In his hometown of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Russia, Anton Khudobin was taught to eat all commemorative pucks.

Maybe this is just the lingering depression I’ve felt all day on the year’s most depressing day, but it seems this season more than any other has spawned a new sideshow played every night simultaneously alongside the NHL’s scheduled slate of games.

I’d dream up a witty name for this game show, but I can’t possibly top the NHL’s marketing campaign and those impenetrable team guardians. For now, let’s just leave it as “Name Your Punishment,” with Colin Campbell hosting, and Gary Bettman playing a Vanna White role of some kind (sorry for that mental image).

Sure, maybe now we’re just seeing the culmination of a trend that’s been building over the past several seasons, but it’s difficult to get through a night without the dreaded “S” word (suspension) being uttered, and it’s quickly becoming a curse word. This week the swear jar was filled, with five separate plays making it difficult to get an appointment in the court of public opinion.

Headlines and Storylines

Dirty deeds, done not so cheaply

The suspension debate is nothing new, but rarely do we see a week with quite so many dirty deeds–or at least deeds that maybe, possibly are dirty–come up on the radar of all the hockey pundits and prognosticators. What’s troubling is that of the five instances–yes, five–only two of them were hits that may or may not have been deserving of a punishment.

The league’s newest pest started the spike in punishment talk. Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban executed a textbook slewfoot on Brandon Dubinsky that went without even a penalty on the play.

Maybe there’s just a sudden infusion of bright young pests who are spreading their pugnacity around the league, because then it was Mike Brown’s time to shine. The Leafs scrapper violated the infamous headshot rule with his hit that left Coyotes defenceman Ed Jovonoski woozy, and was suspended for three games. He joined Shane O’Brien, whose decision to wildly wave his stick was the latest in a long line of boneheaded maneuvers, costing the Predators defenceman two games.

Drew Doughty’s hit on Taylor Hall and the ridiculous talk of punishment was the subject of a rant earlier today, a hit that thankfully went unpunished. Meanwhile, the continued classless goonery of Sean Avery and his pounding on Matt Carle wasn’t discouraged.

There was outrage on all fronts, with anger predictably driven by fan affiliation. But too often the problem is the instinctive knee-jerk reaction and anger towards a possibly borderline hit (Brown, Doughty) overshadowing much dirtier, shameful acts. The mere sound of Doughty’s hit generates more reaction than O’Brien’s carelessness, or Subban’s wandering foot.

The best part about the all-star game is talking about who’s not there

The NHL’s loudest newsmaker came early this week when the league announced the full roster for this year’s all-star game. Debating the snubs may be more fun than the game itself, even with the new and innovative fantasy draft format.

The two most notable exclusions were Danny Briere and Henrik Zetterberg, and in the week since not receiving a letter with that shiny NHL crest on their doorstep the two have been motivated. This especially applies to Briere, the Flyers forward who nearly tied a career high when his five-game goal streak was snapped Sunday. Briere has six goals and 11 points over his last seven games. He’s also only eight goals away from his career high of 32.

Meanwhile, Zetterberg’s 11-game point streak was snapped a few nights after his snub, but he still has 17 points over his last 13 games. Zetterberg is also on pace to be just shy of 100 points, which would set a career-high of his own.

Nothing says commemoration like an award that hasn’t been earned

Over the weekend, a Facebook group emerged that–in the unlikely event that it’s successful–would bring shame to an organization already mocked by many for basking in its history far too often.

I’ll let Dave Stubbs, one of the long time beat writers cover the Montreal Canadiens, do the explaining:

The Facebook page in question is titled “Vote Saku Koivu 1st Star,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The idea is simple, yet staggeringly bad.

Koivu, a fan favourite and the longest serving Habs captain after logging 13 years, is making his first appearance at the Bell Centre this Saturday since leaving for Anaheim two summers ago. The proposal by the 172 people in the Facebook group (so far) is to honour Koivu by awarding him the game’s first star regardless of his performance. It’s astounding that even 172 people support this little movement.

Koivu will receive a standing ovation when he returns to his old stomping grounds, and he’s certainly deserving of such adoration. He’s the team’s former captain who battled through cancer to return to his post, and showed heart and hustle that went far beyond his average frame.

But let’s refrain from scripting and making a mockery of an award that’s already relatively meaningless.

Quick Hits

  • Matt Stajan’s career low is 10 goals. With just three goals this season in 39 games, he’s currently on pace to set an all new benchmark in awfulness.
  • Since joining the Habs in late December, defenceman James Wiesniewski has nine points in eight games.
  • With 147 goals, the Canucks are behind only the Flyers and Red Wings in league scoring, and yet they’ve been shutout twice in their last three games. In another small bit of statistical fun, that equals the amount of times the Canucks were shutout all of last season.
  • The blame has been passed around in a few directions for the Columbus Blue jackets’ continued struggles after finishing in the league’s basement last season. But one prominent source of frustration has been Antonie Vermette, the centre who seemed to finally break loose last season with a career high 27 goals and 65 points. Vermette has plunged back to his teasing ways and is on pace to have less than 20 goals, a year after flirting with the 30-goal plateau for the first time.

Trending teams

Penthouse

Carolina Hurricanes: They’re winning, and hanging on as the ninth seeded team in the Eastern Conference. With the rest of the teams behind Carolina quickly fading–the 10th place Panthers are six points back–there looks to be little competition for the post-season in the East beyond the Hurricanes.

Lately Carolina is winning dangerously, and doing it based on an offence that’s able to equal the goals surrendered defensively. They’ve won four of their last five games, but over the past week the Hurricanes have been on the right end of a few shootouts, with a goal differential of 14-12 in three games.

Outhouse

Edmonton Oilers: There was a time not too long ago that the Oilers occupied the Penthouse in this space, a place where the bubbly flows, and every day brings another Jarrett Stoll caliber starlet, either of the cougar variety of otherwise. Despite their struggles as a young and growing team, the Oilers put together a few successful weeks in December, particularly their eastern road trip.

Now, injuries have taken their toll. Jordan Eberle has been on the injured reserve since Jan. 2, and is ailing from a left ankle injury and an appendectomy. He won’t join the team on its current five-game road trip, but is expected to return before the end of January.

Meanwhile, defenceman Ryan Whitney had become a steady, reliable source of scoring on the back end on a team filled with streaky young players. His injured right ankle is worse than what was initially perceived, and Whitney will now go under the knife and could miss the rest of the season.

Despite being out for the last nine games, Whitney’s 25 assists still leads the team.

Three Stars

  1. Patrice Bergeron: Having regained his dynamic play-making form, Bergeron just ended his first sustained point streak of the season, and has 10 points over his last six games. That includes a hat trick against Ottawa last Tuesday.
  2. Danny Briere: The aforementioned Briere has rarely stopped scoring, and has laid only four goose eggs on the scoresheet over his past 14 games.
  3. Joe Thornton: While his fish are floundering and finally snapped a six-game losing streak on Saturday, Big Joe is still producing consistently. He had two goals and six points this week.

Plays of the Week(end)