Ahhh, there’s nothing quite like drowning your sorrows at the local rod and gun club. Maybe one day this fine establishment will return your investment too. Just be prepared to wait a while.
I’m no scrooge, but every year around mid-November I see Christmas lights, wreaths, and little nutcracker dolls popping up everywhere, and my fists clench just a little tighter. Christmas is a happy, wonderful season, but can’t we hold off on putting up that inflatable Frosty the snowman at least until the calendar says December?
Timing is an overlooked element of even the most mundane activities. As we round the bend into week six of the NHL season, fans–especially those who support struggling teams–will instinctively say that it’s still early. It’s too early to be concerned about a lacklustre performance, a lack of goal scoring, or shoddy defence. It’s too early to be concerned about a proven goalie who’s shaky in the crease, or a team that finished in the basement last year, and is there again now.
It’s a mind game really. We convince ourselves that it’s too premature to panic, or to admit that maybe those offseason moves aren’t really panning out after all.
But just when is it time to perk up, and swallow the harsh pill of reality? By the end of this week nearly every team will have reached the quarter mark of their schedule. Most teams have played at least 15 games, and Chicago has played 20. Eventually, it’s time to take stock and realize that your team is who you thought they were.
On that happy note, we turn to the weekly headlines…
Welcome to fantasyland
When I was a kid, we had a big tennis court in our schoolyard, but nothing that even closely resembled a hockey surface so that we could play pretend hockey at recess. But we had wild imaginations because the weight of the world hadn’t crushed us yet, so we made that tennis court into our little hockey mecca.
We took a soccer ball, and played some weird, twisted version of soccer-hockey, complete with bone rattling hits into those chain link fences (see: boards). As a self-conscious pre-teen, the selection of teams at the start of recess was always gut-wrenching. When it gets down to the final three, each kid looks with wide eyes at the two captains, begging for them to end the torture.
This is exactly how I picture Chris Pronger at the of the end of the new fantasy selection process introduced this week for the NHL all-star game. While this concept will be fun and entertaining, it’s a business decision, just like anything Gary Bettman does to drum up interest. Bettman knows that in the lucrative American market, hockey can’t compete with the NFL. Nothing can.
But there is a war to be fought with basketball, especially since the NBA’s All-Star game takes place just a few weeks after the NHL’s showcase weekend. The true, die-hard hockey fans will watch the all-star game, but it’s not appointment television. It’s known and accepted as a glorified game of shinny, just like the NBA all-star game is akin to a pickup game at the YMCA, and the Pro Bowl is three hours of flag football.
All-Star games draw the attention of young, impressionable minds. Budding hockey fans want to see what wacky trick Alex Ovechkin will do this year, or who has the hardest shot. It’s a prime opportunity to cultivate new fans, and convert the casual viewer. The fantasy all-star selection process may smell like a gimmick at first, but it will create intrigue, curiosity, and a unique flavour.
Colin’s communication breakdown
Here at the Week in Review, our week runs from Monday to Sunday, and although the firestorm about Colin Campbell’s e-mails is raging as I type this, the match was lit last night. Willis provided a thorough synopsis of the events that led to e-mails between Campbell and veteran official Stephen Walkom being uncovered.
Campbell’s reaction was predictably swift, but his bias towards both his son and Marc Savard is glaring. Firstly, in any walk of life the distinction between personal and professional matters is vital. No matter how high up the workplace food chain an employee is, this fine line must always be maintained. Campbell is the public face of NHL discipline, a department in the league that’s been under intense scrutiny over the past year, and he’s shown a reckless disregard for proper conduct.
Secondly, the images of Savard being wheeled off the ice after Matt Cooke’s are still fresh enough that even the perception of bias puts the NHL on major damage control. That hit was in part responsible for ushering in the headshot regulations the league has now, and many wanted Cooke punished.
But the Wheel of Justice didn’t spin in Savard’s favour, and now we’ll be wondering if it was rigged by Campbell.
An all too familiar problem
By now, the Montreal Canadiens are unfortunately getting used to playing with Andrei Markov. At 32 years old, Markov isn’t quite yet at the age where there would normally be concerns about his body wearing down. But now after suffering his second major knee injury in less than a year, there’s at least one body part that’s raising some serious concerns.
Including the playoffs, Markov missed 46 games last year, with his second stint on the shelf coming courtesy of a Matt Cooke hit (yes, him again) during Game 1 of the Habs’ second round series against Pittsburgh last spring. Markov returned to the Habs’ lineup on Oct.30, and has only played seven games this season.
Without their powerplay quarterback, Montreal is ranked 20th with the man advantage, a unit that’s operating at a 14.5 percent clip.
- Brian Elliot has been a major reason for the Sens’ turnaround. Capped off by a shutout against the Bruins Saturday, Elliot has won his last five straight starts, a span in which he’s surrendered only seven goals.
- The Leafs are going streaking, and we can all just hope that Ron Wilson keeps his pants on. Playing the part of Will Ferrell and leading the streaking festivities is Phil Kessel, who mercilessly ended his seven game pointless streak with a goal Saturday night. It was the longest pointless stretch of Kessel’s career.
- Just when you thought this season couldn’t get any worse for the Devils, Ilya Kovalchuck’s fanned shootout attempt against the Sabres Thursday was rock bottom.
- It doesn’t take away from his incredible start, but Jaroslav Halak was proven to be human Wednesday by the still red-hot Blue Jackets. Halak coughed up four goals on 15 shots before being pulled in favour of Ty Conklin, who let in four more goals.
- Add Saku Koivu to the list of streakers. Yes, Saku is also going streaking, and the veteran has five goals and seven points in his last five games.
- In a week that saw unexpected outburts from some of the members of the league’s old guard, Danny Cleary is white-hot. He has six goals in his last five games.
- After being a Calder finalist last year, Matt Duchene has taken a steep nose dive. He has only two goals, and hasn’t scored since Oct. 26.
- Michael Leighton may be seen riding the pine in Philadelphia sometime in the near future. He returned to practice, and with the surprising play of Sergei Bobrovsky it’s difficult to see Leighton getting his job back. But this is Philly, and stranger things have happened in the crease.
The thing that only interests me
- During a fight between the Islanders’ Radek Martinek and Ryan Carter of the Ducks Wednesday night, Fox Sports showed a “tale of the tape” for the scrap. Hey, I’m the first guy on his feet whenever the gloves drop, but do we really need to be this blatant about using fighting to sell the game?
Columbus Blue Jackets: Mathieu Garon has emerged and is one of the league’s top goalies with his 1.28 GAA and two shutouts, and Steve Mason has started to return to form as well. But what’s most encouraging for Columbus is the emergence of a handful of young forwards, primarily Derick Brassard (5 goals, 12 points) and Jakub Vorack (two goals Wednesday night against St. Louis).
Toronto Maple Leafs: Was there any other logical decision for the outhouse? The Leafs lost three more times this week, stretching their winless skid to eight games. In fairness, two of those losses came via the shootout. But there’s some old saying about being close, and it involves horseshoes and hand grenades. Or something like that.
Losing is tolerable if some hope can be gleaned from the wreckage. But the problem with the Leafs is one that’s been well documented: they simply don’t score. Over this eight game skid the buds have scored 11 goals, five of which came in one game, a sporadic outburst against Washington.
At their current pace the Leafs will score 179 goals this season, 32 goals lower than their mark from last year. The Boston Bruins scored the fewest goals in the regular season in 2009-10, and finished with 196.
- Alexander Semin: The scorching hot winger had five points in a win Thursday against Tampa Bay.
- Danny Cleary: He won’t maintain this rampant scoring pace, but it’s still fun to watch. Cleary has scored 10 points in his last seven games.
- Sergei Bobrovsky: Notched two more wins this week, giving up a combined three goals.