The weekly roundup returns, and after a week of surprises to open the season, we’ve seen some sense of normalcy in Week 2. Well, aside from that whole Rick Rypien thing, and the benching of Ilya Kovalchuk. Alright, the standings are beginning to look a little more normal. Yeah, that’s it.
A lot can happen in a week. Major, life changing events can alter the course of your future, and seemingly random occurrences can plant the seeds for coming change.
And sometimes during a week you find yourself in uncharted territory, like maybe that time you dressed in peat moss and tried to break into the museum of rocks and minerals. Unfamiliar ground is scary, a lesson the Leafs–and to a lesser extent, the Oilers–have learned.
If you live anywhere in Ontario, or even remotely close to it, it was difficult not to get caught up in Toronto’s fast start. The euphoria in the city was staggering, even for a fanbase that has maintained a surprising level of positive energy despite not making the playoffs since 2004. The Leafs are young, exciting, and fun to watch, and they’re a team with the core to make a dramatic improvement over last year. But dramatic change doesn’t come in a week.
After winning their first four games, the Leafs dropped their next three. Suddenly, there was doom. The bad vibes were as palpable as those no doubt felt by the web editor who writes an unfortunate headline. After the second loss, the Toronto Sun ran a headline saying the “party’s over,” apparently forgetting that–despite their mini-stumble–the Leafs didn’t win their fourth game last year until Nov.21.
It was a lesson in a practice that should be obvious, but isn’t, especially in the hockey mad reaches of the Great White North. In these early days of October when the leaves are still clinging to branches, and the Bills still aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, a sense of calm and balance is required.
The grim Ryper
It wasn’t quite Terry O’Reilly beating a fan with his own shoe, but Rick Rypien’s shoving match in Minnesota with a fan who did something every fan does (heckle) was the major talking point of the week. Rypien was suspended six games and fined $25,000 when he grabbed a fan in the front row while he was being escorted off the ice following a skirmish with Wild tough guy Brad Staubitz.
The word “altercation” isn’t an accurate adjective, because that requires two willing combatants. Calling it an assault or an attack would make me sound like a crusading moralist (more on them later). No, Rypien’s actions can only be deemed an act of stupidity.
It’s unfortunate that hockey is often only featured in mainstream American news when something drastic happens, but the lack of intelligence from goons like Rypien isn’t helping either. Once more for good measure, here’s Rypien’s run-in:
There’s no possible way to justify what Rypien did. It was careless, thoughtless, and moronic. But the calls to have Rypien banished for the year were equally moronic. The overreaction was expected, but still surprising, with some columnists actually having the lunacy to compare Rypien’s snatch and grab to the Malice at the Palace.
Scantily clad women entertaining crowds is against all that is right in the world
Cheerleaders have a nice, cozy place within our sporting culture. In college basketball and football, they’re part of the pageantry and tradition that accompanies each and every game. In the NFL, they’re a source of entertainment and eye candy for a male audience.
That’s right, I said it: cheerleaders can be eye candy. Every week major sites that cover the NFL have. picture galleries of cheerleaders, and some blogs even post a cheerleader of the week. Perhaps you’ve read one.
So it wasn’t surprising when the crusading moralists banded together to rebel against the Edmonton Oilers bringing a “cheer team” to Rexall Place. We may not all agree, but they have the right to fight, and an 893 person petition isn’t exactly a small group.
There’s nothing wrong with cheerleaders entertaining a crowd, regardless of what they’re wearing or how they bend their bodies. But it’s difficult to picture this type of gimmick being necessary in a Canadian city, especially once as die-hard as Edmonton. The Oilers sold out nearly every home game last season despite having the league’s worst record.
The moralists will always be against this basic marketing principle, but there’s no denying the notion that sex sells. While such simple marketing may be required in some American cities, the game itself is more than enough to entertain the passionate fans of Canada.
Good, that’ll teach him to score goals
We may never know exactly why devils rookie head coach John MacLean benched Ilya Kovalchuk Saturday night. We can sure speculate, and that’s one thing we’re pretty good at, but the seal is shut pretty tight over at the swamp.
But here’s one thing that became abundantly clear Saturday night: Benching your star forward who attracted the attention of the entire hockey universe for two months is bad for business. Kovalchuk now has three goals and six points over eight games, and scored last night in his return to the lineup. No matter what he did to feel the wrath of MacLean, the situation doesn’t look good on a coach who already needs a vote of confidence, and he’s not even 10 games into his New Jersey tenure.
- Speaking of those Devils, Martin Brodeur isn’t a friend of father time. The veteran has already let in four or more goals on three occasions.
- In some telepathic way, Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak were connected Saturday night. It’s fitting that on the night Price earns his first shutout of the season in Montreal, Halak did the same for St. Louis.
- Nathan Horton was expected to fit in nicely in Boston, but no one could have called a start quite this electrifying. Horton still hasn’t had a pointless game, and already has five goals.
- When he’s healthy, Rene Bourque can produce, and fast. Since returning from a concussion, he has six goals and six points in four games. The problem so far in Bourque’s short career has been staying on the ice. In five pro seasons, Bourque has yet to play all 82 games.
Calgary Flames: These are fickle times in all corners of the league, and in Week 2 we already have the first team to jump from the outhouse to the penthouse. Last week, I put the Calgary Flames on the loser list, citing their lack of scoring and production from key players. A week later, the Flames have won four of their last five games, and that scoring problem seems to be fixed, as they’ve potted 20 goals during that stretch.
The aforementioned Bourque is clearly a major reason for the turnaround, but the return of the real Miikka Kiprusoff has provided a nice boost too. After the Flames were shut out in two of their first four games–a stretch in which Kiprusoff allowed 11 goals–the Finnish netminder has responded with two shutouts of his own in the past week.
New Jersey Devils: Beyond the turmoil surrounding MacLean and Kovalchuk, and the slow decline of Brodeur, the Devils’ defence is a monster lurking in the swamp.
At -11, the Devils have the worst team plus/minus rating in the league. Another alarming category in which the Devils are in the basement is goals against. Averaging 3.33 goals against per game, New Jersey has surrendered 20 even strength goals, a total poor enough to put the once proud and trap-minded franchise at 29th in the league.
The absence of Anton Volchenkov–who has missed seven games with a broken nose–clearly isn’t helping. But it’s an early sign of things to come when only one defenceman other than Volchenkov (Colin White) has his plus/minus rating in the black.
- Steven Stamkos: It’s as if last season never ended. The 51-goal scorer from last year jumps up a spot from Week 1′s top three, and now has 15 points in just eight games. Stamkos added an astounding nine points this week, including a four-point night against Atlanta on Friday.
- Rene Bourque: See above. I’m a man of variety and try to drop as many different names as possible in this weekly roundup, but it’s pretty hard to keep Bourque off the list when he’s on such a torrid scoring pace.
- Daniel Sedin: Another player who still hasn’t gone pointless in a game yet, Sedin had two goals and four points over three games this week. The twin connection has been red hot to start the season, as Henrik has 10 points over the Canucks’ first eight games.