Just as we suspected or maybe not. The Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers are among hockey's hottest teams. I saw both teams first hand last week and it wasn't hard to be impressed. The Cardiac Kids from Ottawa made it hard on themselves in Raleigh by blowing a 2-0 lead late, only to win in a shootout. Apparently, Paul MacLean's guys have to do everything in heart stopping fashion as they did in amazing comebacks against the Blue Jackets and Rangers on consecutive Saturdays. I thought MacLean was great head coaching material but in a tough situation with the rebuilding Senators. Definitely a far cry from the rarefied air of Detroit. Yet MacLean's calm, but firm teaching approach has won over his players in a hurry. He's also a good quote. After an early season loss he said his team was, "like a teepee and a wigwam, two tents (tense)." The Sens are now riding MacLean's lead to a six game win streak.
Tom Renney's Oil won their 5th straight last night 4-2 over the Blues. Most astounding is the Oilers number one ranked defensive ranking after a woeful 28th ranking last season. How's that possible? Easy with the goaltending that Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk are delivering. Last Thursday, the Oilers stole a win over the previously unbeaten Washington Capitals with a virtuoso performance by Khabi. Even with Ryan Whitney sidelined and Andy Sutton suspended, the Oilers blueline is much improved. Corey Potter looks like one of the best unsung additions of the off season. Dubnyk has noticed a difference in front of him. "We're moving the puck out of the zone with one or two passes," Dubnyk reports. "Much quicker than last year." The Oilers are also giving up ten chances a night fewer compared with last year. The young Oilers look for real but let's reserve judgment until they finish their upcoming six game road trip.
PERRY PEARN AND PINK PADS
There was a sense of outrage around the NHL after the bizarre firing of Canadiens defensive assistant coach Perry Pearn last week. Pearn was made the scapegoat for the Habs shaky start despite the fact his blue line corps had lost Andrei Markov, Chris Campoli and Jaroslav Spacek to injury, James Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik to free agency and Jeff Woywitka on waivers. Tom Renney offered this assessment of Pearn. "He has been a coach with teams that have made the playoffs 11 consecutive years and worked for three Coach of the Year candidates," said Pearn's former colleague. Former Hab Hamrlik was equally puzzled. "I don't understand it," said the 19 year NHL veteran. "He"s a good coach. He taught me a lot."
Caps GM George McPhee offered a different perspective. "I don't know Perry, but in this era it is very difficult for a GM to send a message to a team and the fans when things aren't going well." The message of Pearn's firing was heard by Canadiens players who rallied for three wins following his departure. Or did the win streak correspond more directly to Carey Price ditching his pink Hockey Fights Cancer pads at the same time.
THE NUGE ERA IS NOW, ZIBANEJAD WAITS
Coincidentally, I witnessed the 9th game for rookies Mika Zibanejad of Ottawa and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton in the span of three nights. Prior to Zibanejad's 9th in Carolina there was genuine doubt about his immediate future. GM Bryan Murray sounded convincingly uncertain which way the Sens were leaning. "We have to make the right decision for the Senators seven years from now, long after I'm gone, said Murray." Ultimately, the Sens GM wasn't ready to rush the Swedish centre who looked solid defensively but a little hesitant on offence. Zibanejad will have one more year to mature in the Swedish Elite League.
There was less mystery about the future of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but some controversy over how the Oilers handled the decision. RNH was enjoying another strong night against Ovechkin and the Caps when I ask GM Steve Tambellini how he was going to make the announcement. It was clear that Tambellini didn't have any special plans. The Oilers didn't make the obvious decision official until the following day in Colorado. It left the budding superstar wondering during post game interviews and an upset local media ripping a perceived PR gaffe. I think Tambellini was trying to avoid any extra hype and attention on his young star. But its clear that Edmonton wants to embrace its newest phenom. Had the Oilers made the announcement as RNH skated out as a star following the victory over Washington they might have needed to replace the roof at Rexall Place.
As of Sunday team leading scorers included Nugent-Hopkins (18) in Edmonton, Boston's Taylor Seguin (19), Jeff Skinner (19) of Carolina, Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly (20), John Tavares (21) of the Islanders and 41 year old Teemu Selanne of Anaheim.
It was a throwback night Saturday at the ACC. The crowd gave Mats Sundin a standing ovation, Bob Cole was in the broadcast booth and the Leafs beat a Pittsburgh team without Sidney Crosby. Not exactly rekindling the warm and fuzzy memories of '67 but what qualifies as recent Leaf "glory" until the current team proves that their solid start is a sign of future prosperity. It looked like Jonas Gustavsson was on the comeback trail as the Leafs backup until the "Monster" made a mash of a stoppable Kaspars Daugavins shot costing the Leafs a game Sunday in Ottawa.
Brooks Laich says this Capitals team is better equipped to handle success this season But after saying it, Laich's team proceeded to drop two straight on their mini western Canadian swing through Edmonton and Vancouver following an NHL best 7-0 start. Or perhaps the losses are an indication of how much the Capitals need Mike Green who was playing his best hockey in a year before injuring an ankle prior to the trip.
Oiler defenceman Andy Sutton shouldn't complain about supplementary discipline after his hit on Gabriel Landeskog, but Senators Zenon Konopka's ejection from the Rangers game Saturday looked like a reputation call.
It looks like San Jose is getting its game together with five consecutive road victories. The same cannot be said for the Bruins. The Stanley Cup champions can't blame their poor play on goaltending with Tim Thomas sporting a 2.14 GAA and 929 save pct.
It was a good week for the Canadian franchises, winning 15 of the last 17 meetings against U.S. franchises dating back to Tuesday. Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton each posted three wins.
The Winnipeg Jets had a strange week. The Jets won that wild shootout in Philadelphia 9-8 becoming the first team since Pittsburgh in '90 to have nine different goal scorers in a game. Apparently the Jets used up all their ammunition as they were blanked two nights later in Tampa. Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is always a good quote and he didn't disappoint with a candid monologue after his meltdown against the Jets. It was his best microphone session since the Olympics when he described Team Canada as "gorillas out of the cage" following the lopsided Russian quarterfinal defeat in Vancouver. Bryzgalov probably made more friends for facing the music rather than hiding last week. Even more by bouncing back to allow just one (a Scott Hartnell own goal) in the Flyers next game against Carolina.
How tough is the Western Conference? Calgary has a .500 record after nine games and sits 14th. And finally the best tidbit we heard this week.
Kyle Brodziak is the faster player in the NHL. Not on the ice, but getting to it. Brodziak was once timed by teammates who were impressed with how fast he could put on his equipment and skates. The result; a blistering 1 minutes and 40 seconds.The NHL record book might need to add a new category.
Tomorrow at GGSB we present the Reggies, the first month awards to the NHL's Mr. Octobers.