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Maven's Ravin': Things I've Learned In This Leap-Year Month

By Stan Fischler
February 22, 2012

• WHO CAN FIGURE OUT THE BLACKHAWKS?

A week ago, the weeping and wailing in Chicago could be heard up and down State Street (That Great Street) about who should and shouldn't be fired -- and traded. Why not? The Hawks had lost nine-straight and had the hotsy-totsy Rangers up next in Fort Neverlose, alias The Garden. Some Windy City windbags wanted Joel (He Won Us The Cup) Quenneville fired, if not his boss, GM Stan Bowman. Other silly savants wanted goalie Corey Crawford deported to Pago Pago because he couldn't stop a Goodyear Blimp.

Whoops! Against the Rangers, Pal Joel's skaters scored four goals so fast, half the citizens of Rangerville hadn't finished their first hot dog. After routing the Rangers, Chi's favorite hockey team then proceeded to beat Columbus, St. Louis and Detroit. That's four-straight -- three against top teams -- and counting.

How come? Crawford, who starred in the 2011 homestretch and the playoffs last Spring, re-found his game. Plus, Jonathan Toews -- one of the precious few real, Ryan Callahan-type captains -- spearheaded the drive by opening the Rangers game with a nifty penalty shot goal. And, let's face it, Quenneville IS one of the NHL's best coaches, give or take John Tortorella.

WHAT I LEARNED: The Blackhawks are a playoff team but they won't get past the second round!

• WHICH TRADE RUMORS SHOULD YOU BELIEVE?

I wish I had a dollar for every trade rumor floated in the past week that evaporated like air out of a flat tire. (With that dough, I'd offer to buy the Coyotes.)

Me? When I hear talk about a trade, I think of Uncle Max's "Mud On The Wall Theory" which goes like this: If you toss a hunk of mud on a wall, most of it falls down; but there's always a little bit that sticks.

Same with rumors about trades before the deadline. So far, the rumor mill has Rick Nash going to every conceivable team but the New York Americans; and they're not around any more. (Who knows; maybe the Amerks will come back; now there's a new rumor for you!) The fact is that if the Blue Jackets can't get a HUGE return for Nash, he won't be going anywhere but Downtown Columbus. After all, Rick not only is a good player, he's also a good captain on a not-very-good team.

WHAT I LEARNED: Normally in a trade, the team that gets the BEST player wins the deal. But that doesn't always happen and all you have to do is ask Glen Sather. When the Rangers boss dealt Scott Gomez to the Canadiens, Gomer was considered, by far, the top performer in the mix whereas Ryan McDonagh was an afterthought. As we know by now, Scotty has become the second-coming of the Invisible Man while McDonagh has emerged as one of the NHL's best young defensemen. Thus, you never know! AND, if nothing else, all this trade he-goes-here-he-goes-there is just plain fun!

• IS THERE A SLEEPER CUP-WINNING TEAM OUT THERE?

You bet there is and it happens to be coached by Ken Hitchcock and -- in case you didn't know -- the nickname for St. Louis is "The Mound City."

There are some critics out there who claim that Hitch has obtained too much credit for lifting the Blues out of their stupor; that he merely inherited a super-duper team about to blossom.

Perhaps, but the point is that under Hitchcock's generalship, St. Louis has become a galvanic team anchored by a surprisingly effective goaltending tandem; Jaroslav Halak and -- surprise, surprise! -- Brian Elliott, of all people. The two Davids -- Backes and Perron -- are among the best Lighthorse Harrys up front with vets such as Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner around to tell the lads what winning a Cup is all about.

Since St. Louis never has won a Stanley Cup, it's perfectly normal to forget about John Davidson's sextet simply because they're the Blues. Well, let me tell you this: if the Halak-Elliott netminding is for real -- and why shouldn't it be? -- don't undersell The Mound City Skaters.

WHAT I LEARNED: Figuring a playoff winner based on the regular season finish is impossible. Two examples: In 1938 the Blackhawks won the Cup after finishing the season under .500. Ditto for the Maple Leafs in 1949. 'Nuff said!

• HAS SOMETHING GONE WRONG IN WASHINGTON?

You tell me.

If so august a publication as The Hockey News opines -- in September -- that the Capitals are "The best bet to win the Stanley Cup" in June 2012, you'd have to believe that there's something to that prediction.

But if you check the NHL standings today, you'd wonder whether Hockey News author Brian McNally wrote the Caps-to-the-Cup piece while dreaming of a White Christmas in June.

Just making the playoffs would be an accomplishment for a tenth place team that can barely keep up with the Florida Panthers, of all teams!

Changing coaches from the experienced Bruce Boudreau to the never-coached-in-the-NHL Dale Hunter has had about the positive effect you'd get by feeding baby aspirins to a migrained elephant.

For whatever reason -- and the reasons are endless -- the captain-who-should-never-be-captain, Alex Ovechkin is a shade of his former poster-boy self. And if The Great Eight now is The Grate Eight -- oh, brother -- you can expect Hunter to fulfill his one-year-contract and be back running his Junior team next Summer faster than you can say Alex Semin!

So, the answer is that everything has gone wrong in Washington and absolutely none of the blame belongs to Boudreau. Really, it all starts with Ovechkin and his inability to be Superman and Captain all in one fell swoop of the puck.

The beauty part is that if, somehow, the Caps beat out the Cats for first place and enter the playoffs, they could make magical music in the post-season. But, as GM George McPhee will tell you, "First things first." As in first-place!

WHAT I LEARNED:
Changing coaches in mid-season can be just the catalyst a team needs to revitalize its game for the playoff push. That is, if the coach's name happens to be Jacques Lemaire or Ken Hitchcock. Sorry, but Dale Hunter is not in that esteemed category; not by a long shot or an Ovie shot!

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