What’s right and wrong in the NHL this week
It’s time for our weekly installment highlighting what’s right and what’s wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there’s also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize.
With that in mind, let’s hash it out together … right here … every single Wednesday.
Loving and/or hating something about the NHL at any given point throughout this season? Feel free to drop your praise/complaints in my email inbox at [email protected].
What’s right: Auston Matthews
We all had a pretty good idea that the Maple Leafs were going to be a spectacular offensive force this year, and so far they haven’t disappointed. Through their first seven games, they’re averaging nearly five goals a game and being led by an unstoppable force in Auston Matthews.
Nobody in the world has been more impressive on ice over the past few weeks than Matthews. His insanely hot start continued this week, and it’s starting to reach historic levels. He’s had at least two points in each of Toronto’s first seven games this season, putting him in some pretty elite company.
Auston Matthews with his seventh straight multi-point game to open the season, joining Mario Lemieux (92-93), Kevin Stevens (92-93), Mike Bossy (84-85) and Wayne Gretzky (83-84) as those to do it.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 16, 2018
It sort of speaks for itself when you’re able to join a club with those names (well, three of them anyway) but when you consider the fact that it’s has been 25 years since it last happened and how much the game has changed in that time … it’s something to appreciate. Also, a reminder that Auston Matthews was born in 1997.
He’s not the only Leafs player ripping it up to start the season, but he’s a huge reason why they keep winning and extending their great start to the year. As impressive as the Leafs’ offense has been, their defense has been suspect — probably moreso than most people expected to begin the year. (They’re giving up about 3.5 goals a game to this point.)
In fact, the defense has been so suspect that this was suggested recently.
Drew Doughty says Maple Leafs could use a guy like Dion Phaneuf now.
— luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) October 15, 2018
The scales should balance a bit at some point, but Matthews (and the rest of the Leafs’ front end) has been so good that they basically don’t even need defense right now. And they certainly don’t need Dion Phaneuf.
That being said, I do appreciate Doughty attempting to unload his lemons on someone else so brazenly. Can’t knock the hustle.
What’s wrong: Thinking Auston Matthews is the greatest player alive
When good things happen to the Leafs, bad things happen to anybody and everybody who doesn’t root for the Leafs. That is, the unrelenting media circus and fan base that follows the team will not allow any hockey conversation to exist without Toronto being involved in some shape or form. And all of those conversations must continue to elevate until they reach their most insufferable point. Then, and only then, will it be allowed to die.
So, with Matthews’ extremely hot start to the season, it seemed inevitable that someone in Toronto would open up a debate about whether he’s the greatest player on the planet. Then, with those floodgates opened, we’d inevitably be force-fed days of conversation over whether he’s the best the league has to offer.
And in case you still needed to ask: Yes, it happened. And no, he’s not.
Matthews is unquestionably the hottest player on the planet right now. (Connor McDavid isn’t exactly slouching to start his own season. More on that in a bit.) The Leafs’ center is an incredible talent and, even if his pace inevitably slows, he’s still going to have a monster season.
But we do not have be having this debate right now, especially considering that we’re only two weeks into a new season. There’s really no reason to believe that Connor McDavid isn’t still the best damn hockey player in the world, despite what any of this week’s think-pieces and talking heads might tell you.
Frankly, the only people worth listening to about this subject are The Athletic’s Sean McIndoe and the Winnnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele.
Hey Mark Scheifele. Is Auston Matthews a better player than Connor McDavid?
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) October 16, 2018
The Leafs are a very fun and very good team with a plethora of talent that should be taken quite seriously. And, yes, what Matthews is doing should be appreciated immensely for however long it lasts. But this week has only served as reminder that Toronto doesn’t deserve nice things.
What’s right: The Kenyan hockey story
One of the best hockey stories this week came courtesy of Tim Horton’s, who — along with the help of a few NHL stars — provided an awesome experience for the only men’s hockey team in Kenya. That team, the Kenya Ice Lions, had no competition in their home country, so Tim’s flew them out to Canada to provide them with an opponent, new equipment and custom jerseys.
Plus, a couple new teammates in Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon.
Hockey is for everyone.
— NHL (@NHL) October 15, 2018
This is just a super cool feel-good story, which is sometimes necessary when you’re raging out over the latest controversial Department of Player Safety ruling or insufferable Leafs coverage. Props to Tim Horton’s for making this happen and providing memories of a lifetime for these Kenyans … and also for the random dudes on the other team who still got to share the ice with two NHL superstars.
I only ask that next time they include more footage of Crosby and MacKinnon ruthlessly dominating these beer leaguers while they’re out there. No days off.
What’s wrong: Connor McDavid’s supporting cast
This week, that Connor McDavid guy set an NHL record by recording a point on each of his team’s first nine goals this season. (And he factored into 14 consecutive Oilers’ goals if you go back to last season.)
Through four games, the Oilers, who are 2-2, have 10 goals as a team. McDavid has nine points (4 goals, 5 assists).
It took until overtime against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night for Edmonton to finally score a goal without McDavid’s assistance — a game-winner from defenseman Darnell Nurse — but they never would have gotten to OT had McDavid not put the team on his back and essentially dragged them there after the Oilers went down 4-1 early in the game.
So far, it’s hard not to say that the Oilers are a one-line (or even a one-man) team. With McDavid on the ice, they’re outscoring opponents 9-4. Without him on the ice, they’ve been outscored 10-1. They needed four games do something, ANYTHING without his help.
The Oilers’ three leading scorers this season pic.twitter.com/rzqYccroWE
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) October 17, 2018
Honestly, it’s pretty sad.
Here we have the best and most exciting player in the world who’s basically being forced to do it all on his own right now. There aren’t many players who are dominant enough to flip a switch and take over a game in the way that McDavid can, and it’s incredible to watch when it happens. But, as we saw last year, it’s probably not in the Oilers’ best interest to hope that McJesus can save them every night.
Last year was a nightmare for the Oilers. After making the second round of the playoffs and establishing some long-awaited franchise momentum in 2016-2017, Edmonton threw it into reverse and rolled back into mediocrity last season. Despite a second straight 100-point season from McDavid, the Oilers missed the playoffs.
This summer, they didn’t do much of anything to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. That’s why this start should be rather concerning. (However, it’s worth pointing out that the Oilers, who are 2-2-0, still haven’t played a true home game yet this season.)
It pains me to think that the Oilers and their front office could be wasting prime years of one of the most exciting and explosive players that this generation has ever seen, beating him down and forcing him to take flak from a bunch of absolute morons who have no idea what they’re talking about.
It’s part of the reason why the Matthews vs. McDavid “debate” has irritated me so much this week. Both of these guys are incredible talents who have gotten off to great starts this season, but McDavid is in a class all by himself. I know this, you know this and everyone else should know this.
Yet there’s people claiming that Matthews is a “1A or 1B” to McDavid largely because the former plays on a much better team than the latter. Does anyone really think that McDavid wouldn’t absolutely rule the world if he swapped places with Matthews? Come on.
So let’s end this madness. GET CONNOR SOME HELP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! (Or at least trade him one-for-one for a mid-level defenseman.)
What’s right/wrong: The Elias Pettersson incident
It was extremely disappointing that we saw Elias Pettersson go down with a concussion over the weekend. The 19-year-old Canucks rookie and Calder favorite has been a force to start his first NHL season, recording five goals and eight points in his first five games. He’s only expected to be out for 7-10 days as a result of the “hit” that knocked him out, but concussion symptoms are unpredictable. You hate to see these head injuries — especially when they’re as unnecessary as this one.
Pettersson broke Matheson's ankle with a deke and so like all good hockey men, Mathesson got embarrassed and took it out on Dekey Pete with a rough hit pic.twitter.com/M6jUBXnM3r
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) October 14, 2018
Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson appears to be steaming hot that a teenager just thoroughly embarrassed him, so he took out his frustrations by checking Pettersson into the glass and basically slamming him to the ice.
It’s fine for Matheson to get pissed off and show Pettersson he’s willing to get physical. Everything was fair game right up until the point he decided he needed to rage-drive him into the ice. He deserved to get suspended for that, and I think the two-game ban that ultimately came was pretty fair — especially for a first-time offender.
But the NHL’s Department of Player Safety also factors injuries into these types of plays, so it’s fair to wonder what Matheson would have gotten (if anything) had Pettersson 1) not been an emerging star, and 2) not slammed his head on the ice and suffered a concussion. Probably not much. Does it help to eliminate this sort of stuff from the game when you only suspend after a worst-case scenario?
Either way, it’s a bummer we have to go at least a week with no Elias Pettersson, but the play wasn’t overly egregious and I’m glad Matheson got a deserved suspension.
It was a relatively tame week for Gritty. He was called “a fat, ugly, googly-eyed slob” by WWE star Elias, who apparently is not very fond of the city of Philadelphia.
— Nick Piccone (@nickpiccone) October 16, 2018
Of course, Gritty wasn’t going to let that one go without a response. I fully expect Gritty in a WWE ring by this time next week.
Heard I got called out last night by some guy with a ponytail named Jeff. pic.twitter.com/NhvYupvpWe
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) October 16, 2018
But we also got our first Gritty Halloween costume (and it’s on a baby!) plus our first Gritty wedding cake.
— Valerie Sherk (@valerieee728) October 9, 2018
I'm at a wedding and they went with a Gritty cake, so rest assured that there is ONE thing in this universe that isn't garbage trash pic.twitter.com/OEajyvsNFX
— Gwen Snyder is uncivil (@gwensnyderPHL) October 13, 2018
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