Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Your guide to overreacting to opening night

The NHL regular season opens tonight, and fans around the hockey world will be glued to their screens watching the action unfold. We’ve got four games to look forward to today, eight more tomorrow, and by the end of the weekend we’ll have seen every team at least once.

And through it all, you’ll be constantly reminded: Don’t panic. Don’t overreact. It’s early, it’s a long season, and you can’t go leaping to conclusions based on a game or two. Just enjoy the games, but don’t put too much stock in every shift.

Well, forget all of that. We’re hockey fans. Overreacting is what we do. We’ve got all season to settle into big-picture mode, but right now we’ve been starved for meaningful hockey for months, and we’re not about to let stuff like “common sense” get in the way of freaking out over every little thing that happens.

That said, it’s always best to have a plan. So here are a half-dozen stories that may or may not unfold over the first few games of the NHL season, and your guide to overreacting to them as much as possible.

What could happen: Auston Matthews and/or Patrik Laine are held off the board tonight in Winnipeg.

What it would mean: The dreaded sophomore slump has claimed another victim.

Laine and Matthews are both pretty good — that’s the sort of high-level analysis you won’t get anywhere else. But the question here isn’t “Are they good?” It’s “How good can they be in their second year in the league?”

Both players are facing high expectations — Laine’s been listed as a possible 50-goal scorer, and Matthews is showing up on some early-season Hart Trophy–contender lists. While that’s a lot to expect from a second-year player, it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable for a pair of guys who look like they’ll be special talents. But the old sports cliché about second-year players taking a step back looms large here, especially among Toronto and Winnipeg fans who aren’t exactly used to all this optimism.

Or maybe not: The sophomore slump actually doesn’t show up all that much through hockey history, at least as far as truly elite talent goes. There’s Teemu Selanne’s 51-goal drop, but that’s an obvious outlier. Generally speaking, a forward who’s good enough to light it up as a rookie almost always put up even better numbers in year two.

So relax, Toronto and Winnipeg fans. Even if last year’s two best rookies put up a goose egg tonight, they’ll almost certainly be fine. (Just as long as they score a hat trick in game two.)

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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