In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The playoffs have been pretty good so far
- Does the way the stick-slashing rule is called make sense?
- An obscure player who was a better playoff performer than Wayne Gretzky
- The week's three comedy stars
- And we try to cheer up Capitals fans in the best way we know how: With yet another terrible late-80s lip synch video
Friday, April 21, 2017
In the Friday Grab Bag:
In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I digest the breaking news of the Sabres cleaning house
- The one thing the Sabres can't do right now, and probably will
- My thoughts on where the Leafs/Capitals series is at
- A look at the rest of the first round
- My longshot prediction of who'll be playing goal for the Flames next year
- We make predictions on Thursday night games that have already happened by now, for some reason
- Reader questions
- And lots more...
>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
With the playoffs in full swing, it’s easy to forget about the 14 teams who’ve already cleared out their lockers and headed out to the cottage for summer vacation. That’s the nature of the NHL — once the playoffs arrive, you’re either still alive or you barely matter.
But today, let’s offer up some encouragement to those 14 teams who weren’t invited to the post-season dance. And we’ll do it using the 16 who were. For each of the outsiders, let’s pick out one problem the team is facing – in some cases we’ll have plenty to choose from – and then see if we can find some hope in one of this year’s playoff teams.
The issue: They’re not sure if they can trust their young goaltender. Connor Hellebuyck was supposed to be the real deal. He had the pedigree, the resumé and a decent rookie season in 2015–16. But this year, his first as a starter, he wasn’t very good, and now the Jets may be wondering how much faith they should have in the 23-year-old.
But just look at: The St. Louis Blues. Hellebuyck may have struggled this year, but things never got as bad as they did for Jake Allen, whose struggles were bad enough to get his coach fired and who was even left at home during a road trip. Was he able to rebound? Ask the Wild.
Goaltending is voodoo and you never really know what you have in anyone, especially younger players. But Allen is a good reminder for Hellebuyck fans that a shaky few months aren't necessarily anything to panic over.
The issue: They tore it all down. They followed all the steps in the rebuild recipe. But so far, the results just haven't been there, and patience is starting to wear thin.
But just look at: The Edmonton Oilers. No rebuilding team has spun their wheels for longer than the Oilers. But this was the year that the big step forward finally, mercifully arrived. It could happen in Buffalo, too.
Sure, a lot of Edmonton's success has to do with winning the Connor McDavid lottery, and we know that's still a bit of a sore spot in Buffalo. But while the Sabres may not have a McDavid, they do have Jack Eichel, and like McDavid was this year, he'll head into camp looking to rebound from a season disrupted by injury. The Sabres really do look a lot like the Oilers did at this time last year – a great young core up front, good if somewhat unproven goaltending, questions on the blue line. They've got a way to go and there are no guarantees, but an Oiler-like turnaround doesn't seem out of the question.
Update: On Thursday Buffalo fired GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Blysma.
The issue: A disappointing season cost a well-respected coach his job. But instead of a fresh voice, they just brought back somebody who'd already coached them years ago. Sure, that guy won the franchise's only Stanley Cup, but can you really get anywhere by chasing past glories?
But just look at: The Anaheim Ducks. There's a bit bigger gap between Ken Hitchcock's championship in Dallas and Randy Carlyle's in Anaheim, but otherwise the similarities are hard to ignore. And while Carlyle's hiring raised a few eyebrows last summer, so far it's led to a division title and a trip to the second round.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
It's NHL playoff time, which means one of two things: Either your favorite team didn't make it, or your favorite team is going to lose.
That sounds depressing, but it's reality. Every team that makes the playoffs is going to have to get used to losing. There's a 15 out of 16 chance that your team is going to get eliminated, and even if they win the Stanley Cup, they're still going to lose at least a few games along the way.
And that's going to be painful, because playoff losses are the worst. A fan can shake off a typical mid-November loss within minutes, because the NHL regular season drags on forever. But playoff losses can ruin your night, the next day, and well beyond.
And worst of all, not all playoff losses are created equal. So today, let's look at five common types of ways your favorite team can lose a post-season game, and how a typical fan ends up dealing with them.
The Hot Goalie
The game: Your team plays great, certainly well enough to win if there were any justice. They're all over their opponents, controlling play, generating chances and firing shots from everywhere on the ice. But nothing goes in, because the other team's goalie turns into late-90s Dominik Hasek.
The reaction: At first, you're reasonably OK with this one. Hey, it happens, right? Sometimes a goalie just has one of those nights, and there's not much you can do with it. That's hockey. The key is that your team played well, and as long as they keep that up, they'll win more than they lose and everything will be OK.
But after that initial acceptance, the tide starts to turn. Was the other guy really that good, or did your team just make him look that way? On closer inspection, a lot of those highlight reel saves sure look like your guys just shooting the puck right into a waiting pad or glove. What are we paying all these high-priced forwards to do? And hey, what about your own team's goalie – would it kill him to steal a game or two every once in a while?
Fun fact: No matter how good their own goaltending is, every NHL fan is convinced that at least 80 percent of these games go against their team.
The Big Mistake
The game: It's a close one that could go either way. And then, it happens – somebody screws up. Maybe it's a lazy clearing attempt. Maybe somebody misreads a coverage. Maybe they take a bad penalty (the puck-over-glass rule figures prominently in this category). Or maybe it's just one of those fluke plays, like somebody blowing a tire or accidentally kicking a puck into their own net.
Sometimes, you may not even spot the mistake in real-time; it won't be until the fifth slow-motion replay that you realize what just happened. But one way or another, sixty minutes or more of hockey ends up crystalizing in one regrettable play.
The reaction: This is one of the toughest losses to deal with because it leaves you with a focal point, that one moment to roll over in your mind again and again over the next day or two. Eventually, your brain starts coming up with alternate realities where the play never happens, and your team ends up winning.
Depending on the type of mistake, you might start off with some sympathy toward the player who made it. Really, they were mostly just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But after a few hours of stewing over it when you really should be sleeping, you're pretty sure that there's something bigger at play. The player's mistake revealed some sort of deep character flaw, and you come to hate them and everyone who has ever known them. (This hate will last anywhere from until the next game to the rest of your life.)
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
It was a simpler time, back before we’d been through multiple overtimes and when we still assumed the Capitals would roll past the Leafs easily. We didn’t even know who Dart Guy was. Look at us back then, we were so young.
Well, fair’s fair, so today we’ll visit the other end of the spectrum, with a ranking of the 10 worst Leafs playoff games of the last three decades.
There’s one important note to keep in mind, though. Ranking a team’s best games is a relatively straightforward exercise. Most playoff runs end in misery eventually, so you just take the games that you enjoyed most as a fan at the time, and there’s your list – with few exceptions, the best games generally hold up well.
But bad games are a little bit trickier, since sometimes you don't know just how miserable a game will make you feel down the line. An especially tough playoff loss is like a slow-acting poison, and you don't feel its full effects until years later. Hindsight is going to play a big role today, especially as we get near the top of the list.
But let's start our countdown a little more than 27 years ago, from a spot just outside the Maple Leafs' blue line.
No. 10: 1990 Norris Division semi-finals, game three: Blues 6, Maple Leafs 5 (OT)
The 1989–90 Leafs team was their best in a decade. That's not an especially high bar, and the team still only finished .500, but they ranked third in the league in goals scored and seemed as if they might finally be building something resembling a winner.
But after dropping a pair of 4–2 decisions in St. Louis, the Leafs headed back to Toronto facing a must-win in game three. They fell behind 5–3 in the third, but fought back to force overtime with two late goals that had the Gardens crowd roaring. An overtime win could have been the sort of clutch comeback that turns a series.
Instead, Sergio Momesso went five-hole on Allan Bester from outside the blue line.
The Blues closed it out in five games, the 1990–91 season turned out to be one of the worst in team history, and the Leafs wouldn't make it back to the playoffs until 1993. Momesso later played for the Leafs, but nobody ever forgave him for this goal.
No. 9: 1999 Eastern Conference final, game one: Sabres 5, Maple Leafs 4
The Leafs' 1998–99 season had already included a 28-point improvement, the first playoff appearance in three years, two series wins, and one Markov salute. Now they headed to the conference final with momentum, home ice and a winnable matchup against the seventh-seeded Sabres.
There was just one problem, and it was the same problem every Sabres opponent faced in those days: the best goaltender in the world. Dominik Hasek had just won back-to-back Hart Trophies, not to mention single-handedly winning Olympic gold. At that point, he was the scariest player in hockey.
And then, hours before game one, a playoff miracle (for Leafs' fans, anyway): Hasek was hurt, and the Leafs would be facing backup Dwayne Roloson instead. It was the perfect opportunity to jump out to an easy lead in the series.
And sure enough, Roloson struggled, allowing four goals. But Curtis Joseph gave up five, and the Sabres stole the opener without their best player.
The Leafs took game two, but Hasek returned for game three and shut them down the rest of the way. The Leafs never seemed to recover from the missed opportunity in the opener, and their third conference finals appearance of the decade ended in five games.