On a night when Nicklas Kronwall was taken off the ice on a stretcher, Jonathan Bernier gave up a goal borrowed from the playbook of his former partner in L.A., and the last two teams fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, your first thought was to check the skies and see if there was a full moon out.
Yes, it was that freaky kind of night. First, the Kronwall hit, which came early in one of the multiple rivalry games on the NHL schedule Thursday night and featured his Detroit Red Wings and their once arch-rivals, the Colorado Avalanche.
It was Detroit's first crack at Patrick Roy-led Colorado and brought to mind many fabulous battles of the recent past. But it was all eerily quiet at the Pepsi Center early in the first when Kronwall went back to retrieve a puck and got creamed into the boards by the Avalanche's Cody McLeod, who received a boarding major and a game misconduct on the play.
Kronwall put on the brakes and tried to reverse the puck and in turning to his left, briefly had his back to McLeod, who ploughed on into him. It was one of those bang-bang reaction plays that will put NHL discipline chief Brendan Shanahan's powers to the test because the sequence wasn't as clear-cut dirty as some of the other suspension-worthy incidents we've seen this week. Officially, Kronwall is out with a concussion.
The Red Wings ultimately went on to win 4-2 as Johan Franzen finally hit the back of the net for the first time this season. He was good and so was Pavel Datsyuk, but the real hero might have been Jonas Gustavsson, aka the Monster, the ex-Leaf netminder who, in the absence of the injured Jimmy Howard, has won three games in a row. Colorado fell just moments after the San Jose Sharks lost for the first time all season – in a shootout to the Dallas Stars – but that doesn't count as a regulation loss, so now they have points in all seven games to sit atop the league leader board with 13 points.
Bernier's gaffe evoked not-so-distant memories of a similar play by Jonathan Quick earlier this year, when he misplayed a clearing attempt into his own net that cost the Kings a game. Quick does that from time to time; it remains to be seen if this is a one-off for Bernier, who'd had to come in for James Reimer after he'd been knocked out of the game in the first minute.
Perhaps the most intriguing match-up of the night occurred when the Boston Bruins travelled down to Sunrise to take on the Panthers and their ex-goalie, Tim Thomas. Thomas was a stalwart for years in Boston – twice winning the Vezina Trophy and leading them to the 2011 Stanley Cup over the Vancouver Canucks.
After sitting out last season, Thomas signed as a free agent in Florida and after a slow start, in which he gave up a couple of first-period goals, held the Panthers in it until the last minute, when he gave up a goal and they lost 3-2 in regulation. Thomas was used to having towering defenceman Zdeno Chara in front of him – but not as an opponent, acting as a screen on the power play, which is how Dougie Hamilton's first-period goal eluded him. He was also used to seeing Daniel Paille use his speed to get open on the wing, which is how his goal went in. But Thomas is a battler and he helped the Panthers make a game of it, which is what they need from him. In another transitional year, filled with multiple roster moves, they need stability in goal – and Thomas, presumably healthy after missing time with a groin injury early on, may provide that.
You just never had the sense of what his Bruins' teammates thought of Thomas – they were always circumspect when discussing him and remembered to praise him for his contributions to their success – but it didn't seem as if they had any trouble last night, getting him in their sights.
The same could be said for the Ottawa Senators, who lit up the New Jersey Devils venerable netminder Martin Brodeur for four goals in a 5-2 win. The Devils have essentially been alternating between Brodeur and newcomer Cory Schneider, but the time has come to give Schneider a few consecutive starts, if the plan is to salvage something from this season. New Jersey is the only team in the league without a victory to date.
Meanwhile, in Long Island, the Edmonton Oilers lost again, but for once, the blame couldn't be squarely leveled at their goaltending, which was decent, Devan Dubnyk having a quality outing for the first time this season, even as they lost 3-2 to the Islanders. The Oilers' Taylor Hall, who scored twice, offered encouraging words afterward: "This is where Dubie takes over and starts playing like we know he can. It would have been nice to get a win for him." They can only hope.
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