1. Stajan didn’t dive
Something I saw a lot in the immediate aftermath of Charlie Coyle drilling Matt Stajan in the face with the rookie’s shoulder pad a good second after he releases the puck was that Stajan dove, or at least embellished, on the play. In which he was plainly hit in the face. With a shoulder pad.
Coyle won’t be suspended because the principal point of contact apparently was Stajan’s chest, and not his face. And you also have to take into account that Coyle therefore didn’t specifically target the head. Now, as to whether that explanation holds a lot of water given the way the league has been calling things the last two years is obviously up for debate.
The implication that Stajan dove is weird and troubling, because everyone who saw the hit plainly saw two things: Him get him in the lower half of the face, pretty hard, and him go down like a ton of bricks. That’s what happens, though, when you get hit in the face. So the idea that Stajan "sold" the hit seems a little silly to me. Yeah he got up more or less right away, and skated off under his own power, and the initial scariness of the incident is almost certainly what led the referees to assess a five-minute major against Coyle. But with that having been said, in a situation like that, I would prefer that every single person on the ice err on the side of caution.
Given the wave of concussions that’s hit the NHL in this young season — what was it? Something like 12 in the last 10 days? — everyone needs to be on high alert. Save the "this is a man’s game" posturing for a sport where guys aren’t getting their brains scrambled on what is almost literally a nightly basis at this point. If Stajan or anyone else in the league knew he got hit in the head, I’d prefer that he stay down until he’s sure he’s fine. I’d prefer the refs assess a major just to avoid the potential for any more hits of that type to be thrown in the game, regardless of intent (be it accidentally, retaliatory, etc.).
When you’ve got a sport this plagued by brain injuries, you really don’t want to be letting things fly. Unless you’re the Department of Player Safety, I suppose.
2. And just when it was all going so well
It doesn’t seem like Stajan is going to miss any time after the hit, since he returned to the game and seemed fine, but in thinking about what would happen if he had been out, I kind of came to the realization that Stajan has been among the Flames’ most solid players this year.
I don’t want to say he’s been among the best, because someone with three goals and six assists in 18 games doesn’t really fit the bill, but he’s been reliable for sure. And compared to 8-10-18 in 61 last year, you gotta take that too. I read something the other day in the Herald about how confident Bob Hartley has grown in Stajan, and that is certainly reflected lately. Had he not gotten popped by Coyle and held out for precautionary reasons, he likely would have surpassed 20 or even 21 minutes for the third straight game. In his two-goal game against Minnesota, he led all Flames forwards in ice time, and maybe even deserved to do so. Maybe.
But the thing is this: I took a look at Behind the Net and it turns out Stajan’s underlying numbers are all solid. He’s playing not-untough minutes, keeping his head above water, and starting fewer than half of his shifts in the attacking zone. He’s getting a little bit of a PDO bump, where most Flames players aren’t, but other than that, there’s a perfectly reasonable excuse to continue giving him slightly more minutes than you might otherwise think.
Matt Stajan. Can you believe that?
3. The fact of the matter
Don’t everyone all look at once, but this team is now .500 and has taken points in each of its last three games. Now, it’s important to note here that most of that is probably too-little, too-late, which is an issue, and if you’re like me and want this roster nuked from orbit, all the games they don’t lose in regulation only serve to lead to heavy sighing and perhaps the furrowing of brows.
I’ve said before that every mediocre win over a mediocre team, like Minnesota or Phoenix, only emboldens the front office’s designs on "Going For It." That in turn prevents Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff or whomever else the Flames might have a vague interest in trading from hitting the market. And let’s be honest, if Michael Ryder is fetching an NHL roster player who had the same number of goals last season plus a third-round pick, then the price for Iginla has to be astronomical, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that stand to reason?
It is of course nice to see the team not embarrass itself every night, but the plain truth remains that this is a thoroughly mediocre team, capable of beating or at least playing with anyone in the league on a very rare occasion, but for the most part contenting itself with beating bad teams just often enough to keep their playoff dreams alive slightly too long. At some point the cycle has to stop.
4. Yet another college hockey update
Okay so it’s been a while since we checked in on Johnny Gaudreau, Billy Arnold, Mark Jankowski and Jon Gillies in this space, so with two weeks left in the Hockey East regular season schedule, and their teams slated to play each other on the weekend (I’m gonna try to get out to Saturday’s game), now seems as good a time as any to get you guys caught up.
The good news is that both of their teams are tied for first place in the conference with four games left each to play. The bad news is that they’re also there tied with two other teams. Yes, an actual four-way tie for first place in a conference with 10 teams. And the fifth-place team? A point behind them. The sixth-place team? Two points back. So things are tight.
As to the individual performances of the Flames’ prospects, things are a little dicier. Gaudreau still leads the conference in scoring with 37 points in 27 games, but has been oddly silent of late; he has just one assist in the last four games, only one of which BC has won. I’ve watched BC’s last two games now, Sunday’s on TV, and Tuesday night’s live, and found him to be wholly un-Gaudreau-like in each. Obviously he’s facing the top competition every time he comes over the boards, but he’s been doing that all season, and whatever was making him successful before seems to have abandoned him. He was a non-factor in both, netting a combined one shot and a minus-2 rating in them. The thing is, obviously, that he’s Johnny Gaudreau and will therefore be able to claw back into a serious scoring run at the drop of a hat.
Arnold, meanwhile, has been the opposite. He scored both of BC’s goals in last night’s 4-2 home loss to Lowell, and now has nine points in his last seven games. He’s up to 14-14-28 on the 30-game season, closing in on career highs for both. He was very much in evidence last night, and set up BC’s only goal in regulation on Sunday.
Jankowski, on the other hand, has been more like Gaudreau. You might remember some time ago I said that he tends to only score against bad teams and disappears against good ones. That has held true to this day. He just came off a stretch of four points in five games, which wasn’t bad, but that included two points against last-place Northeastern and one against ninth-place Maine. The other came against tied-for-first UNH, so at least there is that. Still, though, with only 6-8-14 in his 26 games this season, his contributions can’t be taken as being overwhelmingly positive.
Finally, we come to Gillies, who’s the best goaltender in the conference playing behind an otherwise only-okay team. If you want a reason that Providence is tied for first in the conference at the end of February, he’s the alpha and omega. Season stats of 2.10/.931, and that’s some not-joking-around stuff. And the thing is, he seems to be getting better as the season wears on, regardless of all the work he’s getting, having played every minute of every game for which he wasn’t at World Juniors (a full 1,630:51 in 27 games, 20th in the nation even without those three lost games). In terms of getting better, how about his stat line of 1.76/.947 over the last six games? That’s just unbelievable.
5. Congratulations to Jay Bouwmeester
Wow, 735 games without making a playoff appearance. That’s actually pretty incredible.