First impressions of the new season
The Red Wings and Maple Leafs showed signs of critical weakness in net
The Capitals and Flyers meet this week in a showdown of Eastern powers
Look for John Tavares of the Islanders to put up some stout rookie numbers
The first weekend of the regular season had plenty of action and a few surprises. The Avalanche going 2-0 and the Red Wings 0-2 surely fall into the surprise category. So, what did we learn, exactly, as everyone got busy with all 30 teams in action on Saturday in four countries?
Certainly goaltender Craig Anderson's fine play for the Avs validates his signing. Colorado is extremely young down the middle and will need consistent quality goaltending. Anderson provided just that with a 5-2 win over the Sharks and a 3-0-shutout of the Canucks. Meanwhile, the Blues stormed back twice in Stockholm to upend the Wings. In both games the Blues erased two-goal deficits while receiving better goaltending from Chris Mason and Ty Conklin than Detroit got from Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard. The Blues also looked more comfortable with their collective game.
While the Wings were finding ways to lose, the Stanley Cup champion Penguins got just enough pop at the top to win twice. Neither victory was a classic -- 3-2 at home versus the Rangers and 4-3 in a shootout on Long Island. Trailing entering the third period against the young Islanders, the Pens tallied twice in the third period to force the extra session and Sidney Crosby won it in the shootout. Crosby scored in regulation in each game and goaltender Marc Andre Fleury was solid in both. The Penguins know the value of grabbing points in October as they've had to push hard down the stretch to make the postseason the past couple of years, despite eventually playing for the Cup both seasons. A cushion stitched together in the early going will surely help ward off the effects of Cup hangover, should the Pens suffer from it.
Two teams expected to be in the East's top four proved those prognostications have merit, with both the Capitals and Flyers turning in strong performances while opening their campaigns at 2-0. Like the Pens, these two teams saw their stars lead the way, with Alex Ovechkin setting the tone for the Caps and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter doing likewise in Philly. Flyers netminder Ray Emery exhibited the hoped-for attributes -- big, consistent and under control -- when the team signed him as a free agent out of KHL exile. The Caps and Flyers square off on Tuesday night in Philadelphia -- a game seen nationally on Versus -- in what promises to be an epic early season tilt.
From an individual player perspective, first overall pick John Tavares looked ready for prime time, scoring his first career goal in the Islanders' home opener. He played over 20 minutes as well, so look for him to put up some stout first-year numbers. Second overall pick Victor Hedman likewise looks like he is in the Calder chase for the long haul, logging 26:27 TOI playing in all situations while registering his first NHL point and five shots on goal.
And if you think it is too early for all of this, consider that the Wings and the Maple Leafs are are 0-2 due largely to subpar goaltending. The Wings' will give Chris Osgood the benefit of the doubt because of his past contributions and outstanding play in the 2009 postseason. The team, however, will not extend backup Howard the same courtesy. Even in Osgood's case, his regular season struggles of a year ago won't fade away entirely, especially since the Wings are counting on mitigating the loss of 88 goals due to free agency and cap constraints by refocusing on defense. Against the Blues, that notion was only a theory and it will require dependable goaltending for validity.
The Leafs don't have the same expectations as the Wings, but solid goaltending must pave their path to renewed competitiveness. Vesa Toskala had a poor camp and played soft in the Leafs' first two games. Jonas Gustavsson replaced Toskala on Saturday night and proceeded to yield three goals himself in a 6-3 loss to the Capitals. Gustavsson missed much of training camp with an injury, so he's seen little action. He'll most likely start Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators in a divisional game that now takes on more meaning than the usual regional rivalry implications.
Urgency in game three. Gotta love it.
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