Last season Alexander Steen scored right goals in 40 games for the St. Louis Blues. This season he scored 19 in his first 23 games.
Last season David Backes scored six goals in just six goals in 48 games. He already has 10 this season.
This is why the Blues have risen to the top of the NHL’s power rankings. Their tight checking is no surprise, nor is their goaltending success with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.
But their surprising offense – ranked second overall and first on the power play – makes them the league’s team to beat right now. Here is how the pecking order breaks down:
ST. LOUIS BLUES
GOOD NEWS: Alexander Steen actually went four games without scoring a goal. He fixed all that by scoring twice against Minnesota to get his career year back on schedule.
BAD NEWS: Tough guy Ryan Reaves will miss at least six weeks after requiring surgical repairs on his fighting hand.
BOTTOM LINE: Depth everywhere allows this team to grind out victories in the brutally competitive Western Conference.
GOOD NEWS: Ageless center Michal Handzus is back after missing 14 games with an upper body injury.
BAD NEWS: Winger Marian Hossa missed a couple of games to tend to personal issues.
BOTTOM LINE: Coach Joel Quenneville can play Lucky Line Shuffle with his forwards and it doesn’t matter. The Blackhawks keep scoring and winning.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
GOOD NEWS: Power forward Brent Burns is working his way back into the offensive flow.
BAD NEWS: San Jose’s power play cooled down during a 0-for-11 stretch.
BOTTOM LINE: When a team ranks third in the NHL in goals scored and fifth in goals allowed, it will usually win. And the Sharks usually win.
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Frederik Andersen (6-1, 1.66 goals-against average, .943 save percentage) is back from the minors to provide a lift.
BAD NEWS: Defenseman Luca Sbisa (hand) will be sidelined for at least the next six weeks and goaltender Viktor Fasth (lower body) could miss another month.
BOTTOM LINE: After touring North America with road trip after early season road trip, the Ducks appear ready to hunker down and win some home games.
GOOD NEWS: They went 7-0-2 during a span of nine home games, with both losses coming via the dreaded shootout.
BAD NEWS: Lower-body injuries to Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg have forced the Bruins to lean hard on their young defensemen.
BOTTOM LINE: Those rose to the top of the Eastern Conference with an impressive 8-1-1 overall run.
GOOD NEWS: Ryan O’Reilly picked up his scoring pace with six goals in his first 11 games this month.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov faces some serious legal charges, whether he wants to believe that or not.
BOTTOM LINE: After losing three consecutive games, the Avalanche regrouped to win their next three games, two in overtime. They aren’t going away just yet.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
GOOD NEWS: The sputtering LA offense welcomed Jeff Carter back from the injury list. He missed 10 games with a foot injury.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Jonathan Quick may not play until January, due to his groin muscle injury.
BOTTOM LINE: Back-up Ben Scrivens went 5-0-2 in his first seven games replacing Quick. He allowed just nine goals during that span. Can he keep it up?
GOOD NEWS: Evgeni Malkin earned 15 assists during a 12-game span.
BAD NEWS: Malkin scored just once during that stretch, despite getting wing man James Neal back by his side.
BOTTOM LINE: The Penguins have looked strangely flat of late, losing six times during a 10-game span. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury appears a big after going it alone.
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Niklas Backstrom appears ready to shoulder a bigger workload.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Josh Harding could miss a few games after suffering hamstring cramping. And top scorer Zach Parise exited Monday night’s game after blocking a shot with his foot.
BOTTOM LINE: After exploiting many of the league’s weaker teams, the Wild face heavy competition the next few weeks. That process started with a 3-0 loss at St. Louis.
GOOD NEWS: Leading scorer Martin Hanzal bounced right back from a lower body injury suffered Saturday night.
BAD NEWS: The Coyotes allowed at least one power-play goal in nine of 11 games, for a total of 13 during that span. The penalty killing sank to 28th in the league rankings.
BOTTOM LINE: As coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic, “If you’re going to give yourself a chance to win, you’ve got to defend well.”
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
GOOD NEWS: Center Steven Stamkos is already up and walking two weeks after suffering a broken leg. But he is a long ways from playing again.
BAD NEWS: Power forward Ryan Malone is also sidelined, forcing the team to summon forward prospect Nikita Kucherov – who scored on his very first shot.
BOTTOM LINE: The Lightning suffered a winless Western Conference swing (0-3-1) without Stamkos driving the offense. But their 5-0 demolition of the Rangers provided hope that they could soldier on without their top player.
GOOD NEWS: Former 31-goal scorer David Booth is back from a conditioning stint, ready to take one more stab at helping the offense.
BAD NEWS: The Canucks fell into a 1-4-3 rut, scoring just nine goals in those losses.
BOTTOM LINE: First-year coach John Tortorella is strangely optimistic about his team. "I'm very excited about some of the things that happened tonight. You may call me crazy, but I am," Tortorella told reporters after an overtime loss to the Kings.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
GOOD NEWS: Center Tyler Bozak returned to action after missing one month with a hamstring muscles strain.
BAD NEWS: With center Dave Bolland still on injured reserve, the Leafs hated to see winger Joffrey Lupul leave a game with a groin muscle strain.
BOTTOM LINE: Heading into the week, the Leafs ranked 28th in the league in shots per game, 29th in shots against and 25th in faceoff winning percentage. Those danger signs foreshadowed a 6-0 loss to the visiting Blue Jackets.
GOOD NEWS: Alexander Ovechkin scored 20 goals in his first 22 games.
BAD NEWS: Winger Martin Erat caused a fuss by asking for a trade, again. But who wants an offensive- minded forward carrying a $4.5 million cap hit and possessing no scoring touch?
BOTTOM LINE: Just when it appeared the Capitals were surging, they lost five times in seven games. They don’t appear ready to play with the NHL’s elite.
GOOD NEWS: Jamie Benn scored 12 points in his first 10 games in November.
BAD NEWS: Goaltender Kari Lehtonen looked weary during a 6-1 loss in St. Louis, his 14th start in a row.
BOTTOM LINE: The Stars have some catching up to do. An 8-3-2 run put them back in range of the playoffs before back-to-back losses slowed their charge.
DETROIT RED WINGS
GOOD NEWS: Back-up goaltender Jonas ‘The Monster’ Gustavsson (5-0-1, 2.35 goals-average, .926 save percentage) has given the team a lift in goal.
BAD NEWS: Top center Pavel Datsyuk missed time with a minor concussion.
BOTTOM LINE: This team needs to restore order. It needs Datsyuk back on the ice and Jimmy Howard back in goal, making the big stops.
GOOD NEWS: After scoring just 18 goals in 11 games, the Canadiens scored 12 times in three games after coach Michel Therrien shuffled his lines. Well-played sir!
BAD NEWS: With GM Marc Bergevin pondering some potential trades, some veterans must be on edge.
BOTTOM LINE: This team is so much better when winger Max Pacioretty is healthy and scoring goals. He had a hat trick and a two-goal game last week.
NEW YORK RANGERS
GOOD NEWS: The top line of Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan is back together and threatening to break out.
BAD NEWS: The Blues Shirts left the rink with red faces after a 5-0 loss at Tampa Bay.
BOTTOM LINE: That loss snapped a six-game road winning streak that moved the Rangers up the Eastern Conference ladder.
GOOD NEWS: They flew back into the Eastern Conference playoff race with an overdue 6-0-1 surge.
BAD NEWS: The Flyers opened a stretch of 16 of 21 games on the road by losing 3-1 at Florida.
BOTTOM LINE: Coach Craig Berube has restored order. Claude Giroux is scoring again and Steve Mason has taken charge in goal.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
GOOD NEWS: A 6-3-1 stretch – with victories over the Penguins, Ducks and Kings -- got them back on track.
BAD NEWS: The Devils are playing without defenseman Adam Larsson (lower body) and center Stephen Gionta (ankle) due to injuries.
BOTTOM LINE: The goaltending tandem of Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider gives this team a chance to regain relevance.
GOOD NEWS: They went five games in a row without allowing a power-play goal. They won four of those five games.
BAD NEWS: Star goaltender Pekka Rinne is still recovering from an infection in his surgically repaired hip.
BOTTOM LINE: Goaltender Marek Mazanec has become a viable Plan C with Rinne sidelined and Carter Hutton faltering as the fill-in. Mazanec won four of five starts to keep the Preds alive.
GOOD NEWS: Cam Ward has fully recovered from his lower body injury, as he demonstrated during a 4-1 victory over the Senators. He stopped 96 of 103 shots during a three-game span.
BAD NEWS: Eric Staal is the only Hurricanes forward with more than 10 points this season.
BOTTOM LINE: Staal needs to build on his six-game point streak (three goals, five assists) to move this team up the ladder.
GOOD NEWS: Defenseman Erik Karlsson is scoring at a point-per-game pace and playing nearly 28 minutes per night.
BAD NEWS: They earned just nine victories in their first 24 games of the season.
BOTTOM LINE: This team needs to start checking. During a span of nine losses, they allowed four or more goals in each of those games.
GOOD NEWS: Top gun Evander Kane snapped an 11-game goal-scoring slump.
BAD NEWS: Key forward Blake Wheeler extended his goal-scoring drought to 12 games.
BOTTOM LINE: The Jets opened a six-game road trip by winning at New Jersey. Perhaps that victory, which snapped a four-game losing streak, will provide a turning point.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
GOOD NEWS: Led by center John Tavares, they feature a respectable NHL offense.
BAD NEWS: This team allowed 82 goals allowed in 24 games. That is hard to do in today’s game.
BOTTOM LINE: GM Garth Snow is a former goaltender, so he knows bad goaltending when he sees it. He absolutely, positively needs to acquire a new netminder.
GOOD NEWS: The arrival of Ilya Bryzgalov has helped jar incumbent goaltender Devan Dubnyk out of his funk. Dubynk posted a .974 save percentage and 0.50 goals-against average in two victories last week.
BAD NEWS: That surge stopped against the Blackhawks, who knocked Dubnyk out of the nets during a 5-1 victory at Edmonton.
BOTTOM LINE: The Oilers are back to full offensive strength. They are skating harder. They appear to be hopelessly out of the Western Conference playoff race, but at least they look ready to win some games.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
GOOD NEWS: They took out plenty of frustration with a 6-0 victory at Toronto.
BAD NEWS: With Marian Gaborik, Nathan Horton and Brandon Dubinsky sidelined at the same time, this team will have a tough time duplicating that feat.
BOTTOM LINE: Hockey czar John Davidson is preaching patience as this team’s overhaul continues, but this team seems destined for major change.
GOOD NEWS: Goaltender Reto Berra is making some highlight reel saves.
BAD NEWS: Berra needs to make a LOT of highlight reel saves because the Flames are terrible defensively. They rank dead last in goals allowed.
BOTTOM LINE: Calgary is in for a long, hard winter in the Western Conference.
GOOD NEWS: New coach Peter Horachek led this squad to a stabilizing 2-2-1 trip to Minnesota, Denver, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
BAD NEWS: The veteran Panthers can’t feel good about all those trade rumors swirling around the team.
BOTTOM LINE: By coming off the road to actually beat the Flyers at home, this woeful team is giving South Florida a glimmer of hope.
GOOD NEWS: They scored first in three consecutive games, showing some life under new coach Ted Nolan.
BAD NEWS: Holding that lead for 60 minutes has proven problematic.
BOTTOM LINE: The Pat LaFontaine Era is underway. He needs to choose his new general manager so they can decide what to do about goaltender Ryan Miller.