We live in an age when news cycles are measured in minutes and hype cycles in seconds, when today’s rollicking glee is tomorrow’s rolled eyes and yesterday’s scoop is, well, just so yesterday. And yet I never imagined how quickly it would feel like the NHL had never even been gone.
It’s been less than a week and already we’ve had rookie sensations, season-ending injuries, rejuvenated veterans, that old tired debate over the role of fighting, and even, as of Wednesday, a Shanaban. We’ve had fan bases who have given up on their teams after watching two games and those who are certain their franchise is destined for dynasty status. We’ve sold out arenas and set recent ratings records. Perhaps it’s not how things ought to be, but the fact remains: Don Fehr has quickly become a distant memory.
The only thing distinguishing the start of this season from any ordinary NHL mid-season January is a look at the numbers on the box scores and stat sheets: a few sloppy, rusty 7-3 or 6-4 games here, a few 66.7 percent shooting percentages there. (Not that I’m suggesting that Daniel Winnik and Brad Marchand can’t keep that pace up!)
Part of why we’ve gotten back into the swing of things so quickly is our pent-up excitement after so many months without NHL hockey. (There were plenty of substitutes, yes, but no central repository for the world’s finest talent.) Part is due to the condensed NHL schedule, which has teams playing only within their respective conferences, leading to far more rivalry-driven matchups. (In three games, the Bruins and Rangers have already played twice; with the exception of a few teams, most fans get to watch games in their home time zones.)
But a lot of it is just the comfort of the familiar, the safe haven of falling back into a routine — a routine that, for most tried-and-true hockey fans, relies as much on rancor as it does on respect. It took all of 30 seconds for everyone to get angry over the L.A. Kings’ banner-raising ceremony; when I looked at my Twitter feed and saw nothing but rage in the opening minutes of the NHL season, I felt the same blissful calm that usually presents itself on, say, a beach or the top of a mountain or in a bar Friday night after a long week of work. It all made perfect sense, even the ugly was beautiful, and everything felt right with the world.
Lighting the Lamp: The Week’s Sickest Snipes
There are few things better than watching a kid score his first NHL goal: the open-mouthed holy-shit smile, the skip in his stride, the instinctive animal urge to hurl himself into the nearest pane of glass. (That last part never fails to remind me of the bucket-headed kid scene in Parenthood. “How proud you must be.”) And in the first few games of this season alone we’ve already been treated to several new players’ virgin scores.
On his first two NHL shots on Saturday, rookie Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first two NHL goals. The first one came on a breakaway and was celebrated with a whoop and a world-class grin, but the second was simply a world-class goal. If you didn’t know better, you might think it was just another novelty puck-on-a-string move like the one he pulled off in the KHL All-Star weekend Super Skills contest last year.
Another buoyant reaction came after Nail Yakupov’s inaugural score for the Edmonton Oilers — a snipe from the right side that narrowed the San Jose Sharks’ lead to 2-1.1 The exuberant Yakupov, who along with first-year teammate Justin Schultz recently wowed fans with some puck-handling high jinks after an Edmonton practice, even skated back to high-five his own goalie. (Schultz added a first-time goal of his own later in the game.)
The Montreal Canadiens’ Alex Galchenyuk, fresh off winning a gold medal with Team USA at the World Junior Championships, also netted his first in Montreal’s 4-1 win over Florida, while Mikael Granlund scored on a deflection as the Minnesota Wild beat Colorado 4-2. And the Red Wings’ Damien Brunner (rhymes with schooner,2 per his agent) also scored his first as an NHL player — although with three seconds remaining and the Dallas Stars up 2-0, there wasn’t much to celebrate. (Detroit fans who attempted to chirp Kari Lehtonen for squandering the shutout with just a few ticks left to play were given the tried-and-true “scoreboard” treatment by the Stars goalie.)
Piling on the Pylons: The Week’s Worst Performers
Poor Mark Streit. You’re supposed to lie on your back to make proper snow angels.
Taking It Coast-to-Coast: A Lap Around the League
• BRB, submitting this GIF of Claude Giroux face-washing Patrik Elias to CuteOverload.com. Baby giraffes and upside-down puppies seriously have nothing on those boyish smirks.
• With every point precious in this shortened season, teams are going all-out on the shootout preparation. “We see shootouts as a specialty team,” said Edmonton Oilers coach Ralph Krueger. “We have a power play. We have penalty killing. And we have penalty shots in the shootout.” To that end, he’s tasked assistant Freddie Chabot (“Who knows more about penalty shots than the goaltender coach?” Krueger asked) to put together a group of players who will be relied upon to break tied games. But it’s not just the skaters who are being readied: St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott was seen looking at iPad footage on the bench before his shootout win over the Nashville Predators on Monday.
• Minnesota Wild enforcer (and proud bunny rabbit owner) Zenon Konopka noticed something nefarious about Wild rookie Mathew Dumba’s new number: DUMBA55 looks like the kind of thing you’d write upside down with a calculator to impress that cute kid in elementary school math class. It also kinda reminds me of my favorite hockey Twitter handle: St. Louis Blues’ no. 22 Kevin Shattenkirk’s @shattdeuces.
• In the grand scheme of “mistakes made while in Vegas,” Evander Kane has barely scratched the surface: So the 21-year old Winnipeg Jets star won a few (couple … hundred … thousand?) bucks, and then used those bucks as a pretend telephone to “call” (read: tweet at) Floyd Mayweather … so what, who cares? It may have been a poor PR move during a heated lockout, but the angry response from fans far outweighed the crime. Kane’s been the subject of scrutiny in Winnipeg before, for offenses ranging from “He skipped out on a bill once” to “He couldn’t hack it in the KHL.” So it’s been nice to see him get back on the ice and do what he does best: score goals and set up his teammates and demonstrate why, when rumors started floating around that Winnipeg might be looking to trade him, 29 other teams would have been happy to take him off the Jets’ hands. Let’s hope it will never come to that.
• Wednesday night’s games featured a pair of hat tricks. The Rangers tried out a new line of Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik against the Bruins, and the three proved to be a fearsome combination. Gaborik — who had shoulder surgery over the summer and would have been sidelined until December had there been a normal season — netted three goals, the third the overtime winner. But it was his first goal that really showcased the trio’s potential. In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Coyotes’ Steve Sullivan, who signed a one-year deal with the team this summer, notched three against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
• The 38-year-old Sullivan isn’t the only NHL elder statesman to have found early success. Almost-41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, now with the Dallas Stars, scored twice against Phoenix on Saturday, while almost-40-year-old Alex Kovalev, newly back in the NHL after a season spent playing in Russia, scored a goal and added two assists for the Florida Panthers in their 5-1 win over Carolina. And then there’s Teemu, dear Teemu, who at 41 led the Anaheim Ducks in scoring last season and now, at 42, got off to a good start with a two-goal game against the Canucks. Did you know Teemu taught kindergarten in Finland for three years back in the day?! So jealous of those children, some of whom probably have kids of their own at this point. (All of them are named Teemu, I’d assume.)
• One fun thing to do with the NHL GameCenter app is to toggle between the two teams’ feeds to hear the, shall we say, minor discrepancies in the two broadcasting teams’ assessments of what just went down. A collision at the blue line between two players in the Chicago–St. Louis game Tuesday was just one minor example. From the Chicago perspective: ” … to [Viktor] Stalberg … and look out! He nearly got run over, but Pietrangelo got the worst of that contact at the Hawks line.” From the Blues? ” … Look out! Ohhh! Pietrangelo stepped up and hit Stalberg — Whoa, what a hit! Whoa-ho-ho! — Pietrangelo went down, but Stalberg felt the brunt of that!”
• LUONGOWATCH:3 The saga continues in Vancouver. Starting goaltender Cory Schneider was pulled after allowing five goals in the first 26:37 of the Canucks’ opening-day game against Anaheim on Saturday, and while it had been the plan all along to play Luongo in Sunday’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers, it nevertheless was an awkward beginning to what was already going to be an uncomfortable situation for Vancouver in net. (Schneider picked up his first win Wednesday night in a 3-2 shootout victory over Calgary.) Canucks general manager Mike Gillis fueled a new round of spec-Luuuu-ation (sorry, sorry) when he told the Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole: “We have a potential deal in place with one team that has to do something with another player that they have — and it’s not who anybody thinks it is — and so we have to wait.” I’m not even going to pretend to know what that means, but luckily Pass It To Bulis has provided a handy list of 10 possible translations of the statement. (I’m torn between nos. 5 and 8, personally.)
• The best part about the story of Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi almost getting kicked out of the arena elevator for not having a ticket isn’t that Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi almost got kicked out of the arena elevator for not having a ticket — It’s that even after it was made clear who Gaglardi was, “the attendant eyed him with suspicion, but begrudgingly let him ride.” (I’m now wondering whether it was this same elevator attendant who edited the first sentence of former Stars owner Tom Hicks’s Wikipedia page to refer to him as “an American tosspot who lived in Dallas, Texas.” Maybe the elevator attendant is a Liverpool fan too!)
• Tops in the league right now: Chicago, with a 3-0 record thanks in large part to Patrick Kane (two goals, three assists) and Marian Hossa (four goals, one assist). Still waiting for that first point: Carolina, Washington, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia — the last of which announced Wednesday night that Scott Hartnell will be out “indefinitely” with a foot injury, a major blow. (The Toronto Maple Leafs also suffered a big injury setback on Wednesday when Joffrey Lupul was hit by a Dion Phaneuf shot that broke his forearm.) San Jose’s Patrick Marleau has picked up four goals and an assist in the Sharks’ first two games, while Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek leads all NHL scorers with six points.
And a Beauty: The Week’s Nicest in Net
Two shots from the right, two huge glove saves [lowers voice to a whisper], two games that were ultimately lost by the Rangers and Red Wings, respectively. But don’t focus on such trivial matters as wins — that’s a stupid stat for a goaltender, anyhow! Just focus instead on these two catlike catches by Henrik Lundqvist and Jimmy Howard.
Lundqvist’s stop on David Krejci’s shot looked like it might have been over the goal line, though the “no goal” call was upheld on video review. No such controversy on Howard’s snatch of Dallas’s Reilly Smith, however.
(I liked how the network cut to Smith’s family after he was robbed. He was actually competing against his brother Brendan during the game; ESPN The Magazine‘s Craig Custance captured the two chatting afterwards, with Reilly exhibiting some truly excellent Jordan Catalano Pose.)
Chirping Like a Champ: The Best Mouthing Off
My hearty congratulations to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Dejan Kovacevic, whose column in advance of Wednesday night’s game between the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs was an epic masterpiece. From the headline (“Move over, Toronto, it’s our game”) to the one-sentence paragraphs (I’m not sure which one packed a more concise punch: “Save it”; “Those of you who were there know what I’m talking about”; “Montreal?”; or “To the very peak”) to the characterization of the Maple Leafs as “four decades of failure and Phil Kessel,” this column was a graduate-level seminar in the dark art of trolling Canadians. I had to double-check to make sure I wasn’t just reading the latest entry in Andrew Sharp’s brilliant “Troll Tuesday” series.
Unfortunately, he seems to have totally jinxed the Penguins.
Runner-up: Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who in a short exchange with media before the Bruins’ season opener against the Rangers placed all blame for the lockout on the Players’ Association; backhandedly complimented Gary Bettman for having an “abrasive personality” (actually, that’s probably a straight compliment for the Commish); and, most impressively, conflated the return of hockey with the spirit of Massholes everywhere. “Getting hockey going, I think that’s very New England, very much Bruins,” he said. Mr. Jacobs, Dejan Kovacevic would like a word with you now.
PS: Props to this little guy for his searingly honest review of the Jacobs-run concessions at TD Garden:
Paul MacLean doppelgänger
Canada for ya.