Cold as Ice

We’re a week into the new, short season of the NHL, but that didn’t stop fearless hockey fans Jay and Stephen from making a lot of rash judgments (Stephen more than Jay)! Should you give up on your team already? We’ll tell you now!

Jay: So we’re not quite a week into the 2013 (I refuse to say 2012-13) NHL season? What are your thoughts?

Stephen: So far, so good! There has been a lot of balance among teams so far, and for the most part my predictions from last week don’t seem too far off. Other than the Flyers. They have not been looking pretty thus far, and I picked them as Cup champs. Though they have a leg up on NY tonight and might get win #1

Jay: It’s been fun to watch hockey again. I’m getting back into swearing at the TV while watching my Maple Leafs. There’s been a lot of that tonight as they’ve blown a 3-1 lead vs. the Islanders and now trail 6-3. What do you think of the quality of play? They’re not quite at midseason form, for understandable reasons. I’m especially noticing the dropoff in play for teams that have had to play back-to-back games. Most of them aren’t in game shape yet, so playing back-to-backs and three or four games in a week is going to take a toll on them early on.

Stephen: Yeah, we’re definitely not seeing the caliber of hockey we should be seeing for January after the long delay. My Pens seemed to take advantage of some of the rust in their first games, but even they aren’t immune, as their beat-down at the hands of Toronto last night showed. But then, as you said, the Leafs are playing another game tonight and are getting similarly routed by the Islanders. It will be interesting to see which teams can spool up to full firing engines first, because with such a short season, an early hot streak could put a team WAY up the playoff ladder.

The rust has especially been prevalent among defense/goalies. Every team is averaging at least 2 GAA so far, save, amazingly, Ottawa and New Jersey!  Oh, and Buffalo. Missed them too

Jay: Yeah, the goalies are definitely shaky, for good reason. Most of them haven’t played since last spring, so the timing’s just not there, not to mention the fitness level. Another trend is major injuries. I expected to see a lot of groin and hamstring pulls, but we’ve seen players go down with serious injuries: Scott Hartnell, Matt Greene, Joffrey Lupul and Ian White have all been hurt. Not sure if it’s just coincidental, but losing guys like that is going to have a big impact on teams in this shortened season.

Stephen: Definitely. A three month injury in an 82-game season means you can still get them back for the playoff push. Now, that same injury all but eliminates the player from the regular season. It’s a double-edged sword, really. There’s fewer games and therefore less opportunities to get main players injured. But at the same time, if you do have an injury, the impact is twice as hard on the playoff run.

The exception to our goalie rules, so far though, has been Craig Anderson. Two wins, a shutout, .983 save percentage, and .5 GAA. Think he’s the real deal, or just a case of a tiny sample size?

Jay: Anderson’s a proven top goalie. I’m not surprised. The surprising part may be how well the Sens’ defense is playing in front of him.

We’ve also seen rookies and young players come in and make a big splash: Tarasenko with the Blues has been spectacular. Nazem Kadri has three goals in four games for the Leafs after a couple of years of disappointing results; although in his defense, he hasn’t really been given a lot of ice time to prove himself. Obviously the players who were able to complete half a season in the minors or Europe have a huge advantage right now.

Stephen: True. Though the advantage hasn’t been universal. Edmonton was hoping to take advantage of a young squad with a lot of Europe league players, but are just 1-1 with a negative goal differential.

Speaking of Kadri, have you seen anything else that glimmers of hope from the Leafs so far? Or are you too jaded to hope anymore with them?

Jay: Edmonton was looking okay until they got smoked by San Jose the other night. Granted, it’s a small sample size we’re talking about here. As for the Leafs, they’ve been playing hard. Until tonight’s game, they’d outshot and outworked their opponents, only losing to Buffalo and Ryan Miller. Losing Lupul is tough, but their big offseason acquisition James Van Riemsdyk really broke out against Pittsburgh with two goals and an assist. Their top scorer Phil Kessel hasn’t been able to bury one yet, but he will. He’s a streaky player and has been getting a lot of chances. Defensively, they’re still sloppy, especially whenever they play that overpriced bum Mike Komisarek. The goalies have been a little shaky but good for the most part. Backup Ben Scrivens has started three of their four games primarily because he’s been playing all season in the AHL and he’s been okay until tonight, when he got shelled. James Reimer has a lot of pressure on him, what with all those rumors about trading for Roberto Luongo, but he played well against Pittsburgh and in relief tonight.

All that said, I still don’t think they’ll make the playoffs.  How about the Pens?

Stephen: I’ve been happy with how many people not named Crosby and Malkin have been getting on the score sheet, most of all. It makes me feel a bit safer should one of them get knocked out for the season. To be fair, Neal is so close to deserving being named in the same breath as those three, and the depth has always been there. I’ve been mostly impressed with how the D has shored up, save last night. But even then, the Leafs were helped by at least one fortunate bounce, so I don’t think it’s an omen that they’re falling apart again. Vokoun showed that he’s a safe back-up for Fleury as well. And as for Fleury, he has one good game and one bad under his belt, but I don’t think we’re going to see the return of the round 1 basketcase from last season. I’m optimistic for us. I would like to see the scrappy penalties comes down though. Last night, the 5 on 3 in the final minutes sealed our fate.

Jay: The Pens will be tough. I’ve been watching the Bruins a bit, too, since I live in the Boston area, and they’ve looked good. But they too have guys who aren’t quite ready for prime time yet. It’s going to be an interesting season. I like the focus on conference games. Should breed a lot of good hate. And every game is crucial, unlike in a full season.

Stephen: Definitely. The little mistakes mean so much more, especially in close games. It’s almost like there are four points on the line in every game.

Jay: I have to say I haven’t paid a ton of attention to the West, with the exception being the sick-ass shootout goal scored by Detroit’s Damien Brunner vs. Columbus the other night. The Kings have struggled out of the gate, as has Detroit, Phoenix and Vancouver. Dallas just signed Jamie Benn to a 5-year deal, so that’s huge for them. Chicago, San Jose, Minnesota, Anaheim, St. Louis and Dallas have all played well early.

Stephen: Yeah, my dark horse faith in the Ducks doesn’t look so insane so far. A bit surprisingly to see the Kings flail as they have. Less so for the aging statesmen in Detroit and the slow trainwreck that has been post-2010 Vancouver. Though to be fair, Detroit is still surprising if only because they’ve been a two decade long shoe-in.

Jay: Yeah, the Schneider-Luongo situation has been stoked by Schneider’s rough start to the season. That’s going to be a fun one to watch all season. I’m thinking Vancouver’s thinking twice about dealing Bobby Lu anytime soon. The Wings are old, but they’ve got young talent, too, and a good young goalie in Jimmy Howard. Any team with Datsyuk and Zetterberg shouldn’t be written off.

Stephen: Yeah, and it’s so early in the season, I expect they right themselves. Perhaps it was that late-decade back and forth with the Wings and Pens, but I want to see them not make it, just once!

And like I said in our chat last week, there’s potential in almost all the West coast squads. Except maybe Calgary… Sorry Calgary…

Jay: Another early season trend has been rustiness on the part of the officials. Although I’m sure you can find folks to say the officials never get their act together. But just like the players, the men in stripes have been sitting on the sidelines for months instead of getting their games in gear.

Stephen: Yeah, 2012-2013 will go down as the year people realized officiating is done by real people and not robots. First the NFL debacle, now the shakiness from the NHL after months and months away. It’s not been nearly as egregious as the football debacle, but the refs are at their best when you forget they are there. And they have definitely made some questionable calls that have affected games this season.

Jay: So are you back to full fandom, or is there still some hesitation? I’m fired up, man. Still pissed at the BS that led to the lockout, but excited to be able to watch hockey every damn night if I want. It’s a beautiful thing.

Stephen: I’m excited and fully back in. There’s a speed and energy to hockey that no other sport can reproduce. I didn’t realize how much I missed it, but I’m glad it’s back.

Jay: Yeah, it’s not like I sat there throughout the fall staring at my TV and wondering where the hockey was. You find things to occupy your time. But there’s just something right about watching hockey when it’s cold as balls out (right now it’s in the single digits here in the Boston area).

Stephen: I hear you, even if my California equivalent is low 50s.

Jay: Bastard! Oh well, at least I get to play pond hockey this weekend.

Stephen: Which is one perk we west coast hockey fans never get!

Jay: Ha! Well, let’s call it an evening and hope our teams can get on a roll.

Stephen: Perfect! Until next time, go Pens!

Jay: I think you meant Go Leafs Go!

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