After a nearly four month layoff, the NHL opened its abbreviated 2012-13 (is it still ’12-13 or just ’13?) season with some spirited action over the Martin Luther King Day weekend. With some of you still distracted by the NFL playoffs and family events over the course of the weekend, here’s a quick look at some of the highlights:
- The New York Rangers have staggered to an 0-2 start, and have not looked good. Granted, it is only two games, but losing games to fellow conference favorites Boston and Pittsburgh is not a great way to open the season. Even worse is the fact the Rangers did not play particularly well in either loss. It’s way too early to panic in New York, though, and it’s only a matter of time.
- How good is Nicklas Lidstrom? He is a unanimous, first ballot Hall of Famer and on most people’s list of top five defensemen of all-time. However, after watching Detroit attempt to play defense without Lidstrom on Saturday night, Lidstrom might be moving up that list a bit. The Red Wings looked like traffic cones against a very good St. Louis team, giving up three breakaways in the first 43 minutes of the game. The Wings would go weeks without giving up one breakaway with Lidstrom in the ice. It’s hard to believe Detroit is that bad defensively, but if it continues, GM Ken Holland is going to need to go shopping – and soon.
- Steve Ott was expected to add some grit to the lineup in Buffalo, but most figured it might take a few weeks for it to rub off on some of the “softer” Sabres’ players. That was not the case on Saturday, as the Sabres looked like a completely different team in a 5-2 win over Philadelphia onSunday. Ott scored a goal, while Drew Stafford dropped the gloves to battle Scott Hartnell. And though Thomas Vanek didn’t drop the gloves, he did start the year with a 5-point night. The Sabres’ 2011-12 season was defined by the Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller and their lack of response to it. Kudos to management for addressing that issue over the summer.
- The Boston Bruins looked excellent in wins over New York and Winnipeg, led by the solid play
of Tuukka Rask. I am one of Rask’s biggest critics, and I do not believe he can carry a team to a Stanley Cup, but he looked great to open the season. The Bruins have the scoring punch, the defense, the grit, and the depth (four solid lines) to win the Cup – the big question mark is Rask. So far, so good. Let’s see if he can keep it up.
- The biggest question facing Pittsburgh is the health of Sidney Crosby. Sid the Kid has just one assist through two games, but has looked good and hasn’t shied away from contact. More importantly, the Penguins have shown a ton of balance in knocking off division rivals New York and Philadelphia. Seven Penguins have scored goals, led by James Neal’s three, and Evgeni Malkin has four assists. Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fluery seems to be past his atrocious performance in last year’s playoffs.
- Goaltending issues are already rearing their ugly head in Vancouver, where both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo struggled in back-to-back losses to Anaheim and Edmonton. Schneider surrendered five goals on 14 shots before getting yanked against the Ducks, while Luongo played OK in relief and in a 3-2 loss to the Oilers, though he did give up two goals in the third as the Canucks blew a 2-0 lead. If I’m GM Mike Gillis, I move Luongo now and make Schneider my unquestioned starter. If Gillis believes Schneider is his guy, prove it by moving the big shadow looking over his shoulder.
- Another team that might have goalie issues – and likely would have an interest in Luongo – is Philadelphia. Ilya Bryzgalov has struggled a bit to start the season. He looked great at times against Pittsburgh, but a 3.05 GAA is not going to cut it. He needs to be better.
- While the league continues to promote its young stars, the over-the-hill gang continues to make its voice heard. The league’s elder statesman, Anaheim’s 42-year-old Teemu Selanne, opened the season with two goals and two assists, making him the oldest player to score four points in a
game since Gordie Howe. Pretty good company there. Meanwhile, 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr matched Selanne, netting two goals and two assists in his Dallas debut – a 4-3 win over Phoenix. Jagr’s first four-point night since 2007. Jagr’s 40-year-old teammate, Ray Whitney, managed just a goal and an assist. Finally, Alex Kovalev had a goal and two assists just one day after signing with Florida, who opened the season with a win over Carolina.
- Kovalev’s linemate, 19-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau had a pair of goals and looked every bit the Calder winner I project him as.
- New Toronto GM Dave Nonis made his first big move, signing Joffrey Lupul to a five-year, $26.25 million contract. The move left many in Toronto scratching their heads. Lupul had a great 2012-13 season, but has had an up-and-down career and has battled a back injury for most of his career.
- TV ratings for the first weekend were excellent. In Canada, two of the three games broadcast by CBC set records (an afternoon tilt between Ottawa and Winnipeg and the Saturday night game between Montreal and Toronto), while NBC’s broadcasts of Pittsburgh-Philadelpia/Chicago-Los Angeles earned the network its highest non-Winter Classic ratings since 2006 and Sunday’s Buffalo-Philly game was the best Sunday rating ever. Great news for the league.
- If you missed it, watch Hockey Night in Canada’s amazing opening montage: HNIC Montage
Steve has been a writer for 20 years, and has covered the NHL, NCAA, and amateur hockey for the likes of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the Boston Herald, and New England Hockey Journal. Follow me on twitter @stevekendallthw