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Stan's Java Jive: 3/24/21
Taking a look at the Central; Preds - sellers or buyers?; Has "Ghost" disappeared?; and more trade talk...
HEADLINE: A KEEN CENTRAL BATTLE SHAPING UP
THE JIVE: It's a toss-up over who will -- and will not -- make the Central Division playoffs in a topsy-turvy race for post-season placement. Emerging from their slump last night with a 3-2 win over Florida, the Blackhawks thrust themselves back in business battling against pursuing Columbus and Nashville. "And don't rule out Dallas either," chimes in my ace Central reporter Al Greenberg. "The Stars still could surprise." With Patrick Kane supplying two key assists and goalie Kevin Lankinen re-finding his form (33 saves), Chi is back on the right path although there's not even a hint that captain Jonathan Toews will reappear this season. This much is certain, the Hawks won't have it easy because the Predators still have some bites left. (See below)
HEADLINE: DARE DAVID TRADE HIS RE-AWAKENING PREDATORS?
THE JIVE: Nashville's eternal head, g.m. David Poile has a dilemma. His once de-fanged Predators have found new teeth and showed them last night with a 2-0 job on Detroit. Goalie Juuse Saros helped matters with 31 saves to put a smile on coach John Hynes' mug. But better still captain and crack defenseman Roman Josi returned to his blue line post after missing seven games. Until the Preds recent surge, Poile was the center of rumors that he might trade either solid D-man Mattias Ekholm or forward Mikael Granlund -- Leafs apparently want Mikey, Flyers could use Matty -- but now Dauntless David must-re think. Why trade if a playoff berth is very possible with a healthy Josi and the other aforementioned good men and true? (Tough challenge for Sir Poile who is very good at handling them. That's why he never loses his job.)
HEADLINE: DEVILS CLIMBING; FLYERS GROUNDED
THE JIVE: Think about the contrasts. Before the season's first puck drop, the Broad Streeters -- no longer Bullies -- were rated one of the NHL's top five teams; supposedly strong from goal on out. Meanwhile, the Devils were picked to finish 'way-'way down in the standings; try 25th. But if you were in Philly last night, you'd do a standings double-take. New Jersey not only captured the contest, 4-3, but now boasts a terrific line. Vet Travis Zajac is centering for the Check-Your-Spelling duo of Yego Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen. Together they totalled six points with good, ole Travis getting a goal and a helper. Philly has been losing big with their supposed top banana Carter Hart in goal. He's allowed at least three goals in seven straight starts and at least four red lights in his past five games. At 15-12-4, coach Alain Vigneault's outfit still could make a keen playoff run but a few band-aids are needed to stop the bleeding. (See Ghost below.)
HEADLINE: GOALIES WHO COULD BE DEALT
THE JIVE: Leave it to The Hockey News' insightful Matt Larkin to come up with an arresting list. This one is all about goaltenders who can go bye-bye at or before the Trade Deadline. Naturally, the trio who'll be UFA's are most intriguing. It starts with Detroit's Jonathan Bernier, my choice as best of them all. The issue with Jon is his latest injury which could knock him out of the batter's box before he even gets to the crease. My runner-up -- in case Bernier is unavailable -- is Devan Dubnyk down in San Jose where times have not been so hot this semester. My final choice is Florida's Chris Driedger who may wind up being the leading candidate by Deadline Day.. (By the way, the once-terrific Ryan Miller in Anaheim also is a UFA but I suspect he'll be bypassed because of age.)
HEADLINE: HAS BLAKE WHEELER ANSWERED THE CRITICS?
THE JIVE: Virtually every team has to have a media scapegoat and the Jets captain happens to be that man in Winnipeg. Now what do these well-hidden critics want from this guy? The Peg Gang is doing very well, thank you, and could wind up winning the Scotia North. If there's any legitimate rap against the Minnesotan it's that his plus-minus lately has been on the unhealthy side; but that can be remedied now that we're in the second half of the season. But critics being critics, they won't get off Wheeler's wheelhouse until the Jets win The Stanley Cup. (P.S. Blake couldn't care less about the anti-Wheeler clique.)
HEADLINE: RENTAL RUMORS CONTINUE
THE JIVE: The names of some pretty good talents are being bruited about including one of the better goalies in captivity, Arizona's Antti Raantta. The rap -- if you can call it that -- against him is that he's never been forced into an intense Number One Goalie role and might not be able to stand both the physical and mental pressure. Then there's Derick Brassard, who's enjoying a mighty fine comeback season. A couple of reliable defensemen -- Nik Hjalmarsson and Alex Goligosky -- also may be available. (Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman has mentioned Arizona's top scorer, Conor Garland, as another potential rental.)
HEADLINE: HOW THE GOSTISBEHERE HAS FALLEN
THE JIVE: Once upon a time, Florida's gift to The Defensemens' Union, Shayne Gostisbehere, was the talk of Philadelphia hockey. But that seems long ago. Then again 2017-18 is not that long ago after all. But somewhere between then and today, the man they call "Ghost" has been a ghost of his former productive self. Could be that a pair of knee surgeries put the brakes on his rush to greatness. Whatever it is - was -- The Ghost has fallen in coach Alain Vigneault's bad graces. He recently was benched for three straight games. On his return Monday night against the Islanders, he was at least partly at fault on Anthony Beauvillier's winning OT goal. "He has to improve defensively," demands Vigneault. (Devils 4-3 win at Philly last night has g.m. Chuck Fletcher shopping, big-time. He knows he needs an experienced D-man like Marc Staal in Detroit.)
* JONATHAN QUICK ON THE GO, OR NOT: The big goalie has been woven so deeply in the Kings fabric that it's hard to picture him camping anywhere but California. Yet the Winds of Change just may carry him to Toronto. (That is, unless the Kings keep surprising and remain in the playoff race.)
* BIG GUY FROM BILOXI: It isn't every day that you find an NHLer from Biloxi, Mississippi but Nashville boasts 6-2. 210 pounder Mathieu Olivier from Ole Miss. He not only scored a key goal for his winning Preds last night, but produced a fine line: "Our identity is relentless!"
* CHECK OUT THIS CZECH: That man from Pilzen, Dom Kubalik, scored 30 goals for the Blackhawks last year. The rookie wound up with a two-year, $7mil pact. He's earning it. He scored his 11th goal for Chi last night and is yet another reason for the Hawks uprising.
* ADIN ADDS UP: You may not have heard of Adin Hill from Comox, British Columbia. But Colorado has. Arizona's third-string goalie, Hill stopped the Avs seven-game win streak last night with a nifty 5-4, Shootout triumph.
* THE RICH GET RICHER: The defending champion Lightning are as loaded as any team can be; especially in goal. In case you missed it, Andrei Vasilevskly now has a dozen wins in a row. He beat Dallas, 2-1 last night.
TRIVIA QUESTION: WHO WERE THE FIRST TWO PLAYERS TO USE CURVED STICKS IN NHL PLAY?
FUNNY LINES FROM THE PAST: "I'M JUST GLAD THAT IT WASN'T 'MACHETE NIGHT.'"
-Flyers' goalie Bob Froese, after Rangers fans threw plastic mugs on the ice on "Mug Night."
TRIVIA ANSWER: Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks were the first NHL stars to successfully use the curved sticks.
They helped Chi to its 1961 Stanley Cup victory over Detroit.