After just three days of the 2013 lockout-shortened NHL season, it's clear that this 48-game schedule is going to provide hockey fans with some of the most exciting three months of hockey that they will ever see.
Teams are already treating games like playoff matchups, and this will continue for the entire season since every point in the standings will be crucial for all 30 teams.
Let's look at five reasons all sports fans should be excited about this shortened NHL season.
One of the best parts of the early season thus far is the large amount of high-scoring games we have seen.
Since many goaltenders did not play overseas during the lockout, they are not yet used to the speed of the NHL game yet, which is why we have seen star players such as Mike Smith, Cory Schneider and Jimmy Howard struggle thus far.
It's tough for goalies to get ready for an intense shortened season with just a one-week training camp's worth of practices against NHL competition.
Through three days of the new season, 14 of the 26 games that have been played included six total goals.
We have also seen teams score four or more goals in a single game 15 times. With lots of games on each night, it very possible that there will be at least two or three high-scoring games for fans to enjoy.
Expect a lot of high-scoring games throughout the year because there were a lot of forwards and defensemen who played overseas during the lockout and already look like they are in midseason form.
This year's rookie class includes several talented young players who are quickly proving that they belong at the NHL level.
St. Louis Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko has been fantastic through three games with five points (three goals, two assists) and a couple highlight-reel goals.
Tarasenko leads all rookies in scoring, and is one point ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Cory Conacher, who has added even more talent and depth to an already potent Lightning offense.
Florida Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau and Minnesota Wild center Mikael Granlund are two other top prospects displaying their extraordinary talents each night. These two young stars will play an important role in their team's attempt to earn a playoff spot.
Detroit Red Wings rookie Damien Brunner has also been impressive through two games, and scored the best shootout goal of the early season on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
With so many young stars shining this year, fans have even more reasons to be excited about their teams' chances of competing for a playoff spot now, and into the future. Rookies will be extra important in the shortened season because so many team's lack the ideal amount of depth.
Since every game is so much more important in a 48-game season than a normal 82-game schedule, we should see lots of regular-season games with playoff-like intensity.
We already saw evidence of this over the weekend during both Philadelphia Flyers games. The Penguins versus Flyers season opener didn't have any fights, but the players on both teams were treating the game like a playoff matchup. The same could be said of the Flyers and Buffalo Sabres game on Sunday.
Just earning a point isn't going to be enough for a lot of teams. The extra point won in overtime and in shootouts could make or break a team's playoff chances this season.
If the Calgary Flames were better in shootouts last season, they probably would have made the postseason, and the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup run may not have happened.
Expect the majority of this year's regular-season games to have the level of intensity, physical play and excitement often found in the NHL playoffs.
For teams that are fighting for a No. 8 spot in the final weeks of the season, every remaining game will have the importance of a playoff game. This is going to make the month of April amazing for all hockey fans.
Before the lockout gave us 113 days of anger and frustration, NHL teams made a lot of moves in the summer to bolster the talent and depth of their rosters with free-agent signings and trades.
Many of the players joining new teams this season have shined on the ice, and have not only given fans more reasons to be excited about their team's chances of making the playoffs, they have helped teams win back fans by giving them a better team to watch.
Here are some faces playing well in new places this season.
|Player||Old Team||New Team||Notes|
|Zach Parise||NJD||MIN||Zach Parise has given the Wild offense a game-changer who can score goals and create chances for teammates. He has one goal and two assists in two game thus far.|
|Rick Nash||CBJ||NYR||Rick Nash has been the New York Rangers' best player through two games. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they have started the season 0-2.|
|Jaromir Jagr||PHI||DAL||Jagr is playing very well in a top-six role for the Stars with two goals and two assists.|
|Daniel Winnik||SJS||ANA||Winnik is tied with Marian Hossa for the league lead in goals with four. He is giving the Ducks much-needed scoring depth on the third line and tough, physical play each game.|
|Alexei Kovalev||PIT||FLA||Kovalev earned a roster spot in training camp and has scored one goal with two assists in three games for the Panthers. He last played in the NHL during the 2010-11 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.|
The craziness and intensity of a shortened season allows many more teams to compete for the Stanley Cup than in a normal 82-game slate.
Any team with a hot goaltender and an offense firing on all cylinders will have a good chance to hoist the Stanley Cup in June.
After watching the first three days of games and examining the strengths and weaknesses of each team, I have come up with five legitimate championship contenders in both the Eastern and Western Conference for this shortened season.
|Boston Bruins||--||Minnesota Wild|
|Buffalo Sabres||--||Vancouver Canucks|
|Ottawa Senators||--||St. Louis Blues|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||--||Chicago Blackhawks|
|New York Rangers ||--||Los Angeles Kings|
With nearly two-thirds of the league's teams having a good chance to make the playoffs this year, each NHL fanbase will have plenty of exciting and meaningful games to watch all through the regular season.
Even the Columbus Blue Jackets, who finished at the bottom of the league standings last season, have looked impressive thus far and could surprise people in the Western Conference.
The unpredictability of a shortened season will make the NHL a must-watch league in the spring, even when the NBA playoffs are going on.