Since the start of the NHL regular season on October 1, several teams and players have come out of the gates flying and other teams have barely seemed to get anything going. Let’s take a look at some of the players who are making the nightly highlight reels on ESPN, Hockey Night in Canada, and the NHL Network – and who’s NOT.
- RW Alex Ovechkin: Once again, the “Great 8” is off to an amazing start for the Capitals. In just 4 games played thus far, he’s scored 5 goals and 2 assists. Three of those goals have come on the power-play. He’s currently second in goals behind Tomas Hertl (I will get to him in a minute) and Montreal F Alex Golchenyuk, each with 6 goals. I only wish Ovie’s contributions made a difference in the standings, as the Capitals are currently in 7th place in the Metro division. (Don’t worry too much about that, Caps fans, this team is too good for 7th place in the Metro. They will recover.) The upside is Ovie’s leading the league with 32 shots on goal. He’s on a pace to score 102 goals this season. We know he won’t do that, but if I had him on my fantasy team, I’d be starting him every night. The one thing that I love about Ovechkin is he leads by example. Not that he has to with team-mates like Grabovski, Green and Backstrom, but it’s great to see this from an NHL captain.
- C Tomas Hertl: For the first time since 1988 (25 years, if you’re keeping track), a 19 year old rookie scored 4 goals in a regular season game. Oilers young sensation Jimmie Carson did it back then, and sadly it was the last time we saw him do that. But, Hertl showed us why this kid is in the NHL. He’s got skill, talent, and most of all, he’s got a ton of confidence in his game. If you haven’t seen his 4th goal of the night from the Sharks win on October 10 against the New York Rangers, you really should. Click here to see it (again) http://youtu.be/yMw4nksG7UQ Yeah, it was on Biron, not Lundqvist, but no goalie in the NHL would have saved that one. With 2 other goals since the start of the season and that 4 goal night at home against the Rangers, Hertl and Alex Golchenyuk lead the NHL in goals scored. Never mind that he’s on a pace to score 123 goals this season. We know that won’t happen, either. But, Hertl is creating excitement – and dare I say hope – for the San Jose Sharks. They need a guy like Hertl to give this team the boost it needs to stay up with the Canucks and the Kings. One thing’s for sure: he’s an early favorite for the Calder Memorial Trophy. Good luck, kid.
- G Jonathon Bernier: The Toronto Maple Leafs traded for the former LA Kings backup for a reason. They knew that Bernier was ready for the rigors of being a starter in the NHL. And Bernier hasn’t let them down. At least not yet – or anytime soon. He’s near the top in GAA with a 0.85. Only Ben Scrivens and Jean-Sebastien Giguere have better numbers than Bernier, but they’ve only played one game. Bernier has played in 4, and won 3 of them. His save percentage is a best in world-class 0.974. He posted his first shutout in a 36 save performance in the season opener against Nashville. He added another one against the Senators, typically a team that John Van Reimsdyk gets the starting nod for. In the 4 games that he’s played in, he’s only allowed 3 goals, and 2 of them have been power-play goals. That’s pretty amazing goaltending!
- The Colorado Avalanche: Aside from the meltdown from Head Coach Patrick Roy on the opening night, the team has been on fire! They beat Anaheim 6-1 on opening night at Pepsi Center. Two nights later, they beat Nashville 3-1. They then went into Toronto and edged the Leafs 2-1. Then, two nights ago they went into Boston and beat the defending Eastern Conference champions 2-0. G Jean-Sebastien Giguere netted the shutout, and sent many B’s fans home very upset. If this team can keep playing consistent, winning hockey like they have, they will make some serious waves in the Central division. And the way the Wild have been playing, it could be Colorado that takes 3rd place in the division. A big test for them will come tonight against the Washington Capitals. But, given the way the Avs have been playing lately, I suspect the Caps are in for a long night. This team won’t rival Chicago for a long unbeaten streak to start the season, but this is certainly what they want and need to make the kind of gains they are looking for in Colorado.
- The New Jersey Devils: The Devils and the Buffalo Sabres (more on them in a minute) remain as the only two teams in the NHL without a regulation win in the young 2013-14 season. Even the lowly Florida Panthers have 2 wins. Sure, 3 of their losses have come in the shoot-out, but I thought the addition of G Cory Schneider from Vancouver would be a brighter sign for this team. Currently 12th in the Eastern conference, this team is so far removed from the Stanley Cup finals of 2 years ago when they played the LA Kings that they may not be recognizable to some Devils fans. Yeah, a lot has changed since then, but they are not the once mighty and competitive team they used to be. They only have one power-play goal (Damien Brunner) and aging F Jaromir Jagr has 2 goals and an assist in 5 games played. D Marek Zidlicky leads the Devils with 4 assists. Not the offensive output that Head Coach Peter DeBoer wanted to see at the start. Fortunately, there’s a lot of hockey left this season. Unfortunately, though, there will be lots of long nights for this team. Rebuilding is hard, especially when you’ve had the success the Devils have had.
- The Buffalo Sabres: As I predicted in my preview blogs, the Buffalo Sabres are not the competitive team they used to be. F Jason Pominville has left for Minnesota (although his addition hasn’t helped them much either, but I digress.) One could say that the Sabres difficulties this season could be in part due to the re-alignment of the league. But, they haven’t been without a fight. They lost the season opener to Detroit 2-1 at Joe Lewis Arena. In their home opener against Ottawa, they lost 1-0. The next night they went into Pittsburgh and got blown out 4-1. In their closest game thus far this season, they lost to Tampa Bay 3-2 in OT. But the wheels came off again two nights ago when Columbus spanked the Sabres 4-1. Only Thomas Vanek has more than 1 goal for this club, and several have none – including Ott, Tallinder, Ehrhoff, and Stafford. If this team wants to improve any on their last place in the NHL standing, these guys have got to step up – big-time.
- Scott Hartnell – Philadelphia: The problems in Philly didn’t start and end with Peter Laviolette, and the Flyers knew that. Still, in 5 games played this season, LW Scott Hartnell has zero points. He only had 11 all of last season in 32 games played. It’s a far cry from his 37 goals and 30 assists from the 2011-12 season. I’m not sure what has happened with Hartnell, but he’s way off his game and the Flyers NEED his goal scoring production if they want to get out of the mess they are in right now. New Head Coach Mike Berube has the club moving in the right direction, but Hartnell has to step up.
- Jason Pominville – Minnesota: For a guy that was brought in to help the Wild with their power-play and be a force on the starting line, I’m not impressed, Mr. Pomminville. In 4 games played, Jason has only 1 goal – and it’s a power-play goal at that. In his last full season in Buffalo (2011-12), he scored 30 goals and 43 assists for 73 points. Imagine if the Wild could get that kind of production from a first line RW. He’d make me forget about Marian Gaborik all over again. The problem is, he’s not producing the kind of offense the Wild would like to get out of him. Because of his presence, Danny Heatley has been relegated to the second line. Head Coach Mike Yeo isn’t afraid to mix the lines up, and should Pominville continue to struggle on the first line and power-play, look for Heatley to make a return to the top line. What makes me scratch my head is Pominville plays on a line with LW Zach Parise and Captain C Mikko Koivu. This line should be clicking like a well-oiled machine. Parise’s not much better, and Koivu has yet to dent the twine, either. But, much was expected from Pominville, and he needs to step up. The Wild need him. (Side note: MIkko Koivu, you barely missed this list! You need to step up, too.)