Once again the annual ritual of dispatching the young-uns into the streets to extort various sugary, chocolaty treats from the neighbors is upon us. Yes, its Halloween time… that mid-autumn ritual that allows the little goblins to round up enough candy to keep ‘em buzzing about on a sugar high throughout the upcoming holiday season and beyond.

The end of October is also as good a milestone as any to pause, look around and see how teams are fairing a month into the hockey campaign. So before we send forth our tax-exemptions to collect their tasty booty later tonight, let’s do a little Trick or Treating of our own.  Don your costumes and let’s begin making calls upon the nine residents of NHL sub-division known as The Sunbelt Region, finding out if they are doling out treats of good play for their fans…or tricks are in order.

What costume am I dressing up as? Why, the same thing I dress up in every year…an eight-armed Octocluster that is able to destroy an entire hockey market, The Atlanta Spirit, LLC.

We’ll begin our foray in the southeastern portion of the neighborhood, then work or way west.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts are wearing pretty much the same Halloween costume as they did last season, the most notable difference being Filppula in place of Lecavalier. GM Steve Yzerman gambled last summer to not make wholesale changes on defense, believing that more experience and different coaching styles would pay better dividends. So far, that seems to be paying off.

Ben Bishop has been a treat to watch so far in goal, performing as large as his 6’-7” frame and benefiting from better overall defense in front of him. He is 7-2-0 with .914 SV% and 2.41 GAA while only twice allowing more than two goals in a game.

Don’t try and steal the Bolts’ candy either. They are a feisty bunch that’ll stick up for one another. This is a reflection of Coach Jon Cooper’s attitude of standing up for your teammates and insistence that intimidation is still a part of this game. And Coop has the third and fourth lines charged with energy as well.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Cooper and his Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a good start (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports(

Last season, the Lightning allowed as many goals as they scored. A month in so far this go around, they are a +7. While that’s nowhere near the top of that stats column, if that trend continues they’ll likely be treating Buzz-Heads in Tampa Bay to playoff hockey this spring.

Trick or Treat: Full size Snickers bars here…very nice.

Florida Panthers: The NHL got an early look at Halloween frights when Florida hosted the Buffalo Sabres last Friday The two teams were a combined 4-15-2 going into the game and the Panthers allowed the Sabres to skate away with their first regulation win of the year.

Tim Thomas was supposed to bring some stability to this Panthers squad with solid play in goal, giving his skaters a little more time to develop in front of him. But the Cats placed him on IR last week after sustaining a lower body injury against the Blackhawks, the only specifics given was that it wasn’t a re-aggravation of the groin he injured earlier in the month.  After giving up 5 goals on 28 shots in St. Louis, the only time he’s given up more that 3 was during a loss to his former team when the defense allowed 40 SOG to get through to him. He bounced back well with a 30 save on 31 shots shootout win against the Minnesota Wild. Florida needs him healthy.

While the future looks bright with budding young stars like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers may be looking to hand out as treats the likes of Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall and Brad Boyes to other NHL teams if the improvement does come about quicker than expected.

Trick or Treat: Don’t expect much from the Panthers, they haven’t the means really. When they drop some candy corn in your bag, just be polite, say thank you and move on to the next house.

Carolina Hurricanes: Quick, somebody cover up the kids eyes…there’s some streaking going on the Sunbelt Region neighborhood. The offending party lives in the Hurricanes house. After winning two and netting points in seven of nine, they have now dropped three.

Losing goalie Cam Ward to a lower body injury last week was enough to make Caniacs scream, but then backup Justin Peters allowed goals on the first two shots he faced on the way to losing to the Wild 3-1.

Jordan Staal is becoming a much better two-way player as his contributions in the Canes’ defensive zone, although he has but one goal in the first month of play. Blueliners Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy are helping the Hurricanes cover for the loss of Joni Pitkanen this season. Tim Gleason coming off injured reserve can only help matters as well in Carolina.

The Canes are an average team right now, 4-5-3 heading into November and only one regulation win at home. But the good news here is that “average” is good enough for third place behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and NY Islanders in the only professional sports division named after a cocktail.

Trick or Treat: Microwave Popcorn, mini bags at that. Nice, but…meh.

Nashville Predators: After dropping three of the first four games to start the season, things were beginning to improve. But the Preds will now face at least a month without goalie Pekka Rinne following arthroscopic surgery on his hip. This would be no treat all for any team under normal circumstances, but given the Preds scoring-challenged attack, it makes things that much more difficult.

Despite his nightmare outing against St. Louis Saturday, Carter Hutton has performed respectably filling in for Rinne. He has a 2.42 GAA and .927 SV% despite allowing 5 goals on 27 shots by the Blues. He’ll have to play like a monster in the Nashville net though as the Preds goal production so far this season is a frighteningly low 1.92 per game.

The good news here is that young Seth is proving he’s the “Jones” the neighbors are going to be trying o keep up with. He logged more than 53 minutes in back-to-back wins against the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets, even scoring the game-winner against the Habs.

If the Predators are going to remain a viable playoff contender as fall gives way to winter though, GM David Poile will likely have to part ways with one of his fine defenseman in return for someone who can score some goals. A defenseman not named, Jones that is.

The Nashville Predators are having a difficult time finding the net early on

The Nashville Predators are having a difficult time finding the net early on

Trick or Treat: I suggest ‘Tricking’ this house, placing the flaming bag of poo in the net behind opposing goalies. It may help Predators skaters sniff out the location of the goal.

Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen has looked sharp in between the Stars pipes when he has played, 4-2-1 with an impressive .945 SV% and 1.66 GAA. But the problem for Lindy Ruff is he never knows from game to game whether or not the fragile Finn will tweak his groin, twist a knee or (insert any possible waist-down ailment here). Fans in the ruins of Thrasherville are all-too-familiar with this song and dance. “Kari Down-2013” came early this fall as he suffered a (say it with me now), lower-body injury against the Winnipeg Jets on the 11th and missed five games. However, he’s 2-1-1 since returning, stopping all but seven of the 116 shots faced.

Tyler Seguin has proven to be the quality scoring threat GM Jim Nill was looking for when he traded for him and Rich Peverley last summer. Pevs probably feels like he’s experiencing déjà-vu in a Twilight Zone episode reuniting with former Thrashers teammate Lehtonen on a team that’s rolling ‘round the basement floor.

Defensemen Alex Goligoski and Sergei Gonchar have been a gruesome twosome. Goligoski just notched his first point, (goal), Monday night while Gonchar has all of one assist. Both are a combined  -13. The Ying to their Yang, however, is the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Stephane Robidas, who are both +6 and have 8 combined points.

Lindy Ruff got a nice treat Monday night, coaching his Stars to a win in his first return to Buffalo.

Trick or Treat: The Stars are dropping religious pamphlets into their fan’s bags. This is only fitting given the mount of times they’ll find themselves shouting “OH GOD!” if the season continues to play out as it has and postseason play eludes them again. I’d suggest TP-ing their yard as a Trick, but Kari might trip on it and tweak his groin.

Phoenix Coyotes: First, I love what the new owners have done to this place. The house and yard are kept up and it’s just brought improvement to the entire community.

The Yotes have a plethora of talent on defense, almost an imbalance on the depth chart as opposed to their forwards. Beginning with Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson who top their D-chat, Phoenix has seven other Blueliners signed to one-way contracts. This has created not only an issue in regards to roster flexibility but also a log-jam of NHL ready talent with their AHL affiliate in Portland. GM Don Maloney can certainly use this to his advantage to trade for more depth up front, possibly a sniper on the wing, later in the season.

On the opposite end of the ice, the Coyotes aren’t exactly struggling. They score goals at a rate of 3.31 per game. Their power play connects 20% of the time, and if you want to pick at nits that could improve. Goalie Mike Smith has even chipped in with a goal. Unfortunately, that ties him with Keith Yandle and Lauri Korpikoski.

Mike Ribeiro has proven to be quite a treat for hockey fans in the desert. Rejoining his former coach from Dallas, he has provided 5 goals and 4 assists for Dave Tippett to this point and has helped the Yotes to a 8-3-2 record heading into November.

Trick or Treat: Full size Hersey bars are being passed out from the Coyotes Den. Worthy of circling back around for more.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are away from home at this time, although they’ve left behind plenty of treats for their fans. After winning their first five home games, they’ve flown away from the pond on an eight game road trip. During the homestand, only the Coyotes were able to skate away with even as much as a consolation overtime loser-point.

They are getting consistent offensive contribution from Cory Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Mathieu Perreault, Jakob Silfverberg, Nick Bonino.as well as Teemu Selanne, who will be missed for two weeks with a facial injury. This crew could be really scary once Dustin Penner returns to the lineup, which may be soon given his ability to skate this recently without any lingering concussion symptoms.

The Ducks traditionally have been a team that survived on solid work on the blueline and simply wear out their opponents. So far this year they are getting that as well as an attack that is scoring over three goals per game.

One can only imagine how spectacular this offence could be if they had even a mediocre power play.

Anaheim is certainly not Goalie-Challenged. Frederik Anderson is 3-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .944 SV% filling in for the injured Viktor Fatsh backing up Jonas Hiller.

Trick or Treat: Like I said, The Ducks are traveling, but they did leave a goodly amount of treats out on the front porch for everyone. Don’t be greedy, leave some for others.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings 8-5-0 record is fine, but the 5 OT/SO victory masks what has otherwise been an inconsistent, if not unremarkable start. It means they’ve collected 16 points in their first 12 games, (good), but it also means they’ve conceded 15, (un-good).

 Defenseman Drew Doughty woke up offensively by scoring in back-to-back games recently, including the game-winner against the Stars. They were his first since opening night. Anze Kopitar has been doing his best to get his teammates lighting the lamp, he has 10 assists so far this fall.

L.A. hasn’t gotten the …ahem…”Quick-est” of starts in goal. Six times already Jonathan Quick has allowed 3 or more goals. This is made all the more puzzling given the defense in front of him allows only 27.4 shots per game to get though to goal, (7th in NHL). Once his play settles back to normal, the Kings should become less average and solidify their proper place in the upper portion of the Western Conference.

Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell back to full strength will certainly help matters, and the Kings should be experiencing but minor turbulence on what should otherwise be another charge into postseason play this spring.

There has been a lot to celebrate in San Jose during the first month of the season (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

There has been a lot to celebrate in San Jose during the first month of the season (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Trick or Treat: 100 Grand candy bars….King Size, of course.

San Jose Sharks: In every neighborhood there is that one house that all the kids flock to for the not only the best candy and treats, but it’s always decorated to the hilt! Of course, all the other parents secretly hate these people as they make the rest of the community look bad…or just simply raise the expectations bar that much higher. In the Sunbelt Region of the NHL, that is the San Jose Sharks this season. They are passing out the homemade candy apples sprinkled in crushed nuts.

Apparently Patrick Marleau didn’t get the memo about his career possibly sailing off into the sunset over the Pacific. The 34-year old as scored 8 in the first 12 games, chipped in with 6 helpers and is a +5. Logan Coutre has 14 points and is a +8/ Pakelski and Thornton aren’t playing like your average Joes either, both with 13 points along with +3 and +8 rating respectively…the list goes on and on.

Antti Niemi has a microscopic 1.53 GAA and has already notched a pair of shutouts. After starting 11 straight he was given a breather, but the defence thought they had the night off too as the allowed 40 shots to get through to Alex Stalock. Didn’t matter, Sharks ate the Sens anyway 5-2.

Defenseman Brad Boyes, who suffered a head injury during a nasty check into the boards, should be able to rejoin the lineup soon. He’s begun skating recently. His teammates will no doubt welcome him back, but it isn’t as though they’ve missed a beat in his absence.

Trick or Treat: What do you think…I’m eating my candy apple with the Sharks logo on it

*Stats cited are through Tuesday night’s (10/29) action.

About The Author

Bill Tiller comes to us from the cyber-sports pages of the AJC.com where he hosted the Iceman Blog for the final four seasons the Thrashers played in Atlanta. He also assumed the thankless position of manning the dark & lonely corner relegated to the Atlanta Thrashers at hockeybuzz.com for the 2009-10 season. Bill takes a very light-hearted, satirical and sometimes irreverent approach to opining about the NHL teams, front offices, players and fans. If you are a self-imposed “Grammer-Nazi” or of the expectation all writers should take a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter approach to their craft, chances are good this isn’t the place for you. While reading his artiles, if you keep the visual of him sitting at his laptop with is tongue planted firmly in his cheek and the understanding that his smartass gland hyper-developed at a very early age, chances are good you will “get it”. Bill is a resident of the metropolitan Atlanta. He attended Smartass University where he was a proud member of the Ata Mu(n) Pi fraternity and graduated with a BS in Underwater Fire Prevention. He later returned to SaU to earn a PhD in BS.

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