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.
American Thanksgiving must feel like a distant memory for Martin St-Louis.
During a Friday matinee Nov. 28, with his New York Rangers battling the Philadelphia Flyers, St-Louis recorded career point No. 1,000. It was a remarkable accomplishment for someone who had to overcome biases against his small stature time and again just to reach the NHL. He racked up 905 of those 1,000 points after turning 27. And with a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy, two Art Rosses, three Lady Byngs and a gold medal to his name, that last big milestone all but confirmed his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
St-Louis hasn’t been the same player since then, however, even though his Rangers skyrocketed up the standings in the New Year. His one-goal, one-assist effort Nov. 28 gave him nine goals and 19 points through 22 games, close to his typical point-per-game production, adjusted fairly for his advanced age and the fact he no longer had Steven Stamkos for a center. After Nov. 28? St-Louis had as many goals in December, January and February combined as he did in November. St-Louis recorded 12 goals and 33 points over his final 52 games of 2014-15. And that’s despite playing with Derek Stepan or Kevin Hayes as his center most of the time. That’s an alarming drop in production, and we can’t blame it on the knee injury that cost St-Louis eight games, as that happened in March.
There’s something awfully familiar about the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014-15 playoffs. It’s not “last year” familiar. It’s more “two years ago” familiar.
Remember Montreal’s short run in the 2013 post-season? It was a mostly disastrous five-game loss to the Ottawa Senators. In Game 1, Sens D-man Eric Gryba knocked out Habs center Lars Eller with an illegal hit to the head, resulting in a two-game suspension. Paul MacLean, Ottawa’s coach at the time, got under Montreal’s skin afterward by blaming the hit on a suicide pass from “player 61,” a.k.a. Eller’s teammate Raphael Diaz. Ottawa won the game 4-2. Montreal agitator Brandon Prust spoke out against MacLean, telling media “I don’t care what that fat, bug-eyed walrus has to say.”
Montreal bounced back to win Game 2, but it got ugly in Game 3. The less-skilled Senators drew the Habs into a street fight. A whopping 236 penalty minutes ensued, and Ottawa won 6-1 thanks to a truckload of power play goals. MacLean called a timeout with 17 seconds left, and Canadiens coach Michel Therrien chowed down on the bait, calling MacLean “classless” after the defeat. The Sens won Game 4 in overtime, with Carey Price getting injured, and crushed Montreal 6-1 again in Game 5.
So why dig up a series from two years ago? Because the Habs let their emotions take over, and it was their downfall. They lost focus and let the scrappier team goad them into brawling, ugly style of play and a war of words. Media coverage of the series swirled around cheap shots and name calling. And it appears the same thing is happening in Montreal’s series with Tampa Bay, though the venom is directed more at the officiating than the Lightning.
How’s that for a Monday bombshell? The longest active tenure of any NHL GM is officially over. Lou Lamoriello has stepped down as GM of the New Jersey Devils. Ray Shero will take over, with Lamoriello staying on as president of hockey operations.
The move was 100 percent Lamoriello’s decision. He personally recommended Shero for the job. Shero is the fourth GM in team history and will report directly to Lamoriello.
“Ray is well respected within the hockey industry and knows what it takes to win,” Lamoriello told media on a conference call Monday. “His 22 seasons of NHL experience will be beneficial to the Devils organization. I look forward to working alongside Ray.”
So why has Lamoriello removed his GM hat after 28 years? For one, he’s 72 and may want to participate in the broad strokes rather than the day-to-day minutia.
“My age is not something that’s hidden,” Lamoriello said on the call. “Timing is everything in life, and the opportunity to bring in someone like Ray Shero…when you see that, you make those types of decisions.”
The timing doesn’t just work because of Lamoriello’s age. The Devils are also a team in need of a fresh start, and perhaps the wily Lamoriello recognizes that.
To quote Tom Arnold in True Lies: “It’s called ice, and it gets a little slick.”
That’s what makes pre-game hockey pageantry unique compared to that of other major sports. It happens on ice, making the slips and falls far more frequent, far more painful and far more embarrassing.
And imagine how much that feeling magnifies when you’re kid, a goalie and you’re about to share ice with the Montreal Canadiens. A young netminder did his best to tote the flag before Game 2 between the Habs and Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night. But the poor tyke looked like he was wearing cement equipment. The weight of it all brought him down and he had a devil of a time getting back to his feet. To us, the scene is probably more adorable than cringe-worthy, but the moment must’ve felt like 10 minutes for the poor guy.
Then, with a simple gesture, Carey Price comes to the rescue. A blocker-to-glove fist pound, a stick tap on the pads, a few words and some all-around acknowledgement. Check it out:
Devan Dubnyk has been the Minnesota Wild’s best player in 2014-15, bar none. He’s also been somewhat of a mascot for them.
Dubnyk is the team’s symbol of resiliency. His career appeared to be tanking before this season, when the Wild traded for him, and his game took off. He led the Wild to the playoffs with an amazing 39-start run and wound up a finalist for the Vezina and Masterton Trophies. Particularly interesting was the fact Dubnyk would almost always bounce back and win directly after a poor start.
Look what he did to open the playoffs. Allowed three goals in a Game 2 loss to St. Louis, posted a shutout victory in Game 3. Humiliated for six goals on 17 shots in a Game 4 defeat, allowed two goals in his next two starts combined to stonewall the Blues and propel the Wild into round 2.
Even Friday, when the Hawks exploded for three goals in the first period, Dubnyk kept his head in the game. He made several big saves to keep the game within reach.
Let’s start with some deep breathing. In through our noses, out through our mouths. There’s a lot to take in after Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, isn’t there?
Bolts goalie Ben Bishop led us on a rollercoaster. He was sensational most of the game before failing to catch Max Pacioretty’s line drive to right field. Bishop suddenly looked like the goat of Game 1. He gave his team a scare after taking a David Desharnais slapshot off the mask to end the first overtime. In the end, though, Bishop stopped 43 of 44 shots for the win. If Bishop can cut the lapses in focus out of his game, he can neutralize what is supposed to be Montreal’s one crucial edge in the series: Carey Price.
Tyler Johnson scored his seventh goal in eight playoff games and left during an injury scare of his own, only to return. There were about five games’ worth of storylines Friday night alone.
The one that mattered most involved Nikita Kucherov. Depending on your perspective:
(a) Tampa Bay should’ve been credited with a win in the first overtime on Kucherov’s goal
(b) Tampa Bay was rightly credited with a win in the second overtime on Kucherov’s other goal
(c) Neither of Kucherov’s goals should’ve counted, and Game 1 should still be happening right now
What a mess. First, let’s look at Kucherov’s breakaway near-tally in the first OT:
Chicago power forward Brandon Saad wasted no time putting his Blackhawks ahead in Game 1 of their Central Division semifinal battle with the Minnesota Wild.
Check out the deceptively beautiful goal, just 1:15 into the game. Saad flies down his off wing and gives Minnesota’s star blueliner, Ryan Suter, the “ole!” Suter takes exception, believing Saad grabbed his stick, and Suter gives up on the play for a moment while he lobbies the official for a call.
That split second is all Saad needs. Check out the gorgeous shot-side shot. It requires a few angles to fully appreciate it:
Will anyone score a goal tonight?
That was the prevailing thought two periods into Game 1 of the Atlantic Division semifinal between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. The reason? Carey Price and Ben Bishop. The gargantuan goalies combined to turn aside all 41 shots through 40 minutes.
The best save of all belonged to Bishop. Watch as the Canadiens’ Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty work a beautiful 2-on-1. ‘Patches’ one-touches the pass back to Plekanec for a give-and-go. Plekanec finishes into what should be an open net. Then, Bishop happens: