Welcome to a weekly blog post of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
The Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the three moments or personalities from around the league that produced the most comedic fodder for fans this week.
The third star: Ilya Bryzgalov’s lightsaber
OK, technically we banned Bryzgalov from the “three stars” feature last year, to give everyone else in the league a fighting chance. But we’ll make an exception this week, because that’s just what we do when an NHL goaltender has to repaint his mask because his picture of Yoda had the wrong lightsaber color.
There's nothing else in sports quite like the goalie mask, a literal blank slate upon which a goalie — often regarded as the quirkiest guy on his team — gets to broadcast his id to the world. The result, over the years, has been a crazy and compelling collection of cryptic symbols, animal imagery, shout-outs to grandmas and/or sports heroes, terrifying cartoons, and lots and lots of airbrushing. This year, of course, is no exception. Here, we take a look at some of this season's best goalie helmets. (As always, feel free to render your own judgments in the comments!)
Best Literary Reference
"This may be one of the most scary mask[s] I've ever created," uber-popular mask designer David Gunnarsson wrote on his website, describing Dallas goalie Richard Bachman's new look. "We wanted the mask to have the same uncomfortable feeling you have when you just wake up after a nightmare." The helmet features images from The Shining — the famous twins, Jack Nicholson's terrifying eyes — in honor of Stephen King, who once used the nom de plume "Richard Bachman." ("There was a novel by Richard Stark on my desk so I used the name Richard and that's kind of funny because Richard Stark is in itself a pen name for Donald Westlake," King explains on his website, "and what was playing on the record player was "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Bachman Turner Overdrive, so I put the two of them together.") It's really too bad we don't have a helmet depicting scenes from King/Bachman's best work, The Long Walk, but I suppose psychological terror is kinda tricky to airbrush.
It’s probably foolish to try to read anything into two days’ worth of games, especially when half the players in the NHL are still trying to get back to pre-lockout form. But that’s no reason not to try, so here are 10 random observations from the NHL’s opening weekend:
The Blues made a statement
The St. Louis Blues entered the season as a trendy pick to win the Western Conference. They looked the part Saturday, pummeling the Detroit Red Wings, 6-0, and outshooting them, 17-2, in a first-period display that played out as a near-perfect depiction of Ken Hitchcock hockey.
The game also featured the breakout performance of opening weekend, with Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko scoring a pair of goals, including a filthy individual effort in his NHL debut. The 21-year-old 2010 first-round pick has spent the last few seasons in the KHL, and could make a major impact if he can bring consistent production to a Blues offense that wasn’t exactly intimidating last year.
But while Tarasenko could be the league’s next big star, let’s hold off on the hype until we see him do it against an NHL-caliber defense.
After an exhaustive six-hour training camp, the NHL makes its long-awaited return Saturday. And while it’s been easy to forget over the past few months of lockout negotiations between grim-faced men in suits, hockey is a sport played on ice by actual hockey players.
Let’s take a look at some of them now. Here are 10 players who’ll be especially interesting to keep an eye on over the next few months:
I can't say for certain, but there's a pretty good chance that the New York Rangers' John Mitchell was haunted by some fever dreams last night: Think something along the lines of Elephants on Parade, except with the Cheshire grin of Marc-Andre Fleury in place of all the Dumbo heads.
Fleury was in net Thursday night as the Penguins came to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers, who held a six-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division (and the Eastern Conference). By the end of the night, though, that gap had narrowed to four, as the Penguins defeated New York 5-2 based in large part on the play in net by the goaltender colloquially known to teammates as Flower. He stopped 29 of the Rangers' shots, five of which belonged to poor Mitchell, who was robbed every which way by the 27-year-old netminder. After one sequence in which Fleury, already down on his side after making some pad saves, managed to glove an attempt by Mitchell, the Rangers forward couldn't help but take out his mouth guard so he could laugh.
The first star of Sunday's OHL game between the Erie Otters and the Niagara IceDogs was a goaltender who allowed 13 goals on 45 shots in a 13-4 loss.
Of course, he was also wearing skates that were far too small, a jersey that had been hastily assembled just days before, and goalie pads the likes of which he hadn't put on since he was 5 years old. Not to mention that, because of shoulder surgery, he hadn't played in a single game — even at center, his typical position — all season long.
A quick note: Given the finale last night of the HBO hock-umentary 24/7 Rangers/Flyers: The Road to the NHL Winter Classic, I'm hijacking this week's NHL goaltender blog post for a mashup of TV recapping, some leftover observations from last weekend in Philadelphia, and a little bit of goalie news. Consider this post HBOalies of the Week. We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming next week.
Hockey’s Three Stars of Comedy is a monthly feature that will recognize the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans. It will appear every month until the Leafs fall out of playoff contention and the author finds himself drinking heavily in his backyard while screaming “I can’t believe I fell for this again!” at the moon.
No one has faced more shots this year than Cam Ward. In his seventh season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Ward, who writes "Have Fun" on all of his sticks, is adjusting to the new realities of his team, one of which is this: The Hurricanes give up the most shots on goal of all 30 NHL teams. Ward has, unsurprisingly, had a tough season in this environment, and it's beginning to show.
After being beaten in overtime by the Maple Leafs, Ward two-hand Hulk-smashed his stick against the goalpost in frustration. (It was a move he'd clearly had on the mind: One game earlier, against Winnipeg, Ward was yanked for the second time in three games and sat on the bench screaming. "I was absolutely not directing it at anybody," he later said. "I was thinking about smashing the stick but didn't do that. I just started yelling.")
Three Stars of Comedy is a new feature that will take a look back at the month that was in the NHL, and recognize three personalities from around the league who produced the most comedy fodder for fans. It will appear every month during the regular season, or until the NBA lockout is settled and Grantland stops covering hockey.
The Honorable Mentions
The NHL is a funny league, and some worthy candidates didn’t quite make the cut. Before we get to this month’s winners, here’s a few who fell just short.
Arron Asham, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sure, his “go to sleep” move after KO’ing Jay Beagle was offensive and tasteless and an affront to hockey’s code. But you still used it. Yes, you did. Once we knew Beagle was (relatively) OK, hockey fans had the green light to incorporate “go to sleep” motion into their day-to-day activities. It became the ultimate celebration move. Pull off a one-sided trade in your fantasy league? Go to sleep. Silenced a Senators fan by tricking them into clicking on the fat gladiator intro video? Go to sleep. Heard Sidney Crosby give his three hundredth update on his concussion status without actually saying anything? Go to sleep. Literally.
The Columbus Blue Jackets
They’re rumored to be considering John Ferguson Jr. as their next general manager. As somebody who writes jokes about hockey for money, this is almost too good to be true. In fact, I don’t even want to think about it. Let’s move on.