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Stan's Java Jive: 2/25/21
Khudobin stepping it up; Bolts stay tough to beat; Claude Julien fallout; Boudreau's new venture
HEADLINE: DON'T MESS WITH THE CHAMPS
THE JIVE: You'd think that the defending Cup champion Lightning might ease off with the pedal to the metal; or metal to the pedal -- as Barry Trotz says -- if you will. Nix to that. In smacking down a strong Carolina club, 3-0, last night, even tough reporters such as our Joel Cohen were mesmerized. "What we saw," Cohen asserts, "was a Bolts machine. They mercilessly attack; crush you with speed and physically wear you down." (Ergo: Coach Jon Cooper's club is not called Champs for nothing!)
HEADLINE: THE NEW GOALIE KING -- ANTON KHUDOBIN
THE JIVE: The Stars' puck-stopper was the heroic netminding ace of the playoffs and his heroics continue. He just followed a 49-save performance a couple of nights ago with a 3-0 win over the sizzling Panthers last eve and merely made 43 saves the second time around. Anton's assessment. "I felt good." But here's the toughie for coach Rick Bowness; the Cats and Stars go again tonight. My Florida newsman, Alan Greenberg, wonders, "Dare Rick play Anton again, this evening?" (My answer: He's hot; why not?)
HEADLINE: CLAUDE JULIEN, KIRK MULLER CANNED BY HABS
THE JIVE: Just a couple of days ago, I wrote in this space that Monsieur Julien was in trouble. The water was luke warm then, but it all boiled over with two losses to the lowly Senators. Is it a panic move? For sure. Habs g.m. Marc Bergevin now has to save his job and hope that replacement bench boss Dominique Ducharme can charm the varsity into a playoff berth. Otherwise, the Molson Family, who own the team will be searching for both a new g.m. and a new coach. Ducharme has no experience as a major league mentor but has been around the Canadiens clubhouse -- and has seen enough as a team aide -- to know the score. Then again, knowing the score and getting his stickhandlers to score are two different challenges. (On the other hand, mid-season coach-firings have worked. Check out Craig Berube in St.Lou, Mike Sullivan in Pitt and ditto Dan Bylsma in Pitt.)
SUB-HEADLINE: FACTORS BEHIND THE CANADIENS PANIC MOVE
THE JIVE: Bergevin was given carte blanche to spend big to fortify the Montreal roster. The imports, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson and Jake Allen -- both individually and collectively -- have succeeded. Cost for three, $69.5 million. So have the likes of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi bolstered the varsity. And when you think about it, the Habs record is not so terrible. But the Canadiens public is unique. The I.Q. -- as in Intensity Quotient -- is high and was reflected in a wave of anti-Julien sentiments in the social media. Long ago, when Julien was fired by Devils g.m. Lou Lamoriello just before season's end, the feeling was that Claude had "lost" the room. The hint that Julien also had lost the Montreal room was provided by the respected Shea Weber who opined, "There's a negative energy in the room." Only a genuine insider would know if that had been the case this time around and Weber is that insider. When all is said and done, Bergevin now must show his bosses that the money they gave him has been well-spent. The answer will be affirmative if the Habs make the playoffs and get to the second round. (If not, pick your next general manager and coach.)
SUB-HEADLINE: WHO IS THIS GUY, DOM DUCHARME?
THE JIVE: For starters, he's a household word in the Ducharme household. He's been respected for coaching on the Junior level in the QMHL -- Coach of Year, 2012-13 -- and led the Canadian U-20 team to a Gold in the 2018 World's. He had Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon in Juniors and helped Nat become a star. But Ducharme's playing career hardly was an eye-opener. We'll find out soon enough if his NHL coaching career opens any eyes. Until then Bergevin has hung the label "interim" on the new guy at least for the duration of this season. (Should Dom fail, Bergie will be non-interim, non-g.m.)
HEADLINE: AUSTON MATTHEWS DISPLAYING SWAGGER
THE JIVE: This Arizona Cowboy pots goals the way the Maple Leafs vault bank’s money. Sometimes he makes red-light illumination look too easy. For that, Matty gets paid well and as long as he wears that Clark Gable moustache, let him swagger like Joe Piro, The Mambo King. Did Babe Ruth display swagger? Sure. Matthews is a scoring machine like The Sultan of Swat was a one-man home run factory. Swagger became The Babe and swagger becomes The Auston. (He's so good. the moustache doesn't matter. What does matter is that he's playing despite an injury.)
MY GRANDSON'S VOICE: Carrying on the Fischler tradition of critiquing The Game, my 15-year-old grandson, Ariel, offers this thought about Patrick Laine: "He's looking sharper than ever with the Blue Jackets. You can see that under John Tortorella, he's learning how to play a team game. His two goals against Chicago on Tuesday night provide a barometer in terms of the way he's improved."
HEADLINE: THE LIMITS OF HOCKEY JUSTICE
THE JIVE: It's quite possible that a controversial War Room review in the closing seconds of the Canadiens-Senators game on Wednesday night inadvertently greased the skids for Claude Julien's exit. The issue became major when the Habs Brendan Gallagher scored what seemed at first to be a legit goal; and the apparent game-winner. But an intense War Room inspection resulted in a "Goalie Interference" call and the goal was disallowed. The point here is that the difference between right and wrong in this case was so infinite that the play had to be examined many times to get what Bettman, Inc. aspires to -- "the right call."
Meanwhile, Gallagher beefed about officiating "inconsistency." Funny, but I've heard that song before; for a half-century. The Bottom Line is that -- say what you will -- the league continues attempting ways and means of getting the right call. The War Room decided that there was goalie interference. Gallagher counters that the call was inconsistent with videos presented to players at the start of the season. (Bottom Line: Ask 100 people about that play; 50 will tell you goalie interference and the other half will vote for Gallagher. Ergo: That's hockey!)
HEADLINE: TWO BOUDREAUS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
THE JIVE: If there's one Boudreau as indefatigable as Cousin Brucie, it's his Better-Half, Crystal Boudreau. On the one hand, the former NHL coach-from-everywhere is actively lobbying for the Seattle Kraken head coaching gig. On the other hand, The Funny Man is helping Frau Crystal put a Junior team in Hershey, Pennsylvania, one of the best hockey towns in the universe. The Boudreaus already have named it the Hershey Cubs and have placed their baby franchise in the USPHL League. A former AHL Hershey Bears coach, Cousin Brucie knows all about the area and its needs. "The Cubs are about filling a void," he says, "and giving back to the community. Hershey has a history of minor league hockey as well as college and pro. The only thing missing is Junior hockey. In the past. good local kids had to go away to play. Now they'll be able to be close to home and play." (Question: If Bruce gets the Seattle gig, who's gonna mind the Hershey Cubs store?)
* MY BAD: I picked Rangers over Philly last night based on Flyers having four key guys out. What I should have figured on was Claude Giroux's return. His three assists keyed the 4-3 win. Blueshirts coach David Quinn on Artemi Panarin's absence: "I'm very, very confident he'll be cleared and soon return." (That's just what the R's need.)
* WHERE'S JOHN TAVARES? The Pajama Boy continues slumping while his mates are laughing all the way to the Win Bank. Who needs the captain when even William Nylander can lead the Leafs to a 2-1 OT win over Calgary. Or as the sage Craig Button opines "It's about time Nylander became timely." (Forget Johnny Pajamas, Toronto is 15-4-2.)
* TRADE WATCH ON IN COLORADO: With no competent back-up, Phiery Philipp Grubauer is carrying the Avs (1.78, .932) but for how long? G.m. Joe Sakic must be scanning the Used Goalie Lot for Grubauer relief. All the Av's have in their corral are the Not-Too-Dependables, Hunter Miska and Adam Werner. (Jimmy Howard: Wanna come out of retirement for some chump change?)
*FUTURE PLAYER WATCH: The bird dogs are on the trail of Russian ace Damir Shafyarov. He's with the KHL's Torpedo Nizhny Novogrod sextet. Several NHL clubs are checking him out; looking for a new Ovechkin.
TRIVIA QUESTION; In the late 1940s and early 1950s, only one NHL player wore a helmet. Who was that player and why did he wear a head piece? (Answer below.)
GREAT QUOTE FROM YESTERYEAR:
During the 1954-55 season the Rangers suffered through their fifth straight year without making the playoffs.
During the fifth dismal campaign a reporter from Life magazine was interviewing Blueshirts goalie, Lorne (Gump) Worsley and asked Gump,"Which NHL team gives you the most trouble?" To that query, Gump shot back, "THE RANGERS!"
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION: Boston Bruins defenseman John (Jack) Crawford wore a helmet, not for protection but rather because he was totally bald and preferred hiding his hair-less pate.