NHL Opening Night, other random thoughts

James Reimer and Carl Gunnarsson celebrate Leafs win (TSN.ca)

Although I was busy and unfortunately couldn’t watch much of the action last night – and wasn’t interested in staying up for Winnipeg/Edmonton considering I wanted to get some sleep after a really long day – from what I’ve read it seems as if the NHL couldn’t have asked for a better start to its season, on-the-ice anyway.  Unfortunately, the concussion sustained by the Canadiens’ George Parros marred the night during an otherwise fun game between rivals Montreal and Toronto when Parros’s second fight with Colton Orr ended with a scary injury after Orr lost his balance and dragged Parros down, with the Canadiens enforcer lying motionless for a time and bleeding after having landed face-first and eventually being carted off in a stretcher.  Fortunately it seems as if Parros ‘only’ suffered a concussion but was alert and conscious afterward.  Hopefully this won’t be the latest example the anti-fighting advocates around the NHL use to push for banning it since this was a total freak accident, but it seems as if with the new rules (visors, not being able to take helmets off) the NHL’s surreptitiously trying to phase fighting out anyway.  I’m not the world’s biggest fan of goon-on-goon violence but you can’t legislate physicality completely out of the game, it just won’t be the same game.  Just like the NFL wouldn’t be the same if they went to flag football.

As far as the action goes, the Leafs won 4-3 in a back-and-forth game which had two lead changes and 100 PIM’s, a rousing start to the season for Canada’s most high-profile rivalry.  Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf made me happy I picked him in both my fantasy leagues with a goal and the Leafs happy with a +1 and a team-leading 27:01 TOI.  Also scoring for the Leafs was James Van Riemsdyk – getting the first goal of the ’13-14 season in the process – along with recent signing Mason Raymond and always underrated Tyler Bozak, who scored a shorthanded marker.  Seeing James Reimer make 34 saves last night after his strong season last year make you wonder what the Leafs were thinking draining assets to trade for Johnathan Bernier, who wasn’t even tabbed to start Opening Night. Montreal’s Lars Eller was the Habs’ first star of the night with two goals and an assist, with young linemates Alex Galchenyuk (two assists) and Brendan Gallagher (goal) also contributing offensively, which would be a good sign for the Habs going forward since that’s not their first line by any stretch.

In the marquee event last night, the Blackhawks raised their banner in a half-hour ceremony before their game against Alex Ovechkin‘s Capitals, then beat them 6-4 in another high-scoring tilt.  During a night of offensive star turns, Mikhail Grabovski turned in arguably the best with a hat trick plus an assist for a four-point(!) night.  Three of the Caps’ four goals came on the power play, which is always deadly with Ovechkin (goal, assist) and a healthy Mike Green (two assists) on the point.  Adam Oates‘ power play kept the Caps in the game as they came back to tie the Hawks three times and even took the lead in the third period before the Hawks stormed in front with three unanswered goals to win.  Joel Qunneville‘s defending champs showed off their depth with six different players scoring for the Hawks last night.  Ironically ex-Devil Johnny Oduya wound up with the game-winning goal with just over six minutes remaining, and he wound up with a +4, getting only the third(!) star of the game, behind Grabovski and Brandon Saad who had a goal and two assists for Chicago.

Hockey Night in Canada’s second doubleheader game wasn’t as marquee as Habs-Leafs but no less entertaining as Winnipeg outgunned the Oilers 5-4 in Edmonton.  Jets rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba – who I immediately picked up in my 20-team league this morning – stole the show from the Oilers’ superhyped young talent, getting the game-winning goal, an assist and putting up a +2 in a team-leading 25:02 of icetime last night.  And Trouba (ninth overall pick, ’12 draft) is only 19 years old.  As Devil fans learned with Adam Larsson some bleaker days are inevitably going to be ahead once the league scouts you and you have to improve to counteract that, especially given he isn’t used to an 82-game workload but the overall future definitely seems bright for Winnipeg with this young man.  Castoff Michael Frolik scored twice for the Jets with a now semi-svelte Dustin Byfuglien contributing three assists.  Who knew the new rules for goalie equipment would also affect Big Buff’s size…we kid cause we love.  Edmonton surely wasn’t helped by the injuries to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner (out two months) last night, but eventually they have to start living up to the hype.  Ironically, their leading scorer last night was Ales Hemsky (goal, assist), who is otherwise being phased out of a younger forward core.  And for all the talk of their forwards, once again their defense and goaltending was a culprit blowing a 4-2 lead with less than twenty-four minutes remaining.

Five more teams begin their seasons tonight in the three games on the docket – Leafs at Flyers, Sabres at Wings, Ducks at Avs – but the locals don’t start up till tomorrow night when the Rangers and Devils both begin on the road (the Rangers in Phoenix, while the Devils are at Pittsburgh in a division game).  Although I was busy this week and Derek already did a good job with the previews, part of me didn’t want to bother with predictions this year anyway…especially since the Atlantic Metropolitan is almost impossible to predict, with pretty much every team capable of making a realistic case that they’ll make the playoffs (aside from maybe Carolina who has a crap defense and a one-dimensional offense).  My Devils are especially hard to forecast and this is coming from a fan of the team.  I saw one prediction last night that said we could win the Stanley Cup or finish last overall.  While that’s slight hyperbole both ways, thing is – it isn’t that far off the mark imo.  No I don’t see the Devils finishing in the bottom five but they certainly could finish bottom eight-ten again if the old guys up front get hurt (crippling a Russian merc-less offense) and Cory Schnieder either doesn’t perform or get as much time as anticipated for whatever reason.  And I could see the Devils making it to the Conference Finals if the old guys stay reasonably healthy, our younger centers bounce back and our goaltending slots in nicely with Schnieder taking the baton from legend Martin Brodeur a la the Habs’ torch-passing ceremony at Center Ice, and running with it.

I also didn’t want to comment on the ‘final’ roster because everyone knows it isn’t really final, with Patrik Elias being placed on IR but still not expected to miss tomorrow’s game. Perhaps we’re waiting till the last possible minute to trade/send someone down, which even GM Lou Lamoriello came close to acknowledging the other day.  I don’t really expect anything to happen other than Alex Urbom getting sent down (hopefully clearing waivers), giving us thirteen forwards, seven defensemen, two goalies and one ‘non-roster’ injury in Mattias Tedenby.  If a trade is still made, the smart money is still on Mark Fayne going, as he seems to have been marginalized over the last year.  However it’s hard to imagine what kind of value the UFA-to be really has around the league considering he’s been in and out of the lineup since February, and routinely skating on the fourth d-pair with Urbom in practice.  While I don’t like the fact Fayne – who was on the first-pairing and did a fine job during the 2012 run – has been shelved, the fact is there are other defensemen coming up who have a higher celing than a smart, stay-at-home guy who isn’t particularly fast or physical.

On a personal note, with games coming tomorrow night and Friday I probably won’t do a recap after both but definitely will do one sometime Saturday as perhaps a two-game block overview – which I might wind up doing a lot this year with a league-leading 22 back-to-backs – along with upcoming West Coast games which will also be impossible to recap until the day after.  Truth be told, I like going off the reservation some and not doing straight recaps all the time anyway, especially when I go to games I like to give my thoughts sometimes on what’s going on at and around the arena and I’m sure I’ll do that this weekend after the home opener.

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