Here are five pleasant scoring surprises so far this season

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Nobody’s shocked that Sidney Crosby leads the NHL scoring race with 12 points in six games, or that Martin St. Louis is second with 10 points in six games. However, the following five guys have been pleasant surprises early in 2013-14:

Tomas Hertl (7G, 2A): You may have heard about this guy already. No player has more goals this season than the Sharks’ 19-year-old rookie. While his shooting percentage is rather high (33.3%) and unsustainable, it’s not so inordinately high to suggest he can’t keep producing at a decent rate. The challenge will be handling the NHL schedule, which is far longer and with far more travel (especially out of San Jose), than he played in the Czech league.

Mason Raymond (4G, 4A): Quite the bargain for $1 million. The speedy Raymond is a former 25-goal scorer whose production fell off the past couple of seasons in Vancouver. He’s been a timely addition for the Leafs though, especially after David Clarkson was suspended for the first 10 games of the season and Nikolai Kulemin ran into injury problems.

Teddy Purcell (4G, 4A): The Lightning winger did have 65 points in 2011-12, so we can’t be too astounded he’s off to a hot start. But there’s no question he’s easy to overlook on a team that also has Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. In addition to his point totals, another Purcell stat that jumps off the page is his average ice time — just 14:01 per game. Among the top 30 scorers, he and Hertl (14:31) are the only ones below 15 minutes.

Jason Garrison (2G, 5A): Second in scoring among NHL defensemen, behind only Montreal’s PK Subban (2G, 6A). Garrison is seeing considerably more time on the power play under new Canucks coach John Tortorella than he did last season, his first in Vancouver, under Alain Vigneault. But that doesn’t explain his increased production; actually, he’s only got one PP point, with two of them coming shorthanded. No Canuck has played more than Garrison this season. The 28-year-old with the booming shot logged a big 28:29 last night in Philadelphia, picking up a second assist on the game-tying goal by Chris Higgins.

Jiri Hudler (2G, 5A): Coming off a frustrating 27-point campaign in 2013, the 29-year-old former Red Wing leads the surprising Flames in scoring after five games. In fact, he hasn’t been held without a point yet. “The way we play, it’s a lot of fun,” he said Saturday, per the Calgary Sun. “Every game is exciting. Everybody’s buying in, playing hard. Of course, we’re going to make mistakes, it’s going to happen and totally normal, but you can tell the bench, everybody’s in.”

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.