Welcome to Hockey 615’s Free Skate! This is a feature we will run every Wednesday for the rest of the season. We will highlight a few topics from around the league that you might have missed while watching the Preds in all their glory. At the end, we name our 3 Stars of the Week. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Youth Movement

Three of the top 5 scorers in the NHL are 20 years old or younger. Auston Matthews (19) announced his presence in the league with authority on opening night as he posted 4 goals for the Maple Leafs. He has continued a high level of production since that night and currently leads the NHL with 10 points in 6 games. The elder statesman of our trio of top young scorers is William Nylander (20, though in fairness he looks 14). Nylander is Matthews’ teammate in Toronto and the two have played extremely well with one another. Nylander is fourth in the league with 4 goals and 5 assists totaling 9 points through 6 games. The fact that Matthews and baby-faced Nylander will be playing side by side as they head toward the peaks of their respective careers should be a scary thought for the entire NHL. Rounding out the top 5 scorers in the young season is Connor McDavid (19), or as he is known in Edmonton, McSavior. Connor McDavid may be the fastest human being to ever put on a pair of skates. I know Dylan Larkin set a new lap record at the All Star Weekend last year, but McDavid didn’t get to participate, and I’d pay money to see those two go head to head. Outside of his speed, McDavid has great vision and puck handling ability. That has led to his 5 assists in 6 games thus far. Tack on his 4 goals and he’s tied with Nylander at 9 points. Thanks to NBC Sports, we see Nylander and Matthews once (NHL Winter Classic on NBC, January 1, 2017) and McDavid a whopping 0 times. Way to show off the new young talent, guys!

Hockey Is Fun

According to Hockey Reference, teams are averaging exactly 3 goals a game in this new season. That’s up .29 goals per game from last season. I think all teams are starting to figure out that an up-tempo puck possession style of game gives you the best chance to win in the NHL and the result is a boost in offense. Teams are getting younger and faster. Big, hulking enforcers whose only roles are to hit and fight are going extinct. Combine that with the young talent we mentioned above, and the NHL should be a ton of fun in the near future.

I know it’s football season and the NFL is king, but the NFL STINKS this year. It’s a struggle to find two good games any given week. The primetime match-ups have been steaming piles of Roger Goodell’s feces, and I don’t expect that to improve with Titan vs. Jaguars tomorrow night. They don’t even let teams put up their own highlights on social media during the game. Don’t punish yourselves, people. Watch more hockey. I’m not naive. I know teams won’t score 3 goals per game all season. It’ll level out closer to 2.75 goals per game like it has in recent years, but it’s still a fast and entertaining product. Instead of two good games a week, there are normally two good games a night.

#PleaseLikeMySport

Blackhawks’ Historically Bad Penalty Kill

Predators’ fans remember the Opening Night win over the Chicago Blackhawks where all three goals were scored via the power play. Unfortunately for Chicago, their woes have extended beyond one bad game.

Any time you are mentioned in the same sentence as the Atlanta Thrashers, that is a BAD sign. At worst, your franchise has moved cities. At best, your team just got swept in the first round of the playoffs. Somewhere in the middle of those two things are the Blackhawks’ penalty killing issues. Chicago has given up 24 goals this season. 13 have come a man down. In an analysis by Second City Hockey, you can see that the Hawks haven’t had the desire or ability to defend the point while on the penalty kill. They aren’t taking passes away from the point, and when the puck gets there they aren’t getting in the shooting lanes at all (see: all 3 of the Preds goals on 10/14/16). This has been their Achilles heel all season. If they can get this sorted out and actually stop people from scoring on the power play here and there, we will begin to see them climb in the standings like they usually do.

3 Stars of the Week

3rd Star: This Brad Marchand snipe

2nd Star: Auston Matthews’ 4 goal debut. To be a #1 overall pick in a market like Toronto and deliver immediately is as impressive as it gets. I would give this the 1st star, but the Maple Leafs went full Maple Leafs and lost 5-4. I can’t reward that type of behavior.

1st Star(s): Joe Thornton and Brent Burns cruisin’ around Pittsburgh

Just guys bein’ dudes. Bonus points for Jumbo Joe walking around shirtless. That’s a big power move. These guys are international treasures, and I hope we find the fountain of youth so they can play hockey together forever.

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