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.
Every year we as hockey fans get all worked up over the World Junior championship. It seems like a nice way to spend the week between Christmas and New Years and it offers a tantalizing look at the future of hockey unfolding right before our very eyes.
The problem with the tournament, and I say this a lot around this time of year, is that it's constructed in such a way that it is completely unentertaining, pointless until the final two or three games and cruel.
We know who's going to be there at the end. Three of six teams typically compete for the gold, three for the silver, and maybe, at the best of times, four for the bronze. I looked it up last year and only once in the entire 35-year history of the tournament has a team that was not Canada, Russia/USSR, the US, Sweden, Finland and a country that was not once part of Czechoslovakia won a medal.
I watched that 16-0 Canada game on Saturday and it was a grotesque show of power. The Canadians had more goals than the Latvians had shots.
Why play these games?
[Coming up: More complaining about teenager; a look at Brent Sutter's plan to ruin the Flames; Dater damns Avs fans with faint praise; Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) loses one in the sun; Lambert solves the mystery of "Nicklas Bergfors and the Disappearing Ice Time"; Justin Williams(notes) horrifies everyone with his broken leg; we grow ever closer to Henrik Lundqvist(notes) considering thinking about mulling over taking a night off; and Mikael Samuelsson(notes) with perhaps the best response to an Olympic snub ever recorded.]
The teams that have medaled in the past four years have outscored their opponents 39-6 in four games on the first day of competition, and literally half those goals wouldn't have happened if U.S. goaltender Mike Lee hadn't had an uproariously bad day behind a team that piled into the penalty box like it was a clown car (the US won 7-3 after starting in a 2-0 hole).
The sides fielded by those teams favored to win medals are like the one athletically- precocious seven-year-old on every youth sports team who's a head taller than everyone else around him -- and whose game is at least two levels above his current league. The Canadians' skill was so evident from the outset that when Gabriel Bourque -- he of the record-tying seven-point night -- scored 36 seconds into the Latvia game, I honestly wondered what had taken so long.
Similarly, the USA's physical edge over a clearly overwhelmed and intimidated Slovak side was such that many of the penalties the team incurred (like Jason Zucker's game misconduct for cleaning out some poor Slovak) were for the hockey equivalent of being mean.
The countries that win medals every year have at least one of the following three things going for them: the game as a part of sporting culture, gigantic talent pools and the socioeconomic means to produce players that are, on average, bigger, faster and stronger than their Eastern European counterparts.
Yesterday's Bruce Peter column says that the reason these games happen like they do (i.e. embarrassingly) is because goal differential is the official IIFH tie-breaker in determining seeding. I'm sure that matters a lot to the kids from Belarus, who fly halfway around the world, watch a bunch of future NHLers fly past them to score goal after goal after goal every day for a week, then go home.
I'm not saying I feel badly for them in that "won't someone please think of the children!?" way. I'm saying it makes half the games in this tournament painfully dull and superfluous.
Let's just go straight to the medal round from now on.
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: Stanley Cup of Chowder held a poll to determine the best Bruins fighter of the decade. At last check, PJ Stock had a healthy lead, but my vote is for Krzysztof Oliwa, who had 12 fights and 110 PIMs in just 33 games.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres got defenseman Chris Butler(notes), who had missed most of this month, back from injured reserve and immediately placed Nate Gerbe on it. This has been your very important Sabres Injured Reserve update for the week of Dec. 28, 2009.
Calgary Flames: Brent Sutter had the perfect plan to solve Calgary's scoring woes: Put Craig Conroy(notes), who hasn't scored all season, on the top line with Jarome Iginla(notes), who had two goals in December, and Olli Jokinen(notes), who is given to fits of usefulness when not completely and utterly useless. It kinda worked: Iginla scored at least, but the Flames got demolished by the Canucks. So back to the drawing board, again.
Carolina Hurricanes: These are the best stories to read. The "I know I have no chance of making Team Canada but y'know, there's always a chance," types. No, Cam Ward(notes). No there is not. You and Mike Fisher(notes) can spend the break hangin' out and watching all the players that deserve to play for the team actually do it.
Chicago Blackhawks: This is pretty interesting, but I guess not that surprising: Chicago and Nashville have met just twice while occupying the top two spots in the Central Division. The second was last night, obviously, and the first was earlier this month.
Colorado Avalanche: Big congratulations from Adrian Dater to all the Avalanche fans for making it out to the game and banging out the Pepsi Center. For the second time this season. Way to go, everyone. Drinks are on the guy who made suggested the league contract Nashville for not drawing.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Calling up Alex Picard could only mean one thing: Ken Hitchcock is very upset with his team and is going to bench one of the club's several underachieving star players to see if that doesn't kick-start the struggling franchise. Yeah, I'm not holding my breath.
Dallas Stars: Marc Crawford believes his team needs to compete harder, especially given what he saw on Saturday against the Avalanche. So during "compete drills" (whatever those are), Stephane Robidas(notes) attempted to block a shot from Mike Modano(notes), and took a puck in the side of the head. He's probably fine.
Detroit Red Wings: Saturday was the first game back for both Brian Rafalski(notes), who has been out the last few days with the flu, and Valtteri Filppula(notes), who has been out since late October with a broken wrist. Both Danny Cleary(notes) and Henrik Zetterberg(notes) are back skating as well. Great news for the Wings. Not so much for the rest of the Western Conference.
Los Angeles Kings: The human leg should not move like this.
Because of this, I thought to myself "Boy does Justin Williams break a lot of bones or is that just me?" It was not just me.
Minnesota Wild: Another injury report: Chuck Kobasew(notes) had an MRI on his knee yesterday and the results were not expected to have been good. No official report until later today, but he didn't catch the team flight to L.A. so make of that what you will.
New Jersey Devils: Nicklas Bergfors says he's "a little bit" confused as to why he got demoted to the fifth line in practice, and was replaced with Vladimir Zharkov(notes) on his normal line. No one told him why he was, but he didn't ask. I think I found the answer: he has one goal and is a minus-4 in his last five games, including a minus-2 night right before being demoted. Mystery solved. I could have starred in that Sherlock Holmes movie no problem.
New York Islanders: In his Plus-Minus report on the Isles' Sunday loss to Philly, Chris Botta gave this an "Even" -- "Blake Comeau has been the best player on the Moulson-Tavares-Comeau line." Yeah, I'm pretty sure you gotta put Blake freakin' Comeau playing better than John Tavares(notes) down as a minus.
Philadelphia Flyers: Look at those Philadelphia Flyers. Three straight wins! Back to .500 (points-wise, anyway). Just in time for the Winter Classic. I'm pretty sure this is all one of those big Gary Bettman/Sidney Crosby(notes) conspiracies Philly fans are always talking about, but I can't put the pieces together just yet.
Phoenix Coyotes: Keith Yandle(notes) didn't have his best game ever, not by a long shot, but he scored the game-winning goal midway through the third, so it wasn't all bad. Even better, though, is that the Coyotes have won nine straight home games and are currently the seventh-best team in the league with FIFTY points. Who picked them to make the playoffs this year and was nearly laughed off Puck Daddy? Oh right, it was me. Congrats, Mr. Lambert, on your brilliant pick. (And the Maple Leafs, who I also picked to make it, are three points out of a playoff spot after that dismal start. Just sayin'.)
St. Louis Blues: The Blues have given up three goals in the third period in each of their last two games. They have also lost both of those games. This is, you'll be shocked to learn, not a coincidence.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Just how valuable is Marty St. Louis, you ask? The answer is "very." Of his 33 helpers this season, 23 are primary assists. Martin St. Louis(notes) is a very valuable player to have on your hockey team.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Ian White(notes) is good for something other than being a wonderful spokesman for the mustache. He's also good at winning hockey games for his team. He now has three goals and four points in his last four games.
Mikael Samuelsson's response to not making Swedish Olympic team. "They can go f**k themselves". Not even kidding.
He did preface it, however with "i'll probably regret saying this but..."
Washington Capitals: The Capitals had a decentish time of it in the 2009 calendar year. Y'now, 50 wins, a 25.3 percent power play, and their top four players combining for 145 goals, 364 points and a plus-91 in 305 games. Oh, and they have two more games before 2010.
Play of the Weekend
Gold Star Award
What the hell, I'll give it to Shane Doan(notes). Saturday was the night the Coyotes honored him for the 1,000th game of his career. All of them have been with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise. And did you know he has as many career game-winning goals as Dany Heatley(notes)? It's true and everything. Guys like him are very, very rare. He's one of the least-appreciated stars in the game today.
Minus of the Weekend
Miikka Kiprusoff gave up a goal from center ice because he lost it in the lights.
Also, he gave up four goals on 13 shots in the first period.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User "Lapierre for captain" suggests.. well, he suggests something that's for sure.
To Van: Carey Price
Brother, you got a stew goin'.