Maven's Ravin: Nine Things I've Learned from Another Week of Playoff Hockey
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
By Stan Fischler
WHITNEY STRAINS CREDULITY: Too bad that the NHL lack an award for MOST AMAZING UNHERALDED SENIOR CITIZEN because the hands-down winner would be Ray Whitney. Turning 40 next Tuesday, the Coyotes' sniper must think he's half his age. And if you don't believe The Maven, check Ray's arithmetic. Over the regular season he played all 82 games and totalled 24 goals and 53 assists for 77 points.
Continuing his near-point-a-game pace in the playoffs, Whitney had two goals, four assists and six points heading into Wednesday night's tilt in Nashville. And if you're wondering why the Yotes still are in the playoffs, it wouldn't be the worst idea to look beyond the obvious -- goalie Mike Smith, of course -- and do three huzzahs and a Bengal for Whitney.
NO ALIBIS FOR THE CHAMPS: Now that the Bruins hold on the Stanley Cup is limited to faded photos and video tape, it's time to deliver a final post mortem and that won't take more than half-a-minute. For starters -- as The Maven repeatedly noted all season -- NO team wins two straight titles any more and none will. That's the way Gary Bettman's parity party is arranged. Which is why the Bruins, like the Blackhawks, no longer have a champagne taste in their mouths.
Other reasons: 1. Wear and tear -- alias the War of Attrition -- takes its toll no matter how you train. It wears the body and the head; 2. Milan Lucic -- snarly, super-tough guy -- couldn't snarl enough goals nor did David Krejci who must have spent the first-round dreaming of June 2011; 3. Boston's (Tim Thomas) goaltending was good but Braden Holtby's was better by one save: 4. The Bruins over-achieved in 2010-2011.
THE BRODEUR EFFECT: The longer his Devils remain alive in the playoffs, the happier Martin Brodeur will be. And if Mister Goalie is a pleased puck-stopper, he most certainly will want to return between the New Jersey pipes next season. On Sunday -- just happens to be Game Four of the second round bout with Philadelphia -- Marty will turn 40 and you know what that means.
It means he'll be 40 next fall, confronting Lou Lamoriello's general staff with some serious decision-making. 1. What kind of contract will they offer their signature star? 2. How many games do they figure he'll play? 3. Will Moose Hedberg be returned as backup? (P.S. He should be because his numbers were superior to Brodeur's. The Moose played 27 games, with a 2.23 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Brodeur: 59 games -- 2.41, .908.)
WAITER; FIVE DANISH, PLEASE!: Hockey-savants world-wide seem to have ignored the newest European talent-supplier -- tiny Denmark. Among the Danish NHLers; Lars Eller (Montreal); Jannik Hansen (Vancouver); Phillip Larsen (Dallas), Frans Nielsen (Islanders) and Peter Regin (Ottawa). But none of the aforementioned is in a class with Mikkel Boedker, the pride of Brondby, Denmark.
Drafted eighth overall in 2008 by Phoenix, Boedker is a prime reason why Glendale, Arizona's favorite hockey team is doing so darn well. In order to oust Chicago from the opening round, coach Dave Tippett required some timely goals. And that's where the Dandy Dane delivered. Boedker had two overtime goals against Chicago. Proving his worth in the second round vs. Nashville Boedker produced a goal in the Yotes Game One win and an assist in the Game Two triumph. Now that's tasty Danish -- with some delectable filling!
FLORIDA'S FAREWELL: The Panthers, under g.m. Dale Tallon, super-advisor Bill Torrey and rookie coach Kevin Dineen did more than take New Jersey to seven games in the opening round. They re-awakened the Sunshine State's hockey spirit -- the Lightning sure did not -- luring capacity crowds to BankAtlantic Center while winning front page stories where once they were unknown.
"We're not satisfied," Tallon insists and that's the right idea. But what will he do about it? His first order of business will be signing defenseman Jason Garrison and first-line winger Kris Versteeg. Back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen, who did so well during the regular season, will become an Unrestricted Free Agent. Clemmer played 30 games, won 14 and lost only six -- with a .913 save percentage and a 2.57 GAA. Trouble -- for Scotty -- is that Tallon has Jacob Markstrom ready to move up from AHL San Antonio. It figures that Markstrom will share the nets with Jose Theodore.
Question is, which goalie-hungry team will bid for The Clemmer who's ready to be a numero uno?
KINGS NO 1-HIT WONDER: Considering that they barely made it into the playoffs Darryl Sutter's Kings have become -- no laughter, please! -- a dark horse possibility to win The Stanley Cup. Having knocked off Vancouver with relative ease and having taken three straight of the second round in St. Louis, the sky's the limit for the Tinseltown skaters. Check them out:
Captain Dustin Brown is leading by example; which means scoring big goals. Anze Kopitart, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have moved into a higher gear. Then, there's that Connecticut Kid in the net. At last look Jonathan Quick boasted a 7-1 record in the playoffs; a 1.62 goals against average and a .948 save percentage. Some Kings-watchers tell me that Sutter vaguely resembles an owl. Maybe -- maybe not; but he's sure as wise as one!
UNASSUMING TRAVIS ASSUMES RESPONSIBILITY: With their favorite team returning to The Rock on Thursday night, leading the Flyers two games to one, Devils fans will appreciate the fact that Travis Zajac is back in the New Jersey lineup. It's hard to believe that the Peter DeBoer's club made the playoffs without their two top centers -- Jacob Josefson being the other -- out of the lineup for most of the season.
Since his return from double-Achilles heel woes, Travis has played like an MVP since the playoffs began. Heading for Game Three against Philadelphia, Zajac leads the team in goals (5) and has provided much-needed stability in the face-off circle.
NAUGHTY-NAUGHTY IN NASHVILLE: Kudos to Predators g.m. David Poile and coach Barry Trotz for suspending Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn "for conduct unbecoming a Predator." Poile imported both Russians to boost his club's playoff chances and some fans would have excused the pair of they merely applied a wrist-slap and then put them back into the lineup.
The two naughty boys were absent as Nashville came back to win 2-0 at home on Wednesday. They play again on Friday night in the Music City. The question is, does Trotz return Radulov and Kostitsyn to the lineup.
The temptation would be to get as much armament as possible on the roster. We shall see.
GO, WINTERHAWKS: My hockey theory is that everyone should have a Junior team for which to root and mine happens to be the Portland Winterhawks. I love that team for a lot of reasons, among them that my older son, Ben, lives there and attends games with his wife, Kine and two boys, Ezra and Niko. But it goes beyond that. When Travis Green played for the Islanders, he was one of my faves both on and off the ice. So happens that Travis is assistant coach and assistant g.m. of the Winterhawks and they will be playing for the Western Hockey League championship.
The WHL Finals began on Thursday night with Edmonton winning 3-2. Game Two is Friday night in Edmonton before moving to Portland on Sunday. A year ago, the Hawks got knocked out of the Finals so Pal Travis is enthused about a second shot.
"You don't often get another crack at the title," Green tells me. "I'm enthused because our guys learned a lot from last year. They have a stronger desire and know what sacrifices are needed to win a championship. But we're playing a very good team (Edmonton Oil Kings) which had a great season. Being an 'underdog' is a different feeling for us this year but it brings excitement to our young group."
Among Green's stars are Sven Barschti, who scored four goals when I watched him in Portland a few months ago, and Ty Rattie. Barschti will move up to the Calgary Flames next season after a couple of successful games late in the NHL season.
"We have a great core on defense," Green adds. "Joe Morrow was a Penguins first-rounder last year and Derrick Pouliot was a first-rounder this year."
I wondered which player most reminded me of Travis when he was starring for the Islanders. He answer was fascinating to say the least: "I had different stages in my career and it took me a while to become the player I was happy to be. I started as a checker and finished as one. So, I would say Taylor Peters on our team is the guy. He's a big center who plays against all the top lines, takes face-offs and kills penalties. Plus he can bring a physical presence."
If Green's Winterhawks beat Edmonton, they'll move into the Memorial Cup round for the continent's Junior champion. Okay, now, one-two-three: GO WINTERHAWKS!