DemocraThree: 7 March 2014

by J.R.

demomk2

Every Friday (except this week obviously) [Ed note: I’m an idiot] 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; 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, TJ Oshie hadn’t become a household name yet and the trade deadline hadn’t passed. Well, both of those things happened, for better or for worse. And the schedule-maker didn’t do many favors to the Blues to start things after the Olympic Break, putting them on the Left Coast against three Pacific Division teams (teams the Blues, quite frankly, cannot play against this season to save their friggin’ lives).

They started last Wednesday in Vancouver against the Canucks. It wasn’t pretty, but they were able to hold the game scoreless through 40 minutes. Midway through the third, though, Jaroslav Halak allowed a soft-ish goal to Jannik Hansen. Little did he know two things at the time: 1) that would be the game-winning goal, and 2) that would be the final goal he’d allow as a Blue. The Note ended up losing 1-0, getting shut out for the first time in the 2013-14 campaign. Quite frankly, it’s amazing for a Ken Hitchcock-run team to not get shut out before nearly the end of February in a season. And we simply . . . move on, right?

BUT WAIT! Friday, the Blues pulled off the trade pretty much everyone on the planet was expecting . . . dealing the aforementioned Halak, Chris Stewart and prospect William Carrier (that’s CARE-ee-yay, for those scoring at home) along with two draft picks to the Sabres for Ryan Miller (YAY!) and Steve Ott (Meh?). This has been discussed ad-nauseum all over the internet and if you found THIS corner of the internet, I assume you can find all those pieces, so I’ll stop there and just tell you that Miller and Ott didn’t play in the next game . . .

. . . which was THAT NIGHT in Anaheim! And guess what? Another 1-0 shutout. In fairness, the team looked a lot better in THIS one than they did in the Vancouver game (i.e. they looked like they cared), but the less said about a second consecutive 1-0 shutout, the better.

Miller and Ott met the Blues at their next stop – Glendale, to face the Phoenix Coyotes. Miller started in net and for some reason Ott was put on a line with Oshie and Derek Roy (who was once traded for Ott, if you recall). STUNNINGLY (sarcasm font), that experiment didn’t work. The game was 2-0 Yotes after 40 minutes. And then something amazing happened . . . the Blues, who hadn’t scored a goal in what amounted to THREE FULL GAMES before that, scored FOUR goals in the third period, led by bookending tallies from Swedish Olympian Patrik Berglund (who has been red hot since representing Tre Kronor). Miller held strong on the other end and the Blues yanked a victory from the jaws of defeat, winning 4-2.

Thanks to the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament (I hear Wichita State is good, but whatever), the only home game between the Olympic Break and the middle of next week was contested Tuesday against . . . another good team in the Tampa Bay Lightning(s). Again, the Blues started by giving the opponents a 2-0 advantage. But this time, instead of waiting for the third period to rally, the Blues started with two goals in the SECOND stanza and finished the Bolts off in the third with two more, earning another come-from-behind 4-2 victory in front of a great home crowd (of which there have actually been very few this year). Little did we know at the time that Martin St. Louis would be traded the next day and therefore his final game as a Bolt was . . . in St. Louis. Go figure. Anyway, next up . . . a title match in Tennessee!

And we can all agree that this was a thing that happened, right? There was a hockey game, a belt was defended and contested, and a team won? Okay, good, because I don’t have much to say about Thursday’s Blues-Predators game than that. There were 43 shots on goal (if that number isn’t Conference III, what number IS?!), three of which found their way past a couple highly-paid and highly-skilled goaltenders. More importantly for the Blues, two of those shots went behind fresh-off-the-shelf Pekka Rinne (and lemme tell you, I’m glad that guy’s back . . . good for him) and the Blues successfully defended the Conference III Title Belt AGAIN with a 2-1 victory in Music City.

Next up, the retooled Blues travel to Colorado to defend the belt Saturday afternoon against the Avalanche(s), followed by a Sunday night matchup in Minnesota with the Wild(s), a home date with the Stars on Tuesday and another homer with the lowly Oilers on Thursday. The next week is a large opportunity for the Blues to solidify themselves as the kings of the Central, but who knows what happens, eh?

Chicago Blackhawks
Cheer The Anthem‘s Mike Devine
@brightblack76

Well, that was quite a week.. for a start it was more like a month. Quite a bit has happened in the interim (aside from that whole thing in Russia) and very little of it pleasing to Hawks fans. Waaaay back in early Feb the Hawks got themselves beaten by Mike “Strasberg” Smith and his Amazing Dogs Of The Desert to start the Olympic Break on a sour note. The unpleasant taste continued as the Hawks sleepwalked through a turgid game in Madison Square Garden a couple of days after their ten Olympians returned with various bits of metal (in Handzus’ case, it’s the pins holding him together) and managed to lose to a poor Rags team.

Redemption of sorts was achieved in a snowstorm at Soldier Field, with the Hawks thumping Pittsburgh to the tune of 5-1. Jonathan Toews was having the most fun I’ve seen him have sober, and his first goal was a thing of beauty. Fun fact: Brooks Orpik’s jock landed in my yard 5,600 kilometres away,early the next morning.  After we got over the shock of actually being happy after a game at Soldier Field (and I bet someone in the crowd reflexively blamed Jake Utler when Seabrook scored in his own net) it was time for the Hawks to face the always annoying Avs in an effort to rid themselves of the Crown Of Fecal Matter, which has been atop Chicago’s bonce so long it’s gone all hard and furry.

No dice. In a typical run & gun affair that featured a blizzard of shots, the Hawks were unable to test Varlamov sufficiently and had their own errors (and boy, Duncan Keith would like that Ryan O’Reilly goal back) brutally punished. Chapeau de Merde remains firmly pulled down low.

Off the ice the Hawks traded Brandon Pirri for reasons that, while clear, are also abundantly stupid. On the subject of stupid, they also gave Hero To The Mouth-Breathers, Brandon Bollig, an extension and way too much money. Hooray. Bollig himself took to Twitter to chide his “Haters”. Shove it, Brandon. Hopefully Stan trades him to St Louis in the summer. Finally, on Deadline Day, in comes yet another Swedish Heart-Throb, speedy, skilful Puck Moving Defenseman RUNDBLAD (I’m insisting on All-Caps for his name!). He appears to be Nick Leddy Jr, which gave many of us palpitations as Deadline day marched on. All came to nowt though, and the roster is set for the remainder of the season.

The week (month) that was ended Thursday night with the arrival of familiar Chicago Slump Busters, the Blue Jackets. The Beej haven’t beaten the Hawks in three years and last night was no exception as the Hawks rejigged their top lines and raced away with a 6-1  thumping. Even more, some players who have struggled to score lately like Andrew Shaw (2) and Bryan Bickell got on the sheet. Next up: at least two chances to get rid of this damn hat!

Colorado Avalanche
The Internet’s Anthrax Jones
@anthraxjones

Dropping their first game post-Olympics by a final score of 6-4 to the Kings, an inspired
Avalanche team emerged
Victorious against the always-maddening Coyotes by a final score of 4-2, featuring an
Inspiring performance by Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov. The Russian keeper clearly
Decided he would not be beaten, as he made 40 saves in the victory.

Burying the Lightning was the next task, and the
Avs were more than equal to the task, and used a 4 goal third period to
Cruise past Tampa by a final score of 6-3.
Keeping their winning ways going against Chicago was the Avs’ next task, and they were
Equal to the challenge, as Varlamov and Colorado once again
Slammed the door on the defending champs to the tune of 4-2.

Sensing a roll, the team invaded Detroit on Nick Lidstrom’s jersey retirement night, and
Under the new #5 banner,
Colorado was able to fend off a strong Red Wing charge,
Keeping the game close and drawing Detroit into overtime before
Slamming one home in the extra period for a 3-2 win and their 4th straight victory overall.

Minnesota Wild
Hockey Wilderness‘s Ger Devine
@gerdevine

The Wild have played 3 games since the Olympic break and won all 3! They predictably kicked the “regrouped and refreshed” Oilers around the ice at Rexall Place. Clayton Stoner fought Luke Gas-Dick in the 2nd period, which left his hand looking like this. Yeah that’s pretty gross. Stoner then, messed up fingers and all, fought Matt “GritHeartSoulCharacterGuy” Hendricks one period later, proving that he is incredibly gutsy and also incredibly dumb. Hendricks, who scored no points and took 3 minor penalties, was voted as 3rd star because the Oilers media are also incredibly dumb.

The next win was on the road against Vancouver in a game where the Wild played well in the first period only to finish it 1-0 down thanks to a Ryan Kesler SHG and the ref disallowing a Keith Ballard goal because Erik Haula (in the mind of the ref) made contact with the goalie. The Wild played poorly for the rest of the game but managed to claw one back and take it to the shootout, which went on forever with the players looking like they didn’t even want to score, before Justin Fontaine finished it.

Next, Calgary came to Minnesota for what was sure to be a really high tempo match-up and, boy oh boy, did it ever live up to expectations. The Wild played like crap against a team that literally is made of crap and crawled to the finish line with a 3-2 victory. This game was notable because, Flames prospect, Markus Granlund scored his first NHL point in his 3rd ever game while lining up against his brother Mikael. Speaking of Mikael, he’s still hot after the Olympics. His current 82-game pace is 54 points and this Tweet (and conversation) gets funnier the more that rises.

The day before the trade deadline, the Wild ended all the speculation about their goaltending situation (Harding possibly shutdown with MS, Backstrom shutdown, Kuemper a rookie who has made 15 straight starts) by trading for Ilya Bryzgalov to back-up Kuemper. Bryz in Conference III is a match-made in heaven so I kind of hope he brings the crazy in his short time here.

At the trade deadline, General Manager Chuck Fletcher was a total tease and let on that the Wild were standing pat (or maybe trading for Drew Stafford) before surprising everyone with a move for Matt Moulson after the deadline had passed. All it took to get Moulson was a couple of 2nd round picks and Torrey Mitchell, who is a terrible hockey player (thus a perfect fit in Buffalo). All I know about Moulson is that he has greasy hair and scores even greasier goals. The downside to the Moulson deal is that Cody McCormick came along for the ride because, as one Wild fan brilliantly commented, “There are faces out there and God knows [Mike] Yeo wants them punched”.

So, between the winning and the good trading, it’s been a pretty great week for the Wild.

Dallas Stars
Defending Big D‘s David Wilson
@daveyssuitcase

After the Olympic Break, NHL and DemocraThree are both back in full swing and it’s back to business as usual for the Dallas Stars and captain Jamie Benn. Which means in his case going back to being a forgotten star player in a non-traditional market.

Before the Olympics Jamie Benn was one of the most oft-underrated players by national media. Listening to the opposition broadcast would guarantee at least a few mentions of ‘Who is this guy?’ Enough people outside of Dallas who matter though finally realized he’s actually a good hockey player, and so he was one of the later additions to the Canadian Olympic team and went to Sochi. Where he absolutely dominated, becoming a Canadian hero, and stabbing American Stars fans in the back with the game-winning goal in the semifinals.

Naturally, after such a great performance in Sochi, Benn would return to the NHL and take his rightful place as one of the top players in the league, gaining recognition from the North American hockey media. Yeah. Not so much.

bennsnub

At least after last night’s demolition of the Vancouver Canucks Tyler Seguin got some national love. I mean, you kind of have to when you lead the league with 5 games of 4 or more points. Before Seguin arrived Dallas hadn’t had a player score a hat trick in years. He has 3 this season.

Let’s just say Dallas Stars fans are pretty excited about our young center.

I kind of want to write this whole article about the Stars defeat of the Canucks last night. Partly because it’s fresh in my mind, but also cause it’s just so fun. And no, I don’t yet feel like beating Vancouver is equivalent to stealing lunch money from a kindergartner. It’s heading that way though, and some Canucks fans are certainly packing it in already.

Another reason I’m enjoying talking about last night’s game, is that it helps me forget the Stars two losses this past week. First, they had a slow start, but then absolutely dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning, coming back from a three goal deficit to make the score 3-2, and looking like their eventual victory was inevitable. Until a defensive miscue allowed a back-breaking third period goal and they lost 4-2. A few days later and the script was the exact… same… thing. Only with Columbus on the other end of the ice.

It’s a habit of the Stars though. They put 41 shots on goal in the Tampa Bay Lightning, and with the loss moved their record in games with 40+ shots to 1-5-3. If you’re a fancy statistician, take two aspirin, get to bed early, and call me in the morning.

A bad habit. We’re working on it.

But hey, the Stars also beat the Hurricanes and Sabres in this 8-day DemocraThree week, meaning they finish in 8th place in the West in what is rapidly becoming a two-horse race for that final playoff spot. Vancouver have seemingly capitulated, Winnipeg is Winnipeg (sorry EBH), and Nashville are hanging out on the edge, trying to be cool by association. Which leaves Dallas and Phoenix.

Would somebody tell the Coyotes to stop over-achieving already?

Winnipeg Jets
JetsNation‘s Ross Smith
@EBHeater

Here’s the best analysis I can offer of the Jets’ moves at the trade deadline:

tumbleweeds

Again! Again. Nothing. Not a damn thing. Teams went out and stocked their cupboards with depth players and game-changers and The Jets stood pat. They re-signed an occasionally not-terrible defenceman in Mark Stuart and seemed content to ride out the rest of the season with no replacement for their sparkplug rookie Mark Scheifele, whose season is done after being injured in a loss to the Islanders. A LOSS TO THE ISLANDERS. Sorry I had to go all-caps on you there but, Sweet Jesus, what is going on with Management?!

I understand there are valuable picks and prospects waiting in the wings but you were one point outside the playoff race. You’re telling me you couldn’t even land Ales Hemsky who went for mid-round picks? (Sorry, Ales, I wouldn’t actually want to condemn you to Winnipeg, but you illustrate a point.) Montreal got Vanek for a pack of smokes and some cheese curds! I can’t believe there was no deal to be had out there that wouldn’t have helped the team in the short term and or shore up a thin roster for next season. I’d say it was baffling except the Jets deadline history is all the same: more conservative than our Prime Minister in a sweater vest. Though if our PM was running the team, he’d replace everyone with PeeWee players and tell fans it’s the same Jets they’ve always loved and get ready for a Stanley Cup!

I digress.

Last night the Jets lost to a newly Gaborik-infused LA Kings and while he wasn’t a major factor it didn’t matter; it was the puck-possession mastery of the Kings and the Jets were bound to lose. And suddenly that loss explains everything. It provides us the cipher to decode Management’s cryptic message to the fans with their inaction on deadline day: resignation.

I’m imagining a small country house set outside the frame of the photo above, like something out of a W.O. Mitchell novel. There a child sits at his grandmother’s kitchen table. She is terse and mostly silent and the child has no one to play with and is only amused by the ticking of the clock on the wall and the intermittent, dry squeaks of Grandma’s farts that she tries to hide by shifting in her creaky wooden chair.  The boy knows that even if she expires right here in front of him, all he can do is wait for his parents to come pick him up and take him back to the verdant fields of home.  And so he waits.

Less dramatic than Vancouver who seem keen to try and save a sinking ship by setting it on fire, our Jets sit and watch the tumbleweeds go by, knowing they just aren’t good enough to do anything more than stay competitive for the 8th seed and that they’d be crushed in any first round match-up anyway, so screw it. Scheifele was like Grandma’s cat, spry and eager to play and the boy’s only real friend on this barren prairie. Then he got hurt and Grandma says the crows picked him right up off the porch and flew away with him. Now all that’s left is to watch the dog chase its tail. Silly ol’ golden lab name Pavelec… he’s sweet but useless. How I’d like to smash his brains, thought the boy.

Whoah! I just veered out of Mitchell and right into Steinbeck territory. But that’s where Jets fans live: East of Eden, North of Relevance. Gosh, am I ever eager to watch the Maurice shine dull over the next few weeks as our marginal team fights to be marginal…er. Pfft! What a shame. Sorry, that was the chair creaking.

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

Never has a trade of a franchise’s all-time leading scorer (and current leading scorer) been treated with such meh, but, in its way, that’s a perfect response to the departure of David Legwand, the original Predator who was sent at the deadline to Detroit for one of the Eaveses, a third that becomes a second if the Wings make the playoffs (which puts Preds fans in a weird position of pulling for the Red Wings) and heralded prospect, Calle Jarngrok, who may or may not want to go back to Sweden, although there’s some speculation such a desire was fueled by the fact he was getting nowhere in the Wings hierarchy, being as he was behind Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and so on. Meanwhile, Nashville’s first line center is Colin Wilson, who has seven goals and 17 assists this year. Jarngrok will have no similar problems cracking the heralded Nashville forward corps. It’s interesting to watch the Preds re-build, because David Poile will never allow the team to be Buffalo-bad and go fully in the tank, so instead he trades for other teams’ former first rounders. It’s a much safer path, really, in a market like Nashville, which can ill-afford being totally terrible.

What’s this team to do without Legwand? No one has any idea, because it’s a situation Nashville has never faced before. Who will be first off the ice at practice? Who will be the man who digs the pucks out of the net during warm-ups? The answer to both questions, by the way, is Patric “Pleasure Cruise” Hornqvist, whose name is the Swedish word for “the departing feeling of glee that occurs when fans realize a breakaway is being led by a player whose speed is best described as ‘prosaic’.”

Anyway, there was hockey to be played since the end of the Olympics, though no one seemed to tell the Predators.

The Preds opened the backstretch four games at home in the last 10 days, starting with a win over the Lightning 3-2 that would have been more like 6-2 if Ben Bishop wasn’t so damned tall. The Preds briefly considered lobbying the NHL for rules restricting goaltender height, but scrapped the thought when Pekka Rinne returned healthy (the big Finn played a couple of games down in Milwaukee giving up a goal in each game, but not facing much of a challenge in either contest).

The Jets rolled in Saturday in a crucial match-up for the teams clinging to tiny hopes of squeezing into the playoffs. The Preds out-Fenwicked the Jets significantly (the Preds have, coincidentally, won the Fenwick close battle in four of their last five with a tie against Pittsburgh the only exception; fancy stats are dumb) and yet lost 3-1 in a weirdo Hockey Night in Canada matinee that was held in Nashville, the least Hockey Night in Canada venue possible.

Rinne returned to Nashville’s line-up after 133 days away Tuesday against Pittsburgh. A fair number of Yinzers made the trip to Music City, where they argued against penalties with such logic bombs as “Well, we’ve won Cups!”, bragged about their penalty killing prowess (this is a team that gets to play the Islanders 24 times a year) and, despite having Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin, defended the utility of fighting. Never change, Pittsbros. PS, the Pens won 3-1, though the Preds were game. Crosby had three assists and it was a big night for Matt Niskanen fantasy owners like yours truly, as he had two goals and a minor penalty.

And then came the traditional springtime snooze fest against St. Louis. The game went hours without shots. Three goals were scored. I think Nick Spaling scored one? Nick Spaling is one some ridiculous scoring streak. Nick Spaling’s nickname is “A Hockey Player.”

Anywho, watching your team slip every farther from the playoffs post-deadline is just the worst. Fortunately, the Preds play 12 of their last 18 on the road, so at least I can watch from my couch.