Friday, October 5, 2007

NHL debuts by Enstrom, Little and Sterling

Of course Bryan Little must be first, having scored his first NHL goal. More impressive than scoring was his positioning though. He was always in the right spot, which goes a really long way. He told me a week or so ago that as an older guy his coach rarely said anything to him last year -- but I'm sure it wasn't just because he was older, it was because there isn't anything to say. Little already plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He stuck to his defensive assignment, and picked up the right guy.

Little was the only Thrasher player who managed to get on the board, rookie or otherwise. He threw it towards the net from behind the goal line, and banked it off Brent Johnson's skates. It happened on one of the first few shifts that he had been moved up to wing on Kovalchuk's line.

Kovalchuk was just as excited as Little about the goal, but that's par for the course. This is a player who genuinely celebrates when he scores in practice. He loves goals -- his own and those by his teammates too.

I happened to read in his hometown paper today that Bryan Little's dad would be in the house, and I was able to pick him out before the game purely on family resemblance. He had a very big smile on his face after Bryan scored. I'm sure he's very glad he made the trip down because you wouldn't want to miss that.

One funny moment -- White got thrown out of the faceoff circle in the third period and Kovy was headed in. Little (another center of course) talked him back out and took it himself (and won it, by the way). Hartley would definitely approve of this exchange -- the kid was stepping up.

Brett Sterling's debut didn't go as well. The biggest problem was his positioning -- he was constantly drifting over to the left wing, his comfort zone -- so that there were three players bunched up together. Kovalchuk was willing to switch over when Sterling came to his side, but it wasn't flowing. Sterling also wasn't in good position to receive a pass on the breakout, often skating along the far blue line waiting for a break. The Kovalchuk-White- Sterling line wasn't clicking, so it's no wonder that Sterling and Little were swapped out for each other in the second period, including on the power play. Sterling then played on the third line with Dupius and Perrin (who moved to center).

Sterling did have a couple takeaways on the backcheck and forecheck. But his overall play was disappointing. I'll chalk this up to nervousness for now, but Sterling will need to stay in his lane in order to succeed on any line. He cannot be chasing the puck all over the ice and cherry picking on the breakout.

Tobias Enstrom played exactly like he did in preseason -- that is to say very well, very calm. The power play looked better, with more containment within the zone, and he was a big part of that. He saved a breakaway chance by tipping the puck away from the path of the Capital coming out of the penalty box. His defense down low was good, chased or stayed put when he should have. He did perhaps pinch too low to keep the puck in the zone and lost it (something seen in training camp as well), but nothing bad came of it.

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