Two games is a foolishly small sample size of ammunition with which to formulate conclusions, but based on the early returns for Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, it’s easy to proclaim that the next wave of NHL superstar centers has arrived with a bang.
Matthews stunned the hockey world with his four-goal performance against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, and then he endeared himself to every coach when he took full blame for the Senators’ winning goal in overtime.
The second of his four goals was just ridiculous.
McDavid opened with two goals and an assist in a win over Calgary, and then followed up with a goal and two assists in another win over the Flames.
Following Saturday’s action, McDavid was first in the NHL in points with six, and Matthews was tied for first in goals with four. We have a feeling we’re going to be writing similar sentences for the next 10 years.
It’s too bad Jack Eichel is hurt or the top three centers of the past two drafts could be in full flower.
PUTRID PENALTY KILL
The Blackhawks’ penalty killing woes went from a dumpster fire against St. Louis to a full-blown landfill fire against Nashville. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford had not allowed an even-strength goal through two games, yet the Blackhawks were 0-2 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, before Saturday’s win over Nashville.
The Blues scored three power-play goals against Crawford in five chances Wednesday (St. Louis also scored two empty-net goals in a 5-2 win) and Nashville converted three times in six chances in a 3-2 win on Friday, before cashing in on one of two chances on Saturday.
“Yeah, it was definitely the gaping hole in our game,” captain Jonathan Toews told CSN Chicago after Friday’s game. “Across the board we had a much better effort and even if we do get the penalty kills that we didn’t get tonight, it still takes a lot of energy out of your game. So we have to smarten up and find ways to stay out of the box.”
The penalty kill is generally a barometer of how well a team defends. It has also been a barometer for the Blackhawks’ postseason chances.
In the Blackhawks’ Cup winning years of 2009-10, 2012-13 and 2014-15, their PK ranked fourth (85.3 percent), third (87.2) and 10th (83.4) in the NHL, respectively.
The non-Cup years were a different story. In 2010-11, it ranked 25th at 79.2 percent; in 2011-12, it ranked 27th at 78.1 percent; in 2013-14, it ranked 19th at 81.5; and in 2015-16 it ranked 22nd at 80.3 percent.
After three games this season, the Blackhawks’ PK ranks 29th in the NHL at 46.1 percent, having allowed seven goals in 15 chances. San Jose is the only team behind the Hawks at 33.3 percent, but the Sharks have only been shorthanded three times in two games.
TOO MANY INJURIES
Aside from the young guns that are lighting up the league, the biggest early storyline this season is the rash of injuries befalling big-name players.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely with at least his third concussion, Penguins goalie Matt Murray is still out with a broken hand, Sabres center Jack Eichel could miss six to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is out long-term with what looks like a groin injury, Kings forward Marian Gaborik is out eight weeks with a foot injury, Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau is out 3-4 months with a leg injury, Jets forward Evander Kane will miss “weeks” after cracking three ribs in Thursday’s opener, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron is out with a lower-body injury, Coyotes forward Jamie McGinn may miss the team’s six-game road trip with an upper-body injury, and Canadiens goalie Carey Price is on IR with a severe case of the flu.
It’s not an ideal scenario for the league to have so many big names missing early-season games, but at least it’s not the postseason.
— If you’re looking for a preview of what the direction-less Vancouver Canucks’ season might look like, this own goal by Loui Eriksson might do the trick. Vancouver still beat Calgary in a shootout, but the perplexing moves this team has made the past two seasons don’t portend playoffs or a meaningful rebuild.
— Colorado hung on for a wild, 6-5 win over Central Division favorite Dallas on Saturday in the Avalanche’s season opener at Pepsi Center in Denver. If Colorado gets it going this season under new coach Jared Bednar (while escaping the incapable tutelage of Patrick Roy), the Central Division is going to be one heck of a dogfight with all seven teams in the mix. The Avs won the division title three seasons ago.
— Calgary was expected to challenge for a playoff spot this season, but the Flames aren’t helping themselves with a rough early start against what were two Pacific Division non-playoff teams last season. The Flames have already dropped two games to Edmonton and they lost again Saturday in Vancouver.
— On the flip side, the offseason defections of David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott do not appear to have impacted St. Louis at all. The Blues looked faster, deeper and hungrier than ever during this 3-0 start that includes wins over Chicago, Minnesota, and the New York Rangers — three playoff teams from a year ago. If this Nail Yakupov gamble pays off, the Blues just might take another step forward. Now about that Kevin Shattenkirk conundrum…
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