Stan's Java Jive: 2/16/21

Florida rivalry heating up; Ottawa's big comeback; AM for The Hart?; What's the Hextall-Rutherford connection?


THE JIVE: Every so often an NHL team executes a miracle comeback and that rally restores the club to better things ahead. Today, the Ottawa Senators have given g.m. Pierre Dorion reason to believe his team can climb back into playoff contention and it's all because of what happened in Toronto last night. Down 5-1 with only 20:09 to get back into the game, the Sens won the contest 6-5 in overtime.

One witness described the unlikely rally as "Borderline Ridiculous." And that may symbolize Ottawa's climb out of the NHL's subterranean depths. "This win will rebuild our confidence," says Evgenii Dadonov who scored the OT winner after tying the game, 5-5, with only 2:01 left in the third. Dorion had upgraded his roster in the off-season with four deals. The biggest and best was signing prized top six winger Dadonov who scored 25 goals last year. That's two-straight wins for D.J. Smith's team against solid foes. Previously they beat Winnipeg with a late goal. How real this club is will be determined in the next week or three. If Matt Murray regains his Cup goaltending form and backup Marcus Hogberg, who's won two in a row, continues improving; hey, you never know. It will come down to a couple of factors: 1. Goaltending; and 2. The development of many key young players. That pair of items will determine whether this amazing rally over Toronto can be translated into a season comeback.


THE JIVE: Give Kyle Dubas credit. The youthful Toronto g.m. is willing to gamble on seemingly hopeless projects. Exhibit A is Joe Thornton. Exhibit B is Jason Spezza and Exhibit C is Wayne Simmonds. None of the trio has backfired on coach Sheldon Keefe but now he has the reclamation challenge of all reclamation challenges -- the ever-traveled one-time high Draft pick Alex (The Not So Great) Galchenyuk. I won't underestimate this move because it seems to me that this guy who the Habs originally picked third overall in 2012 still can be reconstructed into a star.

The questions here are these:: Do the Leafs need another forward? Shouldn't they be beefing up defense after blowing a 5-1 lead to the lowly Senators and losing the match, 6-5 in OT? Coach Sheldon Keefe's lame alibi went this way: "We gave the game to them." Really, what, pray tell was the coach doing to stop the bleeding in this debacle? Obviously nothing worthwhile!


THE JIVE: A couple of JAVA JIVES ago I predicted that the Lightning-Panthers rivalry just might erupt into a sizzling one in the Rangers-Islanders mold or Leafs-Canadiens. Well, folks, it has. The Cats not only smashed the Bolts, 6-4 last night but now have taken two of three from their Sunshine State buddies.

What's more, Cats defenseman Radko Gudas, the "Filthy McNasty” of NHL blueliners, finally has removed his kid gloves. He not only had two fights but, as my man in Florida, Alan Greenberg, points out, "Gudas kept getting under the Bolts' skin. Better still, the animosities between these teams have multiplied and we now have a rivalry that reminds me of those from The Original Six days." Naturally, Tampa's Mister Cool Coach, Jon Cooper, offered his usual temperate and literate post mortem. "Our wounds were self-inflicted. We got what we deserved." I also happen to like Greenberg's postscript: "Stay tuned. These guys meet five more times. The grudges from last night will never go away."


THE JIVE: New general manager Bill Armstrong inherited one of the most disjointed NHL franchises since the New York Americans. He got a break with Rick Tocchet who guided the Yotes to their first playoff run since 2012 and is doing an A-1 job now. Plus, goalie Darcy Kuemper looks good enough to lead them again. Last night's 1-0 victory over St.Louis inspires my Coyote-tamer, Coby Maeir, to point out that the team from Arizona "is making a nice push for the playoffs." Clayton Keller, one of the Yotes' top offensive performers, made good on his rep with the one and only goal in the triumph. 


THE JIVE: Lou Lamoriello's energy level remains at its highest point and his competence is underlined now that he's reached third all-time on the managerial win level after leaders Glen Sather and David Poile. How does Lou maintain his passion? It's always been there and remains there; that's how. Or as the Islanders boss puts it, "When you lose the drive then it's time to find a cigar and the closest beach."  Or, as his former three-Cup goaltender, Martin Brodeur, puts it, "Lou couldn't have done what he's done without the passion he had then and has now." His current employe, Barry Trotz, offers this: "Lou always has the welfare of the group in mind; not just the players -- and he treats us all first-class." (Hail to Lou!)


THE JIVE: The Brian Burke-Ron Hextall move to Pittsburgh has carried with it a cornucopia of sidebars. To me, the most interesting is that departing boss, Jim Rutherford, recommended that Mario Lemieux hire Hextall. Then Hexy revealed that when Gentleman Jim played goal for Pitt, it was Rutherford who persuaded Ron to be a goalie. "Jim even gave me his masks and his skates." The kicker here is that Ron's father, Bryan, played for Pitt alongside Hextall. That kept it all in the family. Meanwhile, Burke's Canadian tv colleagues sent him off with a mild "Roast" that included Elliotte Friedman. Burke needled Friedman claiming that his new Pitt job means he won't "have to see Elliotte anymore!" For Burke, the non-kidding around part is his new job. "We got a 'Win Now' mandate," he says. That's just the kind of challenge Brian enjoys. (See Burke item below.)


THE JIVE: Of course it's too soon for this nonsense with the season not even half over. But some interesting questions surround the Toronto superstar, apart from whether he looks better with a moustache or not. (NOT!) What's meaningful, MVP-wise, is that Matthews continues to grow his game. He's emerged as the Leafs leader both on and off the ice and he's added more physicality to his game. (It hasn't hurt that The Kid from Arizona has overshadowed high-priced sidekicks such as Mitch Marner and Johnny Tavares. (Austen did it again last night despite the Leafs loss.)


THE JIVE: When coaches talk about "detail," they're talking about the "little things that mean a lot." Exhibit A is "communication" and how it can lose a winnable" game. In a game against Ottawa the other night, and the score tied with a dozen seconds left in regulation, goalie Connor Hellebuyck made a save. He then waited for his defenseman Derek Forbort to nab the puck and run out the clock for overtime. Forbort was off to the side awaiting Hellebuyck's pass. No communication meant no pass which then meant Ottawa nabbed the puck and scored. "We weren't on the same page," Explained Forbort. (Then again, Derek could have communicated. Something like, "Connor pass me the puck and we might win the game in OT.")


THE JIVE: A longtime writer for The Toronto Star, Orr also was author of several hockey books and was mentor for several young NHL scribes including Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. In addition to his splendid prose and fearlessness, Orr was beloved for his quick wit and insights as well as his ever-ready desire to get to the bottom of stories that baffled others. The outpouring of grief over Frank's passing is a testimony to the legion of friends and admirers he leaves in the hockey world.


THE JIVE: Every so often a battle between a writer such as the Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons and a high-profile personality like Brian Burke makes for titillating reading. Their long-standing dispute bubbled forth again as fallout following Burke's move to Pittsburgh.

The latest heavyweight round opened with publication of Brian's best-selling book, "Burke's Law," in which Simmons is mentioned four times; none complimentary. Simmons' returned fire in his latest column headlined: WHAT HAS BURKE DONE LATELY? Steve then pointed out that Burke failed running the Leafs, didn't do so hot in Calgary and that -- based on those episodes as Simmons puts it -- Brian going to Pittsburgh "is highly surprising." Then, in a bayonet thrust at some of his press colleagues, Steve concludes, "You won't hear that from his media pals who laugh along with every word he speaks." (I might add that Burke has the perfect squelch: "I don't read the papers!")


* TWO STARS WHOSE GAME IS SLIPPING: 1. Drew Doughty, by a lot: 2. Carey Price by a little.

* TWO REASONS WHY THOMAS GREISS IS HAVING TROUBLES IN DETROIT: 1. The Red Wings defense; 2. Greiss-Is-Nice was accustomed to the Islanders tight-checking style.

* TWO REASONS WHY THE PREDATORS ARE UNDER ,500: 1. Pekka Rinne ain't what he used to be; 2. Ryan Johansen ain't playing up to his pot of gold. (Nor pot of goal!)

* TWO REASONS WHY THE CANES WILL REMAIN AN ELITE TEAM: 1. G.M. Don Waddell obtained the needed "Tough Dude," Cedric Paquette; 2. Waddell is the NHL's MOST underrated g.m. genius.

* TWO REASONS WHY THE RANGERS NEED A BOOST TONIGHT AGAINST NEW JERSEY: 1. Mika Zibanejad. Wake-Up Call, please: 2. Alexis Lafreniere. Score like a No. 1 Overall Draft pick.


YAY TO CAM ATKINSON. The Blue Jackets ace was named NHL Star of the Week. He led the NHL with 3-4-7 including a pair of short-handers.

YAY TO DR. LAURIE HOMMENA. She gets the league's weekly Star for Remarkable Off-ice Achievements. Dr. Hommena is OhioHealth's medical director of provider and associate well-being. Along with her husband Kevin, they managed to figure how to clean and re-use the N95 masks during the Pandemic.

BOO TO CORNY EXPRESSIONS THAT HAVE TO GO: 1. "Looks." I'm tired of hearing players and coaches telling me, "We had some good 'looks' tonight." Looks, shnooks, the word is "Chances." 2. "We gotta stay on 'the right side of the puck.'" Is that like staying on the sunny side of the street? Is the puck actually "two-faced?"


FUNNY QUOTES FROM THE PAST: "AMERICA IS A WONDERFUL PLACE. YOU HAVE FIFTEEN BRANDS OF MAYONNAISE." This from Slava Fetisov's wife, Lada, on her first visit to a New Jersey supermarket.

(TRIVIA ANSWER: Referee Georges Gravel officiated when the comic strip character Dick Tracy had an accomplice named Gravel Gertie. The Gravel part inspired the nickname.)