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!

1 comment:

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