Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now




New NHL Season Is Off and Running

Posted on October 08, 2009 by Scott Weldon
Hockey is back! Rejoice!

Hockey is back! Rejoice!

The new NHL season has opened up and it has started up with a bang. The NHL regular season is a marathon followed by the playoffs. The playoffs are a marathon run at high tempo while somebody beats you with a stick. Alexander Ovechkin however only knows how to sprint. He’s exploded to start the season with three points in each of his first three games.

That’s a Gretzky/Lafleur start to a season that hasn’t been seen in the NHL for 20 years.

Philadelphia and Washington played an important game in October, honest!! They played a great, exciting, back and forth game that Philadelphia won 6-5 in overtime. There were five lead changes in a 6-5 game as in Philly, Washington, Philly, Washington Philly. Besides Ovechkins third three point night and Semin’s highlight reel goal there was a hat trick for Philadelphia’s Mike Richards. Daniel Briere got the overtime winner. Is it time for the playoffs yet?

Ray Emery has three NHL wins in three starts after his return from the KHL, including a shut-out. I’m sure everything will be fine. Tick Tick Tick.

The four teams that started the season in Europe last year fired their coaches during the season. Pittsburgh still won the cup but it that can’t make Andy Murray, Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville or Peter Deboer feel secure.

The job position in the greatest jeopardy after the European adventure has to be goaltender. Huet looked weak in his first appearance for the Stanley Cup contending Chicago Blackhawks while his back-up Antti Niemi got a shut-out. Detroit lost two games as St Louis came from behind on them twice. Osgood looked like he does but Jimmy Howard really looks like he doesn’t belong in an NHL rink, ever.  Detroit is going to need a real back-up goalie and hopefully one who can win the starting job. Osgood is 36 and his rather mediocre NHL skills are declining. Detroit has cap issues and will have trouble paying for a new goalie but they do need to find one.

Panic has struck the streets of Toronto and Vancouver already. The Toronto fans are ready to throw Vesa Toskala under the bus and run with the unknown Swedish rookie with the heart problem. The fans are asking for a lot from “The Monster”; young Jonas Gustavsson. Vancouver is going to show more patience with Luongo, well because they have to. He and they should come around.

The Bruins had a nice 7-2 revenge victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. They’ll need to keep it up if they want to

The Bruins and Canes battled in a fight infested game. The Bruins won 7-2.

The Bruins and Canes battled in a fight infested game. The Bruins won 7-2.

recapture the opportunity they lost last year. Eric Cole fractured his leg in this game and is out for 4-6 weeks.

The Phoenix Coyotes have a couple of wins to start the season, including a 3-0 shut-out of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They picked up Radim Vrbata who had his only really good NHL season with Phoenix a few years back. He’s started well with a couple of goals.

Atlanta made an interesting move picking up Maxim Afinegenov for $800,000 a year.  The talented Russian has had moments of brilliance eclipsed by months of inertia. He’d score ten goals in a season and eight would be on everyone’s hi-light package as he’d weave through an entire team to drop a puck in the net. Alexander Mogilny took skills like that and went on to score 76 goals in a season. Afinegenov seems to be on a career path that mimics Sergei Samsonov’s more then it does Mogilny’s. Afinegenov is fast and a skilled stick handler. He lacks Mogilny’s shot. He seems however to be a much better match for Atlanta’s star Ilya Kovalchuk then Atlanta’s expensive free agent pick-up the slow footed Nik Antropov. I’ll be interested to see if he can make a comeback with Atlanta. His talent could easily help this team and if it doesn’t work out the small salary won’t hurt the organization. It’s an astute pick-up with little down-side.

The Montreal Canadiens started by winning two games on the back of young goalie Carey Price. Their number one defenseman Andrei Markov has been injured and is out for four months with a lacerated defenseman. Young defenseman Ryan O’Byrne is down with a tweaked knee and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The Habs also just made the case for the NHL not making visiting teams on long distance road trips play back to back games. Montreal made the flight to Calgary, lost 4-3. They then played the next night in Vancouver,  lost 7-1. I’m thinking the ticket buying fan isn’t getting full value for their money in that second game of a back to back. No one in Vancouver is complaining though.

San Jose may be beginning to realize that Evgeny Nabokov is more like Vesa Toskala then George Vezina. During the playoffs last year, behind a stingy San Jose defense, he looked beatable. He’s started slow this year and Thomas Greiss doesn’t look like he can be the starter. San Jose dumped NHL quality defenseman for next to nothing in the off-season. This might turn out to negatively impact

Robbie Schremp the perennial Edmonton Oiler prospect and you-tube star will get a chance to skate with the Islanders. Like the Afinegenov deal it’s a no-lose scenario for the team and Shremp who couldn’t make his way out of the Oiler minor league system.

Colorado brought in Craig Anderson to be the back up. Fresh from the shooting gallery in Miami he seems to have won the starting job. He began his season with a shut-out and two wins. Petr Budaj was one of the weakest links on this team. I love to see teams that recognize and effectively address weakness.

Some talented players with horrible injury histories are up and healthy right now. Simon Gagne, Patrice Bergeron, Daniel Briere, Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat, Steve Sullivan and Tim Connolly are all playing and contributing. The league is better when they do.

The Florida Panthers finally hired a GM. Can you imagine a ‘college’ football team that would go an entire off-season without a personnel manager? Randy Sexton signed checker Dominic Moore. It’s not the WHA picking up Bobby Hull but it’s something. It’s just nice to know someone’s in charge.

Daniel Alfredsson scored a game winner on a penalty shot with a beautiful deke and backhand shot. That’s about a hundred times better then winning in a shoot-out.

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Who will dethrone Crosby and the Pens?

Every prospectus I read now has one of these disclaimers in it. The first week of the NHL season has very little to do with how good your team is going to be come playoff time. Line-ups, match-ups, players are all going to be different by then. How well they’re playing will be different. These games are only marginally more informative or important then the all-star game or exhibition games. That’s only because you get points for these games. So this is a forward looking statement. These games while they can be exciting and entertaining should in no way be used to extrapolate how things will go in the playoffs. Don’t try to determine who may win the Stanley Cup or how a playoff series might go based on these games. Anyone attempting to draw such conclusions from this information does so at their own risk.

Other then that enjoy the new season. It’s rolling and it looks to be a good one.

Scott Weldon covers Hockey for Sports Then and Now.

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