Friday, November 29, 2013
LeBrun: Highlights of black-and-blue Friday
By Pierre LeBrun
Nothing like some Black Friday afternoon hockey, eh? Some observations and thoughts from some of the games:
SHARKS 6, BLUES 3
This was really the best game of the day, at least on paper. In what could be a potential Western Conference finals matchup, the Sharks scored four goals in the opening 11 minutes, 27 seconds of the first period before a deliriously thrilled Shark Tank.
(OK, it's really called the SAP Center, but it's always going to be the Shark Tank to me, one of my favorite stops on the NHL circuit.)
Blues backup goalie Brian Elliott was the victim in this one, and while he didn't look very good -- pulled at the first intermission -- that doesn't take away from the Sharks' ferocious attack in the opening period. They were coming in waves.
With Jaroslav Halak in goal to start the second period, the Blues tallied three unanswered goals to make it interesting at 4-3 after Jaden Schwartz scored at 11:19 of the third period, but Brent Burns lit the lamp just one minute later to seal both the game and the power forward's first career hat trick.
It's interesting that when the Sharks moved Burns to forward from defense last March, it was seen as a short-term move to help spark a struggling team, but now you can't even imagine Burns not playing wing, given the impact he's had up front.
Were the Sharks, meanwhile, motivated by what happened in their previous meeting with the Blues, in which Max Lapierre hit Dan Boyle from behind into the boards and was suspended? Given how popular the veteran Boyle is within that Sharks dressing room, and regardless of what the Sharks say, the answer to that question is an emphatic yes.
This would be one heck of a playoff series. Both teams are similarly deep up front and are solid defensively. Sign me up if the Blues and Sharks cross paths in the spring.
DUCKS 5, FLAMES 2
Dustin Penner is making Ducks general manager Bob Murray look good.
The veteran winger, signed last summer to a one-year, $2 million deal, is arguably playing his best hockey since the 2012 Stanley Cup run with the Los Angeles Kings. Penner scored twice Friday in the 5-2 win over the visiting Flames, his first tally a redirect of a gorgeous slap pass from Ryan Getzlaf on a Ducks power play in the second period that gave Anaheim a 3-0 lead. Penner now has nine goals and 20 points overall in 21 games this season; compare that to two goals and 14 points overall last season in 33 games, and just 17 points (7-10) in 65 games in 2011-12.
Now, it obviously doesn't hurt playing alongside Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line, but believe me, if Penner wasn't playing well enough to be there, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau would not have him there. Things didn't start all that well this season, with Penner producing a tepid training camp and being put on notice by Boudreau. But give Penner a lot of credit -- he's responded with some terrific hockey, even leading the team with a plus-18.
Pretty good story, I'd say.
BRUINS 3, RANGERS 2
Zdeno Chara, for my money, is the most feared player in the NHL.
Intimidation is a part of the game, and nobody scares the opposition more in this league than the towering Bruins captain. Whether it's a hit or a crosscheck or a fight, whether it's dirty or clean, the Slovak star can single-handedly dominate a game.
And he did on Friday afternoon with a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight -- in Boston's 3-2 comeback victory over the visiting Rangers. According to TSN statistician Kevin Gibson, it's Chara's fifth career Gordie Howe hat trick.
His goal was a Chara special, an absolute rocket from the point at 11:05 of third period that simply went right through Henrik Lundqvist and gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish. It was the kind of response the Bruins wanted after being embarrassed 6-1 in Detroit on Wednesday night.
Boston's 36 points lead the Atlantic Division. And get used to seeing the B's in that spot for most of this season.
For the Rangers, it was a decent road effort but a loss nonetheless, and they've got little time to mope. They have regroup quickly for Saturday afternoon's A.V.-Torts Bowl: John Tortorella making his return to Madison Square Garden with the visiting Canucks while Alain Vigneault coaches his first regular-season game against his old Vancouver squad.
Money on the board before the game in each dressing room? You'd better believe it. Shhhh, that's against NHL rules ...
FLYERS 2, JETS 1
The Jets killed off a 5-on-3 Flyers power play early in the second period that kept the game at 1-0 and seemed to give them momentum. But a mistake minutes later during a Winnipeg power play by Dustin Byfuglien allowed Sean Couturier to intercept his blue-line pass and skate in alone on Ondrej Pavelec; the Flyers forward didn't miss, scoring a back-breaking shorthanded goal that would stand up as the winner. Byfuglien is in the mix, of course, for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, but it's those kinds of defensive mistakes that give Team USA management pause for thought. I'm not saying Byfuglien's not going to make the team, but don't be surprised if he doesn't.
Meanwhile, Steve Mason had another solid outing for the Flyers, and if you were naming a Flyers MVP through the opening two months, it would be Mason in a landslide. It should be noted, too, that so far this season he's easily outplayed Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who caused no shortage of grief in Philadelphia when he won the Vezina Trophy last season after being dealt away by the Flyers the year before.
Right now, those transactions don't look so bad for the Flyers, who got a second-round pick and a pair of fourth-round picks for Bobrovsky in June 2012, then got Mason from the Jackets last April for journeyman goalie Michael Leighton plus a third-round pick in 2015. If Mason can continue his current form all season long, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren will have perhaps garnered apologies from many a critic who didn't think Mason was worthy of a pickup.
RED WINGS 5, ISLANDERS 0
Was this Alfie getting warmed up for the big one?
Veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson scored twice and added an assist in Detroit's whitewash Friday of the Islanders. His next game, of course, is Sunday in Ottawa -- his first game back in Canada's capital after his controversial exit last summer. (I'll be there to chronicle things.)
The Wings have won three straight and outscored the opposition (Buffalo, Boston and the Isles) 14-2 during that span, getting back on track after a difficult November.
But perhaps the real story here is the continued malaise of the Isles, who have dropped five straight and are 2-10-0 in their past dozen games. Something's got to give on Long Island. Sources from other teams suggest GM Garth Snow has been phoning around trying to find a match on the trade front. This is a team that needs upgrades on defense and in goal.