the NHL has been the play of the Tampa Bay Lightning, led by their young superstar Steven Stamkos. The young 20-year-old and former first overall draft pick (2008) is dominating the scoring leaderboard in essentially every category -- Goals Scored, Power Play Goals, Points Scored. After his breakout performance last season, it's no surprise that Stamkos is again filling up the boxscore. But what is surprising is the pure dominance he has displayed. He has scored five more goals than Sidney Crosby (PIT) and Alexander Semin (WAS). Stamkos' 10 power play goals is four more than second place Claude Giroux (PHI). In fact, he has been scoring at a goal a game pace.

A look at his season splits show that, while an above average offensive player, Stamkos has taken advantage of incredibly weak competition in the Southeast Division and an extremely lucky shooting pace. In two games against the Atlanta Thrashers (the worst defensive team in the Eastern Conference), Stamkos has scored five goals and two assists. Without those two games, Stamkos is right in line with the rest of the elite scorers in hockey. In fact, a comparison of games versus Western Conference competition, Stamkos has scored four goals in seven games, above average but nowhere near the 15 goals he has scored in 12 games against the defensively weaker Eastern Conference.

Stamkos is an elite talent, and is completely living up to his billing as a former #1 overall selection, but he has also benefited from playing a weaker level of competition in the Eastern Conference and from 25% of his shots converting into goals, a ridiculously high (and unsustainable) number. Of course, you should expect the very best players to dominate the lesser teams in the league. Stamkos is doing just that, and at historic rates.

Colorado Avalanche Schedule Preview

Colorado went through a decent stretch of opponents last week undefeated, dominating three good teams and somehow coming back to defeat a San Jose team that had outplayed them for 50 minutes. What does the next week in the schedule bring?

@Vancouver, November 24 The Avalanche begin a weekly slate filled with divisional games against their top competition for the Northwest Division crown, the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver has continued their recent trend of dominating Colorado by winning both games so far this season. As always, a solid defensive effort by the Avalanche defensive corps is imperative in stopping Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the brothers who form one of the very top lines in the NHL.

@ Edmonton, November 25 This is a classic trap game. Weak division opponent on the second night of a road back-to-back. Though Edmonton is by far the worst team in the Western Conference, Rexall Place is never an easy venue to steal a victory. Edmonton has poor goaltending, poor defense, and an anemic offense. Their leading scorer is defenseman Ryan Whitney, who has yet to score a goal but his 17 assists lead the team, and has been a beacon of hope in an otherwise dismal season for the Oilers.

vs. Minnesota, November 27 Colorado finally plays division opponent Minnesota on Saturday, their first meeting of the season. Despite an offense that is well below league average, the Wild find themselves (like usual) on the edge of contention due to a stifling defensive effort and a stellar season from goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who enters the week sporting a .932 SV% and a 2.11 GAA. There is one simple rule for beating Minnesota this season: score three goals. In the eight games they have allowed three or more goals, they are 1-6-1, with their only victory being an overtime effort against Detroit last week. Considering the Avalanche are averaging 3.6 goals per game -- and 4.5 goals per game the past two weeks -- this appears to be an extremely favorable matchup.