Weekend Takeaways: Strong starts symbolic for Oilers, Sabres

Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal celebrates a goal during NHL action against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 5, 2019. (Jason Franson/CP)

For at least a few more days, the start teams are having to the season will remain more symbolic than significant.

It’s so early we don’t even have to use our scolding “settle down” tone when speaking about results. Bananas bought on opening night barely have brown spots yet.

Still, complete adherence to reason is only required if you’re managing retirement funds and there’s this great emotional paradox that happens right after the cork pops on a season. Yes, there’s a six-month grind ahead, but you’re so fired up about the season beginning that it’s hard not to be more invested in the outcomes of Games 1 and 2 than, say, 50 and 51.

That’s especially true if you’re coming off a bad season or 10. By that logic, tidy little 2-0-0 records have to mean more to the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres than they would for your average franchise.

Both teams are toiling under new coaches and Dave Tippett’s Oilers not only got an exciting 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, they also saw a pair of off-season acquisitions contribute to the victory. James Neal bagged a couple of power-play markers against the Kings, including the game-winner with fewer than seven minutes to go in the third.

That came on the heels of Darnell Nurse knotting the contest after a sweet feed from Tomas Jurco, a training camp surprise who is playing his first NHL games in a year-and-a-half.

Ralph Krueger’s Sabres, meanwhile, blew up the New Jersey Devils on Saturday to the tune of 7-2. Rookie Victor Olofsson — a 2014 seventh-round pick who scored 30 goals in 66 games as an AHL freshman last season — notched a pair playing on the top line beside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. If he can thrive in that spot, it will allow Buffalo to keep Jeff Skinner on the second unit and spread out the scoring a little bit.

On the flipside, one goal in two losses cannot feel great for an Arizona club targeting its first playoff appearance since 2012. The Coyotes could not bury last year, largely because so many of their best players were laid up for long stretches. With a healthy lineup to kick off this campaign, the Yotes were blanked 1-0 by the Boston Bruins on Saturday, marking their 15th consecutive loss to the B’s. (That ties an NHL record for futility versus a single opponent.)

Phil Kessel and his teammates will surely see their league-worst 1.5 shooting percentage rise, but there’s not much warm and fuzzy about the Desert Dogs after 120 minutes of action.

Other Weekend Takeaways

• San Jose is a benefit-of-the-doubt organization, but being outscored 12-3 through your first three games is not ideal for a team transitioning to a post-Joe Pavelski world. San Jose was trounced by the Vegas Golden Knights in its home-opener on Friday night, prompting new captain Logan Couture to say this following the defeat:

“Very disappointing. I’m disappointed for (the fans) to show up and waste their time and money to watch that.”

Twenty-four hours later, Couture’s club began a stretch where it plays eight of 11 on the road with a 3-1 loss in Anaheim.

• A career-best 30 goals for Mika Zibanejad last year and four to start the year already, including a hat trick against his old team in Ottawa on Saturday night. For all the talk of the new guys who joined the Rangers over the summer, what a development it would be if the 26-year-old Swede took his game to a truly elite level as the club’s No. 1 centre.

Zibanejad was joined in the opening-weekend hattie club by Florida’s Mike Hoffman and Detroit’s Anthony Mantha, who bagged four on Sunday in a win over the Dallas Stars.

• Saturday was a hold-your-breath night in Pittsburgh, as Evgeni Malkin left the game after going awkwardly into the boards (he’s out a while) and Sidney Crosby dropped the gloves for the first time in four years, taking on the Blue Jackets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois.

And just when the fans got their wind back during a 7-2 smackdown of Columbus, Crosby took it away again with this silly feed.

• After waiting all summer for a new contract, Jake Gardiner wasted no time creating his first signature moment as a Carolina Hurricane with this overtime winner on Saturday.

The Canes D-men might as well have been wearing superhero capes this weekend, as Jaccob Slavin came through with the OT snipe on Sunday to beat Tampa Bay and run Carolina’s record to a league-best 3-0-0. Of the 10 goals the Hurricanes have this season, half have come from members of that awesome blue-line.

• This is how you make $10 million a year look like a bargain.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-0-1) – What’s the over-under on how many goals Auston Matthews finishes October with? With five on the board and 11 games to go, we’ll set it at 14.5.

2. Calgary Flames (1-1-0) – On a Saturday night where the team was celebrating 40 years in Calgary, David Rittich offered some promise of things to come with a 3-0 whitewash of the Canucks.

3. Edmonton Oilers (2-0-0) – A four-game east coast road trip now after coming out of the gate in fine fashion at home.

4. Montreal Canadiens (1-0-1) – No better way to get the first win of a new season than erasing a three-goal, third-period deficit against your oldest rival. Jonathan Drouin has been Montreal’s best forward so far, quieting some of the fretful talk coming out of training camp.

5. Winnipeg Jets (1-2-0) – A great comeback in New Jersey on Friday, but Josh Morrissey being forced out of Sunday’s loss to the Islanders due to an injury sustained during the warm-up is just the latest round of bad news for a club that allowed 14 goals on a three-game trip through New York and New Jersey.

6. Vancouver Canucks (0-2-0) – No wins yet, but freshman Quinn Hughes is playing 22:27 per night on the blue-line.

7. Ottawa Senators (0-2-0) – The Senators have already made some moves, sending Drake Batherson and Filip Chlapik to the AHL after Saturday’s sucky loss to the Rangers. Vitaly Abramov gets the call up.

In Your Ear

The Tape to Tape podcast is back for another season! Here is me and co-host Rory Boylen giving our 2019-20 predictions. We’re also joined by Sportsnet’s Luke Fox for some Leafs talk, a Cup pick and three kind of crazy predictions.

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The Week Ahead

• Alex Ovechkin is throwing out the first pitch at Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals on Monday night. I’m sure it will be cool, but probably not as awesome as the last time he did it.

• The Canucks play their home-opener on Wednesday, while Montreal and Winnipeg skate in front of their fans for the first time on Thursday.

• Phil Kessel is slated to play his 1,000th NHL game next Saturday. He hasn’t missed a contest since October 2009.


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