Things that make you go hmmm. The schedule makers for example – wonder if they made a conscious effort to start the season with some of the league’s most compelling current rivalries.
It felt that way with the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals kicking things off. They were two of the East’s top three seeds last season and probably will be again and each has reason to believe they can win the Stanley Cup. Possibly by going through the other.
The Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are on their own level in the Northwest Division and might well have to go through each other to come out of the West. That’s more likely than the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs being better than playoff bubble teams. But Montreal and Toronto are Original Six originals so they were a good fit for opening night.
And actually Colorado hosting San Jose wasn’t bad either, mostly because the Avs retired Joe Sakic’s number 19. The rebuilding Avs are in store for an awful season so this game is quietly likely to be the high point for Colorado. Especially since the Avs got into the spirit of things by spanking one of the league’s best teams 5-2.
The Sharks didn’t do anything to answer questions about character by sleep walking through the proceedings, but in terms of opening night statements, those came from the Caps and the Flames.
Washington had that shot-out-of-the-cannon look and embarrassed a very good Bruins team 4-1 in their own building. Watching this, you’d get the feeling that the Caps, and obviously Alexander Ovechkin, couldn’t wait to get started, probably because they spent the summer seething at the Penguins celebrating the Stanley Cup. Washington almost derailed Pittsburgh in a seven-game second round series. And now getting even by winning for themselves seems personal for them.
Ovechkin was a bull that couldn’t be moved off the puck and the Caps were swarming all over the Bruins. Even in their own end. Washington’s offense is always what you notice, but the Caps really did a good job of keeping Boston from getting good shots through, at least after Jose Theodore kept the team alive with 10 first-period saves.
Meanwhile, Canadiens goalie Carey Price did more than keep his team alive, he stole the game. Montreal was outshot 46-27 and beaten up a little too by the bigger, tougher new look Maple Leafs, but Price let the Canadiens hang around long enough to win 4-3 in the dying seconds of overtime.
Leafs newcomer Mike Komisarek wasn’t serving time on that one, but he took 13 minutes in penalties against his old team and was in the box for two of Montreal’s goals. And that should be good for a few snickers in La Belle Province, but only until everyone realizes Price might have to get used to seeing 40 plus shots a night under new coach Jacques Martin. The Florida Panthers allowed that more than any one when Martin was running his system there, so this isn’t new.
Neither is the electricity in games whenever the Canucks and Flames meet. Vancouver won the division by two points last season, but Calgary made some big changes since then and looked very crisp winning their home opener 5-3. The Flames seemed to be on the ice 20 minutes before the Canucks, jumping off to a 3-0 lead in the first period and then holding on as the Canucks, undefeated in pre-season, fought back to make it a game.
Roberto Luongo did get better in goal for Vancouver as the game went on, while Miikka Kiprusoff was very big in Calgary’s net, but this game might be remembered as the coming out party for Mark Giordano. He’s a journeyman depth type of defenseman who was shut down last season by shoulder surgery, but he was extremely effective quarterbacking the power play that connected twice on three chances. That’s a big deal for the Flames, who were 21st with the man advantage last season.
Finally, while I realize the NHL is busy with the mess in Phoenix, trying to keep the team in a place where there aren’t that many fans, it really should find a way to mediate a settlement between the Versus network and Direct TV. A significant portion of subscribers get the Center Ice package on Direct TV, which dropped Versus on Aug. 31 because of a fee dispute. But Versus is the NHL national cable network with exclusive rights to many games, and the league just can’t have them blacked to so many fans.
There’s enough about its broadcast set ups for the NHL to be embarrassed about.