Hockey and All That – The First Month Of The 2021-22 Season

Photo: SI

The first month of the 2021-22 season, although an abbreviated first month, has been very eventful. Here’s a summary of the events that have transpired during the month of October and the early part November.

Old Man Ovechkin – Reports of the demise of Alexander Ovechkin, due to age, are greatly premature. At the age of 36, Ovechkin is off to a very hot start. He scored at least one point (goal or assist) in each of the first eight games of the season. This tied the Capitals record that he had originally set as a 20 year-old rookie in 2005-06.

He also became the second player in NHL history to score at least eight goals in the first seven games at age 35 or older, joining Maurice Richard, who had scored eight goals in the first seven games in 1957-58.

Among players starting a season at age 36 or older, Ovechkin (11-9—20 in 12 GP) required the second-fewest games in NHL history to reach the 20-point mark – tied with 40-year-old Gordie Howe (12 GP in 1968-69 w/ DET), 37-year-old Johnny Bucyk (12 GP in 1972-73 w/BOS) and 36-year-old Maurice Richard (12 GP in 1957-58 w/ MTL). Thirty-seven-year-old Mario Lemieux (9 GP in 2002-03) is the only one to reach the mark in fewer contests.

Ovechkin also became the first player to reach the 10 goal milestone for the 2021-22 season and leads the NHL in goals with 11 with Leon Draisaitl in second place with 10 goals. He also ranks third in overall points with 21, just after Draisaitl (23) and Connor McDavid (22).

Old Man Ovechkin keeps rolling along. His hot start earned him the NHL Star of the Month for the month of October. For career goals, he has passed Marcel Dionne (730) and tied Brett Hull (741) and is tied for fourth place on the All-Time List. He has not only set goal milestones but reached the 600 assist threshold as well.

NHL: Alex Ovechkin  Climbing NHL Goals List Closing in on Fourth Place
Russian to Milestones: Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov Earn Career Milestones Against Sabres

Disaster in Chicago – Chicago is experiencing their worst year since the Great Fire of 1871. Kyle Beach, their former first round pick from 2008, had come forward to report that he was the player whom video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted back in 2010 and was now suing the Chicago Blackhawks organization for ignoring his complaint due to being preoccupied with trying to win the Stanley Cup.

As a result, the team was fined $2,000,000, Blackhawks’ General Manager Stan Bowman was forced to resign, former Head Coach Joel Quenneville was forced to resign as Head Coach of the Florida Panthers, and the Blackhawks petitioned for Brad Aldrich’s name to be removed from the Stanley Cup which was done.

Photo: Sports Illustrated (From Bennett/Getty Images)

Performance wise, the team has been a disaster, having won just two games, thus far. That prompted them to fire their Head Coach Jeremy Colliton. Their only saving grace is that the Arizona Coyotes are an even worse team this season. Unlike the Great Fire, nobody can blame Old Lady O’Leary for the Blackhawks’ disaster.

Coyote Ugly – The Arizona Coyotes are having an ugly season. They lost their first 10 games of the season and have gained just one solitary standings point, thanks to an Overtime loss. They would finally beat the Seattle Kraken on Saturday for their first win of the season.

They have several players out with injury, including Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Dzingel. Their offense is particularly atrocious as they have averaged 1.58 goals per game. The offensive outburst in their recent win, their first of the year, had brought up their goals per game average. This was after a six game stretch of scoring two or less goals.

You know a team’s offense is really bad when even a hot goalie can’t save them. Goalie Karel Vejmelka, a rookie, has a record of 0-7. He had three recent games where he had earned a save percentage of .954, making more than 30 saves each time, and lost all three of them. Will Shane Wright, the expected #1 pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, salvage their offense?

Metro Division Muddle – At the present time, there is no team in the Metro Division that is below hockey’s .500, when including Bettman points. If Overtime losses were counted as regular losses, only one team would be under .500, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have 4 wins, 3 losses, and 3 overtime losses. Pittsburgh currently occupies the Metro Division cellar.

The Penguins are decimated, between injuries and players in Covid protocol. Center Evgeny Malkin is expected to miss the first two months of the season. Crosby had missed the first seven games of the season after recovering from wrist surgery, returned to the lineup for one game, and is now out again, due to testing positive for Covid.

The competitiveness of the Metro Division will ensure that no team runs away with the Division title, given the presence of many strong teams and no true bottom feeder for the other teams to feast upon. Memo to the Carolina Hurricanes, the current division front runner, uneasy is the head that wears the crown.

Battle of Alberta Heats Up – It appears the Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames has been revived in full force this season. The Oilers and Flames occupy the top two slots in the Pacific Division standings. Edmonton’s offensive players, in particular, are off to red hot starts. Leon Draisaitl has 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points while Connor McDavid has 8 goals and 14 assists for 22 points. Draisaitl leads in overall points while McDavid and teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are tied for the league lead in assists.

Photo: NHL

The Flames, meanwhile, were hot. They had recently run-off six wins in a row. Capitals fans recall the Flames getting off to a three goal lead after the second period in their contest on October 23. The Capitals tied it up, only to lose in Overtime. That was the Flames’ second win in the streak. After that, they won four games, scoring four or more goals each time.  The Flames’ leaders in goals are Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane. Their points leaders are Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau.

It was also noted that some Oilers wives and girlfriends, to include the girlfriends of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, did dress up as witches for Halloween. Did they cast spells on Calgary? Well, Calgary’s streak did end after Halloween when they lost two in a row.

Flailing Contenders – Prior to the season, most pundits picked either the Las Vegas Knights or the Colorado Avalanche to be the leading contenders to win the Stanley Cup. At least, that was true among the pundits not picking either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Islanders to win instead.

So what has happened? The Colorado Avalanche are 4-5-1. They have had a succession of players out with injuries. This included Mikko Rantanen, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky, Devon Toews, and Cale Makar. Most of these players have returned, except Nichushkin.

The Las Vegas Knights are 6-6-0 with numerous key players out with long term injuries, including Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and Nolan Patrick. The Avalanche and the Knights seem to be competing for “Most Man Days Lost” trophy as opposed to the Presidents’ Trophy.

Singing the Blues and Where the Wild Things Are – The St. Louis Blues ended  October in first place in the Central Division. They looked like they were regaining their pre-pandemic form. Recall that prior to the pandemic shutdown, the Blues had the best record in the Western Conference and were the defending Stanley Cup Champions.  That was until player after player either entered Covid protocol or got injured. The injured or Covid list included Ryan O’Reilly, Brandan Saad, Ville Husso, Kyle Clifford, Brayden Schenn, and Torey Krug. This has given the Minnesota Wild the opportunity to move into first place in the Central Divison.

Surprising Teams, in a Good Way – Teams doing better than expected this year include the San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets who are above .500. They were expected to be at or near the bottom of their divisions. The Sharks currently sit in third place in the Pacific, just behind the two Alberta teams. For the Sharks, Evander Kane, with all his off season problems, was suspended for 21 days to start the season. Guess they truly are better off without him. The Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings who were all expected to be near the bottom of their division standings, are actually at or around .500.

Surprising Team, in a Bad Way – It appears that the Montreal Canadiens are doing their best imitation of the Dallas Stars from 2019-20, as in advancing to the Stanley Cup Final after pulling off several upsets, only to fall entirely out of the playoff picture the next season. The Canadiens currently sit in last place in the Atlantic Division.

The Kids Are All Right — 2019 Draftees in NHL – Guess what team has the most draftees from the 2019 draft in the NHL? Most people would guess either the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, or another rebuilding team who was stockpiling first rounders then.

No, it’s the Washington Capitals, the very same team who had the highest average age only a year ago and were collecting viejos, especially viejos with Hall of Fame career credentials, such as Zdeno Chara and Henrik Lundqvist. At the present time, they have three draftees from the 2019 NHL Draft in their lineup: Connor McMichael (First Round – 25th overall), Brett Leason (Second Round – 56th overall), and Aliaksei Protas (Third Round – 91st overall).

For good measure, they have a 2020 NHL Draft Selection on their roster as well, Hendrix Lapierre, although he is likely to return to junior hockey soon. (Note: Protas did get sent back to Hershey after the game with Tampa Bay. But they soon called up another rookie, Axel Jonsson-Fialby)

Washington Post: Early Youth Movement for Capitals Due to Injuries

Panthers in Paradise – The Florida Panthers are leading the Atlantic Division by 6 points. Then again, they finished just one point behind the Central Division leading Carolina Hurricanes, only to fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs last season.

This year, Sergei Bobrovsky is having a much better year in goal than he did last year although he is now injured. Thus far, the Panthers home is paradise and not just due to the warm weather.

Eichel’s Long Nightmare is Over – Buffalo finally traded Jack Eichel on the night of November 3. They traded him to Las Vegas, along with a third round pick in exchange for Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, a 2022 first-round pick and a third-round pick in 2023. So now he can get the disc replacement surgery on his neck that he preferred instead of spinal fusion surgery that Buffalo preferred him to get. Leave it to Vegas to acquire the latest shiny new toy, although it won’t help them this season.

By Diane Doyle

Related Reading
The Top 15 Surprises Of The 2021-22 NHL Season So Far
Injuries Decimate Playoff Contenders In The NHL
Russian to Milestones: Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov Earn Career Milestones Against Sabres

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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