Wednesday, October 26, 2005 Updated: October 27, 12:37 PM ET
Melrose: Some teams, players starting to stand out
By Barry Melrose Special to ESPN.com
It was a fun week of hockey. Teams are starting to separate themselves and the cream is rising to the top. And we're already seeing a few fierce division battles.
So with that, here's another round of the good, bad and ugly.
It's great to see how well Bryan McCabe is playing in Toronto. I love the way he plays a physical and fast game.
Bryan McCabe is tied for the league lead in points with 15.
McCabe is running the Maple Leafs' power play right now as Toronto leads the NHL with the best conversion rate (19-of-64 for 29.7 percent). McCabe and Tomas Kaberle have turned into a great power-play tandem. McCabe already has three goals and seven assists on the man advantage, and he's tied with the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr for the league lead in scoring (15 points).
Bottom line, he is an early favorite for the Norris Trophy.
But the Leafs are going to get a fight from everyone in the Northeast Division, so far the toughest division in the league.
One team that has made a surprisingly good start is the Buffalo Sabres. The salary cap has helped them. All the big spenders such as Toronto and Boston have been brought down to earth a little.
But the Sabres have always had a good defense, and they have a good goalie in Ryan Miller. Daniel Briere has also been solid, leading the team with seven goals and two assists. The team is doing things the right way -- move the puck, jump in the play, keep depth on the bench. They remind me of Nashville, minus Paul Kariya.
And behind the tenured Lindy Ruff and his staff, the team won't panic when it hits an inevitable losing skid.
Two other great stories are Detroit's Manny Legace and Carolina's Eric Staal. Legace has spent his career as a backup goaltender, and he hasn't disappointed now that he has a chance to be the starter. He's started every game for the Red Wings, posting a 9-1 record and helping Detroit separate itself as the league's current top team.
Staal was a high first-round pick in the 2003 draft, and playing in the American Hockey League during the lockout helped his progress. At just 20, his body is starting to mature and he's got great hands. He's the type of player who enjoys the new rules, which don't allow players to put a stick around a guy in front of the net. The result: six goals and seven assists in eight games.
As new rules are helping some players, they are also exposing franchises with poor special teams.
Pittsburgh continues to be the most disappointing in this department. Many people thought the Penguins would have one of the best power plays in the league. The reality has been that they have one of the worst. Just Tuesday night, the Penguins couldn't convert on a chunk of 5-on-3 time.
It has to change, and it has to change quickly. You can't win the Stanley Cup in October, but you can lose it if you get too far behind in the standings. And while Mario Lemieux said earlier this week that management wasn't considering an Eddie Olczyk dismissal, no coach's job is safe. The players can say what they want, but the coach will take the heat, and the coach is the easiest change to make.
Two other players who have been slow to adjust to the new season are two stars from the last season's Cup finals: Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis and Calgary's Jarome Iginla.
Iginla has always been a slow starter, and St. Louis is playing on a team with less depth. Both players are now targets for opposing teams, who will prepare in game plans to shut them down offensively. The first thing opponents think about is stopping these guys.
Iginla and St. Louis need to get back to basics: shoot the puck, win the physical battles and work your butt off. Once they start sticking their nose in things and get it a little dirty, things will start happening.
I love a good fight in hockey. Fights are part of the game, and we should never lose that physicality in this great game. But the Thrashers-Lightning incident last week is a different story.
After the two incidents by the Thrashers in a week's span, that's what the NHL needs to stop -- when players try to hurt people and raise some hell.
When you put players out there late in the game, you're sending a message. I've been in the game all my life, and as a coach, you have control of your bench; you put the players on the ice. If the NHL wants to stop these kinds of actions, the coach needs to be disciplined in some way.
Eric Boulton's elbow to Paul Ranger's head was premeditated, in my opinion, and actions like that need to be stopped. And that doesn't just go for the Thrashers, it goes for any team.
It's easy to see, and it should be easy to stop.
Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.