With the NHL season finally getting under way Saturday, one of the most critical early factors will be conditioning. Who’ll be ready to hit the ground running on Day 1, and who’ll need some time to get back to his usual output level?
That doesn’t just apply to players — fans will also have to ease themselves back into regular-season shape. For example, the NHL is serving up 13 games Saturday. That’s just way too many for a typical fan who's still shaking off the lockout rust. Try paying attention to every one of them, and you’re going to tear a groin.
Pace yourselves, hockey fans. Here are five games to focus on during the NHL’s long-awaited opening day:
After an exhaustive six-hour training camp, the NHL makes its long-awaited return Saturday. And while it’s been easy to forget over the past few months of lockout negotiations between grim-faced men in suits, hockey is a sport played on ice by actual hockey players.
Let’s take a look at some of them now. Here are 10 players who’ll be especially interesting to keep an eye on over the next few months:
The first star of Sunday's OHL game between the Erie Otters and the Niagara IceDogs was a goaltender who allowed 13 goals on 45 shots in a 13-4 loss.
Of course, he was also wearing skates that were far too small, a jersey that had been hastily assembled just days before, and goalie pads the likes of which he hadn't put on since he was 5 years old. Not to mention that, because of shoulder surgery, he hadn't played in a single game — even at center, his typical position — all season long.
No one has faced more shots this year than Cam Ward. In his seventh season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Ward, who writes "Have Fun" on all of his sticks, is adjusting to the new realities of his team, one of which is this: The Hurricanes give up the most shots on goal of all 30 NHL teams. Ward has, unsurprisingly, had a tough season in this environment, and it's beginning to show.
After being beaten in overtime by the Maple Leafs, Ward two-hand Hulk-smashed his stick against the goalpost in frustration. (It was a move he'd clearly had on the mind: One game earlier, against Winnipeg, Ward was yanked for the second time in three games and sat on the bench screaming. "I was absolutely not directing it at anybody," he later said. "I was thinking about smashing the stick but didn't do that. I just started yelling.")