Cullen: Downie makes his mark right off the bat for Avs

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Scott Cullen
10/3/2013 1:04:09 PM
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Steve Downie with a big return to the Colorado lineup, Jonathan Bernier strong in his Maple Leafs debut, Detroit dominated a 2-1 game and more.

1. After missing nearly all of last season after wrecking his knee, Avalanche RW Steve Downie posted a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (goal, assist, fight) against Anaheim. Downie skated alongside Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly on Colorado's top line, before tangling with Ryan Getzlaf will 1:07 remaining in the third period of Colorado's 6-1 win. In leagues that count PIM, Downie is potential gold -- one of three (Steve Ott and Scott Hartnell are the others) to have at least 100 points and 500 penalty minutes since the start of the 2009-2010 season.

2. Speaking of Ryan O'Reilly, he looked great moving to the wing from centre, generating six shots on goal and playing 19:47. O'Reilly has 75 points in 110 games over the past couple seasons, but if he sticks with Duchene, that could present an opportunity to raise his offensive output.

3. Jonathan Bernier made his Maple Leafs debut, in Philadelphia, Wednesday and stopped 31 of 32 shots for the win. While I'm among those who think that the Maple Leafs will have a hard time matching their percentages from last season, if 25-year-old Bernier is ready to take a step forward, then he and James Reimer could conceivably give Toronto above-average goaltending and that would be half the battle. For now, it appears as though the Leafs have a competition in crease.

4. Avalanche C Nathan MacKinnon had a pair of assists in his NHL debut, setting up LW Jamie McGinn. It was an impressive first game, though MacKinnon could use work in the face-off dot, where he was 2-for-14 (14.3%) on draws.

5. Maple Leafs C Dave Bolland notched a pair of goals at Philadelphia, and while the Leafs juggled lines, Bolland spent more time with Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul.

5. Avalanche G Semyon Varlamov delivered a strong performance, turning back 35 of 36 Ducks shots, missing a shutout by seven seconds on a late goal by Jakob Silfverberg. If the Avalanche are going to rise up this season, it's not going to be on the forwards scoring, it's more likely going to be because of an improvement in goal. Consider, Varlamov had a .903 save percentage last season, but if he managed a .918 save percentage on 1600 shots (approx. 55 starts), that would make a 24-goal difference. Maybe not enough to get them to the playoffs, but enough to make the Avs competitive.

6. Maple Leafs C Nazem Kadri isn't getting any free passes early in the year. After playing 17:38 against Montreal opening night, Kadri played only 11:53 at Philadelphia; he played more than 12 minutes in 46 of 48 regular-season game last season. Kadri did see some time between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel -- an intriguing offensive combination -- but played nearly as much with Mason Raymond and Troy Bodie, so it wasn't a banner night.

7. Detroit dominated Buffalo, taking 80% of the shot attempts when the score was close yet, aside from a pair of goals 36 seconds apart in the middle of the first period, they couldn't get anything else past Ryan Miller. Digging deeper on that 80% number, according to www.extraskater.com, the Wings' top two lines didn't surrender a shot attempt against when the score was close.

8. Amid that territorial domination, however, the Sabres did get to within a goal in the third period when rookie LW Zemgus Girgensons lifted a rebound over Jimmy Howard. Girgensons was one of five rookies playing for the Sabres and the two defencemen, Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk, tied for the team lead with three shots on goal. Ristolainen also had a turnover that led to Detroit's second goal, but it's rough business when your 18-year-old defenceman gets stuck out there against Pavel Datsyuk.

9. Flyers C Claude Giroux played 26:02 against Toronto, more than he played in any game last season, though he topped 27 minutes six times in 2011-2012. While Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Scott Hartnell didn't have great possesion stats against the Maple Leafs, Philadelphia's second line -- Vincent Lecavalier, Matt Read and Jakob Voracek -- was dominant.

10. With Toronto D Mark Fraser reportedly hobbling after a foot injury, it seems likely that rookie D Morgan Rielly will get to make his NHL debut soon. Too soon to place expectation on Rielly as an offensive contributor, but with Fraser hurt and both Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner struggling at times in the first two games, there may be an opportunity to move up.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Steve Downie (Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
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