NHL Season-Opening Weekend Review

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The day that hockey fans have been waiting for finally arrived this weekend. After the 119-day lockout that ended on Jan. 12, the National Hockey League held the first games of its shortened 48-game season on Saturday.

There were a great deal of questions heading into this shortened season and after this weekend it appears that some of them may have been answered. One of the questions that arose while the teams had their extremely short one week long training camp was how some of the older members of teams would react to the shortened season. Would they be ready to play or would the lack of training be a disservice to them? Well, Anaheim Ducks’ forward Teemu Selanne and Dallas Stars’ forward Jaromir Jagr tried to put a stop to these questions almost immediately.

The 42-year old Selanne had two goals and two assists in the Ducks’ 7-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in his opening game, and Jagr, age 40, not to be outdone, put up two goals and two assists in the Stars’ 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

It appears that the veterans in the league are ready to play. They will not let the late start and the lack of training camp affect their ability to play like they have been throughout their careers. However, as the season moves on and teams play games at a quicker pace than usual it will be interesting to see if older players like Jagr and Selanne are going to be able to keep up their production.

Another big question was how the rookie class was going to be able to deal with the shortened season. Many of these young kids have not played in a regular season game on the professional level before. That is intimidating enough as it is, and if you include the fact that everyone is going to be playing at a higher level (because with such a small amount of games every point is going to be crucial),will these rookies be able to handle the pressure?

The answer to this question: the rookies are going to be fine this year. The reasoning: Florida Panther’s rookie center Jonathan Huberdeau and St. Louis Blues’ rookie wingman Vladimir Tarasenko. In their very first games in the NHL, Huberdeau had a goal and two assists in the Panther’s 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and Tarasenko scored twice as his Blues’ blanked the Detroit Red Wings 6-0.

Just like the veterans, the rookies came out and showed that they are extremely talented and the late start has not rattled them or decreased their ability to produce. I think that their youth is going to be a huge benefit for them because as teams with older players begin to get tired, the rookies will have a bit of an extra boost in their skates which will allow them to make crucial plays for their teams heading down the stretch.

Finally, the question about playing so many games in so little time: how is this going to affect gameplay with so many back-to-back games having to be played? Is the travel going to be too much for some teams? Will teams just get overpowered some nights because they are just too tired to play at their highest level?

As of right now, since some teams have only played one game, it is very difficult to answer these question. However, even in this short amount of time the effects of playing back-to-back games are already evident in the league.

The Philadelphia Flyers had their home opener on Saturday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then had to fly to Buffalo right after to play the Sabres early Sunday afternoon. The Flyers ended up losing to the Penguins 3-1 and to the Sabres 5-2. The Flyers looked very sluggish against a Sabres team who had their season opener. This scenario is exactly what people are afraid of: teams having to play back to back games, fly to different cities, get little sleep and then have to play a game against a team who may have had they day off or did not have to travel as far.

At the same time, the Penguins also played two games in two days, but they ended up winning both. Their second victory was a 6-3 win over the New York Rangers, a team that who also played back to back games. The difference as the Rangers had to travel from Boston to New York, which is a bit farther than the Penguin’s journey, traveling from Philadelphia to New York.

Is this really what the season is going to come down to? Are the teams who end up with the least amount of back to back games and travel miles going to be the ones that are going to win? I certainly hope not, and I do not believe that is going to be the case.

This 48-game season is more like a race to the playoffs. The teams that come out of the gate hot and ready to play are going to be in prime position to take a playoff spot and the ones who come out slow might see their playoff hopes slip away early on. It is going to be intense, it is going to be exciting, it is going to be a great season of NHL hockey.