- OPENING FACEOFF
We're all a little excited at the prospect of hockey's being back (OK, Caps fans, you're excused from this premise). It's unlikely in the history of the NHL that there's been as much leaguewide analysis, second-guessing, moaning and/or exultation at team results all before the end of October.
For all those sizing a Cup-sized cowboy hat for the parade through downtown Nashville or a celebratory boat ride on Ottawa's Rideau Canal, or conversely for all those ready to hang Evgeni Nabokov in effigy or burn their Joe Thornton jerseys in a Beantown weenie roast, a moment of pause.
Let's turn back the clock.
Last time hockey was played, the Atlanta Thrashers lost only two regulation games in the month of October and still ended up 13 points out of a playoff spot.
The San Jose Sharks didn't win their second game of the 2003-04 season until Nov. 1 and then went on to a franchise-record 104 points, a Pacific Division crown and a run to the Western Conference final.
Calgary was a middle-of-the-road 4-4-0-1 to start the 2003-04 season before surging into the playoffs with 94 points and making a playoff run that would take the Flames to within a game of the Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay leapt out of the gate with an eight-game unbeaten streak before faltering before Christmas and at one point trailed the surprising Thrashers by eight points in the Southeast Division. The defending Stanley Cup champs are off to an up-and-down start to the season with a 4-3-2 record. Asked whether he thinks there is an excessive amount of pondering, Tampa coach John Tortorella had this to offer to his team (and perhaps the league in general) -- "Enough of the talk. Get something done."
-- Scott Burnside
THE HAT TRICK WHAT GIVES? ANYTHING FOR A WIN MILESTONE WATCH Have the Rangers lost steam after their surprising 4-1-2 start? Their rough schedule (10 games in 18 days) doesn't help. Neither does taking 24 penalties in three games, all of which were losses. Jaromir Jagr, who still leads the league with 10 goals and five assists, will take advantage of a five-day break after he strained a right hip flexor Saturday night against the Sabres. So, while the Senators and Predators are celebrating, the Penguins are waiting, trying for a win. While Sidney Crosby's 11 points are a great sign, Sergei Gonchar (and his $25M deal) finally scored his first goal Sunday. But Pittsburgh's biggest issue is defense -- the Pens have allowed the most even-strength goals in the league (22 in eight games). A win could come Thursday vs. Atlanta. With Coyotes goalie Curtis Joseph just one win away from his 400th career victory, here's a look at some other milestones on the horizon. Anaheim's Sergei Fedorov is nine games shy of 1,000 career games and 11 assists away from 600. And keep an eye on Toronto vet goaltender Ed Belfour over the next few weeks. He is seven wins away from tying Terry Sawchuk for second on the all-time wins list.WHAT'S THE GOAL?How long will it be until we stop using the goals-against average and save percentage as an accurate reflection of a goaltender's worth? For eight straight seasons and nine of the past 11 seasons, the best GAA in the league has been below two goals per game. Yet, none of the goaltenders who posted those numbers went on to win a Cup.
In fact, the last goalie to lead the league in GAA during the regular season and go on to win a Cup was Ken Dryden back in 1978-79. The Hall of Famer posted a 2.30 GAA. For the record, the last time the league-leading GAA was 2.50 or higher was 1992-93, when Toronto's Felix Potvin had the best mark at 2.50. It's a good bet this season, the benchmark will be at least that high.BAD HAIR DAYSTake a quick glance around the Lightning dressing room and you might think you've wandered backstage at one of those aging rock and roll tours with the preponderance of shoulder-length hair. There's No. 1 netminder John Grahame looking as though he might play a few sets with Steppenwolf and captain Dave Andreychuk looking like he's worked out with Tom Petty.
"Mid-life crisis. I don't know," Andreychuk explained wiping his sweaty, gray-black locks from his eyes. "Seven days in a row now [Tortorella] told me to cut it. It's coming soon." You bet it is. Tortorella quipped he thought Andreychuk would have found time to get to a barber during the team's mid-week sojourn in Atlantic City. "This week," Tortorella promised.THE FIVE HOLE
Barry Melrose This week, I am looking for an answer to one question: Are the Predators for real? They're 7-0, but I am waiting for them to play one of the West's best teams, like Vancouver or Detroit. Against those teams, we'll see if Nashville is a pretender or contender.
E.J. Hradek I think everybody is curious to see what happens when Todd Bertuzzi steps on the ice in Denver for the first time since the Steve Moore incident. The Canucks and Avs played an uneventful game in Vancouver on Saturday. But in Denver, Avs fans are going to give it to Bertuzzi. How bad will it be? In a quirk of the new schedule, the clubs will play back-to-back games at the Pepsi Center on Thursday and Saturday. Big Bert had better pack his ear plugs.
Scott Burnside Watch for the Islanders/Rangers tilt on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The Islanders swept the Rangers in back-to-back games last week to keep from falling into an early black hole in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers will look to prove their early success wasn't a trick of the light, and they'll come into it after a five-day break.
FANTASY ISLAND Who to pick up: Sabres center Daniel Briere has seven goals and two assists so far, and five of those goals have come in the last four games.
Who to drop: Tomas Holmstrom might seem like an attractive free-agent addition, but remember that he's not a member of the team's top power-play unit.
IN THE BOX Given our recent visit to a few Pearl Jam shows, we're going a little ol' school in suggesting "Do The Evolution" for your listening pleasure this week. With lines like "it's learned behavior," it's fitting (are you listening NHL defensemen?). And nothing fits an NHL hit like a bellowing Eddie Vedder.
THEY SAID IT "It was very emotional and very touching. He did a great job on the national anthem and he asked me before the game if I could score a goal for him, and I was lucky enough to get that one tonight."
-- Saku Koivu after 8-year-old Jeremy Gabriel, who was born deaf, sang the Canadian national anthem wearing Koivu's No. 11 jersey