Heading into the month of February, it was completely fair to say...
Around The NHL: One Month In The Books
One month of the NHL season is in the history books, and it seems like it was just yesterday that hockey fans kept going on social media and asking #IsItOctoberYet? But as the calendar has shifted from October to November, we’re starting to see some early trends develop, and while it’s still too early to tell whether or not teams that have gotten off to hot starts are for real or if struggling teams are already out of the race, there’s still no shortage of compelling stories to look at around the league as we enter the second month of the regular season.
SURPRISING HONOREE IN THE NHL’S THREE STARS OF THE MONTH
When the NHL announced their Three Stars for the month of October, the top two players honored were guys you’d expect to be honored in that fashion. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid was unsurprisingly named the First Star of the month, as he led the NHL with 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) during October, which paced the Oilers off to a tremendous start that has them at the top of the Western Conference. Montreal’s Shea Weber got the nod as the Second Star, leading all defensemen with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) as the Canadiens remain the only team in the league to not lose a game in regulation. However, it’s the league’s Third Star of the month that nobody saw coming. That would be Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Marchessault. The former Tampa Bay Lightning forward, who signed with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason, has been a revelation for the Panthers. He tallied six goals and five assists in October, finding a home on Florida’s top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr following the injury to Jonathan Huberdeau. Marchessault left the Lightning looking for a place where he’d get more ice time, and so far, he’s made the most of it.
EMOTIONAL WEEK FOR CRAIG ANDERSON AND THE SENATORS
One week ago, Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson had been granted a leave of absence to tend to what was described as a personal matter. Anderson and his wife, Nicholle, then revealed that she had been diagnosed with cancer and were going to undergo further testing. Anderson returned to the team for two games, winning them both, including an emotional 2-0 shutout in Edmonton, before taking a second leave of absence to be with his wife, and the Senators confirmed that he can take as long as he needs before returning to the ice. In the meantime, Ottawa recalled Chris Driedger from the AHL to pair up with Andrew Hammond. Hammond then promptly suffered a groin injury, which forced the Sens to hit the trade market and pick up Mike Condon from the Penguins on Wednesday in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Condon, who took over for Carey Price in Montreal following Price’s injury last season, had yet to start a game this season, but was thrown into the fire on Thursday night. He responded by making 27 saves for a shutout in a 1-0 win on home ice over the Vancouver Canucks. Not too shabby despite barely knowing his teammates.
JIMMY VESEY WORTH THE HYPE SO FAR AS RANGERS ARE OFF TO HOT START
Throughout the summer, there were plenty of rookies gaining a lot of hype heading into the season, and so far, many of them have lived up to the hype. Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jesse Pulujarvi, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner ranged anywhere from very good to outstanding during the season’s opening month, but one name that got lost in the shuffle despite being the talk of the hockey world in August is that of Jimmy Vesey. Vesey was last season’s winner of the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s top individual honor, and the 2012 third round pick of the Nashville Predators was a hot commodity following his decision not to sign with Nashville. After his rights were traded to Buffalo, he was unable to reach a contract agreement with the Sabres, so he hit the free agent market in August, setting off a bidding war for his services, which was won by the New York Rangers. Through New York’s first 11 games, Vesey has six goals, tied for most among rookies, while also placing third among first-year players with nine points. He’s found a home on a line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, and has thrived as the Rangers are off to an 8-3-0 start while leading the league in goals scored with 45. While their 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 11.6% is probably unsustainable, it has helped them reach first place in the Metropolitan Division.
MINNESOTA RIDES DUBNYK SHUTOUT STREAK, LOSE PARISE
The Minnesota Wild currently sit at second place in the hyper competitive Central Division at 6-3-1, and much of that has to do with the recent efforts of goalie Devan Dubnyk, who carried a shutout streak of 183:16 until it was snapped in Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to Buffalo at the Xcel Energy Center. Dubnyk’s streak is a franchise record, as he made 27 saves in a 5-0 win in Boston, 38 saves in a 4-0 win in Buffalo, and 29 saves in a 4-0 defeat of the Dallas Stars. Coming off a season in which he got off to a slow start, Dubnyk has regained the form that made him a Vezina Trophy nominee two seasons ago. So far this season, he’s gotten plenty of offensive support, as the Wild are eighth in the league in goals scored while maintaining a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 12%, the highest rate in the league. However, they will face a challenge in maintaining that momentum from the opening month, as Zach Parise suffered a lower-body injury in Buffalo on October 27th and is considered week-to-week.