The second week of the NHL season featured the first outdoor game of the campaign (it was this early for a reason), the first shutouts and the beginning of the end for one of the league’s better rinks. The National’s ice hockey writer Rob McKenzie provides a recap.
But it’s a dry cold
"This is a country/where a man can die/simply from being/caught outside": what the poet Alden Nowlan wrote of Canada in general is true of Winnipeg in particular. So when the NHL decided to finally hold one of its outdoor games in the barren Manitoba metropolis, the schedulers sensibly settled on a date in October, before the deadly (again, not a metaphor) weather kicks in. But anyone who grew up in Winnipeg knows winter's bite can come early. For children in the 'Peg, Halloween typically involves wearing 42 layers of clothes – parka, snow trousers, long johns, scarf, tuque, mitts, etc, etc – all so you can stomp up to people's doorsteps and shout "I'm a pirate!" in exchange for a miniature Crispy Crunch.
So it was an open question whether the inaugural exposed-to-the-elements match in Winnipeg would be a success or a disaster.
The puck dropped at 2pm Winnipeg time on Sunday ...
... well, it was supposed to drop at 2pm.
But the game was delayed almost two hours.
Not because it was too cold. But because it was too sunny. And the league got worried that the glare off the ice would blind the players. This is a phenomenon that bush pilots deal with – the dreaded whiteout – but it’s not normally a thing for hockey players.
So everyone cooled their jets for a couple of hours to wait for the sun to pass.
And the sun did pass, and it came to pass that the mighty Edmonton Oilers did cool the Jets, blanking the Winnipeggers 3-0.
Even with all the buzz around an outdoor game, Sunday’s match still wasn’t the highlight of the Jets’ week ...
They look so happy, these Leafs.
Their team is cruising to a 4-0 lead over the Jets on Wednesday night, in a much ballyhooed matchup of the spring’s top two draft choices: Toronto’s Auston Matthews, who went first overall, and No 2 Patrik Laine. These happy Leafs don’t know that the Jets will score once before the second period is over, and then Laine will bring it to 4-2 with a wraparound from the slot that shows off his particle-accelerator-quick release. They don’t know that late in the third period the Jets will pull their goalie, Toronto will take a penalty, and Laine will tie it up with 55 seconds left. And then in overtime, Matthews will have a breakaway but the goalie will stone him, and the Jets will turn it right around with a two-on-one and Laine will score, giving him a hat-trick, and the crowd will go nuts, and the announcer on Sportsnet will start talking about “the Jets’ young superstar”.
Prediction: Laine takes the rookie goalscoring title, but Matthews wins the Rookie of the Year award because of eastern media bias.
On Tuesday backup goalies got the first two shutouts of the season.
In Washington, Braden Holtby had the night off so Philipp Grubauer started in his stead. The German kept a clean sheet for his first NHL shutout as the Caps won 3-0 over Colorado.
That same night, Montreal's home opener began inauspiciously. The star goalie Carey Price was out for a third straight game with the flu. And as the team introduced its coaching staff in an on-ice ceremony, the song that played on the arena's PA system was a weird choice: Coldplay's Fix You (sample lyrics: "When you try your best, but you don't succeed ... Stuck in reverse/And the tears come streaming down your face"). Real cheery stuff. Go get 'em, boys! Would Viva la Vida have been so awful? Regardless the career backup Al Montoya rose to the occasion and shutout the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0.
Tough row to hoe
The Colorado Avalanche had the lousiest schedule to start the season. They opened at home against Dallas, then hit the road to face Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida. Those foes collectively won eight play-off rounds this past spring, from an available total of 15.
And how did Colorado do?
Surprisingly well, considering that the team has been mediocre for two seasons and this campaign seemed cursed when Patrick Roy quit as coach on August 11. The Avs beat Dallas 6-5 and nipped the Pens in overtime. Grubauer silenced the team in Washington, but they rebounded with a 4-0 whitewashing of Tampa before falling 5-2 to Florida on Saturday night. Roy’s successor, the former minor-league ruffian, Jared Bednar, is off to a good start. And the schedule can only get easier from here on in.
A last cup of Joe
The Detroit Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups since they moved to Joe Louis Arena in 1979, and they have made the play-offs for 25 years in a row. So Detroiters are fond of the place. It’s a good arena, the rows are steep but you have a decent view even from the cheap seats. And the fans reflect the team’s heritage: the jerseys they wear to the Joe bear the names of not only current stars (Zetterberg, Larkin) but old ones too (Howe, Yzerman).
For the Wings this is both a building and a rebuilding year. Off the ice the club are building Little Caesars Arena, which they move into next season. On the ice the Wings are rebuilding around young star Dylan Larkin, and have been trying him out at centre, versus his usual spot on the wing. Through six games the team has four wins, including 5-1 over Ottawa in last Monday’s home opener.
Trivia question: Detroit’s NHL team began play in 1926. What was the name of their arena?
The Windsor Arena
Obviously it’s the Windsor Arena! Every hockey fan surely knows that Detroit’s icemen, in their inaugural season, were called the Detroit Cougars (because they had bought out the reigning Stanley Cup champions Victoria Cougars) and, while waiting for the Detroit Olympia to be built, played across the border in the Canadian city of Windsor at what was then known as the Border Cities Arena, but is now known as the Windsor Arena (also, “the barn”). It now sits vacant, and might soon be torn down to make way for a school.
That was a tough trivia question for sure.
Before their home opener on Thursday the Boston Bruins honoured Milt Schmidt, who played his first game for the team 80 years ago, and Bobby Orr, whose debut was 50 years past. Orr was the greatest defenceman ever. Schmidt was, in the estimation of the legendary Bruins coach Art Ross, the best centreman he had ever seen – “a better player than [Howie] Morenz”. As Orr wheeled Schmidt off the ice after the ceremonial puck drop, present-day Bruins Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron skated over to say a kind word to the old man. The hockey spirits showed their approval: Marchand scored the tying goal in the third period and Bergeron the winner. Final score, Boston 2, New Jersey 1.
In summation: (All stats through Sunday)
Standings: Vancouver were the last team to lose a game, and Columbus were the last to win one. Edmonton top the league with 10 points. The other division leaders are Montreal, the New York Rangers and St Louis. The team with the fewest points are Arizona with two.
Standouts: Marchand is tied for the points lead at nine with San Jose's Brent Burns and Edmonton's Connor McDavid. The man with the most goals is Chicago's Richard Panik at six. Marchand and his teammate David Pastrnak are tied for the plus-minus lead at plus-nine. The best goals-against average: Detroit's Jimmy Howard at 0.50 through two games.
Standard-bearers: At age 44 Jaromir Jagr scored his 750th career goal and has an outside shot at reaching Gordie Howe's second-all-time mark of 801. Chicago's Marian Hossa scored his 500th goal.
Stand and deliver: The leader in penalty minutes is Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson with 26, most of them arising from his instigation of an early season fight with Tampa's Ondrej Palat.
Standing small: Chicago have allowed goals on 57 per cent of opposition power plays; next worst is Winnipeg way back at 41 per cent. In six games the Blackhawks have surrendered 12 power play scores. That's atrocious!
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