Time flies during the NHL season for all those that follow the action-packed season. Seasons pass quickly and the offseason feels like it lasts an eternity. But there is nothing that feels shorter for a hockey fan than one week. In that timespan, most teams play anywhere from two to four times, which in total equates to a maximum of just over ten hours. But when it’s combined, a week consists of multiple games and multiple events. Some moments were fantastic, consisting of players and teams showing flashes of brilliance and skill, while other games contain incompetence or forgettable performances. In the 30 games played this week, many proved their worth and value while others, frankly, did not. A bought-out superstar, newcomers in the blue and white, and a top rookie dominated the first five days of the season, while a struggling offence, a sophomore goaltender, and noteworthy team did not. Here are the “Hot and Not” for the first week of the NHL season, from Tuesday, October 1st to Saturday, October 5th.
1) All Hail Mikhail
When Mikhail Grabovski was bought-out by the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the start of free agency and subsequently signed with the Capitals for one year, there were questions on how the Belarusian center would play. In past seasons for the Leafs, he was a bright spot on the team, arguably being the best center for the club. However, the shortened season was not kind to Grabovski and he was suddenly in Randy Carlyle’s doghouse and failing to score goals. However, this week in his first game in Washington, he regained superstar form.
In a 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Grabo scored three goals and added a helper to keep his team competitive against the Stanley Cup champions. This week, Grabovski was not the best player in the National Hockey League. In fact, statistically teammate Alex Ovechkin was more productive, meaning he wasn’t even the most impactful player for his own team. However, given the circumstances that Grabovski has overcome in the last year, his five point week served as more than just a statistic but rather a message. It appears that the old Grabo is back, and for that his efforts were completely deserving as one of the top moments of these past five days.
2) “Mackin” It Happen
Unlike the majority of the past years, the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft was open for the taking. Prior to the Avalanche taking a public stance on the direction they were heading with the pick, there were multiple players that could have held the distinction as the top pick. One scenario saw American defenseman Seth Jones head to his childhood team to play for his childhood hero. Another had slick playmaker Jonathan Drouin getting drafted first for his elite upside and undisputed talent. But at the end of the day, the Colorado Avalanche had decided on picking Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon. In his first week in the NHL, the rookie had already made a statement that he was, in fact, the right pick for the team to make.
In his first two games, MacKinnon had three assists and looked like a star. Very rarely does an 18-year-old player come to a team and make an immediate impact, but MacKinnon was able to do just that. While his performance in the faceoff dot was questionable, the first overall pick played great this week, and more weeks like that will certainly put him in contention for the Calder Trophy.
3) Not-So-Old Eller
The 2013 shortened season did not end very well for Canadiens’ forward Lars Eller. A hospital pass from Raphael Diaz sent Eller into a booming hit from Eric Gryba, and the young Habs player was knocked out of the game and into the press box, forced to sit back and watch his team lose in five games to the Ottawa Senators. Entering the 2013-14 season, there were two possible ways that Lars Eller could come out of the gate: continuing on a positive progression path or suffering a setback because of his unfortunate history. This week, it was clear that the former came to play.
In his two games this week, Lars Eller was a dominant force. In the season opener against the Maple Leafs, Eller was a catalyst for every goal the Canadiens scored. Despite the loss, he buried two goals and set up one, adding six shots on goal to his three point night. On Saturday, Eller’s presence helped the Habs grab their first win of the season, scoring a goal and adding a helper. In addition, he took 21 faceoffs, 11 of which he won. The Eastern Conference is a tough one and the Atlantic division is very competitive, but if Lars Eller has a breakout season that appears to be in the works, it will give the Montreal Canadiens a serious boost.
1) Not so Fasth
Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, there were teams that had to determine which of their two deserving goaltenders would get the starting job. Among the notable teams included Toronto, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay. However, one team’s goaltending situation, the Anaheim Ducks, was as intriguing as it can get. With former unquestioned starter Jonas Hiller being an unrestricted free agent at year’s end, and newcomer Viktor Fasth becoming a UFA one year later, the upcoming season will likely determine which goaltender the Ducks decide to carry forward into the future.
However, Fasth did not get off to an ideal start in a race against Hiller for the starting job. He let in six goals on 29 shots, including four on 23 at even strength, in a 6-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in their opening game. While he was not the only weak player in the pathetic showing by the Ducks, often the goalie takes the fall in a big loss like that. With Hiller leading Anaheim to a 4-3 win over the Wild on Saturday, it seems to be that the Swiss goaltender has a slight lead in the race for starting goaltender. Fasth could easily regain the job, but not if he has any more performances like he did on Wednesday night.
2) Buffa”no” Offence
If you were to look at the three games that the Buffalo Sabres played this week and just saw the defensive statistics, they are fairly impressive. Ryan Miller allowed only 3 goals in
two games while Enroth let in only three goals to the powerhouse Penguins, including one on a penalty shot. Their penalty kill is at 100%, and a defensive showing like that in three games deserves praise. However, things were not as pretty for Buffalo when it came to the offensive side of the game.
In their three contests, Buffalo only managed to score two goals, resulting in the Sabres having an 0-3 record. While their opponents were considered among the best of the Eastern Conference, next week for the Sabres consists of the Lightning, Blackhawks, and Blue Jackets. While the Hawks are a tough team to score on, the games against Tampa Bay and Columbus will show whether Buffalo’s offence in week one was just a result of difficult defenses and unfortunate bounces, or if their inability to score goals might knock the Sabres out of playoff contention early.
3) No “Fly” Zone
A common theme of this week’s Hot and Not is the possibility of two different outcomes for a certain player. In Washington, Mikhail Grabovski would either play like he did under the guidance of Ron Wilson, or like he underperformed with Randy Carlyle in charge. For the Canadiens, it was a question of whether or not Lars Eller would be affected by his violent injury or continue on the path to becoming a breakout player in the NHL. In Philadelphia, the questions this season are no different. The 2011-12 year saw the Flyers slide comfortably into a playoff spot and slaughter the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Scott Hartnell had a career year, the goaltending was competent, and Claude Giroux was being considered as one of the best players in the entire league. The 2013 season had a different feel to it in the City of Brotherly Love. The goaltending was a liability, the defence was inconsistent, injuries plagued all aspects of the lineup, and the Flyers finished outside of the playoffs in a year where they were considered cup favourites. After another offseason of bold signings and controversial roster changes, the Flyers looked to regain their form from two seasons ago and head back into the playoffs.
The first week of the 2013-14 NHL season certainly was not a good start for the team. In two games, the Philadelphia Flyers scored only two goals and allowed seven en-route to an 0-2 record to begin the year. Giroux, Hartnell, Simmonds, and Voracek were among the majority of players held pointless, and goaltenders Steve Mason and Ray Emery both recorded a sub-.900 sv% in their respective games. The only players that have found the scoresheet have been Vincent Lecavalier, Mark Streit, and Brayden Schenn, each of which recording a point on both goals scored by the Flyers. Despite the criticism that the team faces, the Philadelphia Flyers are a good team with an incredibly talented offence but below-average goaltending. It is incredibly possible that the Flyers could turn the ship around and win games with ease. However, their first two games were not a good start and a turnaround is definitely needed, and it will need to come sooner than later.