Around the NHL: Wild Finishes, Flashy Youngsters, Injured Vets

By Ryan Black, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

The Washington Capitals raised their first-ever Stanley Cup banner on Wednesday before proceeding to demolish the Boston Bruins. And just like that, 31 games have already been played in the 2018-19 NHL season, with all of the crazy finishes and unfortunate injuries that meaningful hockey games can produce.

This week, teams combined for more than a dozen goals in three different games, while one team still hasn’t found the back of the net. Meanwhile, a new Swedish hope is off to a roaring start in British Columbia, while an old legend got some bad news about his knee down in California. Here’s a look at the best and worst that the young season has had to offer.

There’ve been some wild ones: The opening set often features some wild, sloppy play as teams settle in after a long summer, and the last 6 days have been no exception. The season has already seen a pair of 7-6 OT barnburners. On Thursday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins outlasted the Capitals thanks to a 3-on-3 winner from Kris Letang. Letang’s 3-point night moved him into first all-time in scoring among Penguins defensemen.

On Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs closed out the Chicago Blackhawks in an even stranger affair. After a John Tavares hat trick helped spur the Leafs to a 5-4 lead, Patrick Kane tied the score with less than 2 minutes left in the 3rd. Toronto’s Auston Matthews immediately restored the lead 22 seconds later, but Kane again tied the game 33 seconds after that. The game went to OT, but only for a blink: Morgan Rielly scored the game winner for the Leafs just 19 seconds in.

For good measure, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers also combined for 13 goals Sunday in an 8-5 Carolina victory. 

Not everyone has gotten in on the scoring fun: Despite pumping 71 shots at opposing goalies in their first 2 games, the Arizona Coyotes are the only team in the NHL that has yet to light the lamp. They lost their opener 3-0 on the road to the Dallas Stars before returning home and getting shutout 1-0 by the Anaheim Ducks, even playing the final minute of the game 6-on-3 after 2 Ducks penalties and a goalie pull. 

The Yotes at least looked sharp in their second goalless effort, rocking the classic art-deco getups they wore when they joined the league in 1996. They’ll wear those uniforms for every Saturday home game they play this season, though they won’t get another chance to try to score a goal until Wednesday night. 

Elias Pettersson is off to a blazing start: Sports Talk Philly published its season predictions last week, and not a single writer picked Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson as their Calder Trophy favorite. Canucks fans have been anxiously awaiting his debut since the team picked him 5th overall in 2017, and he has not disappointed.

Pettersson notched 3 goals and 2 assists in his first 2 games, and his first-ever NHL shot was this ridiculous snipe over Mike Smith’s shoulder. Of course, the Canucks opened their season with a home-and-home against the Calgary Flames, so it remains to be seen if Pettersson can repeat his success against a team that isn’t from Alberta.

A lot of key veterans are already banged up: Fans of 3 teams (and fantasy owners of all stripes, probably) have already gotten some bad news about a few key veteran players. Goaltenders Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings both find themselves on injured reserve after suffering lower body injuries. Quick’s occurred in practice, while Luongo’s came after a teammate fell onto his leg during their season opener on Saturday.

San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton struggled mightily with a right knee injury during the 2017 playoffs and throughout much of the 2017-2018 season. The 39 year old was optimistic about his condition entering camp: “I feel good,” he said, according to The Mercury News. “Everything’s healthy, 100 percent, ready to go.”

That, unfortunately, might not be the case. On Sunday, he left the team’s East Coast road trip due to swelling in the affected knee and was placed on the short-term IR list. The team says the move is precautionary and he could return shorty. He will, however, be out of the lineup when the Sharks visit the Flyers on Tuesday night.