The NHL roars back much to fans’ delight

NHL fans across North America, like these in Ottawa, had a lot to cheer about on Saturday. (Vince Alongi/Wikimedia Commons)

NHL fans across North America, like these in Ottawa, had a lot to cheer about on Saturday. (Vince Alongi/Wikimedia Commons)

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

On Saturday, fans around the world were treated to NHL hockey for the first time in 222 days and the 113-day lockout proved worth the wait (well…probably not) for all in attendance.

It was great to see there was no love lost on behalf of the fans who were rocking in every arena. Having personally attended the game in Philadelphia between the Flyers and Penguins, it was clear the fans were into it from the moment they parked. A clear, warm (for January anyway) day meant a level of tailgating typically reserved for Eagles games and the Wells Fargo Center was shaking during the introductions and with every big hit. Obviously, fans in areas where hockey reigns supreme like Montreal and Minnesota were raucous, but even on Long Island, where the Islanders were fourth in attendance percentage (81.3% capacity) and second last in average attendance (13,191 fans per game) last season, there was an abundance of excitement.

As hard as it was for the fans during the lockout, they are once again back be being entertained by the best players in the world. Players are back to working their tails off for the roar of their home crowd and for the rest of the year expect nothing but entertainment and drama no Hollywood screenwriter could come up with as every game is huge. Despite some speculation, there was not a chance fans would boycot the season, or even a single game. They were welcomed back with their usual plethora of goals, spectacular saves, big hits and energetic, if not a little sloppy, play in all 13 games. And no, as Rory Boylen of The Hockey News points out, they aren’t fools for crawling back to the league that has had three lengthy work stoppages in the past 19 years.

Welcome back, fans of the top hockey-playing league in the world.

Don’t feel shame and don’t let anyone try and call you a sucker for returning with eyes open and jaws dropped. Nothing that has transpired since October has been about you, the fan – but it’s soon to become all about you again.

There’s no fault with tuning out the league, while it tediously worked through its financial system. And there’s absolutely no fault with returning to the arenas in droves or settling in front of the television with friends to catch a glimpse of the greatest from this point in the NHL’s history. To insinuate fans are foolish to crawl back to a league that shut them out misses the meaning of what being a fan is – the vast majority are chomping at the bit to get back in the saddle and suggesting from afar they should react any other way is advertising a disconnect of the highest level.

If there are any complaints, it was the rust and feeling out period that always gets resolved in training camp and preseason. The play was definitely sloppy at times and it may take a week or two for coaches to find lines that work. A week-long training camp where to only competition is scrimmages against teammates is not a proper way to get a feel for and set a roster.

The Flyers lost because they could not make a proper outlet pass or receive a pass on the tape throughout the entire first period and late in the third when they were trying to mount a comeback and the same issues were apparent on TV during the rest of the games. While it is understandable teams would be rusty, it’s imperative they fix their problems as fast as possible. A three or four game losing streak this season would be equal to an eight or ten game losing streak with a full schedule. There is little time to make up for a bad start which may end up boding well for fans who should see desperate hockey right off the bat and throughout the season.

Top Performers

Jonathan Huberdeau records 1-2-3 and a plus-2 in 14:25 of ice time in his first NHL game for the Florida Panthers. Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first two career goals for the Blues while Mikael Granlund of the Wild and Tampa Bay’s Cory Conacher also recorded their first career markers.

Teemu Selanne got off to an amazing start in his 20th season. (Hockeybroad/Cheryl Adams/Wikimedia Commons)

Teemu Selanne got off to an amazing start in his 20th season. (Hockeybroad/Cheryl Adams/Wikimedia Commons)

The two oldest players in the league had huge nights as Teemu Selanne, 42, and Jaromir Jagr, 40, each put up 2-2-4 as the Ducks defeated the Canucks 7-3 and the Stars won 4-3 over the Coyotes. For a pair of the most explosive offensive players in history, it was a tremendous start to what could be their respective swan songs.

Eight other players, Huberdeau, Marian Hossa, Martin St-Louis, Teddy Purcell, Radim Vrbata, Erik Karlsson, T.J. Oshie and Alex Kovalev recorded three points.

Jaroslav Halak recorded the first shutout of the season, though he had a pretty easy night against the Wings facing only 14 shots. Florida’s Jose Theodore had 41 saves on 42 shots, the most by any goalie in both categories.

Biggest Surprises

The Panthers shocked many by signing the enigmatic Alex Kovalev to a one-year contract on Friday. The Russian, who turns 40 in February, last played in the NHL in 2010-11, recording 16-18-34 and a minus-6 in 74 games between Ottawa and Pittsburgh and played 22 games with Atlant Moscow Region of the Kontinental League last year putting up just 1-5-6 and a minus-13. He put up a goal and three points as the defending Southeast Division champions rolled over the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1.

No team can lose a player like Nicklas Lidstrom and still play as well, but no one could have been expecting the trouncing the Red Wings suffered at the hands of the Blues. A 6-0 loss in which they were outshot 36-14, including 17-2 in the first period, is embarrassing for the league’s premier franchise over the past two decades and if this is a sign of things to come this season, Detroit’s streak of 21 consecutive playoff appearances will come to a grinding halt.

There were only three goals scored in the Flyers-Penguins tilt, not including Chris Kunitz’s empty-netter. These two teams combined for 98 goals in 12 games in the regular season and playoffs combined last season, good for just over eight goals per game. The fewest number of goals in a game between the two clubs last year was five which happened three times. Of course rust must have played a factor and when these two teams meet again on February 20, there should be plenty of fireworks once again.

All in all, it was an exciting start to the 2013 season and fans can expect nothing but full-tilt excitement from now until the Cup is lifted in early July.

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