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

 

Players:

  • that Joe Thornton would be in the top ten in the NHL in scoring when he last finished a season there in the 2009-10 season.
  • of the top five goal scores, Ovechkin, Steen, Perry, Kane and Kunitz, Ovechkin would have both overtime goals in the quintet.
  • the leagues three leaders in PIMS Derek Dorsett of the New York Rangers, Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators, and Antoine Roussel would combine for more penalty minutes (275) than the New Jersey Devils (251) or San Jose Sharks (271) and each be playing 11:35 a night or more.
  • Brandon Dubinsky would be the only player over 20 points and 60 PIMS, and have a 56.1 FO%.
  • Mike Santorelli of the Vancouver Canucks and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings would be tied for the NHL lead in overtime points.
  • last years Masterson Award winner Josh Harding would be dominating the league and have the best save percentage of any goalie with more than 1000 minutes on the season and be sitting pretty with a .938 sv% and a 16-5-3 record.
  • undrafted rookie goaltender Cam Talbot with ten games played would have a significantly better sv% (.934 vs .910) than teammate and the NHL’s highest paid netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

Teams:

  • a month after losing Steven Stamkos to injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning would still be holding a top 3 spot in the Atlantic division.
  • on December 13th the spread betwen the 1st and 8th place teams in the east and west would be 10 in the west with 3 teams tied for 8, and 13 in the east.
  • to date, no team in the east would have scored 100 goals.
  • Of the teams in the bottom five (tie for 5th) last year in the NHL, only two would currently be in that place.
  • the Buffalo Sabres who are dead last in the NHL in points would have allowed just one more goal than the Chicago Blackhawks who have the most points in the league.
  • the Edmonton Oilers would be the only team to allow more than 4 shorthanded goals.
  • there would be no apparent pattern to the four teams yet to score a shorthanded goal as to date the Coyotes, Penguins, Panthers and Sabres would all be on the outside looking in.
  • four teams in the west would have scored 100 or more goals.
  • under offensive minded coach Alain Vigneault the New York Rangers would be producing over half a goal per game less than under the blueshirt’s previous bench boss in prior two seasons.

This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

Last year the Vancouver  Canucks once again marched through the Northwest Division, and claimed its crown for the regular season. The main event for the shortened 48 game season was not the on ice product, but the circus surrounding Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo the teams “1A” and “1B” starting goaltenders. A shortened year was spent with neither able to wrest the job firmly from the other, and no trade to save the media beating the story to death.

At the NHL entry draft an amazing thing happened, Schneider ended up getting traded. Mike Gillis sold out his best crease man not for thirty silvers but for just one first round pick, which was used for Bo Hovart. Alain Vigneault was discarded and John Tortorella brought in. Mike Santorelli the former Nashville Predator and Florida Panther were brought in to deepen the pool at center on the cheap. Keith Ballard was paid to go away.

This year the team will open the season with two players suspended, and David Booth on injured reserve. Former Montreal Canadien Yannick Weber will be looking for a blueline job, and both Bo Hovart and Hunter Shinkaruk continue their fight for a roster spot. The young guns may get their shot with the temporary openings, but whether they cross the 10 game threshold is anyone’s guess. The opening fistful of games see’s the Canucks kickoff their season visiting the San Jose Sharks. With just one night rest they will head home to square off with the Edmonton Oilers, before scurrying off to face the Calgary Flames less than 24 hours later. Finally they’ll have a short home stand with a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: San Jose Sharks (twice)

Weakest opponent:  Calgary Flames

Home games: 3

Projected points:  5

The pace of the first five games, and the unfamiliarity with the new system mixed with the possible inclusion of two rookies makes the opening handful of games really rough. With just one proven NHL goaltender, the question will loom all season long over how much they can afford to rest Roberto Luongo. The Canucks are actually in a competitive division for the first time in the career of any of their core players. It is probable they are a better than .500 team, but that depends on their goaltending and the Sedin’s staying the entire season and bouncing back to something like  the level they played at leading to their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

Every season, every series we get unexpected things. The NHL wth its grueling schedule, physical play, and hard working players you simply can’t escape the drama.

6: The New York Islanders; Throwing Blows

The Islanders may have gone down int he first round, but they didn’t go out alone. The Islanders in fact put Marc-Andre Fleury on the shelf and possibly set him up for a buyout. Another element of the surprises was which defenseman was tasked with defending Sidney Crosby. It wasn’t Lubomir Vishnovsky who probably owns the best league wide reputation in his own zone among the Islanders. It wasn’t Mark Streit, captain and slick skater. It was the 22 year old veteran of a slim 186 regular season games, Travis Hamonic. The St. Malo native performed admirably, and much to the surprise of many NHL observers, and Pittsburgh Penguins fans the series went six games.

5: Vancouver Canucks: Silence of the Twins, Voiding of Vigneault

The Sedin twins failure to score even one goal between them in the first round was stunning. Just two years removed from back to back MVP season for Henrik and Daniel, they were bound and gagged by the Sharks able only to contribute assists. The team was swept from the playoffs, and the coach, quite surprisingly was the one to bear the brunt of the organizational wrath. Alain Vigneault was fired quickly after the defeat opening the way for a new voice, and new system.The firing of a seemingly bullet proof coach, is always something that while frequently deserved, is almost always a surprise by the time it happens. Vigneault, seemed to lead a charmed life in Vancouver escaping blame for an underdisciplined team

4: Bryan Bickell: Post Season Superstar

To say this playoff run was a surprise would be a charming understatement. In this his fourth playoff run, Bryan  Bickell racked up what is north of 69% of his post season points total. The 41st pick of the 2004 draft racked up 85 hits, went a plus 11, and put up 17 points on his way to helping the Chicago BlackHawks hoist the cup for the second time in four years.

3: Pittsburgh Penguins: Swimming Like A Stone

The first round saw the Pittsburgh Penguins go blow for blow with division rivals the New York Islanders, and win. In the second round they had an opponent in their sights they had won handily against in several consecutive games. Unfortunately three things doomed them. The first was an offense that wilted under a punishing Bruins defense. The second was a lack of composure that saw Malkin get into his third NHL fight, Crosby not merely get in the face of the NHL’s apex predator, but start the confrontation, and the team as a whole fail to accomplish anything, and third was a lack of accountability that saw them make few adjustments, none effective. The team scored two goals in four games. They were shutout not once buy twice, and never managed to get into the series, much less take control of it. Hardly what one would expect from the team that won the eastern conference.

2: Patrick Kane: American Hero

Jokes about Kane’s life off the ice are as easy to make as hailing a cab, but no one can deny his on ice prowess. The speedy sniper put up g0als against every netminder he faced, scored timely goals and looked entirely relaxed doing it. The big stage isn’t something that makes Kane shrink and hide. What was surprising was to see him win the Conn-Smythe. Not just because he’s neither a goalie nor a center, but because he’s an American. You could make legitimate cases for Corey Crawford, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith all of whom had enviable second seasons, and who had the good grace to be born Canadian. Kane is just the fourth American to win the Conn-Smythe and the third in a row, his former USA Olympic teammate Tim Thomas started the streak.

1: Anaheim Ducks: No Migration

The Ducks cruised through the regular season racking up wins with very nearly the easy and regularity of the Chicago squad, fans and NHL observers hoped for a Western Conference Finals for the ages between the Ducks and Blackhawks, but it was not meant to be. Despite scoring from depth players, solid goaltending from Hiller, and Getzlaf and Beauchemin providing leadership the Ducks lacked one thing that would keep them from taking flight into the second round; killer instinct. Game five ended with them up three to two in the series. They had home ice advantage, and went on to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

The Rangers have been eliminated short of the Cup again. The time to look at why is now, and as is frequently the case in sports the first place that gets looked at, and all too often the last is the coaches office. The case against Tortorella is seemingly damning. Last year he had a Eastern Conference finalist a bounce or two from the Stanley Cup finals.  The Rangers roared through the regular season and played strong hockey until getting beat by a slightly more cohesive team of wily veterans. This year with some significant changes in the forward group, they struggled all of the abbreviated season to even make the playoffs. They got into a slugging match with the Washington Capitals, and were just short of run out of the building in successive games by the Bruins. Not because, aside from game three, the team didn’t show up. Not because of overhyped problems with the powerplay, but because they lacked that winning attitude, you can call it elan, machismo, or swagger and not be wrong.

The Rangers as a whole have too many nice guys and creme puffs to own their own space. They aren’t quite the Speed Bag Sedin twin seen in the finals not so very long ago, but they are close. For all that Hagelin’s willing to play with an edge here and there, its not consistent, and I really doubt he’d make a list of the top 50 most intimidating forwards in the eastern conference. Derek Dorsett is a bad dude, he’s quite capable of ruining someones whole week when the gloves come off. But he’s not playing first or second line minutes. Derick Brassard played his heart out, he was a point per game player on a very defensive minded team. But let’s not kid ourselves, this was his first taste of the NHL playoffs, and while his contribution was heartening, in six NHL seasons he’s never even cracked 60PIMS.

When you look at the biggest names, you begin to see the problems. Rick Nash is not, and has never been a power forward. He’s not Alex Ovechkin in either skill or willingness to hit or be hit to make plays. He’s not got the snarl of David Backes, or even the much smaller Wayne Simmonds. Rick Nash is a big, skilled forward. But he’s exactly as much a power forward as Erik Karlsson is an elite shutdown defenseman. Brad Richards is ordinarily a pretty good player. This year he was awful. Maybe it was the lockout throwing off his training schedule, maybe there were some off ice issues he was dealing with that sapped his energy.  Whatever it was that caused him to deviate from being a nearly point per game post season player, it is unlikely to last.

Clearly the construction issues of this team are paramount, but before pushing a coach out the door you have to ask a couple vital questions:

  1. Is the coach a bigger problem than the construction of the team?
  2. Is the coach the right coach for the team we intend to have after changes?
  3. Is there a better coach available for the we have or want to have than the one we have now?

For the first questions, that’s an unequivocal no. This team lacks the bloodlust to win. That is not a problem with a fairly combative coach, it is one that can be covered up by it in some regards, but no in this case, the coach isn’t a bigger problem, unlike say Alain Vigneault who always had an excuse for his teams failure.

For the second, you have to decided what team you’re building. The Kings are hardly the most combative team in the league, but they will still hit you every chance they get. The Bruins have to play highly combative teams like the Flyers and Leafs and were equipped to win playing that style. The Kings won with an ultra-balanced, ultra-deep team we’re unlikely to see a reprisal of anytime soon. They Kings and Bruins aren’t that dissimilar from the Rangers except in depth. If the direction going forward is to more strongly emulate one of them, then removing a coach doing most of what they do with a far smaller toolbox is probably foolish. If however they choose to go in the opposite direction and play a more smooth skating, high end passing, offensively overloaded style like the Penguins, he might not be the best choice

For the third, there are some similar coaches like Guy Boucher, and arguably Mike Keenan, but are they actually going to be better? After those two you’ve got Lindy Ruff, an then you’re dipping into the AHL and looking at guys like Bruce Cassidy of the Providence Bruins, or Gordie Dwyer of the PEI Rockets of the QMJHL, a guy who has been there and done that. There is a good case for bringing in someone who isn’t an NHL retreat, especially with a team that has a lot of youngsters, but the questions remains; are they better? The answer is maybe.

For me, if I’m the team owner, dropping the coach isn’t going to fix the problem, and if that’s the general manager’s solution, he’s not the man to fix the problem either.

16: One team has a coach who knows what the adjustments that need to be made after a loss are, the other one says “it doesn’t matter”.

15: Patrice Bergeron who has scored at least once goal in each round has yet to score against the Canucks.

14: The hockey gods are not kind to the arrogant, note that the Canucks tried to sell their parade broadcast rights before game six.

13: Between injuries and suspensions the Canucks are missing Mason Raymond, Dan Hamuis and Aaron Rome.

12: Game 7 will be the 100th playoff game of Zdeno Chara.

11: This is the twentieth anniversary of Mark Recchi’s first Cup winning year.

10: The most popular player on the ice will be Vancouver native Milan Lucic.

9: Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis has never won a championship at any level.

8: Only seven of twenty five President’s Trophy winning teams have won the Stanley Cup.

7: Of the President’s Trophy winning teams to win the Stanley Cup, none have collected the Stanley Cup in their first President’s Trophy win.

6: There really is a conspiracy against the Canucks, the comments by “keepthesonics” over at Puck Daddy prove it all.

5: The goalie with the better regular season stats has won the last three Cups.

4: The Canucks have not scored back to back powerplay goals in this series.

3: Only four teams have won the Cup while being outscored, none with a deficit as large as the Canucks currently is.

2: Claude Julien has won coach of the year in the NHL and the AHL.

1:  It is the anniversary 6/17/2007 of the “reassigning” of Dave Lewis away from head coaching duties.

 

Even before the series started, we’ve seen the temperament of the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins on display. I’m not sure the contrast could have been more stark had it been planned this way.  On ice the two teams have played hard with one team getting a suspension for a blatantly dirty hit, collected embellishment penalties and oh yes bitten the other. The other team has responded with hard checks, some taunting and focus on the game.

Off the ice the gulf has been even wider. When Claude Julien faced the media after two of his players, both leaders, both well known to everyone did something he didn’t care for he stated what it was and said it had been dealt with. When the Bruins lost a game, Julien was candid about what needed to be fixed. His opposite number and one time defensive partner, answered nearly all of last nights questions with a persnickety “it doesn’t matter”, he said it enough times I’m sure some viewers flipping over from Monday Night Raw thought they were being treated to a parody of the song by The Rock and Wyclef.

When Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron, an offense for which other players have been suspended, Vigneault couldn’t seem to see anything wrong. Despite the league dropping the ball, the only comment Juline and company made was “we support the leagues decision”. When Aaron Rome planted Nathan Horton on the blueline, more of the same. Julien and the Bruins saying they needed to move forward, Henrik Sedin, Aaron Rome, and Vigneault saying they didn’t see anything wrong, that it was unfair someone else wasn’t suspended in a different series for a hit they stated was similar.  This of course immediately after the Burrows non-suspension.

The pissy and well rehearsed Sedin ‘rebuttal’ of Mike Milbury has been well covered. Luongo’s adventures in tire pumping too have gotten all the electrons anyone could need.  Is it any wonder that this series has raised the status of the Montreal Canadiens and their fans in the eyes of many Bruins fans?

What a game, if you’re a Bruins fan, or just like many people have come to, hate the Canucks. For the Canucks the good news is that their defense was twice as effective as it was in game three. Unfortunately that means they still gave up four goals to the Boston Bruins with the help of Luongo who was eventually pulled in favor of Marblehead native Cory Schneider.

The special teams battle was dead even. Both teams took some boneheaded penalties. Both teams bailed out their teammates on the penalty kill. Neither teams powerplay looked particularly good. Given the quality of defense of both teams that’s not surprising. Given the events of game three its not surprising that several of the early calls were marginal at best.

During his post game press conference, Alain Vignuealt looked and sounded defeated. I’ve seen people rolled out of operating rooms show more energy. He ducked the question on the behavior of Tim Thomas. It was interesting that he didn’t say anything since Thomas did shed the gloves first, and delivered a slash to the leg in response to Burrows slashing the stick from Thomas’s hands.

Fifty-four hits between the two teams, and despite the Canucks winning the faceoff battle in both games, and getting eleven more shots on goal, the Bruins won. 12 goals in 83:17 given up by the Canucks is a scary stat. One goal in 100 minutes is even more scary.

Tonight is a deceptively simple game for the Bruins to win. They were irresistible force and immovable object for the final two periods of game three. If they put in that level of effort again tonight extra staffing will be needed on the suicide hotlines in the Vancouver area.

  • Will the officiating be as intrusive as it has been at other points in the post season?
  • Which goalie will have the better game?
  • Can Alain Vigneault possibly find a way to make himself look like a bigger putz?
  • How much shuffling of the first and third lines will we see?
  • Can the Bruins powerplay (which has been the better one this series) score three games in a row?
  • Who will have more hits, the Sedin twins or Tim Thomas?

One final note, in game 3 the Bruins had more penalty minutes than the Canucks and won handily, are the Canucks fans going to claim this is part the same conspiracy as the penalty free game seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning?