Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. In this edition, what is this I don’t even
Weeks like this almost make me believe that hockey gods actually exist, that the gods of Mount Olympus turned to sports and athletics when people stopped worshipping them. These hypothetical hockey gods were capricious this week, making a series of bizarre events take place for which I simply do not have an explanation.
The four teams bunking in the bottom of the Eastern and Western Conferences each had something bizarre, unlikely, and unusual happen this past week. For two of them, it was positive, for the other two, not so much. Here’s what confounded me this week.
Edmonton Oilers – Sam Gagner now shares a record with Paul Coffey and Wayne Gretzky
Everyone is talking about Sam Gagner’s 8-point night against the Chicago Blackhawks and deservedly so. No player has scored 8 points in a game since Mario Lemieux did it back in 1989, 5 months before Gagner was born. And that was back when goalies and their equipment were smaller and high-scoring games were a lot more common. You could argue that Gagner’s accomplishment is more impressive.
It’s unlikely to see a single team score 8 goals in a game, so to see one player do it is crazy. What’s absolutely baffling is that it was Sam Gagner.
Paul Coffey once scored 136 points in one season and was well over a point-per-game for his career. You could cut Wayne Gretzky’s point totals in half and he’d still have potential hall-of-fame numbers. Gagner’s single season high in points is 49 and has averaged 0.6 points per game over his career thus far. He had 22 points heading into Thursday’s game. How does that happen?
I was fortunate enough to be in the press box at Rogers Arena in Vancouver that night, so got to hear the disbelieving reactions from various reporters first hand. People started noticing around 4 points, started laughing in disbelief at 6, then just stared dumbfounded at the boxscore when he got to 8. They couldn’t explain it. I can’t explain it. I’m betting Gagner can’t explain it either.
Carolina Hurricanes – The worst team in the East is definitively better than the best team in the East
The Hurricanes met the Boston Bruins for the fourth and final time this season and shocked the defending Stanley Cup Champions with a 3-0 shutout. Except, it wasn’t that surprising: the Hurricanes have defeated the Bruins in all four of their meetings this season.
By any available metric, the Hurricanes are awful. By those same metrics, the Bruins are fantastic, arguably the best team in the league right now. The Hurricanes have a minus-29 goal differential, tied for second worst in the league. The Bruins have a ludicrous plus-67 goal differential, the best in the league by 21 goals. In the four games between the two teams, the Hurricanes have outscored the Bruins 14-5.
Cam Ward set a franchise record with 47 saves for the shutout, a performance that should have made headlines across the league. Instead, Gagner had to go and Gretzky all over the place.
If the Hurricanes can so consistently defeat the Bruins, how are they so terrible against the rest of the league? Or vice versa: how does such a terrible team manage to consistently defeat such a great team? How does that make even a lick of sense? I can’t explain it. I’m guessing if the Hurricanes could explain it they wouldn’t be in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Columbus screwed by coulombs
With nothing else to play for this season, the Blue Jackets are now just looking for innovative ways to lose. You have to give them credit: bending the space-time continuum is pretty creative way to lose.
Thing is, Dean Lombardi’s explanation for the one-second delay in the game clock – the one that allowed Drew Doughty to score the gamewinning goal with 0.4 seconds left on the clock - actually makes sense. Well, the explanation doesn’t make sense, but the underlying meaning does. The underlying meaning is that the owners of the Staples Center are too damn cheap to upgrade their game clock.
With video now available of other times when the Staples Center clock froze for no apparent reason, Lombardi’s explanation seems to hold water. But why in the world are they still using that type of clock? Why have they not upgraded to a digital clock that counts down more smoothly to avoid the type of silliness we saw this week?
This one I can explain: money. Why buy a new clock when the current one is an “amazing device, quite frankly“? Still, it’s sadly appropriate that the most dumped-on team in the league this season faced the ignominy of such an apparent injustice.
Montreal Canadiens – Defeated by the mouth and skill of Paul Gaustad. Yes, I said skill.
While the real unlikely and nearly inexplicable event for the Canadiens is Scott Gomez managing to go a calendar year without scoring a single goal, that won’t happen until the end of the weekend. February 5th is the one year anniversary of his last goal and he’ll need to fail to score a goal against the Capitals tonight and the Jets on Sunday.
That he’s managed to go this long without a goal is particularly remarkable when you realize how essential he is for the Canadiens. He hasn’t scored for (almost) a year while still being, y’know, good. His possession numbers are very good and the difference for the Canadiens between when he’s in the lineup and when he’s out of the lineup is significant.
But he could still score a goal this weekend. It’s entirely possible.
So the Canadiens’ unlikely event this past week has to be them losing to Paul Gaustad. The Sabres’ tough guy had just the fourth 3-point game of his career, getting in on all three Buffalo goals in a 3-1 win. Look, Gaustad’s a decent hockey player, but he shouldn’t be single-handedly defeating your team.
The fact that he paired his 3-point night with chirping Max Pacioretty about Zdeno Chara and you have a ridiculous evening. But the highlight has to be Carey Price’s post-game reaction:
He’s got a big mouth, and that’s about it. He’s got a big mouth and he likes to run it. Can’t worry about what he’s gotta say because he doesn’t do much out there.
The guy just put up 3 points on you, Price. That’s doing much.