Welcome to The Weekly Warm-Up.
Each Monday, we will tailor five stories about the week ahead to keep you in hockey fashion. "Five-on-Five" (also a term for hockey teams playing at full-strength) will include games to watch, trends to follow and info to impress your hockey-mad friends and/or persuade other friends to follow the game.
This space will also include "Three-peat," an over-the-shoulder look back at the last week of NHL play (and, at times, other news in the hockey world, such as updates on NHL Seattle's American Hockey League affiliate that will debut in Palm Springs the same season as the parent club).
The Weekly Warm-Up will finish with "Buzzer Beater" - a speedy fun fact, quote, video or some parting boost of energy.
So let's drop the puck already…
If you missed the regular season opener last Wednesday when Ottawa visited Toronto for the first tip of the season - OTT scored early, but TOR scored more for a 5-3 home win - you'll get a second chance Monday night. The Cup champion St. Louis Blues drop in on the Maple Leafs with a 4pm puck drop Monday. Storylines are abundant: Can Toronto's offensively-gifted young defenseman Morgan Rielly (five assists in three games) and Tyson Barrie (four assists) keep up the support for high-scoring teammates? Are we watching possible Stanley Cup Final showdown between last spring's rookie-sensation Blues goalie Jordan Binnington vs. the Leafs is-he-finally-ready-to-dominate-the-playoffs netminder, Frederik Andersen? Will Ryan O'Reilly's 99-year-old grandmother text him with some pointers after the game? The last one is easy: Yes.
It's Early, Way Early, But…
Extra, extra! Tuesday's slate of game features several "Battles of the Beatens!" Boston at Vegas squares off two serious Stanley Cup contenders off to 2-0-0 records, and somebody is going to hang the L on the other. OK, sure, it's just two games in, but, hey, The Weekly Warm-Up is coming at you caffeinated. What's more, there is another Battle of the Unbeatens in Detroit, where the Red Wings (2-0-0) host Anaheim (2-0-0). Are the NHL standings upside down? Most every expert picked Detroit to finish out of the playoffs by double-digit points (two points for a win, one point for an overtime or shootout loss, zero point for a regulation loss). Those same pundits that penciled the Ducks packing up early in April were worried about the team's scoring.
Monday morning's NHL scoring leaders include some familiar names to fans, such as Matt Duchene (5 assists in Nashville so far), Connor McDavid (back from a knee injury for Edmonton) and Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau. But, hold on, who are these guys at 1-2 on the scoring list? Meet Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers, who leads the league with 8 points (4g, 4a). He is a 26-year-old Swedish center who scored 30 goals for NYR last season and serves as alternative captain. He has now scored 139 total goals over seven full seasons and parts of two others. He played nine games as an 18-year-old. At No. 2 on the scoring leaders list, meet Anthony Mantha, a right wing with four goals and three assists in those two wins that Detroit picked up to start the season. He is in his fifth NHL season, already achieving two 20-plus goal seasons as a 25-year-old. He scored all four goals Sunday in a 4-3 win against Dallas.
Speaking of Dallas, the Stars (a bit of a darling with NHL preseason predictors) blinked a bit in Week 1. They stand at 0-3 and face the Washington Capitals in a home-and-home series this week, staring in D.C Tuesday, then back with the Caps in Dallas Saturday night. They jumped ahead by two goals on Detroit Sunday, only to run smack into Anthony Mantha (see above). FYI, Mantha's four goals included a the league's first "natural hat trick" of the season, meaning you score three uninterrupted goals during the game. The Stars will be in the playoff hunt, Ben Bishop will shine in goal, coah Jim Montgomery will get his guys in gear but it's never fun to go pointless in opening week.
Planning Way, Way Ahead
Thursday features 11 games this week, including San Jose at Chicago. The visiting Sharks are 0-3 while the Blackhawks play their first game since losing 4-3 to Philly last Friday in Prague. The Sharks appear to have some goalie issues, if watching the first period of their home-opener is any indication. Something to watch with Chicago is who starts in goal. Two-time Cup winner Corey Crawfod got the Euro start, but newcomer and 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner will get his starts, perhaps as soon as Thursday. OK, one more thing to know about Thursdays in the NHL: It is typically the second biggest slate of games each week following Saturdays. This Thursday features 11 games, while weekly leader Saturday puts 28 teams into action for 14 games. As we sculpt our lives the next two winters, Seattle fans can start to figure out how to block out the week to schedule weekday commitments for, say, Monday to Wednesday. The games await.
Our Eyes are Playing Hat Tricks
The opening week of play extracted three hat tricks in 33 games, including Anthony Mantha's four-game outburst allowing Detroit to come back from a two-goal deficit to beat Dallas, 4-3, Sunday. Zibanejad nailed his three goals Saturday night in Ottawa, scoring the NYR's first three goals before Artemi Panarain, the team's big free agent signee, finished the win scoring the second of many more. For the technically inclined or possible trivia use, Zibanejad's three straight goals are not a "natural hat trick" because the goals needs to be uninterrupted by no goals from either team. Whew, glad we got that covered. Mike Hoffman recorded the third hat trick of the weekend in statement win for the Florida Panthers over state rival Tampa. He scored twice within 86 second in the middle period to help build a 3-0 lead], then Hoffman got the hat trick (and ensuing rain of hats from the home crowd) at the 17-second mark of the third period. The Panthers held on for its first victory for coach Joel Quenneville, avenging an opening game road loss at Tampa.
Carters are Wild (Unrelated to Minnesota)
Two goalies with Carter as a first name secured wins during Week 1. Carter Hart, the anointed starter for the Philadelphia Flyers (veteran Brian Elliott likely challenges that concept), beat Chicago in a 4-3 win in Prague. Hart struggled in the final preseason Euro warmup, but held off the Blackhawks with 31 saves and getting help from 14 blocked shots from teammates. Philly is home against New Jersey Wednesday. Carter Hutton fueled Buffalo's strong opening week start, winning in the team's first two starts. Hutton played 50 games last season and looks to improve on his .908 (90.8 percent) save percentage; league leaders hover around the .930s. He gave up just three goals on 51 shots on goal last week. The Sabres face off with the 0-2 Columbus Blue Jackets Monday in Ohio.
Tip of the Visor to 'Tip'
Look for a Thursday story this week on the league's new coaches, but NHL Seattle staff would be giving side-eye if there is no mention of Dave Tippett's hugely successful two-win start as Edmonton's head coach. Tippett served as senior hockey operations adviser for an important early stretch for the franchise, winning hearts in the office and around town, before new Oilers GM convinced "Tip" to take the EDM job. While the hockey media was reporting that goalie Cam Talbot looked sharp in the preseason, Tippett tapped Mike Smith to start the first two games. Smith was competing (supposedly) for the No. 2 spot during most of September.
Toronto's young star Auston Matthews, by way of a childhood in Arizona befriending Coyotes captain Shane Doan, scored five highlight-reel goals in his opening three games, including a late goal to send the raucous Montreal vs. Toronto game into overtime on Saturday. Surpised? Not here. Matthews scored four goals in his first NHL game on Oct. 11, 2016. Here's a throwback to that first night:
Video: Auston Matthews makes history in NHL debut