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Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Ken Hitchcock, emotional Bruins and college hockey

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy
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[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]

5. A great coach getting it wrong

The St. Louis Blues are still one of the top teams in the league, but maybe some cracks are starting to show. They entered Tuesday night's game with Toronto having scored just twice in their previous two games, one of which they still won because they are, after all, the St. Louis Blues.

But this led Ken Hitchcock, who has turned the Blues into a possession juggernaut, to wax poetic on how to get his team back on the right track. 

“It’s about controlling the hockey game,” he said. “And you don’t control the hockey game with offense, you control it with checking.”

No, Ken. Because if you're checking teams, you're by definition on defense. Teams with the puck can't check, you see. Because they have the puck, and are thus more likely to put the puck toward the net, and thus more likely to score goals. Pretty simple, really.

Darryl Sutter recently talked about this too, saying that there's a perception out there that the Kings play defensive hockey: “[People] think there's defending in today's game. Nah, it's how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in their own zone, they're defending but they're generally getting scored on or taking faceoffs and they need a goalie to stand on his head if that's the way they play.”

Stands to reason, really.

This recent run of offensive futility for the Blues — who are by the way fairly boring, insofar as they are not actively exciting, so the perception of defensive hockey hangs over them more than, say, the Kings — started against Chicago, when the Blackhawks clubbed them to the tune of 30-21 corsi close and won 4-0. Three days later, they lost 4-1 to the Flyers despite outattempting them 33-29 with the score close. Against the Penguins the next day, they held a marginal 41-40 lead in the same category and won 1-0. The point being that apart from one game against another possession giant, they have been fine, and checking has little to do with it. Because they had the puck the whole time.

Hitchcock understands this fundamentally, of course. Because when asked how he would shut down the Maple Leafs' potent top line of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, he replied, “Make them play defense.” 

Right. Exactly.

4. “If the playoffs started today...”

They don't. Take your matchups graphics and sit on 'em til the season ends. Thanks in advance.

3. Being way tough and totally bad dudes who like lift weights and stuff 

The Bruins' 12-game winning streak came to an end Monday night, and that it did was wholly predictable. They were, after all, playing the Canadiens.

Claude Julien is maybe the best coach in the NHL, and certainly among the most successful, but the same thing seems to happen to the Bruins every time they play Montreal and, to a lesser extent, Buffalo: they behave like idiots for the full 60 and end up losing more often than not. Boston should kill both of these teams on a regular basis, and yet they get so wrapped up in the rivalry that's been built up over the years they more often succumb to genital-waving over which team is the toughest.

Boston went 1-2-1 against the Habs this season, and are currently just 2-1-1 against the Sabres, because they allow themselves to be needled by even the most innocuous plays and end up taking dumb penalties. Take, for instance, the half-hearted hip check attempt on P.K. Subban from Johnny Boychuk midway through the game that made the slightest contact in an area that almost physically couldn't have been farther from his knee while still making contact with his leg. Subban took a completely innocuous two-handed shove at his head. Boychuk took exception, tossed off his gloves and tried to get Subban to fight. When the defenseman, understandably, would not do so because it was a nothing play that happens all the time, Boychuk grabbed him and threw him to the ice from behind, granting the Habs a power play. 

In just eight games against these two teams alone, the Bruins have racked up 118 penalty minutes (14.75 per). In the other 64 they've played this season, they have just 258 PIM (4.03 per). And sure, some of those extra minutes are more fighting majors, because when you play the Habs or Sabres, well, Ya Gotta Fight. But they also just take more minors. Lots more.

After losing this latest contest in just such a fashion: both teams gave their opponents six power plays, and Alexei Emelin and Patrice Bergeron scored their teams' only goals on the man advantage. This just a day after Fluto Shinzawa went in-depth into why the Bruins don't draw power plays, as they're dead last in the league in power play chances at 202. 

That prompted Julien to note that, maybe, his team might want to cool it with the crap penalties every couple of minutes for no good reason, saying, “I think we have to be better disciplined against them.” Well no kidding. But it remains to be seen whether the Bruins will actually heed that lesson.

In fact, the safe money is on them not doing so. They can be prodded into this kind of behavior by the local fanboy media, who then happily eat up the vomit spewed back to them. And as if to underscore the point, Milan Lucic speared Emelin in the balls during the game, probably over a quote-unquote low hip check earlier in the game, then made headlines by denying he did so and calling the Habs defenseman a “chicken”. Yes, like a second-grader.

The Bruins better hope they don't draw the Habs in a playoff series, because playing like this is going to get them bounced. Or maybe they'll just play hockey the way they're capable and hang 22 goals on them in a six-game series. But that's a bloodless beating, and that's not what they seem to want when they play the Habs.

At least they'd spend the whole summer thinking about how tough they are.

2. The shootout's super-duper popularity 

We can all agree that the shootout is dumb (unless we ourselves are dumb), but the time we all agree with that most is when the shootout ends a game that had previously been supremely entertaining.

This was the case with that aforementioned Bruins/Canadiens tilt on Monday, which saw the former's 12-game winning streak snapped not because they could not win in regulation, but because they could not win in a shootout. “No fair,” everyone yelled. “That's dumb,” they all said. But here's the thing, right? So much of the season is ultimately decided by this that dealing with it for any individual game shouldn't be more or less galling than one that's 0-0 through 65 minutes and has been a complete bore. 

(And to that point, too, there's the fact that this was a wild game universally hailed as exciting and great, even as it ended both regulation and the 4-on-4 overtime at 1-all. Which is why basically all this stuff being proposed to artificially boost scoring is stupid. A high score does not intrinsically make games interesting.)

This is the world the NHL prefers to live in. It's stupid. The NHL does stupid stuff pretty much all the time. How does anyone still get worked up about this over any game in particular?

1. College hockey

This past weekend was Championship Saturday and now the NCAA tournament starts on Friday. I couldn't be more excited if I tried. Man oh man.

(Not ranked this week: Twitter got a lot of people in trouble this week because the people who got in trouble are fanboy idiots.

Obviously there's the case of April Reimer, who took a ton of crap because the Maple Leafs continue their inevitable meltdown due to the fact that her husband is no longer stopping 92-ish percent of the pucks shot at him. They attacked her because they are pathetic losers who have so little going on in their lives that this is a good use of their time on a Saturday night. The fact that it turned into a Toronto-wide discussion about The Dangers Of Social Media, and that the city's Star bungled its coverage of the situation so fabulously — and perhaps willfully — is a little much, if predictable. Frankly, too much attention has already been paid to these rowdy teens.

Of course, the more troubling of these is the fact that a radio host in Winnipeg went after Andrew Ladd for skipping a road game against Dallas for something as trivial as the birth of his daughter. People killed the guy, who's a former CFL player, for being such a dumbass in a city with a media corps full of dumbasses, and yet we had to talk about it because some attention-seeking zero needed a sports radio talking point to fill three hours. The long and short of it is simple, though. We gave credence to the no-necked opinions of a man who once wore his hair like this as a fully-grown adult.

Here's all the real evidence you'll ever need that these sweathog nobodies are as dumb as they come: They thought the Maple Leafs and Jets would make the playoffs.)

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