5. Ondrej Pavelec's defenders
There are still people out there who will swear up and down that Winnipeg Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec is good at his job and worth the ludicrous contract under which he currently works, for some reason. The Jets' defense is bad, that's all. He's playing behind an awful system, that's all. The excuses for his poor play are myriad and come quickly every time he fails to stop at least 91 percent of the shots he faces in a game, which this season is about three in every five appearances.
The indefensible stance regularly taken up by these fanboys took one hell of a shot Tuesday, as the Czech lineup for their opening game against mighty medal hopeful Sweden listed Jakub Kovar as the starter, and Alexander Salak as the backup. Which left Pavelec as the third-string goaltender, the one who would be watching this game from the stands like any other jabroni in Sochi who can't stop pucks at an acceptable rate for any legitimate professional hockey team.
Don't recognize the names Kovar and Salak? There's a reason why: They're also not good enough for the NHL, but unlike Pavelec rather reasonably have not gotten huge contracts. Both are currently plying their trade in the KHL, for Avtimobilist and SKA, respectively. Their stats in that league are both very good, but Kovar (a 2006 Flyers pick) has never played pro hockey in North America, and Salak's two career NHL games were with Florida in 2009-10, when he posted an .850 save percentage. Which tells you just about everything you will ever need to know about the efficacy of starting Pavelec in games you have designs on winning.
One wonders what Winnipeg would be like if people were actually cognizant of this fact a few years and a couple hundred career appearances for the franchise on. One wonders whether Claude Noel would have kept his job if Kevin Cheveldayoff had equipped him with even serviceable NHL goaltending. One wonder if the Jets would be an actual playoff team instead of a club that's dramatically overperforming its capabilities under a new coach through mysticism and little else. One wonders how the Czechs, who don't see Pavelec play as often as the Jets do, figure out these basic facts before the Jets. One wonders a lot of things, I guess.
Tough bounce for NHL.com, though. They had him as the No. 12 goalie in the tournament, ahead of Jimmy Howard and Antti Niemi, among others who are legitimately decent or even good in the NHL.
4. This photo of a young Henrik Tallinder
This made the rounds on Twitter Tuesday and it's difficult to put into words how wonderful it is.
— Håkan Olsson (@backa_olle) February 11, 2014
3. Incredible performances
We all knew going in that the preliminary rounds of the women's Olympic tournament would be a bloodbath as Canada and the U.S. played anyone who was not each other. Through the first two games, that certainly held up. Their combined goal differential, after all, was plus-19 in two games apiece.
But that, perhaps, doesn't highlight just how dominant they were. Extra Skater's compiled possession numbers show that both teams were verging on taking 80 percent of all shots in those two games (79.9 percent for the Russians, and a mere 79.3 for the Americans). Please keep in mind that the best teams in the NHL, when they play, take about 55 percent of all shots in their games.
The two superpowers also had PDOs of 107.2 and 108.5 in those games. That may sound like a lot, and that's because it is, but it's also — and this is the terrifying part — completely sustainable. Canada's shooting percentage of 7.2 is only going to come up, even as their save percentage drops from the even 100 enjoyed through six periods. I'd venture a guess that not-against-Canada save percentage for the Americans will only go up from its current 96 percent.
These two teams met earlier today (but after my writing this) and will do so again in the gold medal game. That's appointment hockey. The rest is a senseless afterthought.
Alex Ovechkin said the other day that the Russians essentially spent $50 billion on these Olympics to guarantee a gold medal in hockey, which is a hell of a thing. It's understandable why any country, let alone the hosts with a proud history of winning a million gold medals in international hockey tournaments over the past 50 years, would enter the Olympics feeling good about its chances for success.
But to say that it's basically gold or bust for the Russians is silly. On paper, they're maybe the fourth-best team in the tournament (behind the U.S., Canada, and Sweden) because their roster is littered with no-name KHLers and their second-line center might not be good to go. Yeah you really want to win and you think it's kind of your birthright that you should. How did that work out for, say, Shaun White this week? And he was actually the best in the field, historically. One can make no such claim about a team with Andrei Markov as its No. 1 defenseman.
1. The game of the year
I spent a lot of Monday night trying to figure out exactly how many hockey games I've watched this season — in whole or in part, live or on television — between high school, college, NHL, international exhibitions and the beginnings of the Olympic tournament. The number is pretty difficult to nail down but it's easily in the low 200s by my estimation. The reason I was doing this is that I was watching one which left them all in the dust.
The Beanpot final between Boston College and Northeastern was always a foregone conclusion. Having watched Hockey East for the vast majority of my life and seen these two teams in particular about a dozen times each this season alone, I know from foregone conclusions and the Eagles knocking down their fifth consecutive title in this usually-boring, wholly-predictable tournament was something you could have seen coming after about two weeks of hockey this year. This fact, though, did not prevent the game itself from being gripping, lively, engaging positive hockey that spent its first 55:30 as either a tied or one-goal game before reality set in. BC netted the game's final three goals in the space of 4:40 and won 4-1.
Simply put, I can't imagine a scenario in which a hockey game will at any point this year more exciting than this, even as the Eagles bent the game to their will after a free-wheeling and too-wide-open first period. Shots in that first 20 minutes were 16-11 for Northeastern, but the number of pucks they put on 2014 draft-eligible goaltender Thatcher Demko, who only turned 18 in early December, dwindled to eight and then six in the final periods, respectively. And we should have seen it coming.
The first meeting between the teams finished 4-2 to the host Eagles with an empty-netter, and the next night they won on the road, 4-3 in a thrilling overtime game, behind a furious third-period comeback.
Monday's win was keyed, as it so often is, by Boston College's top line, which scored twice in the game, as it so often does. Since being put together, Flames' 2010 and 2011 fourth-rounders Johnny Gaudreau and Billy Arnold have combined with Blackhawks 2010 first-rounder Kevin Hayes to decimate opponents to the tune of 34-50-84 in just 15 games, during which BC is 14-0-1. This is transcendence of the sport on an almost-unheard-of level, and Gaudreau is leading the way with his national best 22-28-50 in just 24 games this year.
Not that they scored the game-winner or the real dagger, of course. Hayes bulleted home the goal that opened BC's account early in the first, and Gaudreau added an empty-netter. The real hero was Eagles captain Patrick Brown, the son of former Red Wing Doug Brown, who scored the below-linked goal (skip to 1:46) and then rubbed salt in the wound on a partial break 26 seconds after the ENG.
The Beanpot is often a tournament marked by improbable heroes, and BC's legendary coach Jerry York — now with an NCAA record 957 wins and counting — talked at length after the game about how Brown is certainly not BC's most talented player but boy does he work hard and all that kind of stuff. He was, however, not the Beanpot MVP, as Hayes took home that crown with two goals, including the previous week's game-winner.
The inevitability of the game also did little to reduce the effort turned in by the Huskies, who looked as the game wore on like a tiring Sisyphus that knew the boulder was going to crush them eventually, but still pushed for that last few centimeters. Goaltender Clay Witt had his worst game in a few weeks, in stopping “just” three of 40 Eagles shots (.925 save percentage), but he's still on .945 for the season despite facing 875 shots in just 1,444:36 this season. Northeastern bleeds possession and has compiled 16 wins from 29 games due largely to Witt's success, and the fact that they're shooting 10.6 percent this season.
That's another reason this was inevitable: The Huskies have been hit hard by regression the last few weeks, losing three of their last four, and four of their last six. In that more recent string of losses, they've scored seven goals in four games, and six of them were in a 6-0 shellacking of Harvard in the Beanpot opener that was, likewise, the only result that could ever have come from it.
That this game ended in much the same fashion as the previous two meetings between these teams — exciting and with a BC win — was expected, but the predictability of the Death Star's explosion does not in any way diminish people's excitement for watching Star Wars. So it was with this game. Just delightful, edge-of-your-seat hockey from the opening puck drop to the final horn. Would that we could all experience such a sense of wonder over a single, simple game.
(Not ranked this week: Zdeno Chara's bed, People who think analytics guys don't watch the games (here and here), poor David Poile, teams that were playing well before the Olympics, teams that expect to play well after them, the infuriating attempted pun on “Cam America,” Holy crap I forgot Petr Nedved was still alive no wonder the Czechs aren't going to medal, Rob Ford's hockey predictions, pulling hair, all those Ryan Callahan trade rumors, all those Andrew MacDonald trade rumors, all those Marty Brodeur trade rumors, all those.. y'know what, all those trade rumors for everyone in the Metro, Phil Kessel's detractors, the Penguins trying to keep Kris Letang's stroke quiet, Olympic injuries, the prospect of Ed Snider shutting his mouth for like five minutes for once.)
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Ondrej Pavelec
- Winnipeg Jets
- Jakub Kovar