Tag:New York Islanders
Posted on: November 7, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2011 3:26 pm

Tim Connolly could miss 10-14 days

tc1By: Adam Gretz

Who knows what Tim Connolly's career would look like at this point had it not been for a never-ending run of injuries that seems to impact just about every season the 30-year-old forward plays in the NHL. And so far in Toronto it's been more of the same.

After having already missed the Maple Leafs' first eight games of the regular season, the veteran center returned to the lineup for six games, recording a goal and three assists, before having to be sidelined once again with what is being described as an "upper body injury."

It's expected that he could miss anywhere between 10 and 14 days. According to head coach Ron Wilson, this injury is not related to the shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup at the start of the season.

Obviously, injury problems are nothing new for Connolly, originally a first-round draft pick (No. 5 overall) by the New York Islanders back in 1999. Over the past seven seasons Connolly has managed to appear in just 302 of a possible 506 regular season games.

After spending eight injury filled seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, where he put up very respectable numbers offensively when he was on the ice after being acquired in the trade that sent Mike Peca to the Islanders prior to the 2001-02 season, Connolly signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract with Toronto this summer to be one of their top centers. Given his injury problems, that have ranged from concussions to hip and back injuries, it was a rather large gamble on a player that, while a gifted passer and puckhandler, is obviously prone to significant injuries.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 6, 2011 5:21 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2011 6:06 pm

Weekend Wrap: Sabres goalies; Jackets bottom out

By Brian Stubits

If you happened to have a family vacation or weekend-long wedding to attend -- anything to cause you to miss the weekend in the NHL -- here is what you missed.

The Columbus Blue Jackets seem on the verge of upheaval. There might be a goalie controversy in Buffalo. Georges Laraque is talking steroid use and, well, at least John Tortorella was the same as usual, so that's comforting.

Yes, just a ho-hum weekend.

Let's start in Buffalo, shall we?

The Sabres had a double dip over the weekend, playing Friday at home against Calgary then Saturday in Ottawa. It wasn't a surprise that coach Lindy Ruff went with Jhonas Enroth over Ryan Miller in Friday's game. Enroth has played well of late while Miller hasn't. It was surprising, however, when Enroth got the nod again on Saturday. Usually back-to-backers are split among goalies, especially when there is a quality backup in play.

At first glance, you think little of it. Miller is struggling and Ruff is just going with the better option at this point. Especially in early November, that's nothing to write home about. That's until you see things like this, from Sabres beat writer John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

"One of the Sabres admitted to me after last night's game: The team has just been playing harder in front of Enroth than they have for Miller."

That doesn't sound good. It could mean that Miller has been so good in the past that the team has become somewhat complacent when he is in the game. Not exactly what you would want to hear. You want your team to play hard all the time for any goalie. But it beats the alternative explanation of the team not playing for Miller for the other reasons. The reasons that bring about the use of words like Schism.

The Sabres are high on Enroth. That's no secret. If nothing else, he has earned himself more playing time with his 4-0-0 start this season. His GAA is 1.41 and he has a save percentage of .952. He hasn't surrendered more than two goals in a game this season.

But it's not as if Miller suddenly became bad. He has hit a rut. Every goalie does. He was solid to start the season when he was 4-1 with a 1.61 GAA. Since then he's 0-4 and has a GAA at 3.91. It happens.

I don't think many believe Miller will continue to struggle and Enroth will get the lion's share of the work. No, Miller is not likely to repeat his 2009-10 Vezina-winning season. There's a reason why seasons like that are called career years, but he's still only 31 and has been considered one of the game's best netminders for the past few years. That's why it's kind of a big deal when there appears to be a controversy.

But the good news for Buffalo out of all of this is that we know there are two good keepers in town.

Just when you think they can't get any lower ...

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a world of hurt. They were obliterated by the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday 9-2. Perhaps making matters worse, they had to see Jakub Voracek have his best game as a Flyer since being acquired from the Blue Jackets and the draft pick Philly also picked up in the trade, Sean Couturier, abused them.

In all, it was the 12th straight road loss for the Blue Jackets. From the Other Unbelievable Stats Department, it was the 10th time in 13 games that Columbus goalie Steve Mason has given up a goal on one of the first four shots he faced. To see even more on how rough it has been for Mason this season, check out Eye On Hockey's Adam Gretz's post on Mason. Bru-tal!

“We’ve hit a lot of bottoms this year,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said, “and this is another big one.”

Rumors were circling last week that the end was nigh for Arniel and maybe GM Scott Howson. They each made it through the week. But this? This might be too tough for them to survive.

Last week the word was that Ken Hitchcock and Craig Button were the names being mentioned to replace Arniel and Howson in the case of a dismissal. Now the name being tossed out, at least for the GM role, is Kings executive Ron Hextall. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said he hasn't been contacted by anybody about Hextall's availability.

Here is the problem I see in Columbus. I feel bad for Arniel, he just doesn't have a team that can compete. While most feel that it's a roster that could stand to be blown up and a fresh start be undertaken, that won't be easy. There are a lot of big contracts on the roster. It still amazes me, but the Blue Jackets are pushing the salary cap.

Obviously things need to be fixed, but I'm not sure there is a quick fix to be found. Maybe the best thing that could happen to them at this point is to get the top pick in the draft and get a potential superstar in Nail Yakupov, the consensus top prospect right now.

Talk about Staaled

Eric Staal is off to one tough start.

The Hurricanes captain still hasn't scored even strength this season. All three of his goals came with the man up. At least he had two assists in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Stars, but his league-worst minus-14 dropped even further to minus-16.

Is it the absence of Erik Cole on his line? The captain clearly hasn't been the same this season without Cole, who signed with the Canadiens in the offseason.

We're at the point where slow starts are no longer categorized as just slow starts. They are starting to be cause for concern. Staal is supposed to be the big gun. He has led the 'Canes in scoring three out of the last four seasons. But right now he just looks off. Against the Stars, he drew a two-minute minor that seemed to be out of frustration.

At the same time, his Hurricanes also ran into the red-hot Stars, who became the first team to 10 wins this season. If anybody doesn’t believe in Dallas yet, I suggest you watch them for a game or two. Loui Eriksson is for real and he and Jamie Benn make one heck of a duo.

Torts at it again

John Tortorella actually has the Rangers rolling along at the moment. His team has won three in a row, Saturday's 5-3 win over Montreal giving him the 100th victory of his career. So you would think that might make the often salty coach a little happier and forthcoming these days?

Come on. This is Tortorella we're talking about.

His pregame media availability lasted 43 seconds before the Habs game. All questions were met with either a nope, a shake of the head or just "no idea." That brought about a softball question to soften the mood. "What's your mom's birthday?" At least it yielded a smile, but it was another "I have no idea."

Oh Torts, don't ever change. Especially before the 24/7 series is done.

As for things on the ice, Torts seems to have found a nice little recipe by putting Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards on separate lines. It has keyed the Rangers' recent streak and has them looking more like the team a lot of people expected after this summer's moves.

Visor vision

Saturday night the Kings and Penguins played a doozie on the West Coast. Pittsburgh eventually won a great game that was decided in a shootout (collective groan now).

But during the game, the mandatory visor crowd got some more ammunition when Drew Doughty took a puck to the face.

Video courtesy of The Score.

It didn't save Doughty from being cut above the eye, but it might have saved his eye. It was a scary moment, but it's even scarier to think about what would have happened if he didn't wear the shield.

Of course, as you'd expect from any hockey player, Doughty wasn't removed from the game and helped the Kings pick up one point on the night.

Welcome back Bruins

Is this what wakes up the defending champs?

How good must it have felt for Boston to go into Toronto and rout the division-leading Maple Leafs 7-0? Really good I imagine.

Tyler Seguin recorded his first career hat trick. With the way he has been playing this season, that only seemed like a matter of time. He has clearly been their best player in the early going this year.

Sometimes it can be games like this that flip the switch. It was getting close to desperation time for Boston, it couldn't afford to fall any further behind. Now we wait and see if it rubs off and they show the form that made them so good a season ago.

Caps stop playing

At least that's what Alex Ovechkin thinks.

The Capitals ran into the stone-cold Islanders, losers of six in a row before Saturday, and fell 5-3. Despite the loss, it might have been Ovechkin's best game of the season. He only had a goal on the night, but it was a solid performance.

He couldn't say the same about his team, however.

“I think we have pretty good start. We score two goals. After that, we just stopped playing and give them opportunities to score goals,” Ovechkin said. “They’re young, they’re fresh and they want to win. After first period, we just stopped playing.”

Maybe they were still stunned from that ceremonial faceoff. (We just wanted to show off this photo of an Air National Guardsman dropping the ceremonial puck. Awesome.)

Quote of the weekend

Arniel when asked about his job security after the 5-2 loss:

"Nice question, all right. Nice question. I’m not in charge of that. I’m worried about what I have to do tomorrow with this hockey team."

Photos: Getty Images/Deadspin

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 29, 2011 12:51 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 1:00 pm

Frans Nielsen: A bargain on the Island -- for now

Fn1By: Adam Gretz

This past week the folks at BusinessWeek put together a list of what they called the "smartest" spenders in sports. Simply put: the teams that spent the fewest amount of dollars per win.

In theory, it's an interesting premise, but it seemed to produce some very flawed results. For example, while the Nashville Predators topped their list, a team that definitely gets the most bang for its limited buck, some of the other teams in the top-10 included the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Thrashers, and New York Islanders. Were these teams smart about which players they signed, or were they simply not spending money on any players of any value? After all, when you think of front office efficiency the Pirates or Thrashers (now the Jets) probably aren't the first teams that come to mind.

The Islanders, on the other hand, are a little more intriguing. At least potentially.

A team in transition, stuck in a rebuild that's been going on for about five years now, The Islanders are probably not quite ready to return to the postseason this year. But they are building something interesting on Long Island, and do have quite a few bargains on their roster for this year and in the future. The quartet of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, for example, are all signed through at least the 2013-14 season for a combined cap commitment of just around $14 million. I've said this before, but for all of the criticisms the Islanders front office has taken for handing out bad contracts in the past, those look to be examples of very smart spending going forward.

One of the often times most overlooked members of this Islanders team, and perhaps one of their biggest bargains this season at a cap hit of $525,000, the lowest on the team, is Frans Nielsen, their checking center that finished in the top-six in voting for the Selke Trophy last season as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. It's not uncommon for him to be one of their best players on any given night.

Usually playing on a line between the speedy Grabner and Okposo, Islanders coach Jack Capuano seems to use the trio in somewhat of a defensive role and more often than not sends them out there against the other teams top lines whenever he has a chance, especially during home games when his team has the last line change before faceoffs.

So far this season Nielsen's line has drawn regular assignments against players like Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan from the Rangers, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos from the Lightning, and Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg from the Panthers. Through the first eight games of the season the Islanders have allowed 14 goals during 5-on-5 play, and Nielsen has been on the ice for just three of them (two of them were scored by Stamkos in separate games, the other was a goal scored by Brandon Prust during a 5-2 Islanders win). If you're a believer in plus/minus, he's finished as a plus-player in each of the past two year on a team that's been outscored by 35 and 42 goals during the season while playing against the other teams best players.

Following a 3-2 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Capuano told me he was probably their best player on the ice that night. It was a game that saw him score a goal, create two chances on two different penalty kills, block three shots, record a takeaway and win a couple of defensive zone faceoffs. And that's pretty much just another day at the office for him.

"He's played a strong game throughout the year for us," said Capuano. "Obviously the numbers haven't been there but he's been pretty strong for us."

He also referred to Nielsen as "dominant" and commented on how he's always positionally sound when he doesn't have the puck.

With one of the smallest salary cap hits in the NHL this season, Nielsen is a tremendous bargain for the Islanders, but that could soon change as he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency following this season. And there should be no shortage of teams lining up to give him the rather large pay raise he's earned over the past three years if something doesn't get worked out with the Islanders. There's a ton of value in a matchup center that can chip in around 40 points (while playing a defensive role and being put into mostly defensive situations) and play Selke-caliber defense.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 27, 2011 10:46 pm

Why Nabokov came out during Islander shootout

By: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- Rick DiPietro probably wasn't planning on making his 2011-12 debut the way he did on Thursday night during the Islanders' 3-2 shootout loss to the Penguins.

Starting the game on the bench as the backup to Evgeni Nabokov, DiPietro was called into action following the overtime period and had to enter the game, nearly three hours after he was last on the ice for pre-game warmups, to face the Penguins shooters in the tie-breaking skills competition.

Anytime a goaltender has to enter the game off the bench it's not really an ideal situation. Being thrown directly into the shootout for your first appearance of the season, and first appearance in an NHL game since last April, has to make it even more difficult. DiPietro stopped two of the three shots he faced, with Evgeni Malkin finding an open spot along the ice under his pad for the only goal of the shootout.

The move wasn't done for any strategic reason, as Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said Nabokov was dealing with some "fatigue."

Later, Nabokov said he was dealing with a "lower body injury" that he started to feel sometime during the first period and that as the game went on "fatigue" started to become an issue and he didn't have as much power.

"Nabby was fatigued and wasn't feeling well so I had to put Rick in," said Capuano. "I love our goalies, all three of them have played well and given us a chance so I have no issues. If one guy couldn't go, I have all the faith in Rick, and Rick was great. Actually he almost had Malkin's shot. But, you know, if you don't score in the shootout you're not going to win."

He wouldn't go into much detail as to what happened to Nabokov, who stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced through regulation and overtime. Throughout his career with San Jose Nabokov had some struggles in the shootout, and when asked if he was uncomfortable with the shootout and whether or not that went into his decision to make the switch Capuano insisted it had nothing to do with that.

"No, no, no," said Capuano. "I'm not going to get into it, he just couldn't go. So Ricky went in. Nabby's not one of those guys that feels uncomfortable. None of our goalies feel uncomfortable in situations like that. They're all great competitors and since the start of the season they've given us a chance to win."

DiPietro didn't have much to say following the game, only saying that it was unfortunate the team couldn't get the win.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 25, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: October 25, 2011 11:23 am

Bettman: Would be 'malpractice' if Islanders move

By Brian Stubits

Gary Bettman doesn't think the Islanders are going anywhere.

The commish made a stop on Mike Francesa's show on WFAN in New York and among other things, he discussed the plans to keep the Islanders where they are (not Nassau Coliseum, but Long Island).

"I refuse to accept that this team is not going to get a new building at some point," Bettman said. "[Owner] Charles Wang is committed to the Island, committed to the Islanders. He's devoted almost a decade of his life, tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of this and fortunately there are a few years left. They're not going to stay in the Nassau Coliseum no matter what, so we're going to need to come up with a solution somehow, somewhere."

That's all encouraging for Isles fans to hear. Nobody wants to lose their team.

Bettman continued:

"The team needs a new building and there has to be concrete plans on the horizon that's going to get it done otherwise we're going to have a problem," Bettman said. "I don't know exactly how we're going to solve that problem, but it's inconceivable to me that the Islanders wouldn't be on Long Island because it would be malpractice for those in charge to let that happen."

This part made my ears perk up. A "malpractice" if the Islanders were to leave New York? Well yes, I'd agree. However, why wasn't it a malpractice for the Thrashers to leave Atlanta, or the Whalers to leave Hartford? Bettman's answer probably would be simply that it was a malpractice in those spots too, but don't you think they would have liked to see the commish fight the same way?

The only differences between the Thrashers and Islanders is that the Isles didn't always suck and they are in New York. Then just swap ownership issues for arena issues and you have similar stories. It's just Bettman doesn't seem willing to let this one end the same way Atlanta's did. Which is good. I've stated many times that I don't like the idea of contraction or relocation (although at this point I think I'd be willing to bend on Phoenix).

You can listen to the entire Bettman segment here. One thing Bettman does well is interview on the radio. Just don't ask him to act in any commercials.

H/t to ESPN New York

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 20, 2011 4:06 pm

Slide risks: Who returns to juniors, who stays

By Brian Stubits

One of the rules of the CBA I love is the ability to give young prospects extended tryouts with the parent organization without risking a contract kicking in. It's a great opportunity for players to learn from some NHL experience and, in some cases, prove they are too good to be sent back to their junior team.

These players are known as "Slide-Risk" players. Here's what the CBA rule states specifically:

"In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old player signs a Player Contract with a Club but does not play at least 10 NHL games (regular season and/or playoffs) in the first season under that player's Player Contract, the term of his Player Contract and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a player who is age 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs a Player Contract."

To summarize, if a player under the age of 20 doesn't play more than 10 games at the NHL level, his contract doesn't kick in. So that's one more year to hold off restricted free agency. What's not to like about the provision?

This season, there are 12 players who could be returned and have their contract years delayed. Without further ado, let's see the names (in alphabetical order, of course).

Brett Bulmer, Minnesota Wild: Bulmer was selected 39th overall by the Wild two drafts ago, but his toughness and energy seem to be welcome as far as first-year coach Mike Yeo is concerned. Bulmer seems like he has earned a spot on the third line, although he hasn't been playing all that much (9:38 per game). He does have a pair of assists in that time. He might not play a whole lot, but Yeo talks pretty glowingly about him. Verdict: Wild ride continues.

Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay Lightning: This is an iffy call. Connolly, taken sixth overall two drafts ago, has the skill. That's evident by his playing alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis at times already this season. Here's what coach Guy Boucher told the Tampa Tribune: "He eventually will be an NHL player. Now will he be an NHL player starting this year for a long time? It's up to him and it's up to, I think, circumstances, too, for us to see if he can manage it because we don't want to hurt the kids." Verdict: 50/50 still.

Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers' top pick in this summer's draft might have surprised a few by earning such a strong look from the staff in Philly, but he has continued to impress. Couturier at this point seems like a fixture already on the team's penalty-killing unit and he is averaging 14:53 minutes on ice per game. He also has a goal and two assists through the first five games. Verdict: Looks like a lock to stay.

Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers: The rough-and-tumble defenseman who went third overall two years ago has found himself a defensive partner in Ed Jovanovski, the veteran the Cats brought in this summer. He has only managed 11:49 of ice time in five games, but that's partly because he has racked up 24 minutes in penalties already, getting himself into a pair of fights against the Lightning. Verdict: There seems to be no inclination to send him down. Fine in Florida.

Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets: He has played in only three of the Blue Jackets' six games this season, getting on the ice for just 8:18 per game. If he sticks around, his role won't be a big one, likely finding a home on the third of fourth lines. He is their big prospect in Columbus, but he might benefit from more time in the WHL, especially if the team isn't committed to playing him night and night out. Verdict: Could go either way still.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche: Landeskog was the player who was universally dubbed with the "most NHL ready" tag prior to this past summer's draft. The expectation for whichever team took him, he would become a fixture almost immediately. That still seems to be the case in Colorado as Landeskog is playing close to 17 minutes a game, has shown solid speed and strength and amassed three points (two goals and an assist). Things are going good in Colorado with him there, that should say enough. Don't mess with a good thing. Verdict: Get comfortable in Denver, kid.

Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils: Many believed the Devils got a steal by grabbing Larsson with the fourth pick of the draft this summer. But the three that went before him look pretty darn good too, so it's understandable. But that doesn't mean he might not be the best rookie of them all. The Calder candidate has been averaging a whopping 24:14 of ice time with New Jersey and is expected to be a rock on the blueline at the Rock. Verdict: Jersey boy for sure.

Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders: The fifth overall pick two years ago was given an extended look last season when he played nine games for the Islanders, totaling two points. He was expected to earn a roster spot this year but he has yet to play because of a groin injury. When he's ready, he'll get his nine-game tryout started and they will go from there. Verdict: Good chance he's staying on the Island.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: There was some skepticism if Nugent-Hopkins was ready for the grind of an NHL season but the Oilers would keep him anyway, it's important the franchise show the future. Well if he's shown anything in the first few games it's that he's good enough to stick around on his own merits anyway. He leads the team in scoring thanks in part to a hat trick already in his career. Verdict: Bundle up for an Edmonton winter.

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets turned lots of heads with their selection of Scheifele early in the draft, but he was impressive during camp and the preseason. So he earned his right at an extended look from the team. He does have a goal on the power play but he has averaged just 11:25 of ice time. "We'll do what's best for him," was coach Claude Noel's cryptic response to Scheifele's place. Verdict: A little more seasoning in juniors before a full season in the NHL.

Devante Smith-Pelly, Anaheim Ducks: It wasn't long ago that Smith-Pelly seemed like a bit of a long-shot to make the roster. But he's giving his best effort to make it a tough call on the staff. He has seemed to work well with Andrew Cogliano and Andrew Gordon on the third line. Averaging a little more than 11 minutes per game, he has picked up one assist. Verdict: Have a feeling he stays since he can't be recalled if he's sent to juniors again. Few more games will tell the tale for sure.

Mika Zibanejad, Ottawa Senators: This is a tough call. From a physical standpoint, Zibanejad seems ready. This hit from his European days pre-draft drew a lot of attention. And earlier this year, GM Bryan Murray said Zibanejad would stay with the Sens. But with just one assist in 12:35 per game and Ottawa being as dreadful as it has been, you wonder if he wouldn't benefit more by being sent down. Verdict: Should probably return to Sweden but gut tells me he stays in Ottawa.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 16, 2011 2:24 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 11:30 am

Saturday Story: Tavares, the Nuge are pretty good

By Brian Stubits

I wonder how Taylor Hall feels this morning? Saturday was a banner night for two of the past three No. 1 overall draft picks. But at least Hall had a good view for half of it.

First, it was John Tavares. the No. 1 selection in the 2009 draft is scorching hot at the moment for the Islanders. Tavares had a hat trick as the Isles took down the Rangers in a New York showdown. For J.T., it marked his second consecutive four-point game that included five goals.

At this rate, maybe Tavares should do the negotiating for a new arena on Long Island. Right now, he can't miss.

Now step over here for the latest showing in Premature Theater: are the Islanders the best of the New York-area teams? Since losing on opening night to the Florida Panthers 2-0 with some boo birds in attendance, it's been mostly smooth sailing for the young bunch.

They have won three in a row, beating the Wild, Lightning and Rangers. They're goaltending has been surprisingly solid with Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. We saw surprising simply because this team was carrying three goalies on the active roster as of a few days ago and not many foresaw Montoya being the No. 1. The offense is showing the promise many people see; largely Tavares can be a superstar and he has some good players around him.

This is the point where we remind ourselves it's only the second weekend of the year. Of course Tavares won't score four points every night. But the Islanders have been taking steps the last two seasons and the signs were there for a breakout, just nobody could see how it happened in a division with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers and Devils. So far so good.

Not to be outdone

On to the other star of the night. That would be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Oilers. I'm starting to think maybe the scouting reports had him all wrong. I'm not talking about the knocks on his size, either, but the fact that he is a play-maker. I'd say he's making plays right now, goal-scoring plays.

The Nuge as some have already come to call him, netted his first hat trick of his career in the Oilers' 4-3 loss to the Canucks. So yea, in only his third career game, Nugent-Hopkins wrangled up a hat trick against Roberto Luongo and the defending Western Conference champions. This comes after his game-tying goal in the final minutes against the Penguins in his NHL debut helped Edmonton to a season-opening two points.

But Hall isn't feeling too bad. After all, he had a solid rookie campaign himself last season and he's enjoying the spoils of Nugent-Hopkins' great start by playing on the same line. He has assisted on three of Nugent-Hopkins' four goals this season.

That giddy giggling you hear is coming out of Edmonton, where visions of sugarplums dance in their heads at the idea of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins playing on the same line for years to come. Throw in a healthy Ales Hemsky and you have as exciting and talented a young line as you'll find in hockey.

It's still going to take some time, but this might be the season where the Oilers begin to show that improvement. Of course if they don't, I can't imagine Edmonton would feel too bad with a shot at top draft prospect Nail Yakupov.

Phillin' it

Oh, and this Phil Kessel fella is pretty good too. The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the NHL with a 3-0-0 record (the Capitals and Red Wings the others) and Phil Kessel has been a monster in that start.

Kessel is tied with Tavares and Pittsburgh's James Neal for the league lead in goals (five) and tied with Tavares and David Legwand in points (eight) despite playing in only three games.

Maybe that trade isn't looking that awful anymore.

What's that feeling in Toronto? Optimism? Nice to meet you again.

If a tree falls in the woods ...

The Dallas Stars are 4-1, but not many people in the Metroplex have been around to see it. In their home win on Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the announced attendance was 8,305. That followed up attendance numbers of 6,306 vs. the Coyotes and 7,949 against the Blues.

Now I understand full well that there is a certain other team that is stealing the spotlight in Dallas right now in the Texas Rangers. A World Series run is not easy to compete against. But those numbers are still awfully low, especially this early in the season with a team playing so well.

I'll give Dallas a pass for another week or so until the Rangers' run is done, but with young stars like Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro, I have no doubt the Stars can surprise a lot of people this year and keep that up.

Jetting back

It was like an awkward family reunion when the Coyotes hosted the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night. And it was only fitting that Shane Doan did damage against his "old team" with two assists on the night.

But the intriguing part was the dynamic in the stands. Among the crowd were plenty of Jets fans to see the long-lost brothers battle on the ice. However, Phoenix did a pretty darn good job of keeping them quiet.

"Everybody always talks about we have games when there's a lot of visiting fans in there," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "But what it does is really feed on the emotion of the building because you get some visiting fans in there cheering that really puts a burr in your fans' butt. I thought our fans did a great job tonight. Believe me, I had visions of hearing 'Let's go Jets' a lot more than we heard tonight."

As for Winnipeg, you start to wonder what it will take to win a game. Maybe it's adjusting to life in Winnipeg now, a sense of entitlement as coach Claude Noel hinted at ("It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail."), or none of the above. Either way, there is lots of work to be done.

Hangover Part II

The last two Stanley Cup champions danced in Chicago on Saturday night, and it was the defending champs getting the best of the battle.

The Bruins needed a shootout to get by the Blackhawks in the the preseason Finals pick of your's truly. It was a goal from Nathan Horton that got them there.

Maybe this can be the smelling salts that wakes Horton and the Bruins from their slow start to the season.

Dirty or not?

We could make this a daily feature with the microscope that is being put on his in the NHL these days.

Here's a clip of a hit from the Capitals' Matt Hendricks on the Senators' Colin Greening. This one drew a good amount of attention on Saturday as people were wondering if this would lead to Brendan Shanahan's first in-season suspesion for a hit to the heads that didn't include a stick.

To me it seems Hendricks comes at the hit high, but doesn't specifically target the head. However the high follow through with the elbow going sky high doesn't help make the hit look good. In the end, I would think this doesn't get any more attention and is instead categorized a good hit.

Have a look for yourself (from Washington Times, Japer's Rink)

Photos: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 15, 2011 11:35 am
Edited on: October 15, 2011 11:56 am

Nabokov to make Islanders debut

En2By: Adam Gretz

Even though Al Montoya played extremely well through the first three games of the season for the New York Islanders, picking up where he left off in the second half of last season, it will be Evgeni Nabokov, and not Montoya, getting the start in net on Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

It will be Nabokov's first regular season appearance for the Islanders after being claimed on waivers last season, and his first appearance in a regular season NHL game since April 10, 2010, when he stopped 27 shots as a member of the San Jose Sharks in a shootout win against the Phoenix Coyotes. His last NHL appearance was a playoff game against Chicago in May, 2010.

If you're not familiar with Nabokov's journey to this point, a brief summary: after spending a decade with the Sharks, he signed a four-year contract in the KHL following the 2009-10 season to play with SKA St. Petersburg. The two sides mutually parted ways just months into the first year of the contract, and Nabokov attempted to return to the NHL by signing a one-year deal with the Red Wings. Because he had already played in Russia during the season he had to clear waivers, where the Islanders eventually claimed him. Nabokov didn't report to the team until this season.

And that brings us to today. Given that he's 36 and hasn't played in a real NHL game in a year-and-a-half it's obviously a mystery as to how much rust he'll have to shake off when pucks start flying at him. He did play for the Islanders during the preseason, but it's difficult to get any sort of read based on that, not only because it's such a small sampling of games, but also because the level of competition isn't what he'll be facing (or playing behind) on Saturday.

Nabokov has spent the Islanders' first three games sitting behind Montoya, who posted a 2-1 record and a .953 save percentage, allowing just four goals on the 85 shots he faced. Still, most NHL teams like to get their No. 2 goalie a start early in the season. After Saturday's game the Islanders don't play again until Thursday.

On Friday it was reported the Islanders other goalie, Rick DiPietro, would be sidelined indefinitely due to a concussion.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com