1. The Stars have a legitimate all-star in 22-goal left winger Jason Robertson. Shall we call him a latter-day Gretzky or better than Draisaitl? Your call.
2. Do not forget Kirill Kaprizov. His point streak reached 10 games Thursday night, and he’s making Minny look masterful.
3. At this moment, the coach of the year has to be Jim Montgomery, and the surprise star, Vitek Vanecek.
4. Talk about a build-up to a letdown among top draft picks of recent years, it’s gotta be Alex (I’m Not a Beliveau) Lafreniere of the Rangers with a paltry three goals in 23 games, plus a knack of getting headless penalties.
5. Analytics continue to lead the NHL in the category of “Most Overrated Tool” for winning games. (By my Maven count, it’s for the sixth year in a row.)
6. Jakob Chychrun is setting a new NHL record for most times his name is in a rumor story. (The only team not reported getting the Coyote D-man is the New York Americans.)
HOW BEATING A BUM TEAM CAN TURN A SEASON FROM SICK TO SUPER
A capacity crowd will fill Madison Square Garden tonight and not because the lowly Ottawa Senators are in town.
And not because the once-beloved Blueshirts are even thinking that this second-straight game against the sick Sens is better than a shot of penicillin.
Whether the 18,006 pew holders all are rooting for the home team or not is less relevant than the urgent issue, which is this: Before the Rangers’ 3-1 win over Ottawa on Wednesday night, Rangerville was in SOS panic mode.
At that tenuous time, the talk of New York hockey centered on whether Gerard (Not So) Gallant’s hockey team belonged in the AHL or not.
Up until the Blueshirts singed the Senators in Ottawa, a few furious New York fans already had flipped their lids, talking up Barry Trotz as the Gallant heir.
Just last Tuesday, people who study goaltenders were wondering why Igor (Swiss Cheese) Shesterkin seemed to be auditioning for a part in a new ice show, “The Skating Sieve.” Luckily, that good old Sieve-Saviour, Jaroslav Halak, was around on Wednesday. He took over and showed Shesterkin what one-goal goalkeeping is all about.
Who knows? Maybe the gallant Manhattan coach will weather another brainstorm tonight and allow Halak to stretch his streak to a terrific two-in-a-row tonight?
No way. Can’t happen and won’t happen.
The Not-Ignoble Igor must go back to work tonight because that’s what this column segment is all about – The Maven’s Not-So-Secret Secret Of Streak-Starting. “Beat the Bums” and ye shall go far.
It goes like this: Iggy returns to Creaseland. He beats Ottawa tonight, making it two in a row. (The streak is on, get it?) Next in, tomorrow night, are the Blown Apart Blackhawks who are so bad that even Heroic Halak deserves another shot at them.
Wow! Three in a row. The streak is really on and so is the Blueshirts’ ascent up Mt. Post-season. After all, isn’t that what we’re talking about here anyhow?
Watch The Maven’s theory in action Friday night.
1. Beat the Bum Team a second time around;
2. Beat an even-bummier team on Saturday, and it’s three in a row.
Bottom Line: You start a genuine streak with an inconspicuous win over the McTerribles, followed by two more innocuous triumphs.
Yikes! By then it’s three wins in a row. The Blueshirts are blazing.
(Now all we have to do is see if I’m right. Or, ugh!)
THE BEST BACKUP GOALIES IN THE NHL
In this era when starting goalies are felled by injury almost as frequently as they exhale, backup goalkeepers are more important than ever.
So is our George Grimm, netminding expert extraordinaire. Here’s how he rates the most important Plan B’s in goal.
Old-timers among us will remember when there were only six NHL teams and therefore only half a dozen job opportunities for goalies in the league.
This caused many quality netminders to spend their careers in the minors, unable to unseat one of the incumbents, most of whom never missed a game and eventually wound up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
However, in today’s NHL, backup goalkeepers are a dime-a-dozen. But finding a good one is much more difficult and certainly more expensive.
The job of a backup is to give his team a chance to win a game even when their starter is on the bench.
So far, as we round the quarter pole of the season, these six goalies lead the pack of backups.
Jeremy Swayman, Boston: The 24-year-old native of Anchorage, Ala. split the goaltending duties with Linus Ullmark last season and started five of the Bruins’ seven playoff games last spring (3-2). Relegated to a backup role so far his season, he has appeared in eight of the B’s 22 games (5-2-0) with a 2.60 GAA and .902 SP.
Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey: This is Blackwood’s fifth season with the Devils, appearing in 137 games during that period. This year, the 25-year-old has seen action in seven of the Devils’ 24 games (4-2-0), with a 2.79 GAA and is 4-1 in his last five starts.
Craig Anderson, Buffalo: The oldest goaltender in the league, Anderson, 41, is a perfect backup for the Sabres. The 20-year veteran has played in nine of the Sabres’ 24 games with a 5-4-0 record and a 2.87 GAA and .916 SP. However, with starter Eric Comrie recently suffering a dreaded lower-body injury, Anderson’s stamina and value to the club as a backup will be tested.
Semyon Varlamov, Islanders: The 34-year-old veteran of 15 NHL seasons has appeared in eight of the Islanders’ 24 games with a 5-3-0 record and 2.84 GAA and .916 SP, which is better than a lot of starting goalies around the league. Teamed with 27-year-old Ilya Sorokin, they provide the Islanders with a solid, dependable goaltending tandem.
Filip Gustavsson, Minnesota: The 24-year-old Swede spent the last two seasons in Ottawa and emerged with an overall 10-13-3 record and a 3.12 GAA for the defensively challenged Senators. This season, he’s appeared in eight of Minnesota’s 22 games with a 3-4-1 record and a better GAA and SP than 38-year-old starter Marc-Andre Fleury (2.62 to 2.92 and .914 to .898). And at $825,000, he’s a lot cheaper than Fleury’s hefty $3.5 million cap hit.
Adin Hill, Vegas: The 26-year-old has seen action in eight of the Golden Knights’ 25 games with a 5-2-1 record and a 2.74 GAA and .903 SP. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder previously played for San Jose and Arizona and has a career 2.74 GAA with five shutouts.
BIG QUESTION: What’s wrong with the Calgary Flames?
BIG ANSWER: 1. Inept goaltending; 2. No Johnny Hockey.
WHO SAID IT? “You get paid to win. Anyone can get paid to lose.” (Answer below.)
THE SHOCKING AND SAD NEWS ABOUT KRIS LETANG
The Penguins’ high command tells it like it is. Prayers for Kris.
Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke on Monday.
Letang, 35, is not experiencing any lasting effects of the stroke and will continue to undergo a series of tests over the next week. There will not be any further updates to his condition until all testing is completed and a medical plan is in place. His condition is not believed to be career-threatening.
“Kris reported symptoms to the training staff on Monday and was immediately taken to the hospital for testing,” said GM Ron Hextall on Wednesday. “The test results were shocking to hear, but we are grateful that Kris is doing well. We are thankful to the medical staff and the physicians at UMPC. He is a warrior on the ice, but first and foremost, he is a son, father, husband and friend. His health is our No. 1 priority.”
In 2014, the defenseman missed over two months due to a stroke. During that time, testing revealed that he was born with a very small hole in the wall of his heart. Although the small defect in the wall is apparent in all individuals, it typically closes on its own in most people. Since his initial stroke eight years ago, he has played 543 regular-season games and made 69 playoff appearances.
“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” said Letang. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. It is important for me that my teammates, family and the fans know that I am okay. I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”
The 6-foot, 201-pound defenseman has one goal and 12 points in 21 games this season. He leads the team in time on ice at 23:54.
The Montreal, Quebec native has played his entire 17-year career with Pittsburgh, recording 662 points (145G-517A) in 962 regular-season games. He is the team’s all-time leader among defensemen in regular-season and playoff games played, goals, assists and points, and has helped the team to three Stanley Cup Championships (2009, ’16, ’17).
Prayers, please, for Kris.
I’M JUST SAYIN’
* Can you believe that the dauntless Devils have been doing a heckuva lot of winning minus their prize pickup Ondrej Palat in the lineup?
* You gotta believe that assistant (to Lindy Ruff) coach Andrew Brunette has played a behind-the-scenes part in New Jersey’s hockey renaissance.
* Penguins’ hockey in the past meant high-level winning hockey despite a ton of injuries.
* But not this year. Instead, we’re witnessing inconsistent hockey despite a healthy roster.
* Take the “Underrated” label off Stars’ forward Roope Hintz. He just roped in a new contract worth $67.6 million across eight years.
* Figure out this one: The Panthers dominate almost every analytic aspect of the game but can’t pick up wins.
* You don’t need graphs to figure that out. Cats’ forwards can’t finish their chances and their goalies think pucks look like peas.
* The Maven sees Jack (Do Us A Favor And Make A Save Already) Campbell as wasting good Canadian cash.
* Here’s what Sportsnet’s Mark Spector wrote after the Oil Cans lost last night: “He’s paid to be No. 1 and is not even a decent No. 2.”
A HISTORY LESSON ABOUT HIGH-SCORING WINS
After Seattle beat Los Angeles 9-8 the other night, it inspired a question: what was the biggest goal-scoring victory? Our Glenn (Sherlock) Dreyfuss has the answer. Here goes:
Since the end of the Second World War, the most goals allowed while securing a “W” in net is nine. It’s been done twice, first by Vancouver’s John Garrett on Oct. 7, 1983. In just the second game of the season, Patrik Sundstrom scored with 4:56 left to make Garrett and the Canucks winners over Minnesota, 10-9. Following several years in the WHA and NHL, Garrett has been a Canadian hockey broadcaster since 1986.
The co-record holder is Tim Bernhardt, who played 67 NHL games for Calgary and Toronto. At Maple Leaf Gardens on Jan. 8, 1986, Bernhardt stopped 22 of 31 shots by the high-powered Oilers. But Miroslav Frycer’s fourth goal of the game broke a 9-9 tie, and Bernhardt’s Leafs went on to win, 11-9. Bernhardt later scouted for Dallas and Phoenix.
On nine other occasions since 1945, a goalie has allowed as many as eight goals while his team still won the game. You won’t be surprised to learn that seven of the nine were played in the 1980s. Before this week, the most recent during the regular season was at the Saddledome on Feb. 23. 1991, when Calgary’s Mike Vernon backstopped a 10-8 victory over Quebec.
In addition to Bernhardt, three other Maple Leafs’ goaltenders appear on this list – and on each occasion, the Blackhawks were the victim. On Feb. 20, 1977, Wayne Thomas (38 saves on 46 shots) beat Chicago, 10-8. Vincent Tremblay was between the pipes (20-28) when Toronto bested the Hawks on Oct. 10, 1981, by a 9-8 score. Mike Palmateer (23-31) got the win on Oct. 15, 1983, when the Leafs beat Chicago again, 10-8.
Other goalies in the eight-goal winners club include Grant Fuhr (Edmonton), Gilles Meloche (Minnesota North Stars), Greg Stefan (Detroit), Dan Bouchard (Quebec), and Pete Peeters (Philadelphia). By the way, there were five 8-8 ties in the ’80s, games in which goalies gave up eight but didn’t lose. Fuhr and Meloche are on that list, too.
YAYS AND BOOS:
YAY TO DAVE HAKSTOL for making the two-year-old Kraken look a lot like the Knights when Vegas was in its second NHL year.
BOO TO THE PENGUINS for quitting on a play when no penalty was called after Bryan Rust was hit into the boards from behind. While Pittsburgh was moping, the Canes scored.
YAY TO RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS for being as sound a two-way player as the Oilers have seen in a long time. (Thank you, Gus Vic, who adds, “Ryan is the Poor Man’s Patrice Bergeron.”
TO PENALIZE OR NOT TO PENALIZE? – THAT ALWAYS IS THE QUESTION
The other night in Pittsburgh – during overtime – Carolina’s Seth Jarvis came up from behind and gave Bryan Rust a moderate push into the boards. No penalty was called, but the Pens jumped Jarvis while the Canes went in to score.
This was a good time for Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan (“It was a dangerous play”) to scream “What gives – no penalty?” Ditto for Rust. And that’s the point. After reviewing the play six times, my conclusion was, “No penalty” and that’s that.
But it was ever so close to being an infraction. The refs didn’t have the luxury of reviewing it six times. In a case like that, a split-second decision could be as right as it is wrong.
The wrong, in this case, was the Pens trying to decapitate Jarvis, instead of chasing after the Canes’ 2-on-0 rush that became the winning goal.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Gene Ubriaco, former Penguins coach.
- Bluelines: The Best Backup Goalies in the NHL
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