Sunday, December 6, 2009

All Things Hockey, December 6th, 2009

There really isn’t that much to talk about right now. Seriously.

Sure, there are a few things going on in the world of hockey, with Olympic tryouts being played out across the first half, contenders stepping up, the Maple Leafs playing above themselves to prove me wrong, and posturing for the stretch run starting to take place. While all of these things are worth talking about, it really isn’t the right time for them. The Leafs will start losing again (I think), the Olympic teams won’t be put together for another month, and any examination of the standings (apart from outliers, surprises, etc), is a bit premature.

On the other hand, I was back at home in Idaho last week where at least until Cox “what is HD?” Cable notices, the NHL Center Ice package is hooked up. This is great news, since it allowed me to do more or less nothing every day between 5:00 and 11:00, other than sit on the couch, watch some puck, and occasionally get up for food.

Browsing through the channels, I would consistently think a few things:

1. My house has an HD television. The games are broadcast, and available in HD. We have an HD cable system. I cannot watch the games in HD. I am not the first to make this point, but it never ceases to be frustrating, especially when the Sharks-Oilers game looks like it was filmed in 1978.

2. 8-10 hockey games a night is great. Seriously. It might be the best thing in the world.

3. While the game that is on, not in commercials and close is the choice by default, there are certainly teams that I gravitate towards.

The last point, to me, is the most interesting. Sure, like I said, the point where a given game is certainly has a large impact on the level of intrigue, but simply by browsing the matchups, you can tell a lot about how interesting the game will be. Certain teams are just more interesting than others.

It isn’t just the standings, either. The Islanders suck. They have virtually no chance of making the playoffs. They have a lot of young talent, most notably Jonathan Tavares, though, so they are way higher on the list than some teams, like Nashville who sits in 6th in the West, but just isn’t that interesting.

I know what your thinking after reading that last sentence. That’s right. There is a list (I’m about to make one anyways). A lot of things go into it. Jerseys are a factor. How good a team is definitely counts. Star players or story lines help. Most of it comes down to feel. However they are made, here are my inaugural NHL Center Ice Power Rankings;


30. Carolina Hurricanes- This one corresponds to the standings. At least with the injuries they have, Matt Cullen is the most compelling reason to tune in. Yeah.

29. Dallas Stars- Sure, they have 31 points (9th in the West), so technically they have a shot, but it is more depressing than anything to watch the greatest American player of all time (Modano) now that he has lost a step.

28. Minnesota Wild- Higher if Havlat and Burns are healthy.

27. Edmonton Oilers- Rexall place is the fastest rink in the league, but it also has the worst lighting. That makes it tough to watch, but not as tough as your third leading scorer being Lubomir Visnovsky makes it. (Spelled that right on my first try. I had to look 3 times before I could believe it.)

26. St. Louis Blues- Would be higher if it was 1999, they have Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya on their powerplay for Christ sake. Then again, in 1999 Erik Johnson was a squirt.


25. Anaheim Ducks- Probably the most surprising, but I really am not that interested in the 2009 version, even in an “I’ll usually watch Yankee games,” sort of way.

24. Colorado Avalanche- Starting an avalanche down the standings (3 wins in their last 10), they will be higher a couple of years from now. They are actually irrelevant anyways for me on center ice. Their games are blacked out, because they are the “local” team, even though we haven’t gotten their games for at least 5 years.

23. Nashville Predators- I had Sharks-Preds tickets a few weeks ago. Shea Weber was hurt and Colin Wilson was scratched, meaning there was not one player on the visiting team that I wanted to see. That has never happened before.

22. Florida Panthers- They move to #1 if they just got scored on.

21. Montreal Canadians- They really should be lower, but the jerseys, the crowd and the chance that the game might be in French bump them up at least 4-5 spots.


20. Phoenix Coyotes- A spattering of young talent, but they don’t score much, and are a few years away. Probably higher if their building wasn’t so dead.

19. Ottawa Senators- Only interested if the Michalek-Spezza-Alfredsson line is out.

18. Los Angeles Kings- The highest of the Sharks four division foes, and they don’t crack the top half. Suffice to say, I am confident.

17. New York Islanders- Johnathan Tavares is the sole reason that they aren’t about 10 spots lower. It isn’t because Garth Snow signed 5 different goalies in the past year.

16. Detroit Red Wings- They are 2 years removed from a championship. They have been in the finals two years in a row. They are old and slow. There I said it.


15. Toronto Maple Leafs- A few weeks ago, they would have been in their own section, “the car crash…terrible but you can’t look away.” They are high because of that, but also because I really enjoy Darren Dregger, and his radio show is about the Leafs, so I know a lot about the team. I never claimed this made sense.

14. New York Rangers- Apart from Gaborik, they are a fairly boring team, but the fact that I spent 5 years in Rangers country, and have a lot of New Yorker friends makes them slightly more interesting.

13. Columbus Blue Jackets- A lot of young talent, although you don’t know what you are going to get really. Rick Nash is always a threat to do something worth watching though.

12. Calgary Flames- If this were a power rankings, they would easily be higher. The problem is, they are as good as they are because of the best core of defensemen in the league. Hardly makes for exciting action.

11. Boston Bruins- They should be 2 or 3 in the league. They have so much going for them, great uniforms, Jack Edwards, and I have plenty of Bruins fans friends. The thing is, it is tough to get excited for a team, even a contender, who is 26th in goals/game.


10. Buffalo Sabers- Stafford (though inconsistent), Connolly and Roy are all fun guys to watch. They also earn this spot based on having the best jersey in the NHL (their third).

9. Philadelphia Flyers- Another team I saw in person this year. They have a lot of good players I feel like I don’t know anything about.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning- Vinnie Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and all of a sudden Steven Stamkos, are all great to watch. The way he is playing, Stamkos is fast becoming #1 of those three.

7. Vancouver Canucks- A defensive team, but I miss watching Christian Ehrhoff night in night out. Guys like the Sedins and Ryan Kessler make them fun to watch as well.

6. New Jersey Devils- Not your fathers’ trapping Devils of the 90s. This version has some serious offensive talent with guys like Zach Parise and


5. Chicago Blackhawks- Hossa, Kane Teows. Great looking unis. Sold.

4. Atlanta Thrashers- An offensive juggernaut, they score over about 3 and a half goals a game. There are a few guys in the league who you aren’t changing the channel when they are on the ice, and Ilya Kovalchuk is one. Young guys like Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian make them even more intriguing.

3. Washington Capitals- As for guys you aren’t looking away from, this #8 character probably qualifies. In fact, no one has as many guys I would pay to see (Green, Backstrom and Semin making 4 superstars).

2. Pittsburgh Penguins- Two more of those here guys. I am talking, of course, about Craig Adams and Mark Eaton. Crosby and Malkin aren’t bad either. They get the slight edge over Washington because of that shiny goblet in the locker room.

1. San Jose Sharks- SURPRISE!

Alex Ovechkin is an aggressive player to a fault, but I really can’t get on board with the opinion that he is a dirty player. I am none too eager to defend someone for sticking out a knee, as anyone who has taken a knee-to-knee, or knee-to-thing hit will agree. Quite simply, it sucks. If you get run over and concussed, you should have had your head up. If you go into the boards awkwardly and sprain an ankle, it is an accident; you weren’t injured by another player. If you pop out a shoulder on the boards, it is mostly a matter of how you go in that leads to the injury, but the hit itself is a legitimate play. When you are kneed it is, along with being hit from behind, really the only thing that happens in the course of play that you can’t do anything to defend against (short of not going into traffic), can lead to serious injury, and is the result of another player’s actions. Those two things really are as much of an attack on a defenseless player as exists in hockey. The thing is, there are two types of knees.

The first is the vicious one, which serves only as an attack, and should be met with a severe suspension. The hit thrown by Georges Laraque was the first kind.

Laraque never makes an attempt to hit the player squarely, Kronwall thinks he is past the hit, and Laraque blatantly sticks out a leg to trip him, with the injury being the only possible outcome of the action. Kronwall never leaves his course, not needing to because of the apparent bad angle taken by the defender Laraque. Laraque is by most accounts a good guy, but this is a blatant cheapshot and he deserved a suspension at least as severe as the one he got.

The second kind is the kind that Ovechkin has been criticized for throwing. Both the hit on Gonchar in the playoffs last year and this hit on Gleason were of this variety.

The problem is, they are no less dangerous, and can frequently lead to injury, even though to the trained eye, the difference between those two hits and the one on Kronwall should be obvious, in my opinion. Both were equally dangerous and seemed to have a victim, the puck carrier. The difference is in two areas.

The first is what would be described in legal terms as co-negligence. Particularly on the Gonchar hit, but also on the Gleason hit, the puck carrier, unlike Kronwall in the Laraque example, swerves, just before impact, in attempt to avoid the hit. In both cases, Ovie is coming hard, and cannot avoid making contact. To his fault, he makes no attempt to avoid making leg to leg contact, but on the Gonchar hit he has absolutely no hope of avoiding contact, and would only have risked hurting himself had he pulled away.

The second difference, and in my opinion the most important one (which makes Ovechkin aggressive, rather than cheap) comes down to intent. In both instances, Ovechkin has absolutely no intent of making leg on leg contact. In both cases, Ovechkin doesn’t come in at an angle, he doesn’t aim to make contact from the side, but rather, in both cases, he comes straight at the puck carrier, trying to line him up for a direct hit. Furthermore, on both hits Ovechkin, as impact approaches, attempts to throw his shoulder into the puck carrier. Unfortunately, Ovechkin is going all out at the puck carrier, so when the swerve occurs, he has absolutely no control over what happens.

On both hits, Ovechkin comes up and attempts to throw a shoulder in to his opponent. In order to do this, his knee does stick out a bit, but if you look at his body as a whole, it doesn’t appear that he is trying to throw around his knee. The view from the corner camera sunk Ovechkin in the court of public opinion on the Goncahr hit, because you can’t see Ovechkin leading in with his shoulder, only Gonchar jumping around and making contact with a seemingly outstretched knee. Clearly though, Ovechkin is attempting to throw a shoulder, but simply misses, and the result of the player attempting to avoid him is the knee on knee collision. The Gleason hit was more Ovechkin’s fault than the Gonchar one (he threw his shoulder way to early, which resulted in the knee contact even though Gleason didn’t really wait till the last possible second to avoid the hit like Gonchar), but neither play was the result of Ovechkin throwing around knees, as has been insinuated by many a hater.

You could argue that he should play under more control but even that doesn’t make him dirty, just reckless. Ovechkin is a much bigger and stronger player than many people realize. This combined with the unmatched aggression with which he plays the entire game, but particularly that which is demonstrated on the forecheck creates situations in which dangerous situations occur. I reject that having no control of a situation he creates, as is the case when he flies in without abandon to a defenseman makes him dirty, because to be dirty intent to injure needs to be present. For Ovechkin, his intent is to do whatever he can to disrupt the play, not hurt the defenseman.

The affect of him playing so recklessly is that he does put other players in danger, and people have drawn comparisons to penalties for inadvertent high ticks to say that Ovechkin should be responsible for his body, just as players are responsible for their sticks. This is true, and Ovechkin should be responsible for his body when his aggressiveness creates illegal hits, like the one on Kaleta. The thing is, he is made responsible for these hits, as he received a penalty for the boarding penalty against Buffalo, and a kneeing penalty (although I disagree with the call) for the hit on Gleason, but while these are penalties, they are things that occur during the course of a hockey game, and don’t break any sort of code, which is suggested when people refer to Ovechkin, or anyone else, as “dirty.”

Goal of the Week

I’m cutting down the descriptions this week (time…sorry), just watch the clips if you don’t like it.

The goal of the week was from David Perron. Anytime you make a somewhat original move as good as that and finish the play, you are at least in the conversation. This time it was enough to beat out Kessel’s beaut from last week.

Pass of the Week

This is an absolutely fantastic play by Stephen Weiss. He took the puck into the zone, drew three defenders to him, spun and was not only to find Horton, but thread the pass through three defenders. Forget about the fact that I want to keep it short, I don’t even know if there is anything else I can say to do this play justice.

Just watch.

Save of the week

A great save on an underrated player to get an extra point.


I still think Jaroslav Halak should be playing.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts, Randomly Scribbled throughout Two Weeks of Watching Hockey

- Watching the Bruins/Thrashers game in Atlanta on 11/19 is actually borderline depressing. It is two interesting teams (Atlanta because of a stable of young talent and these jerseys that everyone hates, but I like, and Boston because they should be a good team, even with their injuries), and yet there are so many things wrong. It just isn’t what you expect from NHL hockey. The level of play really looks a lot like teams going through the motions (makes sense, the “dog days” seem to come earlier in hockey, then a longer stretch run). There are a lot of people not moving their feet, little physical play and not a lot of forechecking. It isn’t a bad or poorly played game, just seems to be low intensity. On top of that, there are about 3000 people in the stands. Hockey isn’t driven by the crowd quite as much as basketball or football, but the fact that the stands are empty (and we are talking Florida Marlins empty) definitely makes the atmosphere on the ice a little bit duller.

- Building on that, the Phillips Center (home of the Thrashers), really is a terrible situation. They are reportedly getting 73% attendance, but that seems high looking at their highlights. There are entire sections in the upper deck that seem to be empty, and even the lower bowl seems to be about half full. Colorado and Phoenix are reported to be lower percentage wise, but at least from what you can see, this can only be because of inflated numbers by the Thrashers’ front office. The Denver building, by the eyeball test at least, looks to be twice as full as that in Atlanta. Watch highlights from the two buildings, and there is absolutely no way that more people are going to games in Atlanta than Denver. They were last in the league drawing last year, and despite what is being reported, I refuse to believe that they aren’t once again.

- Ryan Miller is the clear cut starting goaltender for the United States Olympic team. Not only that, he may be the best goaltender in the tournament, should he continue to show what he has this season. As of this, he is leading the league in save percentage and goals against, and has the Sabers at 5th in the east, despite being 21st in the league in scoring. What looked to be a point of uncertainty for the Americans now appears to be perhaps their greatest strength.

- It bears repeating. I love watching games on RDS (in French).

- Speaking of languages, after watching the Canadians games, I decided that the best way to study for my German final was to try to find DEL clips and just hope that somehow helps. I went on to Youtube, and as is to be expected, it was mostly montages. This was fine, and still interesting, but the funny thing was, every single one used classical music. The first was O Fortuna, which was fine, and kind of worked. The second? Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I like classical music, and that is probably my favorite piece. It has absolutely no place in a hockey montage. Crazy Euros.

- Did anyone have the Flyers as the first team to make a coaching change this year? Don’t think so.

- I do agree with the above dismissal of John Stevens on one front. A couple of weeks ago, I had the fortune of taking in a Sharks-Flyers game in San Jose. For the Flyers, the best player on the ice wasn’t Richards, Carter, Briere or even Pronger. As far as I could tell, their most impressive player was James VanRienmsdyk (spelling note number 2…after mentions in three straight columns, I finally have that one down). JVR was flying every time he was on the ice. He was around the puck a lot, and when he got it on his stick, good things were happening for the Flyers every time. Naturally, then, at whistles and line changes, me and my buddy Andrew would look for #21 in white. We rarely saw him. VanRiemsdyk’s ice time was, for whatever reason, limited to around 13 minutes that night. Even that number surprised me when I looked it up the next morning. Looking at his stats (, while he would get second line ice time occasionally, only once did Stevens play him 20 minutes. The Flyers don’t have the luxury of doing this. VanRiemsdyk not only passes the eyeball test, but his production in the ice time he gets is outstanding. He is 14th on the team in ice time, playing less than 14 minutes a game, but third on the team in scoring, ahead of guys like Simon Gagne and Danny Briere. The Flyers, who are built to win now, shouldn’t have taken the luxury of babying VanRiemsdyk into the NHL when he was capable of producing immediately. I haven’t seen enough of the Flyers to say that Stevens did or didn’t deserve to be fired, but he definitely made a mistake in that regard.

- One more note on the Flyers. I love the Peter Laviolette hiring. I like it because he is a good coach. I like it because they can win this year, and he has won a Stanley Cup (2006 in Carolina), I love it because if there is a coach who looks exactly like Rocky Balboa in the NHL, it should be in Philadelphia.

- Marian Gaborik has always been one of the more explosive and exciting players in the NHL, but two things this year have allowed him to blossom into one of the most consistent goal scorers in the league. First of all, he is staying healthy so far for the Rangers, something he was never able to do in Minnesota. He had one minor injury, but for the most part he has been in the lineup. Unsurprisingly, he has been producing, something he was always able to do while in the lineup for the Wild. While he is playing though, there are two things that have changed for him that may account for his jump to one of the premier goal scorers in the world. First of all, he was liberated from the trap and hang back, offense last system of Jacques Lemaire. Playing with the Rangers, even though Tortarella is still a fairly defensive coach, he allows Gaborik to realize way more of his potential that Lemaire did. Secondly, Gaborik has improved his own game. He could always score the breaking away, open space pretty goals. This year, he has done what anyone who wants to be atop the league in scoring needs to do. He is getting his nose dirty, going to the front of the net and scoring ugly (the two against Pittsburgh on Monday night for example). Unfortunately, the Rangers have gotten little production from the rest of the team, and Lundqvist has been good, but not great, and the Rangers are, as of now, out of a playoff spot.

- Thoughts from the entire hockey world have to go out to Jonas Gustafsson. A possible heart condition is no laughing matter. Here’s hoping it won’t affect a promising young career.

- 3 non-hockey things

o I root against Derek Jeter. I can’t stand the Yankees. Even I can’t argue with the choice of Jeter as the sportsman of the year.

o Now that Tiger seems to be healthy, I’m torn between “Tiger’s having driving accuracy problems again” jokes and “If Elin had been trying to help, she would have used a Rescue club” jokes.

o The BCS requires its own column. Thoughts on that this week.

TOP 8 / bottom eight

On The Up

8. Atlanta Thrashers- Ondrej Pavelec has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NHL this year filling in for Kari Lehtonen. It helps having scary offense in front of you, but they have stayed in contention without Kovy for a portion of the season.

7. Boston Bruins- Got a lot of scoring back, even if it is a few years before they will get it back from the spot that was Phil Kessel. Fortunately for the Back Bay crew, it will come in the form likely of Cam Fowler, Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin in the 2010 Draft.

6. New Jersey Devils- The Zach Parise for MVP chatter is starting earlier this year.

5. Calgary Flames- Said it before, best D core in the league. Jokinen is picking up Camalarri’s slack at least adequately.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins- Healthy, the Kid is on a tear, the Penguins are in great shape to defend, even if there are a few teams that have been more impressive so far.

3. Washington Capitals- Best team in the East when Ovie is playing. One of the best even when he isn’t.

2. San Jose Sharks- I honestly think they are the best team but…

1. Chicago Blackhawks- …the Hawks earned the top spot for one week with the statement last week.

On The Down

23. Philadelphia Flyers- Moved from on the up to on the down in one issue, thanks to an 8-2 trouncing in Laviolette’s first game at the helm.

24. Montreal Canadiens- Not how the envisioned celebrating their centennial, I would imagine.

25. Edmonton Oilers- Again, Visnovski, their third leading scorer. Especially bad when you don’t have a goalie in the top 30 in GAA.

26. Minnesota Wild- Hampered by injuries. Also hampered by not being that talented or deep.

27. Florida Panthers- Somehow not last in the league in attendance.

28. Toronto Maple Leafs- Not Last!

29. Anaheim Mighty Ducks- The mighty is ironical. (I’m approaching 5,000 words here, so keeping it short)

30. Carolina Hurricanes- I just had an urge to grab a drink of water, looked up at my cup on the other side of the room (all of 10 feet away), and decided it wasn’t worth it, before turning back to my computer screen. I’m assuming this same phenomenon is responsible for Paul Maurice still being coach of the Canes.



The suspension and injury of Ovechkin, coupled with a slight slowing down has actually pushed him out of the top spot for now. It would shock no one if he got right back up here, but for now he is out. That leaves me with Patrick Marleau. Is that a homer pick? Probably, but it is definitely justifiable. He is tied for second in the NHL in goals, and third in points. The fact is, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Marleau, who has been plagued by inconsistency his entire career, has brought it every night and developed into a player you notice every shift. Gaborik’s numbers are better, but since the Sharks lead the NHL, and the Rangers would miss the playoffs if the season ended today, I’m going with Patty.

Honorable Mention- Marian Gaborik, Sidney Crosby (quietly scoring a ton lately), Ovechkin


Since he took over the spot of favorite last time, Miller has actually strengthened his case. In my mind, he has to be the clear cut favorite at this point.


Tavares still has the edge, but he has hardly been tearing the league up with 22 points (6 goals in his last 10 games, but only 2 in his last 7). James VanRiemsdyk is a close second though.

Honorable Mention- JVR, Michael Del Zotto


Nicklas Lindstrom is often, and justifiably, considered the premier offensive defenseman of the last whatever (I really don’t know how to finish that…of the last since Ray Borque’s prime I guess), particularly by the people who keep giving him Norris Trophies. Lindstrom has never scored more points than his team has played games. In fact, no defenseman has hit 82 since Brian Leetch, 14 years ago. With that in mind, Mike Green has 30 points in the Capitals 29 games. Clear cut favorite, perhaps for the next 5 years.

Non-NHL Update-

Knowing players in leagues you follow can change the way you look at the league. I don’t know if this would be the case with the NHL, should some of the players I have grown up around make the jump, but it certainly has been with NCAA Hockey. Time was, when I went on (by far the most comprehensive college hockey website), the teams I would check up on would be Dartmouth (and by extension, the ECAC/Ivies), my Dad’s alma mater whom I had seen play in person a few years in a row, and the usual powers, the Wisconsins, Michigans, Denvers, Boston Colleges and Minnesotas of the world. Now, I have at best a passing interest in the top 20. I rarely visit the team pages for Miami (OH), who sits atop the rankings, or Dartmouth, my former “favorite team.” Instead, stop number one is unquestionably Northeastern, the owner of a 5-6-1 record and 7th place in Hockey East, but also the squad featuring former Kent School standouts Justin and Drew Daniels. After that, it is the Army page, to check up on fellow Kent class of 2008 member Dan Colvin. After that, I may look around to get an idea of who the contenders are, but I am just as likely to move on to D-III, the BCHL, the EJHL, or to check up on more Kent Alums, or else move on from USCHO.


Follow Up

Most importantly, the Wings sit in 11th in the West. I couldn’t be happier.


Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s right. Sure, I have told many a person that I don’t think they could win the Calder Cup (AHL), and I’m not sure they could. The thing is, though, they are 4-4-2 in their last 10. That doesn’t sound impressive, but with their talent, it really is. I make fun of them a lot, but I am genuinely intrigued and interested to see if they can keep it up.


I have already mentioned him twice, but I am interested to see if James VanRiemsdyk’s ice time is boosted under Peter Laviolette, and how his production will respond.


This Saturday night, the Flames come to San Jose. The Sharks and Flames are both in the running for the top spot in the West. I will be in attendance. Good enough.

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