NHL Random Thoughts – Way Too Early in the Season Edition
Barely two weeks into the NHL’s 2017-18 campaign, there’s considerable focus upon a noticeable increase in scoring.
As of Oct. 14, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin had nine goals while Chicago’s Brandon Saad and Vegas’ James Neal each had six. Seven others – Ovechkin’s linemate T.J. Oshie, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers, Nashville’s Filip Forsberg and the New York Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad – had five.
At his current pace, Ovechkin and Neal are on track to notch 123 goals, the others over 80. They simply won’t come anywhere near those lofty totals in today’s NHL.
That’s an impressive pace for those players. It’s also unsustainable.
Yes, there’s a lot of excitement generated by those impressive goal stats. They’ve been aided in part by the recent crackdown on slashing and cheating in the faceoff circle, resulting in more power-play opportunities.
Still, those players simply cannot maintain that level of production in today’s NHL throughout an entire season.
Of those players currently among the top goal scorers, only Ovechkin, Kucherov and Matthews have a shot at reaching 50 goals this season. Ovechkin’s done it seven times before. Kucherov and Matthews each tallied 40 goals last season and are at the stage in their respective careers where they’re trending upward.
So enjoy these high-scoring exploits while you still can. Once coaches and players figure out how to work around those new rules, and when the number of penalty calls inevitably decline over the course of the season, the number of power-play opportunities will diminish and so will the scoring chances.
Speaking of unsustainable, the Vegas Golden Knights are unlikely to maintain the pace that saw them bolt from the gate with a 3-1-0 record.
The Knights deserve credit for setting an NHL record as the first expansion team to win their first three games. Winning their first-ever regular-season home game provided a welcome tonic for a city still reeling from one of the worst mass shootings in American history.
Winger James Neal’s surprisingly hot start and Marc-Andre Fleury’s solid goaltending were significant factors in those victories. It also didn’t hurt that they faced the woeful Arizona Coyotes in two of those games.
Unlike most expansion teams in league history, the Knights benefited from an expansion draft weighted to help them land some quality players. They’ve got solid management led by George McPhee and a respected head coach in Gerard Gallant.
The Knights, however, still lack sufficient talent to maintain their current level of success. Don’t let those early victories fool you, they’re not a playoff contender.
They’re also entering this week facing their first serious bout of adversity. Fleury and forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Erik Haula were placed on injured reserve and are expected to be sidelined at least a week.
Still, the Golden Knights won’t be an easy two points this season. McPhee put together a decent inaugural roster, giving himself something to build upon. Gallant will ensure they’re a competitive group. Veterans such as Neal and Fleury bring invaluable skill, experience and leadership.
In time, the Golden Knights should become a playoff club. It just won’t happen this season.
Hats off to Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who tied Curtis Joseph for fourth on the NHL’s all-time wins list (454). He’s 30 wins away from reaching Ed Belfour (484) for third.
Luongo won’t catch Martin Brodeur (691 wins) and Patrick Roy (551 wins). Still, his accomplishment is testament to his superb goaltending over the course of an NHL career that began in 1999-2000.
Most of Luongo’s wins (252) came during his nearly eight-season run with the Vancouver Canucks. From 2006-07 to 2011-12, he played a significant role in turning the Canucks into a power in the Western Conference.
Before that, Luongo amassed 115 wins during his NHL debut with Mad Mike Milbury’s New York Islanders, followed by his first tenure with the sad-sack Florida Panthers from 2000 to 2006.
At his peak, Luongo was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy three times (2004, 2007 and 2011) and a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2007.
Had Luongo played the bulk of his career with strong clubs, as Brodeur and Roy did, he would be much higher in the career wins category. That’s not to diminish the accomplishments of those Hall of Famers, but it certainly didn’t hurt that they played for perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
Now 38 and back with the Panthers, Luongo’s in the twilight of his NHL career. Winning a Stanley Cup appears a long shot for him at this point and his best seasons are in the past.
Despite the lack of individual honors and Stanley Cup titles, Luongo’s built a convincing case for his inevitable induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
At the end of last season, winger Nail Yakupov’s NHL career appeared to be over.
The first-overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Yakupov had a promising rookie campaign in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, netting 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games. Over the next three seasons, however, he struggled with an Oilers team that underwent numerous changes on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office.
Traded to the St. Louis Blues last season, Yakupov managed just nine points in 40 games and was a frequent healthy scratch. Cut loose by the Blues in June, it seemed doubtful that he’d land with another NHL club.
But the Colorado Avalanche were willing to take a chance, inking him to a one-year, $875K deal. The laughingstock of the league last season, the Avs needed scoring depth. Signing a former first-overall pick at a bargain price seemed like a worthwhile gamble.
So far, it’s paid off for Yakupov and the Avs. They were 4-1-0 in their first five games, with the 23-year-old winger tallying three goals and two assists for five points.
It’s doubtful Yakupov can maintain this offensive pace. He and the Avs will likely return to earth in the coming weeks. But at least his bid to salvage his NHL career is off to a good start. If he can put up respectable numbers over the course of the season, he can expect to stick with the Avs for a while.
The Minnesota Wild’s hopes for a strong start to this season were dealt a serious blow last week when forwards Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Marcus Foligno were sidelined.
Coyle’s out six-to-eight weeks with a broken leg, Niederreiter at least three with a high-ankle sprain and Foligno at least a week with a facial fracture.
The Wild were already missing Zach Parise (back)and Mikael Granlund (groin). Those two could return within the next week, but the Wild will find it difficult offsetting the absences of Coyle and Niederreiter, who were expected to become their offensive leaders this season.
This is going to be a tough test of the Wild’s depth. How they address this challenge could have a significant effect upon their season.