October 27 2010 01:25PM
The Flames have got the season mostly headed in the right direction at the moment, so it's as good a time as any for a review of matters in Calgary and elsewhere. In this edition of the round-up, the Battle of Alberta gets entirely too competitive last night, the Avalanche are waiting for news from the medical ward, and the Devils have problems beyond the Kovalchuk matter.
Last night's game was pretty good for about 40 minutes or thereabouts for the Flames, as they build a 4-1 lead built on a combination of good play and serial Oiler ineptitude. The third period mostly consisted of stupid pond hockey crap, and if the Flames hadn't figured it out before last night, they should now be fully aware that the only way Edmonton can compete with decent teams is to hope the game becomes sloppy.
We saw it in Edmonton on opening night, and again in the third last evening. Patience and a willingness to work the Oilers down low will almost always be rewarded with scoring chances, and that M.O. seemed to make itself scarce until the OT began.
The captain and his mates were guilty of a selfish game last night, to my eye. Selfish isn't just about taking stupid shots from the perimeter, as Iginla regularly displayed last night. Stajan and Tanguay were equally guilty, forcing opportunities to set up number 12 to the exclusion of making proper plays.
Again, the way to an easier game when playing the Grease is to be patient enough to let them self-destruct, because they'll screw up if you'll just let them have the chance. The PK where various Flames played keep-away with the Oilers' PP group in the second was a perfect example.
Guys like Ryan Whitney were forcing passes and making one careless play after another, and the Flames' PK made them look like chumps.
It wasn't all bad of course, since a) a win was obtained, and b) GlenX, Backlund and Morrison look like three very useful guys at the moment. I don't even mind the three point game because the team that received the extra point is headed nowhere this season. In fact, it does seem like a good spot to insert the Conference standings, doesn't it?
I'm quite fond of the looks of positions 3, 9, 10 and 15. Here's hoping that April's standings bear close resemblance.
I had a chance to observe the finish of last night's Avs-Canucks game, and I experienced a rare sensation. I actually though I was witnessing the Avalanche outplay a team on the road at EV, which doesn't exactly square with what we saw from Colorado last season. To be fair, I did mention a couple of weeks back that the 'Lanche appeared to be playing a bit better at EV this season, and Jibblescribbits made the same case last night.
Of course, that's all likely to be cold comfort if the news from the medical people turns sour. Craig Anderson hurt his knee during the warmup before last night's affair with Vancouver, and hobbled off the ice in significant difficulty. He'll be evaluated in Denver today, and there's not much chance we'll see him against the Flames tomorrow.
The Avs weren't getting the lights-out quality of work from Anderson that they received to begin last year, but he's still almost certainly better than Peter Budaj. A lengthy absence would pretty much condemn Colorado to a season in the second division barring a trade, and the organization isn't one that appears too keen on spending any money beyond the minimum required.
KOVY: THE RECKONING
People spent entirely too much time on the interminable sweepstakes to finalize his contract this summer, in my opinion, and this season's halting start for the Devils really just confirms what many of us that don't just look at the boxcars felt all along. Ilya Kovalchuk's presence on a team is no guarantee of success.
Our man Mr. Wilson lays out the evidence at Houses of the Hockey, and there are only a couple of points I'll add.
One, as bad as they've been, Kent is generally correct to state that variance is also hurting the Devils. They're shooting 5% at 5v5 so far, and the worst team in the league last year shot about 7%. Add in goaltending that's managed .888 while operating at 5v5, and the results are about what you might expect.
The Devils are still getting about 2 more shots on goal per 60 minutes of 5v5 play, but both the attempts for and against are up over last year, by about 10%. I suspect that New Jersey has been getting more SOG due to score effect, in other words falling behind and then pushing back, rather than being solid all the way through.
The other point is one that teams that load up their top six financially have to get things absolutely right, because they almost always leave themselves short of useful depth. If Kovy was a proven EV killer, you could live with spending a pile on him, because he could drive results. He isn't that guy, never has been, and likely won't be. The Devils will get better, but I don't consider them a serious threat to win the East unless Brodeur plays out of his tree.
The Preds are the team with the most points through the early part of the year, and it's been on the back of superb goaltending, as Dirk Hoag notes today. It's almost certainly unsustainable, since even Dominik Hasek would have been hard-pressed to stop over 95% of all shots when playing 5v5. As we saw last week when Calgary played in Nashville, the Preds lay back on occasion in their own end at EV, and that's a bit of a risky strategy.
The Blues, on the other hand, might be on schedule to return to the playoffs. They're on the good side of the shot clock, and Client Jaro Halak has been very solid so far. They'll have to be without a useful man for a few days, however, as Roman Polak will miss at least one game for the Blues after taking a nasty cut on the arm courtesy of Sidney Crosby's skate last Saturday night. Polak isn't the most famous defender that St. Louis ices, but he's the guy doing all the scut work, playing the toughs and doing it from his own end.
Florida got the shaft at the ACC last night, as an egregious error was made on the winning goal. If there's any way that Colton Orr didn't interfere with Scott Clemmensen, well, I'm not seeing it. It wasn't all luck charms for the Blue and White last evening, as Colby Armstrong might have a fractured wrist resulting from a Chris Higgins slash.
The league is making noises about expecting better U.S. TV contracts when the current deals expire this summer. The current deal with Versus pays about 2M per team and NBC's deal is based on sharing of revenues, so anything negotiated will likely be more lucrative.
There's still the issue of Versus' reach in the U.S. to overcome, though, since it's only in abut 65% percent of homes, and almost no hotels. That last point may not seem important, but the people that write about the league for the MSM routinely complain about their inability to see games when they're away from home.
The other factor at play is the potential for labour disruption in other leagues, and that's where ESPN might come in. If their programming is in a state of flux because of NBA and NFL labour issues, that could be the entree the NHL needs to get back in the WWL's good graces.
I don't really buy the vision of the NHL as a national sport in the U.S., but I get the sense that the bloom is off the rose as far as things like poker coverage go, so this might be the best chance the NHL has to get a deal that contributes more money to the pot than the Flames' or Canucks' annual ticket revenues.
That's all for this week. Link 'em if you got 'em in comments.