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Stan's Java Jive: 2/19/21
Move Taylor Hall?; Devils, a live sleeper in the East; NHL.com rates the Bruins tops in the NHL; and which famous goalie wore a tuque during games?
HEADLINE: SABRES 'DISASTROUS' -- MOVE TAYLOR HALL?
THE JIVE: Back on January 31, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger described his team's 5-3 defeat at the hands of New Jersey as "Disastrous." Well, nothing has changed. Buffalo's 3-1 loss to Washington last night leaves the Western New Yorkers limping along with a fourth-straight loss and 4-7-2 record, prompting fans and media to finger the culprits. Buffalo News columnist Mike Harringron correctly indicts several culprits.
"It's the top-paid offensive skaters who don't score." Specifically, he names captain Jack Eichel, the absurdly overpaid Taylor Hall and throws in Jeff Skinner -- what planet is he on? -- and our old pal, Kyle Okposo who's never been the same since he left Long Island. Hall is the major toothache for rookie g.m. Kevyn Adams. He signed overrated left wing Hall to a one-year $8 million contract and in return he's gotten what we called in Woodside, Queens "minus-the-radical-50." The hope was that Hall, alongside Eichel, would transform the Sabres into a lethal offensive team. Now the question is raised, "What's the future for Hall?" Our advice; do what the Devils did; trade him for someone worthwhile. Ironically, the guy carrying Buffalo's offensive load is the sophomore Swede Victor Olofsson who scored 20 goals last year. Goaltending could be an issue if Linus Ullmark can't do better than an 18-save effort; the case vs. the Caps.
Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula have a club hellbent for a ten-year playoff drought. They thought they'd get something better after firing g.m. Jason Botterill and 21 members of his staff last June. So far all they've received in return is embarrassment. (Ergo: Something's gotta give!)
HEADLINE: THERE'S A 'SLEEPER' WIDE-AWAKE IN THE GARDEN STATE.
THE JIVE: Nobody paid much attention to the Devils g.m. Tom Fitzgerald when he pressed the reset button and promised a long-term rebuild around center Jack Hughes and fellow No. 1 pick pivot, Nico Hischier. New Jersey's power rating when the games began was 25th out of 31 but times do change, don't they? After beating the Bruins -- again! -- last night, 3-2, the Lindy Ruff-coached club is breezing along with the breeze at 6-3-2 thanks to the fine goaltending of Mackenzie Blackwood. When Corey Crawford gave the club a Jersey Bounce, Blackwood moved in and proved that his .915 save percentage and three shutouts in 47 games last season was no fluke. Kyle Palmieri, who led the Devs with 45 points last year, still has the goods, popping a biggie in the win over Boston. Slow-to-develop Pavel Zacha is 2-2-4 in the last four games and is looking like a sixth overall pick in 2015 should at this point in his career. (The return of Sami Vatanen on defense last night is yet another reason to believe that these "Sleepers" from Newark will be wide awake all season.)
HEADLINE: IS THIS THE START OF SOMETHING BIG RE RANGERS?
THE JIVE: If any coach needed a boost heading into the weekend it was David Quinn, the man behind the Rangers bench. His club hadn't won in four games and was so lackadaisical after the last loss, Dave's most telling comment was, "I'm pissed off!" For the moment at least the quixotic Quinn has a smile on his face. A Blueshirts 3-2 Shootout win over Philly will do that. And so what if the Flyers were minus six players including Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. As my insightful analyst, Gus Vic, points out, goaltending has leveled off and defensive responsibility -- while spotty -- has improved in spots. "The biggest issue is the Rangers East-West offensive mindset in a North-South division," says Vic. "The team remains too lateral and diagonal in its approach. It gets few first shots from high quality areas and fewer second chances." (I'll simplify it; this modest victory could be the start of something big.)
HEADLINE: NHL.COM RATES THE BRUINS BEST OVERALL
THE JIVE: A Blue Ribbon panel at NHL.com delivered a compelling power rating. Of the top 16 teams, the Big Three wound up with Boston first, the Lightning runner-up and Vegas in third place. Interestingly, the Maple Leafs captured fourth place one ahead of the Avalanche and two ahead of the Panthers. Others, in this order were, Habs, Flyers, Islanders, Blues, Jets, Caps, Chi, Stars and, finally, the Devils in the 16th spot. (I'd put Florida right up in third place and Carolina fourth. Meanwhile, The Hockey News has a story running, "It's Time To Fear The Islanders!" (Do you believe in jinxes? In this case, I do. The Islanders were beaten, 4-1, last night by Crosby, Inc. while the Bruins fell to the Devils, 3-2. Today, I'd move Toronto right up to the top!)
HEADLINE: MCDAVID SCORES 500TH POINT; IS HE BETTER THAN CROSBY?
THE JIVE: Perhaps the comparison is premature, but who can wait? Off the top, Sidney has three Stanley Cup rings (2009, 2916, 2017) while Connor may never have one. Add, Crosby's pair of Conn Smythe Trophies (2016, 2017) another pair of Harts; and there's no point going on from here. McDavid has been in the league for six years and has been a total virtuoso with a measly two playoff teams on his resume. A pair of Art Ross Trophies are impressive to go along with The Captain's class and all that.
Bottom Line: It IS too soon to make a judgement. But, if McDavid stays on the express track, he could ultimately win the Who's Best contest. But not today and not until he wins at least one Stanley Cup!
HEADLINE: MATT MURRAY: 'THIS LOSS IS ON ME!'
THE JIVE: Judging by his performance -- "Performance?" -- last night against Toronto, Murray is a very good reporter. After starter Marcus Hogberg departed the game after 12 minutes and one goal in the first period, Murray skated between the pipes. Over the next 48 minutes, Double M showed why his four-year $25 million deal is a joke. A bad joke on Ottawa at that. Matt allowed six Leafs goals on 26 shots and post-game allowed, "This is on me. If I just do a better job who knows what would have happened?" Trouble is, fans in the Canadian capital are tired of Murray's failure to stabilize the goaltending. (I'd love to see young Joey Daccord out of Boston, home of the Bruins, get a few games in place of Murray.)
* GEOFF WARD ON THE HOT SEAT: Yeah, inconsistency has plagued the Flames. Plus talk about players "tuning him out." Solution: win a few games in a row; or start worrying.
* MEGHAN HUNTER TOUTED AS POSSIBLE FIRST FEMALE NHL G.M.
A worthwhile thought as The Hockey News' Jared Clinton points out. She was Stan Bowman's Exec. Asst. for five years. Now she's up to Director of Hockey Administration and Amateur Scout. (Impressive!)
* HENRIK LUNDQVIST DOING WELL: Everybody's -- well, almost everybody's -- favorite goaltender -- reports that he's on the road to recovery from his heart surgery. "Everything is looking great," reports The King. (Super-Duper News.)
* BARRY TROTZ ON ILYA SOROKIN: "He's got 'street cred.' if you will."(Sounds like a Saskatchewan version of "street smarts.")
* EVERY SINGLE COACH SAYS 'KEEP IT SIMPLE': It really must be hard to "Keep it simple," because it's repeated about every other game.
* JACOB MARKSTROM INTRODUCES NEW WAY TO STOP BREAKAWAYS: The Flames estimable puck-stopper charges at them. The breakaway guy goes flying over Jake, the puck is saved and no penalty is called. (Vancouver's Tanner Pearson was the most recent victim.)
* ANOTHER SUPER SWISS. Keep your eye on Chicago's Philipp Kurashev. The left wing out of Munsingen, Switzerland, is the latest young ace with dazzling moves
* YAY TO THE MAPLE LEAFS TOP LINE: Matthews, Marner and Thornton remind me of the Kennedy-Meeker-Lynn line that powered Toronto to three straight Cups, 1947, 48 and 49; first team ever to score a hat trick of Stanleys.
* YAY TO JORDAN BINNINGTON. The Blues' stopper is off to so strong a start that g.m. Doug Armstrong is ready to re-sign him with bigger bucks than the two-year, $8.8 million deal soon to expire. "Our goal is to keep him," says Army.
WHO WAS THE GOALIE WHO KNITTED WOOL HATS WHICH HE WORE DURING GAMES? (Answer below.)
GREAT COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: BUTCH GORING ON BEING PICKED UP ON WAIVERS BY THE BRUINS:
"I'm sort of like a former stake horse that was claimed for the cheapest price there is."
TRIVIA ANSWER: Hall of Famer Jacques Plante. When he made his debut with the Canadiens in 1952, Plante wore a French-Canadian style wool tuque he had knitted. From time to time he'd lose the tuque while chasing an errant puck. Finally coach Dick Irvin forbade him to wear it.