Saturday, 19 January 2013

Quite The First Day

We finally got to see the banner raised at Staples Center for the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup victory last season. A lot of time has past since then, we've seen an ugly labor war finally rectified, and everyone is back to work officially starting today. As "Badger" Bob Johnson used to say, it's a great day for hockey!

Once the excitement of seeing the banner hit the rafters died down, the Kings promptly began their defence of the Stanley Cup by completely rolling over for the Chicago Blackhawks. Nothing says "we are the defending champions" like giving up three first-period goals and looking entirely unorganized on the ice. While the rest of the game was a 2-2 draw, the damage was done early on as the Blackhawks took the game 5-2.

If you were wondering, the first goal of the shortened 2013 season was scored by Patrick Kane on the powerplay from Marian Hossa just 3:41 into the first period. I'm not sure if that will be useful for any trivia buffs out there, but that was the first goal scored this season.

We all heard about how great the goaltending tandem was in Vancouver this season with Cory Schneider being ready to accept the starter's role and Roberto Luongo being prepared to defend his stater's role with the Canucks. Instead, we saw the oldest player in the NHL this season - 42 year-old Teemu Selanne - pile up four points against the two goaltenders.

Anaheim pumped four second-period goals past the two Canucks netminders en route to a 7-3 win over last season's President Trophy winners. Selanne had two goals and two assists in the win, and he looked like he was ten years younger than he is. Schneider, who played in Switzerland during the lockout, looked like he hadn't skated for a while, and Luongo was only marginally better.

While the goaltending wasn't great for Vancouver, the penalty kill was absolutely abysmal. Anaheim went three-for-three with the man-advantage, leaving Vancouver with a penalty killing percentage of 0% after one game. Anaheim was the 21st-best team on the powerplay last season, and it's not like they brought in a ton of talent to revamp their offence. Vancouver laid an egg on Saturday night, and Teemu Selanne took advantage.

Speaking of old men lighting up the ice, Jaromir Jagr carried over his Czech Republic scoring pace in Dallas as the Stars downed the Coyotes by a 4-3 score. Jagr was in on all four Dallas goals, and helped to set up another old man as Ray Whitney scored a powerplay goal in his Stars debut.

Jagr, who is 40 years old this season, looked like he was in his mid-twenties in this game, connecting nearly-impossible passes to teammates and skating with determination again. I didn't see the game, but the highlights made Jagr look like he's playing for a Stanley Cup in Dallas this season. If he can continue to rack up points like he did tonight, Dallas had a great shot at making the playoffs this season.

Despite the loss, Radim Vrbata is back to his old Phoenix ways again. He's never scored more than 18 goals for any team he has played with other than Phoenix. In the Arizona desert, Vrbata has never scored less than 19 goals in a season. I'm not saying that there's any correlation between Vrbata and Phoenix, but he might be out of a job if the Coyotes were to ever move. He scored a pair against Dallas tonight, giving him 107 of his 185 career goals in a Coyotes uniform. Or, more succinctly, 57.8% of his career goals have come in four seasons in Phoenix.

Did anyone see Detroit struggling like they did against the Blues? I understand that Nicklas Lidstrom was a Hall-of-Fame defenceman, but the Red Wings looked all kinds of lost on the ice against St. Louis today. The result? A 6-0 loss to start the season.

St. Louis outshot Detroit 17-2 in the first period. Yes, that's not a misprint. The final tally saw St. Louis throw up a Detroit-like 36-14 margin in shots. For all the weapons that people talk about in Detroit - Datsyuk, Brunner, Zetterberg, Franzen - all St. Louis did was throw a blanket on them. Brunner and Filppula led the Wings with three shots each, but St. Louis was simply awesome in their opening night effort.

St. Louis' Vladimir Tarasenko looks like he's going to make a case for the Calder Trophy as he scored a pair of gorgeous goals against the Wings. He skates like wind, has incredibly soft hands, and sees the ice very well in terms of finding a spot to turn a pass into a goal. Keep your eyes on this Russian whiz kid. He looked impressive in his NHL debut.

Lastly, it looked like all systems go in Winnipeg where the Jets used a huge push from the crowd to jump out with some excitement and emotion. An early penalty resulted in a Dustin Byfuglien powerplay goal, and it appeared that the Jets were off and running in this sprint-like season. The problem? These are still the Winnipeg Jets.

After that powerplay marker, it appeared as though the Jets took their foot off the gas pedal. Or perhaps Ottawa woke up and began to push. In any case, the Jets were outhustled, outworked, and generally outclassed in their own barn once again by this Senators team. Ottawa has now won three straight games, including a key one down the stretch last season, at MTS Centre and appear to be making the Winnipeg arena into their second favorite home with their 4-1 win today.

The good news for Winnipeg after dropping the season opener for the season year in a row is that they are in the same place as Washington and Carolina right now. The bad news for Winnipeg is they are in the exact spot where all the prognosticators said they would be at the end of the season. Winnipeg started strong, but it went downhill from there. They need to find a way to play for the entire sixty minutes every night or this season will be a long one for Jets fans.

It was a great day for hockey, kids. Here's to the next 98 days being just as good!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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