That was about the newsiest first week of an NHL season that I can remember! Unfortunately, it was in the form of bad news for three teams.
But since I try to be a glass half-full type of guy, let's start with something that had the entire hockey world buzzing: the electric debut of 2016 No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They basically tanked last season to improve their chances of winning the draft lottery and the right to take Matthews. And don't say the NHL's move to warm-weather locales in Florida, Arizona and California was a mistake because more kids in those areas are growing up playing hockey. Matthews, whose mother is from Mexico, was born in California and grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., as he got interested in the sport watching the Coyotes play.
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Back in June, Matthews became the Leafs' first overall pick since they took Wendel Clark in 1985. He was a good player, but a lot more is expected of Matthews -- basically, to finally return the Leafs to relevance and end the franchise's Stanley Cup drought (last Cup was in 1967).
The Leafs aren't going to win the Cup this year or probably even make the playoffs, but Matthews scored four goals in his debut on Wednesday against Ottawa. The fact Toronto lost 5-4 in overtime really was secondary. No player had ever scored four goals in his NHL debut. Just for comparison, neither Sidney Crosby nor Gordie Howe have four-goal NHL games to their credit. It took Alex Ovechkin 202 games to record his first four-goal game. Wayne Gretzky did it in 136. There was just one four-goal game in the NHL last season, by Calgary's Sam Bennett.
This is the NHL's best possible scenario: an American star in the hub of hockey, Toronto. Matthews was a heavy -150 favorite to win the Calder Trophy entering the season. I'm not saying that race is over, but ...
Now we get to the bad news of the first week: injury concerns for the Penguins' Crosby, the Sabres' Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, and Kings' Jonathan Quick.
Crosby appeared past all his injury woes, but is now dealing with another concussion. He might be back fairly soon and has been skating but this is the NHL's worst nightmare as Crosby missed significant time during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons while recovering from post-concussion symptoms. Crosby led Team Canada to an undefeated run at the World Cup of Hockey last month and was named tournament MVP. Pittsburgh is still the +450 favorite at Bovada to repeat as Eastern Conference champion.
Eichel, who had a terrific rookie season last year, is going to miss 6-8 weeks after suffering a high-ankle sprain. At least it wasn't some sort of tear or break but it's still devastating to a Sabres team I thought could sneak into the playoffs. Eichel had 24 goals and 32 assists last year. Kane suffered three cracked ribs on Thursday night when he crashed into the end boards against Montreal. He will be out "weeks." Kane is a knucklehead at times but mega-talented. He had 20 goals and 15 assists in 65 games with Buffalo last year.
The Kings put their star goaltender, Quick, on injured reserve with a groin injury suffered in Thursday's opener against the Sharks. Quick has backstopped the Kings to a pair of Stanley Cups and had played in 140 of their 162 regular-season games over the past two seasons. The two-time Vezina finalist is being called week-to-week for now. But if he decides on surgery, it could be a 3-4 month absence. The veteran duo of Jeff Zatkoff and Peter Budaj will be handling the assignment in Quick's spot. Budaj was called up from the AHL following Quick's injury. The Kings are +900 to win the Western Conference.
This Week's Games To Watch
Pittsburgh at Montreal, Tuesday: This is the Habs' home opener and it's always an event when Crosby comes to town so we will have to wait and see if Canada's golden child will be able to. It doesn't seem likely as he hasn't been cleared for contact as of this writing. It's the second of a back-to-back for the Pens after hosting Colorado on Monday. What about Canadiens goalie Carey Price? He missed the team's first two games with a severe case of the flu. He was limited to only 12 regular-season games a year ago and the Canadiens went into the tank without him. That was due to a knee injury, but Price is clearly over that as he backstopped Canada to gold at the World Cup of Hockey. Al Montoya started the first two games for Price. Pittsburgh won two of three against Montreal last year.
St. Louis at Edmonton, Thursday: I thought the Oilers gave up on 2012 No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov too soon when they traded the forward to St. Louis earlier this month for a prospect and a conditional 2017 draft pick. Granted, Yakupov hadn't lived up to expectations with 23 points in 60 games last year and 111 points in 252 career NHL games. But the guy is just 23 and was a junior hockey dynamo. He also looked good his rookie year with 17 goals and 14 assists in the lockout-shortened 48-game campaign. Edmonton also hadn't exactly been the most stable organization while was there, either, in terms of coaches. Yakupov had requested a trade and can become a restricted free agent after the season. Yakupov had a goal and an assist his second game with the Blues and no doubt will be eager to score against his former team in this one.
NY Rangers at Washington, Saturday: An NHL Network game. These two rivals have quite a playoff history against one another this decade. They last met in the 2015 conference semifinals and Washington blew a 3-1 series lead and lost because that's something the Capitals tend to do. The Caps won the Metropolitan Division with an NHL-high 120 points last season and the Rangers were third with 101 and I think they will finish 1-2 this season, especially if Crosby's injury lingers. The Caps won three of five meetings in 2015-16 and four of the five were high-scoring. Bit of a surprise considering the quality of goalies in Braden Holtby, last year's Vezina winner, and Henrik Lundqvist. The Caps' star Ovechkin, the reigning NHL goal-scoring king, wasn't able to light the lamp in Washington' s first two games last week.
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