Opening Week Highs, Hype and Weirdness
By Josh Brewster
Vegas Tops Dallas with Former Stars
With Marc-Andre Fleury standing on his head, stopping 45 of 46 shots in the franchise’s first-ever contest, the Vegas Golden Knights were able to claw back from a one-goal deficit in the third period to topple the host Dallas Stars, 2-1.
Former Star James Neal’s two goal effort fueled the road win. His first, the first goal in Golden Knights’ history—was a signature Neal wrister. The next, the game-winner with 2:44 left in the third, featured a brilliant effort with Neal on his knees, lifting the puck over Kari Lehtonen, who had relieved Ben Bishop after the starter was felled by a puck to the mask that drew blood. Neal was assisted on the winner by another former Star, Cody Eakin, who proved in years past to be a solid source of offense.
That the Predators would let Neal walk in the expansion draft was curious. While expectations of the expansion team are low, it’s worth noting that neither Arizona nor Vancouver have goaltending on par with what Fleury gives the Knights.
Jagr hypes McDavid
After landing with the Calgary Flames on the eve of the season’s start, 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr was way up in the ether after witnessing a hat trick by reigning MVP Connor McDavid at the expense of Jagr’s future teammates. It was all the Oilers would need in the 3-0 shutout victory.
“(McDavid’s) a great player,” Jagr told NHL.com. “If he would learn how to score on breakaways a little more, I think he’d score 150 in a season. To score 100 for him … it’s possible. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life, to dominate like that with his speed.”
One look at the extra-large goalie gear in this era proves that Jagr is just too giddy. But there’s no doubt that McDavid, who does basically everything at full speed and thinks the game faster than he skates, could easily walk away with the Art Ross ten games before the season ends.
But 100 goals? No, because in this day and age, 40 is the new 50. But for the young Oiler, 60 is a definite possibility.
As for Jagr, he will see action likely by Monday in Anaheim.
Ducks Come Back, Spoil Tocchet’s Debut
Speaking of the Ducks, a depleted lineup opened its season by falling flat at home against the Coyotes, ultimately going down 4-1 in the middle of the second period. But Corey Perry, who slumped to 19 goals last season, delivered two goals on a newfangled line with Andrew Cogliano, who also scored, and Rickard Rakell, who delivered the game winner with 3:30 remaining in the third.
The line was hastily assembled in the wake of a considerable slate of injuries on the Anaheim roster, including captain Ryan Getzlaf, new backup goalie Ryan Miller and Patrick Eaves. The Ducks expected a rough start with Selke nominee Ryan Kesler recovering from hip surgery, and mobile defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen recovering from shoulder injuries. The latter three may not be back until well into November. Getzlaf, Miller and Eaves are expected to be short-term absences.
Rick Tocchet lost his debut as coach of the Coyotes, but Arizona unveiled a solid group of defensemen, including newcomers Nik Hjalmarsson (from Chicago) and Jason Demers, who looks like a steal after coming over from Florida for journeyman forward Jamie McGinn. The Demers deal is pure robbery by Arizona GM John Chayka.
Blackhawks Make Like Bears
Who expected the Blackhawks to hang a touchdown and a field goal on the defending champion Penguins in their opener? A trio featuring Nick Schmaltz, Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman accounted for 12 points, including Hartman’s five-point effort in a 10-1 pasting.
Newly minted backup Antti Niemi, who backstopped the Blackhawks to their 2010 Stanley Cup win, was yanked just over nine minutes into the non-contest after yielding four goals on 13 shots.
More of a surprise was that the Chicago power play failed on all six attempts; all ten goals came at even strength.
Maurice skates the Jets
“That wasn’t even close to a bag skate. Nobody puked,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice told reporters Thursday after his Winnipeg Jets were crushed, 7-2 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in their home opener the prior evening.
His Jets can play offense, but defense has always been an issue. The team signed up goaltener Steve Mason, but he cast the harshest shadow, yanked from the net after Patrick Marleau made it 5-0 early in the third.
Maurice, now in his fifth season, is on the hot seat as the club continues to commit undisciplined penalties in its own end and struggles defensively.
Crème de la Weird: Lady Byng Winner a Freak Show?
Opening week in the NHL featured a sideshow by now-retired forward Jiri Hudler, winner of the 2014-15 Lady Byng Trophy, given to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
According to Delta Airlines, he’s no gentleman. As reported by Czech outlet VIP Sport, Hudler stands accused of being under the influence of alcohol, and demanding cocaine from a flight attendant (who evidently thought he was asking for the beverage “Coke”). What’s more, he’s accused of urinating on a beverage cart. Hudler denies the allegations, saying it’s a “small incident,” but the police are investigating.
Hudler played 32 games for Dallas last season. He also played for Calgary, Florida and Detroit, with whom he won the 2008 Stanley Cup. He scored 164 goals in 708 NHL games.