February 07 2011 12:34AM
The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.
Joseph Wood Krutch
We've hit the final two months, and the NHL season has become a bit more interesting, with tight standings and injury news seemingly having almost every team on edge. In this week's look at matters around the league, the Flames return home for yet another crucial stretch, an improbable comeback story is a go in Denver and the Steel City suffers losses in more ways than one or two.
I can't really say I was particularly disappointed by Saturday's affair, final score aside. It was entertaining to watch as both teams played a pretty tough-minded game with plenty of action. A tie would have been the fairest result, but the world where that finish would be permitted seems as long gone as wooden sticks, Zubaz pants and Rene Bourque being an effective hockey player.
That last item, of course, is a matter of considerable concern. Over the last two months, Bourque has gone from a useful player that took the occasional silly penalty to a peripheral figure that still takes the occasional silly penalty, and that can't stand if Calgary has any serious hope of the post-season. His underlying numbers are very poor by his standards, and his PDO is just about break even, so this isn't a case where poor counting numbers have been caused by bad luck.
The biggest thing I've noticed by observation is that he doesn't seem like the same player in the battles. Even with the offensive zone penalties in the past couple of years accounted for, he was an effective forechecker most nights, hard on the puck and good at going to the net when the puck was turned over. I don't think we've seen that sort of play this season, and although I don't doubt he misses having Daymond Langkow around to make his life easier, he's capable of a lot more than what we're seeing.
It would be be nice if 17 could join the fray, since Iginla and Tanguay seemed willing to do their part last night. That was the type of quality outing that one would have hoped would be a regular rather than sporadic occurrence when Tanguay rejoined the club. That said, even if last night's work was a cut above this season's norm, I'm not sure he deserved the “heart transplant” crack from Cam Cole in this piece.
Today is another day, of course, and the champs come to town off a difficult loss in Vancouver Friday. They looked like at least an equal to the Canucks, and likely got a raw deal from the stripes a couple of times. Still, the Hawks aren't the same team mentally, as far as their coach would have it. Different personnel is more at the root of it all to my eye, and as I mentioned in my Atlanta preview, they really miss Andrew Ladd more than any of the other castaways. I will say that if teams are going to get the Hawks, they'd best get them this year. They won't be playing with with a 4M cap penalty once next season rolls around.
I try not to fisk too many newspaper columns because I'm old and risk stroking out ;-), but Jim Matheson's bit this weekend got my attention in a major way. I'm as much an admirer of Ales Hemsky's talent as a non-Oiler fan is likely to be, but five years at 5M+ for a guy that has missed big chunks of time in the last two years and also has a non-trivial concussion history seems awfully rich. Throw in the fact that he'd consider Barbaro ( pace this guy and more recently, Dellow) an untouchable and thinks Tom Gilbert's contract makes him untradeable, well, enough. Ah, there's also this:
Penner isn’t a world-class player like Hemsky who would have been on the Czechs Olympic squad in 2010 if he hadn’t had shoulder surgery.
So, to flip this around, if Ales Hemsky was Canadian, in Matty's world he'd have made it to the Olympics despite the fact that Canada has a slightly deeper talent pool. I mean world-class is world class, right? I like Hemmer as a player, but he isn't exactly going through the equivalent of a couple of NHL all-star teams to make his country's squad. As a public service, I'll note that Dustin Penner scored 63 points in 09/10. In the interests of fairness, here's a full and complete list of all the Czech players who outdid that total last season. Hmmm.
On the front range, the news is all Forsberg, as the oft-injured one is attempting yet another comeback with the Avs. As a competitive matter, if he can play without restraint he's still likely a useful player and a threat to the opposition, but would anyone bet a serious amount of their own money on him staying healthy? Good luck and all that, but if this ends well, I'd be a bit surprised.
The Penguins lost in Washington Sunday afternoon, but the real losses are on the injury front. Sidney Crosby is still on the IR, with hints that maybe, if things go well, he could be back in March, but no guarantees. They also lost Mark Letestu, who was having a very nice year for himself before suffering a knee injury that will shelve him for 4-6 weeks.
Friday night, though, added another wounded player to the list, and one of considerable note. Malkin's absence will probably send the Pens into the trade market, with a UFA winger the likely target presuming Crosby returns in a timely fashion. If the unthinkable happened and Crosby were out for the duration, Pittsburgh would likely do nothing and write the year off, but they might be able to get by just losing Malkin. He's a rare talent, but he's also one way traffic a lot of nights, and he eats up a pile of cap space. For this spring, the Pens could add some worthwhile depth with his 8.7M.
Sounds like Phil Kessel and Ron Wilson are headed in about exactly the direction one might have expected when the two were paired last fall. Wilson is a guy that pushes his player's buttons more than most, and Kessel hasn't been noted as the easiest or most disciplined player to coach, so a conflict was always looming.
I do get Kessel's frustration, though. The Leafs have precisely one NHL-calibre center in Grabovsky, and Kessel never plays with him. He has one other center he seems willing to tolerate playing with in Bozak, but since the two of them were struggling, that wasn't happening of late either. All that said, even if it's the job of the players to play and the coaches to coach, sticking your best shooter with Joey Crabb and a guy more famous for looking like he'd gone a few rounds with this guy's implement of choice than any hockey ability seems like a poor utilization of talent.
Finally, I wonder how close we are to calling time on Marc Savard's career? The Bruins are likely going to pull the plug on him for the year, and again, here's a player with multiple concussions that might never be able to take any sort of hit, let alone something borderline, which happens almost every night in the league. I hope he's not done, but this has the whiff of a Lafontaine situation to me.
That's all for this time.