After a 119-day lockout, the puck finally dropped on Saturday. Here are five observations after the first long weekend of hockey:
1. We don’t know as much as we think we know.
There is a natural instinct to over-react, both positively and negatively, to the first few games. This is especially true after coming off a long work stoppage. Fans and media a like are so excited to finally be talking about on ice play that the microscope on these first games is even more intense. While a 48 game season means a lot less room for error, it is still a small sample size. So fans in New York, Philly and DC can come down off the ledge now.
2. Age is just a number.
The conventional wisdom, which I bought into, was that young legs would have an advantage in this shortened, compacted season. That may still very well be the case, on this opening weekend, however, the old guys shown brightly. Forty-two year old Teemu Selanne racked up four points on Saturday, so did 40-year old Jaromir Jagr (who inched closer to Mario Lemieux on the all time goals scored list). Alexei Kovalev, who didn’t even play in the NHL last year, also looked great in his return to the Florida Panthers.
3. The Pittsburgh Penguins are for real.
No one had a more challenging opening weekend than the Pittsburgh Penguins. They opened on the road against cross-state rival Philadelphia and then followed that up with a trip the next day to take on the Rangers in New York. A split probably would have been a positive for the Pens, instead they won both games. The Pens won by riding the back of great goal tending from Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, and the continued amazing play of Evgeni Malkin (4 A) and James Neal (3 G).
4. Will take time for new additions to gel.
Many of the teams that struggled over the weekend were busy in the offseason. Carolina, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets were all busy in the offseason and all of them struggled. The new additions – whether on the ice or on the bench – will take time to gel.
5. The Fans are back.
There was a lot of talk about whether the lockout had done long-term damage to the brand. Would fans – particularly the more casual fans – come back? If this first weekend is any indication, the fans are back. The TV ratings were spectacular, the first games on the big NBC network, scored the highest non-Winter Classic ratings in over a decade. The average attendance on opening night was over 18,000 including a sell-out in Florida and over 21,000 in Bell Centre in Montreal