If there is a more pressure packed position in any team sport than hockey goalie, I’ve never heard of the sport. Not only are they the last line of defense, they are often relied upon to coordinate the skaters in front of them, and provide a catalyst to kickstart the offense. At this time of year the masked men’s work gets its greatest regular season focus. Nearly everyone is healthy, there isn’t much wear and tear on the body coming out of training camp, and winter colds and flus are still weeks away.

Comparing the standings for the league, and the stats for goalies makes it clear that some goalies just aren’t supporting their teams. Calgary’s 3-0-2 record is not quite what people expected of them to open the season. When you realize they’ve scored just one more goal than they’ve allowed and that Karri Ramo who the Flames billed as the best goaltender outside the NHL, and his partner in net Joey MacDonald each sport a .897sv% you have to wonder how long the team can keep its head above water. If there is a saving grace to the Calgary Flames situation in net it must be the less than four million spent on the two goalies this year.

At the other end of the province, Devan Dubnyk’s collapse from .920sv% a year ago, to .829 is baffling. He’s got an improved defense, a coach and captain who are all about responsible play, and yet of the 54 goalies to take the crease this season, he’s 51stin save percentage. Where is the man who played 38 of 48 last season and finished 14th in save percentage and kept the Oilers perilously close to a playoff spot? His two previous seasons show last years mark is a little high, but not a complete fluke. What gives?

Is Cory Schneider’s goaltending skill operating on west coast time? Was it seized by customs after he was traded from Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils? While gaining familiarity with a new team can cause goaltenders issues, and moving across country isn’t easy on anyone Schneider was traded in June, and had all of training camp to get on the same page as his defense. Right now, he’s pretty bad. He’s allowed 6 goals on 53 shots.

On the other hand, close examination of the careers of Semyon Varlemov and Jean-Sebastion Giguere, might have closed a contract with a nefarious entity in the not to distant past. The pair have faced a combined 171 shots through five games. In those games they are unbeaten, with four goals given up.  This leaves the Avalanche as one of two unbeaten teams, and at the top of numerous key team metrics.

Anyone who has watched even a single Buffalo Sabres game knows how well Ryan Miller is playing. Unfortunately for him, his NHL experience is about equal to the combined games played of all the healthy members of the defense. If you were to count minutes played, he’d probably dwarf them. As of yet, none of his defense has displayed an aptitude for a key role as a powerplay specialist or shutdown defender. On the surface it is baffling to look at a team record of 0-5-1 and realize the goalie is the best player on the team. But that’s exactly the case, Ryan Miller has made 144 saves on 153 shots in just four games. It takes an incredible about of talent to build a team where the goaltender has a .941 sv% and a losing record.

We’re a week into the new NHL season. Teams have played between two and four games, and several possibly sustainable surprises have come out of the first seven days.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Secondary scoring may actually be a factor this year, the top two in points through three games were added since last year, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silferberg.

Boston Bruins: We know that this should be Jordan Caron’s last opportunity to carve out a roster spot in the top 9 of the team. What we don’t know is if he can.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that with four games played, and just one point in the bank, Ron Rolston and company are going to have to eventually get around to supporting their goaltenders who have done everything they could (Ryan Miller .963Sv% and Jhonas Enroth .912sv%).

Calgary Flames: While being tied for the points lead in your division is great, 18 year old rookie centers statistically don’t maintain a 1.2 ppg pace all season very often, and that’s what Sean Monahan is doing. Monahan is tied with Jiri Hudler for the teams points lead.

Carolina Hurricanes: What do we know about Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Ron Hainsey? Other than taking up 1/4th of the Canes cap space they are exactly 3 points behind Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner who lead the team in points.

Chicago Blackhawks: The champs enter the second week of the season with an odd vulnerability to Alex Steen and one of just two teams with a 1-1-1 record sitting in fourth place in their division.

Colorado Avalanche: 3-0-0? Great start for the Avalanche, but the team is averaging over 30 shots against per game, and Varlamov’s .963 sv% is more than just fighting out of his weight class.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Six goals through their first pair of games and twelve players have been involved in the scoring.

Dallas Stars: We know that with the possible exceptions of an over indulgent aunt of their no one picked Alex Chaisson and Brenden Dillon to lead the team in scoring through two games, certainly not management.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have points from ten different skaters through three games, and are winning 55.6% of their faceoffs.

Edmonton Oilers: The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it into a game, and that David Perron has contributed three points. The bad news is a 1-2-0 record that has them in the Pacific basement.

Florida Panthers: We know distinguishing yourself by playing the worst defense on this team will take a monumental effort of will.

Los Angeles Kings:  We know that Jeff Carter’s 36% of the teams goals is not a good sign for an offense that should be better than this.

Minnesota Wild: At 0-1-2 they are one of just three teams not to have a win yet. On the plus side Zach Parise has three goals.

Montreal Canadiens: Anyone who picked Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk to lead the team in scoring, and be in or tied for a top ten spot in the NHL scoring race, raise your hand.

Nashville Predators: We know this team needs more from fifth year forward Colin Wilson and third year man Craig Smith if they are going to be playing in the third week of April.

New Jersey Devils: While this team is far more balanced than last years both financially and on the ice, they are 0-1-3 through four games.  We also know this team needs to get younger real soon, of the six players with two points or more only soon to be 28 year old Damien Brunner is under 30.

New York Islanders: We know after a decade in the dumpster, the vertigo that goes along with finding themselves in 2nd entering the 2nd week of the season will leave some fans a bit giddy. Michael Grabner and his two point game per pace are a bit noteworthy as well.

New York Rangers: There are three bright spots to this season so far: Brad Richards is scoring, Marc Staal is playing, and Derek Stepan is signed and on the ice. Everything else from Henrik Lundqvist’s .897 sv% to 6th place in the Metropolitan division are ungood.

Ottawa Senators: If the playoffs were to start today, the Pesky Sens would own one of the two wildcard spots in the east, despite only winning one of their three games. At some point they will have to improve in one or both ends.

Philadelphia Flyers: When the Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Lecavalier, they appear to have signed his old teams basement lease as well.  Through four games they have just 2 points and are being outscored two to one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Just about nothing is going right for the team right now, their defense and penalty kill are both well below last years pace.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury has a career sv% of .910, so we’re all sure he can maintain his current .963 through and beyond this year, aren’t we? He should probably buy a $1000 savings bond for a defenseman’s kid every game he allows less than three goals.

San Jose Sharks:  So, Tomas Hertl. Launched 1000 puns, and leads the NHL in goals and points. He might manage to hold a place in the NHL for a bit.

Saint Louis Blues: Not a sad note in town as the David Backes, Vlad Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo, and company open the season 3-0-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning: While its only October, and the first week is just wrapping up, they currently hold the first eastern wild card spot. That fact becomes truly amazing when you realize that through three games Stamkos and St Louis only have one goal between them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This team might have a perfect record through four games if they hadn’t dumped Grabovski who is tied for 3rd in the NHL in scoring.

Vancouver Canucks: What is with Bobby Lou? He looked back to Olympic form in the preseason, and  since then its been mostly fizzle. At least the Sedins are producing again, its pure coincidence that this is their contract year.

Washington Capitals: The defense and goaltending have evaporated on this team since spring. Ovechkin appears to be back to world beating form.

Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien have four assists each through three games, the team is 2-1-0 and on the sunny side of the goal differential for a change. Evander Kane is on a point per game pace, lots to cheer about.

This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

The Washington Capitals welcomed the sixth coach of the George McPhee era. This one is hall of fame inductee Adam Oates. With no real training camp or exhibition period, the Capitals were trying to absorb their new system for at leas the first month of the season. Among his other innovations was moving Left and Right Wing All-Star Alex Ovechkin from the former to the latter. The first half of the season was not pretty.

With guile, wisdom and no doubt some threats Oates got the team to the playoffs. Since last season, the Capitals have waived good-bye to Roman Hamerlik, Tom Poti, Mike Ribeiro and a few other well known faces. Perhaps the best signing this off season was the Capitals picking up Mikhail Grabovski. As compelling in terms of addition is having Brooks Laich and Mike Green both entering the season healthy.

Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and the crew will open the season with a roadtrip to the windy city where they’ll get to watch the Chicago Blackhawks raise their newest banner. After returning home for a game they will hows the Calgary Flames who start the season without Jarome Iginla for the first time in well over a decade. The Dallas Stars will be their next port of call and they’ll face Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the revamped forward group in the Lonestar state. Back home they will have showdowns with Eric Staal and his Carolina Hurricanes and Gabriel Landeskog’s Colorado Avalanche.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7

The Metropolitan division will be brutally tough.  I have no doubt Adam Oates will do everything he can to motivate the team and let them jump on the division lead early. They don’t have any really stiff competition other than the Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Dallas Stars are no longer pushovers, and even the Avalanche aren’t a gimmie, this is a better team than four of their first five opponents on paper. They need to prove it on the ice.

Last year the Vancouver  Canucks once again marched through the Northwest Division, and claimed its crown for the regular season. The main event for the shortened 48 game season was not the on ice product, but the circus surrounding Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo the teams “1A” and “1B” starting goaltenders. A shortened year was spent with neither able to wrest the job firmly from the other, and no trade to save the media beating the story to death.

At the NHL entry draft an amazing thing happened, Schneider ended up getting traded. Mike Gillis sold out his best crease man not for thirty silvers but for just one first round pick, which was used for Bo Hovart. Alain Vigneault was discarded and John Tortorella brought in. Mike Santorelli the former Nashville Predator and Florida Panther were brought in to deepen the pool at center on the cheap. Keith Ballard was paid to go away.

This year the team will open the season with two players suspended, and David Booth on injured reserve. Former Montreal Canadien Yannick Weber will be looking for a blueline job, and both Bo Hovart and Hunter Shinkaruk continue their fight for a roster spot. The young guns may get their shot with the temporary openings, but whether they cross the 10 game threshold is anyone’s guess. The opening fistful of games see’s the Canucks kickoff their season visiting the San Jose Sharks. With just one night rest they will head home to square off with the Edmonton Oilers, before scurrying off to face the Calgary Flames less than 24 hours later. Finally they’ll have a short home stand with a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: San Jose Sharks (twice)

Weakest opponent:  Calgary Flames

Home games: 3

Projected points:  5

The pace of the first five games, and the unfamiliarity with the new system mixed with the possible inclusion of two rookies makes the opening handful of games really rough. With just one proven NHL goaltender, the question will loom all season long over how much they can afford to rest Roberto Luongo. The Canucks are actually in a competitive division for the first time in the career of any of their core players. It is probable they are a better than .500 team, but that depends on their goaltending and the Sedin’s staying the entire season and bouncing back to something like  the level they played at leading to their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Montreal Canadiens had an impressive regular season edging the Boston Bruins for the division title. Second place in the east was their reward for a job well done. By April the injury bug was already on first name basis with the whole organization. A decimated team went up against the Senators in the first round and bowed out in five games. The playoffs certainly didn’t end the way they wanted, but the regular season has to be counted a ringing success. P.K. Subban went from a contract dispute to a Norris Trophy winner in less than 50 games, Andrei Markov did the seemingly impossible and remained healthy for 48 straight games as well. Max Pacioretty led the team in scoring. Rookies Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchnyuk brought intensity, skill, and much needed scoring to the team.

When you enter a season looking to bounce off the eastern conference floor, you can’t ask for much more. This off season they added Danny Briere with a two year deal, and former San Jose Shark and Pittsburgh Penguin Douglas Murray on the defensive end. Looming over the team is an impending cap crunch. If the salary cap stays roughly the same, they are going to need to shed salary to be cap compliant in 2014-5. We saw that work to the advantage of the Blackhawks in the first of their most recent championships, can the Canadiens do that?

This season opens with a divisional rival visiting. The Maple Leafs pay a visit on October 1st, and the bleu, blanc, and rouge next host the Philadelphia Flyers before a three game tour of Western Canada. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will all play host to the Habs. The only back to back set is in Alberta, and that’s after four days off and then there’s a two day break before meeting the other team named for residents of Canada.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Canucks

Weakest opponent: Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

October promises to be a character test month for the Canadiens. There aren’t many top tier teams on their schedule. Only five of the teams they square off with were in the playoffs last year. Eight of their games are at home, with just five away in the seasons opening 15%. In the opening month, of those non playoff teams the Flyers and Oilers can be said to have improved, while the Flames and Stars are arguably only different than last year.

The biggest obstacle to this teams success lies within their own organization. The conflicts at ice level that received so much attention two seasons ago, did not appear to have been resolved at the end of the playoffs. The rumor mill insists those are not the only conflicts in the organization either. If the majority of the gentlemen working in the CH can pull together, there really isn’t a ceiling on what this team can do.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a wildly up and down season that saw them in 14th in the West on February 1, in dead last on the 26th, up to 11th and just 3 points out of the playoffs on April 7, in 8th place on April 19th, and ultimately falling short of the playoffs on a tie breaker. On April third, they brought in Marian Gaborik to be the focus of their offense. After the Gaborik acquisition, Brandon Dubinsky would gain 11 points in the teams final 10 games, and Sergei Bobrovsky put the finishing touches on a Vezina winning season going 9-3 in April while giving up just 12 even strength goals in that time.

This year will start off with a lot of new things. They’re in a new division in the newly created unbalanced conferences. Their general manager will have his first full year. Nathan Horton signed during free agency to a long term deal will be one of the new faces in town. As things stand now it will either be new not to see #22 on the ice, or someone else will be wearing it, as Vinny Prospal who lead the team in scoring last year is not signed. Jack Skille is at this moment preparing to take his first strides as a member of the Blue Jackets. Fans and media will only have one Derek (MacKenzie) whose name they’ll have to remember the spelling of.

The Blue Jackets will start the season with a schedule that will tell us as much as is possible to learn about teams in the first few days of October. The schedule has two teams they should beat, two teams that will be very competitive, and only one team that is on paper clearly better. There is only one back to back set in the first five, and those are games one and two in Columbus against the Flames, and then in New York against the Islanders, then the boys have five days to get ready to visit the Sabres.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points 5+

This year will be an interesting test of the current composition of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ll start the year without Nathan Horton, and have to get used to an entirely new division. The good news is that the division is largely mediocre. Carolina, New Jersey, and Philadelphia missed the playoffs last year, the Islanders accumulated exactly as many points and wins, and the Rangers only had one more point. If the team can tread water and stay no more than a game or two below .500 until Horton is back, they can make a late push for a playoff spot.

The unknowns on this team are:

  • Can Bobrovsky play at or near the level he did in the last half of last season?
  • Which Marian Gaborik will we see this year, the 40 goal man or the fragile floater?
  • Can a defense that leans heavily on offensive defensemen keep the team above water in a tougher conference?
  • Will Ryan Murray and or Ryan Johansen emerge to carry a large portion of the teams weight?

The abbreviated 2012-13 season was perhaps a blessing for Calgary Flames fans. They finished 25th in the NHL. Living legend Jarome Iginla departed for playoff pastures, and defensive stalwart Jay Bouwmeester skipped town to play for the Saint Louis Blues. The rebuild began under the same hands that have guided the franchise the last several years. Also subtracted from a fairly week roster were Alex Tanguay, and Cory Sarich who were pushed even further down the ladder of NHL success to the Colorado Avalanche.

This season is unlikely to yield pretty results. On the plus side, Calgary fans will get a chance to watch the development of the next generation. Carter Banks, Max Reinhart, and others will look to make their spot n the roster and a permanent home in the NHL The team starts the season with four eastern conference teams on its schedule, and only the Canucks as a conference rival.

Number of Days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 2

Best Opponent: Canucks

Weakest Opponent: New Jersey Devils

Home games: 3

Projected points: 3

There isn’t much to look forward to in this season. The team is unarguably weaker even than it was last year. The defense is worse, the goaltending is only so-so and unless two of this years squads centers make a massive leap, they don’t have a first or second line center. If the team is very lucky, they can draft well in June. It will be interesting to see the season holds, and how many of the older players are moved out before the next NHL draft.  Who and what come back in a season of obvious rebuild is anyone’s guess.

Realignment brings together four fifths of the old pacific division,  and three fifths of the former northwest division. These seven teams are tied together for the next three seasons and barring expansion or relocation, the short term future beyond that.

Anaheim: Rumor has it this franchise which is soon to leave its teenage years behind will revert to being the Mighty Ducks. The interesting part is it appears to be for just one game. If this is a market test for occasion based team gear it could be the precursor to seeing the Ducks in a Winter Classic game, likely as the visitors. With any luck Emelio Estevez’s career will be resurrected as well.

Calgary: Barring direct divine intervention, the Flames are not going to burn much hotter than it takes to make smores. The biggest move since their season ended was to pick up the enigmatic David Jones. Yes, signing Sean Monahan, and Corban Knight might help address their abysmal lack of depth at center but even if both young men turn in Calder quality campaigns, this Flames team will struggle to escape the lottery.

Edmonton: For the first time in years, the team might just be on the right path. They addressed a weakness that has been glaring and debilitating both in the draft and free agency, and it appears to be the result of Scott Howson’s handiwork. How else do you explain a team that failed to make a useful defensive free agent acquisition in years suddenly do so and draft Darnell Nurse in the zone he was projected? They might not quite make the playoffs, but they have a better chance their Battle of Alberta rivals.

Los Angeles: While mostly a summer of taking care of their own, the Kings did also grab Dan Carcillo for their bottom six, or likely bottom three. We know Jordan Nolan will have to fight for ice time, and probably still have Sidney Crosby’s picture put up in his place. We know the Kings goalie tandem won’t have the same first name for the first time in years and that Ben Scrivens is unlikely to surpass the twenty starts he had in a season in Toronto.

Phoenix: We know the Coyotes will be in town for years to come. We know Doan, Smith, Ekman-Larsson and company are anxious to get back to the playoffs. We know the team is one of the top three in the new division, as long as they stay healthy.

San Jose: We know that we don’t know anything about who this team really is. We know that this team doesn’t know anything about who they truly are. We know adding Raffi Torres is a positively confusing move as most teams don’t feel they have a dearth of suspensions due to ill advised hits to opposing players. We know the team needs to move some salary somewhere to become cap compliant. We know Tomas Hertl will need to make big adjustments to the way the game is played in North America. We know those last two items might be related.

Vancouver: We know this teams fans are in for a rough season. Even with a full training camp to shake down with the new coach, the radical interpersonal and coaching differences between the new coach and the old are going to make waves. We know the team is no longer in a division where they can mail in 50 games a year and still win the division without much of a challenge. We know they still haven’t solved their issues at center, and that which Roberto Luongo we see this year is anyone’s guess.