Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of attending a hockey game with some excellent seats, and over the course of the game, I thought some thoughts. Because I write for a living, I thought “Hey, maybe if I jot down these thoughts, I can write said thoughts in a post about my thoughts.”

THOUGHTS.

Anyway, the game was between the New Jersey Devils and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

These are those thoughts.

***

Anthem time

I can’t help but think how absolutely overwhelming (and awesome) it must be for the boys and girls who get to skate out before the game, cut a lap with the flag, and stand on the blueline for the national anthems in Toronto (or anywhere). I played in front of some sizeable crowds over the years, and I gotta say, I never really got over that part. It’s always cool. You can hear the whole crowd sing along to the anthem, which is better than being in the crowd, in which case you can only hear the terrible person behind you. Also, you get to rock on your skates, which is a pretty fun habit to get into. (Just don’t forget to take off your helmet like I did in North Dakota, cage and all. I was a little preoccupied thinking about my first shift.)

Has to be a lifelong memory for those kids.

The Grocery Stick Skate during TV timeouts

For those of you who don’t know, “grocery stick” refers to a player who gets off after a shift, shuffles towards the middle of the bench as players roll out, then doesn’t get his number called for a long time, so he ends up just being the divider for the d-men and forwards.

Anyway, when that guy doesn’t get to play for long enough, you’ll occasionally see him jump the boards during a TV timeout and go cut a mini lap of the neutral zone to “stay warm.”

This can do one of two things: 1) let the coach know that you’ve “still got your head in the game,” and remind him that you haven’t been used in awhile, thus getting you another shift, or 2) let the coach know “hey I haven’t been used in awhile,” when he f*****g knows, and there’s a reason for it, and piss him off even further. Incidentally, were I coach, it would piss me off, because it’s really just a way of grovelling for ice time, given that it’s not like that damn half lap actually warmed you up or anything.

Frazer McLaren did this last night, and it annoyed me.

Hard passes

Until you see a game in person (obviously good seats help with this), it’s tough to understand how hard NHLers pass the puck. First off, there’s no such thing as a pass that’s “too hard” in the NHL. There are situations that call for touch, and there are spot passes, but in general, you want to get the puck to your teammate ASAP so he has more time with it to make a decision. As Chemmy tweeted last night, a series of hard NHL passes can sound like gunfire. The Gordan Bombay “soft hands, cushion the puck when receiving it” idea is nonsense. Put the eggs away. Just get ready, enjoy the slap sound, corral it, get your head up.

It’s one of the most-used expressions in a hockey practice (usually joking/teasing): “HANDLE IT.” They say you can’t give a good player a bad pass, so if a guy pulls the pin and throws a grenade your way, you should be able get it flat and ready to move again, whether it was neck height or not.

Fits ‘n’ starts

Last night was the first time I’ve seen Ilya Kovalchuk live, and it was mind-blowing how he operates, seemingly in “fits ‘n’ starts.” He’s so in control of his body, so in control of everything, that he doesn’t often have put the throttle down. But when he does, you’re like “oh, yeah, he definitely has a gear other guys don’t.” And he’s got that gear in every way – foot speed, physical play, shooting, whatever.

Because they use him so much, he seems to operate so as not to burn himself out (I doubt this is a conscious decision, rather just the way he chooses to play) in case he needs to go throttle down later in a shift. Other players seem to accelerate and decelerate more smoothly, where he seems to, as I said, literally switch gears.

He’s eight in the NHL in time-on-ice, and first among forwards with a few seconds shy of 26 minutes per game (last night he played 27:37). The next closest forward is Steven Stamkos, who averages 22:07. Kovalchuk is also first in powerplay TOI by a forward with 135:29 minutes played, nearly 20 more than the man at #2, Sidney Crosby.

He will be included in my “N(ext-level)HL” when I get around to naming the rosters of my six team league later this month.

And finally, a funny moment:

Randy Carlyle tried to embarrass his fourth line last night

Not in some overt, offensive way, just in the way that coaches like to do.

After the fourth line gave up a goal off a d-zone faceoff, they found themselves back on the ice when a bad, bad thing happened. Frazer McLaren turned the puck over high in the offensive zone, which is a thing coaches hate-hate-hate from their top lines, let alone their bottom ones. Just get that sucker deep and don’t take risks by the blue line.

Anyway, McLaren loses the handle, then apparently misses his clutch and has trouble starting his engine on the backcheck, and the Devils score again. The grinders know they’re coming off the ice (Mark Fraser headed off too) after that, so they skate towards the bench, only Carlyle doesn’t move. He doesn’t call another line, and leaves the fourth line to go line up for the next draw, like they may be having another go at this. It’s such an awkward moment for a player, just repeatedly circling around the neutral zone and looking at the bench and the coach (who in this case has his arms folded across his chest) waiting to see other bodies rolling over the boards.

Was he really going to leave them out there?

No no.

He just didn’t want to let them come back to the bench with their tails between their legs to hide. He wanted to leave them out there so everyone could see them while he decided who to call next. It got awkward. It was only a few seconds all told, but I have no doubt he made those moments excruciating on purpose.