Five impressive things from the first week of the 2020-21 NHL season

Though the Dallas Stars didn’t make their season debut until Jan. 22nd, the Carolina Hurricanes have had games postponed and the Washington Capitals are without Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Samsonov, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov for four games (at least), the start to the 2020-21 National Hockey League season is a success.

If you have a loose definition of “success” in the midst of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

The NHL’s COVID protocol attempts to deter its players and other employees from gathering outside of the workplace (a.k.a. the rink).

Yes, players can gather in a hotel, if they are doing so in a designated common area where social distancing is utilized. No, players cannot gather in their individual hotel rooms.

A conference room or event hall set aside for a team? Great! A one-bed room— even at the most expensive and/or luxurious hotel with as much space as a high-rise apartment? Not great!

Yes, it’s also not ideal to be playing a sport with 31 traveling clubs in a pandemic in general. All of this can be true.

No matter your opinion on the nature of the situation and evolving dynamics, the league calendar is up and running. As such, here are five things that have gone well or not so well.

Fourth time’s a charm? (a two-for-one)

 The Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes are facing each other in what will be an NHL record four consecutive games against one another in the regular season. All four games are split evenly— two in Vegas, two in Arizona— though the matchup itself might not be.

Vegas is off to a hot start winning their first four games of the season, which also marked a franchise first and included just the fourth instance in NHL history of a player recording at least a point on the winning goal in each game in the process.

That player? None other than Golden Knights captain, Mark Stone.

He joined the likes of Radek Bonk (1999-2000 with the Ottawa Senators), Pat Verbeek (1996-97 with the Dallas Stars) and Jean Beliveau (1970-71 with the Montreal Canadiens) in doing so and has 2-6—8 totals in five games.

Though Arizona put an end to Vegas’ winning streak with a, 5-2, win at Gila River Arena on Friday, the two teams are back in action to conclude their four consecutive games on Sunday.

Into the Wild

After spending parts of the last six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) over in Russia, Kirill Kaprizov has finally arrived to the shores of St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Minnesota Wild rookie was drafted in the 5th round (135th overall) by the Wild in 2015, and had 230 points (113 goals, 117 assists) in 293 career KHL games before making his NHL debut with Minnesota this month.

At 23-years-old, Kaprizov is ripe to flourish in his prime and make the Wild a team to watch from night-to-night for the first time since Marian Gaborik took the hockey world by storm (no disrespect to Mikko Koivu).

He scored the game-winning goal in Minnesota’s season debut against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 14th at Staples Center— lifting the Wild over the Kings, 4-3, in overtime— while notching two assists in his league debut as well for a three-point night.

Like the other No. 97 in the league over in Edmonton, Kaprizov should be fun to watch for a long time and has five points (one goal, four assists) in five games so far.

Who’s that other new guy?

When the New Jersey Devils traded Blake Coleman last year, they lost out on some speed in their lineup. Luckily for them, they’ve got perhaps one of the best kept secrets from the casual fan on their team.

Yegor Sharangovic had 17-8—25 totals in 34 games with Dinamo Minsk in the KHL this season prior to quarantining for training camp and ultimately New Jersey’s first game in the 2020-21 NHL season.

His speed was one of the first things to jump out in the eye test, as well as his ability to generate offense with Jack Hughes.

Though he only has two points in four games, his first career NHL goal came in his second game and happened to be a game-winning goal in overtime against Boston on Jan. 16th.

The 22-year-old showed improvement in the Binghamton Devils (AHL) lineup over the last two seasons and had the advantage of already playing professional hockey in the 2020-21 calendar, so Sharangovich might already be in midseason form and therefore have a leg up on the competition just getting their legs under them.

If anything, it’s a comforting sign for Devils fans that the team is righting the ship amidst their rebuild with some of the right pieces, albeit in a small sample size.

Thundering their way out of the gate

The Tampa Bay Lightning became the first defending Stanley Cup champion to start a season 3-0-0 since the Stars did so in 1999-2000. Coincidentally, the Lightning beat Dallas in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and are in the same division as the Stars this season due to the temporary pandemic related realignment.

The longest win streak by a defending Cup champion is five games and it’s been done twice in NHL history— once by the original Ottawa Senators in 1920-21 and again by the Edmonton Oilers in 1985-86.

What’s also impressive about all of this? They’re doing it without their best player, Nikita Kucherov, since he’s missing the entire regular season due to a hip injury and won’t be available until the playoffs.

Then again, Tampa does still have Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s almost a full roster of talent right there.

The Bolts have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks twice (5-1 on Jan. 13th and 5-2 on Jan. 15th), as well as the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, in overtime on Thursday.

Who needs 5-on-5 anyway?

Though the Boston Bruins didn’t score a 5-on-5 goal until the third period of their matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, the Bruins also have something against playing 5-on-5 in general this season, apparently.

Three out of their four games so far in 2020-21 have required overtime (with two of them being decided in a shootout).

At least Boston finally won a game in a shootout last Thursday, 3-2, in New Jersey for the first time since they defeated the Golden Knights on the road, 3-2, in a shootout on Feb. 20, 2019.

That’s right, the B’s went 0-7 in shootouts last season. They were 6-12 overall past regulation in 2019-20.

This season, the Bruins are two-for-two in shootouts, but they lost their only game decided in overtime thus far. At least they’re 2-1 overall past regulation.

— Nick Lanciani (@lanci53)

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