In late August it seemed like the NHL was already spell checking the Canucks roster for there shiny new name plate on Lord Stanley's Cup, but just as they were asking, "How many Ls in Alain?" The train fell of it's tracks.
Could it have been the slow start as the team dropped five of their first six games?
Did injuries to newly acquired Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis remind the collective hockey world that this organization is a defenseman graveyard?
Was the Rick Rypien fan incident and subsequent estrangement that big a knock on the club?
Was it the continued epic failure against the Blackhawks?
It's anyones guess, but it seems the Canucks aren't hockey's darlings anymore just a third of the way through the season, and even though they are leading their conference they still sit third in the West, and it's pretty tough to consider that living up to the hype.
So who is the favourite a third of the way in to the 2010-11 season?
You gotta like the Penguins who just lost for the first time after a twelve game winning streak. Despite the loss Sid Crosby continued his torrent pace recording a couple assists in a 3-2 loss to division rival Philly. Crosby has 38 points in the midst of a 19 game point streak and leads the league in scoring by a mile. Evgeni Malkin has had a hot and cold year but he returned earlier than expected from a recent knee injury to score the teams only goals in the loss. If he gets back on track, Jordan Staal returns and Marc-Andre Fleury promises not to play the puck this team is scary.
The Flyers who bested the Penguins tonight could also be argued as the early favourites. The revolving door of goaltenders continues. After last year's hero Michael Leighton left early with back surgery Russian Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky has stepped in admirably. A rejuvinated Andrej Meszaros joins an already solid defense. Claude Giroux is emerging as a top-level talent. Dany Briere has regained form and captain Mike Richards is looking like a Selke Trophy candidate again. Add to that Nik Zheredev finding his NHL calibre goalscoring and you've got a jugernaut.
The Pens and Flyers are 1-2 in total points in the league but Pittsburgh is ranked fourth in the East as they are one behind Philly in the Atlantic conference. Second overall Washington are mired in a losing slump and the North East leading Habs have been very good but its the 7th place Bruins who might also be considered a Cup Favourite - not just contender, a favourite. They have played four fewer games than the Pens, and assuming they win them all they would have the same points total. What sets them aside as the only other true favourite in the East is their third over-all goal differential at +25, trailing only, you guessed it, Philly and Pittsburgh. Boston has allowed a league low 56 goals for exactly a 2.00 Team GAA. Though they aren't racking up the goals there forward depth is definitely among the elite especially down the middle where they boast: David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard, not including Tyler Seguin and Gregg Campbell.
Out West it's a little harder to seperate the men from the boys with only five points seperating second place Dallas from twelfth place St. Louis. I think you still consider the Canucks a favourite when you consider they are still very much finding themselves after a fairly major offseason roster make over, and fighting significant injuries to top six forward Mikael Samuelson, Alex Burrows who is just now finding his game following off-season shoulder surgery and Mason Raymond, as well as Ballard and Hamhuis. They still have the makings of a favourite, leaning heavily on their new and improved third line during this bought of the injury bug. Newly acquired Manny Malhotra is the leagues top face off man. His old buddy from the Columbus days, Rafi Torres, has brought a physical presence and contributed eight goals so far, and Janik Hansen leads the team in hits. Once healthy this is a favourite for sure but not the clear cut winner in the west.
Detroit is first overall right now and they deserve to be. They are third in scoring, tops in goal differential and are exhibiting the same two-way/puck-controll game that has led to championships in years past, and that's exactly what sets them appart. Many of the players currently starring for the Wings have been there in the past. This veteran laden club is led by a rejuvinated Pavel Datsyuk who has found his scoring touch again to compliment his heralded defensive play. Nik Lidstrom is still getting it done at fourty posting 22 points in 29 games, and underrated goalie Jimmy Howard is playing lights out. Every team in their conference has led at some point. It's hard to say The Preds are a favourite sitting fourth in the West even though they've got the same amount of points as the Canucks. It's even harder to argue The Stars' case when team scoring leader Brad Richards is still the topic of trade talks. The Avalanche lead the West in scoring but sit in fifth. Craig Anderson has returned from injury though, and the team has added scoring depth with Thomas Fleischmann. The Avs are highly underrated buy hardly a favourite.
So that leaves your NHL top five contenders in order as
5 Vancouver Canucks
4 Boston Bruins
3 Pittsburgh Penguins
2 Detroit Redwings
1 Philledelphia Flyers