NHL’s 1st week created historic hot starts, surprises and disappointments
The first week of the NHL season has been full of hot starts, surprises, disappointments and achievements we haven’t witnessed in decades.
Here are seven impressions from the first seven days of the 2017-18 season:
Let’s begin with Vegas and the Golden Knights’ emotional home opener on Tuesday. The expansion team tugged on our heartstrings with a wonderful pre-game ceremony that honoured many of the brave first responders from the Oct. 1 Las Vegas massacre.
With their 5-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, the Golden Knights became the first team in the NHL’s 100-year history to win its first three games. Sniper James Neal also became the first player to score three game-winning goals in the first three games of the season since Brian Propp of the 1982-83 Philadelphia Flyers.
Leafs’ offence on fire
There only are four teams that remain unbeaten after the first week: St. Louis Blues (4-0-0), Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0-0), Vegas (3-0-0) and Los Angeles Kings (2-0-0).
The Maple Leafs have scored 19 times in their three games — the most they’ve scored in 100 years — but have yielded 10 goals. They have time on their side to work out the kinks in their defensive game, but the big question with this talented team is how much success will Toronto have in the spring playing this way?
The popular theory as to why there has been an abundance of scoring in the early going has been rule adjustments to faceoffs and slashing. Toronto coach Mike Babcock adds that teams need time to adjust to their defensive schemes and goalies also require time to find their form.
“Score the goals when you can because they’ll go away fast,” Babcock warned on Wednesday.
Schenn trade working out for Blues
The Blues have benefited from an off-season trade with the Philadelphia Flyers when they acquired Brayden Schenn in exchange for Jori Lehtera and a conditional draft pick.
Schenn has given the Blues a standout second line, playing with his 2011 Canadian world junior teammate Jaden Schwartz. The Blues have 15 goals in four games and the Saskatchewan natives have combined for four goals and 12 points.
Hat tricks galore
Connor McDavid, Brandon Saad, Wayne Simmonds, Nikolaj Ehlers and Alex Ovechkin, with two, enjoyed hat tricks in the first week of the season.
The seven-goals-in-three-games start for the 32-year-old Ovechkin is particularly notable. Ovechkin scored 33 times in 82 outings last year for his lowest non-lockout total since 2010-11, when he scored 32 goals in three fewer games.
He has new linemates in speedsters Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana, which has created space for Ovechkin. He also came to training camp leaner (four pounds lighter according to the Great Eight).
“As a professional athlete, the elite ones take a lot of pride in keeping a standard if you will,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “Standards are different for each player, but in Alex’s, it’s production. Everybody says, ‘He can’t score 50 goals.’ So he might get in his mind, ‘I’m going to score 70 to prove everybody wrong.'”
Habs in bad spot?
There should be concern in Montreal with the Canadiens’ 1-3-0 start. The Habs’ five goals are 29th in the league, one ahead of the four scored by the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks, who both have played in only two games.
The big off-season acquisition for Montreal was 22-year-old offensive star Jonathan Drouin, who has one assist in four games and a plus-minus rating of minus-three. The good news for Drouin is he has fired 17 shots on goal, fifth most in the league.
No slowing Blackhawks
Sure the perennial contending Chicago Blackhawks suffered a 4-3 overtime in Toronto on Monday after blowing a late-game 3-1 lead, but that defeat should not deter from the Blackhawks’ good-news start.
Saad and Patrick Sharp have returned after two-season layovers in Columbus and Dallas, respectively, to provide offence. But the big story was supposed to be the blue-line growing pains after losing four of their top defenceman to retirement (Brian Campbell), trade (Niklas Hjalmarsson), free agency (Johnny Oduya) and expansion (Trevor van Riemsdyk).
In are Jan Rutta, Gustav Forsling, Michal Kempny, Connor Murphy and Cody Franson to play decent enough behind the stalwart first pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Young man’s game
The average age for NHL teams this season is 27.6 with the youngest team the Columbus Blue Jackets at 25.5 and the oldest the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings at 29.5.
Surprisingly, the average age is not that much younger than in 2003-04, the final season before the salary cap was instituted. Back then, the average age for teams was 28, with the Florida Panthers the youngest club at 25.3 and the Red Wings the oldest at 31.9.
The big difference is not the number of youngsters in the league (there have been 30 players 20 or younger in the first week, compared to 50 in 2003-04), but the impact young talents like McDavid, Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine have had compared to Jason Spezza, Patrice Bergeron and Ilya Kovalchuk 14 years ago.
Also worth noting is the number of 40-and-over players. This season, there are 40-year-olds Mark Streit (Montreal), Zdeno Chara (Boston) and Matt Cullen (Minnesota) and they soon will be joined by 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr of the Calgary Flames. In 2003-04, there were nine 40-somethings with high-end players in Mark Messier, Igor Larionov, Chris Chelios, Adam Oates, Ron Francis, Dave Andreychuk, Steve Thomas, James Patrick and Al MacInnis.