Welcome to our weekly review. Each week we’ll look back on the major storylines and top performers and teams from around the league. Gary Bettman didn’t listen to our email asking to start the season on a Monday, so this first edition is really a week-and-a-half review. But you get the idea.
Ever since Patrick Kane scored his cup-clinching goal last June (or did he score it?) all of Canada counted down the days until hockey season. What did America do? Well, they had other priorities. Now October is here, and we can all resume our knee-jerk predictions and waxing poetic about the good ‘ol days when players had respect for each other. You’ll get plenty of both from us.
If there’s one thing the NHL has taught us in recent years, it’s that improvement comes in baby steps. Teams just don’t finish at the very bottom of the basement one year, and then go deep into the playoffs the next spring. This isn’t the NFL.
But the early returns are in, and some bad teams looked pretty, pretty good. Don’t worry, in another week everything will be back to normal, and you won’t have to worry about belligerent Leaf fans singing that horrifc song.
And you thought we were done talking about headshots
It’s amazing how often my two blogging homes here at The Score overlap. Actually, it isn’t: they’ve only overlapped once, and the contrast wasn’t surprising, but was still jarring.
I contribute regularly to our NFL blog, the Goal-Line Stand. In the NFL this past Sunday there was a string of bone-crushing hits to the head that forced several players to leave games, and one could be out for a while. Two days later, the NFL introduced suspensions in an effort to protect players. Three players were also given substantial fines, the kind the NHL would only hand out in Monopoly money.
The NHL spent nearly all of last season mulling over a rule change to curb hits to the head. The consequences of an illegal hit might be on the books now, but the mentality and culture of the NHL hasn’t changed yet.
Through 11 days of play there has already been a handful of illegal hits, some penalized, and others tossed aside. Colin Campbell’s infamous Wheel of Justice spared Kris Letang after his hit on Blake Comeau. Nick Foligno wasn’t so lucky, and the formerly angelic Shane Doan met the long arm of the law after bowling over two Ducks in one game.
But as much as it’s discouraging to see the continued highlight reel of shoulders hitting heads, it’s not even remotely surprising. To echo an argument made by our own Joe Ross, I’d like someone to show me this dusty footage of some forgotten era of respect in the NHL.
Were there as many headshots back in the glory days? Maybe not. But you know what they did have? Tomahawk chops to the head, one of which was rather famous.
You always remember your first
I still have Jordan Eberle’s first NHL goal playing at my apartment. It’s on a loop each morning during breakfast. Is that weird? Whatever.
Eberle’s first goal was one of the prettiest debuts to the scoresheet the NHL has ever witnessed, and for Oilers fans it was even sweeter that the goal came against the rivalled Flames.
One last time, here’s Eberle’s magic:
Oh, and Tyler Seguin’s first goal wasn’t too bad either:
A flurry around Fleury
Marc-Andre Fleury is just going to be one of those players who’s always fighting through adversity. First, it was the bank shot that lost the World Juniors, and then the misplayed puck against Detroit that lost the cup. Fleury has recovered swiftly from this self-induced shame, appearing in two Stanley Cup finals and winning a ring.
The latest round of shaming comes from a poor start, and another fight for playing time with a journeyman goalie. When he returned from injury in the 2007-08 season, Fleury conceded some playing time to Ty Conklin, the veteran who did much more than just fill a gap while Fleury was sitting with a high ankle sprain. Now Fleury’s foe is Brent Johnson.
In his three starts this season, Fleury’s flailing butterfly style that has produced highlight reel saves is failing. He has allowed 10 goals, and the Penguins have yet to win a game in which Fleury started.
- For those of you keeping score at home–which is at the very least the entire province of Ontario–Tyler Seguin has two points over his first three career games in Boston, while Phil Kessel has five goals and seven points over five games. If I know anything about absurdly early hockey reaching, it’s that the Leafs have won this deal hands-down.
- For those of you keeping score at home–which is at the very least the entire province of Quebec–Jaroslav Halak has allowed nine goals during his first four starts for the Blues. He has a 2.21 GAA and .909 save percentage.
- Ottawa is getting all the bad and none of the good that comes with Sergei Gonchar the pylon. The 36-year-old has two assists and a -4 rating after six games.
- We may still be wiping off drool from Eberle’s first goal, but where’s Taylor Hall? The first overall pick is still looking for his first tally, and has just one point. Even the most talented rookies need time to adapt, and Hall will be no exception. Remember that Stamkos kid, and his 51 goals in his second season? Yeah, Hall will be fine.
- At times there’s nothing more predictable in the NHL than injuries. The universe seems out of place until Pascal LeClaire and Marian Gaborik take their usual seats in the press box. Thankfully, we can all go about our normal lives now, as both have hit the shelf. In fairness to Gaborik, he’s gone for longevity, and has mostly ridden one injury (groin) throughout his career. LeClaire is going for full body coverage.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs finished dead last in the East last year, and sat idly by while the Bruins drafted Seguin. Along with the Oilers, they were the laughingstock of the league for the entire season, and the summer. So it’s far too easy to cast aside the fast start that had the buds undefeated until a loss last night to the Islanders.
The truth is simple and logical. A four game winning streak is still a four game winning streak, even if it does come at the beginning of a season and fills an already delusional fanbase with a false sense of euphoria. But the group assembled by Brian Burke has plenty of promise, with forwards like Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur getting an increased role for the first time, and youngsters like Tyler Bozak and Nicolai Kulemin rapidly maturing.
In a hockey market renowned for its spotlight, there should be plenty to watch this year. Win or lose, the Leafs may be the most entertaining team this side of Edmonton.
Calgary Flames: The race for the outhouse was a close one this week between the Flames and Senators, but the flameout in Calgary has plunged just that much further.
The Flames have the second worst goals per game in the NHL (2.00). Marquee players being leaned on for production are only now starting to wake up from their summer slumber. Jarome Iginla went pointless for the first three games, as did Olli Jokinen, while Alex Tanguay has been one of the few bright spots so far in his second tenure (two goals, three points).
The Flames’ undefeated preseason has become a distant memory.
Every week we’ll give our three stars, a practice that will no doubt result in insults and calls for me to be fired.
1. Marian Hossa: A no-brainer. Hossa has yet to play a game without registering a point, had a game-winner last week against Buffalo, and scored two goals Monday night in a win over St.Louis.
2. Steven Stamkos: Stamkos has had four multi-point games already, and is a prime reason for the early season success of Guy Boucher’s new team.
3. Thomas Vokoun: It’s easy to go unnoticed in Florida. This will happen when you play for a team that has made the playoffs only three times in its entire existence. But Vokoun has quietly gone about his business during his three seasons in the Sunshine State, and now he has two straight shutouts. Vokoun has allowed only five goals in the Panthers’ first four games.