Bruins, Connor McDavid struggling; this week’s games to watch
Let's take a look at the week ahead, with a focus on a promising young star who is looking for his first goal and a renewal of one of the NHL’s great rivalries.
Monday: Tampa Bay at Boston (1 p.m. ET; TVAS, SN360, SUN, NESN)
This Columbus Day afternoon tilt takes on additional meaning for the Bruins, who have been in total disarray while allowing 10 goals against in a pair of season-opening losses. The B’s waived defenseman Matt Irwin on Sunday, which suggests Zdeno Chara might be healthy enough to return to the lineup, but it’ll take more than their captain to right this ship. The big issue remains the soft defensive presence of the team’s forwards, especially from youngsters like Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly. That shouldn’t be a surprise—none were known as defensive stalwarts in the past—but the pressure is on them to figure out how to play the game the Boston way. That pressure only increases with the absence of Brad Marchand, who is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms. Boston heads out west for a pair (vs. Colorado and Arizona) after this one, putting them on the path for an 0-5 start. They need to turn things around today.
Tuesday: Edmonton at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET; SNOL, FS-SW)
After a promising (though pointless) debut on Wednesday night in St. Louis, Connor McDavid looked thoroughly overwhelmed in the Oilers’ Saturday night loss to Nashville. The top pick was protected from having to face Shea Weber most of the night, but did little with the advantageous matchups. He was schooled (again) in the face-off circle and settled for lower-quality chances rather than using his speed to work the puck down low. It's part of the process for any young player, but with expectations running so high, his tentative first steps have been a glaring disappointment.
On Tuesday McDavid will have a chance to get his game on track against one of the worst defenses in the league. The Stars took a 3–1 lead against Colorado on Saturday then coughed up five unanswered goals in a 6–3 loss that highlighted their own-zone struggles. Kari Lehtonen, who posted an ugly 4.57 GAA during the preseason, could get his first start in this contest.
Wednesday: Chicago at Philadelphia (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN)
Whatever pressures Patrick Kane is feeling as the subject of a sexual assault investigation has clearly had no impact on his play during the season’s first three games. The superstar winger is off to a blistering start, netting three goals and six points to lead the league in scoring. Kane said he didn’t hear taunts from the crowd during Chicago’s 3-2 win over the Islanders in Brooklyn on Friday night, but he might not be so lucky when he ventures into the snake pit that is the Wells Fargo Center. Then again, he’ll be up against a defense that allowed seven goals to Florida over the weekend, so he may be too busy lighting the lamp to hear the jeers of the Philly faithful.
Saturday: Detroit at Montreal (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, TVAS, CITY, FS-D)
Many of the Red Wings are still feeling their way through the early days of the Jeff Blashill regime, but the new-look top line hit the ice at full speed. Justin Abdelkader, Henrik Zetterberg and rookie Dylan Larkin have combined for six of Detroit’s eight goals and 13 points in total, giving the team a dynamic offensive focal point. Don’t be surprised though if that unit is split up for this one. Blashill moved Larkin down to center the second line with wingers Tomas Tatar and Teemu Pulkkinen in the third period against Carolina on Saturday night in an effort to spread the offense and the trio clicked immediately. They’ll need to be much better after getting blitzed most of the night by the ’Canes (the shots against were 30-5 at one point) and a more balanced attack could be the key.
Saturday: Edmonton at Calgary (10 p.m. EET, CBC)
The Battle of Alberta hasn’t offered much more excitement than a pre-K Christmas pageant in recent years, but this could be the start of a new round of hostilities. All eyes will be on McDavid’s first taste of the rivalry, and there are questions to be asked about Edmonton’s offense but this is just as much a referendum on Calgary’s supporting cast. The top line is burning out red lights for the Flames—Johnny Gaudreau has been a part of all four goals scored by the team so far and Sean Monahan has looked sharp—but the rest of the crew has yet to make a contribution to the score sheet. The pressure is on the middle six to chip in.
Just remember, don’t tune out early no matter the score. The Flames won 10 games last season in which they trailed entering the third period, and they were at it again on Saturday night against Vancouver. Few teams play to the final buzzer quite like Calgary.
The Numbers Game
• On Sunday night Mike Condon of the Canadiens and Matt O’Connor of the Senators became the first pair of starting goaltenders to make their NHL debuts in the same game since Oct. 14, 1967, when Wayne Rutledge and the Kings beat Doug Favell and the Flyers 4–2 in the first game in Kings history and second game for the Flyers.
• The Canadiens are now 11-1-0 in their last 12 regular season games against the archrival Bruins dating back to March 3, 2013. The Habs’s streak includes seven straight wins at TD Garden.
• On Saturday, the Panthers blitzed the Flyers with four goals in the first 6:46 of the first period—the fastest four tallies to start a season in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44) en route to a 7–1 rout.
• After two miserable performances, the Bruins are shaking up their roster in an effort to get things back on track.
• New numbers, selling ideas and figuring out goalies were three hot topics at this weekend's fancystats conference at RIT.
• Superstar trainer Gary Roberts has introduced a new angle to his elite athletic preparation program: DNA testing. And you won't believe what it can reveal.
• Larry Brooks argues that it’s time to correct Glen Sather’s biggest mistake as Rangers GM. A good idea, but it won’t be easy. Or cheap.
• Here’s how World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend was celebrated in Mexico, Indonesia and Australia as well as traditional hot spots like Finland, Sweden and the U.S.