Stan's Java Jive: 3/9/21
Vegas tops NHL power ratings; Kirby Dach skating for the Hawks; Eakins safe in Anaheim; Preds at the crossroads.
HEADLINE: VEGAS TOPS NHL POWER RATINGS:
THE JIVE: Fair enough since everything's coming up golden for the Knights this season. Even Marc-Andre (I'm Not Ancient) Fleury could win the Vezina Trophy fronting a club oozing with Stars. Their latest six-game win streak was impressive. But equally impressive to me was 12th ranked Minnesota blanking Fleury, Ltd. last night in St. Paul, 2-0. It was the first shutout for Finnish born, third-stringer Kaapo Kahkonen. (I'd rank Minny 11th! just on that victory alone!)
HEADLINE: ISLANDERS REACH THE TOP
THE JIVE: Barry Trotz will be coaching his 1,700th NHL game tonight when the Islanders host Boston. Asked what that milestone means, Trotz replies "It means I'm old." That quip is good for a laugh but it also tells you that this man has been around. Barry's experience helps explain why the Islanders have climbed to the East Division pinnacle. That and the fact that he can generate four offensive units which share the goal-scoring wealth. The Isles fourth outfit -- now known as "The Identity Line" -- features the forechecking fanatics, Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizickas who score as well as turn the foes into S.O.S. mode. Johnny Boychuk's permanent loss has been compensated by Steady Andy Greene's vet leadership. Mat Barzal continues to dazzle with his footwork while captain Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle round out an effective first line. Young Noah Dobson has emerged as an engaging two-way D-man, improving by the month. Whether or not Trotz can keep his club atop the East will hinge on whether the whole of Barry's roster remains better than its parts. (Or as Sir Trotz puts it, "We just have to play the right way!" (The "right way" pushed the Isles into fifth place in the latest Power Rankings.)
MATTHEWS STILL HURTING
THE JIVE: So are a lot of other players. The point is that his Maple Leafs are so far ahead of the North -- alias Canadian -- pack that Auston's absence hardly can be considered a fly in Toronto's ointment. Of course, Leafs fans cannot see it that way but the fact is that this is a blessing for the super-shooter as well as the team. A respite is the best thing for the best player. Having him recuperate for a couple of weeks would be the prudent thing to do. (But, then again, we're not dealing with an ordinary hockey town with ordinary fans. This is Toronto; don't be surprised if he's rushed back too soon for record-breaking purposes.)
HEADLINE: BLACKHAWKS SUPER-KID, DACH, RETURNING
THE JIVE: Kirby Dach, Chicago's mammoth (6-4, 197) center reportedly is skating and you know what that means; or do you? To me, it means that a healthy Dach -- added to the already-surprising young Hawks -- could emerge as the club's Number Two center and wouldn't that be wonderful.
Considering that the Windy City sextet was pegged by many experts to be about the fifth-worst team in the NHL, the Jeremy Colliton-coached club ranks among the best stories of the season so far. A healthy Dach will add to g.m. Stan Bowman's riches. (Another thing I like about the lad is that he's from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Makes me wonder whether there's a Fort Alberta in Saskatchewan!)
HEADLINE: EAKINS 'SAFE' AS DUCKS COACH
THE JIVE: This -- unofficially, of course -- must be National Coach Vote of Confidence Month. Joining the "He's Safe" parade is Ducks g.m. Bob Murray. Not only has he endorsed -- as well he should -- Dallas Eakins, Buffalo Bob adds, "He's doing a great job." Frankly, Eakins is doing okay when you consider that Anaheim was rated the second-worst team in the league at the season's start? It helps that in this third season of an ongoing rebuild, owners Henry and Susan Samueli have been supportive. On the other hand, there could be changes if tangible progress isn't made. Eakins got a boost last night when his club edged L.A., 6-5, in overtime. (P.S. There's been no vote of confidence in Buffalo for Ralph Krueger. Writing in The Hockey News, Ryan Kennedy points out that Krueger does not look like the "tactical and motivating genius he was made out to be.")
HEADLINE: TIPPETT PUTS ALL HIS EGGS IN ONE BASKET; NOTHING BREAKS:
THE JIVE: After his Edmonton machine ran into a Toronto wall, coach Dauntless Dave had to do something or else whatever credibility McDavid, Inc. had would be gone. So he went to the fresh egg stack and reunited Leon (Himself) Draisaitl with King Connor and added Kailer Yamamoto on the right side. Yikes! Edmonton beat Ottawa last night, 3-2, and Leon scored the winner. Therefore it must mean that the once-broken Oil machine is in business again and the nwq egg basket has no breaks. (Now all they have to do is figure out a Toronto formula!)
HEADLINE: WILSON SERVING SEVEN-GAME SUSPENSION
THE JIVE: Serving suspensions is like a hobby for the Caps conk-erer. He serves and eventually whacks someone illegally, faces more suspension music, and so it goes.
He's now up to five suspensions, not counting the fines. As for the controversial hit on Boston's Brandon Carlo, that continues to raise questions, starting with the fact that there were two referees on the ice -- Dean Morton and Pierre Lambert. Surely one of them must have seen the play. Yet no penalty was called. Ergo: How come? Or, did the officials see it and deem it a mere marginal -- or "Hockey Play" -- and felt it was not worthy of even a two-minute minor.. What we do know is that the NHL wisely did a follow-up and deemed it a punishable play initiated by a multi-offender whose track record -- to put it gently -- is offensive. Some critics have complained that Wilson is getting off easy and blame the NHL.
If blame is to be affixed it should be squarely placed on the NHL Players' Association. It's the union -- not the league -- which endlessly has pushed its considerable power behind the culprits, not the victim. How about bringing the offended Bruin, Carlo, up for his view of Wilson and Tom's suspension. By the way, Carlo is out indefinitely. Meanwhile, the Caps rendered their own verdict: "It's kind of a joke," says captain Alex Ovechkin. (Bottom Line: It depends on how tough you want your hockey. The union likes it as is!)
HEADLINE; CAN TOM WILSON CHANGE HIS WAYWARD WAYS?
THE JIVE: The Caps husky previously has promised to stay on the straight and narrow path. Give him credit; up to the Carlo episode, Wilson has played a solid, tough and productive game. What's a compelling fact of NHL life is that virtually every NHL general manager readily would tell you is that he'd just love to have a tough, hitting forward like Wilson on his team. When on good behaviour-- that's most of the time -- this guy can score as well as hit. (It's the other times, when Wilson fires his torpedoes at foes such as Carlo that turns him into a public enemy.)
HEADLINE: THE BRUINS MINUS CHARA -- SINKING?
THE JIVE: Make no mistake, Boston's favorite hockey team is not sinking. But it's not getting along very swimmingly lately either. For the reason, check the Beantowners bench until you come to The Invisible Man. But wait, he's only missing from Causeway Street. That missing man is what's known as a Capital gain -- Zdeno Chara. Without his statuesque presence on the B's blue line, Don Sweeney's team ain't what it used to be. Meanwhile the Caps are a better outfit having Big Z towering in their midst.
HEADLINE: UPDATE ON JERSEY JACK HUGHES
THE JIVE: Drafted first overall by the Devils in 2019, the lithe center disappointed as a rookie with just seven goals in 61 games. But given that he's only 20-years-old there's no rush to rush the lad. My man in Newark, George Falkowski, is bullish about Jumpin' Jack's future. "He'll be fine," George insists. "Look at Patrick Kane in Chicago; he's my best case comparison with Hughes. Jack does things that can't be taught. Sometimes his skill set catches his less-talented teammates by surprise. He had a long break after last season, then got into a terrific start which was derailed by the Covid break. He'll continue to improve." (I buy that analysis.)
HEADLINE: CANES ARE ABLE
THE JIVE: Pre-season, Carolina was rated eighth-best team in the NHL by the Hockey News always-reliable Annual. I submit that a re-evaluation today would place them a notch or four higher. Certainly, the Panthers -- THN rated them 22d best -- would agree. On Sunday night the Ice-Runners from Raleigh beat the Cats, 4-2, for their second five-game winning streak of the season. Ex-Panther Vincent Trochek scored his 13th goal in what was the Canes third win out of their last four with Florida. This is hilarious when you consider that Carolina's weak spot at the start ostenabily was goaltending; specifically Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. When Mrazek got hurt; no problem. Surprised? My man in Raleigh, Joel Cohen, opines: "The surprising success of the Reimer-Alex Nedeljkovic tandem spurs the question; what happens when Mrazek is ready for play?" The Hockey Einstein of Raleigh, coach Rod Brind'Amour, says it's all about relativity. "I'm kicking down the curb until I have figured it out." (Joel Cohen helped me by translating from the Carolina-ese. "Rod means he'll figure it out when the time comes!”)
THE PREDATORS PREDICAMENTS
THE JIVE: Nashville's run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final has disappeared from the NHL rearview mirror. It was, as reporter David Boclair declared in The Hockey News Annual, "as good as it was going to get for the core of this team." Right now, the Preds' shot at a playoff berth is a long, long one. Our Central Division pundit Alan Greenberg offers the reasons why: "The struggles are tied to their inability to take and keep an early lead. It cost them dearly in the two-game set they just lost to Florida at home." As usual the onus is on the coach; in this case John Hynes. But long-term injuries-- Matt Duchene, Ryan Ellis, Juuse Saros -- is a whole lot of hurt. Greenberg reports that Hynes blamed "drifting" as part of the mental malaise. "As a group we've got to find a way to be more consistent." Eternal Preds g.m. David Poile has the challenge of his life. "Does he try to put the ship on course or begin a painful rebuild?" adds our man Al. "Nashville is on a long road trip with an awful record against teams they'll be facing. This is a make or break stretch for the team and the coach." (They got off to a good start on Sunday night with a 4-3 Shootout victory over Dallas. Well, there's still half a season left. You never know!)
* JOHN TAVARES AND SAM GAGNER BECOME PARTNERS: Two overpaids will operate the Greater Toronto Hockey League's Marlboros.(I wonder if they'll have time for their night jobs; like scoring goals.)
* RALPH KRUEGER, SAYS NOT TO WORRY. The embattled Sabres coach says that if he worried about job security he'd "lose focus." (By the way, his club looked intense and in focus against the Islanders on Saturday despite the loss.)
* SHOULD WINNIPEG SELL HIGH ON PAUL STASTNY? That's the question tossed by Sportsnet. The answer: The Jets ain't broke; no need to fix 'em.
* THE NHL PROPOSES CHANGES IN THE LOTTERY FORMAT: Good. If it's broke, fix it. (The league will.)
* VANCOUVER WRITER ASKS IF PLAYOFFS ARE STILL POSSIBLE FOR THE CANUCKS: (If he watched their amazing comeback and Shootout win over Montreal last night, the answer is YES!)
TRIVIA CORNER: What was the name of Walt Disney's only cartoon about hockey? Also, which Disney character was used and when was it made?
(See answer below)
FAMOUS SAYINGS BY FAMOUS HOCKEY PEOPLE: "I'm not interested in politics; I just want to score goals."
- Maurice (Rocket) Richard after being told he was a symbol of French-Canadians' political aspirations.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The Disney cartoon was called "Hockey Homicide" and was released in 1945.
Goofy played all characters including rival captains Ice Box Bertino and Fearless Ferguson. The opposing teams were the Loose Leafs and Anteaters. (It's hilarious.)