Are you ready for some hockey? The moment hockey fans have waited for all summer has finally arrived the opening week of the NHL season. Same faces in some new places, a fresh start where everyone has a chance to win the ultimate prize. I have predicted a Philadelphia Flyers-Vancouver Canucks Stanley Cup Final as both teams come in re-tooled but with some big question marks. Let’s break down the Pucking Awesome first week Hat Trick, or the top three storylines I am watching for this week.
The House That Crosby Built
The Pittsburgh Penguins open up their new digs on Thursday against their inter-state rival Philadelphia Flyers followed by a weekend match up with the team that knocked them out of the playoffs, Montreal Canadiens. The Penguins 167th straight sellout will open the CONSOL Energy Center as the players get the red carpet treatment coming into the stadium.
With Crosby coming off a hip flexor injury and the team for the first time in three seasons not making the Stanley Cup Final, I will be watching these first two games to see how they respond. The Penguins are the sexy pick to represent the East this season; they have the big match up on New Year’s vs. the Capitals, so this is a big season for the Penguins. They want to prove they are back to reclaim the top spot in the East and facing the team that finished their last season and the team that knocked them off that perch is a perfect way to open a new building and new season.
Head Hunting No More?
Rule 48 in the NHL official rulebook will be the most watched rule this opening week and all season. As the NHL tries to curb illegal checks to the head it will be important to see how the referees enforce this rule right at the beginning. The player can now be given a five-minute major penalty for a hit to the head; they also can get an automatic game misconduct, as well as possible supplemental discipline if deemed appropriate by the League.
For the NHL to really get rid of these types of hits that we continually saw knock stars of action last season they will have to act quick and fierce. I will be watching out for the first suspension based on this rule to happen this first week to show the players that this is the way it will be.
We Are Going Streaking
The longest active winning streak on opening night belongs to the Phoenix Coyotes who will be looking for their fifth straight win when they open up in Prague against the Bruins. Across the Baltic Sea in Stockholm is where the Columbus Blue Jackets will look to extend their opening day winning streak to four games.
The NHL Face-Off event will feature the longest active undefeated streak as the Montreal Canadiens look for six straight against arch-rival Toronto Maple Leafs. They will be without Michael Cammalleri, who was suspended for his slashing of the Islanders' Nino Niederreiter, and might be without starting goalie Carey Price, who has the flu.
On the other end of the spectrum the longest active winless streak in season openers is shared by the Anaheim Ducks (0-3-0), Dallas Stars (0-1-2) and defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks (0-2-1). I will be watching to see if any of these streaks continue in some big matchups over the weekend.