Stan's Java Jive: 2/17/21
How NHL Clubs fair on the heels of postponements; Isles hot again; Which woman played for the New York Rangers, Rovers, Knicks and the Brooklyn Dodgers?
HEADLINE: CANUCKS HAVE CHANCE TO ENDORSE THEIR OWNER'S SUPPORT:
THE JIVE: Few games this season are likely to be more important for Vancouver than tonight's test against the Calgary Flames. It's not merely a chance to lift themselves back into the playoff race but also has to do with franchise owner Francesco Aquilini. On the day when Travis Green's sextet hit rock bottom in their recent slump, Aquilini stepped up to the plate. He gave both his coach and general manager, Jim Benning, a rousing vote of confidence. "I have full confidence in them," Aquilini assured the media. "I have no plans to make changes." The Canucks then went out and broke the losing streak with a meaningful win. But it was only one W. On Monday night Vancouver's Brock Boeser's short-hander with only 31 seconds left in the third period, tied the game with Calgary although the B.C. Boys proceeded to lose it in O.T. on Johnny Gaudreau's one-timer. "Boeser's goal got us a big point," says Green. "The way things were going it gave us a boost." Which is why tonight's encounter is so vital. Aquilini did his bit and now the Canucks must move upward. The problem for Travis is that he doesn't have Jacob Markstrom in goal anymore; Calgary does. The hope was -- and still is -- that Braden Holtby can regain the form that helped Washington win its Stanley Cup. Holtby figures to go tonight but Thatcher Demko, the pride of San Diego, still may get the nod again in what amounts to a four-pointer for Aquilini's club. "We're trending in the right direction," says Green, "and that goes for (Elias) Pettersson. We need him to play up to his great ability." (My two-cents worth: Quinn Hughes has to step up. Been disappointing lately.)
HEADLINE: NEW CHALLENGE FOR TRAINERS -- KEEPING 'POSTPONED' TEAMS SHARP:
THE JIVE: The new NHL reality as the league bobs and weaves its way through the Pandemic is a word rarely seen in otherwise normal seasons --Postponed. Teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils -- among others -- know it well. On Monday the Sabres returned to action against the Islanders and lost 3-1. Which begs the question; Were the Western New Yorkers fresh or rusty or both? The Buffalo Boys returned to action last night against the Isles and this time got blanked 3-0. It was rookie stopper Ilya Sorokin's first win. Meanwhile at Madison Square Garden two teams who know all about the word postpone -- the Rangers and Devils -- clashed. The Garden Saters had been inactive for a longer stretch -- a 15-day pause -- and wound up beating the Rangers, 5-2. Devs goalie Mackenzie Blackwood allowed that he was worried about being able to maintain intensity yet he was Jersey's star. "He made great saves when we needed them," said coach Lindy Ruff. The point here is that training staffs -- that means the whole kit-and-kaboodle, from nutritionists on out -- have to adapt to this new norm with innovative techniques. (Bottom Line: How well a team rebounds from a postponement could mean the difference between a playoff berth and finishing out of the money. Exhibit A: The Sabres.)
HEADLINE: THE SEMI-ANONYMOUS EHLERS KEEPS JETS JUMPING.
THE JIVE: When the Oilers host Winnipeg tonight all eyes will be on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. So what else is new? I'll tell you what: Oilers coach Dave Tippett will ensure that his checkers have their eyes on Jets left wing Nikolaj Ehlers who's best known in The Peg but is just about Mr. Anonymous elsewhere in the NHL. But not for long. The pride of Aalborg, Denmark has played 15 games and already is averaging over a point a game. (10-7-17). That said he's leading his club with a plus-11. In the just-out Hockey News, writer Sam McCaig lists Ehlers as the league's third best left wing, right after Brad Marchand and James van Riemsdyk. That means he's ahead of such high profile guys as Artemi Panarin and Alex Ovechkin. (Interestingly, Nik is listed as Peg's second left wing after Kyle Connor.)
HEADLINE: ISLANDERS ARE SUDDENLY HOT
THE JIVE: A five-game winless streak had caused some concern in Uniondale a while back but now it seems long ago. Coach Barry Trotz has his club playing a balanced four-line game which was evident following the two-game sweep of Buffalo, concluded last night. Now at 8-4-3, the Nassaumen move on to Pittsburgh for a two game set with the New Leadership Penguins (7-6-1) who were topped by the Caps last night, 3-1, in Pitt. Ilya Sorokin's sparkling, 3-0, performance in goal last night had my goaltending gurus, Simon Fischler and Noam Kogen, both agreeing that the Russian rookie is "The real deal." If so, Trotz has a pair of solid netminders and the "chore" of deciding which to play on what night. Adding to the pluses, is the stepped up play of Jean-Gabriel Pageau who produced his fifth goal in four games and the quote-of-the-night: "I'm trying to be a pain-in-the-ass to play against." He sure was to the Sabres. Pageau also had an assist over 19:25 of ice time; not to mention his face-off excellence which had his club winning 52% in Buffalo. That said, the two-game set in Pitt starting tomorrow night will be a further test for the Trotz troupe. (I wonder who Barry will start in goal. Me? I'd stick with Sorokin.)
HEADLINE: A MARC-ANDRE TRADE RUMOR GONE WILD
THE JIVE: Somewhere on Le Rue de Rumeur somebody came up with the nutsy idea that the superior Vegas Knight goaltender is available in a trade. This when the very likeable Golden French-Canadian, Fleury, clearly has been the better Knights goalie than the supposed No. 1, Robin Lehner. Face it, Vegas has a formidable tandem in goal; arguably the NHL's best; but it is that way because of Fleury. When rumors emerge, I look to the ever-dependable Elliotte Friedman for guidance. His sage observation is a big NIX to the trade reports. "Fleury is on fire," writes Friedman. "He's rejuvenated. In a year when some teams can't make it work with four goalies, Fleury is as motivated to be the best as ever." (And is in mint condition.)
* WHAT'S WITH THE PREDATORS? Under coach John Hynes, g.m. David Poile has his club in a reboot and the Preds ain't what they used to be. One theory is that Poile may have his club as sellers before the Trade Deadline.
* SPEAKING OF TRADES: The Canucks will listen to offers for right wing Jake Virtanen. Meanwhile, nothing doing yet with the abolished Rangers D-man, Tony DeAngelo.
* SPEAKING OF THE RANGERS: After last night's 5-2 loss to New Jersey, the Blueshirts have slipped to a 4-7-3 record. They're hurting because Mika Zibanejad -- 41 goals last year -- remains mired in a slump while top Draft pick, Alexis Lafreniere, struck out again, this time vs. NJ. Ditto Chris Kreider. Coach David Quinn has work to do.
* SABRES CONCERN: The hope in Buffalo was that the Sabres sabbatical would return them fresh and ready to surge. A pair of losses to the Isles leaves us wondering what's with Taylor Hall; again inconspicuous and how is all this affecting captain Jack Eichel who always seems to be the best Sabre? The new blood has not helped very much.
* CLEMMER A KEY DEVIL AGAIN: One of my favorite back-up goalies, Scott Clemmensen, has been named the Devs' "Director of Goaltending Development." Scott will work with Hall of Famer Marty Brodeur, the deservedly many-titled Devil.
* TOUGH QUESTION DEPARTMENT: After Carolina spanked Columbus, 7-3, my man in Raleigh, Joel Cohen, asked me: "Are the Blue Jackets that bad or are the Canes that good?” My answer: The Canes are that good. (And if you don't believe me, ask Rod Brind'Amour! More on this tomorrow from Joel.)
* HERESY DEPARTMENT: Forget the arithmetic, given a choice, I'd take Jaroslav Halak over Tuukka Rask any night of the week. And weekends as well.
* WHO'S FUNNIER? Forget how well his Habs are playing, one reason why I root for Les Canadiens is because of Marc Bergevin. He's the funniest g.m. in the league. Coolest, too.
* SMALL BOOK EXCERPT: There are plenty of reasons to buy Brian Burke's new book, "Burke's Law" but you'll get your moneysworth on Pages 79 and 80 when you read about Pat Quinn and referee Don Koharski. The episode reads like fiction but is, in fact, fact.
YAY TO LINDY RUFF: The Devils coach came up with his 741st NHL win last night in New York. He's now tied with Winnipeg's Paul Maurice at seventh on the league's all-time win list for coaches.
TRIVIA CORNER: She was a hockey person and the subject of this trivia question: "Who played for the New York Rangers, the New York Rovers, the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Dodgers?" (Answer Below)
GRAND QUOTES OF YESTERYEAR:
"AS A COACH I HAD A NAGGING HEADACHE. AS A G.M. I HAVE A MIGRAINE! Harry Neale.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Both Madison Square Garden tenants, the Rangers and Rovers, launched the career of Gladys (Two D's) Goodding as team organist.
Next came MSG's Knicks and baseball's Dodgers. She was as familiar at MSG hockey games as the players themselves; from the start of the 1940s until 1968.