Stan's Java Jive: 3/10/21
Jets look like the best up North; Leafs struggles continue; Hart Trophy watch and Alex DeBrincat proving everyone wrong
HEADLINE: JETS THE NEW BEST TEAM IN CANADA
THE JIVE: Winnipeg vs. Toronto. This "playoff" is as good -- maybe better -- than the Leafs recent demolition of Edmonton. The Peg-Leaf thing is like another Cup Final just based on one game with two more upcoming, The Jets are the better North Division team. Period! They proved it last night in many different ways but primarily where it counts -- 4-3 on the scoreboard. Yeah, injury-riddled Auston Matthews heroically returned and scored a pair of T.O.goals but the result proves a cogent point: Pegs' sum is better than the Leafs' parts. Goals by Josh Morrisey, Andrew Copp and Kyle Connor comprise a neat "sum" in the Jets diversity of skills. Another dazzling Winnipeg sum is the line of Pierre-Luc Dubois-Nik Ehlers-Connor which can match Toronto's best. (The beauty part is that these worthies meet again tomorrow in Leafsland with a third match following. Who do you like?)
HEADLINE: WHERE AND WHY THE LEAFS ARE FAILING
THE JIVE: Toronto's loss last night to Winnipeg marked the first time a Sheldon Keefe-coached Leafs team lost three straight. The reasons highlight shortcomings that g.m. Kyle Dubas must address. To wit: Goaltending: Connor Hellebuyck made 36 saves for Peg. Fred Andersen -- un-clutch -- made a paltry 19 stops at the other end. 'Nuff said. Centers: The Matthews-John Tavares duo looks good on paper. But Mark Scheifle and Pierre-Luc Dubois look better on the ice for a simple reason. Matthews and Scheifle balance out while Dubois clearly is better than the fading Tavares. Or, as TSN's Mark Masters indicates, "Dubois changes the dynamic of the Leafs-Jets rivalry." Pierre-Luc also makes a good point: "We're a big team with offense. We bring it to them. This first one was a big test." (So, it was, my good friend, but only the first of three. Let's see if Leafs can rebound tomorrow. Andersen must prove me wrong.)
HEADLINE: BOBROVSKY FINALLY EARNING HIS MONEY
THE JIVE; No, question, last season was Sergei's worst as a starter. Trouble is I wasn't sure whether it was a mere aberration or, perhaps, The Maven was hallucinating. But with defensive upgrades, Bob was supposed to have a better first-half than what we've seen from such a high-priced stopper. Put it this way, Bobby looked like the bobber-and-weaver of old last night. He made 38 saves in the Panthers 4-2 win over caving Columbus. Even super modest Sergei allowed, "I played a good game."
Make no mistake, the Cats remain among the Elite and have only one regular season loss in their last seven games (4-1-2). Their 16-5-4 record should keep improving if Bobrovsky maintains his current groove. (Can't say the same for Torts' team. The Jackets have two wins in their last nine (2-6-1) and remain under .500 at 10-12-5.)
HEADLINE: NEW CHOICES FOR THE HART TROPHY
THE JIVE: Forget about the usual suspects. Lord McDavid and his faithful valet, the Duke of Draisaitl, struck out -- nein in the three-Leaf debacle -- which leaves a contingent of worthies. Take your pick, Patrick Kane, Mark Stone, Auston Matthews, Kirill Kaprizov, Andre Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman, just to name a few candidates. I go with the guy who did the most with the least to work with; and at a critical time. That would be King Kane. And if you're looking for an unobtrusive long-shot, try Mathew Barzal, absolutely a jewel on Long Island.
HEADLINE: RON HEXTALL'S MOVES ON THE HORIZON
THE JIVE: The Penguins new double-edged high command of Brian Burke and Ron Hextall has digested enough Pittsburgh games to have a handle on the club's pluses and minuses. So does Pitt Tribune columnist Mark Madden. "Surely, Hextall and Burke see that these Penguins aren't championship calibre," candidly writes Madden. "They aren't skilled enough nor fast enough to play the speed-based style to which they stubbornly cling. They're just an average team now." As Madden sees it Hextall's toughest decision is whether to trade Ev Malkin and Kris Letang. Another "iffy" deal would include underrated defenseman Brian Dumoulin. The feeling in Walkingbirdville is that the new era Pens will be bigger and more physical. "That could put coach Mike Sullivan in jeopardy," Madden concludes. "Sullivan had no use for Ryan Reeves. He's a believer in speed, not physicality." (That's one man's opinion about the Pens future. As for the present Pitt is doing quite well, thank you, and showed why last night, topping the Rangers, 4-2.)
HEADLINE: MICHIGAN IS A COLLEGIATE THREAT
THE JIVE: The Wolverines have become a legitimate contender, loaded with three projected Top Five picks and already-drafted NHLers.
My man at Ann Arbor, Henri Kolb, reports that a couple of upcoming major contests will separate the wheat from the chaff. "The Big Ten and NCAA tournaments will provide an opportunity for first overall prospect defenseman Owen Power to show what he's made of as well as high-ranked forwards Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson," says Kolb. Add to that the fact that Luke Hughes, the youngest of the three Hughes brothers, is committed to play for coach Mel Pearson's outfit next season."
HEADLINE: ANOTHER GOOD BEHIND-THE-SCENES DOC EMRICK STORY:
THE JIVE: Last week tv stage manager Chris Riley told such a compelling Doc Emrick story about how the legendary broadcaster helped arrange Riley's marriage proposal on the air. Now Riley reveals a secret of Emrick's success; "I worked with Doc at the 1992 Olympics at Meribel, France and was amazed at how efficient he was prepping for a hockey game," Riley remembers. "He learned all the difficult names from the world over and how to properly pronounce them. One of the aspects of Emrick's preparation that amazed me was how he handled a ten-minute video of a previous game. Doc wrote the whole copy and voiced it. Incredibly, he put it all together in only twenty minutes! Watching Emrick work was like watching Picasso paint a masterpiece with words and video. The best part of Doc was that he never had a huge ego.. It was always about the game and the broadcast. He had a special knack of weaving in a story about something no one knew. Besides, he loved dogs. What's better than that?"
HEADLINE: BATTLE OF THE ANTI-MEDIA COACHES; TORTS VS. DARRYL
THE JIVE; This is a real toughie because John Tortorella and Darryl Sutter have intimidated media types for decades. But each has a different technique that has given even the most seasoned journalists a case of the heebie-jeebies.
The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons puts it this way: "Sutter can coach my team any time so long as I don't have to cover the post-game press conferences." Darryl delivers his replies -- or non-replies as the case may be -- in soft almost inaudible tones with a dollop of disdain.
Torts is more vocal, more animated but no less harsh when the spirit moves him. (Call it a draw with no Shootout or Shout-out!)
HEADLINE: HOW TO BEAT THE "TOO SMALL" RAP:
THE JIVE: At last look, Chicago's Alex DeBrincat was seventh in NHL scoring, ahead of Brad Marchand; which is not too shabby. The 23-year-old once was told by a supposedly reliable scout that he was "too small" even for the AHL. At 5-7, Lil Al never will pass for a giant.
Nevertheless, his answer to the bird dog was 28 goals as an NHL rookie, 41 goals as a sophomore. Okay, so last season he slipped to 18 red lights but has bounced back handsomely with 14 goals in just 22 games. The native of Farmington Hills, Michigan is a reason why Chi is a good bet to make the post-season. (No small potatoes for this big scorer.)
* CHANGES COMING IN BUFFALO: That's what TSN is predicting. Sabres got a point last night, losing 5-4 to Philly in a Shootout. Kidding aside, embattled Ralph Krueger may be on to something. Right now he's the Sultan of Survival.
* DARRYL SUTTER'S FIRST PRACTICE GETS AN "A" GRADE. Fiery Matthew Tkachuk called it "One of the best practices ever; all business and we needed that." There'll be more "all business" stuff with Sutter; plus a Flames revival.
* KEITH KINKAID STARTS FOR RANGERS. The Pride of Farmingville, Long Island went the route last night but lost, 4-2, to Pitt. He only got goals from Ryan Strome and Jack Johnson. Blueshirsts need more from Mika Zibanejad. And, of course, the on-leave-of-absence Artemi Panarin.
* SPEAKING OF ELITE: Rod Brind'Amour's Hurricanes don't know how to lose. They beat Nashville in overtime last night on captain Jordan Staal's second goal for their sixth W in a row. Canes are conquerers at 18-6-1.
TRIVIA CORNER: Name the forgotten NHL arena that featured four games in one day. (Answer below.)
GREAT QUOTE BY A GREAT PLAYER:
"The whole game is to be played by a team, and the whole idea is to win. If someone is in the better position to score than I am, then I'm going to give him the puck."
TRIVIA ANSWER: The old Madison Square Garden (1925-1968) on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street in Manhattan featured four games in one day.
Here's how. 1. On Sundays, a Met League "Darkhouse Game" was played in the morning; 2. A Met League preliminary game -- part of a Sunday afternoon double-header -- started at 1:30 p.m. 3. A New York Rovers EAHL league game was played starting at 3:30 p.m. 4. The Rangers home game began at 8:30 p.m.