On Tap For Today — NY Rangers at Toronto; 7:00 pm EDT; NHLN, TVAS, MSG | Seattle at Philadelphia; 7:00 pm EDT; NBCSP, ROOT-NW | St.Louis at Arizona; 7:00 pm MDT; BSAZ, BSMW | Anaheim at Calgary; 7:30 pm MDT; SNW, SNF, BSSC, BSSD
Last Night’s News 📰
FINALLY GETTING ANSWERS: On Sunday, the Boston Globe reported that former NHLer Jimmy Hayes had cocaine and fentanyl in his system when he died suddenly on Aug. 23. This revelation left his wife Kristen completely shocked as Hayes never showed any “signs of a struggle” with drugs at home, although he had admitted to being addicted to painkillers. Our thoughts remain with Kristen and her two sons as they hope that sharing Jimmy’s story will shed a light on the opioid epidemic.
MAN DOWN: New York Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko has been placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. He sustained his undisclosed injury during the first period against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Head coach Gerard Gallant, who is also without forward Ryan Strome, gets the early task of juggling his lines around injuries and COVID-19 protocols.
ANYONE WITH A PULSE AND PADS: With backup Petr Mrazek injured, the Toronto Maple Leafs had to tap into the university ranks for goaltending support behind Jack Campbell, signing University of Toronto netminder Alex Bishop to an amateur tryout. Bishop was dressed and on the bench for Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, as the club lacked the necessary cap space to call up Michael Hutchinson. Nice story? Yes. Embarrassing cap mismanagement? Also, yes.
MATTY’S BACK: Attention, rest of the NHL: the head start you got on Auston Matthews in this year’s scoring race is officially over. Last season’s goalscoring leader is fully recovered after offseason wrist surgery and will take to the ice as the Toronto Maple Leafs host the New York Rangers on Monday night. Apologies in advance to Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin.
GROWING THE GAME: More than 500 players making up 29 teams converged on the Florida Panthers IceDen Oct. 14-17 to participate in the Amerigol LATAM Cup. Colombia and Puerto Rico met in both the men’s and women’s championship games, with Colombia winning the men’s tournament and Puerto Rico capturing the women’s tournament.
What is the first true sign that hockey season has returned? Is it the controversial goal that dictates the winner of a game? Or maybe it’s when the Maple Leafs suffer their first regulation loss. To me, hockey season has officially returned when celebrities leave the comfort of their mansions to support their favorite teams. Over the weekend, the stars were on full display, and no, we aren’t talking about the team from Dallas. Not only are celebrities just like us, but so are the players. Especially when it comes to highly anticipated, yet equally dreaded, autumn activities. Let’s check in.
Behind Enemy Lines
We have our first celebrity sighting of the regular season! On Oct. 14, the New York Islanders traveled down to PNC Arena to play the Carolina Hurricanes. Avid Islanders fan Chloë Grace Moretz was spotted wearing her team’s jersey. When shown on the jumbotron, she was met with echos of boos, which proves that while Hurricanes’ fans may be a bunch of jerks, they don’t discriminate—and celebrities are no exception.
New York fans are a loyal bunch, as another celebrity was spotted supporting her favorite team in the Big Apple. Model Gigi Hadid made her return to Madison Square Garden and was loudly supporting the Rangers when they hosted the Dallas Stars. Gigi, along with her sister Bella, has frequently been spotted at MSG over the past few seasons and constantly manages to turn hockey games into her very own runway, inspiring female fans around the league.
It’s the Great Pumpkin
Men, don’t feel bad, you’re not alone when it comes to autumn activities. Tomáš Hertl of the San Jose Shark took part in a family photoshoot at the pumpkin patch, because—well, it is 2021. As long as Instagram continues to exist, men will be forced to smile in a corn maze, pumpkin patch, or apple orchard so their significant other can post a photo using the caption: “Oh my gourd, it’s already fall!”
Buffalo & Montreal: A Tale of Two Starts
Right now, the weirdness of the early days of the 2021-22 NHL season can probably best be exemplified by the Atlantic Division standings. That’s where you’ll find the “annoying” Buffalo Sabres, winners of only 15 games last season, sitting at 2-0 and 2021 Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens at 0-3.
No one’s arguing that there’s any permanence to these early trends, but it’s still fun to look at the sport through the lens of what is a pretty small sample size. Even by small sample size standards, consecutive wins from a team that notched back-to-back victories just three times last year is pretty strange. So, how did we get here? Let’s compare and contrast what the Sabres and Habs are doing right and wrong, respectively:
Both teams have All-Star difference-makers out of their lineups for various reasons. While Montreal is hurting on the ice without Shea Weber and Carey Price (even as fans fully support his absence), the Sabres are thriving in spite of the toxicity surrounding their former captain, Jack Eichel.
The two teams already squared off in Buffalo’s home opener last Thursday, with the Sabres crushing the Habs 5-1. Included in the rout were three power-play goals scored by the hosts, as Buffalo’s Craig Anderson shone in net, while Montreal’s young netminder Sam Montembeault struggled.
Strength of Schedule
Okay, so losing to the Sabres was bad, but at least narrow defeats at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers are a little more understandable for Montreal. As for the Sabres, their only other game was a 2-1 shootout victory over the Arizona Coyotes, who were fresh off an 8-2 drubbing by Columbus.
One area that suggests these early starts might be indicative of what’s ahead is what they’ve said about each team’s identity. The Eichel-less Sabres, forging a new identity, have defined themselves as being energetic and tough to play against. Meanwhile, the Habs have seen the departures of Philip Danault and Corey Perry, plus the absences of Weber and Price, eat into that same “tough to play against” aura. Speaking of identity…
After many expected this to be a tire fire of a season, the Buffalo Sabres have started their campaign with back-to-back wins. Dealing with the Jack Eichel saga is not clouding the players’ heads on this team, and it shows with their play on the ice, as there is a now team-first identity with the Sabres getting contributions from all forward lines and defensive pairings.
The following three people embody what it means to be a Sabre in this current era. That means surpassing the low expectations placed on you and thriving when given ample opportunities to succeed.
After being named the interim head coach midway through last season, the Sabres became a more exciting team to watch under Granato. They may not have won many games, but they were tougher to play against for the opposition and that is because of the systems that Granato deployed. He let his defensemen activate into the rush, was versatile in his decision-making, and was quick to change something that didn’t work.
There have never been doubts about Dahlin’s skill set, but there are questions about whether he can live up to his potential. He put up 11 points in 26 games under Granato last season, which doesn’t seem that impressive, but he was driving the play and creating more chances during the games. This will be the season to see if Dahlin can cement himself as one of the best defensemen in the game.
Disappointment can be used to describe Mittelstadt’s career up to last season, but he has since completely changed the narrative surrounding his play. He produced 17 points in the Sabres’ final 22 games of last season, and he is getting a chance to play in a first-line role to start the year. Mittelstadt has bought into Buffalo’s new identity and is playing a more simple game, while also displaying his high-end skill in the process.