Smith a Net Gain for Edmonton

Oilers hopes rest in the crease; Semyon Varlamov nets his 6th shutout of the season for the Islanders; GM of the Year may come from the South; Spencer Knight now 3-0.

One night in Edmonton, after the home team took the ice, a press box wag, took due note and commented "With McDavid and Draisaitl in the lineup, these guys don't even need a goalie."

Well, yes and no.

With the Oilers regular goal blizzard, you'd think that The Gold Dust Twins -- Connor and Leon -- could outscore the opposition just between the two of them,

You'd think.

But Gary Bettman has assured me that every team must place a body between the pipes -- it's in the rule book -- and coach David Tippett's team is no exception.

What is exceptional in the Oilers case is that Edmonton's bold, boulder-of-a-body in the crease should have been over the hill mountains ago.

But Michael Smith out of Kingston, Ontario will have none of that. 

Even at age 39, he has proven that Hockey's Fountain of Youth is overflowing even though the last time Smitty was young was when his paychecks were courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

McDavid-Draisaitl notwithstanding, goaltending was a concern for ex-goalie-g.m. Ken Holland before the current semester began. Both Mike and his ever-huger sidekick, Mikko Koskinen were barely average in last season's qualifying series.

The Alberta Faithful demanded that Holland go as far as the Netherlands to find a goalie; any goalie not named Koskinen nor Smith.

"Nay, nay,"  cautioned Pal Ken and, as usual, the lifetime goalie knew more about puck-stopping than the critical Edmonton fans.

Which brings us to the here and now. 

Not only has Smitty won 23 out of his last 30 games, why even the pride of Vantaa, Finland -- the Crease Skyscraper -- Koskinen actually beat Winnipeg, 3-1, on Wednesday night.

But this tidbit is about The Ancient Mariner who explains his excellence in four little words, “I'm on a mission."

For another view, I turned to my old Edmonton Journal buddy. David (The Cult of Hockey) Staples. Discussing the Smith rebirth, Staples and Friend pointed out that Michael is "playing with assurance and tracking the puck well."

That's another way of saying, his 17-5-2 record (2.32, .923 and three shutouts) are the real deal(s).

Mind you, Smitty's real worth will be tested in a few weeks. It's otherwise known as "Playoff Time" and by then we'll know whether Magnificent Michael can help the Connor and Leon vaudeville act past the first round.

Bet on it!


Stan’s Java Jive

HEADLINE: AN 'E' FOR EFFORT IN THE EAST

THE JIVE: Now that Washington and Pittsburgh have clinched playoff berths, both the Islanders and Bruins are right behind. The Nassaumen can enter the post-season circle by toppling the Rangers in Uniondale tomorrow night. The 4-0 hit applied last night by Barry Trotz's troops at Madison Square Garden defused what had been an explosive Blueshirts run. Semyon Varlamov's blank job was his sixth of the year; a career high. Meanwhile, the irrepressible Penguins seem not to miss Evgeni Malkin's firepower thanks to the unobtrusive work of Jake Guentzel. The pride of Omaha, Nebraska delivered last night's OT winner over the Capitals. (That makes it 22 red lights on the year for the left wing who skates in Sidney's shadow.)


HEADLINE: WHY IS THIS KNIGHT DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER KNIGHTS?

THE JIVE: That's because Spencer Knight plays goal for Florida not the Vegas Knights. Florida's 13th overall pick in the 2019 Draft and a Boston College star now is wowing them in Sunrise. He's had two starts and one relief appearance for a 3-0-0 mark. Plus a not-too-bad .943 save percentage and 1.67 goals against average. The Panthers' "Closely-Watcher," Al Greenberg, reports that in last night's 4-3 OT win over Chicago, "After giving up the tying goal to Alex DeBrincat with 18 seconds remaining in regulation, he was aces in OT, stoning Patrick Kane cold." (To that Coach Q adds: "The kid's got some composure. We like what we're seeing." )


HEADLINE: DOWN SOUTH G.M. OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE

THE JIVE: Both Carolina and Florida are enjoying banner seasons largely because of superior player acquisitions.

Down in Raleigh, g.m. Don Waddell has imported another gem with -- as my man, Joel Cohen in N.C. duly notes -- "his quiet and unassuming addition of Jani Hakanpaa, a 6-5 Finnish defenseman from the Anaheim Ducks." Over an eight game span, Jni has produced two goals and two assists. "Plus," adds Cohen, "don't underestimate the physical edge he brings. And that also goes for the recent addition of Cedric Paquette as the Canes ready for the playoffs."

Meanwhile, Panthers boss Bill Zito rates "GM Of The Year" consideration as well. All four Florida goals in last night's victory were tallied by Zito's acquisitions. They include Alex Wennberg, Anthony (I Do) Duclair, Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett. Sammy, by the way, is 5-6-11 in eight Cats games. By contrast he was 4-9-12 in 38 games with Calgary. (Thanks to "Oakman" Greenberg for the Panthers palaver.)


HEADLINE: A 'BEHIND THE SCENES GUY' RETIRES

THE JIVE: Too often the fellows who do the heavy work with little to no recognition are overlooked for their good contributions. One of them is Mark (Peaches) Brennan who has been Head Equipment Manager for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks since 2012 and who will retire at the end of the season. Peaches' career spans more than three decades in the ice game including NHL stops with the Red Wings and Panthers. An added bonus in Portland was Brennan meeting Judy following a game at Meorial Coliseum and, eventually, she became Peaches' bride. As for what Brennan's behind-the-scenes work meant to the team, Winterhawks boss Mike Johnston put it well. "Peaches has held one of the toughest positions in the sport which demands endless hours and energy." (Or, as the song goes, "The Little Things Mean A Lot.")


HEADLINE: POSTSCRIPT ON NHL MOUSTACHES

THE JIVE: North America's expert on moustaches in hockey, Glen Goodhand, writes that a Toronto Maple Leaf forward named Andy Blair was the first NHLer to sport a moustache and not the Leafs defenseman Garth Boesch as previously noted here.

Another from the Boesch era was Don (Bones) Raleigh of the Rangers.


HEADLINE: THE CENTRAL'S COMPELLING RIVALRY.

THE JIVE: Nashville and Dallas aren’t natural rivals but their geographic proximity in the spread out Central Division is as close as it gets to an Islanders-Rangers or Penguins-Flyers situation. The Preds and Stars are desperately fighting for the final slot in the Central Division, the same battle they were in last season when the NHL paused. A year earlier they met in the first round, won by Dallas in a close set which ended in a double overtime sixth game. In short, there is no great love between the two teams.

Both teams have had unusual seasons. Dallas started the season with a four game COVID delay and later had four more games postponed due to weather. This created a nightmarish second half of the season with never more than a day of rest between games. Their final seven games are all on the road.

The Stars went the entire season without Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin. Goalie Anton Khudobin came through when needed, just as he did in last year’s playoffs. He had some bumps in the road but newcomer Jake Oettinger was a pleasant surprise. Other surprises included the play of 36-year-old Joe Pavelski and 21-year-old rookie Jason Robertson. Roope Hintz is having a career season. Dallas is very strong on defense, led by the two-way play of John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen.

Dallas closes the season with six games in ten days. Their endurance will be tested.

Nashville started slow but reversed course mid-season, thanks largely to the sustained outstanding play of goalie Juuse Saros. Top forwards Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene lost time to injury and when in the lineup had less than stellar seasons. Defenders Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis both spent time on the injury list. 

Nevertheless, their season turned dramatically since mid-March, without star Filip Forsberg. Mikael Granlund and Viktor Arvidsson played to their true ability and the Preds enjoyed hot streaks from secondary players such as Colton Sissons and Luke Kunin.

The big question as the season winds down is whether Saros can hold up with minimum rest. He has started 17 of the last 20 games.

At the moment Nashville holds a two point lead over Dallas but Dallas has a game in hand. Neither team has an easy schedule remaining.  The Stars have two more games with Tampa Bay and the Preds have two with Carolina. Those two teams may be battling for first place in the Central so they will be playing with their “A” lineups. If there was ever a true definition of a four point game it will be when the Stars and Preds go head to head Saturday night in Music City. The winner of that game will likely prevail for the final playoff spot. In a classic understatement, Preds’ Ryan Ellis said, “We have the biggest game of the year coming up.”


HEADLINE: MILLER ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

THE JIVE: I had the honor to do the first tv interview with Ryan Miller and have followed his career with keen interest. His retirement revelation inspires a blend of admiration and sadness. The former because of his superior accomplishments and latter because I'm sad to see he's leaving the NHL, although with grand distinction.

He retires as the winningest American born goalie in NHL history with 390, second among Americans in shutouts with 44 and in games played at 794. The East Lansing, Mich. native is the only player in hockey history to be named the top goaltender in the NCAA, American Hockey League, Winter Olympics, and NHL.

“It was a dream come true when I played my first NHL game and it has been a privilege to spend 18 years as a professional,” said Ryan Miller. “I have decided that I am going to retire after the season having been given more time doing what I love than I could ever have hoped for. Thank you to you my teammates and staff, past and present. I’m thankful to so many who made my career possible and helped me on my journey from youth hockey to the NHL. Thank you to my family for supporting me with so much love and enthusiasm.”


TRIVIA CORNER:

Who was the first woman to boss an NHL team?

(Answer below.)


CLEVER COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "Do you believe in miracles?

-Sportscaster Al Michaels' famed call after Team USA beat the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics.


TRIVIA ANSWER: In 1954, Marguerite Norris was head of the Detroit Red Wings. The Norris Family had owned the Red Wings for decades.