Stan's Java Jive 3/4/21
Leafs drop Oilers again; Parise a healthy scratch; What happened to the Avalanche?
HEADLINE: THE CURTAIN FALLS ON ACT THREE OF "THE PERILS OF MCDAVID-DRAISAITL"
THE JIVE: A trio of immensely riveting Leafs-Oilers games have concluded and it feels as if we've been through a best-of-three playoff round. NHLers vs. St. Albert Bantams! The plots and sub-plots have been as exciting as a James Bond thriller. To wit: "Will Matthews Play Or Not Play?" You get the picture and you got the picture. Prior to last night's "Encounter In Edmonton," my seer-of-all-seers. Gus Vic, laid it on the line with utter simplicity: "Game Three is more about the Oilers than the Leafs." Naturally, he was right because the Leafs had nothing to prove while Edmonton had everything to prove. Not just pride, bragging rights and that nonsense. It came down to what McDavid-Draisaitl could show for themselves in a clutch situation. "Clutch or not?" That was the question. In the end, the late, great, Rodney Dangerfield should have been behind the Oilers bench, not Dave (What Am I Doing Here?) Tippett. Ergo: They get "no respect!"
And they got no respect. Period! Seriously, was this for-real? 3-0, 3-0, 6-1=12-1!
HEADLINE: WHAT EDMONTON MUST DO COMING OUT OF THE DEBACLE:
THE JIVE: For starters, it was evident at the season's outset that goaltending was a concern for g.m. Ken Holland. It still is a concern after what we've seen of Mikko Koskinen and (last night) Mike Smith. Granted Smitty has been heroic, but six goals on 32 shots is not much to brag about. With what was a flooded goalie market, Edmonton fans were hoping for an upgrade in the crease and didn't get it. In that case, defense becomes of major importance. If an improved Darnell Nurse is your main man, then something's wrong in the Province of Alberta. Over the past three games, it all came down to McDavid-Draisaitl having to carry the load. Instead it was One-Goal Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who'll likely gain immediate entrance into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. After all, R.N-H was the one who broke the 153.46 drought. So here's the Bottom Line: Coach Tippett says, "It's very concerning that we don't want to grab the 'Compete Level' in a series like this." Who's the Captain? McDavid. What did he do? Nothing. Who's the coach who's supposed to lift the compete level? Tippett. (Case closed!)
HEADLINE: ZACH PARISE BENCHED BY DEAN EVASON
THE JIVE: Is that possible? I mean we're talking about the Wild's leading scorer last year with 25 red lights. We're talking about Zach hitting the 20-goal mark for the tenth time. This, in fact, is Parise's first benching in nine seasons and why? Seems that his boo-boo was being on the ice when Vegas scored the tying goal the other night in the final minute. Let's face it, this is a very chancy move by Evason, messing around with the head of a 36-year-old who works harder than the Energizer Bunny. "I don't agree with the decision," Zach candidly states. "I had the best intentions." (Frankly, I don't agree with the coach's decision. I doubt Zach's teammates do either. In any event, the Wild could have used a goal or two from Parise last night as they lost 5-1 to Vegas. Can't blame Zach for that!)
HEADLINE: THE RANGERS PASSION PLAY HITS THE ROAD
THE JIVE: If any club in the East boasts the juice for a second-half run to playoff contention, its David Quinn's Broadway Blueshirts. Inadvertently they've played possum because of the unexpected absence of Artemi Panarin and the equally baffling Mika Zibanejad slump. Not to mention L'Affaire Tony DeAngelo. Don't laugh, but the Seventh Avenue Skaters do have the goods. Goaltending is solid and will improve, much-ballyhooed rookie Alexis Lafreniere is coming around and large Chris Krieder has finally peaked as a scorer. My new Rangers reporter, The Old Scout, puts it thusly: "They begin a six-game road stretch in New Jersey tonight. The half-dozen games should produce at least seven points for them to have any thoughts of coming in the Top Four. This swing should tell the tale." (I say they'll make it. But the Devils will have some say in the matter this evening!)
HEADLINE: WILL CAPTAIN OVECHKIN PLEASE STEP ASIDE FOR THE CAPS LATEST LEADER -- NIK BACKSTROM!
THE JIVE: Nothing personal against Ovie but The Big 8 being so big, he often overshadows the good work performed by his sidekick, Backstrom. Or, as my Caps correspondent, Coby Maeir, notes, "Nik is lost in Ovechkin's shadow." Over 21 games, Backstrom posted 25 points. Ovie -- remember he was suspended for four matches -- hit for 17 points in 17 games. Tom Wilson, who long ago shed the "goon" image he carried for too long, has reached his scoring potential. D-man extraordinaire, John Carlson has backed up his 75-point 2020 year with an impressive 19 points in 21 Kudos also to g.m Brian MacLellan who had the brains to lure Mountain Man Zdeno Chara from the Bruins. At last look, The Large Z boasted a cool plus-10 rating not counting all the other intangibles he brings to a team. (Last night the B's and C's clashed but it wasn't Nik who clicked with the biggie; Jakub Vrana capped it for the Caps on his Shootout 2-1 winner.)
HEADLINE: THE AVALANCHE WERE PICKED TO BE THE BEST OF ALL TEAMS. WHA' HAPPEN, BABY?
THE JIVE: Yesiree Bob, The Bible of our Sport, The Hockey News, predicted in its splendid Annual that Colorado was Numero Uno in its power ranking and, of all people, Nathan MacKinnon was the world's best player. Okay, we're close to the half-way mark and the Avs finally are playing like they mean business. My pal, The Old Scout, argues that "Colorado has its sights set on the Stanley Cup, not regular season greatness. MacKinnon is a top two player while Mikko Rantanen is not far behind." True, coach Jared Bednar is secure on D with the irrepressible Cale Makar and Samuel Girard banking points galore. No problem in goal with Philipp Grubauer posting a reasonable .915 save percentage. Based on performance so far I'd have to say that the Avs' theme song has to be the Gershwin classic, "Bidin' My Time." (Then again, maybe the time is now. The 4-0 beating Colorado handed San Jose last night is Exhibit A.)
HEADLINE: MARC BERGEVIN: 'I SEE A CHANGE ALREADY'
THE JIVE: Montreal's occasionally ebullient general manager certainly does see "a change." He fired Claude Julien and hired Dominique Ducharme. He fired goalie coach Stephane Waite and hired Sean Burke. That makes Bergie two-for-two in "changes." What long-term effect -- Habs in playoffs or not? -- this will have remains to be seen. To me, the goalie-coach move was more of a shocker. Waite and Carey Price enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship. There were no issues between them. Bergevin admits the change was because of a "gut feeling." So be it. I'm a big Burke fan. I like that move for Sean's sake as much as anything. I believe he'll
help Price but not sure how. Already critics are asking, "What approach will the new goalie coach take to improve Price?" (I'd say the best approach would be three little words: "Stop The Puck!")
* MILAN LUCIC DEFENDS GEOFF WARD: It's nice of The Big L sticking up for his bench boss after the Flames have lost six of eight. Calgary is out of a playoff spot now so who -- if not the inevitable coach -- is to blame? Pretty soon g.m. Brad Treliving will have the answer.
* VEGAS HAS A SECRET WEAPON: We know all about the Mark Stones and Max Paciorettys who push the Knights' goal wagon. Down around seventh among the top nine forward group, I like 6-4, 220 pound Alex Tuch. He's big and comes up with biggies and he's from Syracuse, N.Y. My last fave Syracuser in the NHL was Robbie Schremp!
* BEST HIDDEN ANALYSIS OF LEAFS SUCCESS: Forget the analytics. Forget all those brainy tv panelists. The guy who best explains Toronto's surge is none other than defenseman Morgan Rielly. "Our goalies don't get enough credit," Rielly insists. He's right. Hey, it took Jack Campbell, Mike Hutchinson and Fred Andersen to spill The Oil!
TRIVIA CORNER: Which NHL speedster was nicknamed "The Gazelle?"
CLASSIC LINES FROM YESTERYEAR: "IF GUYS CAN'T TAKE A HIT, THEY SHOULD GO PLAY TENNIS!"
- Edmonton defenseman Bryan Marchment on low hits.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The Montreal Canadiens, circa late 1940's, had a forward named Leo Gravelle who was the fastest skater in the league.
Hence, he was nicknamed "Gravelle The Gazelle. Trouble was, he couldn't score nearly as fast as he could skate!