Around the NHL: A Rookie Mauling, Matching Milestones, and the Unconscionable Leafs

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By Ryan Black, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

The NHL season is nearly two weeks old now and there’s no shortage of intrigue. There’s a bright crop of rookies, like Buffalo Sabres first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, who just poked in his first goal. There are some pleasant surprises, like the Carolina Hurricanes, who have leapt out to an early Metro Division lead with a 4-1-1 record. And there have been great games almost every night — except for Friday, when there were no games at all on the NHL schedule.

But it can’t be all good. The early scoring bonanza still hasn’t hit the Arizona Coyotes, who have only found twine in one of their four games. Shut out in their first two games, the team managed a pair of goals in regulation and beat the Anaheim Ducks in a shootout on Wednesday, and then proceeded to be shut out again by the Sabres on Saturday. Their fans have at least been able to celebrate a victory — albeit not a regulation or overtime win — unlike those of the Detroit Red Wings (0-3-2) and Florida Panthers (0-2-1), who will visit the Flyers on Tuesday.

And there’s also been another type of ugliness. After Tom Wilson’s mammoth preseason suspension for an illegal check to the head, another player is already facing consequences for potentially concussing a defenseless player. That’s where we begin this week’s Around the NHL. 

Pettersson Down, Matheson in Hot Water: Are the Vancouver Canucks allowed to have nice things? Last week, we looked at Elias Pettersson, the hot-handed Swedish rookie tearing it up in the Pacific Northwest. He already has eight points in his first five NHL games, but particularly rough treatment from Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson may cause the promising forward to miss some time. And Matheson himself might have to sit too.

The pair came together in the corner early in the third period of the Canucks’ 3-2 victory on Saturday. Immediately after Pettersson dished the puck into the slot, Matheson slammed the young forward into the glass before driving him to the ice and skating away. Pettersson’s head ricocheted off either the boards or the ice, and he appeared dazed and unable to stand up before play was blown dead.

Pettersson’s teammate Sven Baertschi said the incident incident “looked like WWE,” while the NHL said it looked like “interference/unsportsmanlike conduct.” Matheson will face a phone hearing with the league’s Department of Player Safety following his actions, and could be suspended up to 5 games.

Keith, Luongo Reach 1,000: The exclusive fraternity of men who have played in 1,000 or more NHL games added a couple more members this past weekend, as both Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith were honored by their teams for the accomplishment.

Both are likely first-ballot Hall of Famers. The 35-year-old Keith is a 3-time Stanley Cup champion with a pair of Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe to his name already. Drafted by the Blackhawks in 2002, he becomes the 6th player to reach the milestone in a Chicago uniform.

Luongo’s trophy case is sparse in comparison, but his longevity and talent are undeniable. The 39-year-old keeper is just the third goalie to reach the 1,000 game club, joining Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, and despite being a six-time All-Star, he has never won a Stanley Cup or even a Vezina Trophy, though he did split the Jennings for best team goals against average with Cory Schneider in 2011.

Luongo is currently fourth on the all-time wins list among NHL goaltenders, and will settle into third behind the aforementioned Roy and Brodeur if he can win 13 more games to pass Ed Belfour.

Are the Leafs Really This Good?: Optimism was swelling in Toronto even before they nabbed former first-overall and perennial All-Star John Tavares in free agency. Auston Matthews had notched 74 goals in his first 144 games, William Nylander and Mitch Marner had both posted back-to-back 60+ point seasons before age 23, and the team had made the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2004. Tavares’s arrival put the expectations into overdrive.

But maybe to the chagrin of the team’s many critics, the astronomical expectations are actually being met. The Maple Leafs have torn through their competition, winning five of their first six games and amassing an eye-popping 29 goals along the way. Tavares has been as good as advertised, but his 10 points only tie him with Marner for third on the team. Matthews has 10 goals and 14 total points already, trailed closely by defenseman Morgan Rielly with 13 points. And Nylander, amidst a contract dispute, hasn’t even suited up yet.

One soft spot has yet to be resolved. The Leafs are still allowing plenty of goals: 3.67 per game, to be exact. The season is young, however, and they aren’t in the minority: more than half of the league’s teams are currently allowing three or more goals per game. 

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