March 30, 2009
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
I was all set to lead with something about the NHL this weekend, sure. But the NCAA hockey tournament sort of forced my hand.
This has been, by far, the zaniest tournament for hockey at any level that I can recall. Three No. 1 seeds bounced in the first round by a combined score of 11-3. Five goals scored inside a minute left, two of which came with less than a second to go on the clock and to force overtime.
But nothing is more surprising to the college hockey world than the Bemidji State Beavers, who knocked off No. 2 Notre Dame 5-1 despite being outshot 35-19 on Saturday (it was their first NCAA win and first win over a ranked opponent since 2006), then brushed aside No. 9 Cornell 4-1 Sunday. Tyler Schofield, a senior forward, was positively monstrous for the Beavs, scoring four goals and two assists in two games.
The Beavers entered the tournament ranked somewhere around 30th in the nation and only got in at all thanks to the ever-controversial autobid that comes with winning the championship in College Hockey America -- a conference with only four teams and which is dissolving after this season.
They're the first team to ever make the Frozen Four from outside college hockey's top four conferences (Hockey East, the WCHA, CCHA and ECAC). But the whole time, they looked like seasoned veterans, even if they averaged just 20 shots a game.
Bemidji also has just one NHL draft pick on their roster. Cornell has four, and Notre Dame has eight.
(Coming up: More NCAA fun; the sadness that is Curtis Glencross(notes) of the Flames; Los Angeles newspaper coverage; five minutes for interference; Play of the Weekend; and a, uh, creative Evgeni Malkin(notes) trade proposal.)
But the Beavers aren't the only underdog marching on Washington in two weeks. Only one No. 1 seed, the top-ranked BU Terriers, made it out of the first day of their bracket, pummeling Ohio State 8-3 and then squeaking by Hockey East rival UNH 2-1 on a Jason Lawrence goal with 15 seconds to go in regulation. (And there's epic UNH meltdown for 2009: Hang with the best team in the country for 59:45 before giving up an epically weak goal off your own defenseman's glove.)
Speaking of UNH, they knocked off No. 2 North Dakota on Saturday, scoring with 0.1 seconds on the clock to force OT before Peter LeBlanc scored 45 seconds into the extra period. Here's the final 1:03 of regulation in that game.
The Miami Redhawks, another No. 4 seed, advanced to the Frozen Four with a stunning 4-2 win over No. 3 Denver and then a win over Minnesota Duluth, which had a crazy Friday night as well.
The first team to lock up a Frozen Four spot, though, was 11th-ranked Vermont, which needed double overtime to topple No. 18 Air Force, which had beaten No. 3 Michigan the day prior.
Vermont's game-winner, which came off the stick of Dan Lawson, took about 20 minutes to review because the shot actually went THROUGH the net. Through it. I've never seen that happen.
Hockey East was clearly the best conference in the tournament, going 5-2, with one of those losses coming against another Hockey East team. The league is also guaranteed a berth in the finals because Vermont and BU play each other in the semis. The WCHA, which has produced more national champs over the past 10 years or so than I care to count, was abysmal, going 1-3 and failing to send a team to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1999.
When the teams get to Washington DC, it looks like the Terriers are going to steamroll whoever is foolish enough to oppose them. They're the best team left by far. They have the best forwards, the best group of defensemen (maybe in NCAA history) and above-average goaltending. And they're playing a third seed, then the winner of a game between two four seeds. If they don't win, it will be due to a UNH-style bed-crapping of proportions so epic as to be worthy of Homeric remembrance.
Then again, stranger things have happened. Like every other result in this tournament.
What We Learned
While it wasn't quite like seeing a tennis match, the Ducks watched themselves pepper Edmonton goaltender Dwayne Roloson(notes) with a franchise-record 54 shots Friday, about half of which came on the power play.
Yet a 1-for-9 performance on that power play was a big part of a 5-3 loss.
Holy hell. Ryan Getzlaf(notes) actually had the balls to blame it on "a hot goaltender." Dude, I hate to break it to you (no I don't), but if just one of 25ish power play shots finds its way past the goaltender, the issue is with you. Obviously.
"We'll see how things go," Reasoner said. "Who knows, maybe we'll wait [until becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1] and see if there's anybody else interested."
Reasoner, a defensively responsible center, carried a team-best plus-minus rating of 9 and a career-best goal total of 12 into Saturday's game against Ottawa.
Well sure he wants to stay. Stats like that make him a No. 1 center on the Thrashers.
Boston Bruins: Remember that time when Manny Fernandez(notes) was one of the best goalies in the NHL earlier this season, and there was legitimate "Who should be the Bruins' No. 1 goalie" talk that wasn't deemed completely insane? Me neither.
"It was a battle right from the drop of the puck," Fernandez said. "It's going well in practice and I don't know, when I get into the games . . . I have to expect the unexpected all the time, because it's going to happen. It's not maybe. It's going to happen. But it went back and forth like that for a while. They had similar problems at the other end.
"It was a tough night, but some of those you have to battle through and hopefully that makes you a stronger player down the road."
These are not quotes you want to hear from a member of your favorite team. Ever.
I believe my exact words yesterday were,
"If the Sabres win tomorrow in regulation I MIGHT allow a smidgen of hope back into my heart (maybe)."
As I'm sure you know, they did NOT win in regulation, but damned if that little tickle I feel deep in my chest isn't a tiny smidgen of hope.
Let me just shuffle on over to the NHL standings page. Hmm, they're four points out with a team in front of them? Yeah, barring an epic Rangers collapse, they're done.
Calgary Flames: Curtis Glencross had two goals waived off about eight seconds apart Saturday night. The first was because he was allegedly in the crease (he might have had the back inch of his skate blade on the blue), the second was an extremely close high stick.
"'Ah, give me a break,''' said Glencross, managing a grin. "Tough luck. We've been talking about our power play" --which had been 0-for-12 on the recent road trip--"getting pucks to the net, getting traffic in front of the net. Tonight, a couple tough ones."
Carolina Hurricanes: This week's Life-Affirming Hurricane Thought: Never mind that New Jersey hasn't been able to buy a win in a week and was playing in the second night of a back-to-back in which it had to fly back from Chicago and play less than 23 hours after the puck dropped out there, you guys beat the Devils! *Confetti*
Chicago Blackhawks: Occasionally-used defenseman Aaron Johnson(notes) has played 32 games this season. But Friday night's 3-2 overtime win over the Devils was the first time he was a "minus" all season. Tough way to give it up, too.
"My first minus game," Johnson said following Saturday's practice in Bensenville. "I don't know if it's disappointing or anything, it's just the way it goes. Unfortunate goal off my stick. It's too bad. I tipped it and Khabby didn't have much of a chance."
He had another minus-1 night against Vancouver on Sunday, but he's still a plus-19 for the year.
"Obviously, things are not going well here this year. But hopefully it's going to be one bad year and then we'll be good next year," Hejduk said. "But I want to play more than one more year, for sure."
He'll be 34 by the time he starts that new contract, and unless it's a bargain basement deal, he's going to want an awful lot relative to what he brings to the team. I tend to think of him walking around the Colorado dressing room going, "Hey guys remember that time I scored 50 goals?" Of course they do. That's why you still get paid such a ridiculous amount of money to average 28 goals a season on a last-place team.
Last night, after Rick Nash(notes) was steamrolled by T.J. Oshie(notes), the smallest player on the ice was the first responder with his team trailing the Blues 3-1 early in the third period. Kris Russell, all 5-foot-10, 180 pounds of him, went after Oshie. The hit produced a wild scrum and landed Russell in the box for four minutes (double minor, roughing). Oshie went for two minutes.
Dallas Stars: I didn't see anything about the Dallas/Florida game last night other than the final score, so imagine my surprise when I checked the Stars Blog over at the Dallas News and saw this: "Ott and suspension history." What!? Steve Ott(notes) embroiled in some sort of controversy?
Ott skated across the ice and delivered a huge hit on Florida's Gregory Campbell(notes) on Saturday after Campbell had already gotten rid of the puck. Ott received a five-minute major penalty for charging. All major penalties are reviewed by the NHL, but Campbell is the son of Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations and disciplinary czar. As such, Mike Murphy(notes) (the senior vice president, hockey operations) will handle this case.
A lot will hinge on Ott's past.
So, since he has been suspended twice in the 14 months or so, he's screwed, basically. Like I said, I never saw the hit (it's not on YouTube or the NHL's highlights), but still, this is a dirty hit on a guy with not much time left in a blowout. That just screams, "Steve Ott!" to me.
Detroit Red Wings: For some reason, the Wings are still trying to re-sign Marian Hossa(notes) and Johan Franzen(notes). I don't know how they plan to afford this, especially with the cap likely going down significantly over the next two seasons. What a terrible idea. Attention Ken Holland: Spend money on a friggin' goalie!
Edmonton Oilers: It's like a week old at this point, but Bringing Back the Glory has this BRILLIANT post comparing Craig MacTavish to Chairman Mao.
After a summer of what must have contained a few intense nightmares, rehab, and major conditioning, there was Richard in mid-September, heading to the ice for his first public skate in Coral Springs, donning a subtle kevlar neck-protector (since shed), looking every bit the speedy winger we remembered.
Then they link to a couple of his highlight reel goals. Yeah, I'm sold. Give him the Masterson.
Los Angeles Kings: Bravo, L.A. Daily News. They were the only Los Angeles paper to have a non-wire story about hockey this weekend. Unfortunately, it's about an 18-year-old figure skater who used to be a hockey goon.
If Mroz were playing hockey on the side, he'd be in trouble. He traded pads for sequins and wouldn't be able to avoid a fight if he tried. His days as a goon are over, but he still has that toughness about him.
This is shameful.
Against Buffalo, the scenario was slightly different, as the Canadiens had charged back from a two goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead into period three. Continuing to attack the Sabres goal would have been advisable in helping to put them away, but it seemed the Canadiens were more intent on protecting the lead. That appeared to be how they planned to proceed, as they allowed Buffalo to fire 16 shots on net, after having kept them to 21 over two periods.
Yeah, that's going to create issues come playoff time. If the team even makes it.
Nashville Predators: The Preds may get down in a lot of games, but they've bounced back nicely in their last two outings and beaten San Jose (impressive!) and Los Angeles (not so much!) despite trailing in both. They also handed it to the Red Wings on Sunday (to be fair, they only had to play Chris Osgood(notes)).
By the way, with Sunday's wins for Nashville and St. Louis plus Edmonton's loss to Minnesota, all five Central teams are currently in the playoffs. Of course, six points separates the six seed from the 11th, so there's not a lot of elbow room.
"These are the mistakes that you talk about all year and you can get away with it at certain times," Sutter said. "You might get away with it at the 30, 40, 50-game mark. Like I was telling the guys, 'You're not going to get away with it in March and April. And if you keep doing it, you won't see May. It's pretty simple."
New Jersey has just been a frustrating team to watch in the last two weeks or so, but this wasn't one or two mistakes that lost them the game. They gave up 48 shots to the Hurricanes. That it was a 2-1 game at all is a miracle.
Of the 12 scouts, 7 said they would take Tavares and 5 selected Hedman. In each case, there was no deliberation. None of the scouts said they needed more time to watch them play.
Personally if I'm the Isles I feel like I need a hell of a lot more goals scored than goals prevented considering they just traded their leading scorer from last year and a good amount of their goals are coming from Mark Streit(notes). Like the post says, though, they can't really go wrong if they took Hedman either, and it might be fun to see Tampa continue to not have a defenseman of note.
Ottawa Senators: Lots of bad news for the Sens after Saturday night's loss to Atlanta. First, they lost to Atlanta. Second, they gave up six goals. Third, they had seven shots in the second period despite two power plays. Fourth, Chris Kelly(notes) led the team in hits, with three.
Philadelphia Flyers: Joffrey Lupul(notes) might've scored two goals in the third period to force a shootout, but the Flyers' win over the Islanders on Saturday was the result of a big game and bigger leadership by Mike Richards(notes), who had six takeaways and gave everyone a good ol' fashioned talkin'-to about the turdburger the team was prepping in the opening 40.
"The sense of urgency wasn't there,'' Stevens said. "I give credit to Richards; I thought he took the game over, he addressed the team. I didn't even go in there after the second period.
"They get tired of hearing me talk sometimes. ... It's just an indication of the amount of trust and respect I have for Richie. I thought he was tremendous. He's a big reason we got the two points tonight.''
It's not often that's said of a guy who went 0-0-0 and was a minus-1.
Phoenix Coyotes: As pointed out by the Hip Check Blog, Zybnek Michalek has blocked 247 shots, more than anyone in the National Hockey League. That's more than three a game. And that's a ton.
The point is moot, though, because the powder blue sweaters have been mothballed until next season. After wearing them 10 times in 29 home games between mid-November and last Sunday, the Penguins have decided to stick with their regular uniforms for the balance of the regular season and the playoffs.
Okay, so the team was 3-5-2 with the blue sweaters, but come on.
Warsofsky is a mobile defenseman who entered the NCAA Tournament with a 3-19 -22 line. When asked about Warsofsky, one member of an Eastern Conference coaching staff who follows college hockey noted his high skill level. Given the emphasis on blue-line puck movement, Warsofsky could be a solid member of St. Louis's up-and-coming defense.
He may not have NHL size (I think he's listed at 5-foot-9, and about 170 pounds), but he does have a very honed ability to completely take over a game. For my money he was the best player on the ice in BU's Hockey East semifinal defeat of Boston College. It was like the puck was glued to his stick and no amount of pressure could make him turn it over. He's unreal.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Okay, this needs to be the very last thing anyone ever writes about the Ovechkin hot stick celebration thing.
Ovechkin was in the hallway leading to the Lightning locker room after Friday's game talking to his buddy Artyukhin. McKenna saw him and approached to clear the air about the criticism. McKenna said the emotions of the moment got the best of him.
"I wanted to tell him there was nothing to it," McKenna said. "It's water under the bridge."
If Mike McKenna's over it, we all should be.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Poor Justin Pogge(notes). He's going to catch hell for giving up six goals on 20 shots to the Bruins. But PPP and I don't understand why. I mean, the Leafs ARE trying to tank it, right?
"Absolutely. I think it's pervasive and it never goes away," Gillis said when asked if the media focuses on the Canucks' lack of success in the past. "It does [bother me] because I think it challenges our players and it makes it difficult for our players too."
Yup, that's a team that's going deep in the playoffs.
Washington Capitals: The Russian Hockey Federation has already said that it will keep its massively successful Washington line intact for the 2010 Olympics.
It is no secret that Bykov wants to reunite the national team's "Washington Line" of Ovie, Semin and Fedorov, and all three have given their OK. At least, that is what Semin is saying.
"There weren't even any questions on whether we would come to the national team," said Semin. "It's just a matter of us being available. And Sergei said he is not letting us go by ourselves".
Obviously Canada is the team to beat for the Vancouver games, but that Russian team could do some serious damage. Like, frightening amounts.
Play of the Weekend
I'm torn between these two. This ...
That's circus material right there.
Gold Star Award
I know G.W. wrote him a nice love letter yesterday, but god DAMN did The Oshie have a killer weekend. Goal, assist, plus-2 and five hits, including two MASSIVE hits on Rick Nash -- one of which you've probably already seen, and then the one last night which you can see on the Three Stars post.
Put this kid on your DNFW list.
Minus of the Weekend
Actually, he's reverted into Playoff Marty Turco just in time for the playoffs. Winless in his last six starts, with four or more goals allowed in four of those, and a save percentage of .887.
Yeah, Turco is an awesome goalie.
Next week's game I'm totally going to watch on Center Ice if I'm home
St. Louis at Chicago on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in the east. The Blues will be scrapping for a playoff spot and two of Chicago's last three games were wins were against San Jose and New Jersey, which isn't an easy couple of draws.
Event that should replace the shootout and would be just as relevant to hockey skill
Movie of the Week
This is the trailer for a film called "Chelsea vs. Liverpool" and I've never seen it, but I stumbled across the trailer on YouTube and ... well, I don't even know what's going on. It has to be the greatest cinematic, if not artistic, achievement of all time. The best part is it has a sequel that came out the same year, and is three hours long.
Perfect HF Boards trade proposal of the week
Price4Prez has a hell of an idea in mind to make Montreal a contender again:
1st pick 09'
1st pick 10'
I think I love it.