Inside The Box: Five quick observations from the NHL’s Opening Night

Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s brand new daily bulletin, covering all the latest news in the NHL and highlighting the content you need in your lives.

What an Opening Night! The 2020-21 NHL Season is officially underway and we had a mouthwatering feast of five games to tuck into on Wednesday night.

It was the perfect way to open the new season with the Philadelphia Flyers blowing the doors off the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening game, before the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Montreal Canadiens in Overtime, Steven Stamkos stole the show as the Tampa Bay Lighting began their Stanley Cup defense by dismantling the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks drew first blood against the Edmonton Oilers and the St. Louis Blues looked resurgent in a convincing win against the Colorado Avalanche.

All five games had something for everyone and there were plenty of storylines to digest but, for now, we’re going to delve into five quick observations covering all the action from last night…

Joe Thornton (97)

Joe Thornton #97 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

1. Joe Thornton in a Maple Leafs Jersey

I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing Joe Thornton rock a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey after the veteran forward made his debut for the team last night. It was just plain weird seeing “Jumbo Joe” in anything but a San Jose Sharks uniform and it didn’t seem right somehow, but that is life for you.

Thornton didn’t record a point on his NHL debut but he did get a lofty 17:30 of TOI and he looked impressive on a dangerous line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, a line that was the most creative on the ice, so it won’t be long before everyone’s favorite bearded forward starts lightning the lamp. And, by then, I may just be used to Joe Thornton in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey that little bit more.

Also, it was a good night for the Maple Leafs who played some sloppy hockey and were, at times, outplayed by a Canadiens team that delivered on all their offseason hype of being an absolute physical juggernaut that will just beat up on teams this year. However, helped by a three-point night by William Nylander (2 G, 1 A), the Leafs won 5-4 thanks to Morgan Rielly’s Overtime winner.

Steven Stamkos (91)

Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

2. The Real Steven Stamkos is Back

I wrote about this in depth here, but Steven Stamkos looks back at the peak of his powers and it is great news for everyone, especially the Tampa Bay Lightning who need their Captain to lead them offensively with superstar forward Nikita Kucherov out for the 2020-21 regular-season.

After recovering fully from a core injury that may have threatened his career at one point, Stamkos looked impressive throughout Training Camp and he carried that through to Opening Night, recording three points (1 G, 2 A) and treating us to his trademark one-timer on the power play as the Lightning beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1.

It was Steven Stamkos at his very best, at the true height of his powers and, if he can remain healthy for the entire year, then the loss of Kucherov won’t hurt as much and the Lightning could have a real, real chance of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions.

Nils Hoglander (36)

Nils Hoglander #36 of the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

3. Welcome to the Show

The Vancouver Canucks took down the Edmonton Oilers in a 5-3 win but the biggest talking point was no doubt the emergence of Nils Hoglander, who looked mighty fight on his NHL debut. The 40th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft was finally unleashed by the Canucks and he looks a real talent.

Hoglander dazzled in Training Camp and was rewarded with a spot on the Opening Night roster, an opportunity he seized with both hands. He played with a real swagger and a confidence that contradicted the fact that he was playing in his very first  NHL game.

Displaying slick hands, a bucketload of creativity and high hockey IQ, Hoglander’s crowning moment came in the second period when he showed good awareness to follow up Tanner Pearson‘s rebound and knock it home. Already boasting Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes, the Canucks can now add Nils Hoglander to what is a young and exciting core.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers celebrate a third period goal. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

4. Flyers the Real Deal

While I got plenty excited about another Sidney Crosby lesson in how to have perfect hand-eye coordination, the true story of the opening game of the night was the Philadelphia Flyers just looking the real deal. They blew the doors off the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 6-3 win and they looked very, very impressive.

They flourished on special teams with two power play goals while going 2/1 on the penalty kill, and they looked the finished product despite this being the first game of the season. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who was signed in the offseason, impressed with a two-point night and his big shot from the point could be a huge weapon for the Flyers.

Oskar Lindblom, in his first season back since successfully fighting Cancer, lit the lamp in what was a real feel-good moment and Kevin Hayes also had a big night with two points (1 G, 1 A). While a one-game sample size, the Philadelphia Flyers look like they are in full-on business mode already and I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out on top in an incredibly stacked East Division, I really wouldn’t. They’ve got everything from goaltending (finally) to scoring, a load of depth and some real high-end young talent. They are a team to watch in 2020-21.

Brayden Schenn (10)

St. Louis Blues center Brayden Schenn (10). Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

5. Reality Check

Many, including yours truly, were tipping the Colorado Avalanche to be a leading contender for the Stanley Cup in 2020-21, along with the Vegas Golden Knights, but they were brought back to earth with a crash on Opening Night after losing to the St. Louis Blues 4-1. Yes, it is one game so let’s not get too carried away here, but the Blues did a job on the Avs.

They forced defensive turnovers, they did a real nice job of keeping the puck in the zone and, more importantly, Jordan Binnington had a big night with 26 saves on 27 shots after suffering a rough 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Also having big nights were forward Oskar Sundqvist who scored two goals, while Jaden Schwartz and Robert Thomas both picked up two-point nights with two apples each. The Blues lost some key pieces and a heck of a lot of leadership during the offseason with Alex Pietrangelo signing with the Vegas Golden Knights in Free Agency, goaltender Jake Allen being dealt to the Montreal Canadiens and both Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Steen retiring, but they looked a real cohesive unit on Wednesday and, with every single game important this year, this was a big, big win for the St. Louis against a loaded Colorado team.

That’s it for our First Edition of Inside The Box today, but we’ll be back with a bonus Inside The Box later, so keep an eye out!