Monday, December 11, 2017

Weekend wrap: Metro traffic jam

As we get settled into the season and the day-to-day ups and downs start to give way to a longer view, it can help to take a step back and look at the bigger picture every now and then. One way to do that is to pick one division and go top to bottom in an attempt to figure out what’s going on.

So today, let’s do just that, as we ask the question: What’s going on with the Metro Division?

Checks standings.

Yeah, I have no idea.

Roughly 30 games into the season, there’s barely anything to separate the top six in the division. There’s just five points between first place Columbus and the sixth-place Rangers – and New York has a game in hand. The Capitals, Devils, Islanders and Penguins are all nestled within two points of each other in between. And right now, all six of those Metro teams are holding down spots in the East’s top eight.

That presents a problem, since the NHL wild-card format only allows for five teams from any one division to make the post-season. With the Atlantic struggling to find a third playoff-worthy team, it’s possible that we could be headed towards a sixth-place Metro team getting ripped off.

Of course, there’s a way to avoid that scenario: Win enough games that you don’t get stuck in that sixth spot. The Rangers took a big step in that direction on Saturday with a 5-2 win over the Devils that continued an extended hot streak at MSG, where they’ve won 10 of 11. It was a fun revival of a rivalry that’s been low on big games in recent years, and moved the Rangers to within two points of a Devils team they’d trailed by as many as eight at the end of October.

That was the Devils second divisional defeat of the weekend, combining with Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets. It’s possible that the Devils are finally looking like the team we expected to see after a hot start; they haven’t won more than two straight since Nov. 1. Their goal differential is now in the red too, so there’s some real reason for concern in New Jersey.

If the Devils keep slipping, that opens the door for not only the Rangers, but an Islanders team that’s been quietly putting together a solid season. The Isles just dropped three straight on a tough road trip, but the good news is that they’ll spend seven of the next eight at home, where they’ve only lost in regulation once all year.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets earned a 1-0 win over the Coyotes that nicely symbolizes a team that seems to specialize in doing just enough to stay in first place. The Penguins lost to the Maple Leafs and continue to spin their wheels, even though everyone assumes they’re just biding their time. And then there’s the seventh-place Hurricanes, who are still lurking six points back despite losing five of six.

That covers six of the division’s eight teams; we’ll hit on the other two in a little more depth down below.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-10-1, +17 true goals differential*) – They keep finding ways to win even when they’re missing Auston Matthews, playing their backup goalie and getting skated into the ground by Connor McDavid.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (19-10-1, +11) – This was weird: A struggling Cam Atkinson was a healthy scratch for Columbus on Saturday, just three weeks after signing a $41-million extension.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday Storylines: The Jets get their shot

We’re into double digits as we hit the 10th weekend of the NHL season. We’ve got a dozen games on tap, starting in the afternoon and lasting through a trio of late starts. Here’s what to watch for.

HNIC Game of the Night: Jets at Lightning

The Jets are in the middle of what’s been easily their best season since returning to the NHL in 2011. It might be taking a run at 1984–85 for the best Jets season ever, period. That’s not an especially high bar, but Winnipeg fans probably aren’t too worried about nitpicking right now, because for most of the year this team has been all sorts of fun.

Even after losing two straight to start this road trip, the Jets are still locked in a three-team race for top spot in the Central. But if there’s been a knock against them, it’s one we covered a few weeks back: they haven’t earned many signature wins. They had that one blowout over the Penguins, and they beat the Pacific-leading Kings, but for the most part their wins have come against a long list of also-rans and quasi-contenders.

That’s not entirely their fault, since in today’s parity-soaked NHL almost every opponent will be an also-ran or quasi-contender. But tonight, the Jets get their shot at an unambiguous Cup favourite when they face the first-place-overall Lightning.

Tampa’s been dominating the power rankings so far this year, ours included, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re stacked with talent, they score a ton, and they’re racking up wins. And they’re earning them — they’re the only team in the league right now that’s outscoring the opposition by better than a goal a game. They’re good.

The Jets are good, too, but you can forgive the hockey world for being a little bit slower to buy in. That could change with a strong showing tonight. We won’t go crazy and use words like “potential Stanley Cup final preview” here, but we reserve the right to change our mind if the Jets can go into Tampa and dominate.

And if seeing how the young Jets match up with the Lightning isn’t enough proof for any skeptics out there, stand by. Next weekend brings a home-and-home showdown with the Blues, and that’s followed by a game against the Predators. The Central picture is about to get a whole lot clearer, and for once the Jets have a chance to control how they fit into it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, December 8, 2017

Grab bag: Happy anniversary

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Should fans believe the annual Forbes report on NHL franchise values?
- The only way to save the 2018 Olympic hockey tournament
- An obscure player who went even longer than Pokey Reddick without a shutout
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a classic YouTube clip breakdown of a 25-year-old fight that seems vaguely familiar somehow...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Podcast: Buttng heads

In this week's episode of Biscuits: A Hockey Podcast...
- We spend an uncomfortably long amount of time talking about Joe Thornton's butt check to TJ Oshie's face
- A breakdown of what's going on with Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson
- We sort out last week's goalie fight debacle
- The Flyers finally win a game, but at least they're not the Sabres
- Dave basically admits he was wrong about 3-on-3 overtime and the shootout
- Reader questions, and lots more.

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or subscribe on iTunes.




A celebration of Jacob Markstrom's obscure and probably impossible record chase

Late in Saturday’s game against the Maple Leafs, the Canucks watched as James van Riemsdyk tipped home a Morgan Rielly shot to cut Vancouver’s lead to 2–1. While the Maple Leafs pressed hard over the final few minutes, the Canucks ultimately held on for the win. In terms of the outcome of the game, the goal didn’t end up mattering.

But in terms of history, it did matter. It mattered a lot.

Forget about the Canucks honouring Daniel Sedin for hitting the 1,000-point mark. That was impressive and all, but there are 87 members of that club. It’s not all that rare. Sedin isn’t even the first to accomplish the feat among people with his exact DNA sequence.

No, we’re talking about real history. Somebody who has a chance to enter truly uncharted territory.

We’re talking about Jacob Markstrom‘s shutout streak.

Or more specifically, we’re talking about his lack-of-shutout streak. Markstrom has now played 128 NHL games without one. That leaves him just four games short of matching Pokey Reddick’s all-time record for most games played in a career without recording so much as a single shutout.

When you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. Reddick’s 132-game career was played between 1986 and 1994, which largely overlaps with the highest-scoring era in NHL history. Markstrom’s streak dates back to 2010, meaning it takes place entirely during the Dead Puck Era. It shouldn’t be possible for a modern player to break a 1980s record for goaltending futility; that would be like somebody coming along today to challenge Wayne Gretzky’s scoring marks.

And that makes Markstrom’s streak an accomplishment worth recognizing, even celebrating. Preferably now, before he inevitably gets a shutout in the next few starts and ruins it.

So today, let’s take a look at Markstrom’s quest for the record from a couple of different angles. And we’ll start with the man he’s chasing.

The record-holder

Pokey Reddick was awesome.

If you were around during those days then you already know that, but it’s worth noting just in case. He was small even for his era at just five-foot-eight, meaning he had to actually move his limbs to make a save, which made him all sorts of fun to watch.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet