NHL's weird opening week

(L-R) Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, Ondrej Pavelec. (GETTY IMAGES/REUTERS)

(L-R) Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, Ondrej Pavelec. (GETTY IMAGES/REUTERS)

STEPHEN KNIGHT, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:09 PM ET

TORONTO -- It's a topsy-turvy world when the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers are undefeated after the NHL's first week of play, but we've also already had the season's first brutal head shot/check- from-behind, a goalie falling to the ice unconscious when the play was at the opposite end of the ice, a rookie hat trick and Sean Avery the victim - you read that correctly - of an obscene gesture that resulted in a suspension, and not to Avery.

The Leafs finished 29th overall last season and haven't qualified for the post- season since 2004. As of this week, they had three wins in three games, knocking off Montreal, Ottawa and Pittsburgh.

How to explain this? Leafs Nation doesn't care, just keep on doing it, but for those looking for meaning in the seemingly impossible, the arrival of energetic forward Kris Versteeg from Chicago, a healthy Mike Komisarek (who has also cut down on the number of stupid penalties he takes) and J.S. Giguere in goal goes a long way to explaining the euphoria in the self-proclaimed center of the hockey universe.

In Edmonton, the Oilers' 30th-place finish last season is quickly being erased by the kids - No. 1 pick Taylor Hall, 10th overall pick in 2009 Magnus Paajarvi and former world junior sniper and 22nd pick in 2008 Jordan Eberle, who made his first NHL goal possibly the best you'll ever see. Breaking down the right wing shorthanded, the 20-year-old toe dragged the puck out of the way of a sliding Calgary Flames defensemen, then pulled to his backhand to lift it over Miika Kiprusoff, before falling deliriously happy into the boards.

The Oil may not make the playoffs, but if this keeps up, the team shouldn't have any trouble selling tickets.

The head-shot debate didn't take long to get to the front burner following Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville being blindsided into the boards from behind by Chicago Blackhawks defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson. Pominville left Monday's game on a stretcher. Hjalmarsson got a five-minute major and a game misconduct at the time.

He then received a two-game suspension. He should get more. Hockey is a fast and physical game, but a two-game suspension may not act as a deterrent. Ten games might do the trick, though.

Pominville's teammate, goalie Ryan Miller, had this to say to WGR in Buffalo following the game, "No matter how badly [Hjalmarsson] feels, no matter if it's unintentional, we have to change the culture of it if we're ever going to change the situations we're seeing, which is guys on the ice bleeding and missing time with concussions. It's completely an unnecessary play ... more people should be a little more outraged."

He's right. More people should be outraged, starting with the NHL Players' Association, which doesn't seem to have a problem with its union members being maimed and having their livelihood threatened by the reckless, idiotic actions of other union members.

In Atlanta, the replay of goalie Ondrej Pavelec dropping to the ice unconscious when the play was at the other end of the ice is spooky. One minute he's in his goalie crouch, the next minute he's flat on his back less than three minutes into the Thrashers' season opener against Washington. The 23-year-old Czech netminder was taken from the ice on a stretcher. Following two days of tests, he was released from hospital. He apparently suffered a fainting spell, which caused him to fall. He hit his head during the fall and suffered a concussion. No timetable has been set for his return.

The New York Rangers have cause for optimism following rookie Derek Stepan's three-goal performance in his first NHL game. The 20-year-old Minnesota native was a standout at Wisconsin last season and led all scorers at the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championship en route to a gold medal. He's just the fourth player to score three goals in his NHL debut and the first since Fabian Brunnstrom of Dallas did it on Oct. 15, 2008. Real Cloutier did it for the Quebec Nordiques in 1979 and Alex Smart of the Montreal Canadiens was the first, in 1943.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous in Manhattan, Sean Avery, that tower of rectitude and righteousness, was on the receiving end of a rude gesture that resulted in a two-game suspension for an opponent. This would fall under the category of 'irony,' since Avery got himself turfed out of Dallas for making a reference to 'sloppy seconds' a while back.

This time around, it was Islanders defensemen James Wisniewski who was caught, uh, blowing off Avery following a brief goalmouth scrum.

Not sure if this is the type of leadership one should expect from one's alternate captain or what the NHL is hoping for when it promotes itself as family entertainment. What's interesting is that Avery's commentary on Dion Phaneuf's dating life in 2008 earned him six games and an anger management evaluation.

The NHL's justice system may not make sense, but it keeps the phone lines humming and would-be pundits gainfully employed.


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