February 21, 2011
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.
The Heritage Classic was, by all accounts, a major success. But it shouldn't have happened.
They mentioned during the Versus broadcast that this was probably the latest the NHL would hold an outdoor game, and for good reason. Calgary and Montreal are both embroiled in highly contentious playoff races, and it was unfair of the NHL to throw them into that type of circus this late in the season. It was, by far, the latest of all the outdoor games the league has held; falling over a month and a half past the Winter Classics and a full four months after the original Heritage Classic.
It's all well and good to run a couple of teams out in a foreign venue with goofy lighting and questionable ice surfaces when there are 40 games left on the schedule, but Calgary's now down to 21, and Montreal has 22 remaining.
These are games that matter, and the massive disruption this can cause to the participating teams' routines probably isn't worth the "uniqueness" of the experience -- at least not when viewed from a distance.
The Flames went from tearing up the Western Conference standings behind games at regular intervals, then took four days off before brutalizing the Habs in front of 41,022 well-lubricated Calgarians. The Canadiens, just four points back of Boston for the division lead, and having already dropped two in a row, then had to try to right the ship with a game on Hoth.
(Coming Up: Gaborik's concussion; Laviolette punches Leino; Brad Richards(notes) worries; Gainey crushes Subban's critics; Ryan Suter(notes) injured for Preds; Rosehill vs. Lessard; Wild concerned about Mikko Koivu(notes); Devils goalie conundrum; Stamkos somehow survives; Sedin takes the lead; Semin on the block; Evander Kane's(notes) dazzling goal; Blackhawks can't master the dot; Taylor Hall's(notes) trick; a terrible goalie trade; and are the L.A. Kings for sale?)
A surprising thing, one that must not have been considered when this event was being planned, is that it's really freaking cold in Calgary in late February. And very windy. And that's going to make the ice terrible. And indeed it was, as crews worked furiously to combat a growing problem in a corner and couldn't even bring Zambonis out for a proper resurfacing out of fear the ice would crack.
Whenever an outdoor game takes place, guys talk about it taking a little while to get used to the atmosphere, and they were doing it in the relative comfort of a balmy 30-something-degree day. The conditions were just brutal for this one, and it made for one hell of an ugly hockey game.
Calgary was able to successfully stick to its systems because its systems are to "jam up the neutral zone," and it was mightily aided by the fact that the puck bounced everywhere. Every player took an extra second to corral what would have been even the flattest of passes on a normal surface. As a result, guys were jumping offsides so often I thought the Habs had been replaced by a team of Blake Wheeler(notes) clones. The Habs' reliance on speed and precision was never going to work in a game like this.
And yes, the critics were right. This one just didn't feel as special because we saw a roughly similar event six weeks ago. Even the distinctiveness of the game being played at night was robbed of it by Pittsburgh rain.
Clearly, the intent here wasn't a well-played exhibition of why hockey is our favorite sport. It wasn't to benefit the teams' ongoing playoff pushes. It wasn't to appease Canadian fans who claim they should get a yearly Winter Classic as well. And by burying the game on Versus opposite the NBA All-Star Game, and on the same day as the Daytona 500, it wasn't to draw in casual fans.
So why have this game at all?
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Jonas Hiller's(notes) absence from the lineup could be down to issues with his balance. He doesn't have a concussion and his condition is treatable, which is good news. Still, scary stuff, but perhaps not as scary as the Ducks giving up 21 goals in the three games for which he's been out. And yes, that's TWENTY-ONE.
Atlanta Thrashers: What a great goal from Evander Kane.
He went around three guys like they weren't even there.
Boston Bruins: Turns out Tomas Kaberle(notes) was a Bruins fan growing up because he idolized Ray Bourque. So, sorry Boston fans, but Kaberle won't win a Cup until he demands a trade out of town, but you can still have a really nice parade for him.
Buffalo Sabres: The next four games will determine what the Sabres do at the deadline. Here's a hint: sell sell sell sell sell sell sell sell.
Calgary Flames: "At the end of the day, we also want to show people Darryl didn't pull a bad team over here," Olli Jokinen(notes) said recently. Pumpkinhead has kept up his end of that, picking up 26 points in 24 games since Sutter stepped down. You read that right. No, I don't believe it either.
Chicago Blackhawks: One of the Blackhawks' problems is they're getting killed at the dot. Of their regular centers, only Jonathan Toews(notes) has won better than 50 percent of his draws, and the team itself is 21st in the league at just 49.8 percent. Here's a fun game: name the Blackhawks' four busiest faceoff guys. You'll never be able to.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets need help on defense. They have only 19 goals from the blue line this year, and two of those are from a now-languishing-in-the-minors Mike Commodore(notes). I hear Sheldon Souray(notes) is available.
Florida Panthers: Scott Clemmensen(notes) on shootouts: "That's one area I need to be better. Those are big wins, big points for us. We got one tonight. I'm not a big fan of it, I think it's gimmicky. But it's a win for us.'' He's 8-8 all-time in shootouts, but 2-3 this year.
Montreal Canadiens: Bob Gainey has come out hard against PK Subban's(notes) critics. "Anyone who's met him knows that his personality is outgoing, overflowing, and it hasn't yet been tempered with full maturity," Gainey said. "I think he should have fun and play. Some of those people should shut up and play against him. Just keep their mouths shut and play." Yeah, huh?
Nashville Predators: Speaking of critical players getting hurt: Ryan Suter got drilled by Shane Doan(notes) and left Saturday's game with an upper body injury. No word how long he'll be out, and he's currently day-to-day. Terrible news for the Preds.
New Jersey Devils: Marty Brodeur is ready to go. If I'm Lemaire I don't let him get back in the lineup. The Moose has allowed seven goals in his last six games and the team can't stop winning. Let it ride.
New York Rangers: Speaking of New York-based teams and shutouts, the Rangers lost to the Devils 1-0. Rangers just 2-7-1 in the last 10. That's not the way to make a playoff push. Oh, and also Marian Gaborik(notes) has a concussion so that's that then. Good season, see ya next year.
That's their fifth career fight (including preseason) against each other.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sunday, Brooks Orpik(notes) played his 503rd NHL game. Why is that important? He is now tied for the all-time lead in games played by a person born in California. I found that interesting.
That's ugly right there.
Washington Capitals: This right here says George McPhee is offering teams Alex Semin. That's great stuff. I love that. The guy scoring 21 goals in just 45 games is the one the team needs to deal. Sure.
Gold Star Award
Little Taylor Hall with a big-time third period. Down 3-1 against Atlanta, Hall completely took over the game and scored three goals in a row by himself. All of them good individual efforts, only two of them terrible goaltending from Chris Mason(notes).
Look how happy he was to get that hat trick goal. Good for him.
Minus of the Weekend
Ducks goaltenders Curtis McElhinney(notes) and Timo Pielmeier(notes) gave up 14 goals on 49 shots in two games during Jonas Hiller's. That's a combined save percentage of .714, and doesn't even include the seven on 31 C-Mac coughed up Wednesday. Get well soon Jonas.
Play of the Weekend
Speaking of Daniel Sedin, I loved this goal. That's good ol' fashioned hard work right there.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User "Erick" wants to offload some goaltending.
Oh good, that'll give me time to add another layer of glaze to the ham!