The Boston Bruins have the longest winning streak of the season. The best goals differential. Lead the northeast division, and faceoff against the Detroit Red Wings Friday. Last year when the Bruins played the Wings in a home and home, they played a horrid game at home, and lost the game at Detroit on two rookie mistakes the well seasoned Wings capitalized on. Marchand and Seguin are a full season more experienced, have won a cup, and are playing with perhaps the most effective three zone forward in the NHL.

The Wings come in with a three game win streak of their own. Currently they sit in sixth place in the west, but are just one point ahead of tenth place. Detroit’s twenty second ranked penalty kill is a weakness their more dominant teams never had, but their powerplay is still running smooth and holds down the NHL’s nine spot.

Rich Peverley has a shot at his 100th career assist.

Shawn Thornton is 11 games short of his 400th career regular season game.

This will be the 21st game of the season for both teams.

Detroit’s powerplay has given up two shorthanded goals this season, the Bruins powerplay has not choked up a goal.

Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is having a career year going 11-5-1 in 17 starts, with a 1.92 GAA and a ,927 sv%. He currently leads the NHL with three shutouts, but he’s been notably better at home than on the road.

It’s a mystery to Bruins fans the globe around how it is that Benoit Pouliot is back in the lineup. Here’s the top ten  reasons why:

10: Claude Julien feels bad for guys the Habs dropped.

9: He got a no competition clause inserted in his contract.

8: Julien is waiting for him to take more penalty minutes than shifts to bench him.

7: The guys in the press box pick on him too much.

6: Jordan Caron, Zach Hamill and every other member of the Bruins organization not on the roster are zombies and the Bruins front office is trying to keep the plague from spreading.

5: He’s in the lineup to make Caron and Hamill look better in preperation for a trade.

4:  He’s a number four draft pick.

3: Dennis Wideman told him how to stick to the starting roster.

2: Jordan Caron is actually employed only to babysit Juliens daughter when they are on the road.

1: Benoit Pouliot makes up the starting roster.

While I don’t see the Bruins trading Rask any time in the near future, the possibility does exist that with all the key contracts up this off season the Bruins will need to move someone to make it work. He’s an RFA to be with arbitration rights, and he’s put in some impressive numbers in limited play. There are several teams who need a goalie either right now or soon. The Bruins could go for either a short term deal that let them fill in for a long term injury or was a move designed to put the team over the top. A long term deal would almost have to include tow or three pieces coming to Boston that fit into the three year plus plans, it could be draft picks, highly regarded prospects, roster players or some mix.

One of the more interesting bits of speculation going around is a Tuukka Rask for Zach Parise deal. This one has floated around for a good two years, maybe longer. The fact that the Broduer Era is essentially over, and their current backup is even older than he is just provides more fuel for it. Take the Devils inability to sign Parise to a long term deal, and you’ve got all that is needed for an unkillable discussion. Parise is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and arguably the biggest fish in the sea. For the Bruins pulling the trade off in season not only gives them the best left wing depth in the NHL, if he fits in, the team is just short of a lock to become the first back to back cup winner in the salary cap era. Getting an inside track on negotiations before he hits the open market July 1st is just icing on the cake.  For New Jersey they get arguably the best backup in hockey, who is also young enough to still be in his prime as Larsson, Henrique and other youngsters peak.

The Florida Panthers may not need goaltending now, but Jose Theodore has highly variable seasons, Scott Clemmensen has never started even half the games in a season, despite playing his first NHL game in the 01-02 season. Worse from their prospective is that Clemmensen is signed only through the end of this year, and Theodore through the end of next year.  Both have played well so far, but neither is exactly young. They do have Markstrom who his young, and played his first NHL games this season, but clearly they don’t think he’s ready. The team has surprised a lot of people, and maybe in win real soon mode, but you can’t help but wonder what Dale Tallon’s long term plan is. Swapping Rask for Markstrom and Garrison. or Markstrom and draft picks is something that works both ways.  Markstrom would get to develop behind a completely different style goaltender and wouldn’t face the same pressure as Rask will in stepping into Thomas’s shoes, Rask get’s to take over the reigns on a team that is clearly on the way up now.

The Minnesota Wild have to be considered the biggest positive surprise in the whole western conference this year. Everyone knew the Oilers had the offensive goods to beat up teams who weren’t wary, but I’d be willing to bet not many people had the Wild in the Northwest division drivers seat, nor leading the NHL a day before Thanksgiving. They are a team more in need of goalscoring today than they are goaltending, but they have two UFA to be goaltenders. One is the 33 year old Backstrom, the other the 27 year old Harding. It’s likely that Backstrom is retained, but he’s played a shrinking number of games over the last three years from a high of 71 to just 51 last year due to injuries. Harding has grown into his responsibilities, and has pretty solid regular season numbers with just one playoff game to his credit. Assuming the Wild are giving up Harding, for Rask, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bruins wanted a long term project like Charlie Coyle and a 2nd round pick in the deal.

The Tampa Bay Lightning thought they had a solution in Dwayne Roloson. Not so. The offensively gifted team has been let down by a goalie who time has caught up to.  Their backup is career journeyman. They could stand to beef up their defensive depth, but priority one is finding an answer in the crease.  Enter Tuukka Rask. With him they’d arguably have the best goaltender in the division, certainly the best young goaltender in the Southeast Division. While reuniting Tim Thomas with St Louis as the return for Rask is certainly fit to make Bruins and University of Vermont followers have a fangasm, he is 38 years old with a largeish contract for three more years. Ryan Malone is another intriguing forward the Bolts might move, he does currently have an NMC, but climate aside, I can’t see him complaining about the chance to play in Boston. They don’t have a great deal of prospect depth,  but shoring up one position has to make it easier to focus on the rest.

I can’t see the Bruins trading Rask within the division, but the crease in Toronto eclipses even the Islanders for chaos, and is significantly lower in talent. Not even the Columbus Blue Jackets have given up more goals than the Leafs. What would the Bruins get in return? Good question. The defense is as faulty as the goaltending, and the forward crew seems to only work there. The number of guys who have been discarded by other teams with cause is amazing. I don’t think a straight Rask for draft picks is a good investment, but Burke has been a willing trade partner.

The other divisional team that might be clamoring for a goalie is the Senators. I don’t think they’ve had an elite goaltender in their history. They have a surprising amount of depth in skaters, but an NHL ready goaltender is one thing they don’t have. The potential returns range from prospects like Rundblad and Cowen or Zibenajad to an NHL veteran like Alfredsson. If the return is picks, and not yet NHL ready prospects, maybe the talented but oft injured Milan Michalek is worth taking a gamble on.

In a mid morning press release the National Hockey League announced the All Star game would have a few updates to make it more media friendly. Sidney Crosby would automatically be selected as the Captain of both teams. To ensure maximum safety of the players every other player would be replaced by high school (baseball) players, and the non-Crosby player votes would decide what jersey’s the youngsters would wear while playing on one of the teams.

Further highlights of the release include:

  • Pierre McGuire will be the only interviewer allowed to talk directly to Crosby.
  • The teams will be designated Team Sid and Team Crosby.
  • Sidney Crosby himself will wear a hybrid jersey that shows both logos and team colors.
  • Announcers will not be allowed to use the name of any other player in the NHL, unless it refers to Crosby taking the puck from them, skating around them or beating them to score.
  • To alleviate potential confusion by fans as to which jersey they want, only Sidney Crosby’s All Star jersey would be available.
  • No  other players, coaches, general managers, or owners will be available for interviews during the four day festivities.
  • To better align with the NHL’s marketing and training the game will be retitled the NHL One Star Game Featuring Sidney Crosby. All previous literature should be discarded, recidivists will be shot and have their press passes revoked.

I spoke with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who said he had just one short statement to make for the record. Here it is in it’s entirety.

“CROSBY!”

All questions regarding the disposition of the Phoenix Coyotes, the brutalization of Boston fans by Habs fans at a recent game, what it means to the NHL to have stable ownership for the Dallas Stars with the repeated incantation “Crosby“. After about the seventh repetition of this rapturous prayer tears of joy could be seen streaming down the Commissioners face. Similarly, questions as to how the recent resurgence of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the dominance of the Minnesota Wild received one word answers.

Reports of other games having played on the night of Crosby’s return were greeted with chilly stares by NHL operatives. Senior Public Information Minister Dan Rosen greeted the rumors of other players being worth enjoying with a sneered “Where are they all then, Area 51?”. He went on to proclaim “We are the National Hockey League, our marketing is the Best! You will like who we tell you to like, read the five stories we regurgitate about the same handful of players and be grateful we provide you with the only information you need. You Will RESPECT MY Authority!”

When he was asked how the return of the Messiah would affect his job league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan (recently retitled Arch-Bishop-Captain of Protection of the Messiah’s Guard) said they have instituted two new rules to better protect his holiness. 1) No opposing player shall approach within three feet of Crosby, any player who does so will be subject to an automatic 15 minute major penalty (time to only elapse while Crosby is on the ice) and may be subject to additional supplemental discipline. First time offenders would start with a minimum seventy five game suspension. 2) All opposing players, and team mates Crosby didn’t like who made physical contact with Crosby would receive a five season suspension from the NHL, no possible appeal.

The Boston Bruins are undeniably the hottest team in the NHL. In fact they are the hottest team in North America. The Montreal Candiens have gone 6-3-1 in there last 10. If history has taught anyone even one thing about the rivalry between these two teams it’s that records don’t matter, streaks don’t matter it’s all about what happens when the puck drops.

The Bruins lost both halves of the home and home set in October to the boys of the Belle Centre. In those games they were outscored 6-3. The Habs last game was four nothing pasting of the New York Rangers.

This game marks the first time Zdeno Chara will play in Montreal since the legal system in Quebec ended its months long embarrassment of an investigation.

Benoit Pouliot is currently slotted in to the right of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. If he does play it will be his first regular season game against the Habs in the Bell Center.

Carey Price has given up more than two goals in a game just once in the month of November.

The Bruins have scored less than three goals just once in November.

It’s no secret that most hockey fans loathe the shootout. It’s not hockey, it is a one hundred and eighty degree departure from the team aspect of the sport that millions and millions of people across the globe adore. It’s been in place for years, and so degraded the once exciting penalty shot to the point where hockey fans who are outside the room momentarily no longer rush back to the screen to see them. Often penalty shots don’t even make the game highlights. Before the lockout that was just unthinkable. Even the staunchest non sports fans would sit rapt, eyes fixed and breathless while a penalty shot was taken. Now, not so much.

It has now been announced that with the return of the (media proclaimed, NHL ordained)  most exciting player in hockey (according to all the media primers the NHL has foisted off on the world since before the lockout ended) Sidney Crosby is set to return. This is great for him No one why enjoys hockey, no one who’s in anyway a decent person can be anything other than pleased he’s made a full recovery and can return to doing what he loves. It’s almost certainly a good thing for the team that has learned to play and win without him. The team is hardly struggling without him, and the team they are playing can’t be considered a top tier rival.

As has been noted, the last game Crosby played was in January. That’s 11 months of recovery, and more than a seasons worth of games missed, not to mention the playoff time. The Penguins have been hitting on all cylinders and sit tied atop the east. With so much time missed, and so many good things going on for the team you can’t help but wonder how much his return is going to disrupt that chemistry. Which makes it all the more surprising that Versus/NHLNetwork have decided to “flex” the Penguins – Islanders tilt into the national spotlight over what is possibly the greatest rivalry in sports.

What makes this even more curious is the all mighty ratings race. Boston Bruins games have beaten the NFL in two consecutive weeks of head to head action. This is the type of thing any sensible network and sports league would fall all over themselves to push as a national trend. Further, the Boston Bruins are on a ridiculous pace in multiple stats. With the NBA out of the way for the rest of the year, this is the sort of sublime opportunity a well run organization would sell its soul and grandmother for. With the Bruins entering a game with their chief rival with the NHL’s longest active win streak on the line against a team who has beaten them twice this season and whom the went to overtime in game seven of a playoff series against not very long ago, it’s a no brainer. Add in all the snowbirds from New England and Canada residing in warmer climates and you’re giving up a rivalry that can spur interest across two nations in favor of highlighting a single player who hasn’t been relevant to the game in nearly a year.

Worse, with so much time having passed between games played, what if Crosby comes out and is shutout? The Islanders have highly variable discipline, and were the recipients of a 6-0 thumping at the hands of the reigning Stanley Cup champions. There’s no way on earth a team with on ice leaders like Brian Rolston and Mark Streit isn’t going to have the team whipped into a frenzy, and no coach can fail to find something to motivate their team with from a beating like that. Mix in the return of the a player dubbed “the next one” before he took to NHL ice the first time, and the recent history for the two teams, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster for the Penguins.

Since the marketing of the NHL has been so top heavy for years in marketing less than a handful of players this has the potential to be a devastating, down right debilitating blow to the NHL’s marketing campaign. In an effort to snag casual fans they’ve set it up so that “the next one” has to come out and not merely play a decent game but earn all the superlatives that are applied to everything short of his digestive evacuations. If John Tavares comes out and scores a hat trick or get’s four points and Crosby is held scoreless or even gets one or two points it’s pretty hard for even the NHL’s spin doctors to massage that into a dominant performance. No doubt they’ll try, but if the Islanders come out as a team and beat Crosby and or the Penguins, the casual fan has no motivation to keep watching the NHL if “the best player in the game” is beaten by a perennial basement dweller.

Worse, the marketing of the individual over the sport has been tried before. It’s been tried, and it has failed miserably. The currently locked out NBA has been marketing the player over the whole product for years. They are currently locked out in a three cornered death match as big market owners, small market owners and players shiv each other publicly. In the past decade and a half no few teams have folded, relocated or been forced into sale due to lack of support for the team.

The NBA has even spawned the most godawful sports-media spectacle in major league history with Lebron James The Decision.  Is that what the NHL is looking to be? A laughing stock that has guys with no championship chops, no legacy, no claim to anything but a well primed hype machine holding a teams ability to sign talent hostage so they can grandstand and have so-called members of the media verbally felicitate them in a carefully constructed interview that makes the worst of Hulk Hogan and John Cena skits look fresh and off the cuff? That’s where it’s headed.

QThe Boston Bruins are the hottest team in the NHL. Of late, even more than Tim Tebow winning is all they do. Despite a cup hangover. Despite injuries and illness that have taken David Krejci, Daniel Paille, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk out of the lineup for games all they do is win. So How good are they?

Just three teams have more wins than the men who hoisted the Cup this June, and all of them have played more games.

Goal differential? Yeah, they’ve got that. At a +25 their goal differential is higher than the next two teams (The Philadelphia Flyers at +13, and the San Jose Sharks +11) combined. Yeah.

Eight Game Win Steak.

Top faceoff team in the NHL.

16 different goal scorers so far this season.. 16 is a reasonably significant number in hockey.

The powerplay that was a historic part of the run to the cup, has been improved by about fifty percent.

Zero overtime losses. Zero Shootout losses.

Last years Northeast Division winning, Stanley Cup champions scored at a rate of 2.98 goals per game, this year they are scoring at 3.44 gpg.

Last years Northeast Division winning, Stanley Cup champions allowed goals at 2.30 gpg. this years team is allowing them at 2.17 gpg.

 

Every NHL season has its shocks. No matter how well you research, no matter what history says each season is its own mind searing, jumbled, chaotic, riveting orchestra of excitement. The biggest surprises are sometimes whole teams, other times single player and in other cases its a whole division.

5: Goalie madness. Not a single person predicted that the three hottest net minders of the first quarter would be the well traveled Mike Smith, seasoned number two man Brian Elliot and elder statesman Nikolia Khabibulin. None of the three has a save % under .936, with Elliot leading the NHL with a .947% on the equilibrium challenged, already made a coaching change St Louis Blues.

4: QUACK! QUACK! QUACK! The once mighty Ducks of Anaheim are looking more fit for orange sauce than great deeds. They are led in scoring by a guy who was drafted before most of his teammates were allowed to cross the street by themselves. The man drafted by Brian Burke who quipped that this guy was still there at #2 has points in just six games, maybe just maybe if he were less busy reviewing movies he’d stop playing like #2.

3: Unfamiliar Faces. Who would have predicted Erik Karlsson the skinny, smooth skating blue liner from Canada’s capital city team would be tied for the NHL lead in assists? Not Joe Thornton, no Steven Stamkos in sight, just a guy who showed up at the All Star draft last year and no one outside the few that haunted the Senators barn last season had a clue about him. I suspect when he goes this year, he’ll be a bit better known. James Neal, Phil Kessel and Milan Michalek atop the goal scoring chart? Not one or two but fifteen players ahead of Alex Ovechkin in shots taken? Insanity.

2: Black gold in blue and orange. There are some really, high skilled forwards on he Edmonton Oilers. Some of those talented forwards can not only drink (legally) in the US of A, but can even get decent car insurance rates. But anyone one outside the Oilers pay structure who said that on November 20th they’d have scored more than the Detroit Red Wings, and be fifth in the entire NHL in goals against with a 2.26 would have been laughed out of hockey.

1: Occupy Youth failure. With the NHL, and its adjacent medias general love fest for young players it’s more than a bit shocking that some of the newest lights in the constellation aren’t getting more attention. Sure Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and some of the other picks in this years draft got a bunch of attention in the first two weeks of the season. But where’s the love for Craig Smith, Jared Cohen, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Luke Adam, Roman Horak, Adam Henrique and the rest?

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

Players:

  • that Blake Wheeler would get his first goal on November 17th, and still have as many points as Eric Staal
  • Teemu Selanne would still lead his team in points, and have his lead over the big three start at five points and grow from there
  • forty-four NHL defensemen would enter play on November 19th with as many points or more than former two time 40+ goal man Eric Staal
  • There would be a rash of goalie injuries for the New York Islanders that left Rick Dipietro as the last man standing
  • Fabian Brunnstrom would have played more NHL games on the season than Marc Staal or Sidney Crosby
  • Kris Versteeg would lead Stamkos, Toews, and Spezza in the scoring race and be outside the top 10
  • Michael Del Zotto would be third in TOI/G, 2nd in +/-, and 2nd in PPTOI/G for the New York Rangers after spending much of last season a healthy scratch or in the AHL
  • that serious Vezina Trophy discussions would have to include Elliot, Khabibulin, and Enroth

Teams:

  • the Ottawa Senators could have negative seven goals differential, not have any of their top five scorers be a plus player, a goals against average of 3.37 (27th) and still be in a playoff position
  • only two teams the Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings would have not appeared in a shootout as of 11/19 and neither would be in playoff position
  • the Chicago Blackhawks would lead the NHL in points, and be 18th in goals against
  • the NHL’s worst penalty kill would belong to the San Jose Sharks
  • the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes would all have losing records when scoring first.
  • the NHL’s black-hats the Boston Bruins would not be among the five most penalized teams

…would you have believe a word of it?