The Blues are built to weather the storms of the regular season better than most because of their depth – up front and on the blueline – but the key to postseason success may be just a different match-up this year in the playoffs. Getting Detroit out of the West and minimizing their chances of a third straight playoff meeting against Los Angeles is probably the biggest help the league gave St. Louis in its quest to win its first-ever Stanley Cup. A nice test looms this week – Wednesday against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Meanwhile, Eller has five points in Montreal’s first two games, which is the most for a Canadiens player to start a season since Brian Savage had six in the first two games of 2001-02. Savage couldn’t keep it up and there’s no reason to think Eller can either, but he is centring Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galcheynyuk on the team’s most productive and electrifying line and looks fully recovered from that nasty Erik Gryba hit in last year’s playoff that started all the lunacy between the Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators.
Montreal hits the road this week for a four-game trip that starts in Calgary and then moves on to Edmonton, where Oilers’ fans can ponder what might have been had they taken Galchenyuk instead of Nail Yakupov with the No. 1 pick two years ago. At this stage of the game, Galchenyuk looks like the far more complete player, as Edmonton sorts through a 0-2 start that has seen them surrender 11 goals.
The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is due back for Monday’s date with the New Jersey Devils, which theoretically should allow them to switch Taylor Hall back to left wing, where he was excellent last season. Hall was minus-4 in the Saturday loss to the Vancouver Canucks and had a couple of key turnovers in the defeat to the Winnipeg Jets back on Tuesday. And at this stage of his career, moving Ryan Smyth off the top line can only help the Oilers recover from that slow start.
Homecomings were all the rage in the early going, including Sunday’s final regular-season appearance by Teemu Selanne in Winnipeg as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
Selanne started his stellar career with the Jets and, with apologies to Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg or Ulf Nilsson, might be the most popular player in team history. Selanne is getting some enforced rest this season – he sat out Saturday so he could be fresh for the second game of back-to-backs – but Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau did a nice thing and started Selanne on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
The next most intriguing return will surely come Tuesday night in Vancouver, when the Devils play the Vancouver Canucks in Cory Schneider’s homecoming. It’s always different for goalies. A position player plays every game. The Devils are playing on back-to-back nights, so it gives Devils coach Peter DeBoer an option – he could play Schneider against Edmonton and come back with Martin Brodeur against the Canucks, which would just turn it into a hockey game, not a grudge match. Schneider, in an interview with the Newark Star Ledger, was his usual approachable self. Some players will dodge the issue of what these games mean. Schneider isn’t that guy. He was forthright and honest, noting: “There’s going to be a lot of attention and coverage,” he said. “I felt I had pretty good relationship there with most of the media. I did my best to answer the questions and be accountable and upright. They were pretty fair to me. They judge you and critique you, and that’s fine.
“That’s part of the job. You have to play well. But that’s one of the things that make it unique. It was a privilege to play in a Canadian hockey city like that where it’s kind of the big deal in town. You learn to deal with it and you can make it more fun sometimes.