Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News. He's been part of the THN team since 2011, but he's been married to hockey since he got beat up for collecting NHL sticker books in the mid-1980s. If you like strong opinions on the game itself, fantasy hockey tips and a hefty dose of pop culture in your readings, he's your man. And yes, the eyebrows are real.
Nobody likes a second-guesser. What about a first-guesser?
I reserve the right to call out the Ottawa Senators for botching their goaltending over the past 72 hours, considering I said it during the Calgary game and, more importantly, before Ottawa’s crucial loss to the Boston Bruins Tuesday night. The four-point swing made the difference between trailing Boston by three points in the Eastern Conference wild-card race, with a game in hand, to a seven-point deficit. Woof.
The frustrating thing about Tuesday’s defeat: Senators coach Dave Cameron did not put his team’s best foot forward. Apologies to Craig Anderson, but he isn’t the premier option in net right now. He’s been almost always outstanding since a 2011 trade brought him to Canada’s capital. He has a .921 save percentage as a Senator, with a .925 mark this season.
But Anderson, as good as he is, did not start a game between Jan. 21 and March 8. The Ottawa Senators’ record during that period: 10-5-2. They played their best hockey of the season during Anderson’s absence, largely because of Andrew ‘The Hamburglar’ Hammond’s play in goal. He found his way into Ottawa’s lineup Feb. 16 to mop up Robin Lehner’s mess and never looked back. The Sens handed Hammond the keys, and all he’s done is go 7-0-1 with a 1.54 goals-against average and .954 SP. He’s the first goalie in 76 years to allow two or fewer goals in each of his first eight starts. He shut out the friggin’ Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings in back-to-back starts on the road. No goalie in the history of the universe had done that.
Olympic hockey will happen in 2018, NHLers or not. At the very least, the tournament will feature the world’s best female players. Will the men’s elite make the trek to PyeongChang, South Korea? We’ll see. Whatever happens, the IIHF is proceeding as if everyone will come to play. It released the respective formats for Olympic men’s and women’s hockey qualification Wednesday. Let’s break down how each field will be determined – under the assumption NHLers play.
The Carey Price Hart Trophy whispers simply aren’t whispers anymore. They’re screams. They’re wall-rattling trumpets. No player in the NHL has been more dominant or valuable to his team this season.
Price leads the league’s goaltending class in wins (37), goals-against average (1.89) and save percentage (.936), the latter two triple crown categories by a wide margin. His seven shutouts trail only Marc-Andre Fleury’s nine. Price has been remarkably consistent, posting a GAA of 2.48 or better and an SP of .920 or better every month. He’s also somehow improved since the all-star break, going 13-3-1 with a 1.34 GAA and .953 SP. Those numbers don’t even look like they’re from the modern era. The GAA seems stolen from Alec Connell.
Better still, Price has done all this for a team with the 21st-best Corsi Close rating in the NHL, and for a team that scores less than any other in a playoff position right now. His backup Dustin Tokarski’s numbers pale in comparison. This is no Martin Jones or 2013-14 Chad Johnson looking all-world understudying a superstar goalie on a dominant defensive team. Every possible way you slice Price’s season, his success is his own. He’s the best player in the NHL.
And yet, while the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie is all but cemented, history suggests the odds remain against Price in the Hart Trophy race. Dominant goalie seasons like Tim Thomas’ 2011 haven’t been enough to earn MVP status. No stopper has done it since Jose Theodore in 2002. Before that it was Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998. Then you have to flash all the way back to Jacques Plante in 1961-62. John F. Kennedy was alive and well then. Humans hadn’t landed on the moon.
Maybe it’s time we stopped trying to figure out the Calgary Flames.
So they’re a young team, amassing elite prospects like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, building for the future. Doesn’t matter. The Flames are winning right now.
So the analytics numbers suggest they’re one of the league’s worst possession teams – inferior even to Edmonton, Toronto, Arizona and Carolina. Doesn’t matter. The Flames are winning right now.
So they lost all-world blueliner Mark Giordano to a torn biceps tendon for the season. Doesn’t matter. The Flames are winning right now. Visit Philly, visit Boston, visit Detroit, no problem, come out with six points to start March.
But surely, a 4-0 deficit in the third period of Sunday’s game against the Ottawa Senators would smother these Flames, right? Absolutely not. Here’s the must-watch sequence if you missed it:
Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba draws comparisons to Dion Phaneuf for many reasons. Both played junior with the Red Deer Rebels, both can dish out big hits…and both can hammer a puck.
Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov learned that the hard way Sunday night. A Dumba howitzer caught ‘Varly’ in the collarbone area during the second period:
Matt Murray, 20, did something extremely special in the AHL on Sunday, and context is important here.
Murray set the league record for the longest shutout streak ever, extending it to 304 minutes and 11 seconds before allowing a goal to Springfield’s Dana Tyrell. Murray’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins went on to a 4-1 victory. He had four consecutive shutouts entering Sunday’s game. He stopped 130 straight shots during his run. He annihilated Barry Brust’s 2012 record of 268:17.
The headline could just as easily read “Alexander Semin reveals he still plays in National Hockey League, then scores goal.”
Calling this season a tough one for Semin, the Carolina Hurricanes’ priciest right winger, would be a gross understatement. Going into Sunday afternoon’s barn-burner against the Edmonton Oilers, Semin had three goals in 39 games. That’s not a misprint. He of the $7-million cap hit and seasons of 40, 38 and 34 goals had found twine three times. Carolina’s Elias Lindholm and Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each equalled that total Sunday afternoon alone, when the Canes took down the Oilers 7-4 in a battle between two of the league’s most inept teams.
But then came the goal, which sparked a Carolina rally from a 3-0 deficit. There have been many “goal of the year candidates” described hyperbolically this season. Not Semin’s. Feast your eyes on this beauty after Semin gets tangled up by Rob Klinkhammer and Oscar Klefbom:
Earlier this week, I outlined the top rising prospects in THN Future Watch 2015, our ultimate prospect ranking publication. To recap the process:
Scouts from every NHL team rank their organizations’ top 10 prospects. That generates a pool of 300 players. A panel of about 15 (the number varies slightly by year) head scouts and GMs uses that 300-player list to create a top 50. Votes are assembled to create an aggregate top 50, and the panel also ranks each franchise’s prospect pools.
Which players have plummeted among our top 75 – or out of it – based on last year’s ranking? Here’s a look at Future Watch’s top fallers. Keep in mind anyone ranked last year who graduated to full-time NHL duty doesn’t count as a “faller.”