Tag Archives: hockey

There are Alternatives to Fighting, Just Not in the NHL

Take it all in, you’re witnessing the official divorce between the NHL and fighting. While it may not come as a shock to some, it’s become blatantly obvious to most.

For the Boston Bruins, looking specifically at last nights game in Buffalo, Sabres tough guy William Carrier caught David Backes at a vulnerable angle. As the unwritten hockey law goes at the next stoppage in play, Adam McQuaid seeked out Carrier to instigate a fight.

Once the gloves came off, two officials darted into the fray in a lackluster attempt to separate the two. However, in doing so they allowed Carrier to land multiple solid hits to McQuaid’s head before it was broken up. Which brings up my next critique, what was the point?

If the idea was to protect the players from themselves, why wasn’t Carrier penalized more for his free shots at McQuaid? The result was a power play to Buffalo, which is beyond head scratching. To me, the message that was sent to players was “if you’re locked up with the officials just get an arm free and continue to whale on the defenseless player”.

While the intention may have been justifiable in some sense. I can’t understand why in a similar situation earlier this month in Montreal officials didn’t step between Torey Krug and Brendan Gallagher.

No doubt in both checks would lead to extra curricular activity there was head contact. But with Boston’s match up against Montreal, the officials didn’t interject until both players hit the ground. So wheres any form of consistency? Players are sticking up for themselves because that is how hockey works.

I would have absolutely no problem with that type of behavior from the officials if it was a league wide mandate. Which clearly it’s not. Otherwise, it should be noted that as early as November of 2015-16, fighting was reportedly down 40% league wide. A trend I would imagine has only increased since then.

Line brawls are unnecessary and staged fights are soon to be ancient relics with players like Matt Martin and Shawn Thornton representing the last of their kind. With an added attention to increased scoring, made evident by having some of the best players in the league not even eligible to consume alcohol.

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Regardless of the increase of speed, finesse and scoring one thing remains. The causal hockey fan watches because its level of violence is higher than the other major sports. Similarly to how the casual baseball fan doesn’t like to watch a pitchers duel, they want 450 foot home runs every evening.

On the other hand, concussions and deaths related to trauma suffered while playing in the NHL has become a living nightmare. But when you have two players who aren’t strangers to engaging one another I say if it’s mutual, let them go. It’s only when a player gets jumped that I take issue with fighting. Something that hasn’t been seen in a noticeably long time.

 

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Edmonton Is More Than Just Number 97

Picture your favorite hockey player currently on your respective team.

Alright.

Connor McDavid is far and beyond a better player than him. Disregard the baby face and polite aura, as of Wednesday the 19 year old captain not only leads his team in points, but the entire league as well. Just 22 games into 2016-17 season the Edmonton Oilers more so resemble the dynasty of the 80’s than the punching bag’s of the last decade.

While other cards were added to the deck, it would be a respectable assumption to believe that McDavid is clearly the biggest factor to Edmonton’s early triumphs. At the same time, Milan Lucic has made his presence felt, Jordan Eberle is second in scoring, while recent draft select Leon Draisaitl has begun his emergence as a lethal play maker.

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Currently, Edmonton sits second behind the mighty Blackhawks in the Western Conference overall standings. However, skepticism is expected, considering how young the 2016-17 season is. Yet, it remains difficult not to believe perhaps, the necessary pieces have begun to fall into place.

Now, is it within the realm of reason to believe the Oilers are Cup Final bound? Probably not. But it’s been a decade since one of the sports most sought after franchises has been a part of meaningful spring hockey. During that time, it has been a revolving door at the head coach position, starting goal tender and not to mention the persistent search for an all purpose defender.

Within that struggle a generally young team was constantly redesigning their game plan and identity. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that’s detrimental to the makeup of an inexperienced and vulnerable hockey team.

Within the last 12 or so months, drastic change has breed drastic results. Both newly appointed general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan have shot adrenaline directly into Edmonton’s veins.

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Does it help being able to draft Connor McDavid in your first offseason? Of course it does. That being said, you also need to create a team that will coexist with that player.

In order to enjoy success on a regular basis, it’s finally time for Edmonton to grow up. I don’t mean that in the sense like a parent wagging their finger in your face after doing something you knew you shouldn’t have done, I mean it strictly in a professional manor. For years people around hockey have been predicting how bright Edmonton’s future is going to be. That was nearly seven years ago, so when does the future officially begin?

Well folks, you’re seeing it now. Typically, teams within the playoff race after U.S. Thanksgiving remain there. Leaving those just a few points outside to battle it out for the spots that remain up for grabs.

For the first time in a long time, the Edmonton Oilers are a playoff team after Thanksgiving. If history is any indicator, you will see them compete for Lord Stanley’s hardware.

No need to pinch yourself either, you aren’t dreaming.

 

‘Wild’ Expectations

Despite their wretched start to the season, the Boston Bruins have rewarded their fan base recently with noticeably strong play. During this time, their penalty kill and power play have improved mightily. Tuukka Rask has returned to his Vezina Trophy caliber self. Zdeno Chara’s plays have silenced even his most formidable critics. Lastly, the bottom portion of the lineup has contributed offensively.

Despite the improvements in various fields, one burden hangs over their heads: their inability to get valuable points against playoff caliber teams.

62 seconds separated the Bruins from taking at least one point away from the Canadiens in Montreal. Obviously Paul Byron squandered those hopes. The loss, albeit a crippling one, did prove one thing: Boston can hang with the best of them.

Minnesota handled Boston easily in their matchup on October 25th, 5-0. Tonight marks Boston’s 6th matchup against a team that made the playoffs last season since their trouncing against the Wild. A small portion to digest, sure. But it makes for an interesting narrative.

In last weeks entry, I noted that Bruins fans need to relish in the smaller victories. Anytime they can beat a playoff caliber team, the moral should improve. Similarly to how the Patriots beat up on other AFC East teams. It’s not until they go outside their division that you see how good or bad they are in specific areas.

Judging purely off the eyeball test alone, Boston is a demonstratively better team than in the beginning of October. Despite this months loses to the Rangers and the Canadiens, Boston has controlled the pace of play in the games in between. It should be noted that this all came against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season.

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October 25th marked what could have been the pinnacle of the Bruins season. Decimated by injuries, they turned to Malcolm Subban. It was his first start since he was held out to dry against St. Louis last season. To say the least, the year didn’t change much in the result department.

Boston will take on the 8-6-1 Wild tonight at 8 in St. Paul Minnesota. Much healthier, much more focused, and more than ready to get two points against a frequent flyer playoff team.

Tonight isn’t just another game on the schedule, it’s a measuring stick for the rest of the season. Minnesota is a team built from the ground up, eerily similar to Boston; stout goaltending, impressive defense, and four lines that run regularly.

In these particular games, a blow out is the furthest thing from expectation.

Tonight, I expect a high level of competition on both sides. These are two teams that desperately need two points to pull ahead in their divisions and conferences.

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With the regular season still in it’s infancy, these valuable points are very much up for grabs. Boston has proved one thing on the season so far, they are more than capable of beating up on the less fortunate teams. Now, it’s time to prove they’re still a perennial playoff contender.

However, they’ll most likely have to do it without Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak, who both missed today’s practice.

 

Despite The Numbers, You Should Be Positive About Boston

Monday night Boston took on a hen pecked Buffalo Sabres team and controlled the pace of play. Taking advantage of the mental errors and cashing in on the power play.

When the dust settled, Boston skated off with not just a 4-0 victory, but a full 60 minute effort under their belt.

Which was refreshing but the real challenge loomed on the horizon.

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Boston flat out competed with Montreal Tuesday night on the road, putting in another hard fought 60 minute effort against their arch rival.

Out shooting the opposition 43 to 23 and yet again scoring on the power play. In fact, it appeared Boston would, at the very least, take a point out of the match up. This of course was squandered by Paul Byron’s go ahead goal with just over a minute remaining in regulation.

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It was Montreal’s 11th win on the season, the back bone yet again being Carey Price.

As tough of a pill it was to swallow on Tuesday night, there are some distinct takeaways that spell positivity. For starters, Zane McIntyre looked comfortable in net for Boston, in Montreal no less. Shea Webers power play tally was a near impossible shot to stop and the eventual game winner came out of a mad net mouth scramble. I don’t blame the loss on lack of sufficient goal tending.

Secondly, the power play unit showed that the Buffalo game was no fluke. Pastrnak’s half wall bullet to tie the game at two a piece was a beautiful shot that will have the coaching staff talking.

Lastly, the blue line looks solidified. Krug was all over the ice offensively, desperately looking to chip in. Miller was moving the puck well and his unorthodox carrom off the boards resulted in a goal.

While it may appear as a defeatist attitude to look back on a demoralizing loss just to take positives away from it. This is what the Boston Bruins are now. Little victories over the course of the season will hopefully paint the bigger picture.

Standing at 7-6-0 Boston is as mediocre as you can be 13 games into the season. Not yet a force to be reckoned with in the traditional sense, nor are they kicking a can waiting for the draft. You see the problem with being average at best is that you’re more apt to remain that way you are rather than improve. That’s the nature of the beast.

With the eyeball test suggesting that things will improve over the course of the season contrasting with the only stat that matters, wins.

Unfortunately, the only hope they appear to have is improving their lackluster play on home ice. Referencing the last paragraph Monday night may be a sign of things to come.

Looking towards the future with optimism isn’t necessarily my golden trait, but in the last two games the effort has been there. After all, the Bruins were one fluke bounce away from taking two points from Montreal in their building.

Columbus awaits a hungry Bruins team come Thursday night. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond after their devastation Tuesday.

Will we see McIntyre again? Or will Rask be back?

One thing is for sure Jimmy Hayes still has a job, which irks me more than the lost to Montreal. That says a lot.

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Ice Cold Bruin’

Boston is known for a lot.

Wicked awesome accents, a sick sports market and as of late, an extremely frustrating hockey team.

After making priority number being their troubles on the blue line, Boston decided re-upping Kevan Miller and John Michael Liles was sufficient enough. Now, up to this point they were wrong since Miller and Adam McQuaid weren’t available to begin the season. Yet did they fool anyone with metaphorically sticking gum over a leaky pipe? Brandon Carlo has stepped in and played above average along side Chara where Torey Krug has left something to be desired so far this season.

A marvelous opening night performance against the Blue Jackets by Brad Marchand has proved, offensively, the Bruins are top heavy. Which, has placed them 6th in their division.

Since his return from injury, Patrice Bergeron has been largely spotless, including a game winning goal in his return to action. David Pastrnak has had the wheels churning since opening night, but has struggled to find consistency in his game offensively. As previously stated, Brad Marchand has carried the bulk of the load as far as total team offense goes while David Backes is fitting seamlessly into the teams style.

Oh, by the way Backes has undergone a minor “procedure” on his elbow and is expected to miss two games at the very least.

Tuukka Rask vowed to come back better than ever after a long off season of rest. Just to turn around four games into the season and sit due to general “soreness”. So backup Anton Khudobin took to the ice against Montreal, in a losing effort he would suffer an “upper body injury” requiring three weeks of shelf time.

In the absence of the primary two goaltenders, both Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre have been called up from Providence. Tuesday night offered the first look at Subban since being chased out of the net by St. Louis last season. History has an odd way of repeating itself as Subban was relieved of his duty for McIntyre after letting up 3 goals on 16 shots.

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It would appear as if Boston is struggling to find its identity this far into the early portion of the season. Physically they haven’t lost a step, regularly engaging in altercations and fisticuffs. Yet, their Achilles heel has bled over from last season. Not only can they not seem to play with a lead at any portion of a game, they physically can’t score.

Allowing Columbus, Toronto, Winnipeg, New Jersey, Montreal and Minnesota to get on the board first, this just makes each and every victory/defeat increasingly difficult.

It’s not necessarily that Boston is playing bad or uninspired hockey, because from what I have seen, that’s quite the opposite. However, the game plan needs to change and the rhetoric needs reassessment from managements perspective. Don’t tell the fan base that this isn’t a rebuild if you fail to make the playoffs for an unheard of third season in a row. Also, save your breath when saying you’ve done all you can to put the best product possible on the ice. Lastly, don’t keep the same coach to kick a can all season and shove the wrong messages down players throats. No matter how many times you try and shove a square into a circle, it’s not going to happen.

Yet I digress, clearly none of what has been told to the public applies.

Now, considerable interest was placed on Cam Fowler who is currently employed by the cap constricted Anaheim Ducks. The 24 year old defensemen has made noticeable strides towards becoming a strictly defensive player.

Now, is Fowler the immediate solution? No, by no means is he Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson. By all means he’s a noticeable upgrade from Kevan Miller and John Michael Liles. Furthermore he allows Julien the option to keep Chara on the bench, saving those 39 year old legs for better use.

Boston’s slow start last season spelled disaster for the latter portion as they failed to recover lost ground. With the addition of the injury bug plaguing the locker room, the trend seems to have returned.

Regardless of previous triumphs and failures, this season seems somewhat different. In the sense that unlike in years past, a new wave of youthfully inspired players have made and or gained considerable attention in the lineup. The future seems bright, but that’s the lamest cliché in the book.

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Take-aways from the early stages of the season:

 

Dazzling Debuts

Last night the NHL’s centennial season began with a thunderous boom. Historical franchises like the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs kicked it off.

But it was a pair of teenagers that took center stage. Newly appointed Oilers captain Connor McDavid and in-the-making super star Austin Matthews (both 19 years old) absolutely stole the spotlight.

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t look now, but we may have the next Sydney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on our hands.

For Leafs Nation, allow me to introduce you to Hurricane MatthewsThe first overall pick in last seasons draft wasted no time becoming a national phenomenon. Scoring on the first three shots he had in the game. A feat that not even Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux or Alex Ovechkin can claim.

Matthews tightened every muscle in his face not to crack a smile after scoring his first career hat trick, but that didn’t stop his mother from shedding a tear or two. By the time the buzzer sounded to end period two, Matthews had four goals to his name and was beating the Ottawa Senators by himself. No, that’s not a typo. Matthews scored four goals before the start of the third period.

While the Senators would score late in regulation and again in overtime to spoil his coming out party, Matthews has officially solidified himself as one of the best in the league at taking what appears to be nothing and creating something. Combining the hands and skating ability of Pavel Datsyuk with a nose for the net similar to Patrick Kane, the sky truly is the limit. One thing is for sure, hockey fans across various regions will be tuning in to Maple Leaf games because for the first time in nearly 24 years they are once again, must see television.

“Matthews the Magnificent”…has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

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New building, new captain, new jerseys.

For the Edmonton Oilers, the ideology is that the past will remain there, while the future unfolds.

Now, if last night was any indication of how the rest of the season is going to go for the Edmonton Oilers, then buy your tickets now. In his first game as the Oilers captain, Connor McDavid reminded fans why he was given such an honor. McDavid had two goals and one assist for the Oilers as they were skating off the ice with a 7-4 victory against the Calgary Flames.

McDavid flew down the wing, out striding Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman to draw a penalty shot. With time, space and speed McDavid rarely falters in the essence of the skill v. skill element of the penalty shot. Essentially putting the final nail in the coffin en route to their victory.

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Palpable is the only word worthy enough to describe the hype that has embodied fans who witness these two young men play the sport they love. While it’s still early, it’s also not obscene to predict that they will be doing just this for the remainder of their careers. Only Crosby and Ovechkin 11 years ago made a similar splash. Now McDavid and Matthews don’t play for teams that would consider each other rivals, but any time you get two proud Canadian franchises under one roof, as the saying goes, ‘all bets are off’.

Here’s to many more performances that encapsulate why we are all hockey fans at heart.

Happy Hockey Season everyone.

Oh Captain, My Captain

We’ve all been there.

Having to take orders from someone significantly younger than you is a difficult reality to come to grips with. However, that is how the normal work world operates. Professional sports operates in a different realm.

When it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, fans would rather spend their time talking about what was and not what is, and for good reason. Some of the greatest players to ever put on a pair of skates have played for them at one point or another. A fact even more mind boggling when you consider their inception was the 1979-80 season.

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In the shadow of the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals loss, the Oilers vowed to remain competitive in the ever changing landscape that is the NHL. Thus far, that promise has fallen through, with no lack of effort.

2010 marked a ‘revitalization’ of sorts for the Oilers with Taylor Hall being selected first overall. But it wasn’t until the man pictured above came to town that the fans truly bought in.

Connor McDavid goes by many nick names like McJesus or McDaddy. High praise for a kid who just turned 19 years old. Just ask Wayne Gretzky how easy it is being the face of a franchise, the answer may be a startling one considering how well he ended up handling it.

At 19 years and 266 days old, Connor McDavid has officially become the second youngest awarded captain in NHL history. Only Brian Bellows beat him out at 19 years and 131 days. Gabriel Landeskog was 19 years 286 days and Sidney Crosby was 19 years 297 days to fill out the latter.

What happens next is still a mystery.

McDavid is a fantastic hockey player, with more skill in his finger nails than most of us have in general. Every team hes ever played on share distinct similarities, they win. To be frank this was common place before he made his NHL debut. While the skill may be ever present, the leadership ability leaves something to be desired.

Gretzky was able to handle the pressures of leading a team in a hockey crazy city while being the best in the game. Similarly, Crosby went on to be the youngest captain to ever lift the Stanley Cup. Some years later Colorado tried to mimic this by appointing Landeskog as their youngest captain and to be blunt, it hasn’t worked at all.

Edmonton has a long wish list with stability in net and the desperate need for an all-purpose three zone defender in the forefront. While McDavid adds an instant injection of adrenaline. It be ludicrous to expect him to play goalie, defense and score at the same. This has been Edmonton’s Achilles heel for nearly a decade.

For this very reason, I potentially fear for McDavid’s future in Edmonton. The blame game begins quickly when you don’t win.

While Edmonton may be anything but prepared to compete for a championship, they have made a bold move. Placing their eggs in McDavid’s basket may be dangerous waters to venture through. Nobody said he was going it alone though. Stanley Cup champion Milan Lucic is a major presence down the wing and Adam Larson is a coming of age defender. The Oilers just hope Larson will grow into his body and be able to lug Shea Weber or Ryan Suter minutes on the ice.

The province of Alberta is starving for hockey superiority to return to its roots. While Calgary appears to have discovered a formula that works, Edmonton is still looking to pick up the pieces.

McDavid could head down the path of Landeskog, or he could impersonate Sidney Crosby. I have a feeling Edmonton hopes its the latter.

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Bottom line is simple, being absent from the playoff since 2007 is anything but self motivating. Perhaps a bold transition in leadership and a brand new arena can be enough for the roster to follow suit.

One thing that certainly wont help the situation is the absence of Taylor Hall in the lineup. The near point per game player in his career as an Oiler was swapped straight up for the previously stated Adam Larson.

Considering players like Yakupov and Eberle have been frequent flyers on the trade rumor plane. Hall being dealt to New Jersey came as a major shock.

Did management believe McDavid could come into the lineup to replace those numbers in his sophomore year? Or was there a fear of Hall and McDavid not gelling well because of the expectations surrounding Connor being the new face of the franchise? Don’t forget Taylor Hall was billed as just that when the Oilers selected him first overall in 2010.

Whatever the reasoning, Edmonton had a whirlwind off-season.

Drastic change has been the trend for a half decade, but the payoff hasn’t come for a team chasing some stability. With McDavid being the new captain, Lucic under a big deal and Larson being the go to guy on defense, perhaps we will begin to see what was always promised…

Winning. Don’t hold your breath.