The Biggest Takeaways from Week 1 of the 2013-14 NHL Season
The first week of the NHL season is finishing up and new storylines are already taking shape.
There have been some surprises with some teams and individual players as everyone continues to figure out how they will navigate the compressed schedule. With the number of back-to-back contests that teams will play, conditioning and depth should be important elements of all the top teams.
Let's take a look at the biggest takeaways from the first week of the 2013-14 NHL season.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, can be found on NHL.com.
Chicago Looks Very Good
Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks lost a game this week, albeit in a shootout. However, the team dominated Tampa Bay throughout, both in shot totals and possession.
On most nights, Chicago would have dominated on the scoreboard as well. The club has not missed a beat in terms of its highly skilled play, and ability to wear down its opponents with an attacking style.
While this division does not appear to be up for grabs, by any means, the loss of Detroit may not affect the overall divisional play as much as one might think, as the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche may all be better than advertised. We already know how strong St. Louis is going to be.
Expect the Blackhawks to remain the team to beat in the Western Conference based on this early play.
The Call to End Fighting May Not Go Away
Even the staunchest supporters of fighting don't want to see a repeat of what happened to the Montreal Canadiens' George Parros versus the Maple Leafs.
The Habs heavyweight sustained a concussion as his second battle with Colton Orr came to an end on the opening night of the season.
Players, management and fans remain divided on banning fighting in the game, but the Parros incident is not going to sway anyone into the pro-fighting camp.
With respected hockey men like Jim Rutherford and Steve Yzerman calling for changes, there may be some momentum to the movement.
The San Jose Sharks Are Solid
The San Jose Sharks have looked dominant in their first two contests. They have attacked their opponents' net mercilessly, and their puck possession has been great.
The Sharks are a heavy team that has good speed and plays their system very well. Antti Niemi may not be the prettiest goalie to watch, but when called upon, he is an elite netminder.
San Jose ran over both the Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes in their first two games. While these two opponents don't figure to be elite teams, it is clear that the Sharks are going to be a force in the Pacific Division this season.
Patrick Roy Is as Fiery as Ever
This just in, Patrick Roy's temper remains and he's a passionate guy. While no surprise to hockey fans, the fact that Patrick's first major outburst happened as early as the season opener raised a few eyebrows.
Roy's greatest strength as a coach will be his loyalty to his players, and this was on full display when the Avalanche faced the Anaheim Ducks.
Roy perceived that the Ducks had taken some liberties with his young team and wasn't about to stay quiet about it. His tirade did draw a $10 000 fine from the NHL, which may curb his behaviour in the future.
The message has been sent that the Avalanche will not be a pushover, and that Roy will bring the same emotion to his new role as an NHL coach that he had as one of the game's best goalies.
The Maple Leafs Are Winning but Improvement Is Needed
There is an old adage that there aren't any pictures on the scoresheet, but even diehard Leaf fans know that the club has been winning ugly.
While their attacking style of play has been very entertaining, the team continues to be outchanced and outshot for long stretches of games. Few teams can win over the course of a season following that trend (naysayers will say the team did it over the 48-game 2012-13 season).
The Leafs also saw James Reimer chased during a particularly bad stretch of play by the Leafs against the Ottawa Senators Saturday night. Hopefully for Leafs Nation, this was just a blip.
The Leafs need a strong tandem all year as they will face a number of back-to-back games over the course of the season.
The play of both Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly also needs to continue to improve. Both defencemen are young and extremely talented. They will make mistakes, though, and minimizing these errors is a high priority.
The Calgary Flames Are Not That Bad
The Calgary Flames are going to have a number of ups and downs this season. In fact, many games, if not periods, are sure to be marked by ebbs and flows.
This was certainly the case against the Washington Capitals, when the Flames looked very good at times and barely AHL-ready at other turns.
The bottom line is that the Flames have some talented young forwards that have the chance to be game-changers eventually. Sean Monahan leads the way here and appears mature beyond his years.
He has the markings of being a strong two-way centre.
The Flames' schedule was challenging in the first week, but coming out of it with a point in all three contests has to be considered a decent start.
The Bruins Can Bring It
The Boston Bruins are one of those rare teams that can have an off night but still pull out a win. This was the case at home this week against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins were not at their best against the Bolts, but they managed a win with some very good play when they found their A-game.
It's not that the Bruins ever seem to stop working fully; they just seem to be distracted at times when there is a lull in physical play. When engaged, especially physically, the best of the team finally seems to emerge.
In their second game, the Bruins dominated the Wings in both hits and in shots in their 4-1 win. If the Bruins play with some consistency, they remain the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.
Alexander the Great Remains Great
Alexander Ovechkin is coming off an excellent 2012-13 season in which he captured the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.
Ovechkin has not missed a beat since the start of the 2013-14 season, earning six points in his first three games. He and new teammate Mikhail Grabovski are the early NHL scoring leaders.
Ovechkin's game has been rejuvenated under head coach Adam Oates, who seems to understand the mercurial winger's game better than some previous Washington coaches.
While Alexander the Great is not likely to continue to earn two points per game, expect him to have a productive year as he prepares to star for his home country at the Sochi Olympics in February.
The Oilers Are a Work in Progress
The rebuild in Edmonton is far from over. Yes, the team has been hit hard by injuries with their top two centres out, but this runs deeper than that.
The team still lacks size on the blue line, and when pinned in their own end, the Oilers were badly outmuscled by the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks. They didn't get a chance to do some puck moving since they couldn't retrieve the puck from their opponents.
Coupled with the spotty (insert additional adjectives here) play of Devan Dubnyk in the first two games, the club was not good defensively. Dubnyk is a battler, though, and should bounce back.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returns this week, and that will give the team a huge boost. However, the team needs more NHL depth at centre and size on the wings.
Facing teams like San Jose, St. Louis and Los Angeles on a regular basis will only expose this more. Dallas Eakins has his work cut out for him in Edmonton.
David Backes and the Blues Look Great
David Backes is one of the best two-way players in the game, yet he rarely receives the credit he deserves.
The Blues captain is usually a key player in St. Louis wins, as he scores timely goals, hits almost everything that moves, takes key draws and doesn't back down from anyone.
St. Louis looked wonderful against the Nashville Predators in their season opener and then proceeded to dismantle Florida 7-0 in their second game. Backes had two points in that rout, and the Blues dominated in all facets of that game.
With a strong cast of forwards—and arguably one of the best two or three defence pairings in the game in Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester—the Blues are off to the kind of start that should see them challenge the Blackhawks for Central Division supremacy.