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National Hockey League: Takeaways and Storylines from Opening Week

Written by: Tanner Henkel– Staff Writing Intern (@Thenkel)

Through the first weekend of NHL action we’ve seen a bit of everything. A record-setting debut, elite forwards emerging as stars, and of course a couple of injuries. That’s a lot for the first (half) week of the season, but nonetheless let’s break down the biggest stories so far.

| Return to Dominance

Connor McDavid is leading the NHL in scoring as of Sunday, and this is no surprise. McDavid is a superstar. He was on pace for more than a point per game in his rookie season before going down to injury, and he’s picked up right where he left off scoring 6 points and recording nine shots through the first three games. At just 19 years old McDavid is a threat to score every time he touches the puck, it’s scary to think how good he’ll be once he’s fully developed. For now, as long as he stays healthy he’ll be in the hunt for the NHL’s scoring race all season.

| Record Setting Debut

McDavid’s line mate from the World Cup of Hockey, Auston Matthews, had a debut of his own. With four goals in his first NHL game, Matthews made national headlines setting a league record for goals in a first game. We knew he had the skill set to produce at this pace, but I don’t know anyone who was expecting him to break into the league like this. The challenge for Matthews is to remain consistent over the 82 game season. This will be challenging considering Matthews is surrounded by a group of youthful forwards in Toronto. This group is talented but there will be some growing pains.

|  Emergence of Elite Scorers

A three-point night from defenseman Erik Karlsson helped lift the Senators past Matthews’ and the Leafs on opening night, we saw Karlsson take over the game offensively and show why he’s the most skilled defenseman in the NHL. He’s led all defenseman in points in the last three seasons, but this might be the year Karlsson’s run comes to an end. The guy to do it? San Jose’s Brent Burns. Burns was close last year, and that was no fluke. He’s the most versatile player in the league, he can play forward and defense, power play or short handed, and he shoots more than any player not named Alex Ovechkin. Most importantly the Sharks time to win is now, their window is closing and Burns is the player that will lead the Sharks back to the cup this season.

Along with McDavid and Burns, Blake Wheeler is among the league’s top scorers. With five points through three games, the newly minted Jets captain looks poised for a season that will rocket him into elite status. Wheeler’s been one of the most underrated players in the NHL for years, but it’s time the league took notice. Scoring just under a point per game last year, Wheeler kills penalties and plays on the power play. He’s also incredibly durable, missing just three games since 2012. There’s nothing Wheeler can’t do. If the Jets get steady goaltending they could be in a playoff race this year, and Wheeler will be a big part of that. 

| Injuries

Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion coming out of training camp, leaving the league without it’s biggest star before the season even started. We all know what Crosby is capable of, but concussions have been his kryptonite. Crosby missed 147 games from 2010 to 2013 recovering from concussions. The Penguins brass remains optimistic that this injury isn’t as serious as previous concussion, and Crosby will be back in the line-up without missing too much time.

The silver lining in Crosby’s injury could be that Penguins center Evgeni Malkin seems to catch fire when Crosby is out. Malkin had the best season of his career in 2011-12, scoring 109 points and winning the Art Ross, Hart and Ted Lindsay trophies all without Crosby for much of the season. The ideal situation for Pittsburgh is to have Malkin return to his 2011 dominance, and then have Crosby re-join the team without anyone missing a beat. If Crosby and Malkin get going together the Penguins are going to be unstoppable.

The L.A. Kings didn’t make it out of the first period of the first game before losing their franchise-starting goalie. Jonathan Quick went down with a lower body injury in the first period of the Kings’ season opening 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Quick is expected to miss as much as 4 months according the PuckDaddy, and this is an issue for the Silver and Black.

 With Quick on IR, most of the Kings’ starts will fall to 29-year-old back up Jeff Zatkoff. The Kings’ are expected to be fighting for a playoff spot this year, and Zatkoff is now going to be the guy they are depending on. That’s a lot to ask of a guy who has 35 career starts. Unless Zatkoff rises to the occasion, the Kings could be out of any kind of playoff race by the time Quick gets back.

There’s a bevy of story lines through the NHL’s first two games, and the only thing that’s for sure, the rest of the seasons going to be a wild ride.

What’s your favourite NHL story so far this season? What would you like to see more of? Leave a comment below.


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