Each Monday during the NHL season, Rob Mixer takes a look at the 10 biggest storylines from the hockey week that was.
Remember a few weeks ago, when Mike Babcock was asked about the outburst of goal-scoring in the NHL?
He said something to the effect of, Enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s about to go away.
Sure, the goals aren’t as plentiful as they were in the opening week of the season, but there are a few teams that are having trouble preventing them (we’ll get into that shortly). As of today, you live in a world where the two-time defending champions have been blown out three times in the first three weeks, where the Devils sit atop the Metropolitan Division and the NHL’s newest team has eight wins in its first nine.
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Just another October around these parts.
Let’s take a spin around the NHL and dive into the stories.
1. Just as we expected…
The Metropolitan Division was hockey’s best in 2016-17. After three weeks of this new season, it’s the weirdest.
Forget the sample size. Let’s overreact!
The Devils have won eight of their first 10 games. The Rangers are falling apart. The Capitals have been, at best, average. We’ll touch on both the Penguins and Rangers momentarily.
Lurking are the Blue Jackets, Islanders, Hurricanes and Flyers, off to solid starts and within striking distance. It’s been more like a “bold predictions” bingo card in the Metro so far and it doesn’t seem to be letting up.
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2. Face-off artistry
When there’s an offensive zone draw and less than two seconds remaining in a period, it’s almost Pavlovian for hockey observers to scream about pulling the goaltender. If you tried it 100 times, would you score more than once or twice? Never tell the odds to the Kings, C-3PO, because they pulled off the near-impossible on Saturday against the Bruins.
It’s a 1-1 game with 0.9 seconds left in overtime, and Kings coach John Stevens decides he doesn’t need his goaltender. Four skaters for Los Angeles, three for Boston, and captain Anze Kopitar is taking the draw. Tyler Toffoli is lined up over Kopitar’s left shoulder, and Kopitar wins it cleanly — perfectly, even — across to Toffoli for a one-timer. Sure enough, he mashed it into the net and the Kings won the coolest 2-1 game ever.*
*In my opinion.
It’s been a crazy night in LA sports but I hope this amazing game-winner at 0.9 in OT by @tytoff16 doesn’t get lost. pic.twitter.com/ALs7xusNJ6
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) October 29, 2017
BERKSHIRE: Kings’ goal-scoring renaissance cuts both ways
3. The Coyotes are … struggling
Thankfully for the Coyotes, they shored up their goaltending and brought in Scott Wedgewood over the weekend.
That’s actually a joke because, if you’re like most people, you had to Google who that is when the trade went down.
G Scott Wedgewood ➡️ Coyotes
Devils ⬅️ 2018 5th round pick pic.twitter.com/Z9fIBCr93j
— Sporting News NHL (@sn_nhl) October 28, 2017
Wedgwood was stuck behind Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid in New Jersey and the Coyotes are looking for literally anyone to make a save, so this seems like a fairly simple trade to execute. GM John Chayka was one of the NHL’s most active managers this summer and added several pieces to help Arizona compete in a division we all thought to be dominated by the Vegas Golden Knights, but it hasn’t worked out.
Well, it’s been a bit worse than “hasn’t worked out.” The Coyotes have played 11 games, and they’ve lost 11 of them.
MORE: Coyotes optimistic despite franchise-worst start
They’re dangerously close (one more loss) from making the wrong kind of NHL history, as if the start wasn’t bad enough. Obviously, the Coyotes are loaded with young players and Clayton Keller has been a rookie revelation with eight goals, but they’re not getting what they expected from Derek Stepan (two goals in 11 games), Max Domi (one goal in 11 games) or even a guy like Tobias Rieder (two goals in 11 games).
No. 1 goaltender Antti Raanta hasn’t played since Oct. 12 because of an injury, but it appears he’s getting closer to a return, according to Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports. Louis Domingue was placed on waivers Sunday along with his .856 save percentage. Yikes.
4. Trouble in Manhattan
The noise is getting louder surrounding Alain Vigneault.
You just knew it would, though, right? He’s been behind the Rangers’ bench for just the right amount of time where they get sick of you when things don’t go well, and sure enough …things aren’t going well.
Heading into the week, the Rangers sit dead last in the Metropolitan Division and will get the Golden Knights on the tail end of their back-to-back on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. It’s already hot under the collar and their continued sputtering isn’t providing any relief. It’s a tough business when a guy with 195 wins in 340 games is on thin ice (horrible pun!).
Larry Brooks of the New York Post believes Vigneault’s fate could be decided based on the result of tomorrow’s game against Vegas.
MORE: A glimmer of hope for struggling Rangers
5. Player safety?
“On Friday night in Columbus…”
Ha! Just kidding. There was no video from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, nor a minor penalty, nor supplementary discipline for this play:
the NHL, which wants to protect its players from head injuries, deemed this a legal play pic.twitter.com/juClYbcZQz
— Rob Mixer (@RobMixer) October 28, 2017
Apparently, Jack Johnson’s “turn” at the last minute — a turn he’s making in order to play the puck (why would he do such a thing?) — is the reason Brendan Lemieux escaped without penalty. It’s an insane proposition to think that a defenseless player is to blame for having his head slammed into the glass by his opponent, but … that’s kind of what we’re being told here.
If it makes no sense to you, you’re not alone. I’m with you.
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6. Buyer’s remorse
Jordan Eberle was a trade rumor regular.
Ryan Strome might have heard the rumors. When he was traded this summer, it wasn’t a surprise.
But the surprising thing is that, a month into the season, the Oilers would like to let you know they kept their receipt and want their money back. It was suggested by Sportsnet’s panel on Saturday night that the Oilers and GM Peter Chiarelli are looking for a way out of this Strome experiment. The Islanders seem happy with Eberle, who was traded in part because the Oilers just had too many skilled forwards. Hate that!
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I’m kidding. Sort of.
Strome has three points (one goal, two assists) and hasn’t really added anything to the Oilers’ attack. Nick Kypreos had this to say about the situation: “If they could move him, I think they probably would. The question is would he bring anything in return of significance? No question, it’s a priority for Peter Chiarelli to find some scoring on the right side.”
7. Shootout Success
The Red Wings ended a six-game skid with a win over the Panthers on Saturday — and fittingly, they did so in a shootout.
Detroit has won 12 consecutive games in the shootout. A dozen in a row.
Move over, 2005-06 Dallas Stars … your place in history now belongs to the Red Wings, whose streak encompasses parts of three seasons. It makes sense, right? This is the team with Frans Nielsen, NHL shootout wizard.
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8. Golden Days, for now
We all love the Vegas story. How could we not?
Most of us poked fun at the Golden Knights for selecting 26 defensemen in the expansion draft (a situation they’re now forced to resolve via the waiver wire) and we’ve scratched our heads over the Vadim Shipachyov situation. They’ve played a benign schedule to this point and now embark on their first real road trip in franchise history, which figures to give us a better idea of what Gerard Gallant actually has to work with.
Oscar Dansk, who was struggling to hold down a No. 1 job in the ECHL a couple of years ago before heading back to Sweden, is posting shutouts for Vegas with Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban on the shelf. They don’t lose at home. They’re in the same division with Arizona. Everything’s golden for the Knights right now, but is it going to last?
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Probably not. But it’s not as if you don’t know where this is headed.
Ian McLaren of The Score is the latest to break down what supports and what ails the Golden Knights. Off the top, they’re not driving play well enough or long enough to keep up this 8-1-0 pace. They’re in the bottom-third of 5-on-5 shot attempts and their PDO, riding along at a cool 106.5, is cruising toward a screeching halt before too long … so yeah, you get the gist. Vegas plays 12 of its next 16 games away from T-Mobile Arena. We’ll see where it goes from here.
9. The Pitts(burgh)
This began when the Blackhawks dropped a 10-spot on the Penguins in the season’s opening week.
It continued with a 7-1 thrashing courtesy of the Lightning, and on Sunday night at Bell MTS Place, the Jets became the latest team to pick apart the Penguins. The Jets scored four goals on five shots against Matt Murray before Mike Sullivan had seen enough, and backup Casey DeSmith (who was called up after the Penguins waived Antti Niemi) was suddenly making his NHL debut.
Blake Wheeler welcomed DeSmith to the NHL by completing his hat trick only 11 seconds later. Welcome to the NHL!
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10. An electric start
It seems safe to anoint the Tampa Bay Lightning as one of the top teams in the NHL.
And it seems even safer to say they have two of the top players in the league in Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Kucherov, who came up through the Lightning system and is tearing up the league in the early going. Also of note: Kucherov is in line for a -pretty- big raise on his next deal — he’s signed through 2018-19 at an average annual value of $4.667 million. That’s quite the bargain (but he may not be for much longer).