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Bubble Hockey is Even More Exciting Than We Thought

Hockey. Is. Back.

I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to say that before October. Somehow the NHL has risen above the NBA and MLB (a strange statement by itself) to be the first sport to successfully return to play starting today. And what an experience it was. Or so I hear.

Admittedly, I missed all of the day games, thanks to my day job. But I did see the highlights and read the stats for the first three games of the day, and am watching the Canadiens-Penguins game while writing this. From what I saw and from what the scores tell me, it seems like there are teams hungry to exceed expectations and young players looking to make a name for themselves. Here are just a few thoughts from those games, about both individual players and the play overall.

Rangers v. Hurricanes

Not what I expected at all, let me tell you. As I said in my previous prediction piece, both teams have some strong players. There’s no denying that. What surprised me most about this game (based on highlights and stats, of course) is that Artemi Panarin was almost a nonfactor. He only notched a secondary assist on Staal’s goal in the last two minutes of the game. He’s not the type of player who slacks in his time off, nor is he the type to fade into the background in a high-pressure game. I fully expected him to come into this series, guns blazing, ready to move on to the playoffs. For the Rangers’ sake, I hope he shows up next game so Zibanejad doesn’t have to carry the team by himself.

As for the Canes, almost all of their key players came to play. Aho, Teravainen, Svechnikov, Slavin. Vatanen, despite never playing a game with the team, slotted an assist. There are a few players not on the scoresheet that I expected to see, but judging off this game, I’d say their time is coming.

Blackhawks v. Oilers

I’m going to take an L for the first game of this series. In my Western Conference predictions, I said there was no way Chicago had a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Edmonton. If this game is any indication of the next two, I may be eating my words.

It’s not that the Oilers underperformed in my eyes. All the names I expected to see on the scoresheet were there (McJesus, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins). It was the tenacity of the young Blackhawks players, especially, that decided this game. Dylan Strome, who had a slow start to his career in Arizona, opening up their scoring unassisted speaks to his growth and determination. It may have been a lucky bounce off the ass of Smith, but he was in the right spot at the right time, trying to make things happen. Maatta, whose career started slowly in Pittsburgh, had an assist on Saad’s goal. Rookie Kirby Dach had an assist. Toews had two goals and an assist, leading his team by example. Duncan Kieth, with two assists, did the same.

The story of the day (prior to Jets v. Flames), however, was (surprise) Calder Cup finalist Dominik Kubalik. He dished the puck out all 20 minutes of the first period, earning him a hat trick of assists. He came back out of the locker room at full force into the second period, when he notched two goals for himself on power plays. Five points in one game after three months off. I really may have to rethink my Calder Cup pick if this play continues. I’m definitely late to this party, but I’m really excited to see this kid grow.

Panthers v. Islanders

Personally, I fully expected the Islanders to beat the Panthers, in this game and in the series overall. Don’t get me wrong, the Panthers have talented players and Bobrovsky is a beast when he’s in the zone. The problem is that Florida hasn’t been able to get their players to fully click and play to their full potential. Lookin’ at you, Bob.

The second piece to my expectations for the Isles is the number of up-and-coming names on their roster. Bailey, Barzal, and Lee are all amazing players, but it’s players whose names don’t immediately come to mind that make this team dangerous. The Island made a really smart acquisition at the trade deadline for Pageau from Ottawa, and though he only had a handful of games before the break, today’s game showed me that he belongs. He scored the opening goal off a crisp pass in the paint from Brassard. He put himself in the right place at the right time. Exactly what this team thrives on.

For the past three seasons, I’ve had my eye on Anthony Beauvillier, even when he was playing with Bridgeport. He’s earned his slot on the team and his position on the powerplay. Today he proved this for the umpteenth time. His head was up, he was moving the puck, and his smart plays paid off.

Like I’ve said, I like the Islanders for this series. I like the players and the play style. I’m going to say, based on this game alone, the Isles take the series in three games.

Bonus Canadiens v. Penguins Mid-Game Points

  • Rookie goals!! Kotkaniemi with a goal after spending half the 19-20 season in the AHL. Suzuki with a goal; he had 41 points before the break. Excited for their futures!
  • Canadiens taking stupid penalties — exactly the opposite of what you do when you play Crosby. Has to improve if they want to make it through. 
  • Overall the Canadiens did a lot better than expected.
  • Holy penalty shots.
  • 7 Pens PP’s but it still went to OT…? Are they okay?
  • Canadiens win in OT!!! (but also ???????)

-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)

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Heidi Thomas

Armchair hockey coach, passive horse racing fan, full-time dog referee.

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