The 2021-22 NHL season is still in its infancy. Many projections ahead of the season are off to a rocky start, and some are just head-scratching. The New York Islanders, who made it to the Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 last season, and Winnipeg Jets are 0-2? The Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets start the year 2-0?
This series is going to take a look at teams and players that have lost their game, and that have found their game. While it is still just a few games into the season, there are still some eye-raising storylines that will be interesting to follow. Sit down, grab a cup of coffee or an evening beverage, and enjoy the first edition of the “Weekly Lost & Found.”
Lost: Goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck Struggle Out of the Gate
Fleury Struggles Early, Is Key to Blackhawks’ Success
There was a lot of talk this past offseason about whether or not Fleury would retire after getting traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. The reigning Vezina winner considered retirement, but is now embracing the change that sees him joining a Blackhawks team that gets their captain back and added defenseman Seth Jones during the offseason.
However, Fleury struggled through his first two games as a Blackhawk. He gave up four goals on 36 shots in the season opener against the Colorado Avalanche, a 4-2 loss. His second start came in the team’s third game, against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens hit him hard, and Fleury didn’t make it through the first period.
Kevin Lankinen, the previous night’s starter, relieved Fleury after he gave up four goals on 10 shots. Fleury’s stat line reads an abysmal .826 save percentage (SV%) and 7.06 goals against average (GAA) over 68 minutes, with both of the Blackhawks’ regulation losses. All eight goals against were even strength goals, and seven of them scored in the first period.
He is in front of a new team and may be having trouble adjusting to the tendencies of his new defensemen. Yet, in a similar situation, his first two starts for the Vegas Golden Knights saw him come up with two wins while stopping 72 of 74 shots. It is very early, but Fleury having a strong season is vital to the Blackhawks getting back into playoff contention.
Hellebuyck Struggling, Jets Dropping Should-win Games
The Winnipeg Jets are projected by many to have a strong season. The Hockey Writers’ Declan Schroeder projects them top two in the Central Division. The Pacific Division’s Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks… not so much. The Hockey Writers’ staff projects them to finish eighth and seventh, respectively.
Hellebuyck has played 117 minutes and is looking at a 4.10 GAA and .849 SV%. The Jets have given up two power play goals in each of those games, and against the Sharks, he gave up a goal in every situation. It doesn’t help that the Jets have only given him four goals of support over those two games, but giving up eight goals on 53 shots isn’t going to get it done.
The Jets have made the playoffs the past four seasons, and Hellebuyck has had at worst a 2.90 GAA and at least a .913 SV% over that span. While the Jets forward group should find their groove and get him some goal support, they’re not strong to the point where he can have more off-games than on-games.
Being that Hellebuyck is the Jets’ backbone, and current backup Eric Comrie has just nine NHL games under his belt, they will sink or swim based on his performance.
Found: Kings’ Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty off to a Torrent Start.
The Vets Lead the Way
The Los Angeles Kings are looking to take a step forward after missing the playoffs in five of the past seven seasons. While they have arguably the NHL’s deepest prospect pool, it’s key that their aging core can still produce. And Kopitar and Doughty are leading the charge.
The pair have connected on five of the Kings’ eight goals this season. Captain Kopitar opened his 16th season with a hat trick while dishing out two assists to beat the Knights. Doughty, in his 14th year, had a goal and three assists. Despite losing to the Minnesota Wild in game two, the pair combined for a goal and three assists.
This hot start gives Kopitar four goals and seven points and Doughty a goal and six points in two games to start the season. They combined for three assists and were a minus-five in the first two games of the 2020-21 season. An honorable mention goes to Dustin Brown, who, at almost 37 years old, has two points in two games to start his 18th season.
Doughty was very vocal ahead of this past offseason that the Kings needed to make aggressive moves due to their aging core.
The Kings re-signed forward Alex Iafallo, traded for Viktor Arvidsson and signed unrestricted free agent Phillip Danault, among other moves, this past offseason. It’s looking like general manager Rob Blake is acting on Doughty’s words and looking for the Kings to take the next step forward. To do that, those aging veterans will have to lead the way, and it appears they’re off to a good start.
Sean Raggio lives for hockey. He will be covering the Seattle Kraken, and is a co-host of “What’s Kraken” for THW. Sean gained experience in writing for television, print and radio while studying journalism at Quinnipiac University and being an active member in the student media organizations there. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out on Twitter! A link can be found at the bottom of his articles, such as this one.