The Biggest Takeaways from Week 3 of the 2013-14 NHL Season
We're now three weeks into the new hockey season. In the early going, there are always some surprises but by this point, the season's real trends are beginning to emerge.
Which players are exceeding expectations, and which are making both real and fantasy general managers throw up their hands in despair? Also, what are the major talking points that will dominate discussions—now and for the rest of the season?
Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 3 in the NHL.
Sidney Crosby Is Back in Top Form
Last year, Sidney Crosby had a lock on the NHL scoring title until a puck to the face caused a gruesome jaw injury that sidelined him for the last 12 games of the season.
Even so, Crosby missed capturing the scoring title by just four points.
This year, Sid the Kid has picked up right where he left off. Three weeks in, he has points in all eight of Pittsburgh's games so far—his longest streak ever to start a new season. With seven goals and 10 assists, he's averaging more than two points a game and has a five-point lead in the scoring race.
Crosby's now 26 and has matured as a player. His current on-ice approach is quite economical—picking and choosing his opportunities, then making the most of them.
If he can stay healthy, expect Crosby to put up the kind of numbers that will earn him his first Art Ross Trophy since 2006-07.
The Ducks Are Dominating
Over the past week, no team has looked better than the Anaheim Ducks.
Perhaps they were also inspired by Patrick Roy's fiery blowout when they fell to the Colorado Avalanche on opening night. Since then, they've gone 7-0, including Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Dallas Stars.
The Ducks led the Pacific Division wire-to-wire last year, but it was assumed by many that they'd drop off in performance this season.
Instead, the new puzzle pieces have fit fantastically, and the team continues to win games by committee. The Ducks are a fascinating blend of veteran stars like Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, prime-time producers like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, role players like Dustin Penner and Daniel Winnik, and young talents like Jakob Silfverberg, Cam Fowler and impressive rookie defenseman Hampus Lindholm.
Anaheim's secret weapon early this year has been Mathieu Perreault, who played under Bruce Boudreau in Washington. He was acquired from the Caps just before the start of the season for farmhand John Mitchell and a fourth-round draft pick—and has been one of the Ducks' top producers.
The Ducks are working well as a complete team and will continue to challenge for top spot in the Pacific Division.
The Youngsters Don't Want to Go Back to Junior
During Week 3, we saw rookies all around the league try to make the most of their windows of opportunity to showcase their skills to their NHL clubs.
After a rookie's ninth NHL game, his team must decide if it wants to return him to junior or the minor leagues. If a player goes back to junior, he must remain there for the rest of the season. Once a rookie plays his 10th game, the first year of his NHL entry-level contract kicks in.
This year's rookie crop has been outstanding. Before the season even began, rookies like Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones and Tomas Hertl received votes of confidence from their teams and are expected to stick around all season.
Players on the bubble have done a good job of showcasing themselves and making the decision tough for their general managers. Olli Maatta has been a capable fill-in for injured Kris Letang in Pittsburgh. Morgan Rielly has been steady on the blue line for Toronto. Sean Monahan is making it very hard for the Calgary not to keep him around, providing the spark to the Flames' engine in the early going.
Teams have big incentives to send players back to junior. They save money, while the players get more minutes and allow their bodies to develop in a less dangerous environment. Most years, the majority of the youngsters get returned, but this season feels like it could be different.
In the next few days, we'll find out who makes the cut for 2013.
Hybrid Icing Is a Work in Progress
The new hybrid icing rule got plenty of attention this week after Jonathan Bernier fumbled a puck off the boards, costing the Toronto Maple Leafs their game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.
Click here to watch the play. It appears that Radek Dvorak of the Hurricanes has a good chance to win the race for the puck, so the play shouldn't be blown dead. The question is whether Bernier lost concentration because he thought the icing call would be made. Don Cherry of CBC certainly thinks that's the case.
We've often seen periods of adjustment to new rules in the NHL, so hybrid icing will be no different. Don Cherry and Leafs Nation may not like it right now, but players appreciate the extra safety. Avalanche defenseman Cory Sarich told Adrian Dater of the Denver Post:
I've had my feet cleaned out too many times and been shoved into the end boards a few too many times, so I'm enjoying the new rule. We've seen too many guys get really seriously hurt over trying to save an icing. I just don't think it's worth it.
The gaffe was a tough ending to a tough game for Toronto, who had also lost starting goaltender James Reimer to injury in the first minute. Over the course of the season, players and linesmen will adjust, and the missed calls will ultimately even out.
The Boards Are Unforgiving
We saw the stretchers on the ice far too often this week in the NHL.
Dan Boyle was knocked unconscious after a hit from behind by Maxim Lapierre on Tuesday—a hit which earned the Blues' pest a five-game suspension.
Colorado's Cody McLeod is awaiting a hearing of his own after Detroit's Niklas Kronwall was knocked out on Thursday; then on Friday, Jacob Trouba gave Jets fans a scare when he crashed head-first into the boards at full speed.
The spin has been as positive as can be expected in the case of all three players, but when it comes to head injuries, recovery is unpredictable. Trouba has a sprained neck and will be in a brace for at least two weeks, but he did his best to try to reassure nervous fans:
Thanks for the support. If you were wondering, the boards are not edible. I'll be back soon. #gojetsgo— Jacob Trouba (@JacobTrouba) October 19, 2013
The injuries have fans wondering if the game has gotten too fast for its own good and what could be done to lessen these violent impacts. Thanks to Lapierre and McLeod, the debate about headshots and their associated punishments is also back front and center in NHL news.
You Can't Score If You Don't Shoot
With his last-second tally for the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday, goaltender Mike Smith now has more goals in 2013-14 than Anze Kopitar, Claude Giroux, Dany Heatley, David Desharnais or Nail Yakupov, to name a few.
Those snake-bitten snipers could afford to take a lesson from Smith—just shoot the puck!
Smith had already earned himself first-star honors for staving off an aggressive Detroit attack to give the Coyotes a sweep of their two-game season series against the Red Wings. The goal was the icing on the cake—the first for the Phoenix/Winnipeg franchise and the 14th ever in NHL history—just the seventh to be shot in by a goalie himself. Even sweeter for Smith, the puck crossed the line with one-tenth of a second remaining on the clock—a true buzzer-beater.
The goal gave Phoenix a solid 5-2 win over the Red Wings, moved them into third place in the Pacific Division and ignited the crowd at Jobing.com Arena. A feel-good play like Smith's could do a lot to continue to help build excitement for the Coyotes under their new ownership group.
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