With most teams somewhere between 38 and 42 games played (the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders have the luxury of only 36 games-played), it's safe to call the first workday of 2011 as the unofficial halfway point of the NHL season. What's surprised and disappointed so far this season? Let's take a look.
Tim Thomas, goaltending messiah: Oh Tim Thomas, we're sorry we doubted you yet again. This guy doesn't get any respect, does he? Thomas has bounced back from a ho-hum 2009-10 season to obscene numbers that have not only won back his starting position in Boston, his performance has essentially kept the low-scoring Bruins afloat.
Alex Ovechkin's slump: For just about anyone else, 42 points in 40 games would be a darn good start to the season. It doesn't cut it when you're Alex Ovechkin, especially when you're only on pace to maybe crack 30 goals. It's not for a lack of trying, and his 180 shots on goal lead the league by far. Some years, you just don't get the bounces. Perhaps if Ovechkin's goals and assists were reversed, some of this slump talk would go away. However, for now this has to be called a disappointing season for the Great 8.
Dustin Byfuglien, blueline dynamo: It's difficult to call Byfuglien a defenseman by normal standards, as he hardly plays the penalty kill. He's more like the old rover position, or if you want a more modern comparison, today's version of Sandis Ozolinsh. Whatever the case, Byfuglien's lack of true blueline responsibility is outweighed by his enormous offensive output. He's destroying his career pace while playing permanently on the backend. Yeah, he may not be the second coming of Nicklas Lidstrom, but at this point, who cares?
Slumping Sharks: As of today, all three of the San Jose Sharks' Team Canada forwards -- Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau -- are less than a point-per-game, while Thornton and Marleau are minus players. What gives? Coach Todd McLellan has started to break up his three cap-heavy star players in an effort to find something that works, but the team's success thus far has been driven by rookie Logan Couture and second-liner Ryane Clowe. If you're a glass-half-full type of fan, the positive part is that the merely above-average Sharks should kick into overdrive should this trio find consistency in the second half of the season.
Chicago Blackhawks PK freefall: Last year, the Blackhawks finished the season with a top-five penalty kill for both the regular season and the playoffs. This year, they're mired in the bottom five with an ugly 78.5% success rate. How did the mighty Hawks fall? Duncan Keith hasn't played to last year's Norris standard, but the bigger part of the equation is the departure of key PK players -- most notably, shot-blocker Brent Sopel, who ate up 2:20 of PK time on average last year. Having erratic goaltending doesn't help either.
Teemu Selanne, ageless wonder: The Finnish Flash simply doesn't stop, does he? Selanne has 34 points in 32 games despite playing all over the Anaheim Ducks lineup in a team that's battled injury and inconsistency. After winning the 2007 Stanley Cup, Selanne questioned whether or not he should return to the game. Right now, it seems like he can just keep going and going and going.
Montreal finally loves Carey Price: It's like a scene out of a John Hughes movie -- here's the lovable loser, the guy who knows he can do it if someone just gosh-darned believed in him. With his main competition suddenly taken out of the picture, he turns that inch of self-esteem into a mile, and the whole school falls in love with him. Things sure looked ugly for Price following Jaroslav Halak's trade, so much so that a poor pre-season performance started the lynch mob. Now with solid numbers and 19 wins, the kid has finally come into his own. For the sake of his sanity, let's hope he stays there.
Steve Mason, head case: Perhaps Mason should give Price a call and find out which sports psychologist fixed up the Montreal phenom. Mason's play has alternated between spectacular and awful, and not surprisingly, the Columbus Blue Jackets have yo-yoed alongside him. If Mason found long-term consistency to his game, the Blue Jackets would quickly become a far more dangerous team.
Parity out west: This is what parity looks like? As of Monday morning, the difference between home ice in the playoffs and no ice in the playoffs was four points. I think we'd all figured by now that there's start to be some separation, but even the Calgary Flames have hung in there (though they've played more games). Out west, it's only the Edmonton Oilers who are dead and buried. The playoff races started back in Thanksgiving, and who knows how they'll end up. One major injury or long slump could turn this whole thing upside down.