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Stan's Java Jive: 3/19/21
Av's a sleeper Cup contender; Rinne to stay put; Biron's Sabres message, and the Toews mystery continues.
HEADLINE: ARE THE AVS THE SLEEPER CUP FAVORITE?
THE JIVE: Assuming that all noteworthy injuries are cleared in the homestretch, coach Jared Bednar's outfit could find itself in excellent position to make good on its pre-season clippings. And, in case you missed it, The Hockey News' board of experts picked Colorado to finish first overall. That, however, preceded wounds to a pair of the Avs' best -- Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. My fave sage, Gus Vic, offers this: "The 8-spot the Avs put up on Anaheim last Tuesday underscores the team's explosiveness. I see Colorado and Vegas in the West Final." Sagely, Vic wonders about Phil Grubauer's ability to get Denver's favorite team through four playoff rounds. But my Man In The West, Coby Maeir, says not to worry. Avs 5-1 smack-down of Minny last night underlines the point. Grubby entered the big game with a .925 average. Nifty Nathan scored a goal against the Wild but the Avs' leading scorer, Mikko (The Marvelous) Rantanen, came away with four points. G.M. Joe Sakic will stick with Phiery Philipp for the pure and simple reasons that he's good, reliable and has a furious offense to bail him out. ("Get this," adds Maeir, "Colorado fired 55 shots last night. But they have the Wild coming up again, so we'll see.")
HEADLINE: GOALIE INJURIES AN ISSUE
THE JIVE: The good news is that there's more employment for goaltenders than ever before. The bad news is that the rate of netminder injuries has climbed significantly. Last night yet another two stoppers went down. New Jersey's Mackenzie Blackwood had to leave the pre-game warmup with an upper body injury. Scott Wedgewood replaced him and won the game. Meanwhile, Jon Bernier left the Detroit net with a lower body injury, replaced by Thomas Greiss who preserved the 3-2 win. Just check out your favorite team and chances are you'll find that injuries have forced second and third string puckstoppers into play. And this despite goalies wearing more protective equipment than ever. The cause seems obvious; it's all about technique and athleticism. The "Butterfly" and variations on the theme have strained bodily areas that rarely were injured in the "Stand-Up" era. Yet, the prevailing view is that the "Butterfly" and its variants is the best solution. If so, then expect a continuation of the rash of wounded netminders. (Call it a sign of the times; but that's the reality of the game.)
HEADLINE: MARTY BIRON DELIVERS A MESSAGE TO THE SABRES
THE JIVE: The erudite goaltender-turned-tv analyst made it very clear in a broadcast that the Buffalo players owe it to their fans, their interim coaching staff -- not to mention themselves -- to give their all from here to the season's end. It was an interesting sermon -- neither a plea nor a demand; just a heartfelt assertion to do right. I was impressed with the straightforward presentation by someone in Buffalo who knows and cares. (Unfortunately, it didn't help last night: Boston, 4-1, over the Swords.)
HEADLINE: OVECHKIN PASSES ESPOSITO AT 718 GOALS
THE JIVE: Alex vs. Phil provides a compelling comparison because the two aces bear such different characteristics. Esposito -- it's often forgotten that he broke in with the Blackhawks -- used his large body in the crease landfill, depositing goals in record numbers. Espo's shot was not exceptionally hard in the Bobby Hull manner but ever-accurate. As a physical player, Phil was tepid because he didn't have to play rough. Linemates Wayne Cashman and Ken Hodge took care of the rough stuff. By contrast, Ovechkin will go down in NHL annals as one of the most effective hitters in any era. Nor does Ovie need any posse to ride shotgun for him. Big Eight's patented shot from the left side can best be compared to Golden Jet Hull's at its best. (And it doesn't get any better than that.)
HEADLINE: PEKKA RINNE WON'T BE TRADED BY PREDATORS.
THE JIVE: Nashville's general manager David Poile has been around the range long enough to know that he never should let sentimentality get in the way of sound hockey judgement. But there are exceptions that can -- and should -- be made. That the Preds' boss wants his 38-year-old goalie to finish his career with Nashville is a noble thought. Poile, more than anyone, knows that Rinne's reign as the Preds No. 1 netminder is long over. That was evident in the Arizona playoff series. Rinne rode the bench while Juuse Saros played all the games against the Coyotes. (Rinne's expiring contract pays $5 million, next to Saros; $1.5 million. See more on Rinne-Saros below.)
HEADLINE: P.S. THE PREDS ARE NOT DEAD
THE JIVE: My man Al Greenberg, who covers The Southland, proclaims, "Don't stick a fork in the Preds!" He means it, too, after Nashville handsomely rebounded after three straight losses. First, they beat the Champ Bolts and last night took out Florida, 2-1. "And," adds Greenberg, "they're doing it without their two top defensemen, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. They gave up only one goal in each game and now sit a mere six points out of a playoff berth." Rinne made 38 saves against Tampa Bay and Saros returned from an injury with 40 saves against the Cats.
The oddity of all Preds' oddities is that Nashville's 31st rated PK team has
killed six out of their last six penalties. Rookie defenseman Alex Carrier is carrying the blue liners, averaging 20 minutes a game. Fourth-string right wing Calle Jarnkrok totalled three goals and three assists in the surge.
(Go, Preds, Go!)
HEADLINE: JACK HUGHES NEEDS PATIENCE
THE JIVE: There's a tendency to forget that Devils' prodigy Jack Hughes still is only 19-years-old. Which is why it's absurd to suggest that the lad is not paying off for New Jersey. A check of history shows that it took Jean Beliveau -- arguably the greatest center of modern times -- three full years to find his groove; and Big Bill was much older than Hughes. Same for another Habs Hall of Famer, Guy Lafleur. He was labelled a flop for his first three years in Montreal. No question; Hughes has the goods. Check out his nifty angle goal last night -- short side upper left -- that helped the Devs beat Sidney Crosby's team, 3-2. (That was a true thread-the-needle goal, and, by the way, Jumpin' Jackie also delivered a key assist. The kid will be fine; just fine. Come to think of it, he already is!)
* BUFFALO COACHING CANDIDATES: At least four experienced NHL ex-coaches figure to be under consideration for the vacant Sabres head bench boss role: Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Bruce Boudreau and Mike Babcock.
* NEED NEW WORDS FOR CONNOR MCDAVID: Any team that faces Edmonton these days could be forgiven for saying, "Gimme a break, Connor." All the Oilers captain did last night was score two goals. Edmonton beat Winnipeg, 2-1. (Super-McDuper!)
* SETH JONES SAVES JACKETS: You don't hear much ado about Columbus' prize defenseman Seth Jones. But he's steady-as-they-come for John Tortorella; and clutch, too. Jones' last minute OT goal beat the Canes last night 3-2. (Seth is a low-key Norris Trophy candidate.)
* BRUINS NEW BIG, BADDIE: Beantown fans always want their B's to be big and bad. Their latest candidate is St.Louis-born Trent Frederic.The 6-2, 203-pounder has become a belligerent Galley Gods' favorite.
* JONATHAN TOEWS MYSTERY CONTINUES: The Blackhawks doughty captain still is not available. However g.m. Stan Bowman reports that Toews is "in good spirits."
Before the New York Americans entered the NHL in 1925, the team known as the Amerks previously had been in a Canadian city. Which venue was it? (
CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM HOCKEY PEOPLE: "WHY NOT A DYNASTY?" Islanders forward Bob Nystrom on the eve of the 1982 playoffs.
The Nassaumen were hoping to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup, becoming the first American-based NHL to do so. They did and, therefore, were knighted with dynastic status.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The New York Americans previously had been the Hamilton Tigers. When the Tigers players went on strike before the 1925 playoffs, the team was suspended by NHL President Frank Calder.
The suspension never was reinstated and the team was sold for $75,000 to William (Big Bill) Dwyer who imported the franchise to New York and renamed them the Americans.