Stan's Java Jive: 3/16/21
Rest Auston Matthews?; NBC not a sure thing, and the improved Red Wings get another shot at the Canes.
HEADLINE: AUSTON MATTHEWS SHOULD BE RESTED -- REALLY?
THE JIVE: That's what one respected Canadian hockey writer argues. The National Post's Michael Traikos puts it this way: "Do you want him to win games now or in the spring?" Well, it would nice if the Maple Leafs got around to winning some games now, wouldn't it? Were it not for The Arizona Cowboy's OT heroics against Winnipeg, Toronto's losing streak would be just to the left of Panicsville-On-The-Lake. Subtract the ubiquitous Matthews from Shelly Keefe's lineup and you may find the Leafs not only looking up at Winnipeg but fast-climbing Calgary as well. This much is certain; we know that Mich Marner -- for all his virtues -- cannot carry this team and certainly not Mister Non-Clutch Tavares. Nice try, Michael Traikos, but I've got news for you; the good folks who pay a lot of dough supporting the Leafs, either in person or otherwise, want no part of a watered-down-lineup with Matthew sitting in the stands rather than skating on the ice. (It's from the book, "Getting Your Moneysworth."
HEADLINE: NBC NOT A SLAM-DUNK TO GET NHL CONTRACT
THE JIVE: Television industry sources point out that while the current American tv rightsholder, NBC, would appear to have the inside track to renew -- sharing the NHL with ESPN -- it's not a given. At least one other network is out there and possibly even a second to oust NBC altogether. Logic suggests that with all its past experience and solid coupling with all things NHL, that NBC would jump on Gary Bettman's bandwagon. But we're talking dough-re-me now and NBC just might not have the cash that the Boys of Sixth Avenue want to complement the already-delicious ESPN pact. (This "Who Gets The Second Pact?" story happens to be a melodrama worthy of NBC. Or, Netflix, if you will.)
HEADLINE: RED WINGS CONTINUE TO IMPROVE
THE JIVE: Let's face it; in Detroit it's a process. Despite losing 2-1 Monday to sizzling Carolina, Jeff Blashill's boys are competing hard. They previously did, taking three of four points from the Champ Bolts "The Wings are getting better each night," reports my man in the Motor City, Henri Kolb. "They went toe-to-toe with the Canes in a chess match, only losing out in the patience department." Despite injuries, coach Rod Brind'Amour has enabled Carolina to retain its elite status. "What we've learned," Rod explains, "is how to be patient in a game that demands patience. We trust that we'll be fine in that (Detroit) kind of game." Once the Wings' patience wore thin, Nino Niederreiter nailed the winner for the Visitors. (Swiss ace, Nino, symbolizes the Canes superior depth.)
HEADLINE: SOME CANADIAN TEAMS PREFER A CANADIAN DIVISION
THE JIVE: That would be history repeating itself. Long before the current pandemic forced the NHL to create a North (Canadian) Division, there once was such a fraternity operating in the NHL. In fact, the labels were simply Canadian Division and American Division. But the kicker was that the New York Americans happened to be placed in the Canadian Division with the Montreal Maroons, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.(Ask me why and I'll give you the most standard answer of all: That's hockey!)
HEADLINE: PAT LAFONTAINE'S INTERESTING GIG
THE JIVE: Hall of Famer Patty quietly has become president of the Retired Players' Association Fund. The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont recently went public with this bit of news. Actually, the outfit is not a new one and dates 'way back to the Original Six days. NHL President Clarence Campbell's top deputy, Brian O'Neill, ran it up until LaFontaine took over. The fund comes from fines levied against players for assorted infractions -- see Tom Wilson -- and is targeted for indigent players and their families. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Dupont, "Pat is perfect for the job. He stays in touch with the players and is very sensitive to their issues and what players go through. He's lived it!" (I couldn't have articulated that better myself.)
HEADLINE: PAUL MAURICE, GOOD CANDIDATE FOR COACH-OF-THE-YEAR
THE JIVE: Winnipeg's affable mentor will get plenty of competition from Rod Brind'Amour, Joel Quenneville, plus Barry Trotz, among others and rightly so. But the Jets ascent toward the North Pole bears scrutiny with the accent on Peg's coach. After the Jets playoff fadeaway, g.m. Kevin Cheveldayoff could have shown Maurice the door. Instead, crafty Kev gifted Paul with an extension. It demonstrated that Maurice had the organization's full support. (Obviously, Paul is supporting that support.)
HEADLINE: IS IT GETTING TOO LATE FOR THE RANGERS?
THE JIVE: Prior to last night's hosting of the Flyers, the Broadway Blueshirts may have looked as if they were out of the playoff run. But the return of temporarily-exiled Artemi Panarin gave David Quinn's outfit new hope by pasting the Bruins with third-string goalie Keith Kinkaid earning the shutout. Which meant that a win at The Garden last night could fuel a second half comeback thrusting the New Yorkers into a post-season berth.As it happened, The Bread Man played hero and goat. He scored two goals and got an assist but in OT he lost the puck to Jakub Voracek who scored on a clean breakaway. Kinkaid was partially to blame, feeding Panarin a tepid stretch pass for the 5-4 loss. (For the New Yorkers, Yogi Berra's line fits: "It's getting late early!")
HEADLINE: HOW ABOUT BILL GUERIN FOR THE G.M. AWARD
THE JIVE: Just look at that Wild team in Minnesota. These guys were picked to finish 23d in the NHL this season. Well, guess what? They're now neck and neck with the loaded Knights in their division and guess who's name never is bruited about for his crafty architecture? Yes, Bill (Himself) Guerin. Granted that Billy G was hired in August 2019 when it was too late to make meaningful moves. Then the pandemic screwed things up for everyone yet, somehow, Battlin' Billy has crafted a team that's not only competitive but boasts a budding superstar in Kirill Kaprizov, a lightning left wing of endless potential. (Minny should roll in the second half.)
HEADLINE: FLORIDA NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE
THE JIVE: Pegged to finish 22d in the league by The Hockey News, the Panthers enter the league's second half just finer than fine. Finally, as my ace in the Sunshine State, Al Greenberg, points out, the Cats are being noticed. The 6-3 win over Chicago last night is another case of proof-positive. "Aleksander Barkov finally is getting some media attention," Greenberg says. "Right now he's on a fast track to win either the Hart or Selke Trophies -- or both. It didn’t hurt either that Barkov scored the tie-breaking (eventual game-winning) goal while shorthanded, with less than seven minutes left in the contest. What's surprising is that the Cats often give up the first goal -- they did against Chi -- but win. They're 12-4-3 despite opening down by a goal." Also stunning is Sergei Bobrovsky's mediocre .905 save percentage yet Bob has won six straight games. "Last night," adds my pal, Al, "Bobby gave up three goals on his first thirteen shots."(It tells me that there's a heck of a lot of balance spread over Q's roster. Imagine if Bob ever gets hot!)
HEADLINE: S.O.S. FOR SCOUTS
THE JIVE: My NHL bird dog alert is this; get over and watch the Portland Winterhawks and focus on defenseman Nick Cicek. The Winnipeg product just was named team captain and now is in his fourth year after a splendid third season. He finished with a Plus-30 rating, fifth overall in the WHL. But here's the trick; Cicek is undrafted and since he's in the 2000 birth year he'll be a free agent. (Buffalo, are you listening?)
HEADLINE: IS IT SORE THUMB OR WEAK UNDERBELLY WITH OIL
THE JIVE: Edmonton's Ken Holland knows more about goaltending than just about any NHL general manager. Hey, Kenny spent a long life between the pipes in the minors and NHL. So, he must have figured out by now that both Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith are barely average. Or, to put another way, a collective sore thumb for glorious McDavid, Inc. Smith lost last night's match to Calgary and, while he once could be counted on for the biggies, at age 39, he's no longer upper crust. (No doubt, Holland is checking the Used Goalie Lot.)
* OVIE RULES: The Big Eight scored last night for his 717th red light. That ties him with an earlier scoring machine, Phil Esposito. Nice going, Alex.
* OH, MY, BUFFALO: It gets more grim by the game for Sabres fans. The 6-0 loss to the Caps -- minus captain Jack Eichel -- is hockey sadness personified.
* AIR TIME FOR TORTS: If the Blue Jackets miss the playoffs -- and it's looking more likely by the day -- John Tortorella could find himself a member of the group he so often ridicules -- the media. I'll bet ESPN would give him a gander.
* PITT'S NEW DATA SCIENTIST: Her name is Katerina Wu and she represents the new thinking in hockey operations. This data scientist has been hired by the Penguins, adding another woman to a key role in The Game.
TRIVIA CORNER: Which team was shut out for the most consecutive games? (See answer below.)
SUPER SAYINGS FROM THE PAST: "Ray Bourque can carry a game and never touch the puck." -- Bruins goalie Andy Moog on Bourque's leadership qualities.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The Chicago Blackhawks of 1928-29 -- eight straight shutouts!