It begins: Five storylines to watch for in tonight’s NHL season openers

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Drop the puck already. Since the middle of June, fans have been itching to get hockey back and now it’s here. Just like the end of last season, the new season starts off with the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks in action. They won’t be facing each other, but for the Bruins it’s their last taste of Stanley Cup glory as their banner goes up at TD Garden in Boston against the Flyers. Montreal starts their season in Toronto against the Maple Leafs and Vancouver hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With those three games to look forward to tonight, there are five stories to eyeball as the night goes on.

1. Bruins’ quest to repeat starts against Flyers team ready to prove themselves

No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 and the Bruins would like to end that streak. They’ll do so with essentially the same team they had last season only swapping out Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi for Benoit Pouliot and defenseman Joe Corvo. Getting to start against their playoff nemeses from the last two seasons, Philadelphia, makes for a nice juxtaposition. With Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas getting a chance to carry the team once again, Boston should give Philly enough nightmares from last season to last a while.

The Flyers come into this season without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and with Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, and first round pick Sean Couturier. GM Paul Holmgren’s chemistry experiment to get the Flyers  back to the Cup finals begins in earnest against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. Expect fireworks of all kinds.

2. Jaromir Jagr aims for a milestone in his first NHL game since 2008

With one point tonight Jaromir Jagr would hit 1,600 points for his career. After being away from the NHL since the end of the 2008 season playing in the KHL, Jagr’s hoping to be the guy that leads the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. With such a storied legacy, however, he’s got numerous statistical targets within reach this season. If Jagr was a selfish player he might be satisfied with just getting his point and be done. So far he’s saying all the right things about wanting to win it all for the Flyers. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up all year.

3. Max Pacioretty and Matt Lombardi return to action after different awful concussions

When we last saw Max Pacioretty in a regular season game he was being carted off the ice on a stretcher after being run into a stanchion by Zdeno Chara in March. The last time we saw Matt Lombardi on the ice was nearly a year ago for the Nashville Predators after getting knocked out of the second game of the year with a concussion. Tonight in Toronto, they’ll both be back in action going against each other after grueling recovery from their injuries. Here’s to hoping they both have incident-free seasons for their teams.

4. The Evgeni Malkin MVP campaign begins tonight?

After how well Evgeni Malkin looked in preseason, the question of whether he can bounce back from knee surgery and turn into an offensive dynamo all over again starts tonight against the Canucks. Malkin looked like the guy that we saw during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009 during the preseason. He was fast, made unbelievable moves, and dominated shifts while controlling the puck. With Sidney Crosby still out of action, if that Malkin shows up in the regular season we could pay witness to a very special season from the Russian superstar.

5. Oh yeah… The Canucks still play hockey

Hey, remember the Vancouver Canucks? They won the Presidents’ Trophy last year and were supposed to roll through to the Stanley Cup. They nearly pulled it off if it wasn’t for those meddling Boston Bruins. The Canucks’ quest to get back to the finals and come away with the hardware (and hopefully without burning down the city) starts at home. Fortunately for them they won’t have to deal with Sidney Crosby tonight.

Unfortunately, the Penguins are still a very good team and they’ll have Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup. For Vancouver, they’ll have to see what life is like without Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond and how things change with Marco Sturm and Cody Hodgson. Still, the Canucks bring a boatload of talent to the ice and they’ll be serious threats again out of the West. Here’s to hoping the memories of their last game in Rogers Arena haven’t stuck in their mind or else Roberto Luongo will start freaking out.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)

‘Old Time Hockey’ video game takes a bit of an early beating from reviewers

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From the sound of things, “Old Time Hockey” is a video game with a lot of heart, but maybe not the skills to make it to the big time.

While “NHL 17” is pumped out by publishing giant EA Sports, this title is very much an independent labor of love by a company called V7 Entertainment. Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy provided a great interview with the developers here. It’s worth noting that the game reminds one of 8-bit titles in another way: lacking an NHL license, these teams are instead fictional. This isn’t necessarily a drawback as much as it provides the title with its own unique “flavor.”

It’s hard not to get behind a scrappy development, especially in an age where sports video game options are so scarce. Some leagues barely see any licensed games any longer (see: the MLB, which feels woefully misrepresented these days), and the arcade-style that “Blades of Steel” and other old-school games popularized is even tougher to come by.

Combine these factors with an aesthetic inspired by “Slap Shot” and “Old Time Hockey” seems like it could really scratch an itch … except, it sounds like the puck missed the net.

So far, reviews are pretty mixed for the title, which is currently on PC and Playstation 4 (with planned releases on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch).

While there are a few good reviews here and there, the general reception is of disappointment.

A Sporting News review states that “the promising premise falls apart quickly.” Game Informer slams a “slew-footed story mode.” PC Gamer notes that, with EA not releasing an NHL game on that platform since 2008, there was a need here … but it wasn’t met.

Does that mean there’s no fun to be had? Not necessarily, but it’s a bummer that the game might be off the mark, especially since V7 Entertainment seems to have its heart in the right place.

Then again, maybe those who want that “NHL 94” fix merely need to dig a little. As this Vice article points out, there’s still an active community playing the sort of game that scratches the itch that “Old Time Hockey” – perhaps – can’t quite reach.