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ONTONAGON… Where did it go? We are already into Week four in the young NHL season but there has been plenty of chills and spills so far. There has been unexpected “hot starts” by teams not expected to do such, some clubs that began on a good pace have since slowed, while others are evolving into the new campaign about as expected. For the locals, our Minnesota Wild kicked off the new year quite slowly, appearing sluggish and incohesive. I’m happy to report that despite the tough tilt at Nashville early last week the boys are now on a 3-game win streak and at least one of those wins was downright respectable. This is not an easy league to win in and when you can string 3 in a row together, that is a definite “hats off” moment. At the same time, if you want to be someone in this league that makes other clubs sit up and take notice, doing so has to be a regular occurrence. The boys draw a struggling LA King team in St. Paul tonight, and then will have their hands full with the Colorado Av’s at the ‘X’ on Saturday night before embarking on 7 straight road games. A couple of those are versus STL and there will be gaps where the team can make it home. This stretch will be a challenge nonetheless.
WHAT THE NHL looks like early: 31. DETROIT 1-8 for 4 pts. The Wings have a -19 differential already. They are now paying for those Cup years. 30. LAK 2-6 for 5 pts with a -13 differential. This is an older, slower club without offensive or defensive depth. #1 netminder Jonathan Quick is banged up and their game is in disarray. Coach John Stevens has rumors swirling about him. Firing him won’t fix this mess. 29. NYR 2-6 for 5 pts. It pains me to put them here, they were one of my faves when I was a kid and the likes of Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle were among the best in the game. That was then, this is now. The club dumped a ton of veteran experience last spring, got a new coach and they will have some growth pains as the club goes through his process. 28. ARI 2-5 for 5 pts. The Yotes have played 5 of their 7 on the road so far and haven’t yet got to have the much-anticipated F Alex Galchenyuk in their lineup. He will help but isn’t the final piece to the puzzle here. 27. EDM 3-3 for 6 pts. It doesn’t do much good to have one of the top three players in the world when the rest of your roster is so-so. There isn’t much to be said here, I look for a bottom 10-12 finish from the Oil.
26. FLA 1-5 for 5 pts. There was a lot of preseason hope for the Panthers that hasn’t materialized on the ice yet, and this team has some talent. Losing #1 tender Bobby Lou early on hasn’t helped. 25. DAL 3-4 for 6 pts. This club also had a fair amount of preseason hope tied to it and clearly does not have their game together yet for new Coach Jim Montgomery. There is some high-end talent here, not sure if it meshes well enough to win. 24. NYI 3-4 for 6 pts. New Coach and defending Cup Coach (and not with the team he won it with) Barry Trotz has the Isles playing better defense. Not certain how much that helps this year. 23. PHI 4-5 for 8 pts. The Flyers can score but their team defense is another story, already giving up over 4 per game. 22. STL 2-6 for 7 pts. Just watched the Note lead the Jets for most of the game and then lose in OT. This might be how their season goes. 21. VGK 4-4 for 8 pts. The Knights began slowly and will be pressed to duplicate last years early successes. Losing #1 D-man Nate Schmidt for 20 games is hurting them on the backline. 20. WAS 3-4 for 8 pts. I don’t have a real read on the Caps yet, they still have defending Cup Champs talent, but we know how hard it is to repeat. 19. OTT 4-3 for 9 pts. The Sens supposedly cleaned up their hazmat disaster of a room, but can they do anything? No. 18. COL 4-3 for 8 pts. With the CBJ’s two best players getting UFA status at the end of the year, there are lots of questions. They do get #1 D-man Seth Jones back this week though. Doesn’t help enough. 17. NJ 4-2 for 8 pts. Nice start for the Dev’s who don’t have their #1 goalie yet. Playoff team here. 16. PIT 3-3 for 8 pts. Lots of summer hype that the Pens would be back. Not so sure yet.
15. BUF 5-4 for 10 pts. Still some loose ends here but moving up. Coach Phil Housley’s touches are taking hold, Jack Eichel got the ‘C’ and is in beast mode. 14. VAN 5-3 for 10 pts. Unbeaten at home, .500 on the road. The NHL formula at work. 13. CHI 4-4 for 10 pts. Began red hot, cooled off. Defensive weakness showing through. TB lit them up last night. 12. CAR 5-4 for 11 pts. Started hot, cooled off, beat Wings last eve. 11. SJ 4-4 for 9 pts. Typical non-descript Shark club. EK #65 puts them over? No. 10. ANA 5-4 for 11 pts. SA/GP? 1st in league for worst in league. (38 avg) 9. BOS 4-4 for 10 pts. The B’s have the best line in hockey. After that? 8. MIN 4-4 for 10 pts. Impressed last week with winning a B2B, and the backend of a B2B. Dubnyk = monster, team game coming together, individuals elevating. 7. CAL 5-3 for 8 pts. #1 G Mike Smith and Johnny Hockey carrying the water for the Flames. Can they maintain? 6. MON 4-3 for 10 pts. Carey Price is BACK. Team play better then expected too. 5. TOR 6-3 for 12 pts. Young Leaf’s just got brought down to earth in two straight losses. 4. COL 6-3 for 14 pts. This snowball is coming right down the mountain at all opposition. Look out. 3. TB 5-2 for 11 pts. Lost to Wild after leading. Then spanked CHI. 2. WIN 6-3 for 13 pts. Saw Jets come from behind this eve to best the STL Blue in OT. They just never gave up.
1. NASH 7-1 for 14 pts. The Preds are showing no weakness thus far and with an .875-win pct. are almost 100 pct. pts past everyone else. And this is with backup netminder Juuse Saros taking over for injured Pekka Rinne. It’s early, but this club could be the Western Conference Cup finalist come next June. PEACE