NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick will be penning a weekly blog for NHL.com this season. Look for new entries from "The World According to JR" every Wednesday. Roenick will offer sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.
I've got two players in mind who have impressed me and two teams that have totally fallen flat to start the season. Read on for my takes on what's clicking and what's missing in the NHL this week.
I'm very impressed with two guys in the League that seem to have something to prove, Phil Kessel and James Neal. Both guys seem to be in great shape. They're both skating extremely well and it seems like they've come into this season on a mission, which is important because both have extremely high expectations on them from their teams and their fans.
James Neal really disappointed in Pittsburgh last season after he came over from Dallas. He had one goal in the last 20-some odd games and really was not the guy that Pittsburgh was hoping for.
Obviously with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being out that hurt his ability to score goals for the Penguins last season, but he's come back, still without Crosby and a lot of games without Malkin, and he seems to be driving the net, shooting the puck more and putting himself in much better position to score goals. He seems like he is in much better shape this year.
Phil Kessel has been ridiculed and beaten up by the sports media in Toronto and the fans, who were all saying he wasn't worth trading away the first-round pick, which happened to be Tyler Seguin. Even though he's had 30-goal seasons the last couple of seasons, when the team doesn't make the playoffs someone is going to get blamed, and Phil Kessel is getting blamed because of that trade.
I think that's unfair.
Phil is a very talented player with a whole city on his shoulders, and now he wants to silence all the critics by doing all that he possibly can to get this team into the playoffs. And you know what, he's been flying. There is nobody on that team that has been skating faster or trying harder than Phil Kessel. That's a tribute to him.
Let's talk about Calgary and Columbus, two brutal hockey teams.
What really bothers me about Calgary is that it has such a great, passionate fan base. They love that team, but the Flames didn't do anything over the summer to improve after not making the playoffs last season.
They went out and got Lee Stempniak, but I don't think Lee Stempniak is the type of player that can handle the pressure of helping a team get into the playoffs. He's a role player and a guy that works hard, but they didn't bring any goal scorers into the mix. They didn't improve their defense. And they're relying on a goaltender in Miikka Kiprusoff that has played as much, if not more than any other goaltender in the League in the last five years.
They still have Jarome Iginla, but he is one more year older. Jarome is still very dangerous, but he's not the player that can carry the whole team on his back. He just can't do it anymore.
I'm very surprised and kind of disappointed that Calgary didn't improve over the summer, and it is showing very early this season.
As for Columbus, I think there is a big shakeup coming there. The other day we saw Ken Hitchcock sitting in the balcony watching the game. I don't know exactly what is going to happen, but before the season slips away and is totally lost they might consider a total re-haul through that system.
I know they've done it a couple of times, but you can't get a player like Jeff Carter and have Rick Nash and still be sputtering like this. I know Carter has been hurt, but even when he was in the lineup they were losing. Their goaltender, Steve Mason, has been less than average. This team is even losing hockey games at home, and that's where you have to be good.
The Blue Jackets have been around way too long to continue to sputter like they have, even with the changes that have been made. I look for a total facelift in terms of management and possibly even coaching in Columbus.