Less than a week into the 2013 season, here’s a quick look at the stories that have caught my eye so far.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
The first two periods against the Islanders on Monday notwithstanding, this team is fun to watch. Thanks to Canisius standout Cory Conacher adapting with relative ease to the NHL game (2-3-5 in 3 gp), the various combinations I’ve seen of Conacher with St. Louis, Lecavalier, Stamkos, Purcell, Malone, et al, have been consistently effective.
Adding much needed depth on the blueline with Matt Carle and Sami Salo, they look better on the back end overall as Eric Brewer has had a nice start and it’s given that much more insulation around fourth-year giant Victor Hedman, who has had a quietly effective start through three games.
Anders Lindback will most likely earn the bulk of the playing time this year, but Mathieu Garon may have turned in one of the best early season performances so far in a 4-1 win over Carolina on Tuesday.
The legend of Paul MacLean (much like his stache) continues to grow in Canada’s capital. Consistency and belief seem to be the hallmarks of his team, not to mention maximizing young skill (see Turris, Kyle; and Karlsson, Erik).
It’s also clear that Craig Anderson knows what is behind him in the system, and thus far has seen very little get behind him where it counts.
Same old, same old. Working with what you have, rather that worrying about what you’ve lost, has often been the Devils’ way. Fewer people questioning the Travis Zajac extension by the day.
Four winless teams in the East; four winless teams in the West. And among the eight teams, some pretty elite company in the Kings, Rangers, Flyers, Canucks and Coyotes.
Of course it’s far too early to get really wound up about any of their predicaments, but I do wonder if it won’t be an ongoing grind for the Flyers and Canucks. Injuries at key postions (most notably center ice) aren’t helping their situations. And with never-ending rumors about what should or shouldn’t be done with their goaltenders, this has the makings of two southbound trains that eventually meet at a mutually agreed upon terminal (also known as a place to consummate a trade) in order to keep their seasons’ on the rails.
Officiating Consistency – no love for the glove
No games are ever called exactly the same way, but – much like how the game returned from the lockout in 2005 – there does appear to be a purpose and a pattern being applied by those in the stripes right now. Most notably, as Steve Ott found out Monday (and others have learned too) there is zero tolerance for covering the puck with your hand or attempting to direct the puck off a faceoff with your hand. Come to think of it, you still can’t score with your hand either. Sorry, Joffrey.
That empty (net) feeling
Two games, two good looks at a late-game empty net for the Buffalo Sabres.
Thomas Vanek’s approach – wait as long as possible, get as close as possible – before hammering it home was a perfect way to cap the home opener on Sunday.
Jason Pominville’s attempt – from longer range, and with a little more resistance from the defense – didn’t quite produce the same finality to the contest as Vanek’s. The captain maintains it looked good as he let it go. A surprising outward turn at the end left him feeling a little sheepish, especially considering how hairy the game became in the closing seconds. Pominville says not to worry about merciless ribbing from his mates – he’s the first one to belittle his own effort on the play.
Bottom line - any time you are shooting at an empty net in the final two minutes, your team must be doing something right. Sometimes, just a little more “right” than you would like.