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: Mike Gillis
Just as the Washington Capitals are reaching rock bottom thanks to surprisingly terrible goaltending, Vancouver's GM randomly shows up to take in a game on a “scouting trip” (even though the Canucks won’t play any Eastern Conference teams during the regular season). Predictably, everyone freaks out and starts churning out “Roberto Luongo–to–Washington” rumors, which both teams immediately deny. That’s some high-level GM trolling by Gillis right there. I can’t wait until he shows up in Toronto and spends the whole game shining a laser pointer in Dave Nonis’s eyes.
The second star: Max Pacioretty
The Habs winger underwent emergency surgery to remove his appendix last Saturday, sidelining him for three to four weeks. Showing he hadn’t lost his sense of humor, he made a funny joke about returning to the lineup eight days later that was hilarious because he — wait, he what? Really? Oh. Wow.
Ray Lewis has described many things as “awesome.” He dieted and exercised before this season and showed up to camp at his lightest weight in some 15 years: “It’s awesome,” he said, “I feel great.” Earlier this season he described Joe Flacco and the Ravens' much-improved offense as “awesome.” Last week, as he took a victory lap around the Ravens’ stadium one last time, he described it as “the most awesome thing you could ever ask for in any professional career.” After Baltimore’s twist-filled victory over Denver on Saturday, Lewis began doing that postgame proselytizing thing that’s common in such contexts. Maybe it’s the awareness that Lewis is nearing the end or maybe it was the delirium of the game, but there was something wildly moving and strange about his incantations. He said some cold-blooded shit about “weapons,” just as the tool that had been forged for his demise, Peyton Manning, walked up to hug him. Then his eyes got gone and serene as he admired his team’s mile-high handiwork: “Man … it’s just awesome,” he said, all blissful and blessed, clouds of mist surrounding his face, as though the Creator had taken a highlighter to him. There’ve been few players over the past decade as intense and absorbing as Lewis. For those of us who remember when “Ray Lewis weapons” turned up a different kind of search-engine result, there hasn’t been another athlete whose path to righteousness has felt so visceral and extreme.
The Ottawa Senators reserve goaltender Robin Lehner sure picked a good time for his first career shutout: two days after the Senators traded for St. Louis's highly touted netminder Ben Bishop. A little competition never hurt anyone! The trade took place after Senators starting goalie Craig Andersonsliced his finger badly enough to preclude him from playing; Lehner was also called up from the AHL's Binghamton that day and made 28 saves in a 5-2 victory over the Islanders.
It was on Tuesday, though, that the fiery 20-year-old — who became the youngest Swedish goalie to play in the NHL last season when he debuted just two months after turning 19 — really made his mark. Lehner stopped all 32 shots that came his way for the 1-0 shutout victory in Boston, where he was named the game's first star. (Bishop, who was assigned to Binghamton, picked up first-star honors for the AHL affiliate the same night.)
It will be interesting to see what unfolds between Lehner and Bishop. Last season, Lehner helped lead the Binghamton Senators to the AHL's Calder Cup and was named MVP of the playoffs; this year, Bishop has been the AHL's top regular-season netminder for the Peoria Rivermen and was even named the MVP of the All-Star Game.
Earlier this week, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was adamant that he was not in the market for someone to supplement and/or replace Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer in net. "We are not looking for a goaltender at this point," he said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
That was before Gustavsson turned in a clunker of a performance Tuesday night. The Leafs, who are on the playoff bubble, lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime as Gustavsson was weak on the five-hole in regulation and unfortunate with his positioning on the overtime goal, which was headed wide but caromed off his equipment and into the net to erase what had been a late comeback by Toronto.
On Wednesday, Burke changed his tune on TSN Radio. "It's very hard to watch what happened and not wonder if we have enough [in net]," he said, before deploying the tried-and-true double negative: "I'm not sure that we're not going to be in the market [for a goalie] before we're done," he said. "The fact is we're losing games because we're not stopping the puck enough."
It's a tough time for goalies in Toronto, though I did enjoy the way this Toronto Sun headline sought to put a positive spin on whether Burke's words might affect his netminders' performance going forward: "Goalies already felt lowly."
With Toronto one of the teams that might be in the market at the deadline for a goalie, who would potentially be available? Here's a look at some of the names that have been floated as being goalies in play (not just for Toronto, but to other teams who may be seeking help in net) leading up to Monday's trade deadline:
This week got off to quite a start for 22-year-old Washington Capitals goaltending prospect Braden Holtby. After making 34 saves for the AHL's Hershey Bears on Sunday in their 5-1 win over Wilkes-Barre Scranton, Holtby woke up Monday morning to find out that he was being summoned to Washington, presumably because the Caps no. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun had the flu and they needed someone to back up Michal Neuvirth. Instead, when Holtby arrived around 2 p.m., he found out he was starting that night.
As the days tick down until the NHL trade deadline, these sorts of things can happen. Perhaps this was a showcase game for Holtby to let scouts take a look, or maybe the Caps organization wanted to see how they'd fare if they dealt another netminder and ended up having to use more of Holtby going forward.
Whatever it was, it did not end well: Holtby was in net for a 5-3 loss against the San Jose Sharks, a game in which the reality was somehow actually worse than the score. He bobbled a routine grab on a shot from beyond center ice, and he watched as a puck rolled up his arm, down his back, and into the goalmouth behind him. Tuesday morning he was sent back up to Hershey, back down to the AHL.
Poor Mike Smith. In two recent games, the Phoenix Coyotes goalie has made saves — one during overtime and one in a shootout — that may well end up on year-end highlight reels. In both cases, though, he didn't get to go home with the win.
When Marian Gaborik, one of the best goal-scorers in the league this season, earned an overtime penalty shot in the New York Rangers' contest against Phoenix last week, it seemed like the game might be over. But Smith's improbable stick save kept hope and the game alive — for a short while, at least. (The Rangers ultimately won in the sixth round of a shootout.)