Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Shipachyov Drama Continues

As most of you probably know already, on October 24, Vadim Shipachyov was sent down to the Chicago Wolves for the second time in this regular season. While thus far he has not lived up to the 30+ scoring potential that he was acquired for, the demotion to the Wolves had more to do with Jonathan Marchessault returning from injured reserve. When this happened, the Golden Knights had to send a forward back down, and Shipachyov is waiver-exempt, so he was a logical choice.

It is, however, unsurprising that he was displeased with this assignment. The first time he was sent back down this season he was rumored to be ready to quit and go back to the KHL. This time, we are hearing the same stories again, but with more evidence of Shipachyov's displeasure.  On October 25, the day after he was sent back down to Chicago, his agent Petr Svoboda was given permission to start seeking a trade for Shipachyov.

Vadim Shipachyov did initially physically relocate to Chicago this time, but his stay there was short lived. He was present and participated in morning skate on Saturday October 28 prior to their game that night against the Milwaukee Admirals. However, by game time he was a no show. Head coach Rockey Thompson stated that he was unaware until two hours and fifteen minutes prior to puck drop that Shipachyov would not be playing that night.

Not only did Shipachyov fail to report for a game, at virtually no notice, he is also rumored to have left the state and returned to Las Vegas to be with his family. This unexpected absence forced the Golden Knights to suspend him without pay on Sunday. There have been no further details released as yet about the suspension. If it is similar to what happened with Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning, and if Shipachyov were to return to Chicago and fulfill his obligations to the team while Svoboda continues to seek trade options, it is likely that the suspension would be lifted. I however, am not going to hold my breath and wait for that to happen, as it seems unlikely at this point.

By refusing to participate in practices and games with the Chicago Wolves, Shipachyov has damaged his chances of any NHL team wanting to pick him up. No one wants a player with these kinds of attitude problems, especially one who has failed to live up to expected performance. The Montreal Canadiens had already made public statements prior to the suspension that they were not interested in picking him up when they were approached by Svoboda late last week. I don't see any evidence of any other NHL teams showing interest in him up to now either.

This means his next likely step would be to either break or buy out his contract with the NHL and return to Russia or another KHL team, much as Illya Kovalchuk did in 2013 when he "retired" from the NHL just three years into a 17-year contract with the New Jersey Devils. This has been the most common rumor that I have heard. One thing to keep in mind though is that for any trade, or return to the KHL to happen, first the Golden Knights would need to terminate his contract or put Shipachyov on unconditional waivers, and as of this afternoon, neither of those things have happened. The unconditional waivers process is of course only needed if he chose to remain in the NHL or any of its minor league affiliates. The termination of contract would be needed to return to the KHL or another international professional league, if he chose to. The other factor that needs to be noted is that if Shipachyov were to break or buy out his contract, he would also have to pay back a prorated amount of his 2 million dollar signing bonus that he received when he joined the Golden Knights. As he seems willing to remain suspended without pay the money may not be his biggest motivating factor, but that is a sizable chunk of money he would have to come up with before he could return to the KHL.

There have been a number of different reports in the last several hours that Vadim Shipachyov is going to terminate his contract. He may well go that route. At present it seems more likely than and NHL trade, or than Shipachyov suddenly deciding to report back to Chicago and play there until a trade can be arranged. As of now though no official word has come down from the NHL or the Golden Knights organization that Shipachyov's contract has been terminated. This gives some of Shipachyov's supporters and fans hope that he may be able to work things out. Myself, given his attitude of refusing to play when he does not get his way and the fact that in the preseason as well as so far in the regular season he has failed to live up to the potential he was hired for, I would just as soon see him part ways with the team.

I believe that Shipachyov will choose to ride things out just as they are now. It seems that he is content to remain in Las Vegas with his family and accept the suspension. He appears confident the Svoboda will be able to find him a spot and a contract where he will get the level of play he wants. Most likely this will back with a KHL team. Shipachyov has a good reputation with the KHL for high level performance and two Gagarin Cups in recent years. Unless he is willing to demonstrate his ability to be a team player and fulfill his responsibilities as a team player by returning to the Wolves and playing well, I don't see another NHL team being willing to take a risk on him.

I don't believe that this will be a quick process though, it may be weeks or months before Svoboda can find him a new team to play for, unless someone in the KHL is desperate to have him back. SKA, his former team is doing extremely well without him this season though. So my guess it would have to come from a KHL team that thinks he would drastically improve their chances for the Gagarin cup. We will just have to wait and see what happens.

Right now the Golden Knights have bigger problems than what to do with the Russian who refuses to play. Goalie Oscar Dansk was injured in last night's game with the Islanders. This makes now three Vegas goalies to be out injured in just 10 games.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Can the Golden Knights win without James Neal?

So far, the Vegas Golden Knights are having an incredible opening season. They have gone 3-0 in their first three games played in the regular season, a feat no other expansion team in the NHL has ever managed! Marc Andre Fleury has been one of the reasons why. He had an amazing first three games, and kept his team in the game when they were struggling offensively. The other reason is James Neal. When the Golden Knights picked Neal up from the Predators in the expansion draft, it was because they knew he could score consistently, and he definitely has in the three games since he returned from hand surgery.
James Neal
Neal, 2017
By Resolute (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
James Neal has so far in three games scored five goals! This would put him on track to score 131 goals this season if he continues to score at the current rate of 1.66 goals per game. Now we all know that is not actually going to happen. So far, Neal has scored more than half of all the goals made by the team this season with five out of nine. That brings us to the question of what happens when he goes on a dry spell?  If Neal goes for five or six games straight without making a goal, can the Vegas Knights still win? Last season, Neal made 23 goals for the Predators during the regular season. The month of April, he did not make any goals, and only made one goal each in October and February, and only three in January. So, like any player, he is going to have his off games and even off months.

Now, so far, the Golden Knights are averaging three goals a game, and Neal is responsible for more than half of those goals. When he inevitably has a game or string of games that he fails to score in that is going to drastically effect the Golden Knights chances of winning. In the season opener, Neal scored Vegas' only goals, so take them away and it is a clear win for the Stars. If we take away Neal's goal in the second game, which was in overtime, either it would have gone to a shootout or possibly the Coyotes would have managed to edge them out for the win. Their third game on paper, they would have still won 3-2 taking away Neal's two goals.

When a game goes to overtime, the dynamics and energy of the game completely changes. So an overtime game can easily go to either team playing. The Nashville Predators, who Neal played for last year  had 14 games go into overtime. Of those games, they lost 10 games in and won only four, so they only won 40 percent of their OT games. Marc-Andre Fleury had seven of the Penguins 11 overtime losses last season. This means that Fleury lost 63 percent of the overtime games he played in last season. With such low odds of winning an overtime or shootout game, I am going to consider that on paper, the Golden Knights would have lost two of their three games without Neal's goals.

What the math does not take into effect is the emotional component of the game. So, with math I can show that if Neal had not scored, the Golden Knights would likely have lost two games. Now consider what having Neal going scoreless would do to the spirit and energy of the team. In the one game they would have statistically won, even if Neal had not scored a goal; the score would have been 3-2 with more than six minutes left in regulation. If the game had been that close, it is very likely that the Coyotes would have played harder and had more energy in the final minutes of play. The Golden Knights would not have had the confidence that Neal inspires when he is playing well, and would likely have been more stressed to try to hold onto the lead. This makes mistakes on their part more likely as well. Now I am not saying that they definitely would have lost that game, but I can also not say they certainly would have won. I believe when you factor the emotions in and the energy boost that the Coyotes would have gotten for having the opportunity to tie the game up, added to the lower confidence and energy that the Golden Knights would have had from Neal failing to find the back of the net, it is quite possible that they might have lost this game too.

Just the energy and confidence that one player brings to the ice can make a huge difference in winning or losing a game. For example, in a one-month period between November 28, 2015 and December 28, 2015, Montreal played 13 games. Out of those 13 games, Max Pacioretty had 11 games where he did not score, and the Canadiens lost every one of those games. That is 85 percent of the games he did not score in, his team lost. The two games in that time that Pacorietty did score in, his team won both games. In the following month, from December 29 through February 2,  Montreal went on to lose eight of the next 13 games where he again went scoreless. That is 62 percent of games. In this time where Pacioretty again did not score, the Canadiens lost. For three of the four games they won in that next month, Pacioretty scored at least one goal. From just this two-month time span in the 2015-16 season, we can see the impact that a single goal by just one specific player can make. This trend continued throughout the rest of the 2015-16 season. In this season, the Canadiens had 38 wins and 44 losses and they missed making the playoffs. If Pacioretty had scored a single goal in those 19 games, or even just scored in half of those games, the season would have ended very differently for the Montreal. They probably would have made it into the playoffs at the very least.

Another example is Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks. In mid-October of 2015 he fractured his fibula, which caused him to miss nearly three months of play.  During the time that Couture was out injured, the Sharks lost 18 of their next 32 games. This is nearly 60 percent of the games Couture missed - the Sharks lost. At the end of December of 2015, the Sharks were at 18-16-2 record. After Couture was back on the ice by the end of January of 2016, they were 26-18-4.  During that three month absence, no one thought the Sharks would even make the playoffs. After Couture's return, the Sharks won 60 percent of their games for the remainder of the regular season. This is the incredible difference emotionally and in energy on the ice that just one key player can make. This was the season that ended 46-30-6 for the Sharks, and they made it to the Stanley Cup final. If Couture had been out longer, or not returned that season, there is little doubt that the Sharks would not have made it to the final round in the playoffs for the first time. They might not have even made it into the playoffs.

The Vegas Golden Knights have two players at the moment who inspire this kind of emotional response on the ice. One is Marc-Andre Fleury, and the other is James Neal. While Fleury is a vital part of the team, and at this point I don't think the Golden Knights would survive without him either, he is not an offensive player. The other is James Neal. While there is zero chance that he is going to score the 131 goals projected if he continues at the rate he started, 30 to 40 goals is a reasonable expectation. What happens to the Golden Knights if Neal has a 10 or 11 game scoreless streak as Pacioretty did with Montreal in 2015-16? Last Season, with the Predators, Neal had two different seven-game streaks where he did not score, and one eight-game streak where he did not score. The Predators survived and made it into the playoffs, in 16th place, but they made it in. However the Predators also had a number of other players who were scoring on a consistent basis. They had Viktor Arvidson with 31 goals, Fillip Foresburg with 31 goals, and Juuse Saros with 21 goals.

I know the season is still very young, but with one player scoring more than 50 percent of the team's goals, this is a potential problem. We hope that nothing happens to Neal and that he continues to get the 30 to 40 goals that can be reasonably expected of him. However, if Vegas can not get more players scoring more consistently, there will be problems. The Golden Knights are looking at a very long down hill season if Neal starts having long spells where he is not scoring like he did last season. From what we see here, at best, the Golden Knights would win only one in three games where Neal did not score; that is 33 percent, at most.  Worst-case they would lose all of those games. Last season, Neal did not score a goal in 50 of the 70 games he played in. That is 71 percent of games played that he did not score a goal. That would mean that if the Vegas team loses every time Neal doesn't get a goal, and he had a comparable season to last year, they would lose 70 percent of their games. Statistically speaking, they would win at least a few of those games where Neal fails to get a goal, but the math here paints a very bleak picture.

So as much credit as I give Neal and Fluery for getting their team to an incredible 3-0-0 opening, I would really like to see more depth in the scoring. I don't expect that they will make the playoffs this first year. Very few if any expansion teams do in their first year. They have had a number of milestone achievements so far, and it would be incredible to see them make the playoffs in this first season too, though like I said I still see that as being unlikely. That said, though, if they want to continue to be competitive, they definitely need more depth on their score sheet.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Golden Knights may be losing KHL veteran Vadim Shipachyov

The Vegas Golden Knights signed Vadim Shipachyov to a two-year 9 million dollar contract on May 4th, 2017.  Shipachyov is a 30-year old veteran center who previously played in the KHL, most recently with St. Petersburg SKA. He was the third highest scoring player in the KHL last season with 26 goals and 50 assists in 50 games played. He has won two Gagarin Cups in his KHL career.  He was sent back down to the Chicago Wolves before the beginning of the regular season and was not recalled for either of the team's first two regular season games. This was a surprise to many Golden Knights fans, who expected to see Shipachyov on this ice for their inaugural regular season game.

Vadim Shipachev 2016
Shipachyov, 2016
By Сидик из ПТУ (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 4.0 or GFDL],
via Wikimedia Commons
After watching the first two games for the Golden Knights, where only two players so far have managed to score, the question is raised: "Why would a potential 30+ goal scorer be sent to the minors?" Certainly, Shipachyov was not lacking the necessary skill or experience to play at the NHL level! It was anticipated that by the time the roster was selected for the first game, Shipachyov would be on it. The short answer to why this did not happen is that James Neal, who missed most of training camp and all of the pre-season games after having surgery for a broken right hand,  returned for the season opener. I am sure if Neal had not been ready, Shipachyov would have been recalled for the opening of the season.  The real answer is more complicated than that, however. In an ideal world, both Shipachyov and Neal would be on the roster. The reason they couldn't be, comes down to miscalculations made by the Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee, and coaching staff involved in selecting expansion draft players.

In the expansion draft, Vegas picked up 13 defensemen and received a few others in trades.  As a result, the Vegas roster was very heavy on defensemen going into pre-season. Some were traded or did not make the cut for the final roster.  There were too many players who had issues, which meant they could not go down to the minors or were ineligible. Mostly, they were not waiver exempt. Only Shea Thodore and rookie Erik Brannstrom were. This means that the Golden Knights used 10 of their 23 final roster spots on defensive players. Most NHL teams have only seven blue liners on their roster. The Golden Knights, of course, also have two roster slots for goalies, which leaves only 11 slots open for forwards.

Why could a player not be sent to the AHL? There are a few reasons. First, an AHL team must have a minimum of 13 players on their roster that are considered development players. Twelve of these development players have to have played fewer than 260 professional games, this includes AHL, NHL, and elite European league games. This means that of the 20 players that an AHL team can dress for a game, two are goalies and 13 are development players, leaving only five spots for experienced NHL players. Another reason that a player could not be sent to the AHL would be if they had a clause written into their contract that prevents them from being sent down without their consent.

For the Golden Knights, the issue seems to be that level of professional experience prevents many of the defensemen currently on the roster from being sent down to the minors. Of the 10 defensemen on the Golden Knights roster, only John Marrill qualifies as a development player, barely with 243 games played at the professional level. So, why was he kept on the roster, and Shea Theodore sent down to the Chicago Wolves with Shipachyov? The answer is simple: money. They could not afford the cap hit that either Theodore or Shipachyov would have in addition to all the high-cost contracts of the veteran defensemen who they were unable to send down. None of the Golden Knights 10 defensemen are on entry-level contracts. Also, both Theodore and Shipachyov are protected from waivers, so there was not a risk of losing them to another NHL team when trying to move them.

Shipachyov is used to being a big fish in a smaller pond, as the third leading goal scorer and second leading assist maker in the KHL last season. He did not come to the United States to play in the minors. He is not happy being sent down due to financial issues and poor planning on the part of the Golden Knights organization when selecting draft picks. An additional consideration is the coming Olympics. If it comes down to a choice between playing in the United States in the AHL or returning to Russia to play in the KHL and being eligible for the Olympic team, there is very little chance he would stay. Reports have stated that Shipachyov has a timetable where if he is not back playing at the NHL level, he will return to Russia.  He has not disclosed what that timetable is as yet.

My guess is that it will have a lot to do with when he would need to be back in Russia by in order to be able to play on their Olympic team. His agent, Peter Svoboda, has apparently stated that Shipachyov does not want to return to the KHL. Yet Russian reports are saying that Shipachyov's representatives have been in contact with the KHL discussing a possible return. At this point, it is all just rumors. It would, however, be a bad blow to the young Golden Knights organization to lose players like Shipachyov or Theodore. Given the skill and experience of both of these players, it might be in the Golden Knights best interest to put a player or two on waivers to make room to bring one or both of them back up to the NHL team.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Final Three Teams Play Their Season Opener - Another Fun Filled Day of Hockey

Today, the remaining three teams played in their season opening games.  First up, the New Jersey Devils vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Next, the Vancouver Canucks vs. the Edmonton Oilers. Then, the Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Minnesota Wild. There were also 12 other games today, which I will share some exciting moments and highlights from.

Devils vs. Avalanche

The Devils had their season opener at home today against the Avalanche. Going in, the Devils were favored to win. They had home ice advantage, and have had a better record than Colorado in the last few seasons. As such, this game went very much as I expected it to. The Devils opened the scoring early in the first period. Then, they added to their lead with a second goal less than three minutes into the second period. Midway through the second, the Avalanche got on the board, cutting the Devil's lead in half. Unfortunately for Colorado, this was to be their only goal of the game. New Jersey answered with a third goal in the final 30 seconds of the period. The Devils then sealed Colorado's fate with a short-handed goal just over halfway through the final period of play.
  • Devils rookie defenseman Will Butcher made three assists, all on power plays, making him the first player in franchise history to score three points in his first NHL game!
  • Rookie Jesper Bratt scored a power play goal in his first NHL game!
  • Carl Soderberg had the Avalanche's lone goal for the game.
  • Cory Schneider made 40 saves on 41 shots in his season opening win for New Jersey!
The Devils were clearly the better team in this game. The Colorado team that took the ice tonight did not look much like the team who were victorious over the Rangers earlier in the week. Veteran center Nathan MacKinnon was quoted as stating that both Jonathan Bernier tonight and Seymon Varlamov, who tended twine against the Rangers on Thursday night, did a great job. He said it was up to the rest of the team to play better. I give him a whole lot of credit for not throwing Bernier under the bus, and publicly taking responsibility on behalf of the rest of the team to do a better job to support their goalie. Congratulations to the Devils for winning their season opener!

Canucks vs Oilers

The Canucks also had their season opener at home today.  Unlike the Devils vs. Avalanche game, this one did not go quite the way I expected. I thought the Oilers would come out of this contest on top. It was a close game, and the Oilers did find the net first, and quite early at just 1:08 in. After that, however, the remainder of the first and all of the second period were all about the Canucks. Vancouver put up three unanswered goals, following Edmonton's initial score, in the first two periods! The Oilers came back again in the third period to put their second goal in, but just did not have enough in them to overcome the Canucks.
  • Oilers goalie Cam Talbot was pulled from the game early in the second, after letting in three goals on just seven shots!
  • Connor McDavid was kept off the scoreboard for the first time in 16 regular season games. The last time he failed to find the net in a regular season game was back on March 12, 2017.
  • Bo Horvat put up two of Vancouver's three goals!
  • Jacon Markstrom blocked 33 of 35 shots against him to help bring home the win in tonight's season opener!
Again the Canucks were clearly the superior team in tonight's contest. They were fresh not yet having had a regular season game, and they did have home ice advantage as well. Neither of these facts is an excuse, however, for their victory. These were not back-to-back games for the Oilers. They have not played since opening night on Wednesday, when they shut out rival Calgary Flames. Tonight was clearly not the Oilers night. I don't remember the last time Talbot had to be pulled from a game that he started. Talbot was only pulled from four of the 73 games that he started in for the Oilers last season. All the blame can not be laid at Talbot's feet, however. McDavid was held scoreless, as were linemates Draisaitl and Maroon. It is very hard to win a game when your top line fails to score once! The Canucks played a hard and very good game. They unquestionable deserved their win tonight.

Hurricanes vs Wild

The final opening game in this 2017-18 season was the Carolina Hurricanes! Carolina faced off against the Wild in what turned out to be the closest game of the night. This was a fast-paced back-and-forth game throughout, which was fun to watch. Carolina had five different players find the back of the net tonight, and Minnesota had four different players put up their goals tonight. As you can see, both teams demonstrated great depth. This game was a nail-biter right down to the very end!
  • Minnesota didn't mange to tie the game at four until the very final second of regulation when Mikko Koivu found the back of the net. Talk about cutting things close!
  • The Wild did well keeping the score close given that they only had 27 shots on goal as opposed to the Hurricanes 42!
  • Alex Stalock did a fantastic job of keeping his team in the game, which ultimately went to a shootout. He blocked 37 shots - that is 10 more than the Wild put on goal all night!
  • Scott Darling made 23 saves in his first game as a Hurricane, including two shootout saves!
  • This is the first season opener that Carolina has won in seven seasons!
The Hurricanes fought a hard game to earn this first win of the season. The Wild made them work for every point scored. This was truly anyone's game, literally all game long. These are my favorite kinds of games to watch, and this is what defines good hockey! When both teams have players on several lines that can and do score it makes for a very exciting night. Congratulations to both teams for a game well-played, and especially to the Hurricanes for winning their first season opener in seven years!

News and Highlights from the Other 12 Exciting Matchups

There was a very full hockey schedule this Saturday, as there often is during the regular season, with 15 games played. I do not have the time or the space to do a full write-up on each of them. That being said however, there were some important things that happened in some of those other games tonight as well.

  • Alexander Ovechkin made his second hat trick in two games played. He is the first NHL player in 100 years to make back-to-back hat tricks in a seasons first two games! He also has a total of seven goals in just two games played.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins played their best game so far of the season. Matt Murray stopped all 26 shots against him! This was great to see after he missed five of 31 shots on Wednesday, and let six get past him on Thursday's horrifying game against Chicago! It was good to see Murray back to the elite goaltender we have come to expect.
  • This was Murray's sixth shutout in a career 62 NHL starts.
  • The Kings Captain Anze Kopitar made not one but two goals in the Kings 4-1 victory over the Sharks. Kopitar had only 12 goals all of last season, so putting in two tonight does a lot to restore fans' confidence in the man the Kings just gave an 80 million dollar contract to last year!
  • The Kings now have a 2-0-0 record after winning both of their first two games, something that has not happened in 15 years!
  • Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks now has four goals in just two games!
  • Flyers ended an eight-game losing streak against the Ducks by beating them 3-2 in overtime!
  • The Vegas Golden Knights have won both of their first two regular season games, tonight's in overtime!
  • The Golden Knights have only four goals in their first two games, none of them have been made without the help of James Neal. Neal scored their only two goals on Friday, he assisted on Schmidt's goal that sent the game to overtime tonight and scored the game winning over time goal!
  • Toronto has put up more goals in two games than almost any other team in the league. They had seven in their season opening win on Wednesday against the Jets, and had an astounding eight tonight against the Rangers to put up their second win of the season, at a final score of 8-5! That puts them tied with Chicago at 15 goals in these first two regular season games.
  • The Red Wings and Senators went scoreless until the last three minutes of regulation. In that final three minutes, both managed to score forcing overtime, which then went on to a shootout, which the Red Wings came out of victorious! A very exciting ending for a game that was so very slow to start!
As you can see, today was filled with some amazing hockey! All 31 teams have now played at least one regular season game, and many now have two or three under their belt. There has been so much good about this first week of regular season hockey, some bad depending on who your favored teams are, and some downright ugly. Remember though, whether your team is 2-0 or 0-2, it is only the first week. With the whole season in front of us, anything can happen. More to come as the excitement of the 2017-18 season continues. Happy hockey watching everyone!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Night 3 of 2017-18 Season Opening Games Does Not Disappoint!

Tonight we had three of the final six season opening games for this 2017-18 regular season. The match-ups we saw were the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. the New York Islanders. The battle of Florida, Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers. Finally, the Dallas Stars vs. the Las Vegas Golden Knights, for their first ever regular season game!

Blue Jackets vs. Islanders

The energy was high from the start in the Nationwide Arena as the Blue Jackets began their season opener against the Islanders. I expected Columbus would take the win tonight, but I didn't anticipate that they would do so in such a spectacular fashion. The Blue Jackets definitely brought their A game and played strong throughout. Unfortunately the Islanders played a very sloppy game through the first two periods of play. They were missing opportunities and making bad passes which lead to multiple turnovers, giving Columbus even more opportunities to score. This meant that the game was not as exciting to watch as a good fast-paced back-and-forth game, but it was a lot of fun for Blue Jackets fans to see their team perform so well in their first game this season!
  • Rookie Sonny Milano opened the scoring for Columbus with his first NHL goal just 1:07 into the first period!
  • Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, only 19 years old, scored his first NHL goal in his first ever NHL game!
  • Other Blue Jackets who scored goals were Cam Atkinson, Ryan Murray, and Zach Werenski.
  • Sergei Bobrovski earned his 20th career shutout, setting a new record for the Blue Jackets franchise!
Columbus had great depth tonight in their scoring, goals were scored by each of the top three lines and two were scored by the defensive line as well.  Artemi Panarin assisted on three of Columbus' goals, making him the first player to have three points in his debut game with the organization. The Islanders did pull things together and play a better third period, and while they did not get on the score board they did prevent Columbus from escalating the score further. Unfortunately for the Islanders, it was too little and too late. They fell 5-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tonight, Sergei Bobrovski got the third opening night shutout this week. This was his 20th career shutout, which set a new record for the organization! He broke Steve Masons record of 19 shutouts. Mason was the Blue Jacket goaltender from 2008-2013 and he currently tends twine for the Winnipeg Jets.

Lightning vs. Panthers

Tonight's season opener was the the interstate battle between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. This was the highest scoring game of the night, and it was a good one. The game started out a little bit slowly with only one goal in the first period, but it got faster paced quickly as the game progressed through the second and third periods. In the second, there was a combined three goals scored, and in the third, a combined four goals. The overall outcome was not unexpected as the game was played in Tampa Bay, and the Lightning have been a stronger team in the past few seasons. That being said however, it was certainly not a blow-out game. The Panthers battled back in the second from a two-point deficit to tie the game. They continued to fight back in the third to bring the score again within one point before finally giving up the final goal to the Lightning in the last seconds of the game.
  • Steven Stamkos earned a point in last night's game, his first regular season game after knee surgery last November, with an assist on the tie-breaking goal in the opening minute of the third period.
  • The Lightning line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Yanni Gourde were an impressive +5 in the game with combined five points - easily the best of Tampa Bay's line pairings in this game.
  • Panther's goals were scored by Connor Brickley, with his second career NHL goal; Mark Pysyk, and Jonathan Huberdeau.
While the Lightning were certainly the stronger team tonight, I like that the Panthers never gave up. They were down by two, twice in the game, once early in the second period and again a quarter of the way through the third. Having battled back from behind once only to find yourself right back there again can be disheartening and can cause a team to lose focus and momentum. The Panthers did not let this happen. Their ultimate downfall was in penalties, which gave the Lightning a power play opportunity early in the third period. Had they avoided that penalty, or had their penalty kill been able to keep the Lightning form converting that opportunity to a goal, the game might have ended differently. They might have been able to force it into overtime at the very least. In the end, however, the Lightning simply played a better game and so they came away with a well-deserved win in their season opener. This now gives the Lightning their seventh consecutive home opening win!

Stars vs. Golden Knights

The final of tonight's three match-ups was in Dallas. The Stars hosted their home opener against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, in their regular season debut. Despite having a few pre-season games under their belt, the Golden Knights are still something of an unknown quantity. Individual players are well known so that information can be used to gauge a little bit of what to expect, but how they play together as a team, and if they have had enough time to come together and build that team spirit that is so vital, was impossible to judge. As such, I had no preconceived notions of how this game would go,  so it was a lot of fun for me to watch.

The game started slowly with no score during the first period. That was in a large part due to the outstanding performance of both goaltenders Ben Bishop for Dallas, and Marc Andre Fleury.  From the start, this was a very physical game, which lead to a number of penalties and power plays for both teams. Alexander Radulov led the charge for Dallas with Jonathan Marchessault and James Neal returning the favor. The Stars drew first blood with a goal in the final minutes of the second period. Dallas held that lead through the first half of the third period, and it really looked like Dallas would go home with the win. In the final 10 minutes, however, the game changed, and Las Vegas came back with two big goals!
  • Tyler Seguin made the game opening goal for the Stars, near the end of the second period.
  • Four minutes into the third period, Ben Bishop of the Stars took a puck high on his face mask, which resulted in a cut above his left eye, and he had to be pulled for evaluation and treatment.
  • James Neal had both of the Golden Knights first two regular season goals in the final half of the third period
  • Ben Bishop block all 19 shots he faced before leaving with an injury early in the third period!
  • Kari Lehtonen blocked eight of the 11 shots he faced in the 16 minutes of play he saw tonight.
  • Marc Andre Fleury blocked 45 of the 46 shots he faced tonight!
Bishop being forced to leave the game was what turned the tide for Dallas. Lehtonen did a good job in net, especially coming in cold and very suddenly late in the game. He made a few impressive saves, and for a while it looked like he was going to keep the Golden Knights off the score board. Bishop is a superior goalie though, so if he had stayed in it is possible that the Stars would have held on for the win, or maybe forced overtime. Also, just the mental and emotional impact that seeing your starting goaltender go out injured in the middle of a game is hard to overcome. That is not to take away from James Neal and the Las Vegas team. Neal's goals were impressive, especially his second one, which was scored from his knees when he was not in optimum position! Both teams fought hard, played well. The Golden Knights managed to come out on top this time and unquestionably earned their win tonight. The Las Vegas Golden Knights are the first expansion team since the Ottawa Senators in 1992 to win their first season opening game!

Tonight was all about the goalies. First, we had Sergei Bobrovski with a shutout on his season opening game! Then in the last game of the night we had Marc Andre Fleury leading his team to their first ever regular season win with an astounding 45 saves on 46 shots! This week has been an exciting and emotional week of hockey with some amazing wins, and some devastating losses. Regardless of where your favorite team or teams stand, though, remember it is only the first game or two of a very long season. There are still three teams who have not yet played their opening games. Tomorrow we will have the Hurricanes, Canucks, and Devils season openers. It is great to have hockey back, and I look forward to coming months filled with exciting regular season hockey!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Night 2 of the 2017-18 Regular Season Continued, the Surprises Keep Coming

Last Night was another fun and exciting night of hockey in day two of season opening games. In my last article, I covered five of the eight games that were played last night. Here are the remaining three. This will cover the Avalanche vs. Rangers game, the Coyotes vs. Ducks game, and the Kings vs. Flyers game. All were surprising games in their own way.

Avalanche vs Rangers

Based on the last few seasons performances I predicted a lopsided game, possibly even a fairly easy win on this one. It did not go at all the way I had imagined. The first half of period 1 was all Avalanche as they scored first at about the five minute mark, and then again at 11 minutes in. The Rangers stepped up their game at that point, putting the next two goals on the board before the end of the 1st period. Things slowed down after that with only one goal scored in each of the next two periods, both by Colorado.
  • Matt Duchene and Mikko Rantanen scored the Avalanche's first period goals.
  • Mika Zibanejad scored both of the Rangers goals on the power play.
  • Tyson Barrie scored Colorado's 2nd period goal braking the tie.
  • Gabriel Landeskog made the 4th goal for the Avalanche, an empty netter with just seconds left in the game.
  • Semyon Varlamov made 37 saves in his first game back after hip surgery in January.
This was one of the more unexpected games of the night. I would have expected the scores to be reversed especially since the game was played in the Rangers home arena, Madison Square Garden. The Avalanche played a much better game tonight and walked away with a well-deserved win to open their season.

Coyotes vs Ducks

In this game the outcome was what I expected, but how they got there was not. I expected the Ducks to take the win, it was their home opener and they tend to play well at home. The Ducks are also a team that is favored to make the playoffs from the Pacific Division, where as the Coyotes are not. The Coyotes opened the scoring last night with two goals early in the first period, making the Ducks play from behind. Anaheim did get one goal before the end of the 1st, but in the 2nd Arizona again put up the next two goals. This period the Ducks were able to answer with two goals of their own, but that left them still trailing as the game entered the 3rd period. This period however, was all about the Ducks, they put up two more goals and prevented Arizona from scoring to take the game 5-4.

  • Clayton Keller scored his first NHL goal for the Coyotes!
  • Lewis Domingue had 36 saves, more than Gibson, despite taking the loss tonight.
  • Max Domi and Christian Fischer both scored power play goals in the 2nd which turned the tide of the game in Anaheim's favor for the first time.
  • Cory Perry had two goals including the game tying goal in the 3rd.
  • Rickard Rakell scored tonight's game winning goal for the Ducks.
  • John Gibson had 24 saves in tonight's win.
The Coyotes played a great first half of the game.  For those first 30+ minuets of the the game they definitely looked like the stronger team, and I thought they were going to take the win. Unfortunately after getting to a three point lead they seemed to slow down and lose focus. This was their fatal mistake, with still half of the game left to play you can't afford to lose momentum like that. The Ducks came back strong in the second half, and with an outstanding 3rd period and earned themselves a season opening win!

Flyers vs Kings

Opening night for the Kings was surprising only in it lack of obvious changes from last season. The Kings did not make a large number of roster changes in the off season, and the only surprise player wise was that Alec Martinez was placed on the injured list. The style of play seemed nearly unchanged under new Head Coach John Stevens, though perhaps this is not surprising since they made so few roster changes. It was still a low scoring game relying more on defensive strength than the speed and offensive focus we see from so many NHL teams now.  The Kings had only 27 shots on goal, which is low when you look at the 35 to 45 put up by many of the other teams that played tonight. This is a tried and true style of play for the Kings, it won them two cups, and it worked again tonight! However it has not served them well the last few seasons, so we may see some changes there down the line.

  • Jonathan Quick made 35 saves in what was his 45th career shutout!
  • Michael Neuvirth also had a great game for the Flyers and made some truly spectacular saves. He blocked 25 of the 27 shots he faced.
  • Trevor Lewis and Tyler Toffoli made the Kings, and the game's only, two goals tonight
  • both the Kings and the Flyers had 5 power play opportunities, neither managed to score on any of them.
  • Kopitar's name is still missing from the score sheet, but we heard his name a lot in reference to stopping the Flyers scoring chances. He also had at least three good shots on goal tonight so while he is not on the stats sheet he still played a strong game and contributed well to the Kings win.
The Flyers looked a little bit flat tonight with the exception of goaltender Michael Neuvirth. However this was their second of back to back games. They definitely looked sharper against the Sharks last night. That being said Jonathan Quick and the Kings defensive lines did an amazing job of shutting down the Flyers offense. The power play units were a weak spot for the Kings, and the Flyers as well. To have five man up opportunities and not manage to score on any of them is a testament to the other teams' penalty kill sure, but it is also a sign that something is not working right for the power play units. The Flyers penalty kill was the other strong point on their shutout loss last night, they too managed to kill 5 Kings power plays! The Kings penalty kill was also a very strong part of the game, they too had a perfect record tonight on five power play opportunities for the Flyers. This is something I hope they can keep up as the season progresses!

There have been many exciting and shocking games so far this week. We have had four hat tricks, several players scoring their 1st NHL goals, and some amazing saves. We have had overtime games, shoot-out games, shutouts, and crushing victories or defeats. There are still six more teams who play their season openers tomorrow, and I can't wait to see what they bring!

Night 2 of the 2017-18 Season Brought Some Shocking Games

There were eight games played last night in the second day for this regular season. Here I am looking at the first five of them. Each of the games tonight had their own surprises. Here are some of the highlights from the games where the Bruins took on the Predators, Montreal battled Buffalo, the Capitals took on the Senators, Minnesota played against Detroit, and Penguins played against the Blackhawks.

Predators vs Bruins

This was the Bruins' home opener and was expected to be a close game. The Bruins' rookies were impressive last night, stepping up to fill in for Patrice Bergeron and David Backes who were both out for last night's game.
  • Rookie Jake DeBrusk scored his first NHL goal breaking a 1-1 tie early in the 2nd! He also tallied an assist in last night's game.
  • Charlie McAvoy also scored his first NHL goal, in his first regular season game!
  • The final few minutes of the 3rd period were game changing 
  • The Bruins had two men in the penalty box giving the Predators a chance to get back in the game
  •  the Predators sent Rask to the bench giving them a 6-on-3 allowing for two goals in less than two minutes
  • Late game goals for the Predators were scored by Scott Hartnell and Filip Forsberg.
The final score was close thanks to a huge penalty by Boston allowing the Predators to bring the score to 4-3 in the final seconds of play. The Bruins' took the win on their season opener in what turned out to be a very close game. Nothing like an exciting opening night of hockey!

Canadiens vs Sabers

This was a close game from the start. The first period closed with the score tied at 1-1.  Buffalo put the only goal up in the 2nd, breaking the tie. About midway through the 3rd, Montreal tied the game again. This sent the game into overtime, which ended with the game still tied at 2-2. This became the first game of the season to go to a shootout. The nail-biter continued through three rounds before the Canadiens scored the final point to take the game. 
  • Montreal had won four straight season openers before last night's game.
  • Buffalo had lost five straight season openers before last night's game.
Based just on statistics, this should have been a slam-dunk for the Canadiens, so it was a bit surprising that it was such a close contest.
  • Carey Price stopped and amazing 43 shots including three shoot-out attempts!
  • Jonathan Drouin scored the game winning shoot-out goal and put up an assist on the Canadiens first goal of the night.
  • The other two Montreal goals were scored by Max Pacioretty and Phillip Danault.
  • Jason Pominville scored both of Buffalo's goals!
  • Robin Lehner performed incredibly well in goal for the Sabers, making a number of important saves to keep his team in the game!
Both teams played well and fought hard making this a closer and much more exciting game than anticipated.

Capitals vs Senators

This was the second nail-biter of the night. It started out very much like the Canadians vs. Senators game did, with each team scoring one goal in the first. Ottawa made the only goal in the 2nd, putting them ahead.  In the 3rd period, the pace really picked up with Washington putting up three goals and Ottawa making an additional two. This ended the 3rd period tied 4-4, sending the game into a scoreless OT period. Again, last night a game went to a shootout, which also lasted three rounds. The Capitals emerged from the shootout victorious, leading their team to a 5-4 win!
  • Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin made three goals all in the 3rd period to give him an opening night hat trick!
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov had three assists for Washington in last night's game.
  • Goalie Braden Holtby made 28 saves to post his first win of the season.
  • For the Senators Mark Stone scored two of their four goals.
  • Craig Anderssen made 24 saves to keep the Senators in the game.
Both teams played a hard fast-paced game. In the end, it came down to puck handling. The Senators had several turnovers, which gave the Capitals additional scoring opportunities.

Wild vs Red Wings

This game was all about the 3rd period.  The Wild vs. Red Wings game was slow to get on the score board. It was over 14 minutes into the 2nd period before Detroit put the first goal up. Less than 30 seconds later, however, they got their 2nd goal of the night. Going into the 3rd, the Red Wings definitely had the advantage. However, just two minutes in, the Wild got on the score board with their first goal. Then, only 48 seconds later, they tied the game at 2-2! Unfortunately for them, these would be the Wild's only two goals. The Red Wings came back strong, putting up two more goals before the middle of the 3rd period. The game ended with a score of 4-2.
  • This game might have ended very differently if not for the fact that Minnesota had two disallowed goals in the 1st period for goaltender interference: one by Eric Staal, and one by Ryan Suter.
  • The Red Wings also managed to kill a 5-on-3 power play early in the 2nd to keep the Wild off the board.
  • Red Wings goals were scored by: Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg, and Martin Frk.
  • Wild goals were scored by Joel Eriksson-Ek, and Chris Stewart.
Even if it is the right call, as it was tonight, having not one but two goals recalled early in the game killed the team's momentum. It is hard to get over that mentally, and it takes a toll on the team. For the other team it can have the opposite effect, charging them up and raising their confidence. This was really the game changer for the Wild. In the end, the Red Wings opened the Little Caesars Arena with a well earned win.

Penguins vs Blackhawks

This game for me was the biggest surprise of the night. I had expected a rough, but close game. I did give the Blackhawks an edge up because, not only had they won their last six contests against the Penguins, but they were fresh, and the Penguins were coming off of a hard game last night against the Blues. My other surprise was the Penguins decision to start back-up goaltender Antti Niemi in goal rather than Matt Murray. I wondered if Murray had a minor injury from Wednesday nights game, or if the Pens were just trying not to have him play back to back games so early in the season. Murray showed no obvious signs of playing through an injury, so it must have been an attempt to rest him. In the end the Blackhawks won by a huge 10-1 margin.

  • Antti Niemi let in three goals in 1 minute 14 seconds at just six minutes into the 1st period. He was pulled from net two minutes later, after letting in a 4th goal.
  • Blackhawks had no fewer than five power plays, but did not score a single power play goal.
  • Brandon Saad scored a hat trick. He was the 4th player to score an opening game hat trick so far this season.
  • The other Chicago goals were scored by Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz (2), Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, and Brent Seabrook.
  • Corey Crawford made 28 saves, letting in only one goal!
  • Pittsburgh's only goal was a PPG scored by Phil Kessel early in the 2nd.
  • The last time the Penguins gave up 10 goals in a game was back in 1996 against the Sharks.

This game was none of the things that I expected. It was not close, it was not a game displaying the elite skills of two multiple Stanley Cup Winning teams. The Blackhawks played a strong game, and Crawford made some good saves, but if the Penguins had been on their A game or even their B game, it would have been a much closer game.

There have been many exciting and shocking games so far this week. We have had 4 hat tricks, several players scoring their 1st NHL goals, and some amazing saves. We have had over time games, shoot out games, shutouts, and crushing victories or defeats. There are still 6 more teams who play their season openers tomorrow, I can't wait to see what they bring!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

NHL Hockey is Back! 2017-18 Opening Day Brought Some Exciting Moments

This season’s opening day had a little bit of everything: a beautiful and emotional opening in Pittsburgh as the Pens had their banner raising ceremony for the 2017 Stanley Cup Championship banner, a completely lopsided 7-2 game, followed by an exciting over-time game. Then, we had a classic rivalry game that ended in a shut out. The final game in the mix was hard-fought, thought to be evenly matched, with a milestone scoring achievement made. We even got to see two great players with hat tricks tonight!

The Hockey season began at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, Wednesday night with the Maple Leafs vs. Jets game. This was an incredible game for Toronto. Patrick Marleau scored both his first and second goals as a Maple Leaf. Also scoring goals tonight for Toronto were, with one goal each: Nazem Kadri, James VanRiemsdyk, William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, and Austin Matthews. This means that scoring happened on all of the top three lines for the Maple Leafs tonight. This is the kind of depth that they need to show consistently if they hope to make a run into the playoffs again this season. Scoring the Jets two goals tonight were Mark Scheifele, and Mathieu Perrault. Jets goalie Steve Mason was pulled just seconds into the 3rd period when the Maple Leafs were up 4-0. He was replaced by backup goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, but to no avail, Toronto still scored three more goals while he was in net. The Jets finally got onto the scoreboard halfway through the third, but it was too little, too late, and they ultimately fell to the Maple Leafs 7-2.

The banner raising of the 2017 Stanley Cup Championship banner at the PPG Paints Arena opened the 2017-18 season in style. The Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Lewis Blues did not disappoint in their season opener which was a nail biting game that ended in OT, with a score of 5-4 St. Lewis. Mid way through the 3rd we got to see Sid being Sid as he scored his first goal of the season, in typical Crosby style, by jumping over the initial shot picking up the rebound and putting it in the net all in one fluid and seemingly effortless move. This was a fast paced back and forth game throughout. Both teams played hard and it was any one's game to win. At the end of the 3rd the game was tied 4 all sending it to over time. This OT period was short lived though, just 1 minute 15 seconds in, Alex Pietrangelo scored the game winning goal, his 2nd goal of the game. The other goals for the Blues were scored by Paul Stasney, Brayden Schenn, Colton Parayko, each with one goal. In addition to Crosby, Pittsburgh's other three goals were put in by Justin Shultz, Olli Matta, and Connor Sheary.

Next up was our classic rivalry game, known as the battle of Alberta. The Edmonton Oilers took on the Calgary Flames in what was expected to be a charged season opener for both teams.  This however was a decidedly one sided game which ended in a 3-0 shut out by Edmonton.  All three goals were scored by Oilers captain Connor McDavid. The final goal of the night an empty netter in the last minute of play gave McDavid the first hat trick of the regular season! McDavid’s hat trick was the first opening night hat trick scored by an Oiler in franchise history! This was his 2nd career hat trick, and hopefully we will see several more from him throughout the season. Two of the assists in tonight's game were unsurprisingly from Leon Draisaitl, the other was from Milan Lucic. Edmonton had a mind boggling 45 shots on goal tonight compared to Calgary's 26. Despite the crushing loss, Flames goalie Mike Smith had a good game stopping 43 shots, some in spectacular style. For his efforts he was awarded the 2nd star of the game! The first star, of course, went to Connor McDavid for his three goals, and the third to Cam Talbot for stopping all 26 shots he faced tonight.

The last game of the night was the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers. This was expected to be a close and evenly matched game going in. In the first two periods it appeared to be exactly that, the game was tied 2-2 all at the end of the first. In the second we still had a close game with only one goal being scored, which put the Flyers up by 1. In the third, however we began to see the Sharks fatal flaws. The Sharks only managed to put away one more goal, while the Flyers got the puck into the net twice more. The Sharks lack of depth and abundance of relatively young and less experienced players really showed in that final period of play. All of the goals scored by San Jose were from their top 2 lines, with 2 of the 3 from their first line. One young player who really shined for the Sharks was Kevin Lebanc who had 2 of their 3 goals! The other San Jose goal was scored by veteran Logan Couture. Another notable veteran performance was Brent Burns who made his 500th career assist tonight on Couture's 3rd period goal! For the Flyers their first 2 goals were scored early in the game by Claude Giroux and Jordan Weal. The second and third period were the Wayne Simmonds show, he had the only goal in the second period. In the final period of play he made an amazing tip in goal off of Gostisbehere to put the Flyers up by 1 again. Then in the final 36 seconds of play Simmonds made an empty netter, giving him his first hat trick of this 2017-18 season, and leading his team to a well deserved win on their away season opening game. This hat trick by Simmonds was also the first opening night hat trick in the Flyers organization's history!

  • The Maple Leafs, Blues, Oilers, and Flyers all take wins in their season opening games. 
  • Congratulations to Connor McDavid of the Oilers and Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers for their opening night hat tricks. In both cases these were the first hat tricks scored by a player on opening night in their organizations's history! 
  • Also Congratulations to Brent Burns of the Sharks for his milestone 500th career assist! 
  • The Penguins walk away with a loss, but still manage to gain a point by forcing the game into overtime. 
  • The Jets leave tonight with the most devastating loss to Toronto 2-7. 
  • Calgary takes the shutout loss in their rivalry game...

And the Sharks lose at home... again. Home teams usually have the advantage, but in recent years this has not been the case for the Sharks. San Jose seems to have a unique curse when it comes to home games, they lose them nearly as often, if not more, than they win them. This curse seems to still be with them this season as well.

All in all it was a great opening night of regular season hockey, and I look forward to watching again tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Look at the Kings: The Final Roster for Regular Season, and Who was Cut


The Kings began this pre-season with 87 players on their roster. As with all NHL teams they have over the last three weeks undergone the process of cutting that roster down to the final 23 slots allowed by the league.  At the beginning of training camp last month the kings had five goalies, 20 defensemen, and 62 forwards on their pre-season roster. On September 27th the Kings assigned 23 players for the Ontario Reign, Jordan Nolan was picked up off of waivers and several other players were sent to junior teams in the OHL or WHL. This left the Kings with 33 players remaining on their roster. As of yesterday they are down to their final 23 players.

The forwards who made the cut were: Andy Andreoff (LW), Jonny Brodzinski (C), Dustin Brown (RW), Michael Cammalleri (C), Jeff Carter (C), Kyle Clifford (LW), Nic Dowd (C), Alex Iafallo (C), Adrian Kempe (LW), Anze Kopitar (C), Trevor Lewis (C), Tanner Pearson (LW), Nick Shore (C), and Tyler Toffoli (C).  On the Defensive lines the Kings kept Drew Doughty (R), Oscar Fantenberg (L), Christian Folin (R), Derek Forbort (L), Kurtis MacDermid (R), Alec Martinez (L), and Jake Muzzin (L). The two remaining goaltenders are of course, Jonathan Quick, and Darcy Kuemper. On the injured list are players Marion Gaborik (RW), Gabriel Vilardi (C), and Austin Wagner (LW). Vilardi and Wagner will likely go back down to the Reign when healthy. Gaborik will remain on the Kings roster when healthy, or until they can either trade him or buy out his contract.

In the pre-season the Kings played seven games, and had a 5-2 record. The Kings lost their first pre-season game to the Canucks 4-3. They then played two exposition games in China against Vancouver both of which they won. The other game they lost to was against the Ducks, it was played during the time that the veteran Kings players were all in China, so it was a bit of an uneven match up from the start.  

Scoring for the Kings during pre-season, of the players who made the final cut, were: Jake Muzzin with two goals, Dustin Brown with 1 goal, Oscar Fantenberg with 1goal, Tanner Pearson with two goals, Adrian Kempe with 1 goal, Jeff Carter with two goals, Alec Martinez with 1 goal, Jake Muzzin with two goals, Tyler Toffoli with one goal, Johnny Brodznski with one goal, Nick Shore with one goal, Nic Dowd with one goal, Drew Doughty with one goal, Mike Cammalleri with two goals, and Kurtis MacDermid with one goal. 

A notable name missing from this list is captain Anze Kopitar. In the pre-season games, I saw Kopitar did take several good shots, just unfortunately none of them made it in. He was playing strong defensively and tallied up two assists in these seven games as well.  I believe that his play is stronger and more focused than what we saw from him last season. Hopefully, in the first few games of the regular season, he can put up some goals for the Kings as well. 

There were also several players who were sent back down to the minors or junior leagues who played well and scored for the Kings in the pre-season. Goals were scored by Justin Auger (1), Matt Luff (1), and Brooks Liach (1). Assists were made by Michael Amadio (2), Kevin Gravel (1), Andrei Loktionov (1). 

I also attended the Kings pre-season game against the Ducks on 9/22, the game where all of the Kings first string players were still in China. As a result, I got to see a lot of the younger guys who went back down to the minors play. In addition to the players above who scored points in the pre-season, the players I noticed most were our younger goalie prospects. Campbell started the game and played for the first half.  He made several great saves and had good awareness of his team and what he needed to do to help them both offensively and defensively. Cal Peterson took over in net part way through the 2nd, and while he let in more goals than Campbell, I still feel he played well given his level of experience. He had one really amazing save during his time in net as well. Peterson definitely needs some seasoning, but he has the potential to shape up into a strong and competitive goalie. 

Michael Mersch was another player who showed a lot of promise, I was a little bit sad to see him go back down to the Reign. 

All of these guys are definitely prospects worth watching to see how they develop. The two I would most like to see get some NHL time again in the coming seasons would be Micheal Mersch and Kevin Gravel. I know there is only so much room on the roster, and they are both very young and relatively inexperienced, but I was sad to see them cut from the final roster.

The Kings have their first game of the regular season against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday 10/5. The projected lineup will be:

First line: Alex Iafallo (LW), Anze Kopitar (C), Dustin Brown (LW)
            Defense: Derek Forbort (L), Drew Doughty (R)

Second line: Tanner Pearson (LW), Jeff Carter (C), Tyler Toffoli (RW)
            Defense: Jake Muzzin (L), Alec Martinez (R)

Third line: Jonny Brodzinski (LW), Adrian Kempe (C), Michael Cammalleri (RW)
            Defense: Oscar Fantenberg (L), Christian Folin (R)

Jonathan Quick will likely start in Goal.

This first game against the Flyers is a good opening game of the season it should be a strong competitive game that the Kings have a good chance of winning.  Their first real challenge of the season will come on Saturday 10/7 when they have their first away game of the season against inter-state rival San Jose Sharks. Hopefully the Kings will fare better in that game than they did in last year’s season opener in San Jose. In any case, I am really excited to see how the first week of the NHL regular season goes for all 31 teams in the league!