(This is the first of what will be a weekly column during the season where we’ll chronicle various items throughout the league. We’ll have goal breakdowns using gif images, discuss on and off the ice topics and much more.)
By Dave Turner
With the first week of NHL hockey in the books, it’s been a great ride, thus far. We’ve seen lots of goals, some great goaltending and some teams sitting in unfamiliar places in the standings. It’s a long and grueling season in the national hockey league, so though it’s fun to overreact, there’s only so much we know with such a small sample size. With that, here are a few of the most intriguing story-lines thus far.
1. Rick Nash good, New York Rangers, bad.
Rick Nash welcomed his first son into the world on Sunday and if the stress of new-found fatherhood was too much, you’d never know. Nash has started the season on fire, with six goals in just four games. For the Rangers, Nash’s dominance hasn’t been enough. After the Islanders scored four goals in the third period to drop the Rangers to 1-3-0 on the season. Henrik Lundqvist has had a rough go thus far, with a 5.42 goals against average and a .814 save percentage. No need to panic yet, Rangers fans. The Blue Shirts and Lundqvist struggled mightily to begin last season and we all know how the rest of the year went.
2. Speaking of the Islanders, they look pretty darn impressive.
With their last season in Nassau Coliseum under way, early returns on the Islanders point to the fact that there may be more than just the 41 regular season games at Nassau this season. Led by John Tavares and a deeper, faster supporting cast, the Isles have come out 3-0-0. Johnny Boychuk has given an immediate return after coming over from Boston. The blue-liner has two goals and four assists in just three games and he’s tied for the team lead at plus-four. The Metropolitan Division is going to be tight, but if the Islanders are getting the kind of production they’re getting now from up and down their roster, they’ll be a playoff team.
2. That 70’s line would make Kelso and Fez proud.
No bell-bottoms or afros here, but the Los Angeles Kings’ line of Tyler Toffoli, (73) Tanner Pearson, (70) and Jeff Carter (77) have been sensational early on. Carter is a two-time Cup Champion and a proven scorer, but the maturation of Toffoli and Pearson makes the Kings just that much more dangerous. Through four games, the trio has combined for nine goals and a total of 16 assists. Considering some of the offensive struggles the Kings had during the middle portion of last season, if this line is able to shoulder some of the scoring load, LA will be an even better regular season team as well, with two bona-fide scoring lines.
3. There are six undefeated teams and it’s an interesting bunch.
The aforementioned Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks are the only teams without a blemish on their schedule, thus far.
Of those six teams, they’re all at least a bit surprising. Pittsburgh is an elite team, but they’re learning a new system under Mike Johnston. Clearly, they’re quick learners in the Steel City. The Sharks have a ton of talent, but after their tumultuous offseason precipitated by their playoff disaster against the Kings, a 3-0-0 start is surprising for them as well. The Minnesota Wild have only played two games, but they haven’t given up a goal yet. They absolutely demolished the Avalanche in a home-and-home and Darcy Kuemper has been perfect. The Canucks got by the Oilers twice, once in the shootout, so they’re the leanest member of this list. As for the New Jersey Devils, they’ve put up 13 goals in three games and newcomer Mike Cammalleri has four goals in that same span. Considering that their largest win streak all of last season was three, their 3-0-0 start is as surprising as any.
4. Victor Hedman looks like an early Norris Candidate.
It hasn’t all been pretty for the Swedish-born defenseman, but it seems like Victor Hedman is finally hitting his stride as a top-flight NHL defenseman.
Or hitting Steven Stamkos in stride from well over 100 feet away:
It’s been that kind of season so far for Hedman. the 23-year-old finished with 55 points (13g, 42a) last season and is poised to shatter that mark this season. He’s playing well in his own zone and making those kind of passes. If he’s able to continue to grow, he could be considered one of the top-five d-men in the league before we know it. In his first four NHL seasons, Hedman failed to break the thirty point plateau and was a combined minus-eight through those seasons. Sometimes it takes players a few years to blossom, especially defensemen. His numbers last year were excellent and he looks that much better this year. A Norris nomination, or win is in his future.
5. The Ducks already have a leader out of the gate in net and it’s Frederik Andersen.
After John Gibson was torched by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ducks turned to Andersen and it’s paid off. In his three starts since then, Andersen is 3-0-0 with a 1.95 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Why is this important? Well, the Ducks finished one point shy of the President’s Trophy with 116 points. They struggled in their playoff loss to the Kings because both Andersen and John Gibson weren’t able to wrestle away the job and play well. If Andersen can keep up the strong play and solidify himself as a legitimate number one goaltender, the Ducks will be right in the hunt for the President’s Trophy once again and will be an even more dangerous playoff team.
6. Seeing all those empty seats in Florida is a sad sight for the NHL.
Halloween is still a few weeks away, but it seems like people in South Florida are big on dressing like empty seats. It’s a sad state of affairs for a team that has struggled on the ice and are playing to a few thousand a night. Considering that there are other NHL cities that are more geographically friendly to the Atlantic Division, (I’m looking at you, Quebec and Hamilton, ON) how much time do the Panthers have left before the NHL pulls the plug and the team is sold and or relocated to another city? TV ratings are up around the league and the NHL is finally starting to gain some ground. How can they keep a team in a building where no one wants to watch them and their TV ratings have been abysmal as well.
Goal Breakdowns of the week:
Our first goal is a tally by by Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils all alone in front of the net. For Elias, it was an easy finish after the Devils made a great play. Breaking out of their own zone, Dainius Zubrus takes a pass and sets up just inside the blue line. Marek Zidlicky has a step on his man, so he quickly gains the zone and drives towards the goal line to support the play. Zubrus fires it into the corner and a cutting Martin Havlat gets a stick on the puck, then plays it back to Zidlicky. As you can see in the image above, Havlat pulls the defender, Luke Schenn with him out of the play, so when Zidlicky gains the puck, Claude Giroux reacts and quickly tries to pressure Zidlicky, only to leave Elias wide open for the easy finish.
The second goal comes courtesy of Pascal Dupuis of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Off the faceoff win, Olli Maatta makes a great pass into the zone, passing to open ice, which allows Evgeni Malkin to grab the puck and turn in to make a pass as two Ducks defenders begin to pressure him. His slight hesitation pulls Emerson Etem into position to block his shooting lane in case Malkin were to shoot. That slight hesitation makes Etem focus on Malkin and fail to pick up Maatta who was driving into the slot. Dupuis does a great job of skating towards the net wide, in position for both a pass or a rebound opportunity off of a shot. Dupuis had a step on both defending players, which gave him an easy shot for the goal. What made this play happen was Brandon Sutter parking himself in front of the net. Sutter ties up Francois Beauchamin, so that the Ducks defender was not able to get over and get a body in front of Dupuis in time, giving Dupuis the shooting lane, then the rest was history.
The final goal of the week, by Jason Pominville of the Minnesota Wild, shows the importance of being the third man in and why it’s always important to pick up that man. The long breakout pass by Ryan Suter gets the play going, as it splits the defense and gives the Wild an immediate 2-on-2 with another man trailing. Mikael Granlund has the puck on his stick, but Zach Parise intelligently skates towards the net on the play, which not only put himself into position for a rebound, but pulled defenseman Erik Johnson with him. Granlund shoots the puck and the ensuing rebound ends up to Semyon Varlamov’s right, with Varlamov totally out of position to make a save after squaring to the puck to make a stop on Granlund. With Pominville driving hard to the net and Brad Stuart not reacting to Pominville in time to tie him up, Pominville gets a look at a wide open net and cashes in.
1. Steven Stamkos and Alexander Ovechkin might both be in line for 60+ goal seasons. Though 50 in 50 games is unlikely, it’s exciting to see the two of them light the lamp almost every night.
2. The Ducks look fantastic in their new uniforms. Though we saw the blacks a bit last season, Anaheim has abandoned the ugly ‘Ducks” writing and went with the webbed foot “D” instead. The colors pop and the shoulder patch with the old “Mighty Ducks” logo is fantastic. A definitely upgrade for Anaheim. Their whites are now among the best in the league. The black shoulders and the orange sides really make their road uniforms pop.
3. The Connor McDavid sweepstakes is underway. Finishing last won’t guarantee anything, but the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers look like the early favorites to fall into that coveted number one spot and get a chance at one of the most exciting young players in the draft since Sidney Crosby.
4. Recipe of the week: Looking for a way to spice up your game day menu and impress your friends? I recently made shrimp and tilapia tacos . This isn’t your regular battered-to-death fried fish tacos, but instead, a healthier, grilled option that tastes just as good, if not better than the fried variety. I didn’t include the radishes as listed because, radishes? The lime and spices along with the spicy cabbage slaw make for a truly fantastic dish.
5. Beer of the week: Great Lakes Oktoberbest. This is one of my favorite Oktoberfest beers. It has a great mix of toffee/caramel tastes, with a mildly hoppy, smokey finish. Though we’re getting towards the end of the Oktoberfest bottling run, if you can find this one in your local liquor store, it’s definitely worth the try. It’s highly drinkable and it’s a beautiful amber color in a glass. Great Lakes Brewery is one of the finest things to come out of Cleveland, LeBron James, aside.
Thanks for reading, we’ll be back next Thursday with more of the same.