Welcome back, NHL: The professional hockey season is finally underway

Posted by Katie Peverada

For most people, Christmas 2012 took place on Dec. 25. For myself and other hockey fans, it took place on Jan. 6. I awoke that morning to the greatest present a girl could ask for: hockey. The lockout of the National Hockey League came to an end in the wee hours of the morning on Jan. 6, marking the resolution of a 119-day labor dispute, which began on Sept. 15. The true time between games, though, was 235 days, with most players, outside the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings, not having played in front of a crowd in an even longer amount of time. This, of course, left fans, coaches and owners worried about the level of play that would be seen. Predictably, it was going to be fast-paced, as the condensed 48-game schedule would magnify any losing streak, but what would the play be like? Would the NHL be the same in such a short season? The short answer is yes.

For one, the scoring got of to a record-setting pace. Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks started the season with four multi-goal games in a row - breaking a 96-year-old record. He now leads the league with nine goals. The Buffalo Sabres' Thomas Vanek opened his season with a five-point game in a win over the Philadelphia Flyers and then, five games later, with another five points against the Boston Bruins. Vanek leads the league in points with a total of 19 through eight games played.

The goaltending thus far has also been superb. Martin Brodeur recorded his 120th career shut out, ensconcing himself even further into the record books. In seven games played, the Ottawa Senators' Craig Anderson is the owner of a 0.99 goals against average. Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues has already posted two shut outs in five of his starts. And the Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen has, arguably, already made the save of the season, sweeping his glove hand behind his back to snatch a puck destined for the back of the net.

The Chicago Blackhawks started the season off by winning six straight games before losing in a shootout, and still have not lost in regulation or overtime. The San Jose Sharks' seven straight victories placed them in second. Teams expected to be competing for Lord Stanley, like the Flyers and the New York Rangers, find themselves in the basement of the league. Teams said to be too young or lacking talent are right at the top, as the perennially bad New York Islanders are sitting pretty at fifth in the Eastern Conference, and the Edmonton Oilers three straight number one draft picks are finally paying off.

Even the officials have gotten off to a fantastic start. If you sit down to watch a game, you can expect to see icings called much more closely than in years past. On the face-offs, they're taking a stand and not hesitating to kick players out for trying to get an advantage over their opponents with a tie-up.

But there has to be somethingmissing from the 82-game season, right? Wrong. As always, some teams are failing to reach expectations while others are exceeding them. Of course, some players are off to a burning start. Is there a goalie controversy? The Vancouver Canucks have one. An unproductive superstar? See Ovechkin, Alexander. Contract holdouts? P.K. Subban has that one covered. A cutthroat battle for the playoffs heating up in February? Check.

This lockout-limited season is playing out quite nicely, and fans are getting everything they would get in a regular season. Except the thirty-four missing games. 

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