Monday, October 17, 2016

Western Conference - week 1

     It has definitely been an interesting week one of the 2016-17 season.  It is still very early in the season so the standing as of now don't really mean much, however there have been a few surprises.  Many teams are still getting the feel of new line ups, and newly acquired players are trying to get the rhythm of their teams.  Other teams are struggling with unexpected injuries already which have effected the standings. My focus in this post is the Western Conference and their performance in this first week of the season.
     For the Central Division right now the St Louis Blues are in the number one spot having won all three of their games last week.  They had a big win over the Chicago Blackhawks on opening day of the season, the final score there being 5-2, they then played the Minnesota Wild on Thursday with a closer game winning 3-2, and finished out their week yesterday with another 3-2 victory this time over the New York Rangers. Seeing the Blues in the top of the division is not a huge surprise as they had a strong team last year and a good playoff run.  The bigger surprise is that the bottom 2 in the division, at the end of week 1, are the Nashville Predators and the 2015 Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks.  The Predators played 2 games last week and have 1 win and 1 loss both with the Blackhawks.  Nashville played Friday night as the first game of their season beating the Blackhawks 3-2, only to turn around and play them again Saturday suffering a 5-2 loss.  The Predators have already suffered 2 notable injuries in these fist 2 games of the season.  In the first game Defenseman Anthony Bitetto was injured during a fight with Chicago's Jordin Tootoo and left the game, he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with an upper body injury.  Then on Saturday Mikka Salomaki was hurt blocking a shot with his hand and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.  On a positive note P.K. Subban started his career with the Predators with a beautiful goal in his first shot wearing a Nashville uniform.  I believe that Nashville will finish the season much closer to the top of their division, but injuries in the first two games is not the way any team wants to start the season.  It is a bit surprising to me to see the Chicago Blackwawks dead last in their division after 3 games.  They stared off the season with a shocking 5-2 loss to the Blues on opening night.  I am not so much surprised that the Blues were able to take the win, as by the 3 goal margin that they won by.  I expected a much closer game from two talented teams that on paper I would have expected to be fairly evenly matched.  Their second game was with Nashville on Friday night, they also lost, but a much closer 3-2 game.  Then on Saturday against Nashville again they finally took their first win of the season in another high scoring 5-2 game.   The Blackhawks luckily have not had an injury plagued opening week, but it seems that their weak spot at present is with their penalty kill teams.  They gave up 3 goals in their first game on power plays by the Blues and all 3 of Nashville's goals in their Friday night loss to the Predators were made on the power play.
     On a positive note here in the central division not only did the Colorado Avalanche win their first game of the season against the Dallas Stars, but Joe Colborne also scored their first opening night hat trick in 10 years.  Colborne was an off season acquisition for Colorado, they picked him up from the fellow western conference team Calgary Flames last summer.  He seems to be a much better fit with the Avalanche, already having a better season here in Colorado than he did last year in Calgary.  Colorado currently holds the number 2 spot in the central division.  That brings us to the Dallas Stars who are in 3rd place after week one.  Dallas opened their season on Thursday with a 4-2 win over Anaheim.  The Stars had a rocky start to this 2016-17 season being out shot by the Ducks 17-1 in the first period, but still manged to keep the score tied at 1, and they came back strong in the second and third periods to win the game.  They ran into trouble again in Denver, and not for the first time.  The Stars have now lost 8 of their last 9 games in Denver after falling to the Avalanche 6 to 5 on Saturday.  What I noticed most about the Stars watching that game was the breakdowns in defense.  True goaltender Antti Niemi was pulled 12 minutes into the second period after allowing 5 goals, but in fairness to him he can not be entirely blamed for all of those goals.  The defensive lines were not able to get into or stay in positions to support Niemi for at least 3 of those 5 goals.

     In the Pacific division, probably the biggest piece of news in this first week has been the opening day injury of goaltender Jonathan Quick.  His injury is obviously severe as it is reportedly requiring surgery.  This is a big problem not only for Quick himself, but also for the Kings as a team.  While they did acquire Jeff Zatkoff from the Pittsburgh Penguins over the summer, I do not believe it was with the expectation of him doing more than filling in for maybe a dozen or so games throughout the regular season.  Now Zatkoff is in the position of being the Kings first line goalie at least for the expected 3 to 4 months that Quick is currently expected to be out. While certainly no Jonathan Quick, Zatkoff is a decent goaltender, he played 35 games over 4 seasons with the Penguins and has a career 0.914 save percentage. Being called up as back-up goaltender now is Peter Budaj.  Budaj is a virtual unknown in the NHL, though he did get called up last season for a game against the Rangers,when Quick was out with a much more minor injury, and did take a win in that game.  Still one win does not and NHL caliber goalie make.  So in short the Kings will be playing with a strong backup goalie as their fist line and an unknown quantity as their back up.  The Kings are currently in the bottom of the pacific division after suffering losses to both of their interstate rivals, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks last week.   Hopefully Zatkoff will be able to step up and carry the team until Quick can get back on the ice.
     At the top of the pacific division after week one is the San Jose Sharks.  They have started the season off strong with both a home win against the Kings on opening night and and an away win against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.  The Sharks are working hard to prove that last year's trip to the Stanley Cup Finals was not just a fluke.  It can only be hoped that they can keep up the momentum and great playing that they demonstrated in the first 2 games.  The Vancouver Canucks have found themselves tied for first in their division after the first week of regular season play.  Last week they had 2 games  one against the Calgary Flames and one against the Carolina Hurricanes, both of which they took the win on.  The Calgary game was a very close battle which the Canucks finally took in a shoot out win on Saturday night.  The game last night against Carolina was also very close, the Canucks again won this time 32 seconds into over time.  The Edmonton Oilers are in 2nd in the pacific division after 3 games last week.  They had 2 games against Calgary both relatively high scoring games and both of which they won, giving them a great start to the season.  Yesterday however they had a devastating 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabers.  Coach Todd McLellan came down hard on his team following the loss all across the board, not blaming any one player, saying that "We had guys falling all over the place.  We didn't execute.  Our passing was poor.  Positionally, from the goaltender to the defense on up to the forwards, no one was ready to play."  While definitely harsh and not what anyone wants to hear about their team in the opening week of play, it was a fairly accurate summation of that game.  The Oilers are at least as good a team as the Sabers and that should have been a much more exciting and fun game to watch.  Still every team has a bad game of two through out any given season, so do not count the Oilers out of playoff contention yet.  If they can come back and start playing again they way they did in their first to match ups of the season against Calgary they will definitely be in competition for a playoff slot come the end of the regular season.
     The Arizona Coyotes only played one game last week and it was a close one.  They played the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and managed a 4-3 overtime win.  Not only was it an exciting game, but the Coyotes showed the team's offensive diversity having all 4 of their goals scored by different players.  One game is not much to judge by, but if they can keep the momentum going and continue to play together well as a team going forward they can certainly look to move into playoff position.  The Anaheim Ducks played 3 games last week and sadly lost all of them.  They opened their season Thursday with a 4-2 loss to Dallas, then played the Penguins Saturday and fell 3-2, and closed out the week on Sunday with an over time loss to the Islanders, also 3-2.  No one wants to start the season with 3 straight losses, but if anyone can come back from a rough start it is the Ducks.  Last year they started their season 1-7-2 and still managed to battle back to make the playoffs.  The biggest weaknesses that the Ducks have shown in week one are inconsistency on the defensive lines, breakdowns allowing some easy goals to be scored from close in, and the inability to start the game strong.  They have had a weak first period in all three games so far, and have always been trying to catch up from behind.

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