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Before the season started, the ESPN.com NHL crew made their picks for who would win the Stanley Cup. Now that one quarter of the season is in the books, they tell us if they still feel the same way.
Preseason: Chicago Blackhawks | Los Angeles Kings | Phoenix Coyotes | San Jose Sharks
I'm not particularly surprised to see the Coyotes right in the thick of things in the tough-as-nails Pacific Division, although I admit that in making them my preseason Stanley Cup pick I didn't expect them to be rocking Glendale with one of the top offenses in the NHL. Likewise, I wouldn't have guessed that the Coyotes would be collecting wins and points with a goals-against average that ranked in the bottom third of the league. I spoke to head coach Dave Tippett shortly before the quarter mark and he was pleased with the offensive output, specifically that the offense was coming from throughout the lineup, both from his forwards and one of the most productive blue-lines in the league. The coaching staff has tried to reinforce the team's defensive identity in recent days and the work has paid off to some degree. The Yotes are one of two teams (Pacific Division foe Anaheim is the other) without a regulation loss at home. Still on board for a Cup win next June? Don't see anything thus far that would make me jump off the Coyotes' Cup bandwagon.
-- Scott Burnside
My Stanley Cup pick is clinging on to the final wild-card spot in the best conference and currently missing its starting goalie because of a groin injury. If this were any team other than the Kings, I'd be concerned. Early-season struggles aren't anything new to this roster that is built for games in the spring, not in October. The year they won the Stanley Cup, they went stretches where it looked like they couldn't score a goal, earning points only because of Jonathan Quick. This season's team doesn't depend on the starting goalie quite as much, with a deep forward group and maturing young defense. Anze Kopitar has grown into one of the most well-rounded players in the game and early indications are that Ben Scrivens can man the crease until Quick is ready to return. No reason now to waver from the Kings. And I'm an optimist, maybe the time off in November will ultimately help Quick in June during a jam-packed Olympic season.
-- Craig Custance
Never before in my career covering the NHL had I ever picked a Cup champion to repeat, but I did so in September with the Blackhawks, and they haven't disappointed through the opening quarter of the season. Chicago was right there near the overall lead in the standings, able to avoid the opening-quarter letdown/hangover that most Cup champions have felt in the past decade. The Hawks have their work cut out in the incredibly tough Western Conference with St. Louis, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and maybe even Colorado, Vancouver and Minnesota standing in their way come spring time, but the Hawks' championship core is intact. I think the fact that last season was shortened is huge for them in terms of a physical bounce back, and I think they're as poised as any champion since the 1997 and 1998 Cup-winning Red Wings to try to accomplish what would be a first in the salary-cap era.
-- Pierre LeBrun
I've got to admit, I'm still feeling pretty good about picking the San Jose Sharks to win it all this year, and I plan to rub it in as much as is professionally decent. Am I setting myself up for a rude awakening should the Sharks repeat the shortcomings of seasons past and come crashing back down? Entirely possible, but after a furious start to the 2013-14 season, San Jose is still holding strong in second place in a dominant Western Conference, just one point back of the league-leading Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks boast a dazzling plus-26 goal differential -- the best in the NHL -- and have recovered to rattle off three straight wins after a concerning stretch of five straight losses earlier this month. That's a good sign that the Sharks were able to stop the bleeding at a crucial point of their season -- maybe a sign of a team that has matured from previous years. The Sharks have the necessary weapons with a well-balanced offensive attack, including the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, plus one of the most underrated goaltenders in the league in Antti Niemi. It's still early, but I plan on patting myself on the back until the Sharks prove me wrong.
-- Katie Strang