A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Two best words in sports: Game Seven. Two worst words in sports: ruptured testicle.
1. When nothing was going right for the Boston Bruins in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park, when the NHL’s runaway first-place team was trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 in their iconic baseball home, head coach Jim Montgomery started to grow sour.
His attitude and message on the bench steered toward the negative, concerned they’d blow it on the big stage.
Captain and culture-setter Patrice Bergeron calmly went in another direction.
“Bergy was like: ‘We’re gonna be all right,’ ” Montgomery said.
Sure enough, two goals later, the Bruins banked another two points and were just fine.
Montgomery — a Jack Adams and Presidents’ Trophy favourite in his first year with the B’s — learned something that night in the cold outdoors.
“These guys got it. I can just shut up behind the bench,” said Montgomery, quick to credit his players’ pride and leadership for this season’s success.
He marvels at the Bruins’ “resilient attitude, the never-say-die ability of this team to rachet it up.”
Which is why the Toronto Maple Leafs — excellent and yet still nine points behind the class of the NHL — should prepare for a serious showdown Saturday at TD Garden.
On Thursday, the visiting Seattle Kraken dealt the Bruins their first home regulation loss since April 14 — ending an insane 26-0-3 home run if you include playoffs.
“It’s always exciting to play Toronto. It’s different on a Saturday night,” Taylor Hall told reporters.
“We don’t want to lose two in a row.”
On the visiting bench, Sheldon Keefe, who came into training camp with designs on first place himself, is turning realist.
“Well, I mean, it’s not much of a race at this point. Unless I’m mistaken, they’re playing at a pace that’s the highest winning percentage in the history of the NHL,” Keefe said.
“But we would like to make it so they have to try to maintain that pace, or we’re going to be right there.
“It’s going to be a huge battle Boston.”
Rasmus Sandin said the entire Leafs team is pumped up for this one: “It’s going to be a tough one, but it’s also going to be a really fun one. I mean, those are the games you really enjoy playing.”
And watching, considering the number of mediocre clubs now crowding this 32-team league.
Montgomery thinks back to Boston’s 2-1 loss in Toronto on Nov. 5 and compares the Leafs’ successful approach to the tact Seattle took Thursday.
“They were five together. They were over top of us. They protected the middle of the ice really well in their own end,” Montgomery explained.
“I would say Toronto, Carolina, and ourselves are the three teams that have consistently been the best so far this year. So, it’s a good test for us.
“We’ll be better Saturday night.”
2. With Bergeron and David Krejci on laughably team-friendly deals, David Pastrnak in the final year of bargain status, and Jeremy Swayman on the final year of his ELC, Boston has every reason to be an aggressive buyer.
We’re predicting an Atlantic arms race in the coming weeks.
GM Don Sweeney is unafraid of the big boost (see: Hampus Lindholm, 2022; Taylor Hall, 2021), and we’d expect nothing less at this deadline.
If/When Pastrnak signs long-term, he’ll want the assurance of playing a top-tier centreman in the post-Bergeron era.
Sweeney has spent his second-rounders in 2023 and 2024 but has all his other picks in the next three drafts intact. He also has $3.25 million in cap space (more than Toronto and Tampa combined) and $24 million worth of forwards coming off the books this summer.
Bet on an offer to Bo Horvat. (Ryan O’Reilly and Dylan Larkin are also intriguing options.)
Contenders such as Toronto and Colorado have interest in the No. 1 rental forward, too, but Sweeney has the flexibility to re-sign — and that helped in his bids to get Lindholm and Hall.
3. We won’t belabour the already well-made argument that the league’s current All-Star selection process has its shortcomings.
Instead, we’ll play by the rules, assume the role of fan, and submit our suggestions for the three remaining invitees for each division (two skaters, one goalie).
David Pastrnak: A must. Fun, fantastic and, as the best impending UFA, newsworthy.
Auston Matthews: Embraces spotlight at big events. Most markable American in the sport. Even his down years are elite.
Andrei Vasilevskiy: Who else?
Adam Fox: The lone defenceman on the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
Nico Hishier: Provides just enough offence to get some overdue shine for his defensive game.
Ilya Sorokin: Stellar stats. Increased workload. Needs more run support.
Mikko Rantanen: Easily the Central’s biggest snub from the first wave. Should appear on Hart ballots the way he’s playing.
Kyle Connor: Crazy how underdiscussed this guy is.
Connor Hellebuyck: Jets’ workhorse MVP outduels Jake Oettinger in a photo finish.
Leon Draisaitl: Only the second-most-productive hockey player in the world. If he doesn’t get in, we riot.
Bo Horvat: Perseverance through the mud and noise. Media Day would be fun.
Martin Jones: Finding a second Pacific goalie with a winning record and a save percentage above .900 is tough. Fine bounce-back for a goaltender and a team blowing away expectations.
4. How life is going for Jakub Vrana in Detroit (waived and since scratched in Grand Rapids) and Anthony Mantha in Washington (healthy-scratched) illustrates just how sour things must turn before executives are willing to give up on one of their own developed players.
The Vrana-Mantha deal of 2021 was that rare hockey deal of players in their supposed prime. Two teams that lost patience with their own perceived underachiever and were willing to gamble on someone else’s.
Neither talent has met expectations (yet), despite the fresh start.
Whether it’s Vrana’s absence or Tyler Bertuzzi’s injuries, the Red Wings haven’t scored enough to make the type of jump GM Steve Yzerman appeared to be banking on with his 2022 summer spending spree.
Detroit opened the coffers for Ben Chiarot, David Perron, Andrew Copp and Ville Husso.
Despite nice wins over Winnipeg and Toronto this week, the chances of Yzerman’s bunch making the playoffs for the first time in seven years have dropped to 5.9 per cent.
Considering Connor Bedard is up for grabs, you gotta wonder if Yzerman picked the wrong summer to jump from bad to mediocre.
He’ll be an interesting GM to watch over the next six weeks. Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, Jake Walman, Pius Suter, Oskar Sundqvist, Adam Erne, Joe Valeno, Olli Maatta, Jordan Oesterle and Alex Nedeljkovicare all on expiring contracts.
Step back to step forward?
5. The call is not wrong. The rule is wrong.
By the letter of the law, Bobby McMann’s overturned goal Thursday in Detroit should be wiped off the board because, as the officials clarified to Keefe, his kicked puck deflected off a skate (Maatta’s) and not a stick before crossing the goal line.
Had the puck nicked any stick — a Leaf’s, a Red Wing’s, the goalie’s — the goal would have stood.
So silly, when common sense will tell you McMann wasn’t trying to boot the puck into the net but rather advance it sideways to his stick blade.
“I’ve asked the official for the exact clarification on it. My understanding is that if it’s kicked in any direction (and) doesn’t go off of any sticks, it comes back,” Keefe said.
“Rules are rules. In terms of what should or shouldn’t be, that’s over my head.”
I feel the same way about the controversial no-goal Team USA’s Jackson Blake scored against Canada in the world junior semis:
Yes, according to the IIHF’s stringent crease rules, Blake technically committed goalie interference. But in no world should his whip-around shot not count.
If the rule is broken, fix the wording. Quit slicing the onion so fine and robbing the game of good goals.
6. Enjoyed Scott Oake and Louis DeBrusk’s 20-minute chat with Connor McDavid on After Hours.
McDavid, who happens to own a heated driveway, says he keeps wearing these old CCM socks because “they don’t make ’em that way anymore.”
7. Until Sunday’s 4-0 blanking by the Philadelphia Flyers, the Buffalo Sabres were a perfect 6-0-0 this season when wearing their black-and-red “Goat Head” throwback alternate sweaters — and they’ve scored six goals in each of those victories.
“We love wearing it. … We feel evil in the jersey,” said Rasmus Dahlin.
Quote of the Week.
8. At the behest of the leadership group, the Pittsburgh Penguins rerouted their post-win trip home from Arizona Sunday and flew overnight to Montreal instead.
That way, the entire team was able to join Kris Letang on Monday for the funeral for his father, Claude Fouquet.
The group hopped an extra flight before summoning a massive comeback win Tuesday, overcoming a 0-3 deficit to the Vancouver Canucks.
“There’s bigger things than hockey,” Bryan Rust told reporters.
“Family is No. 1, and we all consider him family.”
9. Just for kicks, Mitch Marner casually back-pedaled this primary assist in the neutral zone to John Tavares, setting his centreman up for an empty-netter.
“He does that a lot in practice. I’m sure you guys see that. He enjoys that,” Tavares said. “You always gotta be ready for anything and everything with him.”
The move was no fluke.
Marner played soccer growing up and spends a healthy portion of his off-season training handling pucks with his feet, trying to corral it and make plays stick-free.
“So, I thought I could make that play to Johnny and try and flatten it out and get him going in the right way. It worked out, but something I try and work on a lot in practices,” Marner explained. “It’s an important thing to have a skill like that.”
Coach Keefe, of course, is more risk-averse. He smiles wryly when asked about Marner’s fancy footwork.
“Certainly, there’s a lot of a lot of confidence there,” Keefe said. “More often than not, it goes his way, goes our way.”
10. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but what a boon it would be for the Maple Leafs if their patient development of goaltending prospect Joseph Woll paid off.
It’s been James Reimer years ago since Toronto drafted and developed a goalie who solidified himself as an NHL starter.
Woll, who was selected in 2016, enjoyed his busiest win as a Marlie on Sunday — a 56-save star turn against Laval. He has since improved his record to a perfect 9-0-0 with a .935 save percentage, setting a franchise record for consecutive victories.
Erik Källgren performed admirably for the Leafs (3-2-4) when Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov were sidelined, but his losing record at the AHL level (2-3-1, .876) makes it clear that Woll would be next man up and has leap-frogged Källgren as the organization’s No. 3 netminder.
The 24-year-old Woll has overcome two early-season injuries himself and is off to his best season as a pro. He was deservedly named to the AHL All-Star Game this week.
Why the breakthrough?
“His habits. He takes everything seriously. He does everything with purpose,” said Marlie-turned-Leaf Bobby McMann.
“Sometimes you don’t see the results right away, but eventually those habit compound, and you’re able to find success because you’ve been doing the little things right the whole way. Then it comes easier.”
Kyle Dubas bought low on Woll last season, extending him through 2024-25 at a $766,667 cap hit.
11. How good is Juuse Saros?
Good enough to get named the Predators’ All-Star choice over perennial Norris contender Roman Josi.
What Saros is doing is even more impressive considering, at 5-foot-11, he is the league’s shortest goalie.
Nashville coach John Hynes credits his intelligence, calling Saros a student of the game. Matt Duchene points to his lateral quickness. Former Predator Calle Järnkrok said Saros works twice as hard as everyone else.
“You don’t see many goalies at that size play in the NHL, and that’s for good reason,” Keefe observed.
“You gotta be pretty perfect in terms of your technique, your structure, your intelligence, and your athleticism and quickness. He checks all the boxes, which is why he succeeds in the NHL.”
12. In your next life, may you come back as Henrik Lundqvist.