Yes, it’s true. Not only is Wayne Gretzky the best player in the history of hockey, but he also made up nearly all of Florida International’s starting defensive line Saturday. A true legend.
Early on in my journalism education, I was taught how to judge a story. On day one, an old news catchphrase was repeated endlessly. It went something like this: “Dog bites man? That’s no story. Man bites dog? Now that’s a story!”
It’s incredibly corny, but incredibly true. Especially now with the advent of social media, we live in a society in which the strange and outlandish angle is the real seller, and the story that’s only mildly out of the ordinary gets casual attention. It’s a theory that can be applied to any news section, and one that was on display in our world of pucks and fisticuffs Wednesday night thanks to Sidney Crosby.
Crosby engaged in his fifth career fight, and had it not been for this week’s headshot courtesy of Joe Thornton one night later, we’d probably still be talking about that time Crosby laid a beat down on poor Matt Niskanen. His fight was a rare commodity, and it’s still intriguing to see the sport’s poster boy (or one of them at least) in such a rage.
What isn’t becoming rare, however, is superb goaltending.
It doesn’t really matter who the Blues put in net
Alright it probably does. OK, it really does, but it was still impressive to see Jaroslav Halak continue his incredible start and post a shutout against San Jose, while allowing only one goal over his two starts this week. He then watched backup Ty Conklin blank the Rangers Sunday.
Much to the dismay of anyone living within about a 500 km radius of Montreal, Halak has taken his Jesus act to St. Louis, and has been nearly unbeatable. He’s won his last six straight starts, and has surrendered only 15 goals over 10 games. He’s a key reason for the Blues’ fast start, but he isn’t the only reason.
Maybe Montreal should shut down the pipeline between St. Louis and La Belle Province entirely, because Matt D’Agostini–another Habs castoff–is among a group of young forwards finally cashing in on their potential. D’Agostini’s previous career high for goals was the 12 he scored with Montreal in 2008-09, and he already has five this season. Throw him in with David Perron–who also has five goals in 10 games–and T.J Oshie, and the Blues have a bright future.
Now, whether or not these youngsters are playing over their heads is a question we’ll have answered in a few weeks.
NHL players don’t know how to hit
Hockey players are taught how to hit and how to take a hit in Novice, about the same time that Dora the Explorer–for a more modern reference point–becomes uncool. They are put through endless drills demonstrating the proper technique to dislodge their man from the puck, and the correct way to absorb a bodycheck without sustaining an injury.
They know how to deliver a hit, they just don’t know how to do it within the rules. Or at least they don’t anymore, and that’s the root of the NHL’s growing problem with headshots. Joe Thornton indicated his confusion after receiving his suspension for a blindside hit on Perron last Thursday night.
“It’s not like I’m a headhunter or I’m this vicious player,” Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s just bizarre and baffling. Players throughout the league are confused right now about what’s a clean hit and what’s a dirty hit.”
We are indeed living in bizarro hockey times, and it was especially evident this week. Thornton’s hit may have been the loudest of the week, but it was just the finale of a mini hit parade. On the same night Dan Carcillo (surprise!) ran over a prone Ruslan Fedotenko:
Some of you will watch that clip and conclude that Carcillo–despite his reputation as a dirty player and an all-around jerk–shouldn’t be chastised, and couldn’t possibly slow down in time before hitting Fedotenko. There will be very few of you who fall into this category.
Others will point to Carcillo’s flying elbow, and see an intent to injury a player. The dividing line is present on many hits, but what’s most concerning is that every week there’s a new set of hits to examine.
Carcillo was not penalized on the play.
The Taylor Hall conspiracy
There’s nothing like a good ol’ fashion hockey conspiracy, and one that may have had even the Hardy Boyz scratching their heads because of its stupidity.
First, Taylor Hall was reportedly obsessed with the No. 4, and faced the ire of a disgruntled CBC blogger. Then quite predictably, the Oilers and Hall denied the report, leaving our CBC scribe–also known as Mark Seidel–looking like the kind of blogger who gives the rest of us who still live with our parents a bad name.
- Brian Burke is defending Ron Wilson from rumours again, saying his job is secure. Well, that didn’t take long.
- This has been the year of the goaltender so far. First it was Tomas Vokoun putting together back-to-back shutouts early in September, and then it was the heroics of Halak. But it’s been entertaining to watch the resurgence of Tim Thomas, whose 195 minutes of shutout hockey was finally snapped by a late second period goal during Boston’s win Wednesday over Buffalo.
- Dustin Byfuglien’s four-game point streak ended Thursday, but his physicality and speed is blending in nicely on an already fast Atlanta Thrashers team. Byfuglien has seven points in his last six games.
- Mike Green was off to a sluggish start, but woke up in a hurry late in October, and the scoring has kept flowing. He notched the game-winner against Philadelphia Sunday, and now has a goal in four straight games.
- What first seemed like a minor concern with the Blackhawks defensively is now a growing trend. Patrick Sharp was a -5 Wednesday against New Jersey, and Duncan Keith was -4.
- Mathieu Garon is suddenly on fire for the streaking Blue Jackets, and adds his name to the list of recently hot goalies. He put together back-to-back shutouts this week against the Canadiens and Thrashers.
- Scott Gomez has been terrible, and is the root of the problems on Montreal’s second line. Through 12 games he’s posting some of the worst numbers of his career. He has a meager one goal and three points, a far cry from the production expected from the Habs’ highest paid player.
Los Angeles Kings: Youth and enthusiasm don’t always lead to wins (see: Oilers, Edmonton), but early signs point to the second season of growth and maturity for the Kings and their young core.
Los Angeles has only lost three games in regulation so far, and the Kings have won six of their last seven. A major reason for the Kings’ continued success can be found in the crease, as Jonathan Quick has quietly lost only one start, and both his GAA (1.64) and save percentage (.942) are the fifth-best in the league.
Phoenix Coyotes: Goaltending can often be the backbone of a winning hockey team. The Kings have it, and the Coyotes don’t. Ilya Bryzgalov is killing my fantasy team, and he’s killing the Coyotes too. Although, in fairness, Bryzgalov really isn’t upsetting anyone, because the empty seats watching in Phoenix don’t have any emotions.
Bryzgalov was pulled in Friday’s loss to Dallas after allowing three goals in just over a period of play. At least he’s consistent, as the Russian has given up three goals in each of his past four starts.
- Mathieu Garon and Jaroslav Halak: The first tie in the history of the weekly review.
- Raffi Torres: The Canucks winger is already almost halfway to his goal total from last year. Torres is red-hot and has seven goals, five of which came last week.
- Brandon Dubinsky: Dubinsky is easily the leader of the players quietly having a very strong start. He struggled with injuries last year and missed 13 games, and then never really got his stride back. Dubinsky has a near perfect combination of toughness and soft hands, and may just be a late bloomer. He’s now starting his fourth full NHL season, and has posted a similar line to Torres over the past week. Dubinsky has 10 goals this season, with five coming this week. His previous career high is 10 goals, a mark he’s easily on pace to shatter.
Plays of the week(end)
A brand new feature to the weekly recap courtesy of our original content department, here’s the best fight, goal, save, and hit from this past weekend. Attention spans are short nowadays, so we’ve packed an entire weekend of hockey into 53 seconds. Why 53 seconds? Because it’s Derek Morris’ number. Shesh…