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.
Viewers across North America received their first glimpse at what they can expect next season when Rogers takes over the Hockey Night in Canada property.
The results were, shall we say, mixed.
The in-game production was of course fabulous, as one might expect. So too was After Hours, as well as a lot of the pregame stuff, including producer Tim Thompson's wonderful introduction of the Leafs/Habs “Forever Rivals” game set to Luciano Pavarotti performing Puccini's “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. But everything else, as one might have come to expect from Hockey Night in certain regards, was iffy at best.
There was, to start, the point at which Don Cherry essentially told his new employers to leave him and his portion of the broadcast alone. In comparing what he does every Saturday night to what Bobby Orr did in the one full season for which Cherry coached him (really), he cautioned that you don't mess with No. 1.
Now, while it would be ever so nice to live in a world in which the opinions of a dinosaur like Cherry — who praised Kevin “Bieska” for fighting Brian Boyle after the final buzzer of a blowout loss because he was “angry” — are not given a platform as broad as this, there is no questioning he still has all the cachet needed to stay in his job until he decides he's done, which will be never. Coach's Corner will unfortunately persist until such time as Cherry is no longer able to physically stand at the desk, and even then he might just start sitting.
Obviously Ron MacLean's role in this particular segment has always been to apologize (in some cases preemptively) for the nonsense Cherry spews, and it was no different on Saturday. “Now, Don...” and so forth. If anything, this new, broader platform for Cherry is only going to make him worse than he already is. And he is currently most of what's wrong with hockey broadcasting.
Then there was, to borrow Jeff Marek's phrase, the “Shane McMahon on Nitro moment” for Hockey Night, in which Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos was the first invader to wade onto the CBC's alien shore. In the second intermission, there was the typical allegedly-analytic gabfest, during which Kypreos and the usual Hockey Night crew talked about what was wrong with the Maple Leafs, trailing as they were 4-2 at that point in the contest.
At no point did they mention the fact that the Leafs were leaking top-quality chances thanks to poor defensive play and awful giveaways, and at no point did they mention that their un-sustainably high save percentage on the penalty kill — which after seven games was at .959 — has been settling heavily for some time now.
No, the crew, in the pregame as well, agreed that it's more that the Leafs just take too many penalties. Of course, they gave up 27 opponent power plays in their first seven games (3.9 per) and killed all but three of them (88.9 percent PK), compared to 76 power plays in their last 20 (3.8 per), of which they killed just 57 (75 percent). That's a substantial difference in ability to quash penalties, due mainly to goaltenders' save percentage dropping .074 points, not an uptick in the rate at which they take penalties or even the volume of shots allowed on the PK. This can be determined by taking even a cursory look at before-and-after splits.
Another reason the Leafs had given up four goals in 40 minutes, according to Kypreos and PJ Stock?
I swear to you, they blamed it on a lack of toughness.
This is because at one point in the night when Brendan Gallagher was doing as Brendan Gallagher does, going hard to the net and making the slightest bit of contact with Jonathan Bernier, Dion Phaneuf didn't beat his ass to death. Kypreos proudly said that Phaneuf's physical play was like being “half pregnant,” noting that you deal with a problem by either pummeling a guy (who would never fight him because he was giving up seven inches and 40 pounds) and taking a five-minute major for the effort, or being a big sissy.
Toughness, by the way, is what Colton Orr is supposed to provide, but after jumping PK Subban in the first period, he demurred from a fistic offer from George Parros, and instead stood in his defensive zone while a Montreal odd-man rush developed and resulted in a high-quality scoring chance, which the Leafs are giving up all too often these days. Further, it should be noted that Montreal led for all but the first 58 seconds of the game, and killed four penalties to their own two power plays, and still outshot Toronto 39-36.
It's important to remind everyone here that Phaneuf is, of course, the Leafs' best defenseman, and because Cody Franson was out for Saturday night's game, the gap between the captain and the second-best blue line option on the team was rather large. With regard to this point, Kypreos noted that Phaneuf should be trying to make a point by taking that major penalty, to prove how bad the Leafs' D is without him.
(If he had, one assumes there would be complaints along the lines of, “You can't have your best defenseman taking five-minute majors against guys like Gallagher.”)
Stock chimed in that Phaneuf's only the best Toronto defenseman “by process of elimination,” which isn't the phrase he wanted to use, and also isn't true. This too, obviously, goes back to the idea that Phaneuf is not a good leader, when in fact the Leafs are simply not a very good team. The number of times Mark Fraser got embarrassed in the first period, meanwhile, was considerable.
So maybe Phaneuf really was just being judicious and trying to keep things close.
Speaking of which, Toronto's injuries were also blamed for some of this latest loss (the team's ninth in 13 games) early on, as though losing Franson, David Bolland, and Joffrey Lupul is why the Leafs are all-of-a-sudden shallower than Kypreos's analysis. The simple fact is that the Leafs' top six forwards have scored 56 of the Leafs' 72 goals this season (77.8), and that top six does not include Tyler Bozak, who has four in 15 games. Instead, the Leafs are getting no help from anywhere else in the lineup. Injuries have never entered into the team's depth issues in a more serious way than their always-present lack of talent.
To go back to the analogy of the WWF winning the Monday Night Wars: The problem in the immediate aftermath was that the victors got incredibly lazy and the product suffered as a consequence.
The fear is that this will happen here as well. For all intents and purposes, Rogers now owns the NHL on television in Canada, and therefore has little reason to do anything to actively try to make the show better. You either watch Rogers coverage of the NHL or you don't watch the NHL.
Which is why it's so frustrating to see Elliotte Friedman, one of the very few sane voices on an increasingly inane on the Hockey Night panel, shuttled off to LA for rinkside reporter duties so that there's no one to police Stock, Glenn Healy, and now, apparently Kypreos.
Consequently, the show in Toronto turned into an idiots' echo chamber.
If that keeps up, it's going to be a long 12 years.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Friday's win over Calgary was the Ducks' 10th in 11 home games this season. Their only home loss? It came in overtime. Yeah, 21 of 22 points at Honda Center. That'll do.
Boston Bruins: Milan Lucic's power play goal on Saturday was his first since March 3, 2012. This season and last he had a combined 151-plus minutes of time on the power play in which he didn't score. I guess you could say he was due.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres were shut out again on Saturday, making it the 20th time in 28 games they've scored two goals or fewer. But yeah, Ron Rolston's coaching was why they sucked.
Calgary Flames: Karri Ramo stopped 21 of 22 Saturday night to help Calgary beat the Kings on the road, and that bumped his season save percentage to a whopping .890. The Flames' goaltending problems are over!
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes are going to trade Tim Gleason “very soon,” according to Darren Dreger. How's spending all that money on Jordan Staal and Alex Semin in an effort to be competitive going?
Chicago Blackhawks: Every year the Blackhawks have to take a lengthy road trip when the circus comes to Chicago. This year they gave their seven opponents a combined three out of a possible 14 points. It's the team's most successful Circus Trip ever. They're 20-4-4 for a reason.
Colorado Avalanche: JS Giguere has won all six of his decisions this season and his save percentage is at .949 and none of that makes sense.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno really wanted to fight Dennis Seidenberg following a borderline hit, and when the Bruins defenseman wouldn't do it, Foligno instead just took a 10-minute misconduct and got benched for the third period. Good idea with your team down a pair, Nick.
Dallas Stars: The Stars called up Jamie Oleksiak to replace Stephane Robidas, who might be done for the year with a broken leg. That's tough for Dallas.
Detroit Red Wings: Someone besides Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk scored for the Wings on Friday. This was something of a minor Thanksgiving miracle.
Edmonton Oilers: Ah yes, the Oilers' problem is a lack of “urgency.” That's as funny a way to spell “team defense” as I've ever seen, but whatever works I guess.
Florida Panthers: “The enigmatic Panthers are disproving two of hockey's favorite statistical adages that says winning teams usually outshoot their opponents as well as score the majority of their goals in the third period.” The Panthers, for the record, were 19th in the league in the share of shots directed at the net in their games at 49 percent through Saturday night's games, so they are not in fact usually outshooting their opponents. Also: score effects. Also also: their goal margin in the third period is only plus-3, which isn't great and doesn't matter because in the first two periods combined it's minus-22. There's your answer, fishbulb. The Panthers aren't disproving anything.
Los Angeles Kings: Justin Williams' 200th career goal was one heck of a shot.
Minnesota Wild: Well, the Wild lost to the Avs, but at least they also rushed Zach Parise back from injury for no real reason.
Montreal Canadiens: You gotta give the Habs this: they really capitalized on every single Leafs mistake in the first two periods. Not all of them resulted in goals but the scoring chances were very heavily lopsided. That's what being aggressive against teams on the downswing gets you.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Shea Weber took a puck to the face against Edmonton on Thursday (Unhappy Thanksgiving), and now says he will definitely start wearing a visor. What a wimp, right guys?
New Jersey Devils: Here's Steve Bernier winning it in OT for the Devils against the Sabres, in a game which featured a COMBINED 39 shots. Scintillating stuff.
New York Islanders: Taking the lead with 1:51 to go, conceding the tying goal 1:02 later, then losing in overtime: Is this the Most Islanders way to lose? No. That would have been if they lost in regulation.
New York Rangers: A hat trick for Chris Kreider against John Tortorella. You knew Kreider was so geared up for this game, but afterwards he was all like “Oh you know I'm just happy to be playing so well.” Just say it, Kreider. Say you wanted to show him up.
Ottawa Senators: They still love Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa but it's probably only because of how much they hate their own team at present.
Philadelphia Flyers: Steve Mason has been sensational for the Flyers this season. Since coming to Philadelphia, he has a .936 save percentage in 26 games. Has he turned it around? Well, guess what his save percentage was in his first 26 games with the Blue Jackets as a rookie. Did you guess “also .936?” Because if so you are correct. So far in Philly he's stopped 741 of 802, compared with 685 of 732 in Columbus. I wouldn't be counting too hard on that Flyers playoff berth.
Phoenix Coyotes: It's not usually a good idea to spot Chicago a three-goal lead. Phoenix knows that now.
Pittsburgh Penguins: I don't know how you lose Evgeni Malkin in transition but the Florida Panthers sure did it.
San Jose Sharks: The Ducks were very upset with a Joe Pavelski shootout attempt on which he appeared to stop but the puck never did. Know what's a good way to make sure this kind of thing never happens again? Get rid of the shootout.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues' loss on Friday broke a five-game winning streak. They're now just 7-2-1 away from home. What a bunch of losers.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jon Cooper put a line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik out against Sidney Crosby's line on Friday. Crosby, predictably, had three assists. Johnson was out there for all three. Somehow this is a positive.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Randy Carlyle said that his team got emotionally involved in Saturday's game against its archrival because of Max Pacioretty's goal celebration on the shortie that made it 4-0. You'd have thought losing at home to Buffalo would have been a motivator too, but no.
Vancouver Canucks: Eight-year-old Canucks fan Ashton Rota looks almost too much like Kevin Bieksa, and so we can't rule out the possibility that it was Rota and not the 32-year-old who threw that childish hissy fit after the Canucks got friggin' demolished by the Rangers on Saturday afternoon.
Washington Capitals: Man, imagine how much better the Leafs would be if they had a difference-maker like Mikhail Grabovski.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets' power play is only running at 11.5 percent? And it's not the worst in the league? Damn.
Play of the Weekend
How does James van Riemsdyk score on a chip shot from this angle?
Gold Star Award
For real, this Hockey Night opening. I could watch this forever.
Minus of the Weekend
Tim Thomas gave up four goals on just 13 shots over two periods of work. That's no way for an Olympic hopeful to play.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “hockeyjack13” has a strange read here.
The money works!
Brawk, nerd alert!