Two weeks into this young NHL season, the dreaded “Stanley Cup Final” hangover has taken a toll upon the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.
In their first six games, the Bruins sported a 2-4 record, the Canucks 2-3-1.
The Bruins and Canucks aren’t the only teams off to surprisingly slow starts to the season. The Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks, conference finalists last spring, also lurched out of the gate, with both teams winning only one of their first five games.
Bruins defenceman and Cornwall native Adam McQuaid suffered injuries to his head and neck after crashing into the end-boards during last Wednesday’s Bruins-Carolina Hurricanes game. Fortunately, he didn’t suffer a concussion, but remains sidelined to lingering neck pain. It’s hoped McQuaid will return to action within the next week.
Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin is currently nowhere to be seen amidst the league’s top scorers, sporting only three points in his first five games. Theories abound as to Ovechkin’s decline in offensive production, which has carried over from last season’s career-worst 85-point effort.
The main factor is rival defencemen have learned how to prevent him from making his signature move of cutting into the middle from the left wing and using the defenceman as a screen. Until “Ovie” learns to adjust his style, which should also include using his linemates more, he’ll continue to find points more difficult to come by compared to earlier in his career.
The media and fans in Montreal are rapidly growing concerned over the Canadiens 1-3-1 start, which was attributable to a combination of sloppy defence and average goaltending from Carey Price. With Andrei Markov and Chris Campoli sidelined by injuries, there’s not much the Habs can do to plug the holes on their defence, except to press rookies Alexei Emelin and Rafael Diaz into service and rely on sophomore P.K. Subban as their blue-line anchor.
They could overcome those problems, however, if Price regains the form which made him one of the league’s best goalies last season. So far, his performance has been inconsistent.
Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel is off to an explosive start, with seven goals and 12 points in his first seven games, leading not only the Leafs but the league in those categories. Sadly, Kessel’s unlikely to continue this torrid pace throughout the season, especially without an experienced playmaking centre. If the Leafs could’ve landed Brad Richards via free agency last summer, Kessel would be capable of sniping 50 goals per season.
Many observers questioned how well the Philadelphia Flyers would perform this season, having shaken up their roster by shipping out one-time cornerstone players Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to make room for a fat contract for new goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. So far, the Flyers revamped lineup shows little sign of distress, jumping out to a 4-0-1 start. Bryzgalov has been steady between the pipes, and they’ve received offence from throughout their lineup, including new Flyers Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Jaromir Jagr.
Edmonton Oilers rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins appears to be adjusting well to the NHL regular season, but the same cannot be said for Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, who saw his minutes reduced in his opening games and struggled offensively after leading the Jets in preseason scoring. Nugent-Hopkins is making a good case to stick with the Oilers this season, netting his first career NHL hat trick in last Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, but Scheifele could be headed back to junior unless he can turn things around fast.
Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf drove a stake through the heart of the lie that the recent crackdown on head shots and blindside hits would take hitting out of the game with a crushing, but clean, open-ice check on Ottawa Senators rookie Stephane da Costa back on Oct. 8. That hit was a textbook example of how to effectively bodycheck in the NHL without targeting an opponent’s head.
If the Ottawa Senators opening two weeks are any indication, this team still has a long way to go toward rebuilding into a playoff contender again, having won only once in their first six games. Should that trend continue, the only thing the Sens will be competing for this season is favourable odds for the first overall pick in the 2012 Entry Draft lottery.
The rebuilding Colorado Avalanche recently set a club record with their 3-2 overtime victory over the Maple Leafs, winning their fifth consecutive road game. Hard to believe the Avs never achieved that feat during their glory years, when their roster included Hall of Famers Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Joe Sakic, and future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with The Hockey News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian every second Friday.