Two weeks into the NHL season and talk of parity in the league is looking more and more silly. The unlikely Pittsburgh Penguins and the pugnacious Philadelphia Flyers are quashing that notion.
The Penguins are 6-0-0 and off to the best start since the franchise was born in 1967. They are leading the Patrick Division. Second in that division are the Flyers, who have allowed only eight goals this season and are 5-0-0.
After that, only two other teams are above .500. Toronto is 3-0-2, mostly on the strength of center Tom Fergus, who is doing most of the team's scoring.
The surprise for some has been the collapse of the New York teams. The Rangers, under Coach Ted Sator, have been a team of some talent that seems to fight itself and its coach. The Islanders, under new Coach Terry Simpson, have been inconsistent and unprepared.
Sator is a hard-driving, strict coach who has driven more than a few players off his team. Barry Beck refused to report, saying he could not play for Sator. Mark Pavelich refused to come out of retirement, Peter Sundstrom refused to come back, choosing to stay in Sweden, and Reijo Ruotslainen signed to play in Switzerland.
And, with the tempestuous Phil Esposito as general manager, there is usually something brewing with the Rangers. Often enough, however, it has nothing to do with playing good hockey.
Sator is not above publicly humiliating players to bring his 1-3-2 team into line. In their 7-6 overtime loss to Washington, Sator pulled wing Tomas Sandstrom off the ice during the overtime and sent in Walt Poddubny. Sandstrom was not happy with the coaching decision. And, when the Capitals scored with Poddubny on the ice, Sandstrom let Sator know what he thought of his decision.
Now, rumors are flying that Sandstrom, who was the Rangers' third-best scorer last season, is about to be traded to Edmonton. Esposito is thought to be behind that move, further fueling the theory that Esposito is out to rid his team of European players. Besides Sandstrom, the Rangers have two other Swedish players, Jan Erixon and Kjell Samuelsson.
Sator is being watched closely after his 36-38-6 record last season. With pressure on him to win, Sator may be transferring that pressure to his players. Whatever is happening, the Rangers are looking ragged and there doesn't seem much hope of change.
The Islanders are sputtering with a new coach and an old attitude.
"There's not much to say to the players after games like we've had," Simpson told the New York Times. His team is 2-3-1 after Tuesday night's 6-3 win over New Jersey.
"Teams develop a winning attitude from within, and although you're always tempted to do something external, like change the lines, after a loss, our problems here have very little to do with technical things."
The Islanders' problem has to do with the work ethic, or lack of it, among the players. The team showed little preparation in an opening-night loss to Chicago and second-game loss to the Kings.
"This isn't something that you can just attribute to it being the beginning of the season and players are uncertain of themselves and other excuses like that," Simpson said. "Mental preparation for a game is always as important as, and sometimes more important than, the physical side of things. It's also harder to get the whole team thinking on the same lines."
Without healthy teams in New York City, the league will suffer. And, as long as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia continue to outclass the rest of the NHL, let's not talk about parity.
Having a legend's name does not assure an athlete of having a legend's game. Proving that is Brett Hull, the 22-year-old son of Bobby Hull.
The younger Hull came to the NHL a few months ago with impressive statistics, a reputation as a big scorer and, of course, that famous name. While attending the University of Minnesota Duluth last season, Hull had 52 goals and 32 assists in 42 games.
He signed a multiyear contract in May with the Calgary Flames, and the club was happy to promote itself using the well-known Hull name.
Like other rookies, though, Hull has had trouble adjusting to the tougher, faster game in the NHL. Unlike other rookies, everything was expected of Hull. Just one day before the season started, Hull was sent down to the Moncton Golden Flames of the American Hockey League.
It's been worse for Hull there. The right wing has scored just one goal in four games and has been relegated to the team's fourth line. And, even though Moncton was drubbing the Kings' AHL team, the New Haven Nighthawks, 8-2, last Sunday, Hull did not play.
"Brett Hull is like everybody else on this hockey club," Moncton Coach Terry Crisp said. "He has to earn his right to be on the line and earn the right to be on the ice. He knows he's struggling and I've talked with him. Until such time as he comes through, the ice time will not be there."