Hockey fans, sports bars, and beer distributors alike rejoiced this past week as their favorite teams, stars, and agitators took to the ice to begin this year’s quest for Lord Stanley. In our inaugural Hockey Players Club Regroup, we’re excited to share our favorite highlights and storylines from the first week of the 2015-2016 NHL season.
First Game, First NHL Goal
Three highly touted prospects made their NHL debuts this week and wasted no time showing they can score in the show.
Jack Eichel [2nd overall, 2015 NHL entry draft] is expected to battle Edmonton’s Connor McDavid for this year’s Calder Trophy. Recognized for a suite of skill, explosiveness, and hockey sense, he quickly showcased his sniping ability. With minimal space between Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson’s shoulder and the crossbar, Eichel buried his first NHL goal right under the bar. Way to show up in style, Jack:
Max Domi [12th overall, 2013 NHL entry draft] is a living junior hockey highlight reel aiming to establish himself as much of the same at the NHL level. His combination of vision, deftly stick skills, and shiftiness are a hard package to compete with. His goal is a tribute to his hockey sense and accuracy as he sneakily shoots through the legs of a Los Angeles Kings defender and beats Conn Smythe-winning-goaltender Jonathan Quick short side. Offensive brilliance you don’t typically showcase in your first NHL game:
Dylan Larkin [15th overall, 2014 NHL entry draft] showed the Red Wings’ upper management he plans to stick in MoTown by sniping Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier near side, top shelf in his first career NHL game. Known for his speed and affinity for taking the puck hard to the net, Larkin burst down the left side of the ice, accepted a pass from captain Henrik Zetterberg in the neutral zone and proceeded to blow past the Leafs defenders before beating Bernier. At only 19 years old, this kid plays like an NHL veteran.
Oscar Lindberg earns honorable mention as he scored 4 goals in the first 3 games for the Rangers this season, tallying at least one each game. But having played 1 regular season game last year with the Blue Shirts, he doesn’t quite qualify for first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Even so, I don’t think anyone would be mad about having 4 goals through their first 4 NHL games! Let alone this topshelf beauty past the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford:
Jagr, the Legend Continues
The ageless wonder known as Jaromir Jagr continued his display of NHL dominance in the Florida Panthers’ season opener, recording 2 goals against the Philadelphia Flyers. Already the record holder for most points recorded in season openers [39 points], Jagr further distanced himself from the competition while continuing to chip away at the gap between his point total [1,804] and those of Gordie Howe [1,850] and Mark Messier [1,887].
Can you imagine if this guy didn’t play 3 years in the KHL [’08-’11] and didn’t miss two-and-a-half NHL seasons due to lockouts? Keep up the magic and your conditioning, Jags! We hope to see your name right behind Gretzky, where it belongs, before you walk away from the NHL.
Ovi’s 1st of the Season
It’s hard to believe this is Ovechkin’s 11th season in the NHL as he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Like the youngster who scored 52 goals in his rookie season and captured the Calder Trophy, Ovi flew down the left wing pulling the puck through his own legs before sniping the far top corner. Although he managed to make Devils’ defenseman John Moore look like a pylon, it’s hard to blame their goaltender Keith Kinkaid. In typical Ovechkin-style, the puck rocketed off Ovi’s stick directly to the top corner, even though he was in tight. Caps fan or not, we should all be grateful to have the opportunity to witness Alex Ovechkin’s offensive wizardry.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t show some serious respect to the goaltenders, especially King Henrik. We all understand goalie is the most crucial position in the game and barring a flawless team defensive game, it’s damn near impossible to win if our goalie is struggling. And more often than not, we need our goalie to pull a save or two out of his ass to preserve the lead… like Lundqvist.
Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist found himself in no-man’s-land when a Blue Jackets’ dump in took a weird hop off the end boards. What briefly appeared to be an easy tap-in for Columbus’ budding star Ryan Johansen, quickly turned into a candidate for save of the year:
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Boston Bruins are all winless. As teams widely considered playoff and potentially cup contenders, anyone want to cue ’em in that training camp is over? All three made key offseason transactions to address weaknesses and solidify their rosters, but have yet to find their team chemistry. Long hockey seasons always have their peaks and valleys but these teams well know they can’t afford to dig themselves too deep of a hole.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets are undefeated. Granted the Jets snuck into the playoffs last year before being quickly swept by the Anaheim Ducks, but no one is guaranteeing they’re making the playoffs this season. And we highly doubt the Coyotes were Vegas favorites in their games against the Kings and Penguins this past week after finishing last season only 2 points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, who finished last place in the entire NHL last year. Regardless, we’re hoping these teams can maintain their momentum and complicate the conclusion of the NHL regular season as teams try to claw and fight their way into a playoff spot.