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Weekly Warmup: Oct. 14

Surprises among league leaders, an early rookie of year candidate and sizing up the best NHL goalies

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ /

The number of unbeaten NHL teams down to two squads, one feasible and the other fantastic. Both are in action today: Colorado (4-0-0) visits Washington (3-1-2) and Edmonton (5-0-0) looks to make it six in a row at Chicago (0-2-1). The Avalanche start could be expected, but no one figured the Oilers to be five up and five "W's" in mid-October. Fun stuff for new coach and ex-NHL Seattle senior adviser Dave Tippett. 

Parenthetical pause: As games unfold, won-loss records begin to break down into three numbers. For example, Washingon at 3-1-2 has won three games, lost one in regulation and lost two in either overtime or shootout. This adds up to eight points in the standings. There will be no quiz later, but expect to know what the "ROW" column means before the end of this Weekly Warmup.




Rise and Shine! 
While the Columbus Blue Jackets don't play Monday (uh, it's Columbus Day?), we West Coast hockey fans can revel in four games with puck drops at 10am:

+ Anaheim at Boston: While the host Bruins (4-1-0) are pacing high to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, the visiting Ducks and Dallas Eakins (new coach alert!) are turning heads with a 4-1-0 start. 

+ Florida at New Jersey: The home squad Devils are looking for a first win and No. 1 draft choice Jack Hughes, averaging 15 minutes of ice time per game, still searches for his first NHL goal and/or assist.

St. Louis at New York Islanders: The home NYI (2-3-0) try to even their record against the Stanley Cup champs, who like their 2019 Cup Final foe Boston, are off to a solid start with seven points in five games.

Minnesota at Ottawa: The so-far winless Wild travel to Ottawa, where the Senators notched an impressive first win Saturday, knocking off Tampa Bay 4-2. This matinee is holiday affair for Ottawa too-Canada is celebrating its Thanksgiving. 


League Leaders Squared
While Tippett and his new boss, former long-time Detroit general manager Ken Holland, continue to smile with a league-leading unblemished record, star forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are 1-2 in scoring. McDavid has four goals and eight assists while linemate Draisaitl, a spellcheck twister, has four goals and seven assists. Tippett considered moving the gifted Draisaitl to center on the second line during preseason but wisely kept the left wing on the first line with McDavid. Oh, that second line centered by the formidable Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with wings James Neal on the right side and Tomas Jurco on the left? Doing just fine, thank you. Neal leads the NHL with seven goals, which matches his entire total from a disappointing 2018-19. 


Play-Makar in Denver
Unblemished Colorado is gelling early with balanced scoring from perennial MVP candidate Nathan McKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Cale Makar, who might be the first rookie defenseman in more than 25 seasons to surpass 50 points for a season. Makar quarterbacks man-advantage powerplays from the blue line back in the offensive zone but is an upfront candidate for rookie of the year. He is what scouts like to call a puck-moving defenseman. The 20-year-old has five assists in four wins. He played zero regular-season games last hockey year but went straight from the NCAA national championship game to play 10 playoff games for the Avalanche with his first NHL goal and five assists. The Avs are embarking on a six-game steep test of a road trip: Washington this morning Pacific time, Pittsburgh Wednesday, Florida Friday, Tampa Bay Saturday, St. Louis Oct. 21 and Vegas Oct. 25. 


Cycling the Week
Many powerplay formations work to cycle the puck when the opponent is man short due to a penalty. It's about moving puck until a player is open for a quality shot. Let's cycle through some early powerplay trends to watch:

+ One big reason for Edmonton's fast start is it scoring on 41 percent of its man-advantage situations while successfully defending 94 percent of its man-down situations. It's early but will likely prove a barometer all season on whether the Oilers can stay in playoffs contention.

+ Buffalo and Ralph Krueger (new coach alert!) have similar happy numbers (42 percent and 95 percent). Right wing victor Olofsson leads the Sabres with 4 powerplay goals or PPG.

+ Strange but true, Anaheim is 4-1 and has yet to connect on a powerplay. But the Ducks, led by superb goalie John Gibson, has defended all of its shorthanded situations too. 


No. 2 at No. 1

Video: EDM@NYR: Kakko uses slick move to net first NHL goal

The usual busy Thursday busy night in the NHL features the New York Rangers visiting nearby rival New York Islanders. Like a good winter soup or chili, the rivalry picks up flavor with each season. This year features No. 2 overall 2019 draft choice Kaapo Kakko measuring up against No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. Kappo tallied his first NHL assist in Saturday's 4-1 loss to streaking Edmonton while Hughes is 0-for-the-NHL to date. Both players are still learning-media reports say Hughes is challenged a bit by his smaller size and Kappo is under the microscope for finding chemistry with his linemmates. Figure both players to hit stride soon enough. This game might provide clues as to when. 





Missing Malkin?
Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin worked hard this summer to get back into the form he displayed while helping the Penguins and fellow future Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby win three Stanley Cups since 2009. But his solid early start was derailed by a "lower body" injury that Pittsburgh coach assured is not a season-ending incident. Media reports gauge Malkin's down time at a month of missed games and more specifically identify the problem as a soft-tissue leg injury. The Pens reeled off three wins in a row, no doubt looking to compensate for the scoring deficit created by Malkin's injury and the trading away Phil Kessel. Crosby leads the team with 10 points (3G, 7A) after drawing wide praise last season for his prowess as a defensive forward. 


ROW, ROW, ROW Your Standings
The NHL standings include a ROW column. Here's what that means and why it becomes important in March and early April. ROW represents a team's total number of regulation and overtime wins., It is the NHL's first tie-breaker of sorts once the 82-game schedule is played. When two teams are tied the same number of total standings points at the end of the season, the club with more wins in regulation and overtime will get a better playoff seeding. If those teams are tied in ROW, well, let's take that up in a future Weekly Warmup. If you are wondering, ROW was introduced as a team statistic to lower the impact shootouts (wins or losses) have on a team's record. 


Goalie Gab
There are lots of ways to sort a goaltender's value and performance. Some coaches and GMs look at save percentage, others work harder to figure out quality scoring chances faced. Fans might stick with goals-against-average-per-game or GAA. Of course, wins are important, both to NHL owners and fantasy hockey owners. Weekly Warmup will do its part by regular updates on which goalies are topping the charts. Right now, the WW Goalie Gab top spot goes to Vegas' Marc-Andre Fleury, getting the ever-so-slight nod over Ducks star John Gibson. Fleury has one more win. Check. Gibson's GAA is 1.26 to Fleury's 2.13. Countercheck to Gibby. But Fleury has faced 180 shots to Gibson's 129. Check and peace out.



While Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin is reportedly off the ice for a month (see above), he does appear to be able to get some work in. His wife posted a "training" video of Malkin doing pushups (OK, maybe one or two) with the couple's young son climbing on Malkin's back.
Stick tap to WATCH HERE

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