Fantasy Nuggets Week 1

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The 2021-22 campaign is underway, but it feels like the schedule has been setup to ease us into the season. There were just two games on opening night and another five on Wednesday. Tonight will be the first big night with nine contests on the schedule. That said, there’s already been some fun and noteworthy games.

The Capitals’ 5-1 victory over the Rangers stand out as one of them, due in large part to Alex Ovechkin’s heroics. He’s 36-years-old now, but as he’s shown time and time again, you can’t assume that just because he’s getting up there in age, he’s going to slow down. He scored two goals and registered two assists last night. That pair of goals put him above Marcel Dionne in the all-time goals list, giving Ovechkin sole possession of fifth place with 732 career markers.

Ovechkin climbing up that list is likely going to be a recurring storyline this season. He’s now just nine goals away from the fourth place Brett Hull and 34 goals behind the third place Jaromir Jagr. Wayne Gretzky of course stands alone at the top with 894 career goals. Ovechkin won’t get there this season and he’ll need to continue to fight back Father Time to get there, but it’s entirely feasible that Ovechkin will break the record before the end of his career. It certainly helps that he signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract over the summer, signalling that he’s not planning on retiring anytime soon.

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We also saw the Seattle Kraken begin their inaugural season on Tuesday. In contrast to Vegas, which opened up their first campaign with a three-game winning streak to kick off a magical season that ended with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, Seattle lost its opening game. They didn’t go down quietly though.

The Kraken appropriately played against Vegas in their first contest and the Golden Knights showed them how it’s done early on, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead within the first 6:36 minutes of the contest and padding it out to 3-0 with a Max Pacioretty goal at 6:43 of the second frame. However, Seattle fought back from there, tying the game before Vegas ultimately edged them out 4-3.

The Golden Knights might have set an unrealistically high expectation for what a new team under the modern NHL expansion rules can do, but Seattle certainly isn’t a bad team. They’re built tough with a strong defense and great goaltending. They’re likely to have a ton of close games this season with a fair number of them breaking their way.

On the Canadian side of things, I thought the Toronto Maple Leafs had an encouraging start against the Montreal Canadiens with their 2-1 victory. Toronto is counting on the idea that Jack Campbell is ready to be the team’s starting goaltender and he certainly looked like one on Wednesday, stopping 31 of 32 shots. We’re sure the victory also helped the Maple Leafs move on somewhat from their devastating first round exit to Montreal last season.

Ultimately Toronto is past the point where regular season success is what they’ll be evaluated on. They’ve reached the playoffs for five straight campaigns (albeit 2020 is debatable given their qualifying round exit) but haven’t won a single postseason series over that span. They need to prove that they can have success when it matters the most and if they can’t, then the fanbase will ultimately view 2021-22 as another failure regardless of what their regular season record is.

That doesn’t mean the regular season doesn’t have meaning for them though. The Atlantic Division figures to be tough between Toronto, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Florida. Through in Ottawa and Detroit, which are both looking to take steps forward this season, and there is a setup for a good team in this division to potentially miss the playoffs in their not careful. Beyond that, playoff positioning is of course important. If the Maple Leafs do end up in third or fourth place, then they’d potentially have a first round series against the likes of Tampa Bay or Boston without the home ice advantage. That’s far from an ideal way to start the playoffs.

So even if Toronto will be evaluated on what happens after the first 82 games, it’s clear that the Maple Leafs – or any team for that matter – can’t get ahead of themselves.

The one division we haven’t highlighted at least a team from yet in the Central, but it’s worth noting that the Colorado Avalanche started off with a strong win against the Chicago Blackhawks. There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Blackhawks after adding key players like Marc-Andre Fleury and Seth Jones and getting back Jonathan Toews, who missed the 2020-21 campaign. Obviously this is the start the Blackhawks wanted, but it’s way too early to read into that.

It was encouraging to see the Avalanche managed to work past the absence of Nathan MacKinnon though, who was unavailable for the opener after testing positive for COVID. A big difference between good and great teams is an ability to overcome adversity and that’s something the Avalanche certainly did on Wednesday.

Nazem Kadri was particularly impressive, sliding into the top line in MacKinnon’s absence and doing a great job in that role with a goal and an assist. Kadri could have another big game Saturday against St. Louis if MacKinnon isn’t ready to return in time, so consider taking him in daily leagues.