THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND AND SO DO THE GAMES
1. The quote of the week belongs to Jets coach Rick Bowness about his team’s poor start to the game despite the win: “I’m not a babysitter. These guys are men, they’re professionals and they’re paid to show up here and go to work. My job here is to make that happen.”
2. As of now, Jason Robertson beat Connor McDavid by a mile in the Hart trophy race.
3. Another prime candidate is Boston forward David Pastrnak. His 34 points are fifth in the league, but his team is first in points percentage.
4. The Selke on the other hand is a much closer race – Nico Hischier and Patrice Bergeron are my front runners.
5. Blues coach Craig Berube is right in ripping his No. 1 goalie Jordan Binnington for his antics. Maybe that’s what would help him to start playing goalie and stop the puck. His show on Saturday versus Pittsburgh was just disgusting.
6. What a treat Tage Thompson has been to watch this season. Every other goal he scores makes the highlight reel.
DEFINITION OF CRUMBLING: THE RANGERS AFTER LOSING TO OTTAWA AND CHICAGO
On last Friday’s edition of Bluelines, there were high expectations for the New York Rangers to get a win streak going with the Ottawa Senators and Chicago Blackhawks on the schedule. After getting a loser’s point against the Sens and nothing against Chicago, Sean McAffrey takes a look at the disappointing weekend in the Big Apple:
The Broadway Blueshirts, predicted to build upon their strong finish from last season, are in a state of destruction, similar to the duster scene from The Wizard of Oz. However, for Gerard Gallant, who many now have on the hot seat – clicking the ruby slippers and reciting, “there’s no place like home“ hasn’t rung true.
Currently on the outside-looking-in, ‘The Turk’s’ terrible tribe are currently 4-6-4 at home. Last season, the club finished 27–10–4 on MSG ice.
While there is plenty of blame to go around, perhaps most concerning is the Rangers’ failure to beat the cellar-dwellers of the league.
Through 26 games played, the Rangers have already lost to the Sharks, Blue Jackets, Senators, Ducks, Predators and Blackhawks.
Compounding to the misery were back-to-back home games where the Rangers gave up four answered goals in each, in losses to the Devils and Oilers.
Worst of all, neither Gallant nor his players, including captain Jacob Trouba, seem to have an answer for the malaise.
By the way it’s going, the Rangers could have completely dropped out of playoff contention by the time the ball drops in Times’ Square on New Year’s Eve
DEFINITION OF INVINCIBLE: THE BRUINS
Sean McAffrey continues:
While the Rangers, an Original Six team, struggles – up north on I-95 resides another Original Six club, the Boston Bruins – a team that has no issues whatsoever.
The B’s, with a staggering record of 20-3 (40 points) are one point shy of the New Jersey Devils (41 points) for tops in the league. However, the team from Newark has played in two more games. When you break it all down, it’s the black-and-gold, not the red-and-black, with a point percentage of .870, who are the supreme squad in the land.
Just like most Stanley Cup contenders, the Bruins are getting production from everyone in their lineup. Whether it’s Linus Ullmark, currently the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, the reliable “old” core of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron, the returning Charlie McAvoy or anyone else you want to single-out – everyone has bought into the message bestowed upon them by new coach Jim Montgomery.
For a team that was thought to have many question marks at the start of the season, it’s instead the Bruins’ opponents questioning, “How do we beat Boston?”
ANSWERING AN ‘ATHLETIC’ STORY ABOUT PLAYERS UNDER PRESSURE: PART 1
Earlier this season, Harman Dayal of The Athletic penned a provocative piece called “The 10 NHL Players Under Pressure To Prove Their Value This Season.”
The following are those he listed, and with each pick, our Irad Chen offers his grades for each so far this season.
1. JACK EICHEL, A+: Eichel has played phenomenally for the Golden Knights to start the season, leading the team with 13 goals and 29 points in 26 games. It seems that Eichel has found chemistry with linemates Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. The new coach, Bruce Cassidy, is pushing all the right buttons to make Eichel perform at the high pace that he’s on right now.
2. JORDAN BINNINGTON, D: Binnington’s play tells the story of the Blues season so far, which is inconsistency. Binnington started the season on a three-game winning streak. He then went on a five-game losing streak, only to reverse course and then win his next six games. He’s currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak. His .895 save percentage ranks 50th in the league. His 3.27 GAA ranks 51st among all goalies with at least 5 starts – yikes. If the Blues want to get into the playoffs, they need Binnington to pull it together. Right now, we’re left wondering – “What happened to that once young and Cup-winning goalie?”
3. MATT DUMBA, B: Dumba, now in the final year of his contract, had a slow start to his season – just like his team – but as of late, both have started to rebound. He’s not the same offensive threat he used to be, but as he matures, his D game has evolved. The challenge for him is to maximize his value come contract time. Currently, he’s doing just fine, playing over 21 minutes per game. His minus-5 rating isn’t too flashy, but it shouldn’t be a problem, because NHL teams barely look at +/- stats. Instead, they value advanced stats.
4. JESSE PULJUJARVI, F: Puljujarvi had the opportunity to prove himself by playing with two of the best players in the league, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. However, he could not cash in his chances. Instead, he’s been bounced around the line-up. With one goal, six points and a minus-11 rating in 25 games, Puljujarvi has failed – miserably at that – whenever trying to handle the pressure. After many missed opportunities thus far; it’s fair to assume that he needs a change of scenery. I’ll be surprised if he finishes the season in Edmonton.
5. JESPERI KOTKANIEMI, C: Two goals and five points in 25 games aren’t what you’d expect from a second-line center on a contending team, but his team is doing fine so that’s why Jesperi got the C and not a lower grade. His 4.7 expected goals, according to moneypuck.com, are alright and fit the possession game the Hurricanes are playing. For now, he’s just OK. However, moving forward, he will have to justify his long contract and finish his chances – especially come playoff time.
I’M JUST SAYIN
* Yikes! The Devils have another superstar in the making and it’s Alexander Holtz.
* Al’s power-play goal versus Nashville last Thursday portrayed shades of The Great 8.
* The one Pitt D-man most capable of pinch-playing in place of Kris Letang, who’s out indefinitely, is Jeff Petry.
*”Binnington,” said our Sean McAffrey, “has a little Patrick Roy in him. And I get a kick out of it.”
* November has passed and we have yet to see any coach get fired. When will we see the first coaching change of this season?
* The best draft for one team in recent memory is the 2017 draft for the Dallas Stars. Their first three picks were Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson. GM Jim Nill and his staff have done their homework.
SHOULD THE RANGERS TALK TO TROTZ?
Due to the recent comments made by Barry Trotz, where he expressed interest in coaching an Original Six team, there are many in the streets of Rangerstown, USA who want the former Islander bench boss to switch sides. But it may be easier said than done. We return to Sean McAffrey who looks in depth at some more recent struggles:
Following the American Thanksgiving Eve trade of Ryan Reaves, the Rangers have compiled a record of 1-4-1. Conversely, with ‘The Grim Reaver’ now on their roster, the Wild have gone 4-1. Simply stated – toughness still matters in the NHL. Just ask Rangers captain Jacob Trouba.
Since the departure of Reaves, Trouba was embarrassed by Leon Draisaitl. Despite some Ranger beat reporters thinking that this obvious blemish was nothing to speak of, following the incident, Trouba has dropped the gloves three times, where he’s fought Brady Tkachuk, Jujhar Khaira and Jonathan Toews.
And should you believe that the newly affixed “C” on his sweater is adding to the pressure – Trouba snapped during Saturday’s embarrassing loss to the Blackhawks when he threw his helmet on the ice and cursed out his team as he went to the locker room following a late second-period bout with Toews.
Trouba, who did rebound last season during his third year in the Big Apple, has reverted to the player from his first two seasons in New York.
As arguably one of the league’s worst defensemen today, where perhaps injuries are part of this – many are clamoring for the captaincy to go where many wanted it to go during the summer, to the longest-tenured Ranger himself, Chris Kreider.
Not helping matters in New York are the recent struggles of the 2022 Vezina Trophy winner, Igor Shesterkin. Whether it’s a new sire in his household impacting his routine or what, the once superhuman ‘Shesty’ has been anything but. While there is plenty of season left, at the present time, No. 31 in blue has no chance of defending his Vezina crown.
Jaroslav Halak, formerly known as a “Ranger Killer” due to his past success against his new club, currently has a 1-6-1 record. However, it’s tough to blame the 37-year-old for his record. After all, through Halak’s eight games played, the Rangers have been outscored by a cumulative total of 26-11, where in only 25 percent of these games, the Rangers scored two or more goals.
While Rangers fans may want to see Barry Trotz take over the team, there’s something lost in the speculation.
Should Gallant get the pink slip – the Isles, who are still paying Trotz, would have to give their blessing in order for Trotz to stand behind the Rangers’ bench. That seems highly unlikely.
SPORTSNET’S BEST ACQUISITIONS
We happen to like Sportsnet for a lot of reasons and, especially, its lists. Recently, the network came up with a solid selection of NHL team adds for the season. See if you agree with the following:
Dom Kubalik has been a brilliant pickup for the Red Wings with 24 points in 24 games.
David Krejci’s addition is a reason why the Bruins have been riding high. Over 20 games, he’s totalled 19 points.
The best addition is definitely Matthew Tkachuk, who has been nothing but remarkable for Florida with a whopping 34 points in 23 games.
Bonus: Mason Marchment’s big depth presence has helped turn Dallas into a Cup threat with 15 points so far.
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY TO KRIS LETANG for his perseverance and grim determination to surmount his medical issues and eventually return to the Penguins blue line corps.
BOO TO THE NHL SCHEDULE: far too often, the league has scheduled one or two games on a night, and come the next day, has more than 10 games to be played on the slate. How are fans supposed to track all of these games?
YAY TO TEMPE’S POLITICIANS and the manner in which they’re moving the Arizona Coyotes’ new arena project forward.
THE WISE MEN OF HOCKEY, PART 1, DAVID LEGWAND
In a new and occasional feature, we bring you a morsel of sound philosophy from one of our favorite NHLers. In an interview with THN’s Ken Campbell, here’s what the Predators’ original first pick had to say about loyalty to a big-league team.
Legwand was asked why he spent his 15-year NHL career in Nashville.
Here are his words of wisdom:
“I’m more of a traditionalist. I come from Detroit, where Steve Yzerman played for the same franchise for 22 years. Now, guys want to play close to home and be on good teams, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“You’ve got guys like Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk going and playing somewhere else, and that’s fine. I would never tell a guy what to do. It’s just not something I was interested in doing.
“Sure, you could get a few more bucks by moving somewhere else, but I think there’s something good about staying in the same place for 15 years. That’s a significant part of your life. I have a lot of lifelong friends in Nashville.”
BIG QUESTION (from the National Post’s Michael Traikos): Which teams currently out of a playoff berth will make it?
BIG ANSWER: The New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames.
WHO SAID IT? “A Rembrandt on the ice, a Nijinsky at the goal mouth.”
EXPLAINING THE AMAZING SEATTLE KRAKEN
After the Kraken’s dismal first season, few expected what we now are seeing in the club’s non-sophomore slump. Our man in Seattle, Glenn Dreyfuss has the story.
No one was sorrier to see the calendar turn than Seattle, who finished November with an eye-popping 10-1-1 record. The team this year has already rattled off winning streaks of five and six games (prior to Thursday’s tilt with the Capitals). Here’s a few reasons why:
Martin Jones: prior to last week’s wild 9-8 win in Los Angeles, the free-agent goalie acquisition has been surprisingly solid (and most of the goals in Los Angeles weren’t his fault). His teammates have noted they’re playing with confidence in front of him, and the results are evident.
Andre Burakovsky: another free agent, who’s living up to his five-year, $27.5-million contract. A complementary piece on Cup champions in Washington and Colorado, the winger is averaging more than a point per game (nine goals and 25 points in 24 games) as a go-to guy in Seattle.
Matty Beniers: 2021’s first-round draft pick is playing wisely beyond his 20 years. By far the leader in rookie scoring at 10 goals and 21 points, the young center averages 17 minutes a night and has only two penalty minutes in his first 34 NHL games.
Numbers Game: Seattle is 8-1-1 away from Climate Pledge Arena, with impressive wins at Colorado and Vegas. They’ve won their last three overtime games. They’re shockingly fifth in the NHL in goals-for per game, with the league’s No. 8 power play. (The 31st-ranked penalty kill isn’t helping, though.)
Shane Wright: What’s he doing on this list? He wasn’t even on the team for the past two weeks. True, but the Kraken’s first-rounder this summer burned up the AHL during his two-week conditioning stint with four goals in the first three games. If the teenage center brings that effort back to Seattle after an expected loan to Canada’s world juniors team, look out, Pacific Division.
THE MAVEN’S OWN, PERSONAL GOALTENDING EXPERIENCE – PLUS.
For someone like The Maven who grew up during the Original Six Era, comparing goalkeepers – all unmasked except for Jacques Plante – then and now is patently ridiculous. The Game has dramatically changed and so have the puck-stoppers. That said, remember that the net is still six feet wide and four feet high. The eternal similarity centers on the goal’s dimensions.
The difference between then and now is what this time capsule essay is all about. So here it goes.
It starts with the fact that the average NHL netminder plays his position like a robot. There’s this crazy notion – apparently taught at every netminder’s academy – that it’s virtually automatic that to make a save, the goalie has to drop to his knees.
It’s patently wrong because it gives shoots a wide stretch of air at which to shoot. More to the point, more and more goals are being scored by depositing the puck into the yawning upper reaches where there’s space galore.
I know that this is a point I’ve made many times, but it’s more relevant now than ever because more goalies than ever are leaving the lineup because of injuries, virtually every week. My non-medical contention is that the endless twisting-turning necessitated by the butterfly – or its variations – have directly impacted the ever-climbing injury curve.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed – here and there – questioning the usefulness of the butterfly with a strong hint that a reversion to the stand-up style of yesteryear would be a more practical alternative.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but before you do check out your favorite hometown goal and note how many goals are scored as a result of a knee-drop and a shot to what my pal, Butch Goring, likes to call “The Toy Department.”
ERIC ZWEIG – THE ULTIMATE HISTORIAN – HAS DONE IT AGAIN
So wonderfully readable, Eric Zweig’s books are a major must for every hockey fan. Not surprisingly, his latest, Hockey Hall of Fame True Stories is hot off the press and being gobbled up all over the place. Here are some chapters you’ll find fascinating:
The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of the best to ever hit the ice. But the path to hockey greatness is not all jaw-dropping saves and game-winning goals. In Hockey Hall of Fame True Stories, hockey historian and writer Eric Zweig shares exciting tales and trivia that even the most dedicated puck head might not know. This book is overflowing with behind-the-scenes yarns of some of history’s greatest scoring sprees and winning seasons, as well as thrilling accounts of the off-ice curiosities, tragedies and heroics.
Just a few of the curious, bizarre or outrageous tales featured in this fully illustrated volume are:
- The 1976 plot to kidnap Guy Lafleur.
- Extreme scoring outputs, like Darryl Sittler’s 10-point performance and Frank McGee’s 14-goal Stanley Cup outing.
- The time Cy Denneny fell down a well.
- The fastest hat tricks ever recorded by Bill Moisenko and Jean Beliveau.
- Hockey Hall of Famers’ skills in other sports, like Gordie Howe’s workouts with the Detroit Tigers and Art Ross’s prowess on the football field.
- Tales of hockey players during the First and Second World Wars.
- The origins of the greatest nicknames.
- And many, many more.
Hockey Hall of Fame True Stories is for fans who want to take a deeper look at the lives of the players they idolize. You know the stars, the scores and the stats. But do you know these stories?
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Writing in a 1947-48 issue of Sport magazine, author Vince Lunny rhapsodized about Toronto’s center, Syl Apps.
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