Thursday, November 28, 2013
Ramblings: Turkey talk on curses, cursing
By Scott Burnside
Time for a little Thanksgiving rambling session to help digest the turkey and the NHL holiday schedule.
Curses, foiled again: Is there such a thing as an Olympic curse? Paul Martin might think so. A lock to make the U.S. team in Vancouver in 2010, Martin broke his forearm early in the 2009-10 season, and complications kept him from making the team that would go on to earn silver in Vancouver. Fast-forward to this season and once again Martin's strong play for Pittsburgh had virtually assured him a place on the 2014 roster, but on Monday he suffered a broken tibia in a game against the Boston Bruins. Amazingly, Martin finished the game but is now sidelined for a month or more. If his rehabilitation goes according to plan -- unlike that of Steven Stamkos, who required surgery to repair a broken tibia earlier this month; Martin's injury will not require surgery -- he should be in place for the mid-February tournament in Russia. Still, you couldn't blame Martin, whose renaissance after a couple of subpar seasons with the Pens has been nothing short of inspiring, for wondering if somewhere someone has an Olympic voodoo doll sporting his jersey.
Talking a Blues streak: Love the idea of a Chicago-St. Louis Central Division finals series next spring, but after listening to the postgame comments involving Colorado coach Patrick Roy and counterpart Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues after the Blues' 4-1 win Wednesday night, it makes us pine a bit for a playoff showdown between these two teams. The Blues have rained a couple of times on the Avs' parade this season, including Wednesday, when St. Louis halted Colorado's three-game winning streak. Hitchcock chastised Roy for his season-opening performance against Anaheim when Roy tried to knock down a barrier between the two teams' benches, calling it "junior hockey." On Wednesday, Roy took issue with Hitchcock talking to the referees and jousting with some of Roy's players, behavior Hitchcock had been critical of when Roy did it. "Seems to me that there's different rules for everybody in this league. I guess the old guys are allowed to do whatever they want, and I guess us, because we are younger, we are not allowed to say anything. I am a little [mad] about that," Roy was quoted by Terry Frei of the Denver Post as saying postgame. Hitchcock responded by saying "Oh, give me a break. Tell Patrick to shut the f--- up." Great stuff. Lost in the postgame commentary was Alex Steen's 20th goal of the season, tying him with Alexander Ovechkin for the league lead.
Man down. And another. And another: It's a grueling time for a handful of teams that are struggling without key players lost to injury while various national teams are also watching with interest in the rehabilitation of said players. The Minnesota Wild were initially believed to be without Zach Parise for up to three weeks after he blocked a shot with his foot earlier in the week, although he did skate Wednesday morning. He was not in the lineup for the Wild's 3-1 loss to Phoenix. They also lost Mikael Granlund, as the previously red-hot Wild dropped their second in a row. Parise is a lock to play in the top six for the U.S. team at the Sochi Olympic Games, and the foot injury shouldn't change that plan, although you'll forgive U.S. GM David Poile if he's more than a little nervous these days (see Martin injury above, Jonathan Quick injury below).
Quick questions: The Los Angeles Kings continue to get great goaltending from stand-in Ben Scrivens as starter Jonathan Quick deals with a groin injury and won't be available until the last week of December -- assuming all goes according to plan. Scrivens stopped 38 of 40 shots in a shootout loss to San Jose on Wednesday night and is 6-1-4 with a league-best .947 save percentage and 1.48 GAA (albeit with a much smaller body of work). Quick is among the most interesting of the walking wounded, given his importance to both the U.S. Olympic team, where he is still considered the top goaltender assuming good health, and the Kings. Hard to imagine GM Dean Lombardi, who will help pick the U.S. Olympic team, isn't being pulled in two directions. Remember Dominik Hasek's injury moments after the 2006 Olympic tournament started in Turin? What did it cost the Ottawa Senators, who were considered Cup contenders at the time? No goalie goes side to side as well as Quick when he's on his game. But what impact does Quick's injury have on the Kings' Cup hopes, especially if he aggravates it by rushing back to solidify his place on the U.S. roster? Maybe he's 100 percent by the end of the calendar year, the U.S. wins a gold and the Kings go on a long run in the spring. But if it doesn't go that way, you know there are going to be lots of questions about how this all unfolded.
Speaking of the West: Yes, we know how good the West is. Pierre LeBrun, the official spokesman for all things Western Conference, reminds us every time we chat or do a podcast. But one of the casualties of the overwhelming concentration of power in the West is a Vancouver Canucks team that just can't seem to get it together and, as a result, is finding itself slowly sinking beneath the playoff surface. A team that won two Presidents' Trophies in recent years (2011, 2012) by dominating on both sides of the puck can't find the back of the net, with just one win in their last eight games. In the seven losses, they have managed to score just nine goals. The power play is rancid, ranking 28th, and the bottom line is if the Sedin twins or Ryan Kesler don't score, it pretty much doesn't get done. Before realignment, the Canucks were pretty much assured a playoff spot just by stepping onto the ice in the old Northwest Division, what with permanent rebuilds going on in Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado. Now in the tough, tough, tough Pacific, the Canucks woke up Thursday morning five points back of the second wild card. Not an insurmountable deficit but still more than a little worrisome for a Canucks team used to cruising into the postseason.
And on to the East: If there is one common trait among the flotsam and jetsam in the Eastern Conference, it's the inconsistency. Just when a team looks like it's going to take off -- take Philadelphia, for instance -- it inexplicably stumbles and falls back to the pack. Of the 16 Eastern Conference teams, only four had won six or more games in their previous 10 as of Thursday morning. In the West, seven of 14 teams had won at least six times. We keep waiting for the numbers to even out, but so far it hasn't happened.
One team, one goal: Maybe they mean nothing, but we always like to check the one-goal game stats. It just seems to make sense that teams that become comfortable in tight, closely fought games are going to be in a good place come the stretch run, when points are at a premium, and beyond that in the playoffs, when the nervousness ratchets up and one-goal games are often the rule. What remains almost inexplicable is the fact that the Senators, one of the best-coached teams in the NHL and one that went to the second round of the playoffs last spring in spite of crippling injuries, cannot get it done in the pinch. Almost half of the Sens' games have been one-goal affairs, and they have the 28th-ranked winning percentage in those games, with a 3-4-4 record. Of the 12 teams with the lowest winning percentage in one-goal games, only the Montreal Canadiens owned a playoff spot as of Thursday morning.