Each week at Five on the Fly we’ll preview at five developing storylines for the NHL’s upcoming week.
1. Let the Auston Matthews vs. Patrick Laine Rivalry Begin
All eyes will be focused on Winnipeg’s MTS Centre on Wednesday, when the top two picks in the 2016 NHL draft go head to head (one of just two games that night). Neither rookie needs any introduction—hockey fans are well-versed on the talents of Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine. And neither player needs any motivation to prove themselves.
“I don’t need a rivalry, I just have to play as good as I can,” Laine said before Winnipeg’s home opener last week, when asked about Matthews. “That’s my job and I’m going to focus on that.”
Laine’s words run counter to what the Finn was saying before the draft, when he tabbed himself as a player that is every bit as good if not better than Matthews. “Toronto has a tough decision to make,” he said at the NHL Scouting combine.
Matthews has been relatively low-key about the idea of having to measure up against anyone from his draft class. “I don’t think about the comparison so much,” he said. “I control what I can control.”
What neither rookie has been low-key about is proving that they are ready for prime time in the NHL. Matthews became the first player in NHL history to score four goals in a mind-blowing debut against Ottawa, while Laine was instrumental in Winnipeg’s comeback from 4-1 down against Carolina in its home opener.
2. Concussed Crosby must bide his time
Sidney Crosby shocked the hockey world by announcing that he’d suffered the third concussion of his career before the Penguins opened their season last week, and the hockey world has entered concussion purgatory where there are only questions—never answers.
The 29-year old two-time Hart Trophy winner has been in the most dominant form of his career during the six-month span that saw him lead the Pens to the Stanley Cup then captain Team Canada to the World Cup title. The news is a big blow for Crosby and the Penguins, who must now begin their Cup defense without the straw that stirs their drink.
Thankfully, Crosby has quickly returned to practice and seems to be skating with vigor and eager to return.
The good news for Pittsburgh fans is that the team is deep, well-coached and talented. They started with back-to-back wins over Washington and Anaheim and should be able to hold their own in the standings if Crosby needs a month. Or two. Or three. But it won’t be easy for the Pens this week as they’ll face Colorado, Montreal, San Jose and Nashville in a six-night span.
In the meantime, all we can do is wait for Crosby to return.
3. Carolina Knows No Home
The Carolina Hurricanes are a really exciting team. They’ve got youth, skill and some phenomenal talents like Jeff Skinner, Tuevo Teravainen, Noah Hanifin, Victor Rask and Justin Faulk, and if it weren’t for their goaltending situation they’d probably be a hot pick to nab an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
But all is not perfect in Carolina.
The team is facing the challenge of having to play four more road games before finally making it to PNC Arena for an Oct. 28 home debut, and to make matters worse, they’ve blown three-goal leads in each of their first two games.
The road can be a lonely place for a hockey team, but when you’re getting your confidence shattered like the ‘Canes have done in their first two outings at Winnipeg and Vancouver, it can be especially lonely. With games at Edmonton, Calgary and Philadelphia this week, Carolina needs to find a way to snatch some points or it could find itself quickly behind the 8-ball in the standings before it has played its first home game.
4. Young Blackhawks Hoping to Find their Way
Salary cap casualties have forced the Blackhawks to get young in a hurry this season, and this is a team that is very much trying to learn on the fly as the 2016-17 season begins.
Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte, Adam Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza are the rookie forwards who coach Joel Quenneville wants to see accelerated development out of, but there is no magic potion with young, inexperienced players.
There were some shaky moments as the Hawks dropped to 0-2 with losses against the Blues and Predators last week, but Chicago rebounded to win their home opener as many of the rookies benefitted from more time along premier players.
Schmaltz played big minutes next to Marian Hossa and picked up his first career goal on Saturday, while Hinostroza was lining with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, which was Chicago’s best possession unit during Saturday’s win. Credit to Quenneville for realizing that pairing Schmaltz and Hinostroza with Jordin Tootoo was not a good idea after one uninspiring game. The quick adjustment should help Chicago’s kids become a bigger part of the team’s offense, something this squad badly needs.
Chicago will look to continue to develop their youth on the fly as they face the Flyers, Blue Jackets and Leafs this week.
5. Trending: 2 Lines to Watch
Chris Kreider is off to a fast start for the Rangers. Paired with Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich and newly acquired Mika Zibanejad (1-3–4), the 25-year-old has two goals and two assists in four games. Krieder, a 20-goal scorer in each of the last two seasons, has a Rangers-best 14 shots in the team’s two games.
Jonathan Marchessault has filled in for injured Jonathan Huberdeau nicely in Florida to help Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov not miss a beat. Check out these 5-on-5 Corsi numbers from the line during Saturday’s night’s 4-1 win over Detroit.