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Stan's Java Jive: 3/3/21
Oilers looking for payback versus the Leafs tonight; What's behind the Leafs surge?; Winterhawks produce another, and Jack Eichel trade talk cant be ignored
HEADLINE: MCDAVID'S AND DRAISAITL'S CLUTCH-ABILITY ON THE LINE TONIGHT:
THE JIVE: Yeah, yeah, we've heard all the wonderful things about Edmonton's Gold Dust Twins. Except that they've missed the playoffs for four out of five years. And in their last two games, guess what? They couldn't manage a single goal against Toronto's pair of back-up goalies. Plus the Leafs didn't even have scoring machine Auston Matthews in the lineup. Not one goal! Good trick; good luck! Okay, Connor and Leon, you get another shot at erasing the embarrassment tonight; at home against Toronto once again. Make no mistake, your respective reputations for clutch-ability are on the line because the entire hockey world wants to see if you really have the goods when it counts against a good team. (And you won't even have to face the Maples top goalie, Fred Andersen, still hors de combat. Matthews may return which means more Oy Vay in Oil Town.)
HEADLINES: NICE NEWS OUT OF DETROIT;
THE JIVE: The very perceptive Helene St. James, who covers the Red Wings for the Detroit Free Press mentions a couple of Jeff Blashill's skaters who've recently impressed her. They include Evgeny Svechnikov and Filip Zadina. Phiery Fil gets Helene's nod for his solid compete level and extra work ethic; two commendable virtues. Meanwhile, Evgeny -- he's had a surplus of tough issues -- has seen his game come around lately. Hopefully, he'll be in the lineup on Thursday night when his starry brother, Andrei, and the Canes provide the opposition
HEADLINE: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MAPLE LEAFS SURGE
THE JIVE: No doubt you've had your fill of Toronto analysis and analysts surgically dissecting the pair of shutout victories over Edmonton. Well, our own, intrepid, super X-Ray reporter, Gus Vic, goes one better than those sages north of the border. "What differentiates this Leafs team," Vic explains, "is how responsible the players are, performing without the puck. Rarely are they caught on odd-man rushes against. A third forward is always back and there's a commitment to getting in passing and shooting lanes. On top of that Joe Thornton has been a breath of fresh air even at age 41." (Meanwhile Mitch Marner and William Nylander have carried the offense without Auston Matthews.)
HEADLINE: WHO'S THE UNSUNG HERO BEHIND TORONTO'S TRIUMPHS?
THE JIVE: Our man, Gus Vic, has this answer for the one as well. "It's none other than coach Sheldon Keefe, Vic correctly opines. "He's finally a Leafs coach who's brought structure to the team. You can see that everybody's on board. They play the 200-foot game with confidence that has not been seen since the early 1990's. That said, the acid test for Keefe and the rest of that bunch won't come until they win two rounds of playoffs and move outside the North in the semi-finals!"
HEADLINE: THE CLOCK TICKING ON RALPH KRUEGER IN BUFFALO.
THE JIVE: If the Sabres coach survives this week, it only will prove that he has a PH.D in Job-Saving. The evidence is all there for g.m. Kevyn Adams to pull the chute on his belabored coach. But, as Buffalo News columnist Mike Harrington points out, Adams is nowhere to be found. Well, sooner or later something must be done to resurrect what once was a model franchise. Surely Adams -- if, somehow, he can retain his job -- must be scanning the Used Coach Lot for replacement possibilities. The most obvious choice is my old pal Claude Julien who could turn Taylor Hall into the scorer he once was and at least get a goal a month out of the wreck that Jeff Skinner has become. Then, again, perhaps owners Terry and Kim Pegula are fed up enough to produce another mass house cleaning. The Sabres have turned "Enough is enough!" into the City's mantra. (Last night's 3-2 loss to the Rangers could be viewed as a "moral victory." At least the Sabres scored!)
HEADLINE: TORTS GETS 'VOTE OF CONFIDENCE'
THE JIVE: As predicted here yesterday, Blue Jackets g.m. Jarmo Kekalainen produced Ye Olde Vote of Confidence for his embattled coach John (I've Heard This Song Before) Tortorella. Almost immediately, Torts shot back that he hates Ye Olde V.O.C. and who can blame him? Well some media types are wondering whether the time has come to put the blame on Torts. The sage Ray Ferraro on one talk show said -- as many of us feel -- that he's a "fan of Torts." but added that "maybe it's just enough" of John. The word out of Columbus is that "everybody's worn out." So, let's say that Jarmo does give John the pink slip. Who'll fill the void? Chances are that Kekalainen won't spend big dough and bring in a Mike Babcock.
Best bet, if a change is to be made it would be Torts' very able aide, Brad Shaw. (You have to admit every Torts Soap Opera is as good as the last one; especially after the 4-2 win over Detroit last night.)
PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS KEEP PRODUCING
THE JIVE: Under the baton of g.m.-coach Mike Johnston, the Western (Major Junior) Hockey League's Oregon sextet continues to produce pro stars. Exhibit A in the NHL is Seth Jones of Columbus who regularly is a Norris Trophy candidate. A more recent grad, right wing Seth Jarvis was leading the AHL in scoring this week. Jarvis may be an undersized winger but he oozes skill and has a cagey style about him. The kid always plays with intensity and pace. Jarvis nonetheless will return to the Hawks camp on Friday. Ditto for two more NHLers, Reece Newkirk and Jaydon Dureau. Another Portland alum, defenseman Johnny Ludwig, scored his first pro goal the other night giving the Syracuse Crunch a 4-3 win over Rochester. (I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Winterhawks are the best-run Junior team I've ever seen. The franchise operates at an NHL level.)
HEADLINE: ARE THE OILERS AS BAD AS THEY LOOKED VS. LEAFS?
THE JIVE: It's easy to dump on Edmonton after the McDavid-Draosaitl combine played with "BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED" under the jerseys. And, yes, the pair deserve to be ripped; But beyond McD&D there has been an improvement in the Oilers defensive game. Our Gus Vic commends Darnell Nurse who he rates now as a "Top Pair Defenseman." But Vic then flashes a significant S.O.S. To wit: "The Oilers are so short on secondary scoring that it's hard to see them as a legitimate threat regardless of what Connor and Leon put up. Coach Dave Tippett apparently has so little confidence in this second power play unit that he doesn't hesitate to leave his top dogs out for the entirety of a man advantage." (We'll see tonight. Hopefully for Tippett's sake, Nurse is on his game.)
HEADLINE: ISLANDERS OLD PRACTICE RINK COMES ALIVE IN NEW FEATURE:
THE JIVE: The ever-creative author-talk show host-producer Matthew Blittner pulled one out of a hat. He turned an old practice rink into a fascinating feature. Cantiague Rink in Hicksville, Long Island was the Islanders practice facility during the four-Cup dynasty days and still is in business. Blittner got his TheNYExtra.com feature to ooze with rich nostalgia. Granted that the Nassaumen haven't practiced there regularly for three decades yet the influence of the NHL club permeates the rink. Who knows, with the 50th anniversary of the Isles not far away, the club might drop by Cantiague for a special event or two.
HEADLINE: HOW BOB BOUGHNER TURNED "SIMPLE HOCKEY" INTO A COMEBACK WIN:
THE JIVE: His Sharks were losing to Colorado after two periods the other night, and Coach Bob was disgusted. So, he gave his skaters basic advice. "I'm sick and tired of talk about 'details' and 'structure.'" Boughner told the troops. "Do me a favor and just go out and just 'do it'. We all know what we're doing here. You just gotta dig in." And dig they did with six unanswered goals -- four in the third period -- and a 6-2 victory. (Nice to see a team succeed both in an un-structured and un-detailed way for one night at least. (By the way, some of us call it "Old-Time Hockey.")
HEADLINE: THE EICHEL ISSUE CANNOT BE IGNORED
THE JIVE: Contractually, verbally and any other way you want to view it, Jack Eichel is locked into his Sabres contract. Nor has there been a peep from Buffalo's captain that he wants to beat it out of Western New York where his talents are buried in the endless losing around him. Yet, Sportsnet's Luke Fox and Chris Johntson point out that "There's real concern about Eichel's willingness to stay." An anonymous scout adds that Jack "looks like an unhappy camper." Well, even Happy Face would be frowning in that whole, ugly mess of a losing team. That said, yes there are teams who'd love to relieve Eichel of his Buffalo burden (The Kings and Rangers immediately come to mind.)
HEADLINE: SEAN BURKE NAMED HABS NEW DIRECTOR OF GOALTENDING:
THE JIVE: The former NHL goalie -- and good friend, I might add -- replaces Stephane Waite as part of g.m. Marc Bergevin's staff revitalization. I've known Burke since his 1988 Devils heroics and his work thereafter. Sean is the kind of guy who sees things clearly and sees them whole. If Carey Price needs a boost -- as some critics believe -- Dr. Burke will have the prescription. (Price was right last night with a 27-save effort against up-and-coming Ottawa. 3-1 Habs.)
*NO SID, NO PROBLEM: With Captain Crosby out with protocol issues, his Pens compensated well last night, beating Philly, 5-2.
* ALEXIS WASN'T KIDDING: The Rangers prize rookie said the other day that he's finally found his game. True to his word, Lafreniere scored last night in the Blueshirts 3-2 win over Buffalo.
* A LINE TO FEAR: In Winnipeg the Jets have put together a scary unit including Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nik Ehlers. It's called "The New Look Line" and helped Peg top the Canucks, 5-2, last night.
* SEAMLESS SEMYON: With little fuss or fanfare, the Islanders "Varly" Varlamov is playing some of the best goal of his life. He demonstrated why with a 2-1 win last night against a hard-shooting Devils sextet.
* THE RICH WANT TO GET RICHER: Leafs g.m. Kyle Dubas wants to ensure that he's got a Cup contender. Word is that he's looking for one more top D-man. Some say it's Arizona's Alex Goligoski who's on an expiring contract and looms as trade bait.
TRIVIA CORNER: Name the six teams that entered the NHL in the year of the Great Expansion, 1967?
FUNNY COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR:
"THE ONLY JOB WORSE IS A JAVELIN CATCHER AT A TRACK AND FIELD MEET."
-Rangers netminder Gump Worsley on goaltending.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The six new NHL expansion teams included the Oakland Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. All operated in the NHL's West Division.