Surprising starts and new beginnings
Taking a look at how the Canadian teams in the NHL are doing
The NHL season is underway and there is much to talk about. The Toronto Maple Leafs shockingly started the season with a 4-0-0 record, the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks named new captains, the Ottawa Senators are struggling, the Calgary Flames feel pressure to win now, and the Edmonton Oilers began their rebuild with one of the most exciting young teams in the league.
Toronto came into this season with a new captain in Dion Phaneuf and also added Stanley Cup champion Kris Versteeg, Clark Macarthur, and former Penguin Colby Armstrong. With an average age of 26.3, the Leafs are the youngest team in the NHL and carry with them almost unrealistically high expectations of making the playoffs. Despite their young, inexperienced roster, the team jumped out to a surprising 4-0-0 start. Phil Kessel and Macarthur are tied for the team lead in scoring, while Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, and others have played well and added to the team’s offensive output. With the perfect start, many fans began planning the Stanley Cup Parade. However, they quickly came back down to earth with three straight losses. It’s simple, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not a playoff team. They lack star power up front and do not have the personnel to get it done night in and night out. Phaneuf is last on the team in plus minus with a -5 rating and improvement is needed. Regina-born Tyler Bozak has only three points on the year and will need to do better as a top six forward. If the Leafs want to make the playoffs, a lot of things have to happen and I don’t see those stars aligning, not this year anyway.
In Ottawa, the Senators are off to a nightmare start. A 2-5-1 record marks their worst start in 16 years. The Senators have not looked good and this can be attributed to a number of underachievers. The enigmatic Alex Kovalev has registered only one point so far and has failed to put the puck in the net. At times, he has been relegated to third line minutes and must get going if the Sens hope to have any type of success on offence. Senator youngsters Nick Foligno and Peter Regin had very high expectations coming into this season and they have also failed to deliver. Despite the tough start, captain Daniel Alfredsson has maintained a point per game average and just reached the 1,000 career point plateau. Outside of Alfredsson and goaltender Pascal Leclaire, the team is lacking effort and showing very little intensity. They don’t even resemble a cohesive team and it is showing on the scoreboard. The older players will need to step up in a big way if they want to have any hopes of making the post-season.
The Canadiens came into this year riding high after their first trip to the Eastern Conference final since 1993. Veteran Brian Gionta was named captain and playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was been dealt to the St. Louis Blues. Carey Price takes over as the undisputed starting goaltender. Some questioned if Price could handle the pressure in a city that bleeds hockey, but Price has answered the call in a big way with his exceptional play and ability to steal hockey games. Early in the season, he sports a 4-2-1 record, a .916 save percentage, and one shutout. The play of Price will largely affect where the Canadiens finish in the standings and fans have breathed a collective sigh of relief at the sight of him playing this well. Tomas Plekanec has been fantastic thus far and Andrei Kostitsyn looks like a man on a mission. The Canadiens will find themselves back in the playoffs this year and will hope to make another Cinderella type run.
Out west, the Flames raised eyebrows all around the league by signing former player Olli Jokinen to a two-year deal in the off-season. They also signed Alex Tanguay. After struggling at the end of last season, and after an off-season that irked many fans, the Flames are feeling the pressure to win now more than ever. So far, with a 4-3 record, the team has been average. New addition Brendan Morrison has been a pleasant surprise for the team and Jarome Iginla has been good as always. The Flames opened their season in Edmonton, with a 4-0 loss to a highly energetic team with many youngsters playing their first games. The Flames are in the process of playing eight of 11 games at home and have a great chance for a fast start.
In Edmonton, the Oilers are the talk of the town. After winning the draft lottery and selecting two-time Memorial Cup champion Taylor Hall, the team is in full rebuild mode. With recent draft picks in Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi-Svenssons, the team appears to be well on the road to once again making Edmonton into the City of Champions. Former Regina Pat and World Junior hero Eberle has added two highlight-reel goals to start the season and the play of new captain Shawn Horcoff has been superb. Hall has nabbed only one point so far and, in my opinion, could use more time in junior hockey for development. The Oilers will be one of the most entertaining teams to watch this year. Don’t expect a playoff appearance. However, expect very good hockey.
The Canucks are many analysts’ early pick to win the Stanley Cup. However, they have struggled out of the gate. Roberto Luongo has been average and is not earning the ten million dollars he is slated to get this year. The Sedin twins, as per usual, lead the team in scoring and their chemistry is beautiful to watch. With the new additions of Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis, the team boasts one of the best defensive cores in the league. The Canucks were 3-3-2, but expect them to bounce back and win the Northwest Division. If Luongo regains form, the Canucks are poised to make the Stanley Cup final for the first time since losing to the Rangers in 1994. Expectations are higher than ever for this team. It’s Stanley Cup or nothing for many fans.