Skating On Thin Ice

The Montreal Canadiens were 19-4-3 through the first 26 games three days earlier star goaltender Carey Price went down injured with what was supposed to be a “week or two” lower body injury.  Since then the Canadiens have gone 8-23-1, Price hasn’t come back, the team traded for All-Star Game MVP John Scott just days prior to his coming out party only to bury him in minor league affiliate St. John’s and now Coach Michel Therrien is openly flaming star defenseman P.K. Subban in the press.

Is there something going on with the bleu blanc et rouge?

From first glance it looks to me like the Canadiens are reeling with the loss of Price.  If the New York Rangers lost Henrik Lundqvist I believe they’d struggle just like the Canadiens.  You can throw in NHL quality backups and hope for the best, but there’s too much parity in the NHL these days that once you lose an elite goaltender that you rely on to push your team over the edge you might as well pack it in.  Especially if you don’t have goal scorers that teams like the Chicago Blackhawks do.

Let’s also keep in mind the fish bowl that this team plays in.  Ask Jocelyn Thibault.  Don’t know Jocelyn Thibault?  Thibault was part of the Patrick Roy trade between the Colorado Avalanche and the Canadiens that sent Roy and Mike Keane to the Avalance for Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko.  Thibault was a young 20 year old when he was thrust into the shadow of Saint Patrick on the Montreal Forum stage. He was put in net to try to replicate what a man 10 years his senior had done for this hockey loving community.

Oh, did I mention Thibault was also French Canadian?  Thibault grew up in Montreal and played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was called by Canadiens General Manager Rejean Houle “one of the most brilliant young goaltenders in the league?”

Gee.  Pressure?  A 20 year old kid going home to one of the most storied franchises of all time, most Stanley Cups in NHL history (22), one of the oldest North American professional sports franchises in history, over 50 people associated with the club were in the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s his hometown club, and now the General Manager of this club says that he is the key to this deal and one of the most brilliant young goaltenders in the league.  That’s not much presure

Then there’s the list of goaltenders that’s played at the club, let’s see: Patrick Roy, Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden, Gump Worsley, Jacques Plante, Roy Worters, Bill Durnan, George Hainsworth and Georges Vezina!  That’s just the Hall of Fame goaltenders.

But hell, Thibault came over to the Canadiens and through 40 games after being traded he posted a 23-13-3 record with a 2.83 Goals Allowed Average and a .913 Save Percentage.  For a 20 year old playing in the shadow of ghosts, that’s not too bad.

But it was never enough.  Even playing on crappy teams, Thibault always did his best but he got the blame.  Eventually getting traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998, Thibault would move on.  I can only imagine his growth as a goaltender was scared by his experiences in Montreal.  Unfortunately the ghosts were the same ones that Ken Dryden spoke of in his book “The Game.”  Dryden experienced the pain too.  The must win now mentality.  The mentality that if you don’t win you are going to get shipped out.  There’s no room for any sort of growth.

I hate to see something like that happen.  I think the Canadiens could do well bringing up John Scott and playing him to bring some excitement to the club.  Or even trading him to let him play somewhere in the NHL.  He deserves a shot somewhere.

But the way that they are treating P.K. Subban is the way they treated Thibault.  A solid club servant, who did what was asked of him, gave to the club and hell Subban is there for the community, but now he’s being questioned for his decisions on the ice?  This man gives everything that he has on the ice.

I have to wonder if the long line of Cups are getting in the way of what a franchise should truly be about.  It’s not always about winning.  It should be about people too.  It should be about understanding that you are going to have crap years.  But the players are giving what they have.  I’ve written about coaching changes before, but with Montreal losing an elite goaltender and now you want to criticize your star defenseman?  Someone should fire the coach.  Obviously he has some issues.  Sure he’s feeling the heat too.  But that’s unacceptable.

I feel bad for Subban and Scott and hope that neither of them has their careers ruined like Thibault did.  Here’s hoping.

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Revolving Doors

It’s a great day when Sunderland wins and it’s an even better day when Sunderland manages to beat one of the top four names in the Premier League (Man U, Man City, Arsenal or Chelsea).

This past weekend they managed to do both when they beat Man U 2-1 under new boss Sam Allardyce.  Allardyce had been in charge since October of 2015, registering only 16 points for the club before being able to magically swing these points to the Black Cats.   Allardyce took over for former head man Dick Advocaat who had been on a one year contract but changed his mind on the deal and left the club holding the bag.

I don’t blame Advocaat for changing his mind, I know that he took a lot of the job to heart, the man cried when he saved the team from relegation. I’m sure his agreement to come back in the summer of 2015 saved the team from another disaster.  I can’t imagine the scramble they would have been in trying to procure someone at that stage to manage; trying to pick up the pieces and try to recruit players at the same time.  He was able to help secure some new blood into the side and give the squad some hope that going forward there would be less drama in the coming season.

I didn’t take the resignation of Dick Advocaat lightly, he was the second man to take the club to safety from the clutches of relegation however I know that at times coaching changes have to happen.  Anymore I’m afraid that Sunderland are going to have to change their name to the “Revolving Doors.”

Coaching changes occur at what seems like a frequent pace in Sunderland,  Steve Bruce left the club on November 30, 2011 and we’ve seen four managers since him, not to mention twice having caretakers in charge in the span. The door revolved from Steve Bruce to Martin O’Neill to Paolo “managing with a hand grenade” Di Canio to “the Gus Bus” Poyet on up to Sam Allardyce.

On the same day that Sunderland beat Man U, the Minnesota Wild of the NHL fired their manager Mike Yeo who had been in charge since the 2011-2012 season.  Yeo had lead the team to three consecutive playoff appearances during that span however the team spiraled out of control this year losing 13 of the last 14 games that he was in charge.  Throughout those years when Minnesota had issues they never fired him, they made a change in players and it seemed to “work” or the team would come together at the right time.

The 2013-2014 campaign was a test of management’s faith in Yeo, as the rumors swirled many times that he would be let go but the team came together as the season wore on to make a playoff push.  In the 2014-2015 season they brought in goalie Devan Dubnyk prior to the trade deadline to try to fix a record of 18-19-5 and finished 46-28-8.  Yeo however could never find a way throughout those three playoff appearances to get past the Chicago Blackhawks, getting knocked out every year by them(2013 in the 1st round, 2014 in the 2nd, 2015 in the 2nd).  Superman always had his kryptonite, Yeo had the Blackhawks.

Both hockey and soccer are alike in that not only do you need consistency at the top with management and coaching but you need the players all throughout your squad to play at their best.  You need depth and quality throughout the team from the top lines to the fourth line in hockey and from the starting 11 to your bench in soccer.

Sunderland has seen it’s fair share of highs and lows over this span of coaching changes and you can’t say it’s all been on one side or the other: players or coaches.  What you can say is that when it comes to quality and consistency the play hasn’t always been there.  The defense might have an “out of it’s mind” game with the goaltending providing stellar saves, the midfielders and attackers can’t provide enough to threaten the other side or vice versa.  Plus there hasn’t always been enough sitting on the bench to provide firepower if an injury occurred or if the game was getting away from the team.  Players get out of form and the team has been forced to play them because there hasn’t been someone to step in and take over that was of similar quality.  In many ways that has been the result of poor signings, injuries and players not living up to their abilities.  However that happens with every team, it just seems that some luck would have been nice somewhere along the lines.

With Yeo’s Wild, they had issues scoring in the playoffs once they got there.  In 2015 against the Blackhawks, who would go on to win the Cup, they scored 7 goals through 4 games – that’s not going to win you many playoff series in the NHL unless you have Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur in net (or maybe Jocelyn Thibault – hey no one really knows).    In 2014, they scored 13 goals through 6 games which was a bit more respectable, but they were facing the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.  In 2013, they scored 7 goals through 5 games against the Blackhawks who go on to win the Cup.  Obviously if you can’t capitalize on your chances and if you don’t have all four lines rolling in the playoffs you aren’t going to last long which is what we see with the Wild.

I brought up NHL.com’s team stats section on 2/16/16 prior to the Wild’s game against Calgary to fully explore Minnesota’s problem and it seems pretty evident.  Goals for per game: 2.50 vs. Goals allowed per game 2.50.  The Wild currently have a record of 24-22-10 for a .5178 win percentage and that comes after they won 5-2 in their new coach, John Torchetti’s first game in charge.  If you can’t score more than you let in you aren’t going to win, plain and simple.  The power play currently ranks 23rd and the penalty kill ranks 25th; out of 30 teams it shows that the depth simply isn’t there.  You can only change systems and tactics so much but when your top scorer has 38 points through 56 games and doesn’t crack the top 50 scorers on NHL.com you know that your team needs scoring help.

It’s not a judgement of the scouting of the Wild or the organization so much as it is to say that maybe Yeo wasn’t the one who should have been let go.  It’s possible that this team has been full of smoke and mirrors for some time and now it is all shining through.  The players the team is leaning on are either too young to carry the team or are not capable and unfortunately clubs let the coach take the fall in this situation rather than admit their defeat.  It happens all the time and it will continue to happen as long as there are professional sports leagues.

Meanwhile in Sunderland someone is trying to figure out exactly where the revolving door should be put outside the stadium.

 

 

Another Dynamic Duo?

Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News wrote that Henrik Lundqvist needs a sidekick like Batman needed Robin in order to win a Cup.  Bondy reasons that Chicago has Toewes and Kane and the Penguins have Malkin and Crosby.  Toewes and Kane’s Blackhawks are set to face off against three young stars from Tampa Bay known as the Triplets.

Sure the Rangers won the President’s trophy en route to the top seed in the playoffs but they lost in a Game Seven at home where they were supposed to be unbeatable.  At some point luck is going to run out.  They’ve gotten the right breaks at times this playoff season, but they’ve also had injuries that have hurt them, unlike Chicago and Tampa who are now in the Stanley Cup Finals.

If we go back to last year, look at the Rangers and Kings.  Two teams that almost mirrored each other in the Finals at the time.  Two goaltenders that were hot at the time that lead their team to the championship of each respected division.  Lucky bounces at the right time, the ability to score on the power play and the teams were healthy through the playoffs.  The last part can’t be understated enough.  Look at the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, the loss of Mats Zuccarello was tough for the offense to overcome in the Washington series but somehow they were able to overcome there.  However when Ryan McDonagh broke his foot in Game 4 of the ECF, he was pretty much less than 50 percent for the rest of the series.  It’s tough when the captain of the blueline can’t do what he’s supposed to do, especially when you are funneling everything into Lundqvist and getting no offense.  I know every team struggles with injuries but if the Blackhawks had Duncan Keith break his foot and lost Kane, I doubt they’d be in the Final.  I realize hockey is about next man in line, but it’s hard to replace your top D man and one of your top wingers.

There is something to be said however for having a team that can score and that’s something that the Rangers need help with.  There’s plenty of youth on this team, so I don’t think there’s a need to go with a younger set of players.  Maybe a shake up at the top by sending Nash out and replacing St. Louis and possibly Dan Boyle?  There certainly are some options available in the trade market to be explored in the offseason as well, and I think that’s more than likely going to be address by Glenn Sather.

Speaking of Sather, Bondy had a lot to say about Sather when he criticized the trade making abilities of the Ranger’s GM.  However, had the Rangers made it back to the Cup again I’m not certain Bondy would have spoken so harshly of Sather.  I’m not going to say that the St. Louis trade looks wonderful in hindsight but it was a deal that was made in the short-term not for the future.  Sather knew that Callahan wasn’t going to resign and was trying to get something for nothing while trying to push the Rangers through the playoffs for the next couple of seasons.  As for the various trades: Yandle and company, they were done to add pieces to an already strong core.  I don’t believe Sather’s job is safe just because he’s a friend to the owner, he did put together a President’s trophy winning team.  Plus let’s be fair, only one team can win the Cup, and it’s a very difficult market.  Sather has won Cups before, yes this is a different time, with free agency and salary caps but everyone has to play by that rule too.  If we all followed that mantra, GMs would be fired every single year when they didn’t win the Cup.

I am a Ranger fan, but I haven’t been convinced that altogether this team is as good as Chicago or Anaheim.  Those two teams have depth upon depth.  While Lundqvist is a better goalie than Crawford or Anderson, the forward depth and defensive parts that those two teams roll out I believe can’t be matched.  In a seven game series I believe it would be the Kings series all over again, with Lundqvist having to play every game on his head trying to keep the Rangers in the game while hoping that the power play could score.  As a Ranger fan I don’t want to see that.  I don’t believe that’s Vigneault’s fault as much as it is the need to cut some of the dead weight.  It’s time to shake up things.  Is the window closing?  I’m not sure the window was open.  The West is dominating things.  If it’s not the West, it’s Boston or Pittsburgh.  It’s hard to accept but maybe there are only so many dynamic duos to go around.

I’m Gonna Go F*%@ing Mental!

One of the great things about Netflix is that they constantly update their lineup and bring in some of the greatest sports documentaries, whether it is ESPN’s series 30 for 30 or the one I just recently found EPIX’s The Road To The Winter Classic (TRTTWC for short, not that it’s really that short!  We’ll call it Road).  So “Road” focuses on the lead up to the meeting of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals on January 1, 2015 in Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

If you can believe it, I’m not really a fan of either team so you are going to ask me why I even bothered to watch it.  I have a history with both teams, so you’re gonna have to go back in time with me.  Back to the early 90s and the growth of a teenager in an area filled with high school football.  While I did love college football, pro football and basketball, I developed this special love of hockey thanks to a team in the East Coast Hockey League known as the Hampton Roads Admirals.  Admirals hockey brought me into the world of hockey thanks to hard hits, huge goals and something to get excited about.  I can still remember the first time I ever sat ice side, I wasn’t even old enough to drive, but there I was right by the ice watching some short guy from Wheeling get sandwiched in between two Admirals players and punched while the ref didn’t see.  It was nasty and it was intense and I loved every single second of it. The Norfolk Scope hosted the Buffalo Sabres playing an exhibition game and I was there.  Alexander Mogilny was one of the first stars I ever saw and it was amazing.  The Admirals were my thing, I mean, I loved the Admirals so much I stayed after a game one night to join in on the fan appreciation skate with the Admirals night.

Sooooo…you are asking, what does this have to do with the Capitals and Blackhawks?  Well, the Capitals at the time had ties with the Admirals.  Plus, the local sports station played Capitals hockey, so guess what?  I got into the Capitals.  I can remember watching guys like Kolzig and Bondra and Juneau and the tail end of Iafrate’s career.  Then there was my favorite capital of all time, Chris Simon.  Never the guy that would score 30 goals (came close once!  29 goals!) or 100 points, but the guy gave you everything he had and battled night in and night out.

For a while there I was everything Capitals.  But then I saw this goalie play, Jocelyn Thibault, and he happened to be traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.  A place I never thought I’d be a fan of.  But damned if I didn’t become a fan of every club of Tbo’s.  But with the ‘Hawks, Tbo found a place, he went to the All Star Game and he showed all those flashes of brilliance that Montreal had demanded way too early in his career.  I always thought the shoes to fill in Montreal were too big, Patrick Roy could never be replaced and the next guy in line was always destined to be the scapegoat for the GM who traded him.  Unfortunately Tbo ended up being the guy who took all the crap from the fans.

So because of my history a part of me was curious, and because these things are always interesting, so I started watching.  I have three of the four-hour long episodes down and let me tell you, Barry Trotz is one of those coaches players must love playing for and if I played for Joel Quenneville, I’d have a hard time not laughing.  These are some of my favorite quotes from “Coach Q” in the game against Minnesota December 16, 2014:

“Fuck on pickles!”

“Holy fuck!”

“I’m gonna go fuckin’ mental!”

“It’s a fuckin’ goddamn motherfucker tonight!”

How do you sit on a bench with a guy screaming that stuff behind you and not laugh?  Seriously?

He yells at a ref during one of the episode and reels off a blue streak that hangs above the Blackhawks’ bench and the ref says “Are you done swearing at me now?”

“Yes I’m done.”

Barry Trotz meanwhile, he doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low.  He throws in the f bomb every now and then but he does it when he has to.  When he does it’s for a reason, he wants you to hear what he’s saying.  He’s not afraid to give his star player a good ribbing either.  Where Alex Ovechkin goes, so too does the Capitals and to be fair, before this I wasn’t a huge “Ovi” fan.  But damned, three episodes in and I think I might just like the guy, don’t tell anyone, but I think he might just be alright.  Talk about leading by example, not only does he score, but he goes out there and runs guys into the boards and gives guys hell.  It’s incredible.  Plus he’s pretty funny too.   Santa Ovi gives out Wireless Beats headphones for Christmas to everyone, I mean come on!

After one particularly bad loss in overtime, Coach Trotz yells at a ref (who himself is mic’ed up) and the ref screams back “you were on the power play the whole fuckin’ night.”  Absolutely hilarious.  At one point the ref is leading two players to the penalty box and gets so annoyed he doesn’t even hide that he’s not bothering with the player’s number.

It’s an amazing series, I haven’t even seen the last and part of me doesn’t want to watch it because it’s been such an incredible journey I honestly don’t want it to end.  Seeing how these players live their hockey lives, giving signed jerseys as Christmas presents (yes please!), seeing the sadness of losing a member of the Blackhawks equipment staff as he passes away at 34 to how they spend time on their off days.  It’s incredibly well done and the interaction is great, if nothing else, watch it to see Coach Q “go fuckin’ mental!”