A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. Because who doesn’t love a good superlative, we surveyed the NHL’s rosters to determine the league’s heaviest, lightest, youngest, oldest, most Canadian and least Canadian teams.
• The Calgary Flames dress more Canadians (17) than any other club.
• The Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are the least Canadian, with only six Canucks on their respective rosters.
• The high-flying Devils are the most American club with 14 U.S. players. New Jersey’s head coach and GM are also American.
• The Vancouver Canucks have the most Swedish players (six). The Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning are tied for most Russians (four apiece).
• The Washington Capitals have easily the most cosmopolitan dressing room, with players from nine different countries.
• The rebuilding(?) Detroit Red Wings have the oldest roster (average age: 29).
• The contending Columbus Blue Jackets have the youngest roster (average age: 25.3).
• The heaviest club is Dallas, weighing in at 210 pounds per player.
• The lightest is Tampa at an average of 195 pounds, which provides a very literal excuse for the Bolts’ worst loss of the season coming against a “heavy” Anaheim team.
• There is no sense quibbling over who is the tallest or shortest NHL team. All 31 lineups average out to either 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves all sorts of props he’s not getting.
The last time the goaltender went consecutive starts without earning the Tampa Bay Lightning at least one standings point was way back on March 21. Before that, it was January.
This month Vasilevskiy became the first goaltender in Tampa’s history to earn wins in nine consecutive appearances, topping a Nikolai Khabibulin record that had stood for 13 years.
He also tied the single-season NHL record for wins in October with 10. (Craig Anderson did it in 2009-10 and Manny Legace accomplished that in 2005-06.)
The numbers get better.
Scroll back to mid-February, and Vasilevskiy is 22-5-2 with a .935 save percentage over his last 29 starts.
For all that’s going right with the Bolts, this is still a group getting out-shot by a puck a night. Their 23-year-old goaltender — finally a clear No. 1 — is a huge reason why they’re winning.
Injuries were a major cause for the Lightning’s playoff whiff last spring, but so was an uncomfortable goaltending tandem, as they tried to smoothly increase Vasilevskiy’s workload and decrease Ben Bishop’s. The rhythm was off.
Now the kid with the bargain cap hit (a steal $3.5 million for the next three winters) must do what he’s never done before: play more than 50 games.
3. Much has been made of the torrid Steven Stamkos–Nikita Kucherov duo, and rightfully so. You have a one-time 60-goal man running away with the assist lead and a $4.7-million winger scoring 13 goals through 13 games. Keep it up, and the Lightning will be dressing a line of two Maurice Richard Trophy winners come spring.
But Tampa’s success stretches beyond its top line. You want depth? Twelve different Lightning players posted at least five points and every forward who’s appeared in at least seven games has found the back of the net.
Too bad Tampa and Toronto — Atlantic Division rivals jostling back and forth as the NHL’s highest-scoring team — don’t play each other until January. It would be nice to see these high-powered clubs meet while everyone is healthy and firing.
4. Ottawa nixed the morning skate during its long, bruising playoff run in the spring, and that strategy has continued this fall. The trend is picking up steam. Carolina, Philadelphia… more and more teams are cutting down on the game-day twirl.
“You’re going to see that all day long. Columbus never morning skates. A lot of teams are not going to morning skate anymore. The league has become so tough, so demanding that wherever you can save the energy, you do,” explains Senators coach Guy Boucher.
“Problem with the morning skates is, it’s very hard to be specific, to come out there and have a real practice and do something significant. It’s basically a stretch. I could do without the stretch. I’ve never believed in morning skates, I’ll be honest with you. I do it because sometimes players want to get on.”
There are exceptions. Despite his cumbersome workload, Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen, for example, feels it necessary to get a stretch and sweat the morning before a start—even if he spends more time gearing up than he does on the ice. Don’t tinker with a goalie’s routine.
“The Chicago Blackhawks—they never practice. That’s what it’s become. It’s a very difficult league to play in,” Boucher goes on.
“Since every game is a do-or-die, from the beginning of the year until the end, it demands a lot of the players, and we can use the energy. Get on, make a few passes, get off.”
5. Jumping in and out the Toronto lineup amidst a recent flurry of combination tweaks is Roman Polak, who says his relationship with coach Mike Babcock is very strong despite the occasional healthy scratch.
“We respect each other. He’s just honest. He tells you what he thinks,” Polak says.
“I do the same thing. If I deal with someone, I just tell him what I’m thinking. I just don’t won’t to go around bulls——- and lying to your eyes and say something else behind your back.”
OK. But are players comfortable saying what they really think to Babcock’s face?
“You miiiight,” Polak chuckles. “I’ve tried it a couple times. But you have to be real careful with it. You have to be smart with it. He likes it if you have a real response that makes sense.”
6. Maple Leafs fringe winger Nikita Soshnikov had a tough training camp trying to make the cut while getting comfortable playing after his first concussion.
“Intense” is how he described the experience of striving to re-make an NHL team he played 56 games for last season.
“Two or three days into training camp, I went to Sosh and said, ‘Sosh, you’re all wound up. Whoa. Take some pressure off yourself. We know you’re a good player. You’ve missed a ton of time, and you’re not in the physical shape you should be in. You’re not in the mental shape you should be in. Number 1, get yourself looked after mentally. The first thing you gotta do is breathe. Then get out here and play,’ ” Babcock said shortly before sending him down the AHL.
“He’s a good player; we know it. We’re going to do whatever right to help Sosh be the best player he can play.”
So far, so good.
The 24-year-old Russian leads all Marlies in shots (27) and scoring, with eight points through nine games. He’s a plus-4 who has produced points in all situations: even strength, power play, and on the kill.
“I feel more comfortable to take a hit and to give a hit,” the player said.
7. Mitchell Marner is in the ugliest offensive slump of his life.
Thirteen games without a goal. Five games without a point.
He needs a dance partner.
Babcock thinks of forwards in terms of pairs: Matthews-Nylander, Bozak-van Riemsdyk, Kardi-Komarov. But Marner has never been matched with that one guy who just fits.
A year ago, he ranked third among Leafs forwards in ice time (16:48). He’s now down to seventh among forwards at 14:55 per night.
“Mitch doesn’t want to play on the fourth line, and we don’t necessarily want him on the fourth line,” Babcock said. “We want him to play enough that he’s important to the team.”
We’ve seen several Marner passes to teammates with open nets scoot past the shooter’s stick. And Marner’s own shots just can’t squeak through. He converted on 10.8% of his shots as a rookie. Now he’s down to 4.2% — worst among all Leafs.
Look at Marner’s double chance on Martin Jones this week for a taste of his luck:
“You think you’re snake-bitten,” said Babcock. “It just didn’t go in.”
8. I had a chance to speak with three-time Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Botterill this week at Nike’s unveiling of the 2018 Team Canada sweaters.
With the NHL skipping out on Korea, you wonder if the women’s tournament will get a little more shine. Botterill figures the U.S.-Canada hockey rivalry is up there among sport’s best.
“I feel like it’s great for the game. It’s very fierce on the ice. People embrace that. Every time we played them, you always wanted to bring your best,” Botterill said.
“It’s the same this year. We’ve seen a big flip-flop in scores. The U.S. won the first game 5-1, then Canada came back and won the second game.”
Smart that the twin powers of women’s hockey are holding a six-game series in advance of the Winter Games. Four games remain: Minneapolis on Dec. 3, Winnipeg on Dec. 5, San Jose on Dec. 15, and Edmonton on Dec. 17.
“When I was at Harvard I played on the same teams as some of the U.S. Olympians. I feel it made that rivalry at the Olympics that much more intense because you had to go back to school and deal with them for the next few years,” Botterill said.
“That added a healthy element of tough competition on the ice, but off the ice they’re still good people and you’re friends with them.”
Botterill, 38, went out on top. Her final international point was an assist on Canada’s gold-clinching goal in Vancouver in 2010. She won’t be travelling to Pyeongchang as she just gave birth to her second daughter two weeks ago, but will be following the action closely.
9. Next Thursday, Lanny McDonald will be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. McDonald serves as chairman of another hall of fame, the hockey one, and is the only hockey-playing member of the CSHOF class of 2017, which also includes Mike Weir, Simon Whitfield and Cindy Klassen.
Only seems appropriate to honour McDonald in Movember.
10. Poor Roberto Luongo went to IR (hand) exactly tied for fourth overall with Curtis Joseph in the NHL’s all-time wins list (454).
Luongo needed 27 more games than Joseph to reach the mark, but posted 22 more shutouts along the way. He has a good shot at passing Ed Belfour (484 wins) and moving into third before he retires. Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur should be out of reach.
When Luongo does call it a day, he’ll go out as the greatest goalie for two different franchises, Vancouver and Florida, and should double down on number retirement ceremonies.
One more victory and Luongo will take Joseph’s dubious title as the winningest goalie in history to have never won a Stanley Cup. The only other goalie to rank top-15 in all-time Ws and not own a ring? Henrik Lundqvist.
CuJo fired a friendly chirp Strombone’s way:
11. Thursday night in Los Angeles, Auston Matthews became just the fourth player in NHL history to attempt two penalty shots in one game. He scored on one of them, even though I wouldn’t call what Anze Kopitar did penalty-worthy.
Max Pacioretty (0-for-2 in 2014) and Erik Cole (1-for-2 in 2005) also had two cracks at it this century, but you have to scroll back to Nov. 24, 1938 to find the founder of the double-penalty-shot game: Detroit Red Wings forward Mud Bruneteau.
What a hockey name.
Mud missed on both his penalty shots that forgettable night, but he holds claim to something more spectacular.
Having been called up to the Red Wings with just two weeks remaining in the 1935-36 season, Bruneteau was adjusting to the NHL pace when he was thrust into his first playoff series.
On March 24, 1936 against the Montreal Maroons, Mud scored the winner at 16:30 of the sixth overtime (116:30 of total overtime) to win the longest NHL game in history 1–0.
12. Ron MacLean had a great line on Hockey Night in Canada over the weekend.
“Statistics are like bikinis,” the host said. “They reveal a lot, but not everything.”
Corsica Hockey was listening and fired off a brilliant tweet in response.
Further to MacLean’s metaphor, we found Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford’s recent comments on save percentage interesting. The guy is operating with a career-best .941 mark — tops in the NHL (minimum five games played) — but isn’t putting a ton of stock into that figure: