The Real Winners and Losers of the Opening Weekend of the 2013 NHL Season

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IJanuary 21, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 19:  Evgeni Malkin #71, Sidney Crosby #87 and Paul Martin #7 celebrate the empty net goal of Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Philadelphia Flyers  at Wells Fargo Center on January 19, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The NHL season is only two days old, and there are already teams and players under pressure to improve on their poor performances or continue their strong start to the year.

After the weekend, we now have a good idea of which teams and players were ready for the intensity and pressure that is found in a shortened schedule.

As the year progresses, fans will start panicking if their teams continue to struggle into February because every loss is magnified in a 48-game season. There are three teams that have started 0-2, and all of them were playoff teams from a year ago.

Let's look at the winners and losers from the NHL's opening weekend.



James Neal and the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins were the most impressive team during the NHL's opening weekend, with victories over division rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Both wins were also on the road.

The Penguins outscored their two opponents 9-4 and were able to get both Marc-Andre Fleury and backup goalie Tomas Vokoun some time between the pipes.

Star winger James Neal is on his way to having another fantastic season, with three goals in two games. Neal and superstar center Evgeni Malkin have been fantastic on the Penguins' second line.

With an early four-point lead in the standings over their two most talented rivals in the Atlantic division, Pittsburgh is well-positioned for a division title if the team continues its hot start to the year.

The Penguins were clearly the best team of opening weekend.


Veteran Players

As expected, the extra time off because of the lockout has helped many veteran players start the new season strongly.

Dallas Stars forward Jaromir Jagr and Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, who are 40 and 42 years old, respectively, are tied for second in the league in scoring with four points (two goals and two assists). What's even more impressive is that Selanne racked up four points and has played in just one game.

Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning has also looked like he's in midseason, form with two goals and an assist. The 37-year-old winger is one of the most consistent goal scorers in the NHL and is excited to help the Lightning get back to the playoffs.

Expect a lot of veteran players to have success early in the season, especially the few players who have previously played in a shortened season (1994-95), such as Jagr, Selanne and New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur.


Thomas Vanek

Thomas Vanek has proven that he's an early Hart Trophy candidate with a five-point performance in the Buffalo Sabres' season-opening game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.

The star winger dominated the Flyers defense with two goals and three assists, and he scored or assisted on all three Sabres goals in the third period.

Vanek's five points set a new career high for points in a single game. Three previous times, he had scored four points in a game, but he never had five until Sunday.

Vanek is one of the most highly skilled forwards in the league, and no one should be surprised if he finishes the season among the leaders in goals and points.


The NHL and its Fans

Great ratings and 13 sellouts on opening day helped the NHL start the season in an ideal way. For the most part, fans have been unwilling to boycott the league because of the frustration built up during the lockout.

Fans who did watch and attend games this weekend were treated to some thrilling action on the ice.

Eight of the 13 games on Saturday included five or more goals combined, and 11 of them had four or more goals. On Sunday, four of the league's six games scheduled included five or more goals between the two teams playing.

With coaches and players not having a lot of time to practice and watch film, expect defense to be a problem for a lot of teams in the first few weeks of the season, which will create a lot of scoring for the fans to enjoy.

Having a lot of high-scoring games will really help the NHL build some excitement and win fans back following the lockout.


Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks

Prior to this past weekend, the last time that Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa played in a game was in the first round of last year's playoffs, when his season ended after suffering a concussion in Game 3 of the Phoenix Coyotes series.

Hossa came into this season ready to go and leads the league (along with Vanek) with five points in two games. The 34-year-old winger leads all NHL players with four goals and also has one assist. 

As for the team's success, the Blackhawks are one of the three teams in the NHL that are 2-0 to begin the year.

The Blackhawks defeated two playoff teams from last season over the weekend. They beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings 5-2 on Saturday afternoon, and they earned a 6-4 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes, who eliminated the Blackhawks in the playoffs last year, on Sunday.

Chicago also leads the league with 11 goals scored, and many of the team's players, including several of its stars, appear to be in midseason form already.


Minnesota Wild

The new-look Wild have started the season perfectly with two wins. Summer signings Zach Parise (one goal and two assists) and Ryan Suter have played well, but the performance of veteran winger Dany Heatley has been most impressive.

The 32-year-old forward has scored two goals with one assist through two games after having a disappointing 2011-12 season.

The Wild's goaltending has also been superb. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have allowed just two goals combined, which has the team ranked second in GAA.

Minnesota added a number of new players in the offseason, but the team already looks in-sync after just one week of practices before Saturday's season opener.



Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are 0-2 and will have very few "easy" games this season because they play in the toughest division in the NHL.

Aside from a few players, such as Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and rookie Scott Laughton, the Flyers have been abysmal to start the season.

The Flyers have a goal differential of minus-five, which is tied for the worst in the Eastern Conference with the Rangers.

Numbers don't lie, and they also help tell the story of the Flyers' struggles this season.

Stat Goals Scored Goals Against Power-Play Penalty Kill
NHL Rank 24th 20th 23rd 27th

The schedule doesn't get any easier for Philadelphia, with four of the team's next five games against playoff teams from last year, including two matchups with the Rangers.


New York Rangers

The Rangers are one of the teams already 0-2, and one of the weakest parts of their team has been the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, who was last year's Vezina Trophy winner.

Lundqvist was pulled in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Penguins, which you rarely see, because "King Henrik" rarely has a bad game. Not only did Lundqvist fail to play well against Pittsburgh, though, he also struggled against the Boston Bruins in the season opener.

Lundqvist had won four straight games in Boston prior to this season, but he allowed three goals in a 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Saturday.

Veteran winger Marian Gaborik and rookie forward Chris Kreider have also been disappointing through two games with zero points combined. Newly acquired forward Rick Nash has been one of the few bright spots for the Rangers thus far.


Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks opened the season against two teams that failed to make the playoffs last season (Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers), but they have started the year 0-2.

After losing to the Ducks 7-3 in the opener at Rogers Arena, the Canucks lost again at home to the Oilers on Sunday, despite having a 2-0 lead in the second period.

One of Vancouver's strengths is its goaltending, but Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo have allowed a combined 10 goals through two games.

It's not time to panic in Vancouver yet, but the team must play better defensively, and the goaltending has to improve or the Canucks might not win the Northwest division this season.


Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings allowed six goals in their season-opening game to the division rival St. Louis Blues, confirming a lot of fans' fears about the strength of the team's blue line.

Star goaltender Jimmy Howard allowed five goals, and the Red Wings offense wasn't able to score on Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak.

Detroit's blue line was certainly a concern before the season, but after just one game, it's clear that general manager Ken Holland needs to make a move for another veteran defenseman.

The Red Wings cannot afford to struggle at the beginning of the season because they play in a division with three other quality teams that are playoff contenders.


Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens not only started the season 0-1 following a defeat to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre, but they still haven't signed star defenseman P.K. Subban, who remains a restricted free agent.

Montreal scored just one goals against a Leafs team that finished 29th in GAA last season, and the team's poor defensive performance proved that missing Subban is a huge problem.

The Canadiens have to re-sign Subban quickly, because without his offensive talents, power-play ability and defense, the team could quickly plummet to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.


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