A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. How ugly can things get in Brooklyn?
The New York Islanders rank in the bottom eight league-wide in defence, power play, and penalty kill. They’ve fallen from 11th in offence to 18th. They’re getting outshot by two pucks a night. They play in the biggest NHL city yet draw fewer fans (12,390 on average) than anywhere except Carolina. A portion of the supporters who do show up have taken to chanting, “Fire Cappy!” Their ice is consistently criticized.
John Tavares, who should be a scoring-race threat at age 26, is 58th in scoring. He needs help.
GM Garth Snow and the Isles players have again endorsed Jack Capuano, even though no employed head coach with as long of a tenure has a worse winning percentage. According to Newsday, ownership supports Capuano too.
It’s not the coach’s fault Snow inexplicably let go of Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and P.A. Parenteau and is now looking for forward help.
We’re not convinced a different coach could turn this into a playoff roster, but the Isles are last in the Metropolitan and something’s got to give here.
The new owners must think long and hard: Is Snow really the GM you want leading this club when Tavares becomes a free agent in 2018?
2. Go to games early enough to catch the warm-up and it’s fun to watch players’ routines. Patrick Kane is always last to leave the ice in Chicago, flipping a puck to an eager fan en route back to the dressing room. Washington’s T.J. Oshie charges off the ice like he’s being chased, running down the hallway instead of walking like a normal human.
Maple Leafs super rookies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have taken to playing catch with each other towards the end of warm-up, passing the puck back and forth as they circle around their zone. Almost invariably, Matthews is last off for the Leafs. Like Kane, he’s taken to scooping a puck to a fan on his way out. When it hit the glass last week, he went back onto the ice to retrieve it and make sure it reached a kid’s hands.
“It’s not really a superstition. Typically, I like to be one of the last two or three guys off. When Milan Michalek was here, he was always one of the last guys off. I’d have to get off before him,” Matthews told me.
So, does it become a seniority thing?
“It’s not a big deal. I just like to stay out there.”
3. Here’s Matthews — Arizona product and unofficial spokesman for hockey in the desert — on what the Coyotes’ new rink means for that state:
“It’s huge. They’re partnering with the [Arizona State University], so it’s going to be huge to share that rink. It’s going to be an easier commute for all the kids that want to go watch it. It’s only a 20-minute drive from where I’m from, where it was a 50-minute or hour drive to Glendale. It’s a good location. Two teams playing in that one building is awesome.”
“It’s going to see the growth in hockey there in the next five, 10 years…. It’s a pretty big honour to be part of that growth in Arizona and continuing to see it grow. It’s only going to go up from here.”
4. Before Nashville’s P.K. Subban met with reporters in Toronto this week, he made sure to pull a sweatshirt on over top of his quick-dry undershirt, which featured a countrified version of his personal logo that replaced the hockey stick in the silhouette with an acoustic guitar.
“My team would be really upset with me. This is kind of a one-off specialty thing. It’s not something you’ll ever see again,” Subban said when a reporter asked about the logo. “That’s why I put the hoodie on. It is pretty funny, though.”
Always stay on brand.
5. Following up his first 20-goal campaign and an All-Star Game appearance, Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov was tapped as a young forward ready to take another giant step toward elite status. It’s also a contract year. Why not take $3 million a year and double it?
Not so easy. Kuznetsov disappeared in the 2016 post-season and has found the net just twice this fall.
“As his star grew, the attention and all the other stuff that comes with being a star became real hard,” coach Barry Trotz told Hockey Central at Noon Thursday. “In the last 20 games [of 2015-16] he was a bit of a tired player, mentally and physically.”
Kuznetsov, 24, remains one of the game’s best quotes, despite the scoring dip.
Trotz asked him to play more like Pavel Datsyuk, and Kuznetsov responded with the quote of the week.
“Trying to copy Pavel, you will have same chances like walk from here to China. Without food,” Kuznetsov said.
In fact, Kuznetsov worked out with Datsyuk’s personal trainer in the off-season.
“The confidence is coming back,” Trotz said. “I think you’re going to see him pile up some points in the next little while.”
6. Note to self: Start paying more attention to Viktor Arvidsson. The speedy 2014 fourth-rounder has begun his breakout season in Nashville and is a treat to watch.
7. After allowing four unanswered third-period goals in a loss in Toronto last week, Steve Mason stood before the media and took it, even though he despised having to do so.
“It’s not good enough. It’s just not good enough. I don’t know how many times I can say it over and over again,” Mason said. He left cursing.
A reminder that even these early-season games weigh heavy on players.
The Philadelphia Flyers have the worst save percentage in the league (.875), but the players and the coach — rightfully — won’t throw Mason and Michal Neuvirth (now injured) under the bus.
“If you look throughout the year last year, we were the benefactors of some of the best goaltending in the league, and those two guys did it together. I don’t think it’s different this year. They support each other well. They push each other,” says coach Dave Hakstol. “There’s all the confidence in our room that we’re going to get that type of goaltending.”
“It’s not always on the goalies. They make mistakes, but when they make a mistake, it’s in the goal,” says Jakub Voracek. “When a forward makes a mistake behind the net, you still have four guys to make up for it.”
With Neuvirth out, 22-year-old Anthony Stolarz could make his NHL debut this month.
In the meantime, Mason — whose contract expires this summer — needs more of this:
“Mase” has spiked of late, going 2-0-1 in his last three appearances.
8. Mike Fisher, who’s been tasked with assuming the Predators’ captaincy from Shea Weber, hung out with his old pal in the summer. He’s not the least bit surprised to see Weber killing it in Montreal.
“We’re happy for him,” Fisher says. “He’s your leader. Great guy, well liked. It’s an adjustment not having that presence there. He was a great presence in the room and on the ice. Other guys have had to step up and take different roles and be more vocal. We’ve got lots of those guys. The younger guys coming up are helping fill the void as best we can.”
P.S. This was a great answer, Mr. Fisher:
9. A chunk of 2016’s deep RFA class who struck rich contract extensions have taken a dip production-wise. Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan all expected their production to be higher than it is through 16 games or so. (Mark Schiefele and Nikita Kucherov — tied atop the Art Ross race with 22 points each — are doing just fine, thank you.)
Filip Forsberg now makes $6 million a year. He’s scored once.
“I’ve had some conversations with Fil about how to get to those spaces that will allow him to get his shot off. With goal scorers, that’s the biggest point: working to find those openings. When they do find them, they’ll get pucks to the net,” says coach Peter Laviolette. “He’s practising really hard. He looks good out there. Confidence comes into play, too.”
10. The hottest team in the National Hockey League heading into Thursday night? Why, it was the New Jersey Devils, winners of five consecutive games before a one-goal loss in Anaheim.
Feels appropriate to celebrate Jersey’s strong start with a musical tribute to sports junkie Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who released their final album last week. Will never forget Phife rocking a personalized Devils sweater in the “Oh My God” video:
11. A couple quick comments from current players on Hall of Fame inductees Eric Lindros and Pat Quinn.
Wayne Simmonds on Lindros: “He still comes around now and again. It’s awesome every time to shake his hand. He talks to all the guys. I remember a few years ago, here in Toronto, he came down and practised with us. He’s hands-on. Every time I’ve met him after that, he’s been awesome. Just getting a chance to be around a guy like that, I grew up looking up to him and the style he plays, having a couple words with him means a lot to me.”
Morgan Rielly on Pat Quinn: “I had a pretty lucky opportunity to get to know Pat a little bit, him being in Vancouver a lot. He’s one of those guys you look up to and your parents look up to. We’ve had some long conversations, me and my dad, about the things Pat has done here and in Vancouver.”
James van Riemsdyk on Quinn: “He coached in Philly, and there was a picture on the wall there. First time I saw it, I had to do a double-take because I thought it was my dad behind the bench. He looked similar to my dad.”
One more Lindros note. Filmmaker Tim Thompson, whom you may remember from his Hockey Night in Canada montages, is good friends with Lindros. He made this tribute video and surprised the Big E with it during his Hall of Fame party on the weekend. Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender” gets me:
If you haven’t played, do it. I got tense pulling for a $60 sushi dinner. I can’t imagine the bill racked up by a bunch of athletes gobbling 72-ounce sirloin and shredding wine lists.
“It’s really suspenseful,” Jakob Chychrun, 18, said. “It’s a good energy rush.
“I haven’t paid for dinner since I can’t even remember when,” he went on. “It’s been fun, but I know I’m going to get hit sooner or later.”
Fellow rookie Christian Dvorak apparently got it the worst. He’s now in the AHL, where meals are less costly.