DemocraThree: 10 February 2014

by J.R.

demo210

Every Friday (except this week obviously), 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.

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

When we last heard from Conference III’s current strap-holder (more on that later), they were in a veritable lull in the schedule, having taken down the Phil Collins-led New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and getting a rare Thursday night off. I presume the Blues demanded a Genesis reunion before New Jersey continued their road trip, though I’m disappointed to say that I can’t find anything that says this happened. And then, in a strange turn of events that can only be explained by the Super Bowl (which . . . no, I don’t want to talk about that), they traveled for one game while coming back home for another the next night to start a four-game home stand ahead of that thing they’re having in Sochi.

The Blues went down to Raleigh to face the Hartfordlina Whalecanes (BRASS BONANZA FOREVER), who have been just a touch hot lately. Usually, the Blues dominate the puck possession battle. In this one, not only did they not really do that, but Anton Khudobin played . . . well, a bit out of his mind. Not a good combo for the Note, as they took a 3-1 loss and also lost Czech Olympian and face-off winner extraordinaire  Vladimir Sobotka for a while after a nasty spill late in the game. Ouch.

So what lay next? Something about a title match. And the best part is . . . not only did the Blues have to fly in the night before, but so did the Predators (and by the way, best wishes to Pete Weber). Even Gary Bettman wants to ensure everyone a fair fight, and fair it was. This game was 2-0 Blues, then 3-2 Predators, then tied shortly after, remaining as such until overtime. The Bettman Challenge followed, during which Carter Hutton had to find his jock somewhere in the Scottrade rafters after this one. And then . . . WINNER, AND STILL CHAMPION. The record belt reign continues . . . but for how long? More on that later.

After a few days off and some largely horrible Super Bowl picks (I especially enjoyed Barret Jackman’s pick, actually), the Blues hosted the Senators. There’s no way to describe this one apart from “Simply Friggin’ Bananas”, especially since the Sens had to fly into town the night before . . . in weather. We had a goal that didn’t count until after a commercial break (and after an investigation), plus the Blues blowing a third-period lead (which, seriously, almost never happens to this team as it’s not 2009-10 anymore) and a goal by LEOPOLD to tie the game and send it to ANOTHER overtime . . . then another Bettman Challenge, which the Blues didn’t win, which is only the third time out of nine tries this season in which THAT has happened. Also, the Blues hadn’t lost at home to an Eastern Conference team this season (in 10 prior games). AND the Blues lost despite putting 50 shots on goal. Well, throw your record books and fancy stats out the window on this one! Apparently none of that matters anymore. Wait, what?

Next came the Boston Bruins, who are the rare Eastern Conference team that is this thing called “good.”  Again, the Blues decided to make things exciting by taking a two-goal lead and then blowing it in a matter of minutes in the third period, but this time they held onto the tie until the overtime period. And in another intriguing twist, The Note actually WON the game IN THE EXTRA PERIOD instead of waiting for (ANOTHER) Bettman Challenge! This time, TJ Oshie didn’t need a federal investigation to find that he’d scored a goal, while right before that, Alex Pietrangelo did his best Georges Vezina impersonation on my favorite non-Blues player of all time, Jarome Iginla. (I’m not at all kidding about that.)

Finally, what better way is there to cap off the pre-Olympic run-up than another home contest for the Conference III Title Belt (and might I add . . . Chris Jericho’s father, Ted Irvine, once played for the Blues)? Nothing! But the Jets pose a bad matchup problem for the Blues, and those matchup issues came to bear during the game, in which the Blues held three leads (1-0, 2-1, 3-2) and blew them all. Sound familiar? Of course. Guess what else is familiar? Overtime . . . and then one more Bettman Challenge for the road! Al Montoya did great against Alexander Steen but could not stop the magical shootout prowess of TJ Oshie nor the pure wickedness of Vladimir Tarasenko (and the pure INTENSITY of team chairman Tom Stillman), while Brian Elliott once again actually looked good in the shootout (shockingly), and the title belt was retained once again with a 4-3 shootout victory. Fitting that during the Olympic break, the Conference III Belt will be held in the home of The Chase (GOD I love St. Louis’s Central West End). Sadly, though, it appears Jordan LEOPOLD will miss quite some time with a right leg injury (READ: he probably blew out his knee) suffered late in the first period.

And now, the Olympic break. Sucks to be Vladimir Sobotka (Czech Republic, Injured, replaced on the roster by . . . LOL . . . Martin Erat), but best of luck to Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo (Canada), Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia), Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) and Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen (Sweden). Hopefully you boys enjoy getting laid to waste by Team USA’s David Backes, TJ Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk (#USABestHockey) and all their friends. Enjoy the break, all.

Chicago Blackhawks
Cheer The Anthem‘s Mike Devine
@brightblack76

Another mixed bag of a week for the Blackhawks began with yet another of those wacky shootout losses that we’ve all come to know and love. The beneficiaries this time were the San Jose Sha-Arks and the California portion of the trip was off to a poor start. I hate the West Coast swing, not just because of the tough schedule but mostly due to the horrific start times. I’m eight hours ahead of Western Time (Ed. note: I think he means Pacific) and 3.30am puck drops get old, fast. Anyway, it was an unspectacular game whose major highlight was that both goals in the 1-1 tie were scored on the same power play (Ed. note: He originally spelled it “Powerplay,” which is a cricket thing). Yes, that much fun.

Anyway, on to Los Angeles and the Kings who have been mired in a mess of their own. Because the Hawks are nice and considerate they let the Kings score their first multi-goal  game in a year or so. It didn’t do them any good as Patrick Kane scored twice and even poor old Bingo Bickell grabbed a nifty goal.

The Honda Centre was half full of Hawks fans and half full of empty seats for the top-of-the-standings tilt between the Hawks & the Ducks. They witnessed (or didn’t as the case may be) a thorough butt-kicking as Corey Crawford obtained his first shutout of the year. Visions of being back at the top of the table danced briefly in front of Hawks fans’ eyes, but sadly it was not to be as they followed up getting a shutout by being shutout in Phoenix. First time the Hawks have drawn a blank in the regular season in over a year. Mike Bloody Smith. I do not like him.

The ‘biggest’ news of the week was less-than-blockbuster trade with the Isles that brought the oft-concussed Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the ‘I’ve No Idea Who This Person Is’ Peter Regin to Chicago (or, more likely, Rockford) in return for a 4th Round pick. Oh, and the Isles are retaining half their salary, too. It wouldn’t surprise me if Garth Snow has to come round and clean Stan Bowman’s house every Tuesday as part of the deal.  All of which suggests that the clock is approaching midnight for Brandon Pirri in Chicago. Ten Blackhawks are headed to Sochi so there’s a good chance one or more will be returning with Gold Medals. Normal service resumes at MSG on the 27th.

Colorado Avalanche
The Internet’s Anthrax Jones
@anthraxjones

Five games against confirmed Eastern Conference Sissies from Buffalo, Philadelphia, and the three NY metro teams brought the Avs a respectable 6 points, and the Avs go into the Olympic break in IIIrd place in Conference III behind the defending champions and the dumpster divers from St. Louis. If you had told me the Avalanche would be 37-16-5 at the break, I would’ve broken out in song, so let’s encapsulate the 5 games that led up to the break with song lyrics, yeah?

COLORADO 7, BUFFALO 1

“You cannot afford ‘ford/ ‘Ford my diamond sword sword/ Even if you could could/ I have a patent!” — Toby Turner, “I Can Swing My Sword”

The Sabres are the Avs of 2008-09, jumping headfirst into a rebuild that by the looks of it may only last another 11 or 12 years. I wish I could find something positive to say about the Sabres, who I do like, but they’re atrocious and unwatchable. Speaking of teams that are unwatchable…

COLORADO 2, NEW JERSEY 1 (OT)

“You wanted power and you begged for fame/ You wanted everything the easy way/ You wanted gain without pain/ Now your bill is in the mail” — Lordi, “Devil Is A Loser”

Likely the final time the Avs and Patrick Roy will see old rival Marty Brodeur, although never underestimate the lure of padding his already-overinflated stats total in vain hope that future generations will see them and overrate him as grievously as this generation has. Cory Schneider backstopped the Devils in this game and probably deserved better.

NEW YORK RANGERS 5, COLORADO 1

“Little brother’s got it ready to roll/ Tires burning as they head to the show/ Light it up and turn the music up loud/ And rock it, rock it, rock it” — Night Ranger, “You Can Still Rock In America”

And the Avs did get rocked, as the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead, both goals scored by American Olympian Ryan Callahan, en route to a 5-1 game that really never seemed winnable for Colorado.

PHILADELPHIA 3, COLORADO 1

“We’re not indestructible/ Baby better get that straight/ I think it’s unbelievable/ How you’re given to the hands of fate” — Robert Tepper, “There’s No Easy Way Out”

The Avs took a second straight lumping, this time in Philadelphia. Once again, the Avs spotted the home team a 2-0 lead and couldn’t claw their way back into it. Nathan MacKinnon scored the lone goal for Colorado.

COLORADO 5, NEW YORK ISLANDERS 2

“There’s a Double Dutch Bus coming down the street/ Moving pretty fast so kinda shuffle your feet/ Get on the bus and pay your fare/ And tell the driver that you’re gonna get a Double Dutch Affair” — Frankie Smith, “Double Dutch Bus”

Two goals from Matt Duchene, which is one more than he had in the prior 23 games. The officials did their best to get the Islanders back in the game in the 3rd period, as they were given five consecutive power plays (including two extended 5 on 3s) that allowed them to cut the Avs’ lead from 3-0 to 3-2, but Colorado closed the deal with empty netters from Babe Landeskog and American Olympian Paul Stastny.

Minnesota Wild
Hockey Wilderness‘s Ger Devine
@gerdevine

announcers

The Wild have played 3 games since the last DemocraThree round-up. First they went to Calgary and played one of their worst games of the season which, of course, resulted in them scoring 3 goals and gaining a point because, luckily, the Flames are really bad at hockey.

On Wednesday night they were back in Minnesota for a rare visit from the Tampa Bay Lightning. This game marked the return of, gnomish defenceman, Jared Spurgeon from injury, giving the Wild a full compliment of blue-liners for the first time in a while. This lasted approximately 10 seconds as Spurgeon’s defensive partner Marco Scandella went down with an ankle injury on the first shift of the game. The Wild won the game 2-1 on the back of a couple of Spurgeon assists and 34 saves from Darcy Kuemper.

In their final game before the Olympics break, the Wild faced the Preds at home. To make things confusing they wore their road whites while the Preds wore their home yellows (AKA the only jerseys that make the Sabres alternates look classy). Nino Niederreiter sealed a 3-2 win in OT with a shot that went through the legs of, his Swiss teammate and Sochi roomate, Roman Josi. Quick reminder, that was Nino’s 29th point of the season, he’s only 21 and all the Wild had to give up to get him was Cal Clutterbuck (no, really!).

One of the big talking points this week was Dany Heatley scoring 4 points (2G, 2A) and suddenly making his seemingly untradable cap hit look tradable. You just know that some GM is looking at Heatley and thinking “we need scoring and he scored 50 goals a couple of times plus veteran leadership and intangibles and stuff”. Personally, I hope he ends up in Edmonton til the end of the season. It would be the perfect way to wrap up his NHL career before he (probably) takes off (slowly) for the KHL in the Summer.

The Wild have a few players going to the Olympics. The aforementioned Mr. Niederreiter will be representing Switzerland, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will be playing for the USA and Mikael Granlund will be dressing for Finland. Mikko Koivu was supposed to be captaining the Finns this year, but he hasn’t been able to recover from injury in time. As always, there will be plenty of Wild fans and writers using this opportunity to question Koivu’s leadership and toughness. Look out for plenty of columns about how “a real captain would’ve played through the pain”.

All in all, this was an okay week for the Wild. Despite some injury setbacks, they picked up 5 points out of 6 and are looking like a good bet to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, the fancystats are against them. Amazingly, after starting the season as one of the best puck possession teams in the league, the Wild are now 21st in the league and bottom of Conference III in Fenwick Close%. There could be some rough times ahead for this team after the Olympics break.

Dallas Stars
Defending Big D‘s David Wilson
@daveyssuitcase

So the Dallas Stars enter the Olympic break sitting in the 8th playoff spot in the West. This means two things. One, that the Stars have gone on an impressive run following the not-so-impressive debut to 2014. A 1-8-1 skid to remove them from contention, followed by a 6-1-2 run to put them back in. The second thing it means is that the Pacific Division sucks.

Not that the current standings will stay the same, but right now Conference III holds both the wildcard spots for the West. And when the standings do change, I fully expect it to be because the Kings and Canucks continue their slide into the abyss and are leapfrogged by the Coyotes. And because the Minnesota Wild stop being as good as they’re not. Start looking over your shoulder, Ger…

Shall we review the week? Let’s, because it was a good one to review. Dallas began the week tied for 11th in the standings, and facing what the uninformed would have thought an uphill climb. A road swing through Anaheim, Phoenix, and San Jose, in that order because geography is not an NHL scheduler’s strong point, and closing the week with a second game against the Coyotes, this time in Dallas. For lesser teams this may have seemed a daunting task to close out the pre-Olympics portion of the season. But apparently nobody told the Stars that the Pacific is supposed to be good. Instead, Dallas has gone a combined 13-2-3 this season against the Battle of California and friends. And keep in mind that those two regulation losses came in the second week of the season, on a back-to-back in SoCal, and with Kari Lehtonen injured. Since then the Stars are 12-0-3 against the vaunted Pacific Division. I’m not sure what exact metrics you use, but any way you look at it, that’s [where’s Obscene Alex when you need him?] incredible.

What a difference a year makes.

Stars-Final

Yes, that’s a Sleektoon remix. Thanks to Earl for letting me chop and screw the original.

This week’s edition of Pacific Division Beatdown began with the formerly-mighty-at-home Ducks. Of course, they’ve now lost 5 of their last 6 in the mild climate of the OC, but let’s not let that take away from the Stars handing them their first shutout since last season. And by our backup netminder, Dan Ellis! Oh the shame Anaheim! The ignominy!

After a couple days relaxing in the Arizona sun and visiting a dude ranch with their fathers, because of course they did, the Stars continued their winning ways with a 3-1 defeat of Phoenix, notable for this incredible goal. Maybe incredible’s the wrong word, but still. The following night saw a tired effort from the Stars, unsurprisingly, and a tired effort from the Sharks, surprisingly. The somewhat lackluster game ended with 41 shots, total, and a 2-1 overtime win for San Jose. The faintest of blemishes on the Stars Pacific Division dominance. But on the bright side, the Dallas Dads finished the roadtrip 2-0-1! I’m pretty sure it was the peanut butter toast that did it.

All of which brought us back to Dallas Saturday night for a matchup to determine who will hold 8th place in the Western Conference during the Olympic break. Yep, you guessed it. This article’s coming full circle. Dallas 2, Phoenix 0, and kick your feet up and savor this feeling, Stars’ fans. It’s ours until at least the 26th.

Winnipeg Jets
JetsNation‘s Ross Smith
@EBHeater

melanie

I apologize if I seem distracted: I’m typing on a flight that has just been hijacked by a man demanding we take the plane to Sochi. I actually feel a little bad for him because this is a domestic flight from Vancouver to Prince George and there just isn’t enough fuel to get the plane to Calgary, let alone Sochi. I’m going to try to write while nodding patiently at his demands and wait for the signal from the Air Marshall to rush the guy. The hijacker says there’s a bomb but since the gun he’s wielding is clearly a water pistol (it just leaked water onto his Tommy Bahama shirt) I think we’re going to be okay.

Okay – the Jets! I felt like we were swooning for most of the week there. A win, then a win, then a win, then an Ovechkin. Dammit. Then an Oshie. Dammit. Weirdly, the home crowd in St. Louis was chanting “USA, USA…!” when Oshie went in for the shootout winner. They know Al Montoya’s American, right? I know, I know, it’s our shirts versus their shirts and we’re pretty excited for some Olympic hockey (especially Steven Stamkoooooh noooo… sorry, bud) so I’ll let it go.  The takeaway for Jets fans is that they’re still a remarkably better team under Paul Maurice, so far coming in at 9-3-1 under his guidance.

How bad was Claude Noel?! I’m picturing him now as a Dickensian taskmaster with a top hat, cloak and cane, growling menacingly at his team of hungry orphans (what they truly hunger for is love) like “Do as I say, ya bleedin’ cockaninnies or they’ll be no meal of paper-mache to fill yer guts on this rainy morn!” and then he beats them mercilessly with the cane until they break into song, just like in Nicholas Nickleby. Now, with the gentle mentorship of kindly French nobleman and chewer of fine gums, Paul Maurice, this team plays with confidence. Even in the losses this week they took a potential Cup favourite (STL) to a shootout and arguably the best offensive player in the league (Ovie) only got one past the flopping tuna known as Ondrej Pavelec while Al Montoya savoured a delicious “saw-that-coming” flavoured Gatorade on the bench. These are notable Participation Ribbon achievements but confidence only gets you so far. The optimism is infectious but it would be great to see the Jets get beyond feeling better about themselves and have management actually improve the team.

Nobody seems particularly concerned about the hijacker. In fact, people are now asking him if he has, should we get ourselves to Sochi, any tickets to events. I think, if given a choice, these Prince Georgians would rather spend a few days in any frozen hell-hole other than their own, especially if it means they can trade their Mackinaw jackets for these beauties! (Those jackets are an act of terrorism on my eyes. It’s like Carlos Castandeda vomitted his spirit quest all over a perfectly good piece of Gore-Tex.) So, now I’m listening to the hijacker back-pedal because maybe his cousin doesn’t have an in with the figure skating judges like he originally asserted or possibly because he doesn’t want 82 strangers bunking in his bachelor suite. Should have thought this through a little more, hey, Water Pistol?

NHL fans are looking at an extended break over the Olympics (the last to feature NHL players? Aw, they say that every Olympics!) and we hope that the injured can rest up and that no one gets newly injured – that means you, Blake Wheeler. The Jets have us in the same quandary I’ve written about three weeks running now. The bright spots are brighter but the dim spots are still shady. When is someone going to install track lighting on this team?! That’s not as random a metaphor as you might think. If we look at a team like a house, you need solid construction throughout and it’s the duty of the homeowner to improve it instead of ignoring the bad lighting, clogged gutters or peeling paint. Jets GM Kevin Chevyldayoff has been pretty lackadaisical about fixing up his house the last couple of years. This trade deadline, Jets fans are begging him for a proper renovation. Do it, Chevy, for the love of God, do anything!

I’m going to try out my home improvement metaphor on the hijacker. I’ll relate it to how Russia needs to improve both foreign and domestic policies. I think it’s apt. Oh, never mind, the Flight Attendant just knocked him out with an in-flight sandwich. Nice work, Melanie. The Captain announced that we’re continuing on to Prince George. There was an audible, cabin-wide sigh. We’ll be watching the Olympics from our TV’s after all. That’s okay, seeing Martin St. Louis get his gold medal will still be a joyous moment.

Enjoy your silver medal, America. “Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da!”

I’ve just assured us fifth place.

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

Maybe I just have a golden eye. Ok, thanks so much.

Maybe I just have a golden eye. Ok, thanks so much.

It’s an odd feeling getting to throw the hammer in this week’s DemocraThree. Odder still — it’s not a bad feeling, as the Preds played pretty well, all things considered, despite slipping into last in the division.

But perhaps these odd feelings were predictable, because this recap begins with the oddest thing of all: an exciting game involving the New Jersey Devils.

No, seriously, come back here. I’m being honest.

Shea Weber — despite suffering with some kind of back issue — opened the scoring nice and early in the first, which virtually assures the Predators of a victory, as they are not a team built for comebacks. Alas, Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr each scored in the second for the Pernicious Puddies, setting an NHL record for oldest combined goal-scorers in a game at 372 years old.

And then, as one might expect, the Devils collapsed into a shell as Pete DeBoer threw out lines that used four and five defenseman at a time and also elephants wearing armor. Those Devils just crowded the blue paint. With Carter Hutton on the bench, Seth Jones screamed the lyrics to “Grand Old Flag” as he slid a pass to Roman Josi who then fired one at Cory Schneider. The puck bounced to David Legwand and with 10 seconds left, that old warhorse tied the game. Weber then scored in overtime. The Preds coughed up a home point, but that aided the Devils, who are now third in the Metro with 13 points on the year, more than it harmed the Preds.

Quick to the plane and on to St. Louis for a Belt match. The conventional wisdom would be to start Devan Dubnyk, but Carter Hutton loves the Belt, the Preds were heading into four days off and Hutton is a young man who needs not the rest (plus if Dubnyk started, Hutton would probably end up playing in any event). So Hutton got the start and, oddly, the Preds and Blues played a pretty exciting game. The Blues jumped out 2-0 early, the Preds scored three straight to take a 3-2 lead which they got to enjoy for all of 16 seconds before Vladimir Tarasenko tied it up again. Nothing doing in overtime, the Preds rolled out a full complement of defensemen for the shootout, won by Tarasenko. Three points in two days and my-oh-my, Nashville’s back in the conversation with four days off. Four days in which everybody else played and the Preds starting sliding off track like an Indian luger.

After a respite — during which Barry Trotz decided to practice for 80 or 90 minutes a day — the Predators skipped up to Minnesota for a crucial Conference III game and instead of focusing on hockey, graciously decided to aid the Twin Cities’ health-care economy. TV play-by-play man Pete Weber had what we call down here an “episode” and underwent a heart procedure. Then, at morning skate, a puck ricocheted off the ice and down the tunnel and into David Poile’s face, knocking his as-it-were from his if-you-will.

Oddly — again — the Preds and Wild played against type and managed to put together a thriller. With Poile laid up, Craig Smith — who is the rare American player who actually looks better on the big international ice — made his case to be included on a U.S. team in some sort of lesser tournament (is there a World Championship this year? Probably not.) with two goals, the second earning the Preds a road point. Alas, it would be Nino Niederreiter — who, by the way, was on my fantasy team’s bench at the time — who would be the hero, making Olympic roommate Josi a bit of a goat with a shot that went between the blueliner’s legs and past Hutton into the net.

But still! Feeling good heading home for the last game before the break, even though it was against the Ducks. The Preds scored first, but suffered from some silly bounces and rather suspect referee work, out-Fenwicking and out-Corsiing the mighty Mighty Ducks in a 5-2 loss that included yet another oddity: Barry Trotz pulling Hutton with four minutes left during a 4-on-4 late in the game. The score looks ugly for Nashville, but the Preds really did have the better of the Ducks most of the night. The team started the week with an outside chance of being just a touch outside the playoffs, but finished bottom of the division (though still only four back).

The Preds will send three to Sochi: Weber for Canada, and Josi and Simon “Slawdog” Moser (who got his first point against Anaheim, assisting on Viktor Stalberg’s opening goal) playing for the Swiss, who call their team Eisgenossen, the best pun in world sport. Today comes the news that Poile will not join the team he generally managed, but there will be off-ice representation from Nashville nonetheless: Preds equipment manager Pete Rogers handles the skate-sharpening and jersey-sewing and helmet-fixing and stick-taping for the world’s No. 1 country.

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