The post-game quotes are starting to get pretty spicy in Winnipeg, where we sense that head coach Paul Maurice is becoming increasingly frustrated with a lineup that looks great on paper, but less so on the ice at the MTS Centre.
On Monday night the Jets beat Calgary 2-0 with a stout effort at home. That came on the heels of allowing three third-period goals to lose 4-3 to Buffalo. Against Calgary, it really looked like Winnipeg had found a game that could get them somewhere.
The next time out? It’s 1-0 Montreal less than a minute in, and 2-0 before the 5:00 mark. The game ended in a 7-4 Habs romp, and Maurice was indeed sour.
“It was the whole @%*&% game,” he said in his media address post-game. “We’re not walkin’ away saying, ‘Our goalie’s got to play better.’ We didn’t play well enough to win that game. We were horse(bleep) from the drop of that first puck right to the very end.”
Every NHL coach is a professional at being interviewed. They face the media after every practice and game – so, twice a day on game days. When the cuss words start flying in front of a live mic and a bank of TV cameras, you know the frustration level has reached a point where the coach can no longer keep a lid on it.
Now, gone are the days when a guy like ex-Leafs coach John Brophy would unleash a torrent of swear words to a press gathering that included no more than three or four newspapermen — and no TV cameras. And we’ve got to say, we miss those days, the same way we miss the departed Brophy, one of hockey’s true characters.
How did it sound when ol’ Broph cut loose? Have a listen to a recording made by the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby after a loss in Minnesota in the 1987-88 season. This recording has been circulating among hockey scribes for 25 years, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear where Brophy walks away — but then comes back for more a few minutes later.
Clearly goaltending isn’t Winnipeg’s only issue. Dustin Byfuglien filled anything but a leadership role on a pretty rough night versus Montreal; the penalty kill (77.2 per cent) is ranked 26th in the league, and the Jets’ power play is ranked 20th at 17 per cent.
But it needs to be said: Winnipeg’s team save percentage is 26th at just .901. Connor Hellebuyck (.910) has been better than Michael Hutchinson (.890), but at age 23 Hellebuyck needs a backup who can take the heat off the position. Not make it worse.
We wonder if Ondrej Pavelec, currently toiling for the Manitoba Moose, could be part of the solution? Or is GM Kevin Cheveldayoff that fearful of putting Hutchinson on waivers?
The Jets play game No. 45 Saturday night in Arizona, and they have yet to string together three consecutive wins this season. Winnipeg is still right there in the wildcard race, but we sense this is going to tip one way or another here in the next couple of weeks.
A FIRST FOR HNIC: PUNJABI?
Surrey: Who is Jujhar Khaira?
There have only been three Punjabi-Canadian players to play in the NHL, according to HNIC: Punjabi analyst Bhupinder Hundal. Robin Bawa came from Duncan, B.C. and played 61 NHL games for Washington, Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim. Manny Malhotra — whose father was East Indian — enjoyed a lengthy career as a trusty third-line centre. And little known Jujhar Khaira, 22, a third-round draft pick of Edmonton.
This weekend, the Punjabi community in Surrey, B.C. is stoked to see Khaira (pronounced: ju-JAR CAR-ah) hopefully play on Hockey Night in Canada when the Edmonton Oilers host the Calgary Flames Saturday night.
He would be the first ever Indo-Canadian to play on Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi, when Harnarayan Singh and Hundal call Saturday night’s Battle of Alberta tilt.
“The (Indo-Canadian community) is pretty excited. There’s the desire to see somebody make it, and have some enduring success,” said Hundal. Indo-Canadians — especially Canucks fans in B.C. — have really made the jump to hockey, thus HNIC: Punjabi.
“That’s why it’s such a big deal,” to have one of their own in the league, Hundal said. “Robin played for a bunch of teams. He was a superstar in Kamloops in the ’80s (57 goals for the ’86-87 Blazers), but somehow that didn’t translate into the NHL. He became more of a grit guy in the pros. Manny, obviously, had a good career.
“But Jujhar grew up in a neighborhood in Surrey that has one of the most concentrated Indo-Canadian populations in the world, outside of India. It’s a big deal – especially if he plays on Saturday night. A Punjabi player in the Punjabi broadcast of the Battle of Alberta? Wow!”
Bawa had six NHL goals, but this might have been most notable NHL moment.
Khaira played on Edmonton’s fourth-line Thursday against New Jersey, saw 8:14 of ice time, and fed a goalmouth pass to Zack Kassian that probably should have been converted for a goal. We’ll see if he gets another game Saturday against the Flames.
THE BATTLE IS BACK
Speaking of the third installment of the Battle of Alberta, can anyone recall the last time the Flames and Oilers met in January with both teams holding down a playoff spot? Edmonton sits 10th in the overall NHL standings, while the Flames are 14th. Since Nov. 15, only Columbus (21 wins) has more victories league-wide than Calgary’s 18 wins.
The two Alberta clubs haven’t met since Edmonton swept their season-opening home-and-home series back in October. There has been some bad blood boiling however, another pleasant throwback to the old days of The Battle.
Edmonton defenceman Brandon Davidson hasn’t forgotten about a slew-foot he received from fabulous Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk, that left Davidson concussed and out of the lineup. It started Davidson down an injury-filled first half, and like a lot of opponents, the Oilers took down Tkachuk’s number for Saturday’s return date at Rogers Place.
Of course, the only Tkachuk numbers that really matter are his eight goals and 27 points, good for fourth in rookie scoring. Tkachuk has had a major impact as an 18-, 19-year-old (his birthday was Dec. 11) in Calgary, and left plenty of opponents in his wake unhappy about his robust physical game.
A little hatred back in the Battle of Alberta, you say? Don’t mind if we do!
Almost every team has a player who is underperforming, but some of the names this season are truly head-scratchers.
We know Joe Thornton is one of the game’s premier set-up men, but did you know he has two goals this season — both empty-netters? Jumbo has become a 15- to 18-goal man later in his career, but he hasn’t beaten an actual goalie in 42 games this season.
Patrice Bergeron is on pace for the first sub-35-point season of his career (excluding injuries and lockouts). Jordan Eberle has just eight goals, and only one in his past 24 games. He’s a certified 25-goal man, and spent most of the first half next to the NHL’s assists leader, Connor McDavid.
How about Jonathan Toews with just seven goals at the halfway point? He’s never had an NHL season of less than 24 goals, and has scored 28 the past three campaigns. Gabriel Landeskog has 13 points. He’s never had a full NHL season with less than 50 points.
Anze Kopitar has four goals and 21 points halfway through the L.A. Kings season. He has averaged 24 goals and 71 points in his past four full seasons. Tomas Plekanec (6-14-20) is another struggling player.
Meanwhile, former Jet Evander Kane’s biggest on-ice issue remains the same: he plays with the blinders on. It’s tough being his centreman because once you give him the puck it seldom if ever comes back. Case in point: He’s got five assists (11 goals) in 30 games.