The NHL regular season has been underway for over a week now and each team has had a chance to play around three games. The results so far are nothing to lose your hair over, as how a team starts isn’t always how it plays for the rest of the year. Players and coaches are still getting used to new teammates and systems and it’s going to be incredibly exciting to see how that plays out. In this issue, we’ll look at each team’s record at press time, the reasons for their strong/weak start, as well as anything that’s surprised so far.
Calgary Flames (1-2-0)
The Flames set a franchise record during the pre-season, winning all seven games for an impressive 7-0-0 record. However, that didn’t stop the same problems that plagued the team last year from creeping up on Calgary. Opening night saw the “C of Red” trounced 4-0 by the Oilers, their bitter rivals. In fact, Calgary has been shut out twice in its first three games, leaving Flames
fans wondering when the offseason free agents that were picked up to bolster offense will deliver.
Goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff picked up right where he left off as one of the best in the NHL between the pipes and has been one of the only bright spots to an otherwise poor start. Brendan Morrison, a free agent center signed after his tryout in Vancouver, has also pleasantly surprised with 2 assists for the offensively challenged Flames. Look for Calgary to be in a lot of tight games this year and rely heavily on “Kipper” in their quest to reach the playoffs.
Edmonton Oilers (2-1-0)
There’s a youth movement sweeping through Alberta’s capital and it’s got fans excited not just for right now, but the future. Fresh faces such as 2010 Draft first overall pick Taylor Hall and other youngsters, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, have given the Oilers an energized, exciting team. They have gotten off to an above-average start, winning two of three, with special mention going to a 4-0 blasting of the Calgary Flames.
A lot of players, both past and present, love to tell the story of their first NHL goal. For Jordan Eberle, that story is going to be something special. On the ice as part of a penalty kill, Eberle received a pass from defenseman Jim Vandermeer and broke into the Calgary zone with teammate Shawn Horcoff on a two-on-one break. Rather than passing the puck away, Eberle used a toe-drag move to dangle around the sprawled Calgary defenseman, then made a forehand-backhand deke while falling over and flipped the puck overtop of Flames goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff. It was a moment that turned heads in the entire hockey world and marked the kind of surprising, impressive start the Oilers have had.
Montreal Canadiens (1-1-1)
A so-so start for Montreal has been inspiring more than disappointing, which is odd for a team which just last year made a surprising run deep into the playoffs. Two key factors for the Canadiens have been goaltending and missing players. Carey Price, the oft-maligned 21 year old starting goalie has been impressive in his three starts so far, filling a void left by Jaroslav Halak’s departure to St. Louis. Then there’s the defensemen Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik, both have missed games due to injury and left winger Mike Cammalleri, who missed the first game due to a suspension for a pre-season act.
Other than Price, notable players for the Habs include P.K. Subban, taking on an increased workload with Markov and Hamrlik injured and Dustin Boyd, who has combined with Jeff Halpern to make an effective checking forward group. Boyd was acquired from Calgary and has bounced back nicely from a season that saw his team underperform. Subban was coming off a season that saw him see playoff time as a rookie and the defenseman has been nothing but rock solid for the Canadiens, playing well against some of the other team’s top players.
Ottawa Senators (1-2-1)
Oh Ottawa! The Senators stumbled out of the gate, losing three games of the year while being outscored 7-12 through four games. Oddly enough, their best player through the first three games was goaltender Pascal Leclaire. Leclaire’s athletic style came up with several big saves amidst the firing squad he was subjected to. The rest of the Senators’ lineup looked slow, uncoordinated and seemed barely able to escape their own zone. The team looked much improved come the fourth game, but arguably the biggest loss of the season came during the win: Leclaire suffered an injury as a result of a collision with a Carolina Hurricanes forward. This marks the third time Leclaire has been injured in the last three years, including a bizarre case of him being struck in the jaw with a puck while sitting on the bench.
Thankfully, Brian Elliot has also been solid in his 58 minutes of play so far this season, but it’s still cause for concern. The return of Jason Spezza, the skilled centre who leads the offense for the team, from a pre-season injury was also a nice boost. Getting the first win in their fourth game will hopefully steer the Sens in the right direction.
Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0-0)
Well, raise your hands if this one was a surprise. As a Leafs fan, I’m going to do my best not to sound too biased here. The Leafs are off to the best start the franchise has seen in the 21st century, winning all three of their first games. This is a stark contrast to last season, which saw the Leafs get their third win of the season on November 20th after starting the season 0-7-1. The new-look Leafs have been finding a way to win rather than a way to lose, though fans should exercise caution before jumping on the Toronto bandwagon. Give it at least twenty games before exclaiming that you “Be-Leaf.”
There’s a multitude of reasons for Toronto’s fast start. Improved goaltending from J.S. Giguere has helped, as has the solid wall of defense put up by all six defenseman. But most notable is the offense, powered by virtual unknown Clarke MacArthur. Projected to score 15-20 goals this year, MacArthur has four in his first three games. If you’re wondering, that means he’s on pace for 108 as of press time. The Leafs have outscored their opponents 12-6 through three games. Just remember, it has only been those three games.
Vancouver Canucks (1-2-1)
Three games into the season and one thing is already painfully clear: The Vancouver Canucks miss Alex Burrows. Out until November after shoulder surgery, Burrows has left a hole on the top line that Michael Samuelsson is having a horrible time trying to fill. The trickle-down on the team is notable: Chemistry among the forwards has been jarring at best and led to bad turnovers and breakdowns in the defensive zone, which has required Roberto Luongo to be nothing but stellar in net. Thankfully for the Canucks, Luongo has been dynamite, making spectacular saves and just being overall solid.
New captain Henrik Sedin and his wonder-twin brother Daniel have also been impressive, but they need Burrows back and look easier to push around without his physical, hard-working presence. But for a team that is only worried about the playoffs, the change in Luongo’s performance and the solid play of new defenseman Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis are giving fans lots of reasons for optimism.