Stan's Java Jive: 2/22/21
Mike Bossy explains the high scoring; Henrique on Waivers; Julien on the hot seat?; Hischier named Devil's captain
HEADLINE: WHICH REALLY IS THE BEST NHL TEAM?
THE JIVE: Heads are spinning in Toronto. And for good reason. Fred Andersen is hurt; Michael Hutchinson -- Fred's replacement -- is not Vezina material and, miracle of miracles, The Goal Machine, Auston Matthews, actually broke down for one night. And, defeated by -- of all people -- Calgary's Dave Rittich, also not Vezina material. Egad; the Leafs lose 3-0 to those cads from Calgary. But Dauntless Dave produced 34 saves and the Maple Leafs got zilch. But to answer the question, for today, at least, there's only one best NHL team and it has to be the defending champions. For any team these days, it's a Herculean task beating the conquering Canes but the Bolts did it 4-2 last night and that's good enough for me. (Although it might not be good enough for residents of Sunrise. Ergo: See next item.)
HEADLINE: THERE'S A GOALTENDING UPRISING IN FLORIDA -- AND BOB IS LOSING THE BATTLE
THE JIVE: Panthers g.m. Bill Zito upgraded his team's defense in the off-season for a reason. He wanted to show that last season -- the worst for Sergei Bobrovsky as a starter -- would not repeat. But it has and that's the bad news. The good news is that former AHLer Chris Driedger has come through royally in goal for Florida and won again last night, 3-1, against Dallas. Over the past nine games, the Delightful Driedger is 7-1-1 with a ,929 average and has started four of the Cats last five games. My man in Sunrise, Alan Greenberg puts it bluntly: "Bob will remain the back-up until he strings together a group of good performances." (Worth noting: Florida is 5-0-0 after a loss.)
HEADLINE: 'IS CLAUDE JULIEN IN DANGER IN MONTREAL?'
THE JIVE: I put the header in quotes because it's not my line but rather it belongs to Ken Campbell, lead columnist for The Hockey News. Pal Ken sees things clearly and sees them whole when it comes to the NHL. As he points out, "There's little to suggest that the Habs' coach is in imminent peril but that could change." And the reason that it could change is that Claude's core is not playing like the club that opened the season with a 7-1-2 start. Far from it. What's more the social media as a whole is not favoring Claude. Or, as Campbell asserts, "....would like to see him do something else." Slump or not, any coaching change will be made by my other Canadiens buddy, Marc Bergevin, who's a commendably patient boss. But the reality lies in Campbell's conclusion: "If the Canadiens become a declining asset some responsibility falls on Julien." (True and let's not forget that when Claude coached the Devils, Lou Lamoriello axed him with precious few games in the season.The reason it happened in Jersey could be the one that could happen in Montreal; Julien lost the players.)
HEADLINE: NOT A JOKE; ADAM HENRIQUE PLACED ON WAIVERS
THE JIVE: Last season the former Devils hero had a team-leading 26 goals for Anaheim. And 43 points, putting him ahead of captain Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell. Hard to believe, isn't it? So now g.m. Bob Murray has to find a trading partner. With Rangers center Mika Zibanejad in what could be a season long slump, Seventh Avenue could be Adam's next destination. (Adam's Big Apple! Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.) Then again, the Sabres and Red Wings also are reportedly possibilities. (If this proves anything it's that last season's arithmetic gets an "F" grade when it comes to the now.)
HEADLINE: THE STARS ARE NOT ALIGNED FOR DALLAS
THE JIVE: Personally, I feel sorry for my old pal Rick Bowness and his band of Stars. They reached the Cup Final last season and had every reason to believe they'd be a strong contender this time around. But the Pandemic and the NHL's revised schedule put a temporary crimp in their plans followed by the disastrous Texas ice storm. That forced Rick's Redoubtables into an eight-day layoff and that means that seven more games have to be worked into an already compressed schedule. The Stars 3-1 loss to Florida last night stung most of all because Dallas' goalie Anton Khudobin played a terrific game, facing 51 shots including a Cats record 29 shots in the middle period alone. At game's end, the exhausted Stars goalie had the quote of all goalie quotes, "It was a little bit tiring." (Bowness went one better with his sad squelch: "We wasted a great goaltending performance.")
HEADLINE: WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE SABRES?
THE JIVE: The author George Orwell had a classic line in his book, "Animal Farm" and it went like this: All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. I use this as reference to this evening's match in Newark where Buffalo faces the Devils. This game is much more important than it may seem, especially for the Sabres who lost 3-2 last night to the Islanders. My son, Simon, viewed the game and offers some cogent comments about key Buffalo skaters. He singles out both goalie Linus Ullmark and right wing Sam Reinhart as "looking good" while D-man Rasmus Dahlin "looked good but only on the power play." But Simon's most telling views relate to Buffalo's key core-men, captain Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall. "Neither of them were impressive." G.m. Kevyn Adams has to wonder why the most important players can underperform when the Sabres are a disappointing 5-8-2. Which helps explain why tonight's match could be a barometer of things to come. New Jersey has lost two straight and now has a 6-5-2 record. The Devs need this one as much as their visitors. (Guaranteed, Hall is a goner. But will it be sooner than later?)
HEADLINE: MIKE BOSSY EXPLAINS THE HIGH SCORING:
THE JIVE: Few players since the invention of the hockey puck have displayed the insights revealed by Hall of Famer Mike Bossy. Confronted about the inflationary scoring displayed by Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, Bossy explained to Larry Brooks of the New York Post why we are witnessing super-surplus-scoring. "You don't see crosschecking that we faced. You don't see hooking and holding around the net and there's not much hitting around the net nor in front of the net. There's a lot of room out there that's not talked about." (Guess what: As usual Michael is right!)
HEADLINE: JOE THORNTON THRIVES ON TORONTO'S FIRST-LINE
THE JIVE: For starters let's all agree that Kyle Dubas executed a brilliant move signing Jumbo Joe. He still has the knack and lining up beside two of the sharpest shooters since Annie Oakley has now given Joe The KNACK. (Ergo: Since Jumbo has the goods, his linemates have enhanced his effectiveness by 25 percent since he left the Left Coast.)
HEADLINE: NICO HISCHIER NAMED DEVILS CAPTAIN
THE JIVE: One of the most fascinating aspects of the contemporary hockey scene has been the many Swiss players who've graced the NHL yet with minimal fanfare. This comes to mind now that Hischier has been given the Devils' "C." New Jersey's top pick overall in 2017, the native of Brig, Switzerland has been an exemplary leader. "He's just a very mature young man with a great family," says Devils g.m. Tom Fitzgerald. "Nico is a down to earth good person who has good, strong values." As for the new captain, "In the room I want to be a good guy," says Nico, "and a guy who helps the team win every night; not just every few games." (By the way, speaking of Swiss, the big guy from Chur, Switzerland, Nino Niederreiter, isn't doing the Canes any harm.)
IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING BLACK HISTORY MONTH -- AND THE FORGOTTEN ALTON WHITE:
Former Islanders p.r. ace Greg Bouris points out that a very important black hockey player from yesteryear has been overlooked by historians and it's time to honor him. The player in question is Alton White who starred in the World Hockey Association playing in the WHA's inaugural season with the New York Raiders and later the Los Angeles Sharks. "White was the first black hockey player to score twenty goals-plus and a hat trick in a major pro (WHA) league when he was with the Sharks," Bouris asserts. "And this at a time when superstars such as Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers and others were playing in the WHA. Alton was a good player who doesn't get the recognition he deserves." (I back up Greg. I saw White in action and he was every bit as good as Bouris says. It would be worthwhile if a move is made to provide the attention that White's efforts deserve.)
FIFTEEN-SECOND COMMENT ABOUT AUSTEN MATTHEWS:
Can you believe that the best player on the Maple Leafs is not from Toronto, Ontario, not from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, not from Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, nor Flin Flon, Manitoba. He's from Arizona. Repeat, HE'S FROM ARIZONA, for crying out loud.
POTENT PUTDOWN DEPARTMENT: Ex-NHLer Matthew Barnaby after watching Senators goalie Matt Murray having a particularly bad game. "He must be good at dodgeball!"
* RE TONY DE ANGELO: It's looking more and more like the controversial Ranger -- but they don't want him -- defenseman will be bought out at the end of the season.
* RE JOE THORNTON: There's got to be some use for Jumbo's surplus facial hair. Perhaps carpeting for the Leafs players' lounge.
* RE GEOFF WARD: Last night's win over Toronto could be a job-saver.
* RE JONATHAN TOEWS: Come out, come out, wherever you are.
* RE: TIM STUTZLE: "With the talent he has," says Sens coach D.J Smith, "the sky's the limit."
* RE: MIKE BABCOCK: Being head coach at the University of Saskatchewan might prove that Babs can go home again.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY -- HOW TO STOP MATTHEWS AND MCDAVID; Granted that Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid are extraordinary talents. But they are stoppable. Current opposing coaches -- if they haven't done it already -- should check the video clips of Claude Provost. Were there such a title, he'd be listed as "World's Best Checking Forward." A nine-time Stanley Cup-winner with the Canadiens, Provost shadowed the top superstars -- ask Bobby Hull! -- and did it cleanly and efficiently; better than anyone. Claude was The Shadow's Shadow and you can't tell me that foes of the Maple Leafs and Oilers are unable to create a Provost of their own.
POSTSCRIPT ON CONNOR AND AUSTON: "Those two guys are making the league look like they're playing Bantam." (Thank you, Ray Ferraro.)
TRIVIA QUIZ: AMERICA'S 1960 OLYMPIC GOALTENDING HERO, JACK MCCARTEN, WAS SUCKER-PUNCHED DURING THE 1960-61 SEASON BY A NOTORIOUS ENFORCER. THE PUNCH ALTERED MCARTAN'S CAREER FOR THE WORSE. WHO WAS THAT MAN?
GREAT COMMENT FROM YESTERYEAR: AL ARBOUR ON THE ISLANDERS WINNING A GAME, 8-7:
"I looked at the tapes and it was like reading a Sunday morning comic strip."
TRIVIA ANSWER: McCartan was sucker-punched by Reg Fleming at Madison Square Garden during a Blackhawks-Rangers game. Jack never was the same after that and his NHL career soon ended. "The punch was so hard," said McCartan, "I had all I could do to stay on my feet. I saw stars." Fleming's explanation: "I remembered when McCartan had hit me with his stick. So, I jammed him one in the face!"