DemocraThree: 31 January 2014

by J.R.

demomk2

Every Friday, bloggers from around The Heptarchy will update us on the news and notes from their teams (with that fancy header image courtesy of Mike D, updated anew this week, and like democracy itself, it’s a perpetual work-in-progress). Yes, we ripped this off from TRH’s Pacific War Room; no, we don’t care. And since we ripped it off, we’ll follow their lead and go in standings order.

BookNook

Chicago Blackhawks
Cheer The Anthem‘s Mike Devine
@brightblack76

This week started out in a thoroughly inauspicious manner, with the Hawks’ defeat at the hands of the Jets meaning that not only did they retain custody of a certain not-so-storied crown, but also ensuring that they will wear said chapeau into March, due to the Western Road Trip (more of which in a moment) and the Olympic break. The big story of the game was recent Playoff Threero and now 4 years/$16m Struggling Forward Bryan “Bingo” Bickell watching it from the press box after Coach Q took the logical next step for improving a players performance, having already reduced his nightly ice time to less than the average Shoot The Puck celeb. “He needs to show us more” said Q. Perhaps an improvised performance with finger puppets in the Locker Room might help? Michael Kostka skated on the wing that night. Yes. That Michael Kostka. 

Doom hung heavy over the heads of Hawks fans as the team prepared to embark on a heavyweight six-game swing through Western Canada and California. This trip happens every year while Disney On Ice takes over the United Center (presumably so kids can shriek in terror at skating mutants with giant heads). Two years ago it formed the centerpiece of the Hawks infamous nine-game losing streak, a time that causes even the most cheerful of us to flinch and spill our drinks.

There was some good news, as Brandon Pirri was recalled from from Rockford, someone finally having explained to Q that you are actually allowed to have reserve Forwards rather than making Defensemen sad.  Of course we all assumed that would mean Bickell was locked in the luggage hold of the bus for the rest of the trip, but, mirabile dictu, it was Michal Handzus who sat. However, the Hawks put up another feeble performance and lost in OT, now leading the league with 13 SO/OT losses. The sense of Doom began to spread. Luckily one august blog had the solution to all of our problems and inspired the greatest comment I have ever seen (fifth down, user ‘Fvineze’). And I’ve accidentally read YouTube comments.

Onwards to Vancouver with little hope in our hearts, so of course the Hawks thrashed the Canucks, despite spotting them a goal in the first sixteen seconds. Four unanswered 2nd period goals and an ENG from Brandon Saad has hopefully put a spring into the Hawks’ step, because the week ahead is not for the Faint-Hearted. The next time I write, the Hawks will have played the Sharks, Kings and Ducks and be gearing up for the Yotes as their final game before the Sochi break and my liver will likely be that bit weaker. Until then.

St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Game Time‘s Tyler Atwood
@kingdonuti

When we last checked in with Conference III’s current strap-holder, they were taking on all comers in the (L)Eastern Conference. The only thing the Blues do better than play against Conference III opponents is beat the living Jeebus out of Eastern foes, because really . . . who goes there, anyway? This even holds true for games in which the Blues get a pretty favorable call.

When did that happen, you ask? Well, Saturday, at the soon-to-be-razed (maybe) Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Blues were sluggish all afternoon but managed to get a late goal to tie the game at three and send it to overtime, during which Prince William earned a silly penalty to put the Islanders (and their wretched, WRETCHED third sweaters . . . KILL THEM WITH FIRE) on a 4-on-3 advantage, during which Thomas Vanek appeared to score a goal. It was called a goal by the on-ice officials. They celebrated. Islanders win. Right? HAH, WHATEVER, YOU JERKTASSELS, HE KICKED IT IN BECAUSE HE’S A DIRTY CHEATER, HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW?! So the Blues finished killing the penalty that they should have never been able to finish killing and force a shootout . . . something the Blues do pretty damn well at. They did this time again, and there’s two points when the Blues should’ve gotten one . . . or zero. Take what you can get.

Then after about 48 hours of non-stop Ryan Miller trade rumors (which I’ll avoid because I’d rather my brain not explode), the Blues hosted the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Cory Schneider was in goal, probably because Phil Collins . . . errrrr, Pete DeBoer . . . wanted to ensure the Blues would pick up a shutout, because Schneider gets some of the worst goal support of any goaltender in the league and, well, the Devils put up seven against the Blues the prior week, so hey, Law of Averages. DeBoer ended up being right on the money. The Blues won 3-0, and the final goal of the game came on probably the greatest sequence you’ll ever see in hockey . . . dude scoring an empty-netter from the neutral zone on a beautiful backhander (BONUS: a defender shatters his stick on the crossbar afterward!) while two guys punch each other’s faces in on the other end of the ice. If that doesn’t Peak Conference III (sorry, Eric Nystrom), I don’t know what would. Also, Jaroslav Halak got another shutout, which means a trade is imminent. Or something, I forget how trade markets work.

So, thanks to the schedule maker, that ended a successful yet quiet week for the Blues, who for a day took the Conference III lead before the stupid Canucks ruined the show for everyone. Jerks. But whatever . . . The Note is in Raleigh to face the Hartfordlina Whalecanes tonight (BRASS BONANZA FOREVER), followed by the all-important Conference III Title Belt match Saturday in St. Louis against the Predators (surely, J.R. is ready for this) to start a brief home stand before the Olympic break, which also features games against the Senators Tuesday, the Bruins Thursday and poor Ross’s Jets NEXT Saturday (Sorry, I’m not buying the Paul Maurice Bounce) for what MAY be another title belt defense.

Colorado Avalanche
The Internet’s Anthrax Jones
@anthraxjones

Four games for the Colorado Avalanche since we last met, and 6 of a possible 8 points. A 50% success rate in the state of Florida was followed up by taking all four points from two detestable division rivals without giving up any “loser points” in the process. Let’s celebrate with these almost-but-not-quite-limericks!

COLORADO 3, FLORIDA 2

Details are hard to remember
Like this game took place in September
I know the Avs won
Under Miami’s hot sun
The Panthers are completely irrelevant

TAMPA 5, COLORADO 2

Even without Steven Stamkos
The Bolts racked up 5 to the Avs’ dos
Tyler Johnson’s hat trick
Kicked the Avs in the (Johnson)
In a game that was never that close

COLORADO 4, DALLAS 3

A battle with rookie Nichushkin
Brought out the best in MacKinnon
He scored the first goal
In an Avalanche roll
Eddie Belfour is a violent drunk

COLORADO 5, MINNESOTA 4

The Minnesota Suter-Parises
Resemble a bucket of feces
The Fugue State Of Hockey
Got a little too cocky
And also they suck

Minnesota Wild
Hockey Wilderness‘s Ger Devine
@gerdevine

On Saturday night in San Jose, the Wild yet again effectively executed the system that has been securing so many points of late (i.e. getting outplayed and out-shot, but being bailed out by, 10 year old goalie, Darcy Kuemper). They managed to finish regulation with a 2-2 scoreline, but were deserved losers when Joe Thornton scored in OT with his second goal of the game.

After that, the Wild had to go try to beat the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim, who had only lost once in regulation at home this season. Of course, in predictable fashion, the Wild won 4-2 and did so without Mikko Koivu, Josh Harding or Jared Spurgeon. With the clock running down and the game looking like it was going to become a blowout, Mike Rupp, clearly feeling remorse for scoring the Cup winning goal for the Devils against the Ducks in 2003, decided to give them a chance to get back into the game by taking a needless 4 minute minor penalty while apparently seeking some sort of retribution against Luca Sbisa for having the gall to check Jason Pominvillle earlier in the game. “Luckily Rupp was there to send a message and stop the Ducks taking liberties”, thought the Wild fans as the Ducks PP expired and Mathieu Perreault instantly smoked Pominville from behind.

Mikael Granlund had a great game against the Ducks, but he manged to top that performance with a fantastic display last night against the Avalanche. The Wild mostly played like crap, but Granlund scored 3 points (1G, 2A) and gave them a sniff at an unlikely comeback from a 3 goal deficit late in the 3rd period. Unfortunately it was not to be as the Wild lost 4-5. Pessimistic preseason predictions about Granlund are being proven wrong (he’s currently on pace for 51 points in 82 games) and he seems to be slowly but surely developing into the elite forward Wild fans hoped he would become before his rocky rookie season.

There were rumours doing the rounds this week that suggested the Wild had made a trade offer to Buffalo for Ryan Miller. The alleged price was Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund or Charlie Coyle and a 1st round pick. The rumour sent Wild fans into a mini-frenzy, until everyone realised that the source of this “insider info” was actually just a blogger from the “highly reputable” Fansided network. It was, thankfully, quickly dismissed by the organisation as being false. After all that died down, the only other big talking point for Wild fans was young forward, Jason Zucker being a healthy scratch for 3 games in a row in favour of Mike Rupp. Fans are wondering why Zucker is being left to rot in the press box and not just getting sent back to the AHL. It seems there is some kind of trouble brewing between Zook and the Wild brass.

Dallas Stars
Defending Big D‘s David Wilson
@daveyssuitcase

We’ve all read articles railing against the loser point in the NHL, and I usually completely agree with them. How it leads to conservative late-game hockey, introduces false parity into the league, turns points percentage versus win percentage into a confusing argument, and most importantly, makes it really poxing difficult for the Stars to gain any ground in the playoff standings.
I agree with them completely. And yet I still can’t quite join in. Why? Because it felt incredibly good last night to be given a point after being only a minute away from losing to the New Jersey Devils by one goal for the second time this season. Call me fickle, but I secretly like Bettman points, I just don’t like when other teams get them.

That overtime loss to the Devils capped off a relatively relaxing DemocraThree week for the Stars, with only three games. All in all, they came out of it having played .500 hockey, which sounds alright, except it was only a .333 win percentage. I blame you, Bettman!

The lone win? Against none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins, making their first visit to Dallas since before anyone gave a [crap]. And so of course Penguins ‘fans’ flooded the American Airlines Center, and were treated to perhaps the most impressive game the Stars have played this season, as the vaunted Pittsburgh offense recorded an egg and the Stars shut them out 3-0. This was the third of a three game stretch in which Dallas outscored the opposition 14-1, and which perhaps had the Stars media team thinking it was time to start seeking bandwagon fans:

The 2014 Stars. Hoping to be second best.

I’m going to turn that into a Valentine’s Day card.

The middle game for the Stars this week was an absolute rout of the Avalanche. And by ‘rout,’ I mean Dallas lost 4-3. The Stars outshot the Lanche 44-21 and dominated play for large stretches, so of course they’d lose. It’s always a bad sign when a goalie that lets in 3 goals is still awarded the first star of the game. At least, it’s a bad sign if that goalie’s name is Semyon Varlamov and you’re a Stars fan.

The Stars seem to have a problem of strong performances going unrewarded. Or of running in to hot goaltenders. Dallas has put 40+ shots on goal in seven games this season. Their record in those seven games? 0-4-3. That’s a 0% win percentage, but at least it’s a 21% point percentage! Woohoo! Thanks Bettman! 0-4-3. Jeez. The next fancy statistician to open their mouth about the ‘predictive value of shot and possession metrics’ is going to get punched.

More power to the Stars though, for in their next game they obviously took to heart the lesson that shooting a vast number of pucks on goal is a terrible idea, and instead spent the majority of their game against the Devils trying to avoid being forced into doing just that. The Stars only took 16 shots the entire game, but still managed to steal a point, tying the game with a Tyler Seguin goal in the final minute of regulation before losing in overtime.

The Stars have now lost twice to the Devils this season. Also twice to the Islanders. And they lost their only matchup against the Panthers to date. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Buffalo Sabres, Dallas would have a perfect record against the dregs of the Eastern Conference.

And yet we’re 9-2-2 against the Pacific Division. Go figure.

Nashville Predators
III Communication‘s J.R. Lind
@jrlind

For the first time since DemocraThree launched, David Poile didn’t occupy the preceding Wednesday by making a trade, which means no outre music videos to celebrate same. But here’s Tad Morose covering ABBA anyway:

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Speaking of tad morose, that’s a bit how Predators fans felt after Eric Nystrom’s futile heroics against Calgary in a performance that summed up Nashville’s season. How does Eric Nystrom score four goals? How does any Predator score four goals? Why can’t Nashville win a shootout? Why does Nashville squander points against above-average AHL teams? Why is Devan Dubnyk wearing a Frank Stella-style mask? Why is Devan Dubnyk playing goal like Frank Stella? Why is Devan Dubnyk?

Why is Shea Weber hurt? Why is Matt Cullen? Why is Viktor Stalberg? And when Stalberg isn’t hurt, why isn’t he Mike Bossy? Why do you dress seven defensemen but only play one of them for a buck-15?

Why am I asking so many questions?

The Germans have a word for this (of course) and that word is Weltschmerz — the gripping feeling that the real world can never meet the demands and desires of the mind. An emptiness that weighs heavy like the landscape of the Prairie Provinces.

Thankfully — at least thankfully in foresight — the disappointment in Calgary was to be rectified with  delightful, easy skate to two points in Edmonton, losers of their last 45 (more or less).

But in a performance that — now in hindsight — proved portentous, Ben Scrivens stopped 34 and Carter Hutton stopped far fewer.

Has anyone checked Scrivens’ record since Russell Johnson died? I did. He’s 2-2 with a .955.

What started as a promising trip started spiraling into horror. The tour through Western Canada was way longer than three hours and it started to look like it was going to crash on the rocks, without the saving grace of getting to decide between Ginger and Mary Ann.

But there’s always Winnipeg, as the old saying goes. Seth Jones silenced the boos with a rousing rendition of “Hail Columbia!” backed by the Marine Corps Band, screeching like an eagle when skated through the entire Jets before wrapping around the net and, in true American fashion, saying “Hey, watch this!”

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It was so pretty, the President came to Nashville.

Anyway, Mike Fisher scored a goal early in the third that held up, even as it marred Shea Weber’s back (?). Colton Sissons debuted (and got an assist on Nick “A Hockey Player” Spaling’s goal and with Cullen and Stalberg out maybe for awhile perhaps, it could be the first of many as Sisson will no doubt get minutes on the Preds first line whatever that is.

Anywho, the Preds went 2-1-1 on the trip, which isn’t so bad except that they started by beating the toughest opponent, squandered a point against the Flames and couldn’t keep up with the flippin’ Oil.

But redemption: they name is a one-game homestand. Home tonight against the Devils and then a trip to St. Louis in an attempt to wrest the belt. Then it’s to Minnesota after an inexplicable four-day break. And ending with the Ducks at home. Oh joy!

Winnipeg Jets
JetsNation‘s Ross Smith
@EBHeater

the_steve_miller_band_the_joker_236075

I don’t buy it… yet. When you watch the ups and downs of any particular team and are trying to assess the performance critically, it’s hard to have the unbridled enthusiasm of a fan that’s not hung up on analysis. That fan can ride the emotion, elation or anger, from game to game on a beer and nacho-fueled thrill ride throwing babies out with bathwater until all the orphanages are empty or singing the praises of a streak until even the cast of Les Mis is begging them to hush up a while. It’s fun either way. Here in the Blogbox, though, we’re always going to be the Roger Ebert instead of the David Manning. You tell me you loved American Hustle, I’m going to tell you why it’s a bit overrated. You tell me you hated Riddick, I’m going to point out the inventive creature design. See? I’m the guy you want to strangle. So I have to warn Jets fans right up front that despite going 6-8 under Paul “Some people call me” Maurice (Is this too unwieldy a nickname? Is it even appropriate? Is he a Joker, a smoker, a midnight toker who gets his lovin’ on the run?  Is he a Steve Miller fan at all? I dunno. Most people like at least one Steve Miller song. Oh, like you never danced to “Take the Money and Run” at your cousin’s wedding, cool guy!) I’m not sure if this team has really improved enough to dig themselves out of a last place hole.

This past week saw an OT win in against Toronto, a very unlikely win over Chicago (the most encouraging win so far this season) and a narrow defeat to Nashville, a team that always causes the Jets consternation.  That all leaves the Jets still at the bottom of the pile yet only 9 points out of playoff contention. What sort of voodoo magic they need in service of their cause to leapfrog Nashville, Dallas, Phoeniz, Vancouver and Minnesota is unclear. All of Haiti’s goat’s blood, chicken bones and Robert DeNiro’s not-so cleverly named villainy might not be enough to get there. Unpredictability stems from the fact that each of these teams has had weird spurts of success and shocking dry spells in turn and issues with depth at every position. I think the best moves at the trade deadline, along with whomever best avoids a plague of injuries and post-Olympic fatigue will take the day. Check back with me in April to see if I’m just talking nonsense.

Despite the winning record in this new “lovey-dovey all the time” era (I’m gonna owe Steve Miller royalties by the end of this piece) we have concerns. Pavelec is still pretty crappy, Byfuglien still isn’t entirely settled in his new role and Evander Kane is out for a good long stretch with a gruesome hand infection that was the result of a fight with Eric freakin’ Brewer. No one at Jets Nation is a real big fan of fighting and when you see that a washed up defender has left a bubble team without their best forward for an important extended run it makes me want to ram some truculence up every lunk-headed fighting apologists’ posterior. Oh, I know, violence doesn’t solve violence so maybe I’ll just make those guys write an essay that has to try to prove the statistical relevance of fighting in the NHL. When forced to work their brains that hard they’ll know what a concussion feels like. Speaking of which…

To wrap up on a serious note, the Jets displayed a thoughtful touch during the pre-game skate against Nashville on Jan 28. The whole team donned jerseys featuring Rick Rypien’s #11. This was in conjunction with a mental health awareness campaign run by Canadian telecom giant Bell called “Let’s Talk”. On the day Bell donated .05 cents for any text, tweet or shared message with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. They raised near $5.5 million in one day. Rypien, for those who might not know, signed with Winnipeg in 2011 after a six year stint with the Canucks but never played another game: he took his own life before he could report to the team. Rypien had a history of depression and, though the autopsy results were never released by the family, it was suspected he may have suffered from CTE as well. A classic “tough as nails” player was lost to something treatable and possibly preventable. If there’s a silver lining to such a tragedy it’s seeing so many people rally to the cause of mental health because of initiatives like Bell’s and The Canucks’ initiated Hockey Talks. Despite great strides in recent years, the NHL still needs to take this issue more seriously; that simple tribute to number 11 is an important reminder of why.

See you next week, America – You keep flyin’ like an eagle into the future!