The NHL dropped the puck on its abridged, 56-game season on Wednesday, and one factor turned clear: The subsequent 115 nights — which can cram in 863 video games — are going to be doozies. Opening evening introduced us just a little little bit of every part: a banner elevating with out followers, a extremely dramatic puck drop, a struggle, extra time, a dizzying quantity of ads and 37 mixed objectives.
Here are our most important takeaways:
1. The Montreal Canadiens ought to be gamers within the North Division
In taking the Toronto Maple Leafs — the crew everyone seems to be predicting to run away with the division — to extra time, the Habs made a press release. Don’t rely Montreal out. There’s so much to love about common supervisor Marc Bergevin’s offseason. He added depth at each place, from goaltender (strong backup Jake Allen) to protection (Joel Edmundson, in addition to the arrival of high prospect Alexander Romanov, who appeared terrific enjoying 22:49 in his debut) to offense (Tyler Toffoli was the massive free agent get, however Josh Anderson was first to endear himself to the fan base with an all-out effort, together with two objectives).
“We have been the higher crew on the market,” Anderson stated afterward.
2. Things look completely different, however we’ll adapt
The NHL’s summer time bubble taught us that vacant hockey arenas translate nicely to a TV product. The lack of followers by no means felt distracting; the mesh masking the seats within the 100-level positively helps, and broadcasts principally perfected the ambient crowd noise. But so much has modified because the summer time too. The NHL has calculated its losses from disrupting its regular schedule, and commissioner Gary Bettman stated the league and its golf equipment will lose billions — not hundreds of thousands — to even stage a 2021 season. (Gate income generated instantly and not directly at video games accounts for roughly 50% of league income, and as of now, solely the Coyotes, Panthers and Stars plan to have followers, in restricted capability).
So the NHL is getting a bit extra aggressive in chasing income. For the primary time, the league bought naming rights to its division names. You will not hear me name it the MassMutual NHL East Division usually, however you are going to hear it in your broadcasts. Quite a bit. The league additionally let groups put advertisements on their helmets for the primary time; nonetheless, they’re so discreet, I did not discover (or thoughts) them a lot. Ads within the area, nonetheless? Holy cow, it felt like overload. The most conspicuous have been the advertisements circling the glass above the boards. In Tampa, it was small Adidas logos. In Edmonton, the phrases “Rogers 5G” have been printed time and again and once more across the glass. It was so much. But, perspective: It’s preserving folks employed and preserving us entertained.
3. It’s going to be an extended season in Chicago
A sport in opposition to the defending champs won’t be one of the best barometer, however Wednesday’s 5-1 drubbing by the Lightning felt simply as brutal because it was inevitable for the Blackhawks. Chicago moved on from franchise legend Corey Crawford (the one participant in crew historical past to win a number of Stanley Cups) to an unproven trio. Game 1 starter Malcolm Subban had a couple of highlight-worthy saves, but when that is one of the best defensive effort you possibly can trot out, yikes.
The blue line, leaky all of final season, usually left Subban excessive and dry. The Blackhawks had a tough time producing any forecheck. No Crawford, Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews — with no inspiring replacements — is an issue. The Blackhawks lastly admitted what was changing into abundantly clear by their transactions: They are in a rebuild.
“We haven’t got sufficient gamers, high to backside, to compete with the highest groups,” GM Stan Bowman instructed me in October. “We’ve received lots of good gamers, we have got a reasonably good begin on the makings of a very good crew, however we nonetheless have a methods to go but, and I settle for that.”
Chicago is utilizing this season as an opportunity to present the younger guys reps. While it is admirable to have a plan, you have to really feel for Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, who’re nonetheless giving it their all at a excessive stage however simply haven’t got the supporting solid round them to visualise one other championship anytime quickly.
4. Bring on the offense
It’s been a gradual pattern within the NHL over the previous 5 seasons, with objective averages slowly ticking up (peaking at 3.02 objectives per sport/per crew final season) and goalies’ common save proportion waning down (.910 in 2019-20). The first three Eastern Conference video games alone introduced us 24 objectives alone (common 4 objectives per crew). Just a few goalies I talked to over the offseason — particularly on groups that hadn’t performed since March — stated the lengthy stretch with out sport conditions can be a problem and possibly take a slight adjustment interval. If you have been questioning how the dearth of correct coaching camp and preseason exhibitions may manifest, count on some sloppy and wide-open video games — at the very least to begin the marketing campaign.
5. It’s not simple to be the favourite
I keep in mind speaking to Nathan MacKinnon forward of final season, and he stated it was the primary time in his Colorado Avalanche profession that he felt like his crew may really win. The ante is raised this yr, because of MacKinnon regularly enjoying like an MVP and GM Joe Sakic regularly fashioning shrewd strikes to make this crew stronger. Colorado opened as a Stanley Cup favourite in Las Vegas this season. But it was a gradual begin for the Avs of their opener. They have been too sloppy with the puck, which you’ll’t afford to do in opposition to the massive, powerful St. Louis Blues. I used to be wanting ahead to seeing the road of Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Brandon Saad, however they did not look proper collectively, and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than coach Jared Bednar began mixing his strains. Colorado’s usually high-functioning offense had a tough time producing a lot stress. Credit St. Louis for a powerful crew sport. And sure, it is solely Game 1. But the bull’s-eye is squarely on Colorado now, and it’ll get each crew’s greatest, each evening.
On Wednesday, Patrick suited up in his first NHL sport in 652 days. (And you thought 2020 was lengthy!) Then he scored within the first interval, on the facility play (Philadelphia’s Achilles’ heel in the summertime bubble). The No. 2 decide of the 2019 draft missed all of final season with a debilitating migraine dysfunction. It was a lingering storyline for Philly all season; GM Chuck Fletcher stated final January that Patrick was progressing and the Flyers have been optimistic he may be a part of for a playoff push. Philly stocked up on depth facilities ultimately yr’s commerce deadline to compensate, however now they’re in a lot better form, with Patrick manning the third line function behind Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.
Meanwhile, Lindblom performed for the primary time since his December 2019 most cancers analysis. Lindblom, who was having a breakout season on the time of his analysis, completed his closing chemotherapy therapy in July.
“He’s a man whenever you see him within the locker room, you need to go to battle with him,” Hayes stated. “He’s a warrior. He did not look misplaced.”
Even sweeter: The Flyers’ fifth objective, initially credited to Travis Konecny, was awarded to Lindblom hours after the sport.
The Flyers’ offense broke out for six objectives — together with three straight to shut the third — to down the rival Pittsburgh Penguins of their opener, displaying why lots of people in hockey expect the Flyers to contend this yr. This sport actually flexed Philly’s depth. I’m shopping for the Cup hype on this crew.
7. Just a few younger gamers to look at the remainder of the season
Nils Hoglander, the breakout star of the Canucks‘ coaching camp, goes to be the most recent Swedish obsession in Vancouver. Without a lot competitors behind him on proper wing, Hoglander may stick within the high six for some time. A objective in Hoglander’s first sport means his hype goes to ramp up, at Canadian media warp velocity. Ditto for Alexander Romanov, who, as talked about earlier, goes to have a giant function in Montreal, trailing solely Shea Weber in ice time on Wednesday. The defenseman performed with a ton of confidence, and did you see this stretch cross??
That vaunted prospect system the Flyers have constructed up? It’s absolutely realized now, with 2018 first-rounder Joel Farabee shining with one objective and three assists. The 20-year-old Farabee seems like he’s about to take a giant step ahead. And it is going to be good to see the Oilers‘ Kailer Yamamoto get a full season in after scoring 11 objectives in 27 video games final season (and one within the sport in opposition to the Canucks on Wednesday). Looks on the highest energy play, and on Leon Draisaitl‘s wing, will solely enhance Yamamoto’s inventory.
Jordan Kyrou was buzzing within the Blues’ opener, and he could possibly be a dependable depth scoring possibility. He stated he gained 10 kilos this summer time, however he would not seem like it compromised his velocity.
And I’m undecided how a lot rookie defenseman Cal Foote will play with Tampa Bay, however think about me intrigued. Coach Jon Cooper sheltered Foote’s minutes in his NHL debut in opposition to Chicago (he logged simply 10:47) as he positively confirmed some first-game jitters, however Foote has promise. We’ll see if he is again on the taxi squad as soon as the Lightning escape their salary-cap hell.
The 23-year-old American skater had an opportunity to be the primary participant in NHL historical past to attain in 5 straight season openers. The first 4 occurred to happen in Matthews’ first 4 NHL seasons. It did not occur for him on Wednesday in opposition to the Habs, although he did hit a crossbar within the third. I’m nonetheless predicting Matthews will chase down Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring crown this season; he’ll simply have extra catching as much as do.