Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I'm Bored, I'm The Chairman Of The Bored

The Toews and Kane Show 
vs. The Mild

It's all well and good that the Minnesota Wild pulled out a thrilling Game 7 upset on the road of the Colorado Avalanche but with Darcy Kuemper out (as well as Nicklas Backstrom--the goalie! in the words of Bob Cole--and Josh Harding) and the Ilya Bruzgalov Experience in net to entertain us, this series is over. There's no drama. The Mild are not winning this series. Despite changing personnel and coaches over the past few years, the descendents in spirit of the "St. Paul" Fighting Saints are still one of the blandest and most boring teams to watch.

Sorry, I've tuned out, wake me when the Chicago Blackhawks are in round three.

Battle For Kardashianland

In what should be Tong War: The Sequel after the LA Kings disposed of the San Jose Sharks in a wild first round series looks promising but then I remember it's Darryl Sutter hockey once again.

Look, the Kings have tons of excellent offensive players and Anze Kopitar is a total stud as the Olympics proved and these playoffs are proving. The Kings also show good puck possession numbers if you're into the ex-Quebec Nordique backup goalie statmeister known as the Corsi Conundrum, so why are they so so dull to watch? I mean, if you enjoy Dustin Brown and his borderline hits, then this is the series for you.

Obviously, with the Anaheim Ducks now down 0-2 going across county to the Staples Center, it's an uphill climb given Jonathan Quick has found his 2010 playoff mojo.

Again, wake me when the Ducks make this a series as despite arguably carrying the play, Marian Gaborik seems to be a one-man game-winning goal machine. I just pray we see Gabby (the LA King version not the Duck version) does the following:

Come on, Jonas Hiller, channel your inner Hasek

Friday, May 2, 2014

Beasts Of The East

The first round is always a thrill ride and with one of the best first rounds ever (thank you, return to the divisional playoff cage match matchups), it's onto the round we all tend to fall asleep in.

Not sexy enough to be the "we're one round away" Conference Finals and  in that "we survived the first round" Conference Quarter-Finals. (And, yeah, NHL, could you just call them rounds? Enough with the mouthful Conference Whatever-Finals.)

Let's start with the Land Where Teams Never Change Time Zones

Big Bad Charas vs. 
PK Slapshots

Or to put it mildly--Men vs. Smurfs. The B's have only two roster players under 6' tall (Torey Krug and Brad Marchand) and Nose Face is Ken Linseman rat-like feisty. The Habs meanwhile have eight guys under 6' of which only Brendan Gallagher's smile can match Marchand's borderline insanity.

The Nose Knows

The only thing is any Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens series is never what it looks like on paper (or in the papers, if anyone actually still does this). At least ever since Cam Neely drifted this long one past Saint Patrick (and features some unique Tripp Tracy Caniac-like analysis), the series are not all tilted in the Habs favor.

Since that famous 1988 series win, the B's have actually got the better of the Habs seven series to four head-to-head. Now in 2014 there's no Nathan Horton to score three OT game-winners as he did in the 2011 series so...maybe Game 1 was an omen?

We'll see, but until Carey Price proves worthy of the Jaroslav Halak mantle and actually pulls an upset or two there will be no awarding of the Steve Penney Trophy until then...or he learns French.

Croskin Enigmas vs. 
King Henrik's Quest

All Fleurys aside, the amount of carping on how long Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, James Neal or Chris Kunitz go through goalless droughts seems to be an annual rite of handwringing in the media. Given these four are the top four in shots and in all the other fancy puck possession stats, it's only a matter of time as Malkin's hat trick vs. the Jackets in Game 6 showed.

It's more that pesky third and fourth line of Pittsburgh (and, yes, Son Of FreddieThe Fog must be kicking himself for tying so much money up in Marc-Andre Fleury such that they had to let Jordan Staal leave...apologies to Brandon Sutter but you're no Brent yet).

This is probably the best analysis of why the Penguins are continually underachievers come playoff time. Remember, Ray Shero, there's no third or fourth line better in the East than in Boston.

As far as the much happier under Alain Vigneault New York Rangers but are we as fans? Who didn't want another Philly vs. Pittsburgh thrillfest or crazy bad goaltending, Crosby fighting Giroux and that nutso fan base in the City of No-Crosby Love on display?

C'est la St. Louis!

These two teams at least were pretty even in their regular season matchups both winning twice with two games going to shootouts. The difference is the Pens are finally healthy and, as much as Henrik Lundqvist's good looks just plain scare down shooters, can a New York Rangers team that went from 12th in goals for under Torts to 18th in goals for under AV really have enough goals in them to outscore the Pens...OK, there is the Fleury factor.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Way The West Will Be Won

Now it's time to talk about Big Boy hockey. Enough with the Leastern Conference, this is where bodies will be banging and goals...well, they'll be hard to come by sadly. Yes, as much as we like to say how good the teams are in the West, often it's that sloppy D and fast skating East that provides more exciting hockey as last night's action proved.

Even so, the West will still produce plenty of thrills so let's have a look at how the series break down.

Teemu's Farewell 
vs. the Hartford Whaler Unis

Look, you have to have a heart of stone to not cheer for Teemu Selanne to go out a Stanley Cup winner. It may not happen but at least coach Bruce Boudreau knows how to ice an exciting team be it the Washington Capitals when they were actually fun to watch to this Ducks team.

Now the big news is starting rookie Frederik Andersen in net over veteran Jonas Hiller. Is it news really? Anyone who has seen how starting a goalie with minimal or even zero NHL playoff experience can pay off, it's well worth the gamble. Considering Andersen's sparkling .923 save percentage puts him 8th among the '13/14 regular season leaders vs. Hiller's .911 (and also his Olympic hangover and late-season mystery illness) Boudreau is going with the better goalie as of now.

Another weird quirk is how top heavy the scoring is on both teams. After Ryan Getzlaf's 89 points and Corey Perry's 82, the next top scoring Duck is Nick Bonino with 49.

Dallas has the Tyler Seguin (84 pts) and Jamie Benn (79 pts) combo and then we get a defenceman in Alex Goligoski's 42 points in 3rd on the Dallas Stars' scoring list.(So what you're saying is the James Neal trade did work out?)

It's not like both teams don't have scoring touch throughout their lineups, it's just this past regular season we really didn't see it balanced out much through the entire roster all that much.

The Tong War

Last season the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings had a seven-game battle for the ages. The problem is it was a "battle." This is not exactly attractive hockey to watch unless you enjoy low scoring although the hitting was tremendous. Now there is a certain train of thought that people seem to think the Kings are a "good" hockey team because they won a Cup two seasons ago.

When you look at their lineup they do look good on paper but in 2012 they basically got hot. Darryl Sutter has somehow managed to suck the goals out of this lineup. It can't be all Sutter's fault as the Kings were 9th in goals for last season...oh, wait, they only had to play 48 games of that grind-it-out style vs. 82 this season...never mind.

Look at how well both Jeff Carter (hat trick in one game and 4 goals overall) and Drew Doughty (4 goals as well and Team Canada's top scorer with 6 points in the tournament) played at the Olympics. Now look at their stats with LA.

Carter, a former 46G man got all of 27G this season with the Kings decent but nothing like the two other 30+ goal seasons he had in Philly.

Doughty was looking to be the heir apparent as the premier offensive D-man in the league after a 59-point season in his sophomore year plus winning a Gold Medal being arguable Team Canada's best defencemen at Vancouver 2010. He had all of 37 points this season. Yeah, yeah, yeah, points aren't everything but he's not Brad Park in his later years with Boston (who still was putting up 50-point seasons being more crafty than speedy by then). Doughty is 24 years old. Sutter needs to let the guy loose and it can only help the Kings maybe win a few more games more easily and rest the other "stars" so they're fresher for the playoffs.

Therein lies the problem. The Kings have to work so hard to score a single goal let alone two, they are exhausted come playoff time. Reminder: This is not the 2012 hot streak to end all hot streaks playoff team.

Sutter helped the Kings win a Cup because he was parachuted in at exactly the right time. He joined the Kings for the last 49 games and gave them that shot of adrenaline (plus he lucked out with Jonathan Quick impersonating Sutter's 2004 playoff version of Mikka Kiprusoff). Sure the Kings got to round three last season but what a slog! They went toe-to-toe with both the St. Louis Blues (a 6-game series) and the San Jose Sharks (7 games) playing 11 one-goal games in the first two rounds.

Compare that to their 2012 Cup run where they played just two one-goal games in the first two rounds and dispensed of the Vancouver Canucks in five games and the Blues in a sweep.

Yet can the Sharks finally do it. Getting home-ice advantage (although this is not the NBA, eh) now vs. not having it last season is probably important given last year's series saw the home team win all the games. Meaning most likely this year we'll see some road wins between these two, of course.

All I know is what are the ageless wonders Patrick Marleau (age 34, 33G, 70 pts) and Joe Thornton (age 34, 65A, 76 pts) drinking and can I have some, please? Plus, need I remind anyone after yesterday's column, Jumbo Joe did not have to play in the Olympics and the Sharks had a paltry four players at Sochi--the fewest of any of the top four seeds in either conference.

vs. Man Who Never Leaves Ice

Are you as confused as to how Patrick Roy with the addition of basically just rookie (albeit one most likely headed to become Nova Scotia's second greatest NHLer behind the Bruin Killer...or maybe, on second thought, that guy in Pittsburgh) Nathan MacKinnon managed to get the '12/13 last-place Colorado Avalanche into first place in THIS division over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the way way way better on paper St. Louis Blues?

There's a book in there somewhere especially if Saint Patrick becomes a god by leading the Avs to a Cup in the near future.

Now, sadly, the Avs are up against it in this series thanks to not only losing their top player Matt Duchene to injury but also losing their #3 center, the very useful John Mitchell, as well. They'll also be missing Cody McLeod and Tyson Barrie.

The Minnesota Wild really do have a shot at an upset here. With Ryan Suter playing an average of 29:24 minutes per game this season, guess who you Avs need to target hitting? Speaking of what Marleau and Jumbo Joe have been drinking.

Yet, here's the rub--Ilya Bryzgalov vs. Semyon Varlamov. You can stop laughing now and I'll throw this at you:
Bryzgalov went 7-1-3 after his trade from the Edmonton Oilers although his save percentage of .911 is very average. He's also either great or horrible in the playoffs. He hasn't been good in the playoffs since 2006 though so . . .

Team Very Injured 
vs. Team Now Healthy

Where oh where did the St. Louis Blues' season go? From Cup contender to Cup pretender is where.
We're seeing now why the Buffalo Sabres traded Ryan Miller rather than re-signing the upcoming free agent. He's been very average after a great start initially in a Blues' uniform.
The Blues are way too beat up with six regulars (Vladimir Tarasenko, captain David Backes, TJ Shootout, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrick Berglund and Brenden Morrow) out of the lineup.
The Hawks, on the other hand, have a rested Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane apparently ready to go after coming off their injuries.

So what looked like a terrificy difficult matchup may end up be a nice warmup for another Blackhawks' deep playoff run.

Also, to those out there enamored of Ken Hitchock. Here's his playoff record since leaving the Dallas Stars where he went to the Conference Finals in '98, won a Cup in '99, went to another Final in '00 among that team's 10 playoff rounds won in five playoff seasons:

w/ Philadelphia Flyers
'03 beat Toronto 4-3, lost to Ottawa 4-2
'04 beat New Jersey 4-1 and Toronto 4-2, lost to Tampa 3-4
'05 lost to Buffalo 2-4
'06 missed playoffs
'07 fired after a 1-6-1 start

w/ Columbus Blue Jackets
'07 and '08 missed playoffs
'09 lost 0-4 to Detroit
'10 fired after going 22-27-9

w/ St. Louis Blues
'12 beat San Jose 4-1, lost 0-4 to LA
'13 lost to LA 2-4

So out of nine full seasons since he left Dallas, Hitch's team have missed the playoffs three times, lost in the first round three times as well, lost in round two twice...and had all of one deep run to the Conference Finals way back in 2004.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beware the Ides of Sochi

How many times do we have to have an 82-game compressed schedule thanks to the Olympics for any "experts" out there to figure out even weirder things happen in the playoffs in Olympic years?

Hardly anyone from Sportsnet to TSN to...OK, Puck Daddy has his pulse on this but who else?

Since 1998 when NHLers started going to the Olympics, the playoff teams with the least Olympians in their lineups won their first round series 17 out of 32 times. Not an overwhelming advantage until you break it down into Olympics held outside North America in 1998 and 2010.

Then we see 10 out of 16 first round series won by the team with the fewer Olympians.
Now we're talking.

So with that in mind let's have a look at this year's Olympian task of making it out of round one:

Boston (6 Olympians) vs. Detroit (10)
Tampa (5) vs. Montreal (8)
Pittsburgh (7) vs. Columbus (4)
NY Rangers (8) vs. Philadelphia (4)

Anaheim (8) vs. Dallas (3)
San Jose (4) vs. Los Angeles (6)
Colorado (5) vs. Minnesota (4)
St. Louis (9) vs. Chicago (10)

With the Olympics more than other seasons we're seeing those extra games have taken their toll with injuries to key players that will affect the first round. More on the fatigue factor later, here's how things could shake out:

Losing Finalist '13 
vs. the Grand Rapids Griffins
Can Boston overcome the curse of the Losing Finalist from the playoffs previous? Since '95, the Losing Finalists have missed the playoffs entirely six times and been bumped out in round one seven times. So 13 out of 18 playoffs have seen the Losing Finalist not show up at all for the playoff party or go home early.

In Boston's favor is they improved their regular season record moving up from 5th overall in '12/13 to the President's Trophy winners in '13/14. Of the teams who improved after their Finals' appearance, here's their results the following season:

Detroit '96 finished 1st overall again - lost in round three to Colorado 
Dallas '01 moved from 6th to 5th - lost in round two to St. Louis
Calgary '06 jumped from 12th to 7th - lost in round one to Anaheim
Philadelphia '11 long jumped from 18th to 3rd - lost in round two to Boston
Vancouver '12 1st again - lost in round one to Los Angeles

Other than the Flames, who we all know (thanks to the Curse of Trading Doug Gilmour to the Leafs (seriously, of all teams?) either go all the way to the Final or lose in round when they make the playoffs, and the Canucks who are a dysfunctional organization to begin with, the above failing Finalists at least got out of round one.

Just don't think the Bruins are pulling an '84 Oilers or '09 Penguins run to back-to-back Finals after losing unless you think the B's are a dynasty in the making or they're a Coach Q type Blackhawks in disguise.

There's also the Olympic goalie medalist curse. Other than Dominik Hasek (who was a Gumby and certainly not of this Earth) who managed to will a Buffalo Sabres team to round three in '98 and Roberto Luongo in '10 who managed to wait till round two to turn into Sievongo again vs. the Blackhawks, the rest of gold, silver or bronze medal-winning goalies lost in round one of their Olympic years.

The other factor that may scare B's fans is their regular season vs. the Speed Wings. You can't take too much stock in the regular season except when one team dominates the other. Detroit's 3W-1L is not all that "dominant" but that's out there.

Whichever you prefer Zdeno Chara and the makeshift Providence Bruins callup D or the Pavel Datsyuk's imitation of Stevie Y on one lag in 2002 and a possible return of Henrik Zetterberg's Swedish beard to end all Viking beards with the Grand Rapids Nyquist callups, just don't bet the bank on either getting to the Final.

Tampa Bay Stamkoses 
vs. Montreal Vanekiens
If Ben Bishop was playing you'd have to call this series in the 'Ning's favor no matter how much you think Carey Price has finally found his mojo. Remember the Olympics is one thing, the NHL playoffs are completely another.

Maybe Anders Lindback is no Bishop but sitting on the bench now and ready to stone any team is Latvia's goalie hero at Sochi, Kristers Gudlevskis.

Just once I'd love the Habs to get a dose of their own Dryden, Penney, Roy, Halak back at them. Script written. Tampa, you know what to do now.

Lastly, Thomas Vanek with his 15 points in 18 Hab games is hopefully going to feel the buzz in the Bell Centre and re-sign with the team. As much as most of us hate the Habs, we need a strong Habs just to give us more Habs vs. Bruins insanity now we've gone to the divisional playoff format. Mike McPhee insists on this!

Pittsburgh Fleurys 
vs. Columbus Toy Cannons
I don't know what's up with the Team USA knockoff jerseys but Columbus has to either take my idea and put the bug front and center or stick with their toy cannon jerseys. I'm just saying that if you want to sell jerseys, you need to think fashion forward, as Tim Gunn would say.

Anyway, the Pens dominated the Jackets (5W-0L) in the regular season so no matter how wonky Marc-Andre Fleury may be in net again, can anyone realistically see the Jackets even with The Bob standing on his head winning four games when they've yet to win one vs. the Crosby Malkins?

Dale Rolfe vs. Dave Schultz
You know someone will bring up this classic mismatch of a '74 playoff fight in the that Game 7 that has been overhyped and distorted out of all proportion. Rolfe did not get injured in the beatdown. He played the rest of the game. The Flyers did score three unanswered goals after the fight but the Rangers came back outshooting the Broad Street Bullies 15-9 in the third period and manged to clawback into the game only to lose 4-3 on Spectrum ice.

Enough history lesson, Mr. Peabody, would you bet against Claude Giroux in this year's playoffs? After the Flyers' horrible 1W-7L start and the coaching change from Peter Laviolette to Craig Berube, Giroux went from 0G 7A in 15 early season games to 28G 51A in the other 75 games.

Plus all this talk about how well the Rangers have done with the AV Club running the show, let's see how they stack up:

under Alain Vigneault as coach
'13/14 12th overall, 18th in GF, 4th in GA

under John Tortarella (the Funk Soul Brother)
'12/13  12th overall, 12th in GF, 4th in GA
'11/12    2nd overall, 13th in GF, 3rd in GA

I threw in that last full 82-game season that the Rangers had to give a little tang to the debate. Basically, the Rangers are happier under AV and finished exactly where they were last season with a poorer offence. In fact Martin St. Louis has gone from averaging almost a point per game (61 PTS in 62 GP with Tampa) to invisible on Broadway (8 PTS in 19 GP). Yes, the Curse of Gaborik is alive and well and not just affecting you Rick Nash, adds Brad Richards.

Seriously, as much as I love King Henrik, go with the Flyers. Giroux is on a mission and don't we all want another Flyers vs. Pens Tong War?

Tomorrow: The Way The West Will Be Won

Friday, February 21, 2014

Your Definition Of Great Differs From Mine

Well, have the real hockey fans who want to be entertained by seeing the best take on the best gotten sick of the hyperbole yet? I have no idea what these CBC announcers are watching but how they can call the Sochi 2014 Olympic men's hockey tournament "great" is beyond me.

If you enjoy "shot, save, whistle" or "shot, save, no rebound chances" then this is the hockey for you. If you enjoy offensive ineptitude, this hockey is right up your alley. Forget the 55 shots Team Canada fired at the Latvia net, this was an ECHL goalie stoning a team of supposedly the best in the world because those "best in the world" really just had no answer. Hey, if the Ron Tugnutt of Latvia can shut down an offence that thinks each shot on goal = a true scoring chance then so be it.

 Before Gudlevskis, there was Tugnutt

Honestly, after you've experienced two fairly decent Olympic tournaments (Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake 2002) and two above average ones (Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010) overall, I was expecting a bit more than this low-scoring non-action style even with the number of injured players (and even national team general managers) who could not make the trip to Sochi. Maybe that's the problem here. Without 100-percent healthy lineups for all teams, the goals go to die on the big ice in 21st century hockey.

We could blame the big ice but both Nagano and Torino were played on ice of the exact same dimensions as well, and there were some terrific games then. Can you imagine a 7-4 game in a semi-final? That was the score that Pavel Bure's five goals helped to create in Russia's win over Finland in 1998.

Hey, Ovie, you're no Pavel

That's not all. Fully 75 percent of the games in the first round and the playoff rounds that followed featured at least five goals in regulation or more.

In group play we had Sweden come back for a 2-1 deficit after one period to beat the USA 4-2. Russia and Finland first had a 4-3 group game before their all-time classic semi-final. Even the Czech Republic's 4-1 win over the US in the QF had plenty of action as Dominik Hasek stood on his head turning aside 38 shots.

In 2006 at Torino there was a fair number of good games. Slovakia upset Russia 5-3 in both teams' openers. Latvia and the USA tied 3-3 thanks to Arturs Irbe stopping 39 shots. The Swiss upset the Czech Rep. 3-2 behind David Aebischer's 40 saves.

It wasn't all great goaltending as one of the most fun games of the tournament was Slovakia's 6-3 win over Latvia. The Finns beat the Czechs 4-2 in a game that saw 71 shots on goal all tolled.

Then the first of what is now THE classic matchup of international hockey (sorry, Canada) Russia beat the US 5-4. Finland, though, caught the US in the next game 4-3.

One of the semi-finals (to repeat, a SEMI-FINAL) had Sweden take apart the Czechs 7-3.

So, it's not the "big ice" that is ruining play at the Sochi Olympics. It's more the overcoaching and teams being far too tentative overall. It's gigantic goalie pads still. It's the mentality of "don't lose" rather than go out and win it. It's the nonsense that a team thrown together two or three days before a tournament is the way to produce quality hockey. It's playing three games each day on the same ice with only one on fresh ice in the smaller arena. It's playing in Stanley Cup Final playoff temperatures that affect the ice especially at Black Sea level.

Yet all these things were pretty much the same in Nagano and Torino so why here and why now? These are questions for others to answer as, frankly, I don't care why. I just want goals or at least some breakaways or two-on-ones and some sustained action around the nets.

Look, I have always loved watching Canada in these tournaments. I get into the selection process. I debate the line combinations. Doing an Olympic hockey pool--cool. Yet, I'm tired of playing fantasy GM once the hockey starts. I NEED actual good hockey. Olympic hockey should not be more boring than watching the LA Kings or Vancouver Canucks struggle to score in another meaningless regular season NHL game. It just shouldn't.

Sacrilegiously, I'd sooner see a 4-3 loss to Sweden and a glorious silver medal in the upcoming Final than a 1-0 or 2-1 Canada borefest gold medal win like today vs. the USA. This is anti-hockey. It's soccer on ice. Try as the Canadians did, it's too frustrating to watch offensive ineptitude.

Explain to me, how someone who is supposedly the equivalent of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the game today can have zero goals in the tournament. Slow starts are fine but a "slow" tournament overall?

Please don't tell me it was all Jonathan Quick and the US D. It wasn't just that.

I can enjoy the odd 1-0 or 2-1 game, especially if there are tons of shots and actual scoring chances. It's just now with five 1-0 and three 2-1 games so far, enough already!

How many times did we see Canadian forwards come down and overpass?
How many times did we see them come off the boards and shoot straight into the crest on the goalie's jersey?
How many times did they try to jam or rugby scrum it into the net?
Not enough traffic in front of the goalie?
Too much traffic in front that you can't get the puck through?
Which is it?
Do I even care anymore?

Wasn't part of the selection process done with picking forwards who had proven themselves in the big ice in the IIHF World Hockey Championships? So, Rick Nash, where are the goals? Where are the amazing drives to the net? Where's that terrific shot of yours?

Remember when Rick Nash could do this?

Give me Guy Lafleur flying down the wing blasting away. Hey, give me Sidney Crosby slaloming through the D for the Pittsburgh Penguins over him wearing a badly designed Team Canada jersey and flubbing easy chances from two inches in front of the net. 

It's beyond bad hockey period. Stop telling me this tournament has been great. It plainly hasn't and unless this is addressed in a constructive way, what is the point of having a best vs. best tournament then? If this is the best hockey can do on the international stage, sorry, I remember 1972 . . . and 1976 . . . and 1987 . . . and 1996. Heck, I was at Nagano in 1998 when it was fun to be in the building not bored out of my skull as I am on my own couch.

Honestly, when these so-called "journalists" look back on Sochi 2014, they'll realize next to maybe the 2004 World Cup, this has been the most forgettable display of actual best vs. best hockey since it began in 1976.

Just don't bother waking me up at 4 a.m. on Sunday to watch GI Joe Head Hughson not do the actual play-by-play and just go on and on about the "great" hockey he's witnessing. I'll be up at 9 a.m. to fast-forward to the goals, if any . . . then I'm popping in my 1987 Canada Cup Final Game 2 (yes, even better than Game 3) DVD to remind myself what truly great international hockey is.

 Now, THIS is great hockey!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Juggling Is For Clowns

All this gnashing of teeth over Sidney Crosby's inability to put a bucketload of points on the board or find linemates he has "chemistry" with needs to be dialed back. This tournament is incredibly low scoring period all across the board. Alexander Ovechkin has all of two points. Pavel Datsyuk just two, Marian Hossa has one, Zach Parise none.  It happens and, there's plenty of tournament left for some of these guys so . . . let's just all take a deep breath.

Of the five Olympic men's hockey tournaments played since the NHL came aboard, this has arguably been the lowest scoring (and dullest). Fully 44 percent of the group stage games have ended up in games of four goals or less total (not counting shootout goals). That's so much beyond the '98 and '02 Olympics where just two of the 12 games played in the group stage were THAT low scoring. Even the last "big ice" tournament of Torino 2006 saw an a total of 30 percent (nine out of 30) of the group stage games with four goals or less.

The bigger problem is Mike Babcock and the coaching staff. Coming in they said they had a plan. They're going with Carey Price it looks like as their #1 goalie and, despite a Roberto Luongo shutout vs. Austria, Team Canada is sticking to the plan as Price started the crucial game vs. Finland. 

They seem to have set the defensive pairs as we thought to some degree--the two St. Louis guys (Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester), Duncan Keith with Shea Weber and Drew Doughty with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It was thought Keith and Doughty would be paired up but seems like the switch is working for Doughty given he's channeling Paul Coffey in the goal charts.

So, what is up with the forwards?

If, unlike in World/Canada Cups you do not have a proper training camp and exhibition games to try things out, and the Team Canada brass chose players who play on the same line for their NHL club teams (i.e., Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) then keep those guys together and just rotate in and out the other wingers that fill out those three pairings. Only then can we determine whether chemistry has been achieved.

But benching Kunitz for not making Crosby light it up made no sense. Ditto sitting out Sharp. Then rotating Sharp and Kunitz with John Tavares and Rick Nash in the last game was just plain odd and didn't work at all.

It's overthinking the whole process. Honestly, I think Babcock, just like in 2010 loves to tinker, and also because Canada has not been scoring at a rate like USA or Finland has he's feeling the pressure to pull some offence out of a magic hat. Yet Team USA are basically riding one hot line of Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James vam Riemsdyk. Notice anything there, Canada? Yes, Kessel and JVR play on the same line with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Pull some line combos out of this hat, Babs

Hey, Canada has won all three of their group games anyway thanks to a D that has figured out that larger ice means more room to attack, but have some faith in the "plan" you had coming in. Play the Pens, Hawks and Ducks pairs together and don't keep splitting the former two up all the time when one period or one shift doesn't go right.

Also, if Jeff Carter gets a hat trick with less than nine minutes of ice time, and Kessel gets a hat trick in less than 13 minutes of ice time, it's not the ice time that is the problem for all these "stars."

Honestly, since 1976, Canada has played in 11 best vs. best tournaments and suddenly ice time is an issue? These guys are all pros. Many of them have played on winning international teams. They know how to adapt to less ice time. Give them some credit.

Have a look at 2010's top four scoring forwards ice time through the tournament:
Jonathan Toews 13:26, 13:13, 14:26, 11:48, 15:50, 16:30, 17:19
Sidney Crosby     15:30, 19:50, 17:23, 14:43, 17:34, 16:42, 16:52
Jarome Iginla        9:48, DNP, 14:16, 13:06, 15:41, 15:46, 15:04
Ryan Getzlaf       12:49, 15:45, 14:05, 13:48, 10:41, 13:00, 17:52

Now the last time on the clocks there was the Final which lasted 67:40 total playing time so hence the bit of a boost. Anyway, it's not like any of these stars cracked the 20-minute mark in any game during the tournament.

In fact, Getzlaf's biggest game points-wise was the QF vs. Russia where he got 1G 2A in just 10:41 of action.

So could we please all just get off this "they're not getting enough ice time like they do in the NHL" jag. It didn't hurt them in Vancouver, and it's not the difference maker in Sochi.

If you want the forwards to start scoring, then stop the constant line juggling. In fact, in Vancouver after Babs stopped diddling around and settled on Rick Nash-Toews-Mike Richards for the last three games and kept them together, only then did Canada start to roll.

The problem is tinkering works only when it works. Babcock may tinker just as much as in 2010 and it may not work but wasn't the selection process of picking linemates on their own teams done to speed this chemistry issue up?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Did Oshie Awake the Nightmare Bear?

In case you're not a St. Louis Blues fan and wonder just who this T.J. Oshie is and why his official Sochi 2014 profile has him as "Furnace Face," it's all explained here.

Or just enjoy the Nightmare Bear before we get to the fact that T.J. may have awoken the Russian Bear itself.

I'm so stoned, comrade


Russia Tries 2010 Canada Map To Gold?

We all remember 2010 when Team Canada muddled through its group and finished with an average 2W-1L record. Thanks to one of those wins coming in the shootout, Canada slipped to the 6th seed and had to play that extra game in the qualifying playoff round. In the end it didn't matter and may have actually helped Canada's offence get it in gear with an 8-2 shellacking of perennial borefest Germany leading to the 7-3 gorillas on the loose attack vs. Russia in the quarter-finals.

This may be the route Russia will end up taking. All things considered, USA should beat Slovenia and Russia should beat Slovakia in the final group games for each team. The only way Russia avoids having to play that extra game like Canada did in 2010, is to run up the score vs. Slovakia and hope the Canada-Finland game goes to overtime/shootout. Russia has at least a five-goal deficit to make up on Canada should Canada lose in OT/SO vs. Teemu Suomi.

Realistically, the top four seeds are going to be Sweden, USA, Finland and Canada with the loser of that Finland-Canada game being the 4th seed.

The main issue is avoiding Russia in the QF because, like Canada in 2010, that is going to be one angry and highly motivated team by then. Russia does, at this stage, look like it'll be the 5th seed and therefore gets to play the 12th seed (which based on their lack of points and horrendous goal difference could be Russia having to play Slovakia for the second game in a row).

Let's assume Russia wins and all the seeds #5-8 win their qualifiers. That means Russia will play that 4th seed meaning...uh, Canada you might want to win that final group game vs. Finland. Of course, that could mean a semi-final paring with Russia but win or lose you're in the medal hunt anyway.

Of course, none of this will happen when Slovenia upsets the US and Slovakia wins in a shootout vs. Russia tomorrow. 

The Defence Does Not Rest

All this hullabaloo about the big ice and how it would adversely affect play for North Americans, hid the fact plenty of ice means plenty of room for the D to manoeuvre around in the offensive end for ALL teams.

Currently, there are four defencemen in the Top 10 of the Olympic scoring leaders with Sweden's Erik Karlsson and Finland's Olli Maatta 1st and 2nd atop the list. Maatta's teammate Sami Vantanen and Canada's Drew Doughty are the other two.

Of the 75 goals scored in the tournament so far, 20 percent have been scored by defencemen. It sounds like a lot, and it is. In the 2013-14 NHL season so far 737 goals have been scored by defencemen. There have been 4,835 goals scored meaning D-men make up about 15 percent of the goal scoring load (Give or take as some of these GF overall may be the phantom extra goal awarded for a win in a shootout. Not to act dumb, but does a 3-2 shootout win in a shootout = 3 GF or the real 2 GF in NHL stat minds?).

Anyway, without the D chipping in, and not just chipping it out, you're going nowhere in this tournament period.

Why No Love For the Swiss or Finns?

Is it just me or are "experts" overlooking two teams that are incredibly dangerous? Finland I'll give everyone a pass pre-tournament on as they had two key injuries to captain Mikko Koivu and Valteri Filppula (and now have Alexandre Barkov down for the count) even with their incredible great medal track record. The thing that has to jump out is their ability to score now in bunches. That's what is incredibly scary about the Finns now. They have always been good but, if they can now score, they have the D and netminding to win it all.


Hey, this guy IS pretty good

 Then the Swiss have been showing that Torino 2006 was no fluke with a decent showing at Vancouver 2010 (a shootout loss to Canada and getting to the quarter-finals). Sure, they are the LA Kings of international hockey in that they can barely score a goal let alone two, but Jonas Hiller is playing at even a better same level than he has been playing at with the Anaheim Ducks. The Swiss are simply scary good and it's not like they don't try to score, they just don't have the talent level to do that yet or pepper stronger opponents with enough shots to make up the difference.

Enough With Crosby's Troubles

Is it just me but what is Sidney Crosby's problem? I mean, Jeff Carter can't seem to click with him and gets moved to play with Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Toews and scores a hat trick (OK, his first goal was assisted by Marleau and Crosby, but you drift my get).

Did we have this discussion about Wayne Gretzky ever at the international level?

At the '81 Canada Cup he, Gilbert Perreault and Guy Lafleur were terrific  and even after Perreault broke his leg, the other two continued to rack up the points until that Soviet Union mugging of the entire team in the Final.

In '84 #99 was paired for the most part with Michel Goulet and Rick Middleton and they were pretty great together. In '87 of course Mario and often a rotating set of wingers (or centers converted to wing) the last being Dale Hawerchuk on that famous winning goal.

I'll stop there as I could go on and on until the Nagano 98. Point being the Wayner has always been THAT good that anyone who plays on his line will get set up to put the puck in the net.

All I can say, it's a short tournament, Sid, and there's no Jarome Iginla there to help you out this time. You're the veteran now.

Oshie Shoots Up Sochi

Sure, TJ Oshie's four-for-six in the shootout was wild and crazy but does it mean anything beyond a pretty good and close hockey game decided by the skills competition? Most likely, it doesn't.

In 2010, there were just two shootout games and both involving Switzerland. As forementioned they lost to Canada, but they did beat Belarus in the other one.

It's a nice story with all this 1980 Miracle On Ice nostalgia wrapped around the Not Soviet Union vs. USA vibe. In the end it amounts to little, if Team K-Swiss Logo USA do not at least medal.

After all in 2010 Ryan Miller stole the group game 5-3 for Team USA after Canada poured 45 shots at him. In the end, come the Gold Medal game the Americans came up a sliver (silver?) short.

Get back to me when TJ is needed in an elimination game. Then let's see if he's really Jonathan Toews-like.

Toews...Toews...and more Toews!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Team Canada Starts Slow--What's New?

A slow start by Team Canada in a best vs. best tournament. No, we've never seen that before.

I guess with 2010 getting off to that roaring 8-0 start vs. Norway, this 2014 3-1 win is quite the letdown. Sure, it is as some of these forwards Team Canada has (calling Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Carter) seem pretty big and slow on the big ice. Then again--Crosby? Sidney? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Anyway, before we all forget Team Canada has won tournaments with less than stellar group play.

At the 1984 Canada Cup, Team Canada finished in 4th (the last playoff slot) in the six-team group with a 2W-2L-1T record. Thanks to John Tonelli, Paul Coffey and Mike Bossy they turned almost horrendous embarrassment into victory in an unreal 3-2 overtime semi-final win vs. the USSR to save Canada's back bacon. Then Canada defeated the much easier Sweden two games to zip in the Final.

Paul Coffey could play D

Although both the 1987 and 1991 teams won the Canada Cup and did top group play, their opening games vs. Czechosloavkia and Finland in both years ended in less than spectacular ties.

And in the Olympics in 2002 and 2010 there were some early hiccups. In '02 Canada got torpedoed by Sweden in the opener 5-2 and ended up with a 1W-1L-1T record in group play. At the last Olympics in '10, Canada ended up having to play in the qualifying playoff round thanks to not finishing off the Swiss in regulation time. With the Olympics having a more logical 3-2-1 point system for victories in regulation, overtime/shootout and shootout losses, the shootout win was the single point difference between a bye to the quarter-finals and having to play that extra game. In the end, both years saw Team Canada take gold so fret not yet.

Anyway, a win is a win is hopefully another win with about 10 goals scored against Austria tomorrow.

Of more importance is how even more dreadful GI Joe Head Hughson is at play-by-play. Is everyone at CBC oblivious to how Bob Cole-like he's become? Mark Lee may not be the next coming of Danny Gallivan but at least he does his job--you know, Hughie, the actual play...by...play.

The beauty of the new channels with the dedicated feeds is not only is Glen Healey never heard (the mics only pick up the broadcast booth not the between-the-benches mic) but the intermissions are filled with just the cameras roaming the arena focusing in on fans. This is the BEST thing ever! Forget the same old talking head experts in the intermissions. NHL get in on this. It's mesmerizing checking out who's wearing what and what goofy stuff fans, mascots, Olympians and assorted PK Subbans are up to sitting in the arena.

No Nightmares Here With This Russian Bear

All I can say give me another day of that many goals and quick-paced games without all the play stoppages or commercials and I'm golden. Plus who knew Finland could lose possibly their two best scorers in Mikko Koivu and Valteri Filppula and still put up an 8 on the scoreboard. The last time they did that in a meaningful tournament (sorry, IIHF your B level World Championships) was back at the '98 Olympics when they smoked Kazakhstan 8-2. Given the Finns ended up playing the game of that tournament, the 7-4 loss to Russia in the semi-finals (a game in which Pavel Bure scored five goals...so beat that, Ovie!), here's hoping the Finns keep the goals coming. If you have a spare 90 minutes, check out below the best game ever in Olympic play since the NHL pros came aboard:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Game Over

Let's all face facts, this Canucks team did not suddenly come off the rails with this 9-1 loss to the Ducks last night. It all started back in the 2011 Final when the entire hockey world saw a team up 2-0 in the Final, getting blown out 8-1 in Game 3. The Canucks were outmuscled, outskated and outplayed in all facets of the game.

Because it was the Final and it was just one loss, I suppose management shrugged it off given that the Canucks still led the series 2 games to 1. In hindsight, that (and the dumb hits by Dan Hamhuis on Milan Lucic and Aaron Rome on Nathan Horton) was the beginning of the end.

Now we're here two and a half years later and the Canucks have been exposed once again as being too soft, too slow and having no discernibly consistent goal scoring let alone goal scoring depth. My bigger question is when is owner Francesco Aqulini going to fire Mike Gillis and get Trader Phil Esposito back in the NHL. I mean, the Canucks already have a Luongo, Tortorella, Sestito, Corrado and a Santorelli. Why stop there? Maybe even try to resurrect Angelo Esposito's career while they're at it.

 To think I netted Marian Hossa in a trade

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Yzerman Than I Set To Pick Team Canada

We all know the Team Canada brain trust may just overthink this whole selection process. Remember they left off Mike Green for 2010 and although ultimate victory was achieved, you don't think that version of Team Canada could have used a tad more offence considering it was forced to play an extra game just to get into the medal round.

Looking at the 14 top Canadian NHL scoring forwards, you get:
Sidney Crosby
John Tavares
Ryan Getzlaf
Joe Thornton
Patrick Sharp
Corey Perry
Jonathan Toews
Tyler Seguin
Patrick Marleau
Taylor Hall
Martin St. Louis
Matt Duchene
Claude Giroux

 Top shelf, James baby!

Anyway, you know off the top 14 above, they'll pick Steven Stamkos, as well they should. They have got to take Jamie Benn (faceoffs alone!) and to link up with Tyler Seguin (although I have a feeling they'll go Logan Couture over Seguin). All this talk of whether Chris Kunitz should be on the team ignores the fact the better player (James Neal) should be on the team as that guy is the next best pure sniper to Stamkos.

Taylor Hall--well, his speed alone should make him an automatic pick, plus you get this cheesy techno Eurobeat with all his hilite videos:

 Hall of Taylor

Anyway, I can see Kunitz, Jumbo Joe and Marleau left off out of Canada's top 14 point scorers right now.

Then on D as long as they're not stupid about P.K. Subban it'll be him, the two each on Chicago (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) and St. Louis (Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester), Shea Weber and Drew Doughty meaning the 8th D guy by scoring stats would be Jason Garrison? He won't be on the team but that 8th and final pick is going to be tough.

I mean, for all the whining about Dion Phaneuf he's in the mix as should the long forgotten Brian Campbell who leads all Canadian d-men in ice time/game. Weird eh. HUGE droopff when thinking about who slots in that #8 slot on the defenceman depth chart. Your guess is as good as mine. Just toss a bunch of names in the hat and hope they come up with a right-handed defenceman as all of a sudden they seem in short supply for Canada.
Grapes will find a way to blame that on the pinko lefties.

Then we all know the netminders are Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury who despite their shaky playoff netminding are all playing well in the "regular" season. Honestly, though, Stevie Y would be best served by dropping one of these three for Jonathan Bernier. The third goalie won't play anyway so make it a guy who you can maybe count on to be super motivated should some extreme fiasco happen where the two guys ahead flop a la CuJo Vintage 2002 in Salt lake vs. the Swedish Torpedo. . . and also get the next Martin Brodeur ready for 2018 to have a feel for the Olympic experience.

All I know is as Trade Deadline Day should be a national holiday up here so should Team Canada Selection Day.