Mirtle's opening-night wrapup
In what will be a regular feature, my notes from last night's games.
3rd Star. Roberto Luongo, Florida. Star netminder was outstanding in stopping all 34 Atlanta shots for the only shutout of opening night. As Luongo goes this season, so do the Panthers.
2nd Star. Brian Gionta, New Jersey. A lot has been made of what people think will be a meagre Devils offence this year, but with contributions like pint-sized Gionta's two goals and one assist from last night, they will be fine. Gionta, whose previous career high is 29 points in 2003-04, was a scoring star for Boston College and, playing on the top line, will shatter that personal best.
1st Star. Sasha Ovechkin, Washington. While a lot of eyes were on the Penguins-Devils game and Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin had a fantastic debut with two goals, including the game winner in a 3-2 win over Columbus. Yahoo!'s going to have to get a headshot of him up on their site soon, as I have a feeling he'll make my list on a regular basis.
What you may have missed:
33:56 — The amount of icetime Atlanta Thrashers defenceman Jaroslav Modry logged, the most of any player last night. Modry's partner Niclas Havelid wasn't far behind at 33:35, and one thinks coach Bob Hartley has to worry about burning out his top pairing. Granted, he doesn't have much to work with on the backend, but these guys can't carry a load like this all year.
Jaromir Jagr, Mr. Prescient — "My body is built that way," Jagr said after Sunday's preseason game in regards to his slow starts in games. "I'm not going to be good in the first period, because everybody's got the strength and the power; but I think I can (have strength in) the third period ... and maybe the other guys (are getting tired)." The reasoning was sure sound last night, when Jagr blew open the game against the Flyers with two nice goals, including the game winner, in a 5-3 Rangers victory. Playing with fellow Czech Marty Straka, expect Jagr to be in Art Ross Trophy contention this year.
The West Coast Express — Speaking of the Art Ross, how about Markus Naslund's first goal last night? A thing of beauty, the play started in the Canucks zone and ended up with Todd Bertuzzi relaying the puck to a wide open Naslund, who deftly snuck the puck past Phoenix netminder Curtis Joseph.
Coach Gretzky making his mark — And speaking of the Canucks-Coyotes game last night, new Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky juggled his defence, playing rookies Keith Ballard and Zbynek Michalek more than 15 minutes each and scratching veterans Sean O'Donnell ($1.748-mil) and Cale Hulse ($1.14-mil). Neither of the newcomers looked out of place, and Ballard even managed to score his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Not a bad way to make an impact.
Introducing Mr. Horcoff — For those who hadn't noticed yet, Edmonton Oilers centre Shawn Horcoff, coming off a massive season in Sweden last year, hasn't wasted any time in establishing himself as an offensive force this season. Horcoff had two goals and an assist, including the game-winning goal with 3:18 remaining in the game.
One thing I love about a new NHL season is the debuts. I alluded to Ballard already, but he was a relatively heralded prospect, being a first-round pick (11th overall) in 2002. The one's I'm talking about are the guys that I've never heard of — a designation that doesn't leave a lot of players.
A brief word on players James has never heard of who made the scoresheet
Chris Campoli, New York Islanders. A seventh-round pick in 2004, this Mississauga, Ont., native had the Islanders first goal of the game in a 6-4 loss to the Sabres. An undersized defenceman, Campoli had a good junior career with the Erie Otters of the OHL and was very good for Bridgeport in the AHL last season, finishing second in team scoring. He's one of two rookies on the Isles blueline, with Fin Petteri Nokelainen being the other.
Ryan Hollweg, New York Rangers. I did see this Californian play back during my WHL-watching days, so to say I've never heard of him is perhaps misleading. An eighth-round pick in 2001, Hollweg assisted on the Rangers fifth goal and played on a line with Steve Rucchin and Marcel Hossa. He's only 5-foot-11 and had non-existent point totals in the AHL last season, but was the captain of Medicine Hat during his junior days and can likely bring a hard-working, two-way game that the Rangers can always use.
Patrick Leahy, Boston Bruins. This 26-year-old Massachusetts native was a fifth-round pick back in 1998, but with a couple strong seasons in Providence recently and Alexei's injury to start the season, Leahy drew in for limited minutes with the Bruins last night and assisted on their only goal. Not much to get excited about here, but good on him for making an impact.
Brett Lebda, Detroit Red Wings. This was the first truly who-the-hell-is-that player I saw today when he came up on the ticker after scoring the Wings third goal in a 5-1 win over the hapless St. Louis Blues. A quick, smallish defenceman, the 23-year-old Lebda hails from Illinois and played four seasons for Notre Dame in the NCAA. After going undrafted, he played last season with Detroit's AHL club, the Grand-Rapids Griffins, and notched 12 points in 80 games.
"It's pretty much a dream come true. Now, I just have to work twice as hard to stay here," Lebda said to reporters after he learned he had made the team ahead of veterans like Andy Delmore (claimed on waivers by Columbus shortly after) and Jamie Rivers. "Right now, I'm playing with a lot of confidence. In the defensive zone, I'm being pretty solid, and when I get the puck, I'm carrying it and getting it to our forwards."Niklas Kronwall's knee injury, expected to keep him out four-to-six months, likely opened the spot for Lebda to make the team. I hope he saved the puck.
Leafs defenceman Andy Wozniewski is another good candidate for this list, although, since I live in this city, I've already read a handful of 2,000 word articles on this 'unknown' kid.
That's enough for Day 1. It's nice to have you back hockey... dreamy sigh