Off the Draw: Trouble in Toronto, heat in Philly; weekend's top games
What you missed Thursday night:
What to watch this weekend:
Islanders at Hurricanes (7:00 p.m. EDT; MSG Plus, FS-CR)
With just one game on the schedule on Friday night, all eyes will be on New York and its revamped back end. The Islanders switched their focus from the future to the present with a pair of huge deals last Saturday, first obtaining Johnny Boychuk from the Bruins, and then acquiring Nick Leddy from the Blackhawks. The trades addressed a clear area of concern for New York, moving promising but inexperienced defensemen Ryan Pulock and Griffin Reinhart out of the line of fire. The two can now develop more slowly in the AHL while a pair of recent Stanley Cup winners solidify the Islanders postseason chances in the here and now.
Boychuk brings a big, stabilizing presence to the blue line. He has a knack for delivering thundering hits without taking himself out of position. He also has a heavy shot from the point that could add some zip to a power play that ranked 17th last year (17.8%).
Leddy's play in his own zone remains a work in progress, but his ability to move the puck will revitalize New York's transition game. Given Lubomir Visnovsky's lengthy medical history, Leddy is a very important player.
The game on Friday night also marks the return of John Tavares, the franchise center who missed the final quarter of last season after injuring his knee while playing for Canada in the Olympics. The 24-year-old Hart Trophy candidate had the third-most points in the NHL (24 goals, 42 assists) when he went down. The Isles, however, will be without speedy forward Michael Grabner, who is out indefinitely after undergoing hernia surgery, so the offensive heavy lifting remains with Tavares' top line.
Cam Ward is likely to get the start in net for Carolina on the basis of his 17-3-3 career record against the Isles, but that doesn't mean he will be the Hurricanes' No. 1 goalie moving forward. Anton Khudobin looks to be their best option for this season and should get the bulk of the starts.
Penguins at Maple Leafs (7:00 p.m. EDT; CBC, NHLN-UA, ROOT)
There's no denying that Toronto's first line wasn't particularly good in the Maple Leafs' season-opening loss to the Canadiens on Wednesday night. Still, it was just one game. Hardly time to start pointing fingers.
“There’s things they have to do, and it’s not always on the ice,” Carlyle said after reporters reminded him that the duo was still working through minor injuries at the end of camp. “There’s a program in place with our strength and conditioning guys. When you’re injured, it doesn’t mean you have days off. You have injured days, but there is treatment and there are off-ice workouts that are to be adhered. We have to make sure they take [it] seriously.”
Carlyle pulled back on his criticism immediately after he realized what he'd said, but the damage was done. It's clear that there's already a disconnect between the coach and his stars in Toronto, a city where these things tend to escalate quickly. It'll be fascinating to see not only how those players perform, but how Carlyle utilizes them.
The contest also marks the first broadcast of the new CBC/Rogers Hockey Night In Canada hybrid, and the return of Don Cherry. Like you need another reason to tune in.
Canadiens at Flyers (7:00 p.m. EDT; TVA, CITY, CSN-PH)
Philadelphia fired coach Peter Laviolette after just three games last season. Think his replacement, Craig Berube, is excited about the possibility of starting this year 0–3? His seat hasn't started warming up just yet, but remember that Berube wasn't hired by new GM Ron Hextall. His leash might not be as long as you'd think.
Aside from expecting a better effort from the Flyers, keep an eye on center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The 29-year-old “rookie” from France has been one of the few bright spots for Philly through the first two games, impressing with his speed, smarts and puck movement.
Also worth watching: Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk, who evoked images of Patrick Kane with a sick shootout goal in Wednesday's win over the Capitals. Galchenyuk is coming off a strong camp, hinting that the 20-year-old winger could be on the verge of a breakout campaign.
Wild at Avalanche (9:00 p.m. EDT; FS-N, FS-WI, ALT)
The back end of this home-and-home set, a rematch of their first-round playoff matchup last spring, got a lot more interesting after the 5–0 thumping delivered by Minnesota on Thursday night.
It was just one game, but you could hear the #fancystats wonks crowing about their predictions that Colorado would regress this season. “We didn't compete,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “Competing was the word that was missing from our game. We didn't engage. We avoided every battle. They were faster on every puck than we were. I was also surprised to see the lack of execution. A lot of passes in the skates and stuff like that. It's hard to be positive today, the way we played.”
Expect Colorado to play on Saturday night like a team that just had its backside scorched.
The Wild, meanwhile, looked every bit like a team that's on the verge of ascendency. They set a franchise record with their 48–16 shot advantage, dominated the neutral zone, limited the Avalanche's zone entries and took cruel advantage of some jittery opening night play from Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov who, mercifully, was yanked after 40 minutes.
It'll be hard for Minnesota to match—let alone top—that effort, but this is a team that seems to feel like it is going somewhere. They won't want to give up the ground they earned on Thursday night.
If there was one troubling area for the Wild it was the play of Matt Dumba. The rookie defenseman made the roster on his offensive potential, but he really struggled with the puck. He also took a brutal penalty against Colorado's Matt Duchene. Another night like that and Dumba's stay in Minnesota might be short.
Rest of the schedule (all times Eastern): Capitals at Bruins (7 p.m.); Ducks at Red Wings (7 p.m.); Senators at Lightning (7 p.m.); Devils at Panthers (7 p.m.); Hurricanes at Islanders (7 p.m.); Rangers at Blue Jackets (7 p.m.); Flames at Blues (7 p.m.); Stars at Nashville (8 p.m.); Sabres at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m.); Kings at Coyotes (9 p.m.); Oilers at Canucks (10 p.m.); Jets at Sharks (10 p.m.)
Maybe they were victims of a pumped up opponent that was looking to avenge a humiliating playoff loss. Or maybe they lost their legs during that lengthy pre-game ceremony celebrating their 2014 Stanley Cup championship. Either way, the Los Angeles Kings came out flat in Wednesday night's 4-0 loss to San Jose. That shouldn't be a problem with the Jets in town on Sunday night.
Just in case pride doesn't kick in, coach Darryl Sutter is tinkering with his lineup, moving Justin Williams up to play right wing on the first line alongside Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar. Dustin Brown was dropped to a revamped third line featuring Jarret Stoll and Dwight King.
The Brown-Williams shift is a card that Sutter routinely plays when he's looking for something different from his club. Expect it to pay dividends.
The Jets are coming in off an impressive 6-2 win over the Coyotes, thanks in large part to a Gordie Howe hat trick by winger Blake Wheeler that featured two goals in 15 seconds. They'll need him at his best again on Sunday because they'll likely be without scoring star and fun magnet Evander Kane. The dashing winger suffered a suspected knee injury in a nasty collision with teammate Mark Schiefele during the team's opener. He'll undergo a battery of tests on Friday to determine the exact problem and how long he'll be out of the lineup.
Rest of the schedule (all times Eastern): Maple Leafs at Rangers (7 p.m.)
• The AHL's Adirondack Flames needed a new mascot. They came up with one that kills firemen. Meet Scorch.
• Gary Bettman tried to allay fears in Arizona, saying that a new investor in the Coyotes would stabilize the team, rather than pave the way for it to move. I don't think he succeeded.