I know it's too early to draw any lasting conclusions after having played only one full weekend of the 2007-08 NHL schedule. Still, even this early, we're already seeing some interesting performances on the ice that are -- at least for the moment -- defying the predictions of a lot of the experts. So while nobody is probably shocked that the Senators are 3-0 (this after going undefeated in seven preseason games), it's safe to say that there are a number of fans around the league who are suddenly experiencing the sweet and light burden of increased expectations.
How High is the Ceiling In Washington? Everyone knew that after acquiring free agents Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti that the Washington Capitals were going to be a better team this season. The real question was how much better would they be? After watching the first period of their Saturday night game against Carolina, the answer might be a lot better than anyone anticipated.
In the first period, the Caps put on an absolute clinic with their new, "puck possession" style, cycling relentlessly and keeping Carolina bottled up in their own zone, outshooting the Hurricanes, 14-2. By the time it was over, the score was only 1-0 but the message had been sent: The Caps were a far different team, one that seemed more skilled, more tenacious and more physical than in many a season. Perhaps most frightening for opponents is the seemingly-psychic link that has developed between resident superstar winger Alex Ovechkin and Kozlov, his new center, never more so than in the first period when Kozlov executed a beautiful drop pass to Ovechkin at the top of the slot, with the younger Russian wiring a wrist shot past a helpless John Grahame. The goal was the 200th point of Ovechkin's NHL career.
When the inevitable Carolina surge came in the third period, the Caps and goalie Olie Kolzig were more than up to the challenge, playing more carefully to protect a lead, and doing the little things that often mean the difference between winning and losing, like when Ovechkin threw himself in front of a slap shot late in the period to help preserve a 2-0 win.
Are Apologies in Order for Mr. Snow and Mr. Nolan? For the second year in a row, it was safe to say that no other team experienced as chaotic an offseason as the New York Islanders. In 2006, the news was all about a front office that completely imploded, leaving Garth Snow, the backup goalie, installed as general manager. In 2007, the narrative was all about Snow and the rest of the front office getting caught flat-footed as they were spurned by Ryan Smyth while all the team's other unrestricted free agents fled to points North (Jason Blake to Toronto) and South (Tom Poti and Viktor Kozlov to Washington).
Fortunately for the Islanders, we don't play NHL regular season games in July and August -- at least not yet. Unbowed by the multiple defections, Snow got to work cobbling together a lineup out of the free agent parts that were left -- in particular Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko -- and let head coach Ted Nolan glue it all together into an actual lineup. The result: So far, real chemistry on the top line with the three most significant acquisitions, with Comrie looking better than he ever has, scoring four times in 6-4 and 3-2 wins over Buffalo.
Next up for the Islanders: A Columbus Day matinee against the aforementioned Capitals. Some are more anxious than they should be.
Has Daddy Dolan Had Enough? The New York Post is reporting that in the wake of all the legal wrangling at MSG, the parent company of the Knicks and Rangers, Cablevision CEO Charles Dolan is getting ready to shake things up at the world's most famous arena, having tired of the multiple lawsuits that have proliferated under the stewardship of his son, James.
If it wasn't enough that he's had to suffer through seeing MSG end up on the wrong side of an $11.6 million sexual harassment suit thanks to Isiah Thomas, there's also the suit against the NHL on control of the Rangers' online properties. And coming up next, ex-Rangers cheerleader Courtney Prince's own sexual harassment law suit, which is set to go to trial soon, as well as another racial/sexual discrimination suit that's sure to peel the paint off of the walls of Daddy's office suite.
NHL Center Ice Glitches: As the guys at Orland Kurtenblog discovered over the weekend, NHL Center Ice is simply God's gift to the NHL fan. Then again, it's not like the product isn't without its problems. On opening weekend with the Ducks and Kings in London, the Center Ice channel that was supposed to carry the Saturday game instead televised about 30 minutes of a fitness infomercial -- meanwhile, if you played hunt and find, you'd have eventually discovered that the game was being carried on Prime Ticket on the DirecTV sports tier.
This weekend, one of my long-time Off Wing readers, Mark Coale, passed along news of some other foul ups over the weekend:
First, on Center Ice online, they showed about 5 minutes of the UVA football game instead of the Caps game. No problem on regular Comcast.That's certainly nothing that would make you regret your Center Ice investment. Still, it's more than annoying when you're paying serious money for a product that could very well have failed to deliver the most important moment of a headline matchup on a Saturday night.
Second, when the Leafs/Habs game went to overtime, Center ice (on Directv) put up the "thank you for watching" game over graphic. Oddly, that didn't happen on Center Ice online. They fixed it on Directv about a minute before Toronto scored the GW goal.
Elsewhere: While some might be shocked that Oilers GM Kevin Lowe was granted a four-year contract extension after two of the most disastrous offseasons in NHL history, his cut and paste job with the Edmonton lineup has notched two quick wins, with newcomers Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson potting combining for three scores against their former team in a 5-3 win over Philly on Saturday night ... While I still expect that the continued specter of a move to Kansas City could derail the Nashville Predators' season, the team is showing few ill effects after shedding multiple veterans over the Summer, something that was readily apparent in a 5-1 win over Dallas on Saturday ... In only three games the snaggle-toothed Paul Statsny already has four goals and four assists, picking up a goal and four helpers in Sunday's 6-1 win over San Jose ... Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, who scored the first NHL goal of his career in London last weekend, was sent down to Portland of the AHL ... The Islanders re-signed Richard Park to a two-year extension ... New Jersey's 4-1 Saturday win over Florida was the first NHL victory of new head coach Brent Sutter's career. Surprise, Martin Brodeur was not in goal ... In Los Angeles, Erik Johnson of St. Louis got the first goal of his NHL career in a 5-3 win over the Kings ... After trailing 3-1 in the third period of their home opener against Detroit, the Blackhawks rallied to tie the game in regulation, then win in a shootout on a goal by rookie Patrick Kane ... When Chicago GM Dale Tallon tried to deliver a tribute to Bill Wirtz before the game, some in the crowd jeered him ... Detroit's Johan Franzen will be out 3-4 weeks after suffering a knee sprain in Chicago Saturday night.
Good Ideas Are Like Viruses -- They Spread: Since last April, the NHL Tournament of Logos has been the gathering place on the Web for folks to alternately vent/praise the new uniform designs being introduced league-wide by Reebok this season. Besides taking a hard look at each design (something we've also done here at FanHouse with Jes Golbez leading the charge), the blog has also held a league-wide playoff to determine the best logo in the NHL while also providing an invaluable service -- I'm talking about publishing a Reebok uniform template that fans could use as a guide to develop their own uniform designs.
Well, after slaving for about six months with nothing much else than the recognition of other bloggers to sustain them, Eric Kay, the Spin Columnist for CBS Sportsline, has suddenly decided to hold a contest to determine which NHL team has the best new Reebok design -- setting up one of those rare instances where a blog has gotten beaten to the punch by the MSM on a piece of turf that they had claimed as their own.
The chief cook and bottle washer over at Tournament seems to be taking it in stride, so good on him. Still, it's hard not to feel that the blog deserves some recognition from CBS Sportsline for the work they've already done. Here's hoping Kay finds some space in an upcoming column to do just that.
Newsworthy YouTube Embed: With the talk around the league about dangerous hits just beginning to subside in the wake of the Steve Downie suspension, the talk is sure to be revived after a shot that Ottawa's Chris Neil delivered to New York's Sean Avery on Saturday night in Ottawa. Though the refs gave Avery a two-minute minor for elbowing, the toll for Avery is going to be somewhat higher, as he'll miss 4 weeks with a Grade 2 separation of the left shoulder.
Taking another look at the hit, I'm having trouble even seeing how it merited a two-minute minor, as it seemed like a shoulder to shoulder blow to me. For more discussion, see this Sunday column from Larry Brooks -- one that was clearly filed before the Neil hit on Avery -- that warns the league to think hard before it decides its future course of action.