All in all, 2009 is getting off to a pretty good start. There have been some exciting games, some good story lines, and some great performances. Unfortunately, though, there has been one storyline that puts something of a damper on the start to 2009.
While there have been plenty of impressive performances on the ice this year, you could put together a pretty impressive all-star team, just with guys who have been kept off the ice thus far. Consider the list of guys who have missed time so far:
Alexander Ovechkin- The best player for the first few weeks of the season was sidelined for reportedly about two weeks, having suffered an upper body injury when he got tied up with Raffi Torres (surprisingly, he was injured without being cheap shoted by Raffi). Ovie could be back by the 11th, and while the time missed shouldn’t keep him away from the leaderboards, but It will make it tough for him to threaten Mike Bossy’s shot record.
Evgeni Malkin- The second half of Pittsburgh’s young star duo, Malkin was off to a slow start for his standards, meaning he was on a tear by most. He had 14 points in 12 games for the Penguins, before going down with a shoulder injury (one of many around the league). Malkin has missed the last four games of the Penguins road trip, on which they are 2-2 (one game was actually a home game, but it was the night after a road game, so essentially part of the trip). Malkin returned Saturday night, much to the delight of Sidney Crosby, whose goal was just his second point in six games since Gino went out of the lineup.
Marc Savard- After quietly being one of the most proficient playmakers in the league, having averaged about 67 helpers a year since the lockout season, Savard is scheduled to miss 4-6 weeks (which would be 2-4 more) after breaking his foot. Boston has struggled to find offense without Savard, especially with injuries to David Krejci and Milan Lucic in addition to Savard, leaving them with serious scoring issues, especially having lost…
Phil Kessel- His Maple Leafs debut was delayed a month with a shoulder injury, which required offseason surgery and kept him out of the Maple Leafs first win and first eleven losses. Kessel is back though, and he has played well, registering just one assist in two games, but firing 10 shots on goal in his first game back. Unfortunately, it is going to take a lot more than one guy to get the Maple Leafs to respectability.
Ilya Kovalchuk- The Russian was off to a blistering start in Atlanta, netting 9 goals in just 8 games, before blocking a shot and breaking his foot against San Jose. Kovalchuck’s return is still up in the air, but it will almost definitely be a couple more weeks at least for the Thrashers captain.
Marian Hossa- The Hawks have yet to put the prolific scorer on the United Center ice yet, after having signed him to a 10 year deal this summer. Hossa is questionable to return this month, also with a shoulder ailment.
Johnathan Toews- After being lit up by last issues hit of the weeks, Toews has been said to be questionable for the Blackhawks last few games with an “upper body injury,” probably a concussion, but he has missed all of them.
Johan Franzen- Last year, Franzen had completed his transformation from role player to impact player for the Wings. This year, offseason knee surgery has kept him out of every game, and will likely do so until January at least. The Wings have struggled without him, but he is nowhere near ready to be back.
Marian Gaborik- Not really surprising that Gaborik has seen time out of the lineup, he has been notoriously injury prone throughout his career. Luckily for the blueshirts though, he has been as advertized when healthy, scoring 21 points in 15 games. Just as importantly, his injury problems don’t appear to be severe, since he missed just two games, and has since returned from a right leg injury.
Roberto Luongo- One of the premier goaltenders in the league, Luongo will be expected to be a cornerstone in Vancouver, and he likely will, but for now, he is out at least for a few more days (having missed the last 6 games with a rib injury.
Danny Briere, Simon Gagne- Two of Philly’s best players, both of whom out for at least a couple of more games, both with groin ailments. Briere’s is close to healed, but Gagne will likely be out for more than a month still. Philly has had the slack picked up by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, among others, but they will need to get these two back to remain where they want to be in the east.
Eric Staal- Stall had been key in carrying a Carolina team that was seeing little secondary scoring. He went down to an “upper body injury.” It is unclear when exactly the struggling Canes, also missing Cam Ward will get their captain back, but they definitely need him, because without Staal, they simply don’t have the firepower to make a run back into contention.
Those are the biggest names who have sat out a bit (although the most suprising part isnt that any of them have been hurt, but that Martin Havlat hasn’t). That is hardly an exhaustive list, just the highlights. Others who have missed time this year include
Rick DiPietro (unsurprisingly)
James van Riemsdyk
That is a solid 40 names, almost all of which at least have a shot to be all stars, that have missed time this year. Granted, some of the injuries have been day to day type of stuff, but it warrents mentioning. There really isn’t a conclusion to be drawn here, it isn’t like this is due to a chronic rash of concussions or knee injuries that require equipment or rule changes. It is just an observation that I found interesting.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are bad.
You know what? That isn’t even a strong enough statement, the Leafs are horrible. Toronto won’t set the all-time low for points in a season, currently owned by the 1975 Capitols, and they probably won’t even set the record of only 8 wins, also held by that Caps team. The reason, though, isn’t parody, it isn’t the salary cap, and it certainly isn’t because the Leafs aren’t bad enough. The only reason, in my opinion, that the Leafs wont threaten all-time futility records is because of rule changes that give teams ties for OT losses, and wins in the shootout.
Right now, the Leafs have 3 wins, and 11 points in 16 games, after a surge following Phil Kessel’s return. As hard as it is to believe, sitting at 28th in the NHL, the Leafs are playing well above themselves. Unfortunately, getting Phil Kessel back gives them exactly two above average NHLers. Looking through their roster, the Leafs are made up almost entirely of marginal NHL players. Realistically, they have four forwards (Kessel, Jason Blake, Niklas Hagman and Lee Stempniak) who could crack the top four lines of most NHL teams. On D, Kaberle and Komisearek are solid second pair guys, collectively making up the first D pair. Luke Schenn is going to be a force, but would be in most NHL farm systems at this point in his career.
Realistically, the Leafs, who have already had their share of OT tilts, will grab around 13-15 wins (buoyed by 4-5 shootout wins), and around 30 points, some for OT losses that they wouldn’t have gotten if they were playing in the pre-rule-change era of the 75 Capitals. That doesn’t mean that one of the NHL’s most storied franchises isn’t historically bad though.
They most certainly are.
GOAL OF THE WEEKS
It goes to the New York Islanders. Jeff Tambellini, on the first of his three goals Halloween Night against the Sabers, certainly made an excellent and flashy effort, but it was the all around brilliance that gives this the GOTWs award.
Right around the midway point of the second period, the Isles’ Sean Bergenheim won the race to a hard wrap in the left corner. Bergenheim circled behind the net and Tambellini, trailing the play, went towards the right post.
After circling behind the net, the lefty swung to his backhand (towards the end boards), and fired a centering pass towards Ryan Miller in the Buffalo net. Tambellini redirected the pass off of Miller’s pads, where it sat as Tambellini skated past the puck. With his skates behind the goal line, Tambellini put his stick between his legs, and knocked it over Miller’s pad, short side, for the first leg of the hat trick.
HIT OF THE WEEKS
The Maple Leafs are certain to be happy to have Phil Kessel back in the lineup, and in the midst of his stellar first game back, Matthius Ohlund welcomed him back himself.
Kessel took the puck into the zone, and while his head wasn’t down, his attention was elsewhere, and the Swede who made his name in Vancouver took advantage. Chaos, as it often does, ensued.
GAME OF THE WEEKS
This one is a no brainer. Wednesday night, the Caps took on the Islanders in the District. Not a great matchup necessarily on paper, but it turned out to be a dandy.
Alex Semin took a pass almost literally off of the opening face off, and ripped a yapper top blocker from the wing, beating Dwayne Roloson to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 0:08 into the game. A line change later, though, the Islanders struck back when Matt Moulson put a juicy Semyon Varlamov rebound top shelf, and it was 1-1 just 62 seconds into the contest. About 4 minutes later, Mark Streit and Sean Bergenheim registered back to back tallies just 1:44 apart, giving the Long Island squad a 3-1 lead with 13 minutes remaining in the first period.
Tomas Fleischmann gave the Capitals life in the crazy first period though. After Jon Sim took a holding penalty, Fleischmann banged home a PP tally off of a broken rush, where a Nick Backstrom dangle got broken up, but found the Czech’s stick, and he made it 3-2 at the first break.
In the second period, the scoring continued 5 and a half minutes in, when Semin took a Mike Green pass, and beat Roloson for the second time, tying the game at 3. Then, with 4 minutes and change left, the Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich and Chris Clark broke in 3-3. Clark swung the puck from the left point to Laich at the bottom of the left circle, who swung and fired a backhand at net. Roloson got a pad on it, but Perrault beat his backchecker to the slot, and put away the rebound, giving the Caps a 4-3 lead.
It appeared that they wouldn’t relinquish that advantage, and while a couple of outstanding Roloson saves kept the Islanders in it, Varlomov and the Washington D appeared up to the task. A key penalty kill with just 5 minutes left looked like it had iced it, but the Caps took another penalty almost immediately, giving New York one last chance. On the ensuing penalty, Trent Hunter took a cross ice pass breaking into the zone. He turned to look for a pass, but when he didn’t see a teammate open, he continued his turn, faced Varlamov and let one rip. A bar-down, top glove rocket later, the game was tied, and it was headed to overtime.
As with any 5 minute segment of 4-4 hockey, OT saw a number of chances, but no one could find the twine, and a shootout was imminent.
The first bit of drama came in round three. A Tambellini goal would be enough for an Islander victory if Roloson could stop Semin. Semin went forehand-backhand-shelf, though, and forced the extra frame. Varlamov and Roloson then went on to stop the next 17 attempts, including a crossbar for Frans Nielson that would have iced it. Finally, in the 11th round, Chris Clark used his third career shootout attempt to rip a wrist shot past Roloson for his first career shootout goal. A Varlamov save on Streit then ended one of the longest shootouts in the 5 year history of the tie-breaker.
PASS OF THE WEEKS
There is good news, and there is bad news for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The good news is that they got two of the best of the weeks awards (this being the second), the bad being that these are likely to be the only two things they win all season.
At any rate, the pass of the week was a beaut by Ryan Malone. Already up 4-0 on the Senators on the 29th of October, Malone took the puck through the slot, skating towards the top of the circle. From the faceoff dot, he took a quick glance, then threw it back through three Senators to Tanguay, standing at the far post for an empty netter, his first gino as a Bolt.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
I’m introducing a new section this edition, as I will probably do a lot as I find out what works and what doesn’t for this column (feedback always welcome). Each column, or at least most of them, I am going to throw out one question, usually something sort of theoretical or philosophical, that I think is interesting. If you don’t know what I mean by that, just read this weeks, and I think it will make sense.
This week, I’m throwing out a question I already asked a few friends. I talked last week about how Ovechkin has been insane this year, and he has done nothing thus far to prove me wrong. As I write this, Ovechkin has 13 goals, and it isn’t even November yet (I am writing on 10/29, about 10 days before I post this). He had two in the first period tonight to get himself to that ridiculous figure. The guy is just ridiculously skilled. There are probably other guys you could ask this about, but it would seem silly not to start with Ovie.
The question is this: What amount of money would you have to be offered, in order to take it over Alexander’s game? Thinking about this, my number would have to be in the 10 figures. I think I would probably take around 1.5 B, and I am completely serious. I admit, however, that I am something of a hockey nerd, so the average person would probably be somewhat lower. I would set the question at $500 M.
Before you balk at the figures, you need to realize, that if you have Ovechkin’s skills (take out any other traits for the sake of the discussion), and you play your cards anywhere close to right, you can make a few hundred million dollars. At any rate, unless you completely mess up, money will not be an issue in your life time. The question comes down to how set up your family would have to be in coming generations for it to be worth it. I figure I can probably spend about $500 M if I try, a number that is pretty lofty to begin with, so the answer for me is set up to the tune of 1 billion dollars. He is that good.
(The only thing I could imagine spending more than that on that wouldn’t qualify as an investment would be a professional sports team, and anyone in their right mind would rather be the best player on a team than the owner, hence the 300 m figure not being higher.)
SHORTER HOCKEY THOUGHTS
- Cruising Ustream last week, I came across the Penguins/Canadians game on RDS. Before I noticed that it was on RDS (the French version of TSN), I decided that I would make that the sound game. Obviously, it didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to understand it (I don’t speak a word of French), but I decided to keep the sound on anyways. It really was thoroughly enjoyable. First of all, I just enjoy listening to hockey. What is better than the slicing of skates on ice, the click clack of pucks and sticks, and the crunch of the boards? Say nothing of the crowds.
Beyond that, I can’t help but be entertained by the French itself. You’re telling me it isn’t at least a little bit funny that Hal Gill just got a penalty for retarde la partie? I also can’t help but find humor in a steady flow of French interrupted by Russian or blatantly American names. Obviously you wouldn’t want to watch every game in French, but once in a while it can be one of the more entertaining features of NHL Center Ice.
- Malkin looks like he is over handling the puck. Dude clearly has hands, and it leads to some highlight goals, but it seems like there are times when he has a chance to move his feet and beat a defenseman, but instead will attempt to thread it through the defender. When it works, it is obvious, and you see it on sportscenter, but there are times that for Malkin, less could be more.
- Jimmy Howard looks, frankly, terrible. His rebound control is awful, and last week in Edmonton, he was sliding all over the place. He is a guy with a Patrick Roy style (not caliber) skill set, and he is trying to flop around like Dominik Hasek. It seems to be because he is fighting the puck, not necessarily just because he is lost out there, but every single one of the 5 goals he gave up were a result of him overplaying the puck. He clearly has no confidence. Detroit needs to make a goaltending move, and fast.
- Not so much a hockey thought, as much as a note about this column. I really like writing this sort of thing, and I will continue to do so. Unfortunately, the man is trying to keep it down, by which I mean it is increasingly difficult to catch hockey games online without paying $180, which I can’t afford, to get the center ice online package. Hockeywebcasts.com is now listing almost exclusively the team audio feeds and the yahoo games, and more and more searches on the streaming websites are coming up empty. I understand and don’t have a problem with this, since it is completely legitimate for the NHL, cable networks or whoever has been behind the crackdown to restrict people getting access for free, when they are trying to sell the same product, but it will mean that I just can’t watch as much hockey as I had been before. The takeaway is pretty simple. I am going to keep writing this, but it will probably be shorter, and unfortunately, will come from watching fewer games, and more highlights. Oh well.
TOP 8/ bottom eight
On the Up
8. Calgary- There are a few teams that could be put here, but of the teams clustered in the 25-27 point range, only the Flames have the deepest blueline in the league, so I am giving them the nod.
7. Buffalo- The Sabers have played their way atop the Northeast, albeit a northeast with a struggling Boston, a dismal Toronto and Ottawa, and a mediocre Montreal. Ryan Miller has been keeping them there, leading the league in save percentage and goals against, making him the favorite for the Team USA job, over a Tim Thomas who has had issues after signing his lucrative contract extension.
6. Chicago- A theme will be teams that will be suffering, or else keeping up despite injuries. The Blackhawks lead the central despite still waiting for Hossa’s shoulder to recover, and playing without a concussed Johnathan Toews.
5. Colorado- After 10 games, last time I did this poll, I wasn’t ready to take the Aves seriously. After 20 though, too much hockey has been played not to regard the standings. With the Aves sitting in second in the west, they need to be mentioned amongst the contenders, if not the favorites.
4. Washington- After almost two weeks of Ovechkinless hockey, the Capitals are still atop the Southeastern division (no surprise), but also tied atop the east with 28 points through 20 games. Semin and Backstrom have stepped up to carry the load for Bordreau’s team, a pleasant surprise for a team that still has defense issues.
3. New Jersey- The Devils have earned the top spot in the East as I type this, but they are still number two in their division, as far as these rankings go. Sure, they have beaten the Pens twice, but I have my reasons for thinking the Penguins are better, and they are my rankings. So there.
2. Pittsburgh- The Penguins have relinquished the division lead to the Devils, but I am going to keep them above New Jersey, since they are essentially locked up atop the Atlantic, but the Penguins have done so without Malkin, and with a struggling Crosby, two things that are likely to change in their favor. Ultimately, I need to be shown that New Jersey is going to be a better team, and that hasn’t happened yet.
1. San Jose- Am I a biased? Absolutely, but let’s be honest. The Sharks have been on a 4 week tear now, in which they have brought themselves to the highest point total in the league. I am by no means objective about it, but the Sharks have earned this spot.
On the Down
23. Ducks- Too talented to be on this list, but they earned it. They really need to get their goaltender situation ironed out though, they pay Guigerre way too much to keep him as a backup.
24. Stars- Sure, they just beat the team that I have at #1, but Dallas’s 6 points off of OT losses have them at an inflated position in the standings.
25. Florida- Playing a little bit worse than their talent, but not a whole lot.
26. Senators- What is it that has kept the Sens out of the basement? Regular games against Toronto and Carey Price, as far as I can tell (I’m on the train and can’t look that up, but let’s just assume that it’s true).
27. Minnesota- I guess I want to keep them out of the bottom despite their position at the bottom of the west because of Brent Burns. Or maybe it is the nice unis. Either way, I do, but they are terrible.
28. St. Louis- Should be better, but they just aren’t. Last year they put it together, but I don’t see them in the postseason with Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya on the PP. Unless it is 1998.
29. Carolina- Injuries and issues have given the Canes the fewest points in the league (14 games without a win…), but….
30. Toronto- I can’t not put a team as bad as the leafs in last. They are terrible. They wouldn’t win the Calder Cup.
It is hard to say that anyone has distinguished themselves, so I am going to go with Ovechkin, since he has played like the best player in the league by a margin. I hate to have him here having missed most of the period this covers, but no one else has taken the mantle.
Honorable Mention- Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Marleau, Anze Kopitar.
Ryan Miller leads the league in save percentage, goals against and wins. The Sabers are good, but not particularly talented or deep, but in third in the East. I would never expect to have a clear favorite for Vezina at the 20 game mark, but that’s exactly what Miller is.
Honorable Mention- Craig Anderson, Ilya Bryzgalov
Tavares is a pure goal scorer. Barring injury, he won’t score fewer than 35 in his career. He could get 60. Just an incredible instinct around the net, he has a knack for keeping the play in front of him, and finding a seam to create chances.
Honorable Mention- James VanRiemsdyk, (pretty solid gap) Michael Del Zotto, Jason Demers
Still not ready to comment on any of the others…
Couple more weeks… I still haven’t had a chance to follow too much NCAA or CHL.
WHAT I’M WATCHING FOR
Last weeks turned out as well as it could have. Marleau and Buffalo have stayed at the top of their games, as I was curious to see if they would. As for Sharks-Pens, San Jose made a statement with a 5-1 win, making them the clear cut favorite at the ¼ mark of the season.
Detroit- They have climbed into a playoff spot, which doesn’t surprise me (if you follow hockey, you would be crazy to expect them to linger at 11-13 in the West), but I think that the 6-7 area where they are now is where they will stay, but It wouldn’t shock me if they went on a run. I will be curious to see where they are in 2-3 weeks.
I’m really just looking to see who can get healthy and make an impact. If pressed about a healthy guy who has been in the lineup, I want to see if Anze Kopitar is going to remain an elite guy.
But the fact is, Ilya Kovalchuk has 13 goals in 10 games. He is back in the lineup, and I want to know if he can keep it up.
(that was like 40 players…sorry)