NHL Super 8

Not so super 8 – Feb. 17

This week finally picked up a bit in the top 16.

However, a couple of teams were snubbed by the panel in place of what feels to be less deserving teams (LA Kings and New Jersey Devils.)

Let’s get right to it.

ANAHEIM DUCKSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Ducks should’ve had a spot in the Super 16. Some of the other teams that made it into the top 16 definitely are not as hot as the Ducks right now. They likely missed because of their close victories with below average teams.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Ducks need to start showing up and taking command against lower-ranked teams as stated earlier. They only beat the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers each by a score of 3-2, and then lost to the Detroit Red Wings 2-1. They are getting destroyed by the better teams in the league and barely squeaking out wins against every other team. The Ducks are 5-3-2 the last 10.

COLORADO AVALANCHESuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This is another team that is in the top 16 rankings wise that didn’t make the power ranking cut. They probably also should have made the Super 16 over a couple other teams, but they missed due to their just “ok” last 10 record of 4-5-1.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Last week they got destroyed by the St. Louis Blues and then lost to the Carolina Hurricanes. This week they barely beat the Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens and then were blown out by Winnipeg. Much like the Ducks, they need to start finding victories against better teams and need to limit the scoring of lesser teams.

They are also seeing impressive offensive numbers from their forwards. Nathan MacKinnon has 61 points followed closely by Mikko Rantanen with 52 and Gabriel Landeskog with 42. They just need their goalies to pick it up a bit. They only have a combined .914 save percentage.

CAROLINA HURRICANESSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Hurricanes have honestly done pretty well over their past 10 games, but aren’t really in a ranked position to be in the Super 16. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 and won three straight before losing their last two to the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Hurricanes are on an upward path. Their victories have come against some quality teams. They beat the LA Kings 7-3 earlier in the week. If they continue to play well against teams like the Kings, they have a shot to move up significantly in the standings.

FLORIDA PANTHERSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

While the Panthers have won their last two and are 6-4-0 in their last 10, they have been struggling to shut down their opponents offensively not only in their losses, but also in their wins. Like when they beat the Oilers on Monday by a score of 7-5.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Roberto Luongo has stepped up his game in the crease, but the backups need to become more reliable. James Reimer and Harri Sateri have a combined .910 save percentage. Considering Reimer has started the most games this season, those numbers just won’t cut it.

New York IslandersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This is where things start going downhill. The Islanders are 4-5-1 in their last 10, which is “ok” but not great.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

If the Islanders can see more goaltending performances like that of Jaroslav Halak against the New York Rangers (50-save shutout), then they may start looking up. His .912 save percentage is less than average, but if that changes, they may be ok. Especially with the impressive offensive numbers they are seeing. John Tavares has 64 points so far this season and is followed just barely by Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey, who each have 62.

DETROIT RED WINGSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Redwings are 4-4-2 their last 10. They are low in the standings and can’t seem to find a winning rhythm, which is why they keep missing out on the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Turn those two OT losses into wins and their record the last 10 is 6-4-0, and they are up three spots in league standings. Regulation wins would really help boost this team, especially at home where they have a league-leading seven OT losses.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Blue Jackets were 3-5-2 in their last 10. Their record in the last 10 games alone is what is keeping them from even getting close to the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Blue Jackets have been on a significant downward spiral these past three weeks. They barely missed the Super 16 three weeks ago. Now they aren’t even close and are traveling closer to the bottom of the standings.

This past week, they have been very hot and cold. They will beat teams by large margins, like when they beat the Islanders 4-1 and the Devils 6-1. They also lost by significant margins to the Leafs (6-3) and the Washington Capitals (4-2).

The Blue Jackets really need to stay consistent here to even have a shot at breaking into the Super 16.

ARIZONA COYOTESSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They are last in the league, so it is clear why they missed. But they are more deserving to sit in this spot just due to their efforts in their last 10. Their record sits at 5-4-1 the last 10 and they are on a three-game winning streak.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They can actually keep winning games. It is hard to break this down because everything needs to change for the Coyotes. In reality, they have no shot of even getting close to the Super 16, but their effort the last stretch is worth recognizing and their fans should appreciate it.

 

Team logos and featured image from NHL.com

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Super 8

Not so Super 8-February 9

And we are back with this week’s “Not so Super 8”.

There was quite a bit of shifting this week in the Super 16, some of which I am not totally in agreement with. I mean sure the Golden Knights lost a couple games in regulation. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be dropped to the third spot.

This week also had a lot fewer teams that even deserved to be in consideration. Most of the teams that missed the Super 16 are on huge slides right now.

Let’s get right to it.

Super 8LA Kings

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This one is tough. They are on a two game win streak, their record the past 10 is 5-5-0 and they are in the top 16 in the NHL. It really just game down to choosing between them, San Jose and Anaheim.

Super 8

Offensive statistics for the LA Kings (Screenshot from NHL.com)choosing between them, San Jose and Anaheim.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

We need to start seeing more production offensively from players other than Anze Kopitar. Just take a look at their offensive stat breakdown. Kopitar leads the team in points by almost 20 above Drew Doughty. And while there is nothing wrong with defensemen who are offensively minded, why the hell is Doughty above any other forward in point production?

In addition to this, Jonathan Quick is not playing his best for the Kings. With only a 2.51 GAA and a .919 S% he really needs to cement his place as the Kings’ number one guy in the crease.

Philadelphia FlyersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Flyers did pretty well this week, so much like the Kings, I am not super sure. Also on a two game win streak and sporting an even better record the past 10 games of 6-3-1, I think they also could’ve had a spot in the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

It is too bad the Flyers don’t have better goalies because they have three players with plus 50 point production. The struggles in the crease are killing the team. With Brian Elliot and Michal Neuvirth combing for a dismal 2.67 GAA and a .910 S%. They need a pick me up or their woes will continue.

Super 8Carolina Hurricanes

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This is where the play quality takes a steep drop in the list. The Hurricanes are at an okay 4-5-1 the past 10 games. They have been 9-10-1 their past 20 so they are really playing pretty averagely right now.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They are only pulling out close wins against average or less than average teams and they are getting smoked by good teams. The Hurricanes really need to find a way to pull out wins against the better teams if they want to move up in the league at all. They need more offensive production but they really won’t ever win games if their goaltending continues to be awful. Cam Ward and Scott Darling combine for even worse numbers that Elliot and Neuvirth, with a 2.85 GAA and a .901 S%. I mean those numbers are just awful and potentially the worst in the league with the exception of the Coyotes.

Florida PanthersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Panthers missed purely because of actual ranking in the NHL. Other than that they are on fire, they have won four straight games and are 6-4-0 in their last 10.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

In their six games before the win streak they had 27 goals against. That is 4.5 goals per game, and it is completely unacceptable. Roberto Luongo needs to step up in a big way to keep their goal differential lower. This team could easily be in the top 16 in the league, they have the pieces to the puzzle. They just need to execute.

New York IslandersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They have lost one and are 3-5-2 their last 10. They are gathering points but just not quite enough to keep them on par with the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Win. In. Regulation. A couple of their regulation losses have been by a one goal margin. In addition to that they lost twice in overtime. They need to start pulling that second point instead of settling for one. Also they lost to the Coyotes and the Sabres in that time frame. Those are the worst two teams in the league a win in both of those games flips their past 10 record to a better than average 5-3-2.

Columbus Blue JacketsSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Blue Jackets are closer to being in the league’s top 16 than a lot of the teams above them. They missed because of the three game slide they are on right now with a past 10 game record of 3-6-1.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They need to start getting contributions from their key players. Josh Anderson is leading in goals with 16 and Artemi Panarin leads in points with 42. That’s fine and all, bit where are Zach Werenski, Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg? I found them. Way down the stat sheet not really contributing to their team.

Chicago BlackhawksSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

I was really starting to grasp at straws here. The Blackhawks record the past 10 is 2-6-2. That pretty much speaks for itself.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

With the amount of star power this team has, it never ceases to baffle me how badly they are doing this year. They are just waiting for something to click, and when it does I am sure they’ll be back to their winning ways.

Edmonton OilersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Oilers are just finally starting to figure things out this season. It is too late at this point. Their 5-4-0 record the past 10 is okay and it’s far better than most of the bottom dwellers they share real estate with.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

It can’t be just “The Connor McDavid Show” anymore. The kid is LITERALLY carrying the team to victory. He scores the majority of the goals whether they win or lose, and there isn’t much other offensive production.

I have no bonus team this week because every team that did not make the Super 16 cut was relatively average. Whereas in the past teams have been snubbed.

Team logos and featured image courtesy of NHL.com

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NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game: The stars, the surprises and the snubbed

On Wednesday the NHL announced the roster for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (ASG) in Tampa Bay, FL.

Most of the players that made the cut were obvious choices: Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Nikita Kucherov, etc.

However, a good amount of players that made the team don’t quite fit the bill. There were a lot of quality players that didn’t make the cut in favor of less qualified players.

THE STARS

There are two different categories for the stars in the ASG.

You have the obvious, always have and will be all-stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, McDavid and more.

There are the stand alone stars who’s teams are seeing mediocre seasons but they still stand out such as: Mike Green, Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel.

Granted the Penguins, Oilers and Blackhawks are having less than stellar seasons so Crosby, McDavid and Kane could all be included in this group too, but lets face it; it’ll be a cold day in hell when these guys aren’t on this roster.

THE SURPRISES

Here we have a category of players who either surprised me (in a good way) individually this year or they come from a surprisingly good hockey team (looking at you Vegas).  In this group we see: James Neal, Marc Andre-Fleury and John Klingberg (are you kidding me, 33 assists as a D-man?).

Some additions in this group of surprises are: Josh Bailey, right winger for the New York Islanders, who is sporting impressive numbers this season in goals and assists for the floundering team. Bailey has a career plus/minus of -31 so this season is definitely a turn around for him.

Aleksander Barkov a center for the Florida Panthers is also somewhat of a rising star this season.  With 14 goals, 21 assists and a +4 rating; Barkov has definitely surprised hockey fans (especially with his flashy shootout moves). (Youtube link from Puck Daily)

In addition to these positive surprises I also have a list of “how the hell did you make it on this roster”.

Starting us off. Carey Price. I get that they are picking a player from each team, but even the shockingly bad Canadiens have better to offer this season.  After missing a handful of games due to injury, Price returned and has since been sporting a 2.89 GAA and a .911 S% over 29 games.

Our second victim in this category is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This is by far the worst selection of the ASG. Sitting at 6 goals and 13 assists with an absolutely HORRENDOUS plus/minus of -34, Ekman-Larsson’s name doesn’t belong anywhere near the word all-star. Honestly, just give Shane Doan an alumni appearance in his place.

The final selection for the (bad) surprises is Rickard Rakell. He isn’t a bad player, he just isn’t the best the Anaheim Ducks or the Pacific has to offer. He has a respectable goal count with 15 but he only has 16 assists and a -6 rating.

THE SNUBBED

Speaking of that surprise selection from the Ducks, where is Ryan Getzlaf on this roster? I get that he only has 4 goals this season, but with 20 assists, a +9 rating and his leadership qualities he seems like a better choice for the ASG.

Mark Giordano somehow slipped under the radar for this year’s ASG. Coming from one of the best defensive cores in the NHL it is amazing that no D-men from the Calgary Flames made this roster. Dougie Hamilton could’ve easily been taken in place of Ekman-Larsson as well.

NHL All-Star Game

These are the top five forwards for the Vegas Golden Knights.   (Screenshot from NHL.com)

Finally we have the omission of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Marchessault leads the Golden Knights in points with 40 (16 goals and 24 assists) and Karlsson is right behind him with 36 (22 goals and 14 assists). James Neal made the roster in favor of these two which is shocking to me, especially if you look at the statistical breakdown of the Golden Knights’ forwards.

 

 

 

The Wrap Up

Overall, I am not impressed by this year’s ASG roster. Just bring back the fan vote (I want to see more John Scotts in the ASG) or the draft because that at least would make things more exciting and dramatic.

The 3-on-3 format is nice because it’ll keep things moving and showcase more speed so at least that will be interesting.

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oil change

This vehicle needs an oil change

We witnessed a change in culture and an entire revamping of an organization last season in Edmonton. The savior of hockey in a particular community in Alberta named Connor McDavid was the culprit. It still appears to be this way; however, we see a group of individuals just five points ahead of the lowly Arizona Coyotes entering Thanksgiving. What is going on in Oil Country?

There’s never one reason why a club struggles the way they do. A hockey team has 20 pieces to a very complex puzzle. This includes a coaching staff, fans and front office members. Everyone plays a role (like we have discussed before) where one act or one decision can have a huge snowball effect. Are the problems initiated on the ice, in the crowd or in the front offices?

My guess would be everything including the media that’s causing this mayhem. The players on the ice are their own worst enemy. A team’s psyche and mental toughness reigns supreme in their ability to win hockey games. This Oilers team is not entirely different from last season where they made a postseason appearance for the first time in a decade. Nevertheless, this current Oiler squad needs an oil change fast…and in a hurry.

The “Savior of Hockey” in Northern Alberta??

oil change

Photo: Sportsnet

I’m not buying it as of right now, no matter how angry any Edmonton fan gets. Yes, Connor McDavid is the reigning MVP and maybe the most skilled young NHLer since Crosby, Ovi and Wayne; however, he is the captain of the Edmonton Oilers hockey club. He is also 20 years old. Has that responsibility, or that 100 million dollar contract been weighing on him?

28 points in the first 22 games of an NHL season sounds nice for him. What about 18 points in 22 games for the team? That doesn’t sound very good for a preseason pick with the 2nd best odds to win it all coming into the season. Are his leadership skills in question? They say actions speak louder than words. A captain’s notoriety typically goes beyond stats and highlight reel plays.

Wayne Gretzky said he was ‘truly amazed’ (The Globe and Mail) by what McDavid began to create last season. I myself was truly amazed to see him make just one play finally in a game this past Tuesday in St. Louis. Unfortunately for the Edmonton faithful, that one play was made after the Oilers were enduring a 4-0 deficit in the third period.

The Oilers surrendered a season-high eight goals to the Blues that night. We later find out McDavid had ‘flu-like symptoms’ and head coach Todd McLellan described his team’s play as ‘lazy’ (STLToday.com) on that particular evening. Oh well..just another loss in a long 82-game season, right? No need to panic.

That dreaded media that won’t go away..’sorry’

oil change

Photo: National Post

The Edmonton Journal posted an article two hours before I started typing bashing the Oilers’ player development system. Clearly I’m not the only one with harsh remarks for this hockey team. Yes, Mr. Gretzky it’s “hockey 365 days a year in Edmonton”. This is why you came back to the team you helped raise four Stanley Cups. However, that also means the Oilers have to (at the very least) meet expectations.

The article went on to say that “there is a feeling too many of their prospects are not panning out” (Edmonton Journal). There is this youth movement that we have discussed going on in the league. This doesn’t mean the youngest of young players have to be “leading” the charge (McDavid/Matthews/Laine). You have players in their primes leading the way (Pietrangelo/Toews/Crosby/Ovechkin). However, again, these are not the sole reasons the Oilers are struggling.

The media is going to nitpick every little speck of an organization to make stories about how a team is doing. This cannot affect how the players play on the ice. Maybe if the “home” media halted their badgering questions that clearly annoy their team’s players things could change. I have no idea what’s going on in the minds of the entire Oiler community. I just know after that game in early October against the rival Flames, I did not expect these results 22 games into the season.

the entertainment “business”

oil change

Photo. NHL.com

The folks in Edmonton will still fill up Rogers Place to capacity no matter what. If the Oilers play the Florida Panthers on a Sunday afternoon, they will be there. Entertainment value is never the issue; therefore, there is no excuse for the Oiler front office to not piece together a quality hockey team. I mean look at the roster..

Money can buy you a star-studded hockey club. Money cannot buy you wins and points in this parity-filled NHL. This has caught up to teams like the Capitals, Blackhawks and seemingly now with the Oilers. There are “must-have players” up and down each roster that deserve their money. However, is it the most sensible thing for a 22-year old Leon Draisaitl to be making nine million dollars right now?

You have all these ridiculously young players with fat contracts that may or may not be deserving at this point in time. Whether the Hawks had to or not, they realized they couldn’t keep an Artemi Panarin long-term giving him six million right away. Furthermore, you have the Oilers with 27 million in salary between five players that are not yet 30.

McDavid’s rookie contract is up at the end of this season where his 100-million dollar deal will begin. If the playoffs are not in this Oiler team’s future, we could see some real (oil) changes in 2018.

If it’s broke, fix it.

What’s going on in Edmonton isn’t working right now. The organization has multiple big contracts for players either very young or in their prime. Do these “young guns” feel safe and untouchable with all this money?

Connor McDavid is going to put up great numbers. He knows he has great players around him. The “next one” may know in his mind things will turn around naturally, which it could. Although, nothing ever just happens in professional sports. Is McDavid not worried because $15 million is coming his way by the end of next season?

I’m not saying they don’t care. I’m not saying they won’t get it together. I’m saying they are one of the two worst teams in the West right now. This should not be the case. Figure it out.

 

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changing lives

Changing lives on and off the ice

Pro athletes take part in changing lives just as the sport they play has done so for them. Professional sports is one of the great platforms used to impact the lives of those in need. The Make-a-Wish Foundation has been doing this for the last 37 years. However, pro teams in each of the major sports have done their best as well to get involved in these opportunities.

Proven psychological facts state that how fans feel about their teams and athletes have a large effect on how they perform. Some players say they are immune to how fans feel, but sports psychologist Daniel L. Wann explains why that is not the case. He tells us that “it’s like an adolescent who says they don’t care about what their parents think” (AASP). The relationship between the fans and players is very important. A team’s effort within the community they play for is vital to an organization’s success.

Fans must feel at ease with their emotional investment in their team. Meeting players, conversing with front office members and knowing the club you root for as best you can does wonders. Many that are unable to do that, who are in need and have an undying love for their team have that at the top of their bucket list. Fortunately, NHL teams make dreams like this come true every day.

Ari and Levi with Blues

changing lives

Photo: St. Louis Blues

Two lives have been rejuvenated in the last eight months by the St. Louis Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko. Levi Ervin and Arianna Dougan were granted wishes in the midst of heartache and struggle, but never imagined the extent of those wishes that they received. The experience they had helped them forget about their troubles for at least that while and is something they will never forget.

Arianna was given the best birthday present she could ask for this past March while battling cancer. Her favorite player (Tarasenko) gave her the news prior to his team’s game against Buffalo. She would be traveling with the team for a two-game road trip in Arizona and Colorado. Her can’t miss smile showed the entire club how special it was and “how tough she really is” Blues defensemen Robert Bortuzzo told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Ari attended games beyond the road trip and into the playoffs where she became a rallying point for the fans each time they showed her on the jumbotron.

Levi signed a one-day contract with his team after being involved in a catastrophic car accident. His grandparents suffered third degree burns and his two-year old sister sadly passed away. The newest member of the Blues traveled with the team to Carolina for their game against the Hurricanes. He took the ice with his hockey hero Tarasenko for the morning skate, then fist pumped the boys as they left the ice after a 2-1 win.

The Blues clinched a playoff berth last spring with the three points they received during the road trip with Ari. They deposited a big two points nearing the end of the first month of this season on the road with Levi.

Kohen and Gage with the Oilers

Edmonton found a rare bright spot in their season in February of 2016. Kohen Flett was signed to a one-day contract with the Oilers. The eight-year old (at the time) was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only 15 months old. Like the previous cases, Kohen possessed a “larger than life smile” (Fox Sports) throughout this incredible experience.

The youngster spent his day with the team practicing with the Oilers for their morning skate. Kohen was able to help superstar Connor McDavid with his equipment. He then gave the team a speech before they hit the ice for practice. Flett got the entire player experience that ended with a team photo and interviews with the Edmonton media. Kohen said, “it was the best day of my life,” (Fox Sports).

changing lives

Photo: Instagram

Make-a-Wish Northern Alberta teamed up with the Oilers again this past September. Gage Foster got his opportunity to work out with his favorite goalie (Cam Talbot). The young fan and his family took the ice with the Oiler net minder prior to the start of training camp. Gage is a member of Make-a-Wish Southwestern Ontario, but his wish was still granted with the help of the foundation.

Edmonton has some of the most loyal fans in the NHL. It is hockey 365 days a year. In recent years of their rebuild they still managed to average 16,000 fans a night at home games. Their work within the community and connection to their fans is one of the big reasons why.

Across the league

Fans and players work as one to reach a common goal. The unifying of a community is imperative to reaching this goal, but it starts with the players. Each official team website has a community tab. A team’s community is the financial and emotional fuel to their club. A good relationship and cohesion between these two pieces makes giving this fuel an easy decision. However, many still question and criticize people who invest much of their time, money and emotions in their teams.

When you love something, it’s hard to describe. It’s not something you do, it’s something you feel. Furthermore, it’s reassuring when our impactful efforts are backed by psychological science. I love my team, and there have been many times I have acted irrationally in support of my team. The way all of our teams make us feel every emotion possible justifies these actions for us.

No one forces a player to make a young child feel good and smile. It is the renowned athlete that recognizes his ability to do so who then takes action. The moments a child has with his favorite team and player(s) last forever.

 

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slow start

Underachieving NHL teams: Off to a slow start, eh?

It is typical at times for a perceived great team to get off to a surprisingly slow start. It’s tough to judge a team just 8-10 games in, but you would like to see positive signs moving forward.

Montreal, Edmonton and New York (Rangers) are three of the five bottom teams in the league at the moment. The only team with a worse record (as of Oct. 26) is the Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1). All three of these teams finished with over 100 points last season.

This is a small sample size. However, after a long offseason, teams are typically high on new energy at the start of the year. Moreover, the points you deposit in October are worth the same as the points put in the bank in March. Ask the Canadiens of last year. Montreal started the season 13-1-1, played .500 hockey the next 43 games (18-18-7), and still captured a division title finishing 47-26-9.

Every team hits a lull, or multiple lulls over the course of a season. A hot start isn’t 100 percent crucial to a successful season, but it is your first imprint on the year. It’s the first building block. Your season can be made or broken based off of how it starts. It’s very early again, but what’s going on with three of the league’s current bottom feeders?

off and walking habs

underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Habs began their season with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. They then proceeded to lose their next seven. Montreal ended that skid Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over a Roberto Luongo-less Florida squad. The team is giving up close to four goals a game and both net minders (Price and Montoya) have save percentages under .900.

The Canadiens are a team that depends on their goaltending heavily having arguably the best in the league in Carey Price. The 2015-16 season saw them skate to a 10-2-0 record with Price in the net and a 4-15-1 record the next 20 after his injury. Thirty-seven of their 47 victories last season came with Price manning the crease. The pressure on Price is huge because they only possess one player (Max Pacioretty) that had over 20 or more goals for them last season.

Montreal is scoring less than two goals a game. They are averaging over 38 shots a game lacking finish. The Habs have the eighth worst power play at just under 14 percent in a year where special teams is ruling with the amount of penalties being called. It’s just not clicking for the Canadiens nine games into their season.

We could see a flip of the script of last year where Montreal could trend upward after October instead. There are 73 games remaining. It’s simply a slow start for the Habs.

Not Much Fuel early For the Well-Oiled Machine

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The curious case of the not so well-oiled machine at the moment is concerning. Edmonton has won only two of their first eight games. Connor McDavid is still doing Connor McDavid things (nine points). However, the depth along with the stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot isn’t showing up currently.

Edmonton is giving up an even three goals a game after giving up 1.89 per game through eight games last season. They needed everything and more from their starter Cam Talbot last year. The 30-year old played in 73 of the 82 games. It started with him as the Oilers let up the eighth fewest goals of any team. They’re going to need Talbot to be who he was last year and maybe more if the offense doesn’t pick up.

The league MVP is obviously the catalyst for everything that goes on offensively for the Oilers. However, to be successful and a true contender, you need production from all four lines. The 2016-17 season saw Edmonton possess five 20+ goal scorers, four 50+ point getters and one fourth liner (Mark Letestu) net 16 goals. McDavid can turn this team around in a hurry as they have almost everyone from a year ago minus Jordan Eberle.

Great teams sometimes suffer when they are aware of the talent they have. This can be seen at times with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA regular season. They get bored occasionally. However, the Oilers have no excuse having just made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years despite having the second best preseason Cup odds at 10-1. They haven’t won or proven anything yet.

broadway at a standstill

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Rangers have played in 10 games so far this season and have come away victorious twice. However, they have shown the most positive signs of improvement statistically of the other two teams. New York has been in three one-goal games, averaging 2.50 goals per game, and converting on close to 20 percent of their power plays.

The Blue Shirts’ defense is centered around Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after an offseason trade with Arizona and free agency. They traded Antti Raanta (backup goalie) and Derek Stepan (key bottom six depth player).

Their new backup (Ondrej Pavelec) is 0-2 and has given up six goals in 96 minutes of action. The penalty kill (manned by much of the bottom six) sits at 23rd in the league at 77.8 percent. The new defensive core is a combined -11.

New York finished ninth overall in the league last year with 102 points. They captured a series win over Montreal and took Ottawa to six games who was one goal away from reaching the Finals. The Rangers organization then presumed a few tweaks were needed to take the next step. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it isn’t the case at all.

This could be nothing like the previous two teams discussed. Hopefully (for the front office) this will be a footnote to the next 72 games for the Rangers.

No time to worry

There are new faces up and down a roster coming into the year. Chemistry and figuring out how to play with one another is crucial. Some teams learn faster than others and there is no way to project where these particular teams will be in the standings later on in the season.

The key is to have a short memory and always be in the right frame of mind. Each of these hockey clubs believe they can win with the personnel they possess.

The longest losing streak for the Stanley Cup winning Penguins last year was four. Therefore, the seven game losing streak by the Habs is alarming. The league worst 15 goals that the Oilers have registered in their eight games is concerning. The lack of cohesion from the new-look Rangers is also worrisome. However, they can’t look back.

Will these teams get it together sooner rather than later?

 

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power rankings

NHL week one review

We have completed one week of hockey. Three stories headline the past week that involve the league’s best teams. Connor McDavid increased his speed in the offseason (if that’s possible). The Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks are really good. Alexander Ovechkin is a man among boys still on his team that dominates the regular season.

Referees have enforced the slashing a bit too much for my liking at times, but it was a great week. The Golden Knights won their first three games in franchise history, which no expansion team has ever done. We saw 235 goals scored. Jaromir Jagr signed with Calgary to prolong his illustrious career to a 24th season. This all took place in week one, but the excitement will continue to grow until early June.

There is always a chance something special could happen on any given night in the NHL. Keep your eyes open as this is only the beginning.

Well-Oiled Machine

NHL week one review

Photo: Matchsticks and Gasoline

Edmonton is off to a slow start, winning one of their first three, but no one is doubting where they will be at the end. Furthermore, if you haven’t seen Connor McDavid skate and possess the puck from end to end, you need to.

The 20-year-old league MVP has recorded four points in his first three games including a hat trick in game one.

Eight minutes into the third period of that game, McDavid took the puck from his own defensive circle. He then proceeded to skate past every player on the ice, posses the puck at full speed and put it past the net minder Smith- untouched.

The Oiler captain is impressive by his leadership on and off the ice. McDavid is always looking forward and knowing that tonight was great, but “we have a long way to go” (NHL.com). It is this mindset the third year superstar has that may prove the Oilers to be prominent contenders in the West this year.

Leafs/Hawks

Toronto and Chicago may have the two best offenses in the league. No club has registered more goals than these two.

You expect these numbers from teams like Chicago, but it’s nice to see a new face in the department. The Leafs scored 19 goals through their first three games and the Hawks notched 18. Both teams met Monday night in a thrilling game between two of the league’s current top tier hockey clubs. Will we see these two link up in late May and early June?

NHL week one review

Photo: SB Nation

The game started out with the Blackhawks jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Toronto would tie it in the third, fall behind 3-2, then tie it on the power play with under five minutes to play.

It headed to overtime where Auston Matthews would net one of the most gorgeous wrist shots you will see as the Leafs took the game 4-3 in overtime. A battle like this can be very telling even at this early stage of a season.

Teams are trying to put points in the bank right now and set themselves up to in good position in the second half. Two points in October is worth the same as two points in March.

The games played to start the year are played with such high energy. This one between the Hawks and Leafs definitely set the precedent of what we hope to see more of as this season progresses.

Alexander is still the great

So, Alexander Ovechkin recorded seven goals in his first two games. He became the first player to do so since the NHL’s inaugural season (1917-18). Alex attributes his two hat tricks to his sister-in-law because “every time she’s in town, like I score a hat trick,” he said (ESPN). His theory proved possible as he was held scoreless Monday night as his sister-in-law traveled back home. Ovy was said to have a down year last season after his 33-goal output which is amazing in itself.

NHL week one review

Photo: ESPN

The three-time MVP has never scored less than 32 goals (even in a shortened season) and has scored 50 or more in seven seasons. His speed is still there and his shot is obviously still there at the age of 32. No one doubts his ability to score and put up points. It is his ability to lead his team to victory and take the next step in his 13th season that is questioned.

The Washington Capitals have finished atop the league standings in each of the past two seasons, but have lost to Pittsburgh in the second round both years. The franchise has yet to reach a conference final in the Ovechkin era.

Therefore, each successful regular season will not be held in high regard until we witness the Capitals take the next step. Alex Ovechkin will still be looked at among the NHL’s elite, but like many of his counterparts, you are judged by wins, losses and championships at the end of the day.

Week one

I did not care for a few of the calls made this past week as I discussed earlier. However, the entertainment value did not diminish in the slightest.

This subtle protection package we have now may be somewhat of a blessing in disguise. There was an exceptional amount of offense this week, which is what we wish to see in all sports. We want to see more homers, touchdowns and goals. It would be very difficult to lessen the excitement of NHL hockey. Week one was a success, can’t wait for the next 35.

Good news is, we don’t have to wait..

 

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An Opening Night To Commemorate

October fourth was opening night of the 2017-18 regular season. Fans are in for another wild ride as no rule enforcement can diminish the hype of NHL hockey (as expected).

Four games were on the docket to start the year. The Toronto Maple Leafs exhibited their potential of being not just young talented upstarts, but a problem in the East. The Edmonton Oilers started their narrative in being among the elite in the West. St. Louis displayed their ability to send pucks to the back of the net with regularity despite their current roster subtractions. Then we further understood Wayne Simmonds’s case as one of the top tier power forwards in the league at the end of the night.

“I hope the rest of the season is as entertaining as it is tonight” said NBCSN color commentator Mike Milbury during last night’s game between St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The first of 82 games for four of 31 teams took place this past Wednesday. League policy issues and corruption is not at all a topic of discussion. Hockey fans are here to enjoy the start of this year’s grind solely. Let the shear passion and insanity commence.

Maple Leafs @ Jets

The lethal youth of the Toronto Maple Leafs surged them into postseason play this past spring. They took the President’s Trophy winning Capitals to six games. Management noted they must add depth and veteran leadership this offseason to take the next step. The Leafs told the rest of the league we’re done with being in rebuild mode in game #1.

opening night

Patrick Marleau nets two in his debut with his new team. Auston Matthews starts his sophomore season off right adding another in the Leafs’s dominant 7-2 win on opening night. Photo Courtesy of Sporting News

Patrick Marleau (38) was among the biggest acquisitions for Toronto in free agency this summer. There was curiosity about whether or not he deserved his 6 million+ average annual salary after his 46-point season last year. Opening night proved he could serve has a much valued find for the Leafs. Marleau scored his 509th and 510th goals of his career helping his new team capture their first two points of the season.

Toronto netted seven goals against the Jets to begin their year. They have solid goaltending in Frederik Anderson, high-octane offense led by their youth and the ability to roll four lines and compete with the league’s best. There is much to like about this new and improved Toronto Maple Leaf squad.

Oilers vs. Flames

The battle of Alberta began the season for the Oilers and Flames in Edmonton. Connor McDavid recorded a hat trick and Cam Talbot recorded a 26-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Calgary.

opening night

The league MVP and Oiler captain found the net and stat sheet 3 times on opening night in Alberta. Not a bad guy to have leading your team. Photo Courtesy of TSN

The rest of the West is taking serious notice to the players in Oil country. They possess the league MVP, four lines with offensive production, sound defense and a top 10 goaltender. All of these parts have Edmonton as a serious contender in the West. I would not want to see them come mid April as McDavid expressed that “it feels good, but we have a long way to go.”

These first two games between the four Canadian teams did not have a great deal of intensity. However, it was a phenomenal showcase of one team near the top of the league and one on its way.

Blues @ Penguins

The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins opened up their season at home against St. Louis. Entertainment value, intensity and a roller coaster of emotion were all in play in this battle.

opening night

The captain of the St. Louis Blues Alex Pietrangelo led by example scoring the game winner in game 1 for the Blues capturing their first two points of the season. Photo Courtesy of the Telegraph

Penguins broke the ice first. St. Louis would then take control up two in the 3rd. Pittsburgh then tied the game with two goals in under a minute and the game moved to overtime. Alex Pietrangelo (Blues captain) iced the game with his 2nd of the night 1:15 into overtime.

This was a clash of two great teams that play similar styles, but at different paces. Each of these teams want to play that up tempo offense with two-way defensemen. Pittsburgh has the edge at the moment with more superstar talent as they are able to take full advantage of their opposition’s mistakes. The Blues have talent and depth, it just comes in less waves at the moment. They were able to be opportunistic and survive the fury of the Penguins late.

Shots were 34-33 in favor of the Blues and their ability to match Pittsburgh shot for shot with their somewhat diminished roster is something to note. St. Louis went toe-to-toe with the defending champs on the road without the likes of Fabbri, Steen, Berglund and Bouwmeester. This a game in which two top tier teams battled and went right down to the wire. Who knows where these two will end up at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs?

Flyers @ Sharks

The final game of the evening took place in the Bay Area as the Sharks hosted the Flyers. A high scoring affair ensued as Philly defeated San Jose 5-3.

Wayne Simmonds started the year off with a bang recording a hat trick, two goals on the power play including the game winner at 9:27 of the 3rd period. The Flyers do need Simmonds to be that elite power forward to get back into postseason along with solid goaltending. It has been a long time since Philadelphia was with a true #1. They may be on their way with Brian Elliott as he stopped 32 of the 35 shots he faced receiving the game’s 2nd star.

opening night

Simmonds ices the game with an empty netter completing the hat trick and the first win of the ’17-18 season for the Flyers. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

I have said hockey is back numerous times, but I’ll say it again. Hockey is back.

 

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The Ultimate Battle

The ultimate battle in hockey is overcoming injuries. A study shows $218 million in salaries is lost each season due to injuries. The research was done three years ago. That number is now greater due to the league’s higher market value.

Franchise players dash their team’s ability to make the postseason or winning it all every year. Sidney Crosby gets hit in the head in consecutive games midway through the season in 2011 turns into a first round exit. Connor McDavid breaks his collar bone last year, which puts the Oilers back in the cellar for one more season. Steven Stamkos’s absence from the ice the last two years has not allowed Tampa to take the next step. Lightning lost in the finals three seasons ago, one game away form the finals two seasons ago and missed the postseason altogether last year.

Hockey is a sport of matchups. Four trios of forwards and 3 pairs of defenseman, which makes chemistry paramount in a team’s success. One injury to a forward or defenseman puts a team’s alignment into a puzzle. However, the reality is that lineups are drastically shaken up throughout the course of the season.

The St. Louis Blues

The faithful in the Gateway to West will be without four top 9 forwards (Steen, Berglund, Sanford, Fabbri) and one defenseman (Bouwmeester) to start the year. However, one of which (Robby Fabbri) has been ruled out for the entire regular and postseason.

ultimate battle

Robby Fabbri had surgery, rehabbed all offseason and was medically cleared in July. A big hit for the 21 year old that was entering a contract year. Photo courtesy by NHL.com

Two rookies (Tage Thompson, Klim Kostin) now have every opportunity to show and prove they belong on the Blues’ roster. Depth was an issue during the playoffs last season as the Blues were ousted in the 2nd round by Nashville. Pressure and responsibility may or may not be what these hungry rookies need, but that is what they are getting. This could shapeup as a very exciting or struggle-filled start to St. Louis’s season.

These injuries have General Manager Doug Armstrong looking at not just the rookies, but potential replacement players to fill the current voids. Jaromir Jagr, a 45 year-old future hall of famer has been discussed as a potential signing. It would most likely come after the olympics if it does happen because of Jagr’s desire to play in the tournament. The #2 all-time scorer has shown he still has enough in the tank to compete as he recorded 16 goals and 30 assists last season.

The Importance of depth

The saying “we gotta roll four lines and bang bodies” is crucial to the success of any hockey club. Contributions must be made by each top 12 forward and top 6 defenseman in a push for the playoffs and run to the Cup. Goons and enforcers are few and far between in today’s NHL. Every line has to have offensive output for a team to win with great regularity.

ultimate battle

Mark Letestu of the Oilers is a 4th liner, but tallied 16 goals last season (11 on the powerplay). Edmonton later made their 1st playoff appearance in 10 seasons. Photo Courtesy of Canoe Sports

Injury occurrence forces reshaping of lines, which reforms game plans. Coaches have to be on their toes and be prepared to battle just like his players. The man in charge on the bench is the most underrated person of value in a hockey game. He is the one who executively decides who goes onto to the ice at every point in time.

Some matchup their lines differently. The home coach gets to decide. Some go with their first line against the opposing team’s 4th line or the opposite. The point is that a coach’s decisions are constantly altered due to the injuries. Mike Yeo (Blues head coach) is facing these challenges all at once before the season even starts, but countless more will follow.

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Take Flight

About to Take Flight

Training camps take flight this week for NHL clubs. But, this weekend we received a prelude to the near and far future with the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournaments.

Storylines are coming together for another event filled 82-game grind. Four tournaments began Friday that included 19 teams. Showcases were held in Toronto, Buffalo, British Columbia and Traverse City Michigan.

The 2017 Rookie Tournament

Young stars aligned in Toronto this weekend at the 2017 Rookie Tournament. Top draft picks of Toronto, Ottawa and New York joined forces in a terrific showcase of young talent. And it is important for these prospects to have as much in-game experience as possible.

Timothy Liljegren of the Maple Leafs was drafted 17th overall in this year’s draft. And the first evaluation for the rookie defenseman did not go well. The 18 year old was beat on the outside in the first ten minutes of the game. Later in the third he clears the puck through the middle of the ice in his own zone right to a Montreal player that led to another goal. Liljegren finished the night -4.

Take Flight

Liljegren (Left) losing battle after battle in this weekend’s tournament.              Photo Courtesy of SBNation

Eyes were on Thomas Chabot and Colin White of the Ottawa Senators organization in this tournament. Both of these prospects had great starts to the showcase. White made numerous plays in an 8-2 victory over Montreal. But, the standout was Chabot as he quarterbacked the Ottawa power play finishing with 3 assists.

Noah Juulsen of the Canadiens (2015 1st Round Pick) also aimed to make an impression this weekend. The 20-year old looks to be a part of the Habs’ 3rd defensive pairing this year. This was not his 1st rookie tournament. And he looked to make it his last as he exhibited “great strength and vision” on the ice.

The Prospects Challenge

Nico Hischier (1st Overall pick in 2017 Draft) suited up in an NHL uniform for the first time this weekend at The Prospects Challenge. The Swiss born rookie did his best to get acclimated to NHL pace of play and to not get injured. And his goals were achieved.

Take Flight

Nico Hischier suiting up for the New Jersey Devils for the first time getting his first NHL experience. Photo Courtesy of NJ.com

Hischier was “pretty quiet” when the 1st game began, but settled in as the game progressed. The 18 year old showed off his speed and ability to work well in tight spaces. According to Todd Cordell, Hischier created a scoring chance “every time he touched the puck” down the stretch. But, the rookie was not able to register a point in his debut. However, the Devils opened the tournament with an overtime winner.

The Devils need a spark this year. They have not made the playoffs since making it to the Final in 2012. Veterans have been added, stars have been kept and the rookies are ready to go.

 

Young Stars Classic & Traverse City Tournament

Three Canadian teams (Oilers, Flames and Jets) played in the Young Stars Classic in British Columbia this weekend. And eight teams competed in Traverse City, MI. This concluded the weekend’s rookie showcases.

The Young Stars Classic continues through the 11th and has already seen great play. And everyone was waiting see Kailer Yamamoto (Oilers 2017 1st Round Pick). But, it was Chad Butcher who stole the show in their game against Winnipeg. The Oiler hopeful netted his 2nd goal in three games as Edmonton took down the Jets 3-0. The present and future seem to be very bright in Edmonton.

Take Flight

Minnesota rookies roar back for a 6-5 victory over the Blues in the Traverse City Tournament. Photo Courtesy of SBNation

The tournament in Traverse City saw a series of events occur in the battle between St. Louis and Minnesota. Blues first round picks (Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin) were showing everyone why they were taken early in this year’s draft. Kostin scored midway through the 3rd, which gave St. Louis a 5-1 lead. Then, the team Bus driver left the Arena due to his presumption that the game was won. But, the Minnesota rookies then scored 5 unanswered goals and took the lead with 1:02 remaining.

These tournaments provide great experience for young upcoming professionals. But, they do not exactly do a good job giving us an idea of where these prospects are in this small sample size.

What have we learned?

In this short period of time, we have learned not much at all. Each of the teams that took part in these weekend tournaments know now what they have always known that there is promise in the future. And the future is much closer to the present. The youth movements that are going on in almost every franchise are taking flight. That is what we have learned.

We know that the waiting game is not as long as it used to be in this league. There is more of a business mindset with these showcases maybe than in recent years. This makes the buildup to opening night of the regular season go by a bit faster.

Take Flight

The NHL’s Elite Prospects were on display this weekend. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

 

More storylines, more excitement and more hockey related news is what we need. We need the lag time between the Cup presentation and the start to the season to seem shorter than in reality.

Hockey moves at a furious pace. And if you let it, so does the offseason.

Training camps open this week.

 

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