The Hat Trick: What Should You Be Watching For This Week in the NHL

Matt SitkoffCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2010

BOSTON - OCTOBER 21:  TIm Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins tends net against the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden on October 21, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Capitals 4-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

What a weekend of hockey with six hat tricks in two days.  Friday saw Steven Stamkos, Rene Bourque and Daniel Alfredsson light the lamp three times. That was only to be followed Saturday by Alexander Semin, Brad Richardson and John Tavares first hat trick of his NHL career.  Alfredsson eight career hat trick also led to his 1,000 NHL point, only the 75th NHL player to reach that milestone. Team of the week has to be the St. Louis Blues

who fought the Blackhawks hard in an OT loss Monday only to come back and beat the defending champions Friday and then shutout the high powered Penguins on Saturday.  Player of the Week and maybe of the first couple of weeks in the NHL is the sharp shooting Steven Stamkos. 

Not only did he have second career hat trick but the former first overall pick is on a four-game point streak as he paces the league with 15 points and 8 goals. Now onto the Pucking Awesome Hat Trick or the top three storylines I am watching for this week.


Bruins Goalie Drama

The stories coming out of the Hub not only surround the red hot start by Nathan Horton, who has a point in every game he has played for the Bruins but who is winning for the team in net.  Tim Thomas was named the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner and during that season was signed to a lucrative four-year deal and seemed to be the goalie of the present and future for the B’s. 

The following season the veteran shared time with former Maple Leafs 1st round pick Tuuka Rask to only see his job stolen by the end of the season.  Thomas only started nine games after February 1st and Rask was named the playoff goaltender and thus given a two-year contract and presumed to be the Bruins goalie of the present and future. 

But the 36-year-old goalie is not ready to just sit and watch that happen as Thomas has started the season 4-0 with a 0.75 GAA and .978 save percentage.  On the flip side Rask is 0-2 with a 3.52 GAA and .894 save percentage.  Can you say goalie controversy? 

All signs point to that Thomas has regained his top spot for now as the second-year pro struggles to find his last season’s top notch form.  This will be a great storyline to watch as the Bruins have two division rival games this week.  We could be seeing another chapter being written in the fairy tale Tim Thomas story.


Can the Preds Be Stopped?

Quick, can you name the NHL team yet to lose a game in regulation this season? Blackhawks, not even close. Penguins, good guess. Red Wings, close, but no cigar.  It is the Nashville Predators, who have started the 2010-11 campaign 5-0-3.  The team that took the Blackhawks to the brink in last year’s playoffs have come out of the Chute on fire and have been led by the normal characters. 

When starting goalie Pekka Rinne went down early with an injury former 7th round pick Anders Lindback was forced into action and he responded big time.  The rookie is 3-0-1 with a 2.55 GAA and .925 save percentage to start his career as the 6-6 goalie has teamed up with the 6-5 Rinne for not only the tallest goalie tandem but a darn good one. 

Rinne has returned and is 2-0-2 with a 1.58 GAA and .955 save percentage.  Both goalies need to be at their best as the Preds have been giving up 34.9 shots a game, good for 26th in the league and their combined 2.12 GAA is good for fourth best in the league.

Beyond the ageless Steve Sullivan (6 points in 8 games), the names of Cal O’Reilly, Colin Wilson and Cody Franson have paced the team offensively. The former seventh overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft Colin Wilson built on his hot finish last season to start with five points in the first eight games. 

With the loss of Dam Hamuis this offseason and Ryan Suter to injury early, Cody Franson has picked up the slack with four points and a plus-4 rating.  The 23-year-old is proving that his 21 points and plus-15 in 61 games last season was not a fluke.

The biggest surprise to the Predators hot start has to be the play of Cal O’Reilly.  The 24-year-old has been playing on the top line and been producing with six points.  The former fifth round pick has been playing 17:36 minutes per game and has seen time on the top power play unit already with two power play assists and has one game-winning goal. 

With division games against the Blues and equally hot Red Wings this week I will be watching to see if this unbeaten streak will continue. 


Contraction Talk

With the news this week that NBA Commissioner David Stern confirmed that contraction could be a possibility, the heads turn to the NHL’s big boss Gary Bettman with the same question.  With the Coyotes still searching for an owner, the Islanders still are searching for a stadium deal and the Thrashers and Blue Jackets struggling to sell tickets the thought of contraction has to be thought about.  

Those four teams are averaging fewer than 13,000 fans a game to start off this season.  One of the three between the Islanders, Thrashers and Coyotes have been the bottom three in attendance the last five years with all three being in those spots the last two. 

While the latest collective-bargaining agreement still has two seasons to run its course the buzz word of contraction might come up in the next big discussion.  Would this help a league that is booming in many markets but struggling in others?

This is a storyline that will be discuss as we get closer to the CBA deadline and farther away from answers for the Coyotes, Islanders, Thrashers and Blue Jackets to why they are not getting people to care.