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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Islanders — Nabokov or Bust!

Right now the Islanders have 47 points in 49 games and that puts them 10 points back of the Devils who own the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. After seeing some good signs last year I was expecting better things from the Isles this year; and, with Nabokov on the team they should be holding a playoff spot right now. However, the team had some let-downs and lost their first 6 OT and SO games, and Nabokov had a groin injury and has only participated in 24 games thus far. He has been outstanding and was named the NHL’s 3rd Star of the Week for the period ending January 22—due to only letting in 2 goals in 3 games. In his 24 games, Nabokov has posted a Save Percentage of .919, a Goals Against Average of 2.38, and 1 shutout. In his great career with the Sharks, Nabokov has only had a better Save Percentage twice.

Before I continue, take a look at this absolutely incredible save by Nabokov when he was a Shark and in a playoff game against Dallas.Please click the link and after the video is over please click the back arrow in your browser to return to my site.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_7jzAG1wzo

PLAYOFF HOPES

The Isles still have a chance to make the playoffs and have done well in their last 10 games by registering a 6-3-1 record. The Isles happen to have four more games this year with the Devils and the teams have had very close contests both last year and this year. It is possible that the Isles could win 3 or all 4 of those games, but, I believe that they need Nabokov in net to do so. In fact, in my opinion, the Isles need him in net every game for the remainder of the season except for back to back games. The problem is that Capuano (head coach) is playing three goalies right now, something that I really hate because it prevents goalies from being “game sharp.” Nabokov had a four game streak going and lost a game, and then Capuano went ahead and played Montoya for a game and then Poulin for a game (who he brought up for his third game of the year). Capuano is either throwing in the towel on the playoffs and trying to lose, or, Nabokov has another injury and the Isles have not made it known. I searched and could not find any information indicating that he was injured again. It would be interesting to know.

To be playoff bound, Tavares, Moulson and Parenteau need to not only continue to play well but they must pour it on every time they touch the ice. Every player on the team needs to play every game as if it was a Stanley Cup Finals game—smart and giving everything they have.

The next couple of months shall be exciting for sure!

TJ Stanley

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lightning Coming?

It has been a tough year for the Tampa Bay Lightning due to injuries and lackluster goaltending, and it all equates to only 48 points and 11th spot in the Eastern Conference and 4th in the Southeast Division. However, they have won five straight games and some injured bodies are back on the ice and practicing. In fact their humongous Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman returned to the line-up yesterday in a 4-3 OT victory over Washington.  

The question is:  Is the Lightning coming? Can they make the playoffs and take another run at the Cup?  Let’s take a look at their chances.

The top eight teams make the playoffs in each Conference, and that includes the three divisional leaders (in each Conference) and the next five teams with the highest points (in each Conference). In the Eastern Conference the Lightning are in 11th spot after playing 49 games and registering 48 points. The 10th spot belongs to Winnipeg and they have played 51 games and have 52 points. Washington is in 9th position and they have 56 points in 50 games. New Jersey is in 8th position with 57 points in 49 games. Toronto has moved up into 7th with 58 points in 51 games.

Teams in the Southeast Division include Florida, Washington, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Carolina. Florida is now leading the Division with 57 points in 49 games, Washington has 56 points in 50 games, Winnipeg has 52 points in 51 games, Tampa Bay has 48 points in their 49 games, and Carolina has 45 points in 52 games.

All said, to make the playoffs Tampa Bay has to either win the Southeast by overtaking Winnipeg, Washington, and Florida who is 9 points up on Tampa; or, Tampa has to secure one of the 5 remaining playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey currently holds the last playoff spot and Tampa Bay is 9 points behind. So, whether winning the Division or making the playoffs as one of the other five teams in the East, Tampa needs to make up 9 points.

To earn a ticket to the playoffs the Lightning are going to need the following to happen.

1.  A goaltending miracle from Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon. Roli has not played well at all this year and Garon has not been great either. That really isn’t a surprise to me and there is a slight possibility that Yzerman will attempt to get another goaltender to help in their playoff run. I am pretty confident that Roloson won’t be around next year as Yzerman signed him just for this year and is paying him a whopping $3 million, which is far too much for a 42 year old who lets in too many easy goals. Roli’s last two outstanding seasons were back in 2002-2003 and 2003-2004, both with the Wild. Garon is 34 years old and has never had a season that I would consider outstanding. Thus far this year Garon has a .902 Save Percentage, a 2.92 Goals Against Average, and only 1 shutout; and, Roloson has a .882 Save Percentage, a 3.65 Goals Against Average, and only 1 shutout. I have more comments on the goaltending situation later on.

2.  Even better play from Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Yes, they are playing well but they simply have to improve if they want to crawl out of a pit and make the playoffs again this year.

3.  Return of some other injured players, including Marc-Andre Bergeron.

4.  Revisiting last year’s playoff success and using it for inspiration to work harder.

5.  Winning most of their Divisional games, and also beating the Devils and Leafs who they play twice each in the next two months.

6.  Better road game efforts.

7.  Some outright luck during their games.

Honestly, the Lightning really need all of these things above to occur because the Capitals are likely to pour it on and overtake the Panthers, and the Leafs and the Devils are going to be particularly tough down the stretch. If the Devils get on a run like they did last year then nobody will catch them.

GOALTENDERS AND THE DRAFT

I must say that I am extremely surprised at Steve Yzerman’s draft picks last year, and in particular, the fact that he did not make a point of getting the top goalie prospect with his 1st Round pick. Yzerman had a 42 year old goaltender in Roloson (signed him for a one year contract) and was not planning to make a huge effort to keep Mike Smith, and in fact he lost Smith not long after the draft as Mike signed on as a free agent with Phoenix—and you can be sure that Yzerman is living with major regrets for not signing Smith because Smith has played very well this year and it would not have taken that much money to keep him (and in fact 1 million less than he paid Roli). Yzerman took three Forwards to start the draft and finally selected a goalie in Round 6, as if the Lightning were not already pretty strong up front? Yzerman could have had the top goalie prospect, John Gibson, for his pick in the 1st Round because he was still available. There is a good chance that Yzerman is going to regret passing on Gibson because Gibson is a big goalie with a lot of talent. The kid is also very composed and already speaks to the media better than most NHL players. And, he is smart too because he decided to play in the OHL this year so that he could get more ice time. He is with the Kitchener Rangers and he currently has the second highest Save Percentage among the top goalies. Gibson went to Anaheim near the start of the 2nd Round of the draft, and I believe that he will prove to be a huge part of their team in the future.

GREAT GOAL

Let’s end on a good note and watch Steven Stamkos at the 2012 All-Star skills competition. The guy is a pure goal-scorer that is for sure!


TJ Stanley


Sunday, January 29, 2012

OIlers – “Change” Needed Due to “Burning Oil”

As an Oiler fan and one who has watched them since they entered the NHL, I am extremely frustrated with the direction of the team and I believe that most of the problems are due to poor decisions by Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini. I also believe that blame needs to be cast at Tom Renney, the other coaches, and Moores and Sillinger in player development. Tom Renney is a pretty good guy but he cannot be fully excused for the current state of the team. The Oilers are on course to finish second, third or fourth last in the league this year, which is really inexcusable and it is the result of poor player development, mistakes in drafts and in trades, and coaching that has not been tough enough—they are “burning valuable Oil.”

Tambellini is in the last year of his contract as GM, and Renney and the other coaches are also in their last year of their contracts. The fans deserve some changes but keep in mind that the Oilers are the stingiest club in the NHL and they will base most of their decisions on how much money they can save.

In my opinion, the Oilers should fire Tambellini this week and see what effect that has on the players and coaching staff. They should also fire Moores and Sillinger in player development. Then give Renney and the rest of the coaches the remainder of the season to see if they can get the team back in the right direction. If they are not able to do that then get rid of the coaching staff at the end of the year and start over. Not too many Oiler fans would disagree with me on that plan. However, a certain reporter has indicated that he was informed that Tambellini will be offered a contract extension, and if that is true I hope that Oiler owner Daryl Katz changes his mind.

Tambellini really has done nothing to benefit the Oilers and nobody could really do any worse than what he has done in the drafts or in trades. Additionally, he has not been fair with players regarding contracts, and who wants to play for a guy like that? He is a bad part of Oiler history and he has proven that he is not skilled at his job.  

If Tambellini is staying, Daryl Katz, Kevin Lowe and Tambellini might just let the Oilers tread water for a while longer so that they can get better draft picks—yes, they are thinking about that for sure, and they know that the money is still going to come in because the fans are going to pay to see Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Smyth. Another scenario is that Tom Renney will be fired very soon and a new coach will have an opportunity to see if he can make a difference. However, once again, everybody knows that it is Tambellini who is doing the most damage to the Oiler team. I do see some problems with Renney because his system and motivational skills are obviously not working as well as they should. I often see that the Oilers are not fully prepared when they start a game. Yes, I agree that a large part rests on the players themselves. 



Regarding draft picks, Lowe and Tambellini made some mistakes in the last two drafts. One mistake was last year when they had the opportunity in the second round to get the top goalie prospect but elected to pass on him. Khabibulin is 39 years old people! The Oilers took Nugent-Hopkins first and also had the 19th pick in the first round, and they selected a big Swedish defenseman, Oscar Klefbom. Okay, they got their big defenseman who they needed but then to start the second round they took another defenseman rather than John Gibson, the best goalie available—and he is good! Always take a talented goalie because he is more valuable if he turns out and later you can trade him if you need to! Anaheim jumped on Gibson and what a great pick for them because he almost surely going to be a big part of their team in the future. Without a great goalie you will not win the Stanley Cup but without a great defenseman you can! Regarding the draft two years ago, it looks like Tyler Seguin is proving to be a better player as compared to Taylor Hall—offensively and defensively. I fear that Hall’s career will be riddled with injuries due to his poor balance and getting into positions that are too dangerous. Before the draft the Oilers had to have known that he had an issue with balance, and in fact I believe that Lowe questioned him about it but they went forth to select him away. I also don’t like Hall’s degree of pride and stick-throwing in practice. Honestly, I hope that he can prove me wrong and become better than Seguin and also avoid further injuries. One thing is for certain, nobody could have done worse in the draft selections over the past two years than Lowe and Tambellini have done. Anyone who gives them credit for drafting skill needs to do take a closer look at all the picks. By the way, I really liked Kevin Lowe as a player and watched him develop and go on to win Stanley Cups. He was a great competitor and was not afraid to sacrifice himself over and over again by blocking shots—thanks to Lee Fogolin for teaching him how to do it.

Moving Penner last year was a mistake (unless I am proven wrong by Colten Teubert) because Dustin was improving each year and to have a guy that big up front is always a huge bonus. The fact that he was going into the last year of his contract was probably an issue for the Tambellini and the Oilers who don’t like to spend money. The Oilers should have traded Hemsky instead even if it meant taking less for him than they wanted. Now, Hemsky has to be traded because he will be a free agent this summer. It should happen soon and we can expect that they will go for a skilled defenseman and that player might come from the Predators or another team strong in that area. I must say that getting Ryan Smyth back was a great move and the Oilers did not have to give up much to get him. Smyth requested the trade and that is why the deal was lopsided in the Oilers’ favor.

Since I am on the “money saving” topic, I want to mention that late last year Tambellini attempted to “low ball” Ryan Jones on a new contract, but Jones, knowing that the amount offered was too low, told him that he would not talk until the end of the season. Tambellini decided to up the offer because he knew that Jones is a hard-worker, good at killing penalties, and that he also scores when given enough ice time. 

The Oilers have ruined the development of some players, namely Paajarvi and Omark. Both played well last year and now Omark is out of the picture after being sent down to the AHL. The Oilers have made him angry and they are purposely lowering his value. Now the Oilers need to trade him or sign him and why not do it right away. He will be in the NHL again and will do well wherever he gets a chance to play enough. He does need to pass the puck more rather than trying to do too much himself. Paajarvi was sitting, sent down and then brought back up. They have really damaged Paajarvi’s confidence and it is hard to believe it. They have him thinking that he is only 20 years old and that he has a lot of time. They took away his spark somewhere along the line.

Let’s watch Omark score the winner in a SO against Tampa last year—spin-o-rama! The fans love him so they should have given him more opportunity. After watching, please click the back arrow in your browser to return to my site.


REBUILDING

Katz, Lowe and Tambellini know that part of “rebuilding” and winning Stanley Cups involves keeping the “core” players together, but they will forsake that principle later on when guys like Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins eventually become close to unrestricted free agent status. Penner was more than a year away from being an unrestricted free agent and they decided to trade him anyway because no team would give enough in exchange for Hemsky.

If Oiler management have no intentions in keeping a core group together then don’t bother going to the games.  

I really like Eberle but unless the Oilers are prepared to open up the bank you can expect Eberle to leave the team as soon as he is unrestricted. I would not be surprised if he goes through salary arbitration after next year.

Let us hope that the needed “Oil change” involves Tambellini not getting a contract extension!

Check out Eberle’s first NHL goal by accessing the link below. To return to my site please remember to click the back arrow in your browser after watching.


TJ Stanley


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Concussions, Crosby, NHL Rules, Shanahan & Milbury

As one who suffers from concussion / brain injury symptoms I can definitely relate to what Sidney Crosby is going through. I would like to share some of my own symptoms, talk about Sid’s injury, and provide my opinion as to whether he should continue to play or retire. I would also like to make some comments about NHL rules and Brendan Shanahan. 

My symptoms:  If I do something that alters the elevation of my head or shakes my head (sit-ups, shadow boxing, quick up and down movements, a rough ride in a vehicle, etc) I will get pain in the back of my head to varying degrees (even very severe pain), dizziness and the feeling throughout the day that I am going to vomit. I have also had problems with my memory and speech. Let me tell you that life is often not enjoyable when you have concussion symptoms.

Most of us saw the Winter Classic game on January 1, 2011 in which Crosby was hit by David Steckel. When Crosby was down on the ice I immediately knew that he was in big trouble, and the period ended and he managed to get up and he struggled to the bench so that he could leave the ice with his teammates. His balance was not good and it was obvious that he had suffered some permanent damage. Of course, we all know what has transpired since that time and that he is out again after playing in only 8 games this year.

The latest news is that Crosby is back skating again; however, as encouraging as that may sound I have to remind you that skating is altogether different from contact. When Crosby returns to the Penguin’s line-up, whether this year or next year, sooner or later he is going to get hit and hit hard. He will again have concussion symptoms and be out of the line-up. This will go on and on and then he will finally make the decision to retire. The problem is that at that point he will have additional permanent damage and have to live with it for the rest of his life. Thus said, honestly, I don’t think that it would be worth it for him to continue. In my opinion, he should get some more endorsements, retire and get into coaching or some other job where he can stay in the game (if that is what he wants to do in life). He has plenty of money and his health is far more important than extending his career and suffering further damage. As a hockey fan I want him to stay in the game, but as a sufferer of concussion / brain injury symptoms I hope that he does what is best for his long-term health—and that is to retire. His situation has already positively affected the NHL and has been a great lesson to the hockey world, and retiring would have an even greater impact. 

NHL RULES

Without question, the NHL has been making the right decisions by changing rules to protect the players. Who wants to watch dirty players like Lucic brutalize more skilled players? Yes, maybe someone sick in the mind like Mike Milbury, but no normal person wants to see it. I want to watch guys like Stamkos, Malkin, Crosby, Datsyuk, the Sedins, Selanne, Giroux, Kessel, Spezza, Lupul, Eberle and so forth and so forth. What makes hockey the best sport in the world is the never-ending action and excitement, and this excitement is created by the talented players, players who have the skill to make great passes, stick-handle, shoot, throw clean body checks, and make saves! This is the beauty of hockey and what it is all about! RULES are part of the game because dirty play gives a big advantage, ruins the game and makes it too dangerous! Infractions slow down the play and brutality prevents the best players from exercising all of their talent because they have to be concerned about someone trying to maim them! When Gretzky first entered the league I saw him (in a live game) leveled near center ice and it was definitely a situation where the intent was to injure. He was on the ice squirming for some time but fortunately he did not end up in the same condition as Sid. Gretzky’s career could have ended and we would have been robbed of all that he gave, just because of an animal who did not know how to do anything but play dirty. Something is wrong don’t you think?

Let’s be honest, the main reason why Chicago took Vancouver to seven games last year, and the main reason why the Bruins won the Cup is because the NHL allowed them to break the rules and brutalize the Canucks so that the Canucks could not play hockey the way it was meant to be played. Hockey needs to be refereed the same during the regular season and the playoffs, rather than letting the animals do what they want when playoff time comes around! The phrase “let them play hockey” makes NO SENSE AT ALL because when you let the animals do what they want it  ACTUALLY PREVENTS the talented players from PLAYING HOCKEY! When you “let them play hockey” you don’t have hockey but a CIRCUS with a bunch of ANIMALS who are allowed to slash, crosscheck, board, punch, hook and hold! Come on people think it over and admit that I am correct on this point. Well, the special treatment that Boston received from the league (via the refs) gave them the Cup and it greatly benefited the league financially to have an American team win. The NHL should be re-thinking their actions and they should do even more to protect players and the game, both in the regular season and the playoffs.

It obviously does not benefit the league to have many superstars injured. In my opinion, suspensions should be even longer and fines increased because this is a sure way to reduce the number of serious injuries. Nobody wants to lose their salary or risk losing their spot on their team. You have to hit them where it hurts, in the pocket book. Hockey was meant to be played cleanly and that is what rules are for and the league needs to always keep that in mind.

Despite the fact that new rules have been put in place to protect players, I do not believe that the NHL has acted entirely unbiased regarding punishment. Brendan Shanahan’s favoritism towards Lucic is the most obvious example of this fact. Please access the following link and take a look at Lucic’s hit on Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (Nov. 12, 2011). How can that go unpunished under the new rules? P-L-E-A-S-E! Be sure to watch it all and listen to Harry Neale and the other announcer. Thanks to Google (YouTube).

After watching the video you need to click the back arrow in your browser to return to my site.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rYgKqDMB9Q

Lucic lied about the matter of course, and Shanahan later took heat from the media for not suspending Lucic. Lucic committed another infraction on Dec. 17, 2011. You can watch it below.  

Please click the link to watch the video and then click the back arrow in your browser to return to my site. 

http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=607252

Shanahan gave Lucic a mere one game suspension, but I believe that many other players would have been given three games. Shanahan took more heat for the one game slap-on the-wrist suspension and subsequently he decided to act fairly regarding infractions by other Boston players. Marchand was rightfully given a 5 game suspension and fine for clipping Sami Salo in a game in Boston on Jan. 7, 2012, and in another game Ference was given a 3 game suspension and fine for boarding. His boarding incident was not as deliberate as Lucic’s but he was given three games as compared to Lucic’s one game. Marchand lied by saying he did not hit Salo around the knee area, even after watching the video and knowing that it would be available for all to see. Someone as stupid as him does not know when to call it quits.

It is animals like Lucic and Marchand who ruin the game of hockey. It is a shame that the game became so perverted over the years by guys like Mike Milbury and I hope that the NHL decides to increase the length of suspensions and raises the fines, and to be unbiased in their decisions—before the fans get so frustrated that they don’t even want to watch. And, once again, I hope that they enforce the rules all year round and not just in the regular season; because, that is the only way that talented hockey players will have a chance to win the Cup without having the risk of injury significantly increased. If infractions occur penalties must be given, and that is why there are rules—and any child can see that. Why should talented players have to change their games for the playoffs and become like the animals in the league? Think about it.

Great changes are also occurring in minor hockey. When I played it was terribly brutal and I witnessed and was also the victim of vicious infractions and injuries (including a broken clavicle after a guy took a run at me from center ice and boarded me). The league and parents were to blame due to their teaching, encouragement and / or lack of exercising responsible action. This still goes on today but not near to the same extent. Non-hitting in house league is something that I strongly support. Let the kids have fun without having to worry about being cross-checked in the neck and left paralyzed.  

TJ Stanley

Canucks - The Luongo Question?

Of course, the question that I am referring to is whether Roberto Luongo will be able to consistently play solid hockey and assist the Canucks in winning the Stanley Cup this year. Based on his stats over the last three years and what I have witnessed in the many Canuck games that I have seen, I have to say “no, unfortunately Luongo will continue to fall short.” Let’s take a look at some statistics (many will surprise you) and I will also discuss last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, the rematch earlier this month in Boston, back-up goalie Cory Schneider, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, and how other goalies in the league compare to Luongo.      


In the 2009-2010 season Luongo did not play that well all things considered. His Goals Against Average (GAA) was high at 2.57 and his Save Percentage was not overly impressive at .913. In fact about 15 starting goalies had a better Save Percentage! Luongo registered just 4 shutouts and there were 12 goalies in the league who posted more than him, and 6 others who tied him at 4. This entirely average season for a goalie in the NHL somehow convinced the Vancouver Canucks that he was more valuable than a chest full of gold and diamonds because they decided to bestow upon him a long-term contract that would make him the second highest paid player in the league! In 2010-2011 he was paid more than 10 MILLION dollars! Sinking that much money into an average player is not only tough on the organization but also on the other players. Now, let’s examine Luongo’s stats for this past season and compare him to other goaltenders.

Last year, undeniably, Luongo had the best regular season team in hockey in front of him, the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks. With an awesome team in front of Luongo and his promoted and professed talent, you would think that he would have posted a good number of shutouts and some other extremely impressive stats. However, once again he only ended-up with only 4 shutouts for the entire year which was just good enough for a tie for 14th in the league along with 5 other goalies in the Shutouts category. His Save Percentage was .928, which gave him 4th place among goaltenders in that category, and his GAA was very respectable at 2.11 but you have to consider that the Canuck team was playing incredibly well and were taking away a lot of quality scoring chances.

Who was better than Luongo last year? Well, several goalies were actually better if you examine all of the facts. Obviously, Tim Thomas was the best goalie in the league and he proved it with a .938 Save Percentage, 9 big shutouts, a 2.00 GAA and also by having a huge impact on his teammates—enough impact to carry them through to win the Stanley Cup. Thomas earned 6 million for his efforts (as compared to Luongo’s 10 million), and his salary dropped to 5 million for the current year and will drop yet again to 3 million for the 2012-2013 season. Another goaltender who was easily better than Luongo was Pekka Rinne from the Nashville Predators, and he proved that in the regular season as well as in the playoffs. He had a better Save Percentage than Luongo at .930, 2 more Shutouts as compared to Luongo (6 in total), and a GAA at 2.12 (almost identical to Luongo’s). When the two teams met head to head in the playoffs Rinne showed that he was far better than Luongo and Rinne and company took the Canucks to 6 games, all decided by only one goal except Game 4 which was decided by two goals due to an empty netter.

Rinne was outstanding during that series and he was the 1st Star in two games and the 2nd Star in another. Rinne’s salary was about 3.4 million last year, only about one-third of what Luongo made. Too bad life isn’t always fair. Another goalie who was easily better than Luongo last year was Henrik Lundqvist on the Rangers. He had a whopping 11 shutouts, a Save Percentage of .923 and a GAA of 2.28. He did not have near as much support from his teammates as Luongo did and he made about 200 more saves during the year as compared to Luongo. Carey Price from the Canadiens was also a better goaltender last year and he had 8 shutouts (double of what Luongo had), a Save Percentage of .923 and a GAA of 2.35. He made about 355 more saves than Luongo and only Cam Ward of the Hurricanes had more saves last year. One could rightfully argue that Cory Schneider (Luongo’s goaltending partner) also had a better year since his Save Percentage was slightly better than Luongo, and in fact I do think he was more reliable and he was better on the road. There were some other goalies last year who I believe played better than Luongo but they were on teams who did not provide as much support and subsequently their numbers were not quite as good.

2011-2012 SEASON

Now, let us examine Luongo’s play this year because it will confirm the answer to “The Luongo Question.”

So far this year Luongo has a GAA of 2.39 and a Save Percentage of .918, both numbers significantly worse than last year. He also only has 2 shutouts which just keeps him at pace with the poor shutout stats of 4 for the two previous years. As one who has seen him play often, I must say that he lets in far too many easy goals and when you do that you simply cannot register that many shutouts, despite great support from teammates. It really boggles my mind that the coaches can’t sit down with him and watch tapes to show him that he often goes down when he should be on his feet. Additionally, he has problems in holding onto his stick, and this year I think he has averaged dropping it at least once a game. Like any other fan it agitates me because it is a problem that an NHL goalie should not have, especially a guy that has pretty big hands (at 6’3 and 217 lbs they can’t be small). The way I see it Luongo is not improving and that his best career year might be last year’s record, a record that largely reflects an outstanding regular season effort by his teammates.

On the other hand, Cory Schneider has improved his play this year and he is easily outdoing Luongo. Schneider has moved up to 6th in the Save Percentage category with a .927, has 2 shutouts in 19 games and a GAA of 2.30. Canuck fans have reason for hope to win the Stanly Cup this year but only if management does not try to overplay Luongo just because he is making the huge salary. When playoff time comes around I would play the goalie who performs best during the season, and particularly at the end of the season; and, if he has a bad game then start the other guy next game. Tell the two up front what the situation will be and see who wants to earn the spot. Forget about who is making more money. Schneider played better on the road last year and he continues to play well on the road, and that should be considered as well. Schneider could be played on the road if Luongo meets another team that causes him to collapse mentally. Does anyone recall—yes I know you will—last year in the Stanley Cup finals when Game 5 was played in Vancouver and Luongo came up with his best lifetime performance, helping the Canucks to a 1-0 victory over the Bruins? And, do you also remember that the two previous games were in Boston and the Bruins won by scores of 8-1 and 4-0? Luongo had let in 12 goals in about 5 periods of hockey! The entire world could see that Luongo had a major mental problem in playing in Boston, and yet, when Game 6 came back to Boston, Canuck coach Alain Vigneault made the foolish mistake of starting Luongo in net. Vigneault also knew that Schneider had played well all year on the road. Well, the Canucks lost Game 6 by a score of 5-2, and then lost Game 7 at home by a score of 4-0. Too bad!

What if Vigneault had played Schneider in Game 6 in Boston? Well, this year on January 7th the Canucks rolled into Boston for a rematch and Vigneault decided to play Schneider in net. Luongo had stated that he wanted to play but Vigneault decided on Schneider. I wonder why he made that decision? Maybe in his heart he wanted Schneider to lose so that he could be justified for not starting him in Boston in Game 6 of the finals last year? Maybe it would help him sleep better for the rest of his life? Whatever the case, Schneider and the entire team rose to the occasion and came out with a 4-3 victory in a game that was full of dirty play by the Bruins. Notably, Brad Marchand of the Bruins was thrown out and later fined and suspended for “clipping” Sami Salo—hitting him at knee level and lifting him over top and onto his head. Salo suffered a concussion and should be returning to the line-up this coming week after the All-Star game.  

So, if Vigneault had played Schneider in Game 6 last year the Canucks might be the reining Stanley Cup Champions rather than having to live through life with the bad memory. Will Vigneault get a chance in the playoffs to show us that he has learned his lesson?

You know, I can’t help back share something about Luongo in the Finals last year. After Game 5 in Vancouver when Luongo and the Canucks won 1-0, Luongo celebrated the game with great pride as if he had won the Stanley Cup. He played his hockey stick like a guitar (“rock and roll” to your own shame Lu!) and then he did something that I utterly detest—he threw his stick into the stands! Throwing his stick was an extremely dangerous thing to do with a high risk of a fan being injured, including perhaps severe damage to someone’s eye or even blindness—seriously. If there are any players reading this, please, please, please don’t throw your stick up into the stands! Hand the stick to a person who you want to give it to but never throw it up into the stands. Not only can it cause injury but also fights. I watched the people battle for Luongo’s stick when he threw it up and why would he want fans fighting each other? He knew damn well that people would fight for it! Anyway, as I stated, Luongo celebrated the victory with great pride and egotism; and, as soon as I saw it I said to myself:  Boston is going to win the Cup”—and they did. I thought that Vancouver had a chance if Schneider was given the nod for Game 6, but unfortunately they went with their “money man.” They had the attitude that they had paid for Luongo so they might as well use him, despite what had occurred in Game 3 and Game 4. That attitude cost them the Stanley Cup and their rings.

Have you ever noticed that when players in whatever sport go overboard on pride it seems to catch up to them and they end up losers? A recent example was last week when the San Francisco 49ers played the New York Giants with the winner earning a trip to the Super Bowl. Vernon Davis scored a couple of touchdowns and he had to celebrate. On the first one he got up onto a camera stand and crossed his arms and posed for the photographers, and was penalized for it. It was a disgusting sight for any sports fan or player who loves the goodness of hard-fought competition, and who has respect. I was glad to see the 49er’s lose after that show of pride. Come on the guy had only scored a touchdown and was not going to the Super Bowl.

Finally, I would like to get back to Luongo’s poor record thus far this year because I want to illustrate that many goalies have proven themselves to be superior to him. Remember that Luongo currently has a Save Percentage of .918, a GAA of 2.39, and only 2 shutouts. In the shutout category, Luongo is tied for 13th with about 16 other goaltenders, all having just 2 shutouts thus far. His GAA puts him at 15th in the league in that category, while Schneider is in 11th. Luongo’s Save Percentage really shows how far back he is from the rest because he is tied for 18th in the league with four other goalies. Remember that Schneider is 6th in the league in Save Percentage.

The list of goalies who have outperformed Luongo thus far this year is long, and they include:  Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers), Brian Elliot (Blues), Tuukka Rask (Bruins), Jonathan Quick (Kings), Pekka Rinne (Predators), Martin Biron (Rangers), Tim Thomas (Bruins), Cory Schneider (Canucks), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Avalanche), Jimmy Howard (Red Wings), Jaroslav Halak (Blues), Mike Smith (Coyotes), Josh Harding (Wild), Niklas Backstrom (Wild), Miikka Kiprusoff (Flames), Jhonas Enroth (Sabres), Evgeni Nabokov (Islanders), and Kari Lehtonen (Stars).

To all of the Roberto Luongo fans, please don’t be angry at the truth. I am not being too hard on him because he is a professional athlete and he loves to “walk the walk” and talk like he is the best. In fact, on more than one occasion I have heard him slight his teammates and he has refused to take responsibility for his own bad play. If I was an NHL player I would not want to be on the same team.

TJ Stanley


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Best Goalie Duos & the Advantage That They Provide

I have been watching the goaltending pretty close and there have been some pleasant surprises, some disappointments, and also some confirmations that a few guys are making far too much money considering their performance while between the pipes.

Teams that have two goaltenders who are playing well have an advantage over other teams, and this is generally reflected in the standings. Furthermore, a great goalie duo can make a huge difference in the playoffs if there is an injury or illness to one of the goalies or if a goalie has a mental weakness in playing against a particular team—and Luongo comes to my mind when I talk about mental weakness. During the season when teams have to play back to back nights it is always preferable to have each goalie start a game rather than forcing too much work on the #1 goalie. Remember that Jonas Hiller suffered exhaustion last year and that cost the Ducks their season. After Hiller was out the Ducks made the huge mistake of not getting Ray Emery into the lineup right away. Emery is now with the Blackhawks and the Ducks are still treading water because they don’t have a proven back-up goalie who is good enough to hold the fort. Yes, I agree, shame on most of the Duck players for such a poor effort up until this month of January.     

When I rate goalies I look at their save percentage, the number of shutouts they have, their goals against average (GAA), number of games played, number of wins, how they handle themselves in games, and also how the team is doing in the standings. It is true that the number of wins can be misleading because a goalie might be playing 90 percent of the games for their team and subsequently you can expect them to be doing at least fairly well in the “Wins” category. Additionally, if a team is a powerhouse offensively a goalie can rack up some wins even if he is not playing well. The number of games played is a statistic I look at because it either provides more or less value to a goalie’s stats. After carefully considering all things it becomes clear which goalies deserve the “elite” designation.   

Okay, now the fun part of presenting the stats and my choices for the top three goaltender duos in the league.

As of the morning of January 24, 2012:

The goalies with the best Save Percentage are:  Tuukka Rask (Bruins) with a .943, Brian Elliot (Blues) with a .937, Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers) with a .936, Jonathan Quick (Kings) with a .934, and Tim Thomas (Bruins) with a .933. I shall add that Martin Biron (Rangers) posts a .927 and Jaroslav Halak (Blues) a .918.  

The  Shutout leaders are:  Jonathan Quick (Kings) with 6, Brian Elliot (Blues) with 5, Jimmy Howard (Red Wings) with 5, Jaroslav Halak (Blues) with 4, Tim Thomas (Bruins) with 4, Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers) with 4, Pekka Rinne (Predators) with 4, Tuukka Rask (Bruins) with 3, Ondrej Pavelec (Jets) with 3, Miikka Kiprusoff (Flames) also with 3, and a log jam of about 17 goalies with 2 shutouts. 

The Goals Against Average (GAA) leaders are:  Brian Elliot (Blues) with a 1.68, Tuukka Rask (Bruins) with a 1.69, Martin Biron (Rangers) with a 1.88, Jonathan Quick (Kings) with a 1.93, Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers) with a 1.93, Jimmy Howard (Red Wings) with a 1.95, Jaroslav Halak (Blues) with a 2.04, Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Avalanche) with a 2.11, and Tim Thomas (Bruins) with a 2.12.

The Wins leaders are:   Jimmy Howard (Red Wings) with 30, Pekka Rinne (Predators) with 27, Marc-Andre Fleury (Penguins) with 25, Craig Anderson (Senators) with 25,  and Miikka Kiprusoff (Flames) with 22.

The Three Best Goalie Duos:

Well, I have decided that the competition is so close (this year being considered and not last year) that I am going to rate it a three-way tie!

Tie - Goalie Duo:  Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron have posted outstanding numbers and have their team tied for the lead in the Eastern Conference with the Bruins. Lundqvist continues to be outstanding, and in fact thus far this year he is posting the best numbers of his career. The big surprise is Biron because the 34 year old is easily achieving the best numbers of his career. In 12 games he has a .927 Save Percentage, 2 shutouts and a 1.88 GAA!

Tie - Goalie Duo:  Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot from the Blues are a large reason why the Blues are battling for the lead in the Western Conference. Elliot has the best GAA, the second best Save Percentage and an amazing 5 shutouts in just 22 games! Halak has 4 shutouts in the 26 games that he has played. Elliot’s performance does not surprise me because he was outstanding in the WCHA, improved each year in the AHL, and improved in his second year with the Senators. Last year with the Senators the entire team was to blame, but, the Senators decided to make the huge mistake of trading him to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Craig Anderson (a 30 year old!)—I like Craig but it was a poor trade for the Senators. The Avalanche almost totally “threw in the towel” during the last part of the year and Elliot was not the reason for their demise because the problem clearly existed before he got there; and, you can’t expect every player to do well right after a big move. However, in their utter insanity, the Avalanche did not sign Elliot and he was picked up by the Blues for $600 000 on one year contract. Well, due to his outstanding play this year the Blues recently signed him for a $3 600 000 extension over two years—a steal in my opinion considering what Bryzgalov and Luongo are making! Elliot is rightfully an All-Star this year.

Tie - Goalie Duo:  Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask from the Bruins are tough competitors. Thomas did not have his best start and he recently let in 5 goals against the Flyers. Rask is the best in the league for save percentage, and Thomas sits in fifth place. Thomas has 4 shutouts in 30 games while Rask has 3 shutouts in 17 games. This goalie duo is part of the reason why the Bruins are tied with the Rangers for first in the Eastern Conference, both having 64 points in 46 games. Only the Red Wings have more points at 67, but they have played 3 more games than the Bruins and Rangers. However, I can’t help but say that I don’t care for some of the cheap shots that Thomas takes and Rask needs to learn how to control his temper.

Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier of the Kings failed to make my top three due to Bernier’s bad season thus far. The Kings have underplayed Bernier this year and I feel that this has prevented him from being at the top of his game. As a 23 year old his development has been hindered. The entire LA team has been dragging along for several weeks and not posting too many goals, and this is why they are overplaying Quick. Obviously, Quick is playing outstanding, leading the league in shutouts and being in the top four in both Save Percentage and GAA; but, I would give Bernier a little more ice time and ask the team to work harder.  

TJ Stanley


Friday, January 20, 2012

Malkin the Best in the World – Penguins Could Win the Cup!

From where I am sitting, Evgeni Malkin is the best hockey player in the world right now. Alex Ovechkin is out of the picture due to his lack of dedication (being preoccupied with endorsements and trying to have too much fun while away from the rink). And, unfortunately, Sidney Crosby cannot rightfully be considered as the best player in the world because he has only played a handful of games in the last year and who knows if he will ever return to play a significant amount of hockey. 

I also believe that Malkin was the most valuable player in the league back in the 2008-2009 season, his last injury-free season. Let’s take a look at Malkin’s career including his current position on the scoring leader’s board (which is a great feat in of itself since he was injured and most of the best Penguin players have had time out of the line-up this year). I also want to discuss Malkin’s value apart from his huge point totals—his “Stanley Cup value”—as well as the Penguin’s chances of winning the Cup this year.

Malkin’s first season in the NHL (and with the Penguins) was 2006-2007, and in that year he registered 85 points in 78 games and that earned him 18th place in the league’s scoring race and also the Calder Trophy for being the best rookie. Crosby won the scoring title that year with his 120 points, but if you wanted to compare him to Malkin you would have to consider that Crosby logged more ice time. Malkin improved significantly in 2007-2008, recording 106 points in 82 games, and that earned him second spot in the league’s scoring race—only Alex Ovechkin surpassed him by tallying 112 points. Malkin exploded for 113 points in the 2008-2009 season, and that enabled him to capture the scoring title (winning the Art Ross Trophy) with a 3 point victory over Ovechkin! Ovechkin was awarded the Hart Trophy while Malkin was the runner-up. Malkin was plus 17 in this season while Ovechkin was plus 8. Crosby finished in third in scoring with 103 points in 77 games played and was plus 3 for the season. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year and Malkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the best player in the playoffs. In my opinion, winning the Art Ross, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup all in one year made Malkin the most valuable player in the league, the guy who did it all from start to finish—the best in the world all things considered. If this statement angers you, I would like you to consider the fact that the greatest players make their teammates a lot better and they win Stanley Cups, and that is the additional value that is not registered in statistics. Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky are a few examples of players who had a lot more value than just their scoring abilities. On the other hand, Ovechkin has not been able to have a “Stanley Cup winning effect” on his teammates. It is a character issue. If you were an NHL player back in 2009, would you have rather played on Ovechkin’s team or Malkin’s? Would you rather be wearing a Stanley Cup Champion ring on your finger or be on a losing team? The fact is that it is all about going through the regular season and getting better as a team so that you can make a run at the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup! Winning the Cup is something that cannot be taken from you and you can cherish it for life! By the way, I like to think that most great players have respect for their teammates and their teammates respect them in return. 

In getting back to Malkin’s career, in the 2009-2010 season he only participated in 67 games due to suffering a season-ending injury in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. It was the ligaments in his knee, something that I am familiar with since I have had ligament, tendon, cartilage and bone issues with both of my knees. Injuries like these are nasty and nagging and can be agitated much easier than what it took to cause the injuries. In his 67 games he had 77 points. In the following season, 2010-2011, Malkin only played 43 games due to injuries, leaving the line-up in January. 

Importantly, the Penguin’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay last year was a loss without Malkin in the line-up.

Malkin has worked hard to get back into form for this year’s quest for the Cup. Let us now analyze the current scoring leader’s board. As of January 20, 2012, Malkin has the lead in the scoring race with 25 goals (matching his age) and 30 assists for a total of 55 points in just 40 games! How good is that compared to the others in the league? Well, Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin has 52 points but he has played 7 more games than Malkin. Steven Stamkos of the Lightning has 51 points and has played 6 more games as compared to Malkin. Ovechkin has only 36 points in his 46 games, a testimony that hockey is not that important in his life—but I predict that when he hits “rock bottom” he will come back with a better effort; however, if it takes him too long to get to that low point he may not have the skill level to make the effort count. Malkin’s performance thus far this year is truly incredible considering he has played some games while not 100 % and also due to the fact that Crosby has been sidelined for almost the entire season, Letang has been injured since November (just coming back this week), Neal was sidelined, Dupuis was hurt and Staal is still out.   

If Malkin is able to get through the rest of the year without further injury, if his teammates stay healthy and if Marc-Andre Fleury plays to the best of his ability, the Penguins will be a force to be reckoned with and have a pretty good chance to win the Cup. Even if Crosby does not return the Penguins will be a serious threat and could upset. Make no mistake about it, Malkin “is the man” when it comes to playoff hockey (Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup in 2008-2009); and, once again, he did not see action in last year’s loss to the Lightning. It will be interesting and exciting to see how the playoff picture unfolds from now until April.  

Take a look at this great goal by Malkin against the Avalanche on November 15, 2011.

Please click the link and after the video is over please click the back arrow in your browser to return to my site.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KbblSMt_Sc

TJ Stanley