Early-Season Myths and Facts
by Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page NHL Expert
What’s real and what’s not? Let’s look at perception vs. reality as the season unfolds.
Myth: The Detroit Red Wings are a playoff-caliber club.
Fact: The jury is out, and will be for a long time. Monday, the Wings lost at home to the Lightning. They travel to Toronto to face the high-flying Leafs Wednesday, then return home Friday to face an irritable Capitals squad that’s running on angst and regret. The Wings are coming back to Earth, despite respectable bounce-backs from Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin and Mike Green. One positive is that their fast start should prompt Andreas Athanasiou to come back from Europe and accept a decent, $1.9M, 2-year offer from the team.
Myth: The Vegas Golden Knights will come back to Earth
Fact: To a degree, that’s true, especially in light of Marc-Andre Fleury’s concussion. But look at the can of whoop-ass that Boston castoff goaltender Malcolm Subban laid on his former Bruins Sunday in a 3-1 victory during his first start for Vegas. There’s nothing fake about James Neal’s six goals in five games. Figure that Dave Perron will start to produce, though he has yet to score, same for Florida castoff Reilly Smith. They’re already better in the net than Arizona and Vancouver, so the usual expansion team doldrums might be avoided entirely, regardless whether they can make the playoffs, which they likely cannot.
Myth: The Los Angeles Kings are too plodding for a faster NHL
Fact: The Kings are off to their best start in franchise history at 4-0-1. Anze Kopitar, who already has four markers, won’t fall on his face like he did last season (12 goals). Drew Doughty is as good as he’s ever been and has more license to go for it in the offensive zone under new coach John Stevens. Former captain Dustin Brown has been under fire for years for his un-tradeable $5.875M cap hit which comes complete with the inability to generate offense. But Stevens has him out there with Kopitar, and what a difference it’s made (4-3-7). Jonathan Quick, the game’s best money goalie with the best lateral movement of any goaltender on earth, is back after injuries limited him to four games last season. Near the top of the stats charts, too: 1.74GAA; .943SV%. He’s Bernie Parent redux, with an equal number of Cup rings.
Myth: The All-Star Game will survive
Fact: Don’t count on it. The NHL and NHLPA have discussed scrapping the contest, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston on Hockey Night in Canada. It’s been done before, notably in lockout and Olympic seasons. Tampa will host the games this season, but with the recent foray into China, and the November 10-11 Avs/Sens games in Stockholm, Sweden, look for the NHL to expand its imprint in creative ways. Is the All-Star game itself a dinosaur, one that was more relevant before the digital age?
Myth: The slow-starting Ducks are doomed.
Fact: 2-3-0 is actually respectable even though the OC fan base is getting antsy. The infirmary is overflowing but the team is working hard. Ryan Getzlaf (day-to-day) and Ryan Kesler (December) are out of the lineup, and the absence of the team’s top two centers makes offensive zone play frustrating at best. Former Sabre Derek Grant is miscast as the number three pivot, while winger Rickard Rakell tries to paper over Kesler’s 2-spot vacancy, and third-line center Antoine Vermette (great on faceoffs, so-so on the scoresheet) tries to take over for Getzlaf. It’s not happening right now in Anaheim. Oh, did we mention that the power play is 0-21? When Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen return to the blueline that will change. Backup Ryan Miller has yet to play, but John Gibson has been very solid.
Myth: Winnipeg is still moving sideways
Fact: Connor Hellebuyck has taken charge of the Jets with only five goals allowed in three starts after Steve Mason stumbled in his first two outings. Massive offensive skill with a resurgent, healthy defense will respond to coach Paul Maurice’s bag skate after an 0-2 start. Nik Ehlers (5G) and Mark Scheifele (3G) are producing, and Patrik Laine will certainly erupt soon.
Myth: The Oilers’ struggles are real
Fact: “When you have a good game like we had in our opener you think it’s going to come easy,”said LW Patrick Maroon of the Oilers, who stumbled to a 1-3-0 start after spending the summer reading their good reviews from a fawning media. Consider that Andrej Sekera (knee) and Leon Draisaitl (eye) are on the shelf. Hard to believe that Maroon, Zach Kassian and Milan Lucic will be scoreless for long.
Myth: Philly is on the right path
Fact: They throttled the Capitals 8-2, and Claude Giroux is looking good on the wing after years at center. Shane Gostisbehere is looking good after a tough sophomore campaign, and rookie d-man Ivan Provorov is logging tough minutes. The Flyers are looking better, but what about Brian Elliott? His numbers are horrid (3.25GAA; .884SV%) and the defense is light. Jakub Voracek has nine assists, but has yet to score a goal.
Myth: Hockey needs fighting
Fact: This debate could fill entire libraries, but the recent facial injury to Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno, courtesy a haymaker from Blackhawks LW John Hayden, a Yale-educated tough guy, is the latest reminder of the absurdity that the NHL is the only major sport to allow bare-knuckle brawling. It’s certainly true that when players carry sticks, a 2-minute minor doesn’t speak to the kind of foul play which can be carried out by numbskulls and certainly sometimes a dimwit just needs a beating. But with the sideshow fight–and the enforcers who come with it–increasingly confined to the dustbin of history, it’s worth considering game misconducts for the practice. Talk to many current and former players privately and you’ll hear a disdain for fighting you don’t hear publicly.
Until next time, talk amongst yourselves.