Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
The playoffs are rapidly approaching. There are teams in the East that have as few as eight games remaining on their regular season schedule. And that means it's crunch time for playoff contender and pretender alike.
A lot of coaches, like Pete DeBoer and Lindy Ruff in the East or like 65 percent of the guys in charge of out-of-the-playoffs teams in the West, will need to find ways to get their players to dig deep.
Other organizations, like the Thrashers and Coyotes, are just trying to stay afloat and create fan interest as a means of getting to that sweet, sweet revenue-sharing money.
One of Bob Gainey's first acts as new coach of Les Habitants was to try to increase morale. And, being a diehard fan of "The Simpsons," he knew that the best way to do this was by having Crazy Hat Day.
The results were... less than desirable.
The top sports headlines of the day
The Atlanta Thrashers, meanwhile, are just trying to get asses in the seats, and they're pulling out all the stops. So far this season, a grand total of 13 players have centered Ilya Kovalchuk, and the Thrashers figured that, with only 10 games left on the schedule, they could get that number up to a round 100.
With that in mind, they created the new "Run the Pivot for Kovy" promotion. Unfortunately, the first contest winner that got the start on Saturday was lacking in NHL size, and he got dominated at the dot.
Minnesota's Jacques Lemaire might have a bit of a reputation for being a bit difficult to deal with at times, but he isn't above trying to set a new world record in the name of keeping the mood light. Just three days ago, he entered Kim Johnsson for the Guinness Book of World Records' "Biggest beard of bees while playing boring hockey" award. Johnsson, who is allergic to bees, died shortly after being declared the new record holder, edging out Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion.
Jordan Staal may not be having his best season, but he is having the most fun he's had since his rookie year, thanks to the encouragement of new coach Dan Bylsma, who helps him with all his practical jokes. That new shipment of Stink Bombs has really gotten everyone laughing. Except Sid Crosby, on whom they always blame the smell.
"Smells like the baby had an accident again! Pfffft... shhh shh here he comes."
What We Learned
I think so, judging by the current criteria for retiring numbers in the National Hockey League (see: Graves, Adam). The guy scored 300 goals and 669 points there in 606 games over eight seasons. He, along with Teemu Selanne, was the first face of the franchise. He was a seven-time all-star and finished in the top 10 for goals five times. He also, y'know, helped lead them to a Stanley Cup final. If they retire Selanne's number, they should retire Kariya's as well.
Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers might be in trouble here. They're awful close to not getting a paid attendance of 14,000 a night and, if they don't, they're going to lose a lot of revenue sharing money. Meanwhile, heavily discounted tickets still count as paid attendance and season ticket holders still have a right to be pissed off about it.
"The guys who keep missed shots are up very high. A lot of them get tipped wide sometimes. Or you don't have a shooting lane, so you just dump it cross-ice from the corner and they count them as missed shots. It's not a good stat."
Agreed that it's an extremely imperfect stat, but big guy, as of right now you have 12 goals. Don't you think the larger point is you could be putting up Mike Green numbers if you could put the puck on net 70 percent of the time instead of 60?
Buffalo Sabres: How you know things are real bad in Buffalo: The Buffalo News suggests actively rooting for the economy to continue to fail so the Sabres can compete more effectively. Yes, actually.
During the general managers' meetings this month, it became clear that the sorry economy could actually benefit teams such as Buffalo. The $56.7 million salary cap next season will likely stay the same next year or decrease to the $55 million range. Some projections had it falling to the $50 million range in two years.
Twelve teams have payrolls that are $55 million or more. Twenty-four were at $50 million or more. Buffalo was a tad over $50 million.
I don't know if that's ballsy or sad.
Three teams share the league record of 22 shorties surrendered in a single season: Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Colorado.
So the Flames aren't that bad. At least, not yet.
They are, however, still dead last in the NHL with 15 shorties allowed. Great, that's great.
Carolina Hurricanes: This week's Life-Affirming Hurricane Thought: Canes Country CORRECTLY points out that Jim Rutherford is a "genius" for picking up Jussi Jokinen off the scrap heap. Absolutely. Would that every GM could find a player that can go 1-6-7 in 17 games for his club. That's almost a 34-point pace! WOW!
Chicago Blackhawks: Cristobal Huet did not have a good week. So the Blackhawks turned to Nikolai Khabibulin for Saturday's game. He promptly gave up four goals to Edmonton on 31 shots and Chicago lost in a shootout. The once-mighty Blackhawks hadn't won in five straight entering their game with the Kings on Sunday (though they won that one with Khabibulin, so I dunno).
Colorado Avalanche: Congratulations to Colorado prospect Brandon Yip and the Boston University Terriers for winning the Hockey East title over my beloved UMass Lowell River Hawks. Yip scored the only goal of the 1-0 game.
Now, I don't want to get into all the conspiracy theories regarding a controversial call on what appeared to be a Lowell goal (both referees and the league commissioner have conflicting stories about why the no-goal call was made, for example). That makes me come off as a sore loser. So I'll quote Barry Melrose from the NCAA Hockey Selection Show this morning on ESPN2:
"[Lowell] got jobbed by the officials."
Thanks Barry! This is why I always supported your baffling, indefensible decisions when you were coach of the Lightning.
Look at it this way: If the Blue Jackets go 5-5-0 the rest of the way, St. Louis would have to go 9-1-0 to catch them, and the clubs lower in the standings - behind the Blues - would need an even stronger finish.
And by the way, what a crazy win to get in, too. Raffi Torres scored twice inside of three minutes to go after the Jackets had trailed 1-0 since 15:31 of the first. This Columbus team is nothing if not entertaining.
Dallas Stars: Tough week to be Brad Richards. He finally comes back from his broken right wrist and breaks his left hand in his first game back. And that'll juuuuust about do it for the Stars' playoff hopes.
Detroit Red Wings: Really odd comment from George James Malik when talking about the prospect of two of the Original Six meeting in the finals for the first time since 1979. He used a Scotty Bowman quote that said the league gave no special preference to any team.
Said Malik: "Pittsburghcough."
As though Pittsburgh didn't earn it last year or the year before, or is not playing insane hockey right now in its push to make it back. This is the reason people hate the Red Wings, and more specifically their fans. You can say a lot of negative things about the Pens, but that they wouldn't make the playoffs if not for the league's help sure isn't one of them. They have two of the three best players in the league, a pretty good goalie, and one of the best power play quarterbacks alive. The reason they'll make the playoffs this year is that they're good enough. Shut up.
Roloson has started a team-record 27 consecutive games, posting 13-8-6 with a 2.77 goals-against average in that stretch. And the veteran netminder has been especially hot lately, with a 1.90 GAA in winning his last three games.
Also worth noting: in that 27-game stretch, he has faced about 32 shots per game and has seen 40-plus in six of those. He saw another 36 in Sunday's 3-0 loss to Chicago.
Negative Nancy, you say? Take a peek at the clubs who were chasing the Panthers just ten games ago, and what they've done since:
Pittsburgh: 8-0-2, 18 points of a possible 20
Carolina: 7-1-2, 16 points of a possible 20
Think there's still time to go back on those free tickets for next year if the Panthers don't make the playoffs?
If the league decides a suspension is warranted, it would be handed down before the Penguins' important Eastern Conference showdown with Philadelphia this afternoon at Mellon Arena.
I'm watching that game as I type this, and there's Gino Malkin now. I guess that's out the window then, eh? So Malkin will catch a fine and that'll be that, but if Simmonds had made this hit on Malkin, he'd be sitting for three games no problem.
Minnesota Wild: Hockey Wilderness found this gem: Owen Nolan hosts a fishing show. How very strange. What a very big fish. The best part is that he apparently just has all his old NHL buddies over for a Celebrity Showdown every year. I would pay money to see Alexei Ponikarovsky snap a line and start swearing at a bass in Russian.
It's hard not to think back to the midseason point when Bob Gainey called the hiring of Guy Carbonneau his best move as GM.
I wonder now if he has it in him to admit that firing Carbonneau two weeks ago has been his worse move.
21,173 fans chanting "Carbo, Carbo" at the Bell last night suggests perhaps that it was.
Oh. The Habs are 1-3-2 since Gainey took over. Oops.
Nashville Predators: As of Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., the Central Division had four teams in the playoffs (Nashville being eighth with 77 points) and another, St. Louis, two points out. The last time all five teams from a division made the playoffs was 1980-81, when everyone from the Adams Division (Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Quebec and Minnesota) squeezed in. ‘Course, there were also only two Prince of Wales Conference teams that didn't make it back then, so the accomplishment is fairly unspectacular.
Really hope the Preds and Blues can pull it out. That would be awesome.
New Jersey Devils: Overheard at the Hockey East title game: Lou Lamoriello was there to receive a Hockey East "founder's medal" and present the trophy which bears his name to the champions. He was talking to some old friends before the game and one mentioned how delighted he looked when Martin Brodeur broke the wins record.
"I know," said Lou with a wry smile. "I'm going to ruin my reputation."
New York Islanders: Good on the Isles for giving the rest of the NHL a proper idea of how to tank a season. That 5-1 beating on Saturday was just what they needed to get back into the flow of finishing dead last in the NHL.
Almost as significant as the Islanders regulation loss in Ottawa, in the grand scheme of things, was Atlanta and Tampa Bay hilariously deciding their game in extra time last night to create three unneeded points. With the shootout loss, the Lightning now sit in 29th place, six points ahead of the Islanders with 10 games to play. Phoenix -- a recently emerging tanking threat -- somehow slaughtered Vancouver 5-1, too.
Better news for the Isles: All but two of their remaining games are against current playoff teams. Start buying those Tavares jerseys now.
"I have a philosophy of how a team should play, and whether they accept me or not, I'm going to put that philosophy to them. It's up to them to accept it," Tortorella said. "I'm not here for a popularity contest. I'm here to develop a team concept that I believe ... and try to find the right recipe to win hockey games. If some guys don't accept it, I really don't give a damn. It's about coaching and helping the New York Ranger organization win hockey games."
The Rangers seem to be buying in. They're averaging more than 31 hits per game in their last three. That's a good amount!
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers, after not coughing up a shortie today, the Flyers are now just 11 games from not allowing one all season. They would be the second team since the expansion era to accomplish that feat.
Since the 1967 NHL expansion, only one team - the 1975-76 Montreal Canadiens - has gone through an entire season without allowing a short-handed goal.
Pretty impressive. Especially considering they average the most penalty minutes per game (17.7) in the entire league.
Phoenix Coyotes: I thought this note was pretty interesting: The Coyotes are carrying six extra players because of all the trades they made. The worst victim has been David Hale, who's being squeezed out in favor of Keith Yandle.
"I feel bad for him because he works hard every day," Gretzky said. "He deserves an opportunity to get in the lineup. (Keith) Yandle's 22 years old, and we're gonna let him mature, play as much as he can, so it makes it difficult.
"I'm hoping to get David into a lineup because, like I said, he's a good team guy and has worked hard all year."
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sunday's regulation loss to Philly was the Pens' first in March, which is pretty damn impressive. The loss came mainly because the Flyers did a real good job of quieting Malkin and Sid Crosby. Though they both had an assist, they also combined for zero shots, six giveaways, no takeaways and a sub-.500 faceoff percentage. That'll do it.
Unfortunately for me, I always have a hard time sleeping when I get back from a road trip. I did not get to bed 'til 7 a.m. (thanks to the three cups of coffee I had during the game).
Does that count as a performance-enhancing drug?
Since Mason has moved in as the starter, the Blues are tied for No. 6 road winning percentage. Overall, home and away, the Blues' save percentage was .894 before Feb. 3, which ranked 27th. With Mason locking down the goal since Feb. 3, the Blues' save percentage is No. 8 in the league.
(P.S. Screw you Chemmy.)
Vancouver Canucks: "Are the Canucks peaking too early?" Well, up until Saturday night I would have said no. Now I say they used to be. You can't let a team like the Coyotes light you up like Times Square on New Years Eve and still be "peaking" at all.
"I've looked at them five times in there and I can't see where these calls are," Boudreau said. "It's my humble opinion, but holy frig. Those are some, in my estimation, some really iffy calls."
"There's no chance [Fleischmann's penalty] was a dive," he added. "His leg got corkscrewed. Then on Green's, when they went to the double minor, they cross-checked him in the head and then Pitkanen went at [Green]. Pitkanen goes at him and Mike retaliates and there still was only two [minutes] given each."
I know how it feels when officials screw you, Bruce. I feel your pain.
Play of the Weekend
Just I will never get sick of it:
Shane O'Brien is a master defenseman.
Gold Star Award
It's Alexei Ponikarovsky. He had two goals and two assists against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Hooray for Poni!
Minus of the Weekend
It's Roberto Luongo, who gave up three goals on 23 shots to PHOENIX! That's the way to keep your team in the race for the division lead.
Next week's game I'm totally going to watch on Center Ice if I'm home
Detroit at Calgary tonight at 9:30 in the East. It's the return engagement from last week's thrilling 5-4 shootout win by Calgary at the Joe, and it's still two of the best teams in the West facing off. That'll be a real humdinger (I hope).
Event that should replace the shootout and would be just as relevant to hockey skill
Movie of the Week
The King of Comedy features Robert DeNiro in probably my favorite role my favorite role of his. You're so used to seeing him acting like a scary tough guy mobster, but his Rupert Pupkin is unbelievably realistic as a sad, quietly angry, lonely nobody. Everyone in it talks the whole movie, and I don't think one person hears anything the other says. It's a strange movie, but a very good one.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User "Peter Sidorkiewicz" knows how to solve Atlanta's problems on defense.
To ATL: Campbell
To CHI: Hainsey
That's a trade neither team does. Outstanding.