Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Ramblings: Complaints, castaways and canned coaches
By Scott Burnside
How about those new Team Canada sweaters? Feeling the love? And the recycled plastic bottles?
So, we are now a week into the NHL calendar, with no shortage of storylines and sidebars. Sounds like the perfect time for more ramblings.
Clarke the carpenter: Interesting to hear much-traveled Clarke MacArthur make his not-so-positive feelings about former head coach Randy Carlyle known before the Leafs’ home opener against MacArthur’s Ottawa Senators over the weekend. The comments were a bit more temperate than similarly negative comments from another former Leaf, Mikhail Grabovski, who was bought out by Toronto before signing late in the offseason with Washington. Still, it made us cringe to hear MacArthur boohooing about being made a healthy scratch in the playoffs last spring, and how it took the fun out of the game for him. Seriously? Get over yourself just a bit. Maybe it had something to do with the fact MacArthur had managed just two goals in his last 20 regular season games. Or maybe it was the fact that MacArthur had developed a reputation as a guy who showed a little flash, but little in the way of substance, since he was drafted 74th overall in 2003. Whether things change in Ottawa -- his fourth NHL club, by the way -- remains to be seen, although the carping about his treatment in Toronto suggests not.
Cast of thousand castaways: Speaking of Grabovski, the first week of the NHL season has been a boon for players cast aside by other teams. Slotted into the second-line center role in Washington, Grabovski has responded with three goals and five points in three games, and he’s thrown in a shootout goal for good measure. Mason Raymond showed up at Toronto's training camp on a tryout basis and has two goals and two assists, including a game winner for the 3-0-0 Leafs. How about Mathieu Perreault, who ran out of chances to make a case as a top-six forward with the talented Caps, and was dealt on the eve of the regular season? He has two goals and an assist, including a game winner, for the 2-1 Anaheim Ducks. Tom Gilbert, signed after a tryout with the Panthers, played 24:41 in Florida’s opening-night victory over Dallas (and 22:03 in their 7-0 loss to St. Louis in the team’s second game) while Damien Brunner, surprisingly at loose ends after a strong season for the Detroit Red Wings, has three goals and an assist with the New Jersey Devils. Even Chuck Kobasew, a surprise addition to the Penguins’ roster, has scored twice in two weeks.
Not a flying start: Top on the list of teams that absolutely had to get off to a good start were the Philadelphia Flyers. How is that working out for them? The Flyers have scored three times in three straight losses and have a league-worst minus-6 goal differential, all of which combined for head coach Peter Laviolette's firing Monday morning. Still, for all their stumbling about in recent years, it’s refreshing to watch the Flyers do business. Owner Ed Snider, president Peter Luukko and general manager Paul Holmgren were all on hand for the announcement Monday. Mistakes were acknowledged, but no one backed down from the decision. “The press conference was honest and powerful,” one NHL executive told ESPN.com. “They want to win, no B.S., and they get after it. Tough day for them but they handled it well.” How will the players respond? The pressure is certainly on talented captain Claude Giroux, who struggled last season and has yet to record a point in the team’s three losses. Time for him to step up.
Dubious with Dubnyk: During the offseason, we wondered aloud at the passive approach the Edmonton Oilers were taking to their goaltending situation. Yes, Devan Dubnyk had decent enough numbers (a .920 save percentage and 2.57 GAA last season), but those were numbers produced on a team that had only moderate expectations. If, as the coaching staff and management have repeatedly indicated, this season is a time for shedding the "Oh, they’re still a young team" crutch, they need the goaltending to provide meaningful support. Thus far, Dubnyk has allowed 10 goals in a little more than a game and a half for the Oilers. Seven of those goals were at even strength. The problem for the Oilers is that they have no Plan B. Jason LaBarbera was brought in to act as Dubnyk’s backup and allowed three first-period goals and four goals on 25 shots in his first start, which was Monday night. Still, the Oilers managed to eke out a 5-4 win in a shootout for their first victory of the season. But as one NHL executive told ESPN.com, LaBarbera’s a tourist, he’s not equipped to assume a significant workload if Dubnyk falters. Unless the goaltending sorts itself out quickly, this season is going to get away from the Oilers, just like all the others have since their last playoff appearance in 2006.
Speaking of goaltending: You can hardly fault Ryan Miller, who is one of the most interesting figures in the NHL as he enters the final season of his contract, for the Buffalo Sabres’ 0-3-0 start. Miller, looking to restore himself to the upper echelon of NHL goaltenders, has allowed just three goals on 80 shots for a .963 save percentage. He remains a key figure in the Sabres dressing room and has been nothing but a good citizen, even in the face of disappointing results. Soon, teams (hello, Edmonton general manager Craig MacTavish) will be asking Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier about the asking price for Miller. Beyond that, the 33-year-old's play will continue to be closely watched by U.S. Olympic team organizers. Needless to say, his early performances -- including one in which he dueled with fellow U.S. Olympic team hopeful Craig Anderson of Ottawa -- aren't going unnoticed.
Not a Quick start: While on the subject of U.S. Olympic goaltending hopefuls, it hasn't been a banner start for Jonathan Quick, who is clearly the favorite to be named starter when the U.S. hits the ice in Sochi in February. Quick was yanked in the Kings’ second game of the season and then badly misplayed a shorthanded icing shot Monday night that helped the New York Rangers to a 3-1 win over the 1-2-0 Kings.
Blueshirts bounce-back: The Rangers' win Monday was the first of the season for the 1-1-0 Rangers, who won’t play at home until Oct. 28 as construction continues at Madison Square Garden. After playing poorly both in the preseason and in their opening night loss to Phoenix, Monday’s win will take a weight off the team, and presumably head coach Alain Vigneault. But Monday’s win was significant, specifically for beleaguered forward Brad Richards, who had two goals, including the game winner. Also, netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who has struggled to find a groove but was excellent Monday, turned aside 28 of 29 Kings shots. The Blueshirts are going to need both those veteran players to be at their best if they’re to come out of this elongated nine-game road trip in decent shape in the competitive Metropolitan Division.
No sweater: And, finally, Hockey Canada officially unveiled their Olympic jerseys, even though they seemed to have leaked out weeks ago. Sadly, they don’t look any different now from when the picture was leaked. Of course, this comes from a guy who, at one point, used to wear a chef’s white jacket to work as a news reporter at The Windsor Star, so we acknowledge we’re probably not qualified to comment on the stylings of the new Canadian gear. And we’re pretty sure the fact that at least one of the offerings looks like an old du Maurier cigarette box won’t have any bearing on whether Sidney Crosby & Co. will successfully defend their gold medal in Sochi. The fact that each jersey is apparently made up of 17 recycled plastic water bottles is cool, and of course, environmentally hip. We hope they didn't use the water bottles the Canadian men’s squad used the last time the Olympics were held outside North America, when they were bounced in the quarterfinals by Russia in Italy in 2006.