If I learned one thing over the holiday season this year, it’s that nature doesn’t care what I think.
Nature doesn’t care if I don’t enjoy making a three hour drive home in gusting winds. Nature doesn’t care if it’s not cold enough for a nice skate on the pond in the back woods. And most importantly, nature doesn’t care if hockey doesn’t mix well with rain.
We’ve had two days to digest this year’s soggy Winter Classic. The organizers lost hair, the media and broadcasters whined, and the players, well, they played. But all that really matters is how much you enjoyed your first rain soaked Winter Classic, and the numbers tell the tale.
It turns out there’s a reason why the term “primetime” developed in the television business.
Headlines and Storylines
Let it rain
Many years ago, in some scheme perhaps to make money, TV producers figured out that people are usually out working, running errands, and generally living their lives during the course of the average day, and don’t slump onto the couch for hours of mindless entertainment until the evening.
The rain at Saturday’s Winter Classic game between Pittsburgh and Washington may have made life difficult for these same TV people, and made the viewing experience a little difficult for the Pittsburghers (no not Pittsburghians, Pittsburghites, or Pittsburghons) in attendance at Heinz Field. But it didn’t affect the bottom line; in fact, it improved the bottom line, especially in the lucrative United States market. And let’s face it, that’s what mattered most.
There was a 10 percent increase in viewership on NBC over last year’s game between Boston and Philadelphia at Fenway Park, according to The Associated Press. Maybe this outdoor game really isn’t a novelty act, and has staying power even if the NHL flogs it yearly and gives it the good ol’ dead horse treatment. Or maybe the spike from 3.7 million viewers to 4.5 really is a product of Americans getting more interested in hockey.
Sure, in the rosy world of Gary Bettman, all of these things are true. Interest may indeed be growing, but Saturday’s game didn’t become the highest rated hockey game on an American network since 1975 just out of a sudden spike in interest.
Bettman finally perfected his rain dance. It’s an awful mental image, but it worked, and the inclement weather made this year’s outdoor festivities a historic television success in the U.S.
There are no beasts in the Northeast
There was a time in the early part of the last decade when the NHL’s Northeast division was feared. This was particularly true in 2001-02, when four of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams came from the mighty Northeast, with the Sabres finishing in 10th and missing out by five points (2003-04 had a nearly identical result).
Last year the Northeast didn’t exactly dominate, but three teams in the division made the playoffs. The Canadiens surprisingly went deep, and the Bruins came a humiliating collapse away from the Eastern Final. Now, with every team nearly at the halfway point in its schedule, the Northeast has grown into the conference’s weak sister.
Prior to play Monday night, the bruins held a slim, one-point lead over Montreal for the division lead. After that, eight points–a sizeable gap in January–separates the Habs and Senators.
What’s unique about this circumstance is that with the division leader automatically getting one of the conference’s top three seeds, Boston and Montreal will continually flip-flop between third and eighth, depending on which team musters enough offence on any given night. Combined, the five Northeast teams have scored 483 goals, which is easily the lowest of all the divisions (Southeast: 567, Northwest: 548, Pacific: 543, Central: 542, Atlantic: 516).
Dan Ellis has another problem
It’s amazing how much taking two days off–as the NHL does every year for Christmas Eve–kills a news cycle. But sneaking in as we all recovered from a night of champagne and Irish Car Bombs on New Year’s day was Steve Yzerman’s latest act of GM wizardry.
On the first day of 2011 Yzerman traded defensive prospect Ty Wishart to Long Island for Dwayne Roloson, taking a step towards fixing a long-held problem in one of the NHL’s sunniest destinations. As Willis noted over the weekend, the goalies currently employed by the Lightning (Dan Ellis and Mike Smith), were merely adequate plugs filling a leaky hole.
Of the 50 goaltenders who have played 10 or more games this season, Ellis ranks 48th with a 0.886 save percentage, and Smith sits in 49th with a 0.883 save percentage (only Martin Brodeur, with his 0.882 save percentage, is worse).
Tampa Bay is now tied for the lead in the Southeast with Washington at 51 points, and sits only two points back of Philadelphia for the overall lead in the East. After 39 games, Yzerman has crafted a group that’s already well more than halfway to Tampa’s point total for all of last season (80).
Even as a rookie general manager–in the NHL at least–Yzerman has the keen managerial sense to identify a plan that’s failed, and take swift action to find a solution. Smith and Ellis were the failed plan in the crease. Despite the team’s improved offensive firepower (3.07 goals per game, up from 2.60 last year), Ellis and Smith were surrendering just as many goals (3.08 per game).
Enter Roloson, the steady veteran posting a 2.64 GAA for the league’s second-worst team, and Yzerman seems to have done some nice plumbing work on that leaky hole.
- In a season that has seen little love, and lots of waffles in Leaf land, Mikhail Grabovski’s consistent scoring has been a pleasant surprise. Finally cashing in all the potential he was towing around since his days in Montreal, Grabovski has eight goals and 12 points over his last 12 games. For those of you keeping score at home, Grabovski’s 14 goals put him in a tie atop the Leafs’ scoring chart with Phil Kessel, and he didn’t cost Brian Burke two first round picks.
- We go from a subtle dig on the Leafs to a blatant dig on the Habs, because we always believe in equality here at the Week in Review. Carey Price hasn’t received much defensive support lately, and give up crippling late period goals is becoming an epidemic in Montreal. But regardless, Price has a 3.50 GAA over his last 10 starts, a stretch in which he’s also given up four or more goals five times.
- Clear the track, Steve Downie’s almost back!
- If it wasn’t time to stick a fork in Alex Kovalev back in October, it definitely is now. After showing some fleeting flashes of life in November, Kovalev has four points in his last 15 games.
Vancouver Canucks: There is just one blemish on the Canucks’ record over their last 10 games, and it’s an overtime loss to Detroit, the team currently tied with Vancouver atop the West. It’s not shocking at all to see the offensive firepower largely coming from the Sedin Twins, with Henrik’s playmaking ability the perfect complement for Daniel’s finishing touch.
Daniel now leads the team with 20 goals, and is on pace to pot a career-high 44. Meanwhile, Henrik leads the Canucks with 49 points, 40 of which have been assists, a category in which he could establish a career high of his own by narrowly breaking last year’s mark of 83.
Montreal Canadiens: The epidemic of late-period goals has already been mentioned, but there’s a far more troubling disease spreading throughout the Habs’ dressing room. It’s no-scoritis, a sanctioned medical term.
The Canadiens suffered through a woeful month of December, and have won only four of their last 13 games. If that wasn’t enough Christmas coal for Habs fans, the offence scored two or fewer goals in nine games during that span.