Stan's Java Jive: 2/24/21
Henrik Lundqvist working his way back; Kings continue to surprise; Red Wings taking steps in the right direction
HEADLINE: HENRIK LUNDQVIST ON ICE, COULD PLAY THIS SEASON
THE JIVE: Never underestimate the comeback-ability of this amazing athlete. His open heart surgery was successful and now he's back on the ice working out at a private rink in Alpine, New Jersey, driving back and forth to his Manhattan digs.
He's taking breakaway shots and, from what I saw, looks in mint condition. "Today was fun," Hank allowed with his customary joie de vivre. "It's great to be back at the rink. I love it." You watch; a week of workouts with this guy's love of The Game being what it is, I predict he'll be ready for action -- assuming all exams give him the green light -- with the Capitals sooner than anyone thought possible.
The King would not be on the ice now if he didn't think he could play this season. (Bottom Line: Time will tell. Meanwhile, we're all rooting for this good guy.)
HEADLINE: KINGS BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SEASON
THE JIVE: Nobody -- but nobody -- figured Los Angeles for having a contender this year. The Hockey News picked g.m. Rob Blake's sextet to finish 29th in the overall standings. Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty figured to be over-the-hill-non-factors But look at them now. They've posted four straight wins, are fifth in the West but moving upward with speed. How about that old-timer, Dustin Brown. A year ago he had 17 goals in 66 games and now he's lit ten red lights in only 17 matches. "No question," says my roving reporter Coby Maeir, "Todd MacLellan is coaching the biggest surprise team in the league." Want more; rookie goalie Cal Peterson -- from Waterloo, Iowa, of all places -- has a .926 save percentage, alternating with Quick. Jon's mark is .903. Left wing Alex Iafalo -- he's from Eden, New York, if you can believe that -- and center Gabe Vilardi are positive contributors to the club's new found emphasis on pace. Smart move by Blake unloading the dead-wood aging vets and stockpiling draft picks. The "ancient" aces -- Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty -- still have the goods and that's why L.A. is A-OK! (The hope is that top draftee Quinton Byfield lives up to his glowing notices.)
HEADLINE: EVGENI MALKIN GETS A MEDIA MAULING
THE JIVE: The other half of Crosby, Inc.'s one-two punch has a contract valued at $9.5 million which expires at the end of the 2021-22 season. Based on the quality of Ev's game, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Mark Madden is taking a dim view of the Russian in no uncertain terms. For starters, Madden finds Malkin's game maddening. "He shows little interest," Mark notes. "He's a defensive liability and he's dragging down his wings no matter who they are." Fair enough. What matters now is what the new Penguins high command -- Brian Burke-Ron Hextall -- think of the big guy, who has been a pillar of strength over the past decade. If no-nonsense Burke agrees with Madden, you can bet that Brian will do his best to catapult Ev as far from Pennsylvania as possible. Then, again who would want a fading star? Perhaps some sentimental Pitt fans want Malkin to finish his career where it began. Nix to that, writes Madden. "Allowing him to finish his career as a Penguin can't be a concern," Madden concludes. (Of course if Ev happens to score a bushel of goals in the next month, it can be a concern. "He isn't in a bad patch, Malkin is just bad." Madden writes. (Ah, but Malkin had the last laugh. He scored a biggie last night and his Pens went on to victory. Could be Ev's start of a strong second half!)
HEADLINE: PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS IS FINDING HIS GAME
THE JIVE: That's good news for one of my favorite general managers, the eminent Kevin Cheveldayoff. I didn't expect Dubois to do an Austen Matthews imitation when he reached The Peg. He needed time to acclimatize himself and that has been the case. It's ancient history now but the Jets were enjoying their best stretch of last season with wins in eight of their past dozen games before the shutdown came. Now that Dubois is working alongside Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor -- not to mention my favorite Jet, Nikolaj Ehlers -- this club could make trouble from here to the finish. (Another Connor Hellebuyck Vezina year wouldn't hurt either!)
HEADLINE: BETTMAN BULLISH ABOUT KRAKEN
THE JIVE: The Commish is on target when he predicts that Washington State's first major league team since the days of World War I, already has inspired optimism in the Great Northwest. Add to that an Expansion Draft like the one that turned Vegas into an instant threat and you have just a couple of reasons why Seattle should have a hit right off the bat. Meanwhile the Kraken move forward, adding experienced personnel to its staff. The latest to jump on board is former Sabres g.m. Jason Botterill. One who isn't on board but sure would like to impart his genius to the new club is everybody's favorite coach, Bruce Boudreau. As a longtime BB-fan, I'd love to see boss Ron Francis give Cousin Brucie first dibs on the gig.
HEADLINE: CLASH OF THE NON-TITANS
THE JIVE: Okay, okay, it's just me. But when a couple of downtrodden teams like the Preds and Wings meet -- as they did last night -- I'm fascinated about the outcome. David Poile's Preds hold the Underachiever award so far while the Detroiters are simply trying to achieve. Call it the
Non-Irresistible Force against the Moveable Object. All the Wings wanted was to add to their two game winning streak. All the Preds wanted was some goals. They got two, Detroit got zilch and there you have it.
TRIVIA CORNER: Which was the first NHL team to miss becoming a "dynasty" by winning two straight Stanley Cups but failing miserably on the third try? (Answer below.)
1. Vet hockey guy, Sandy MacDonald, on Shea Weber's fire power: "He shot one last night against Ottawa that was such a hard one I could have sworn Boom Boom Geoffrion was at the point not Weber."
2. Pity the Stars. My ace columnist Alan Greenberg points out that, "With all the cancellations and re-scheduling, Dallas will have only one instance of two-straight non-game days."
3. Don't look now but both Buffalo and Ottawa are shaping up their acts. Matt Murray finally came up big, shutting out the Habs Shootout attempts giving the Sens -- 5-4 win -- a two-game sweep of the Habs. Josh Norris got the winner.
4. Quote of the Week: This from Mike Babcock: "I knew that when Lou Lamoriello left the Leafs, I was getting fired!"
5. Most Underrated Hart Trophy candidate: Patrick Kane. The Redhead did it again last night with a four-pointer as his Hawks beat Torts' Blue Jackets, 6-5 in a Shootout.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: If there's a better insider than Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, I'd like to know who it is. In the meantime here's some insightful stuff from E.F. on why Adam Henrique and Paul Byron were put on waivers. "1. Teams are not interested in taking on money; 2. This summer will not be a bonanza. Don't bet on a free agent windfall."
WORTH WATCHING TONIGHT AND WHY: The Rangers are at Philly and it's the Blueshirts first game since New York's ace, Artemi Panarin, was given a leave of absence by his club. Meanwhile, the Flyers (8-4-3) have been loping along with a ton of guys out and will be trying to get on track.
The Rangers (6-7-3) have been showing signs of a revival. (I pick the Blueshirts tonight.)
ABOUT PEOPLE AND THINGS:
* JEFF SKINNER: Here's a guy who scored 40 goals in 2018-19. Nowadays Jeff's idea of the back of the net seems to be somewhere behind the Statue of Liberty. And this fellow was handed an eight-year $72 million contract by the Sabres in 2019. At last look he had one point in 14 Buffalo games. Makes you wonder, doesn't it!
* MARC-ANDRE FLEURY: Well, it's happened; the supposedly-washed up puck-stopper is tied for the league lead with three shutouts. More to the point, this old guy now is a better goalie than his sidekick who was supposed to be No. 1, Robin Lehner. And you don't need an abacus to figure that out either.
* JEFF BLASHILL: The embattled Red Wings coach has to be smiling. His boss, Steve Yzerman, says he's seeing "a lot of positives" in the Motor City sextet. Stevie Y adds, "We're taking steps in the right direction." Good for Y and good for Jeff.
* DUSTIN BROWN: The warrior's warrior, Brownie is only the second player in NHL history to score at least one goal in each of his 1,000, 1,100 and 1,200 regular season games. Hot stuff, no? YES!ll
* JAKE MCCABE: There are only two words for this poor guy, Oy Vay! Playing against the Devils on Feb. 20 he suffered multiple right knee injuries -- to his ACL, MCL and meniscus. His recovery period is listed by the Sabres as from six to eight months.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Managed and coached by Jack (Jolly Jawn) Adams, the Red Wings sipped champagne in 1936 and the following spring. On the club's try for a trifecta, they failed to even make the playoffs.
Adams was man enough to take the blame. "I stood pat," he explained, "instead of making trades. I'll never do that again." (P.S. He didn't and became the Trader Jack of the NHL. Later copied by Phil Esposito.)
FUNNY QUOTES FROM YESTERYEAR; "IT'S A CHANCE FOR A SHY PERSON TO BE ONSTAGE!"
-Glenn (Chico) Resch on goaltending.
(P.S. Thanks to Glenn Liebman's "Hockey Shorts.")