Things are starting to get spicy.
With the first two weeks complete for the NHL season, we’ve got a good look at what teams are capable of, which players are going to be among the best and more. The concept of the shorter schedule means teams need to get antsy quickly if they want a shot at the playoffs, and that’s created some great action along the way.
There hasn’t been a ton of surprises along the way. The top teams are still the best, the worst teams are still near the bottom and Connor McDavid is still a mortal among men. But one thing is certain: we’re in for a treat in 2020-21 with so much hockey condensed in such a short span.
Let’s look at the biggest takeaways from the second week of NHL action:
The NHL isn’t messing around with COVID
COVID-19 is a serious virus, and for any major sporting league to take place during the global pandemic, everyone needs to follow strict guidelines. Whether it was their fault or not, the Dallas Stars were forced to miss the first week of play after 17 players were placed on the COVID-19 protocol list, with the Stars returning rested over the weekend to go 2-0 to start the season.
But the NHL really showed it meant business when it fined the Washington Capitals $100,000 after four players – Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Dmitri Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov – were found violating COVID-19 protocols by spending time for what the league described as “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings.” In the end, Samsonov was forced to miss time after testing positive for COVID-19, while the rest were forced into waiting until the league decides they’re good to go.
The Capitals split a series against the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend, but minimized the damage with three out of a possible four points thanks to an OT loss on Sunday. The Capitals have the depth to move past missing key players, but what about the teams that can’t? The league made it clear its stance on violating COVID-19 protocols and the other 30 teams took notice.
Just wear a mask, folks.
Get ready for the new-look Jets
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we’d see Patrik Laine get traded.
For starters, the goal-scorer has been in trade rumors for the past two seasons, with no realistic trade offers coming through the pipeline. But when Columbus’ Pierre-Luc Dubois requested a trade from Columbus, it looked like something could be made possible.
The Blue Jackets needed someone to put pucks in the net and the Jets had that man.
The Blue Jackets dealt Dubois and a third-round pick to Winnipeg in exchange for Laine and Jack Roslovic, a Columbus native himself. The Jets added another top center to a team that already has Mark Schiefele, one of the top scoring centers in the NHL so far this season. In Laine, the Blue Jackets finally got an all-star quality scorer to replace Artemi Panarin, who jetted for the Rangers back in 2019.
While Laine should be a star in Columbus, the real focus is on the Jets. Schiefele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor have made up one of the best lines in the league so far this season, and Dubois on the second line gives the team one of the best 1-2 punches around. That’ll move Paul Stastny to the third line, which should make Jets fans even more excited after he skated on first line for much of his tenure in Vegas. There’s still a need to improve the team’s depth on the left side, but Dubois, a 60-point scorer just two years ago, will help make the team’s middle even more unstoppable.
Of course, the loss of Laine – a three-time 30-goal winger with one of the best scoring skillsets in the league – is going to hurt, but he wanted out anyway. Dubois wasn’t going to get any further opportunities in Columbus, so the deal makes sense. Dubois still has to prove he can play without a star forward beside him like he had in Panarin, and he’s still at least another week away before getting a chance to play, but the Jets should be an absolute blast to watch with two of the best middlemen in the North Division.
The Montreal Canadiens are… good?
So, we knew the Canadiens would be better in 2020-21 after adding forwards Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, defensemen Joel Edmundsson and goaltender Jake Allen. The depth of this team was much better than what we saw in previous seasons.
But what we didn’t know was that after six games, the team would be in a three-way tie with Toronto and Vegas for first in the entire NHL after amassing zero regulation losses. Crazy, right? The Habs started things off with a loss to Toronto in OT and a second post-60-minute loss to Vancouver last week, but it’s been smooth sailing otherwise.
So, are they good? For now, yeah.
We’re only 10 percent into the season, but we need to give full props to what Marc Bergevin did during the off-season to improve this organization. The group isn’t perfect, but Toffoli playing out of his mind against his former team Vancouver, Jeff Petry’s five assists and the improved play of sophomore Nick Suzuki. Even Joel Armia was playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen out of him in years prior to an injury and Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin have found their usual easy season form once more.
A full season of this momentum is tough to imagine, but there haven’t been many weaknesses in the team’s game, either. The depth has been good, the defense has gotten the job done and Carey Price and Allen have held their own. I still think Toronto (one of the teams Montreal is tied with, but with an extra game played) is the better overall team with the better players, but Montreal has looked consistently more impressive with points in all six games.
Chicago might have a budding goalie on their hands
Heading into the season, it was hard to get excited about the Blackhawks’ goaltending situation. One of the league’s top goaltenders, Robin Lehner, left at the trade deadline last year and signed a new deal in Vegas. Corey Crawford, the team’s No. 1 goalie for the past decade, signed in New Jersey but retired shortly. That meant the rebuilding franchise was putting its hopes in Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia, two goalies who have never been a No. 1 in the NHL.
In the fourth game of the season, the Hawks were forced to utilize Kevin Lankinen, the team’s third goalie with just a partial AHL season under his belt. Lankinen made a name for himself as Finland’s saving grace at the 2019 World Championship, but had otherwise never really put up mind-blowing numbers anywhere he has played. He made his NHL debut against Florida last week and despite allowing five goals in a 5-4 overtime loss, it marked the team’s first point of the season and the best performance of the year after Subban and Delia allowed five goals each in their first starts. Lankinen got consecutive starts against Detroit and, yes, while we’re talking about the league’s weakest unit, Lankinen was the best player on the ice for Chicago in all three starts.
After outplaying his two colleagues, it appears as though Lankinen won’t head back to the taxi squad and will stick with the main team for the time being. With Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews out for the season, the Hawks need all the help they can get (it’s not a great draft year, folks). If Lankinen can continue to put in game-stealing efforts a la Andrew Hammond during the 2014-15 season, then the Hawks may be on to something. Realistically, though, there will be some challenges along the way and we’re talking about a three-game streak, but Lankinen has raised some eyebrows early in his NHL career.
Hot or not, No. 1 pick edition
All top young hockey players dream of going No. 1 at the NHL draft.
Unfortunately, when you finally do so, the pressure piles on and life becomes a challenge. Jack Hughes figured that out last season with a historically bad first season by a No. 1 draft pick, scoring seven goals and 21 points in 61 games for a bad New Jersey Devils team. But he was the top prospect for a reason, and with three goals and seven points through five games, Hughes has been one of the league’s hottest commodities right out of the gate.
But fellow No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere has fallen into a similar hole as Hughes, but with the added caveat of having to sit from March until January. Lafreniere has failed to record a point through five games with the New York Rangers since going No. 1 in October, but that was to be expected. The Rangers are still a work-in-progress and Lafreniere was going to need extra time to adjust given the extended off-season.
So, don’t fret, Rangers fans. Lafreniere was projected to go No. 1 dating back to at least 2017 and he still projects to be quite the player. Many fans and memorabilia collectors gave up on Jack Hughes a year ago after getting severely out-performed by fellow rookies Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar, but it’s simply hard to be a No. 1 prospect heading into an NHL rookie season. The Rangers will be good in a few years and Lafreniere will be one of the league’s better wingers. But there needs to be a bit of patience at this point.