Instead of the usual NHL Power Rankings, I’m doing something new (and probably a little more unhinged) this season — Blackburn’s Big Board, a weekly check-in on the hockey things that I currently care about. It’ll go a variety of ways, including teams that are earning my attention, players of note, storylines generating buzz and any other hockey topics that my weird brain finds compelling.
1. Best team in the world this week: Boston Bruins
Yup, still. You can claim I’m biased as a Boston guy, but facts are facts. The Bruins are 8-1-0 (the best start in the franchise’s 98-year history) and sit atop the league standings. They’ve won their past five games, have the NHL's best goal differential (a whopping plus-18) and only seem to be picking up steam with each passing game. And they’re still doing all of this without their best defenseman in Charlie McAvoy, who is inching closer to making his season debut.
However, they did get Brad Marchand back about a month ahead of schedule following double hip surgery in the offseason. No hips, no problem for Marchand, who casually logged a three-point night (two goals and an assist) in his season debut. He hasn’t played since, and I’m sure Boston is going to be careful about his usage as he eases back into action.
He looked pretty nimble in practice while shoving a pie in Nick Foligno’s face. Look at that “duck, duck, goose” style getaway!
The fact that Marchand was able to be productive in his return is a great sign for a Bruins top six. Boston is infinitely more dangerous when he is playing an effective two-way game, and it helps push the depth down a little bit more.
I’m still questioning how sustainable the Bruins' dominance is, but they’re managing to find a stunning level of success largely without two of their more important players. There’s a lot of reasons to be buying in right now.
2. Worst team in the world this week: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Bruins are currently the best team in the world and the Maple Leafs are currently the worst team in the world, which is pretty much a dream scenario for me, personally. Please excuse me if my smugness is just absolutely jumping through your screen right now.
And before you come for my throat, yeah, the Leafs probably aren’t the \actual\ worst team in the world (they’re 4-4-2 through their first 10 games this season), but things are an absolute disaster in Toronto right now. The Leafs have lost their past four and, more importantly, have deserved to lose those games — including a pathetic defeat at the hands of the last-place Anaheim Ducks.
So despite the fact that there are worse teams than them on paper, the current state of the Leafs makes them feel like the worst team in the world. This is a supposed Stanley Cup contender that not only is failing to get results, but it's also failing to deserve results. It’s painful to watch … for some. Not for me, of course.
If you’re looking for a silver lining in this mess, I guess you could find one in this: Toronto can’t choke in the playoffs if it doesn't even qualify. Right now, the Leafs are on pace for a 70-something point season, so that would leave them emphatically out of the postseason and save their gigantic fanbase a whole lot of inevitable heartbreak.
Toronto fans typically at least get to enjoy this group achieving a good amount of regular-season success, and now they don’t even have that. I’m sure things won’t be THIS bad for long; the Leafs have too much talent on the roster for that. But how far can that talent take them, especially if they’re clearly pressed and feeling mounting pressure? How big of a hole can they dig themselves while still being able to climb out? And will they have to make some big changes before they can begin to climb out?
The product is clearly flawed. This team isn’t clicking, and there’s not really one clear solution to fix what’s broken. As such, the Leafs are currently the worst in the world.
3. Best hockey Halloween costumes
We’ve officially turned the calendar to November, but it's not too late to acknowledge the best off-ice efforts in the Halloween costume department. Let’s rank some of this year’s best looks.
5. Bruins as Super Mario characters: You just know Patrice Bergeron’s Mario voice is way better than Chris Pratt’s. The man can’t miss.
4. Gritty as Barbie: Here we go again with Barbies and unrealistic body image issues.
3. This goalie: Wait, that’s not a costume? This actually happened? Well, that makes it even scarier.
2. New York Rangers as "Dodgeball" characters: Props to Mika Zibanejad for picking the role that allows him to sit down all night. Veteran move.
1. Jesse Puljujarvi as Darla from "Finding Nemo": Absolutely no notes.
4. Best player in the world this week: Tage Thompson
Is five goals and nine points in two games good? He’s also had 28 shot attempts (17 on net) in that two-game span. Just an absolute menace.
You know you’re doing something special when you make your teammates react like this:
Also worth pointing out that the Sabres are 6-3-0 with a plus-12 goal differential and sit second place in the Atlantic Division through October. Now, we’ve seen this story with Buffalo before: Hot October and then the wheels start to fall off ... but, hey, maybe this year is different? Maybe this team is actually something?
Oh god, I’m absolutely going to regret putting that in writing.
5. Phoenix Coyotes home opener
As mentioned in last week’s Big Board, I couldn’t resist heading out to Tempe to attend the Coyotes’ first game at Mullett Arena on Arizona State’s campus. It’s not every day you get to witness the chaos and novelty of an NHL team playing its home opener in a college building that holds 5,000 people, and the experience honestly did not disappoint.
Pete's excellent adventure to Mullett Arena
If you’re too lazy or uninspired to support me by watching a four-minute video, here are my general thoughts on the experience:
Yes, it’s pretty embarrassing that an NHL team got kicked out of its old building and had to shack up with a college team in a tiny arena that doesn’t exactly have five-star accomodations. And yes, the Coyotes are still a pretty big mess with a lot of work to do before establishing themselves as a steady, sustainable and successful franchise.
But if you’re going to be forced to play on a college campus, Arizona State is a pretty cool place to do it. I’m sure the building had a little extra juice because it was the home opener and happened to take place on a Friday night at one of the biggest party schools in the country, but the atmosphere rocked. It was unique, it was loud and it was a lot of fun. It was certainly better than any experience I can imagine in Glendale.
Tempe is a far more desirable spot, and the Coyotes should be able to get a good number of new fans into the building this season, especially with the $25 student-section tickets they’re selling. It was cool to see the student section filled with a variety of jerseys from across the NHL, a signal that it might be an awesome place for hockey transplants to unify and come together as one throughout the season.
I can’t tell you how many times peripheral hockey fans have told me they were ultimately sold on the sport by attending a game in person, so this could be a great opportunity for a Coyotes team that desperately needs more support and interest. For as bad as the optics might be, Mullett Arena is generating plenty of intrigue — there’s zero chance I would have flown across the country to attend the Coyotes' home opener in a regular building — so hopefully they can parlay that interest into a cool experience for new supporters and build toward something bigger.
6. Andreas Athanasiou
To close out this week, how about you just watch this goal on repeat for, like, 20 straight minutes?