Monthly Archives: December 2011

We live in an age where football coaches do not know when to go for two, how to effectively use timeouts or even whether the game is mathematically over and time to take knees. The idiocracy has spilled over into the media, and unfortunately, into the pool of “readers” and listeners who get a headline and let it form their opinion of the facts of life.
Last Sunday afternoon, an online blog hosted by the Denver Post put up a headline reading “Forsberg shocker: admits Sweden may have tanked game in 2006 Olympics.” The article was written by a man named Adrian Dater, who apparently has been covering the Colorado Avalanche “since before they were even called the Avalanche.” It should be noted that he never claims to have covered the Quebec Nordiques.
The content of Dater’s article was rather thin, but it includes some quotes from Forsberg that were translated from the 2003 Hart Trophy winner’s native tongue: Swedish.
First, I’ll give the quote. Then, I’ll explain why only a moron would think any of this is controversial. It should be noted that Dater himself seemed to be saying that this story was controversial mainly in Sweden, but there’s no mistaking the title of the story.
Forsberg’s Quote
“We maybe discussed within the group will probably it is better if we do not go out and charge us too much. All knew that this was our chance. We did all that was needed to win the tournament. I think you can blame the whole system.”
What Forsberg Meant
To understand what Forsberg meant by the line, “All knew that this was our chance,” one must understand the setup of the Olympic ice hockey tournament.

The 2006 Olympic ice hockey tournament consisted of 12 competing nations. The field was split into two pools of six teams each. Every team played every other team in its pool once, for a total of five games. The top four teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals. The winners of each quarterfinal game advanced to the semifinals, or final four, or what’s referred to in the business as “the medal round,” because three of the four remaining teams will win medals, and each team is guaranteed to play two more games (as opposed to teams that lose in the quarterfinal round and go home).
The quarterfinals are set up in a very distinct way. The winner of pool A plays the 4th place team from pool B. The #2s play the #3s from opposite pools. It’s exactly like every college basketball conference tournament that involves separate divisions.
Now, the game in question was Sweden’s final game in pool play against Slovakia. The Swedes knew that a loss meant a 3rd place finish in the pool, which normally would be a worse fate than to finish 2nd or 1st.
The other pool, however, had a bit of a shocker: Switzerland had finished 2nd, ahead of the previous two Olympic gold medal winners, Canada and the Czech Republic. So for Sweden, to finish 1st or 2nd in the pool meant a quarterfinal date with a hockey powerhouse that had more recent success than the Swedes themselves, who in fact had won the Olympic gold in 1994 — immediately prior to the Czechs and Canadians. It would have been ballsy and gunslingeresque to win the game against Slovakia and set up some sort of a “previous twelve years consolidation match,” but this isn’t pro wrestling. The Swedes’ best chance to get into the medal round was to finish 3rd in their pool, and it would take a loss to assure themselves of that spot.
Does that mean that Sweden “tanked the game” according to Dater’s headline, or “threw the game” according to gem Dan Duquette, Jr
Not necessarily, as Forsberg is never quoted as saying, “We tried to lose,” or “we wanted to lose.” He said it was “probably it is better if we do not go out and charge us too much,” which I think translates to “not go out and try too hard and expend too much energy on a meaningless game.” There’s no actual use of the words “tank,” “throw,” or even “lose.” Just a line acknowledging that the Swedish team was entering a dead rubber, which come up all the time in every league of every sport.
Even if Forsberg meant what these “professional journalists” have twisted his words to mean, what’s the problem?
We’ve already established that Forsberg never said anything in any language about throwing a game. But we also know from watching sports that a team can essentially ensure its own defeat just by the players not having their hearts in the game. It seems that even those who deemed it necessary to come out in Forsberg’s defense have admitted that the Slovakia game was meaningless.
Duquette’s article quotes Henrik Sedin, another prominent member of the ’06 Swedish team, as saying that something was lost in translation, and that Forsberg was not suggesting they tried to lose. Just maybe, that they didn’t really care to win. Um, has anyone watched the bottom 25% of teams in any league on this planet?
Sedin says, “You have to remember, too, that we were already in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t a big game for us, so to speak. So that might have been part of it.”
My point exactly. Nobody said Sweden “tried to lose.” What Forsberg and anyone with a brain knew, however, is that there was really no reason to try to win. Hence, Forsberg’s quote at the end about “blaming the whole system.”
And I know there are always going to be dumb shits out there who scream that tired old line, “you always play at 110%! You always have to go all out every shift of every game or you’re not a real athlete!” Spare me. First off, nobody can ever give 110%. It’s not mathematically possible. The reason we use that tired old cliché is that it makes us feel like we give 100% much more often than we do. Here’s a dirty little secret: most of us give somewhere between 50 – 75% toward everything in our daily lives. To give around 90% is taxing — mentally, physically and emotionally. The moments when we as humans are able to enter “the zone” and give anything close to 100% of our attention, preparation, effort and desire are so rare that they actually have their own cliché (in the zone). Nobody thinks that they’re “in the zone” for most of their waking lives unless they’re under the influence of copious amounts of blow, and even then, it’s probably not productive or sustainable. I don’t know, that’s just what my D.A.R.E. officer told me.
Sweden won the Gold Medal
Here’s another reason none of this matters: Team Sweden went out and won the entire tournament. They won the gold freaking medal in the one competition in which they were allowed to compete. What in the hell could they have done to succeed more during their two weeks in the Olympic village, impregnate Lindsey Vonn? (Easy, she was Lindsey Kildow at the time and would remain so for another 19 months, so let’s all just relax. I’m not advocating for extra-marital affairs here — just against growing idiocracy).
So, the International Ice Hockey Federation set up a tournament and laid out the ground rules for determining a winner. The Three Crowns won that tournament under those rules. So, what exactly are we talking about here?
Sportsbooks already take dead rubbers into account
The main argument in favor of making a big deal out of Forsberg’s comments is that the integrity of sport is destroyed when a competitor or team of competitors intentionally loses a game. The assumption is always that the person or persons throwing the game / match is making money by gambling against themselves and ensuring the success of their bet.
There is absolutely no way an objective and logical person can take Forsberg’s comments and make the leap needed to conclude that the Sweden – Slovakia game was thrown. Yet, there that leap is in every headline. It’s not because the language of throwing a game is there; it’s because that’s the kind of language that gets internet users to click on a link. It’s really sad, but that’s the beginning and end to this story.
It would be naive to assume that sportsbooks and bettors are not aware of the differing degrees to which a team needs to win a specific game. Only an outsider, a person entirely foreign to the concepts and tongues of sports betting, would take Forsberg’s comments in conjunction with these sensational headlines and buy into the hype. Betting lines from week 17 of the NFL are always goofy, with an 8-7 club favored to beat a 12-3 club that has nothing to play for. Lines can be 14 points different solely based on the timing of a matchup.
The Indianapolis Colts have become famous for benching their entire team late in the season, and while that creates uncertainty, the bookies do their best to adjust the lines accordingly. There’s nothing unsporting about a team using its brains to set itself up to win the championship in the best way possible. That’s exactly what the Swedish hockey team did at the end of pool play in the 2006 Olympics.
Dead rubbers happen in just about every sports competition that separates “regular season” from “playoff.” Once it is decided that the ultimate champion of a competition is the winner of a playoff, then all of a sudden the importance of each singular regular season game is diminished. Winning a top seed or finishing as high as possible is nice, but ultimately all that matters is to win the playoff, and to accomplish that, a team really needs only to make said playoff. Check out the latter parts of any North American regular season, or the end of the group stages of soccer tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League. Once a team no longer has an incentive to win a specific game, the tendency is to not trot out the best lineup or give blood to the cause. After all, why would you?
I don’t hear anybody alleging that crappy baseball teams are “throwing” or “tanking” games when they call up their minor leaguers at the end of the season to see what they’ve got for the next campaign. Nor do I hear these loaded words launched at bad teams trying to get more ping pong balls in a draft lottery; but I sure do hear joking slogans thrown around like the “Fall for Taylor Hall,” or “Suck for Luck,” to say nothing of the obvious desperation to pile up the losses by the Cleveland Cavaliers during LeBron James’ senior year of high school. So again, what the hell are we talking about here?
I cannot say this too many times: this is an absolute non-story. There’s nothing shocking about what Peter Forsberg said. There’s nothing unsporting about the way Team Sweden approached its fifth and final round robin game against Team Slovakia. And there was no seedy, dark underworld story worthy of a Scorsese film. The Swedes played the game according to the rules that were set up by administrators, and then went out and won that game.
If you don’t like the idea of “setting up your seeding,” then stop locking teams into slots and start allowing the best seed to choose its opponent. Then the #2 seed can choose its opponent and bracket slot, and on down the line. Going into the quarterfinal round of the ’06 Olympics, the first seed would have chosen to play Switzerland, and there would have been no built-in incentive for Sweden to lose its final game to jockey for the proper lower position to play an inflated Swiss team.
There are seven hockey nations that are clearly ahead of the rest: Sweden, Finland, Canada, United States, Russia, Czech Republic and Slovakia. This fact has been proven year after year in both international competitions and here on this continent with the makeup of NHL rosters. Those were the seven quarterfinalists aside from Switzerland in the 2006 quarterfinals. The same can be said for the 2010 Olympic tournament.
Frankly, nobody in this crowd would choose to face three of the others en route to a gold medal when it is possible to instead face only two. The Swedes chose to take their final game easy and end up only having to defeat two of its top-7 brethren. It should be noted that the United States was one overtime goal away from duplicating Sweden’s feat and winning the gold medal after facing Switzerland in the quarterfinals in 2010, but Sidney Crosby foiled those plans in front of the Vancouver crowd.
Lastly, anyone who wants to suggest that Slovakia needs Sweden to “tank” or “throw” a game in order for it to go the way of the Slovaks should check out the 2010 quarterfinals. Last I checked, the final score was Slovakia 4, Sweden 3. Jaro Halak and the boys were 40-to-1 to win the tournament for some reason, but sent the defending Olympic champs home in the round of eight. I wonder why nobody involved in the discourse of this topic ever refers to that fact. Probably because it would just add water to the extinguisher.

Sometimes writings take on a life of their own and go in a direction in which the writer hadn’t planned on going. It seems Richard Bachman has grabbed this blog and ran with it, at least for the time being.
For the second time in three nights, The Pen Name will lead the Dallas Stars out of their home tunnel and onto the ice in front of a national TV audience. Mind-boggling, if you ask me.
I’ve been very supportive of Bachman in his string of starts over the last two weeks, but that isn’t exactly to say I’ve gone out on a limb. The Pen Name is 4-1 as a starter since relieving Andrew Raycroft mid-game at San Jose on December 8. Tonight will be just his second home appearance after playing in five consecutive road games.

The opponent is the Philadelphia Flyers, who under normal circumstances would be heavy favorites to beat Dallas anywhere. But after the maiming over the weekend on home ice at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, the Flyers skated decently to a disappointing result in Colorado two nights ago.
Philadelphia outshot the Avalanche 33-27, scored 1 power play goal in its 4 opportunities, and killed off the only two instances it had of being shorthanded. But Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was just good enough to steal the shootout win, and extend the Flyers’ “losing streak” to 1.5 games (I mean, we can’t really call it a 2-gamer, now can we?). These struggles probably make HBO very happy, since the Rangers are cruising ahead of the Winter Classic, and nobody wants to see two teams in cruise control.
Phoenix will bring its road warrior hockey club into Carolina tonight for a game against Cam Ward and the last-place Hurricanes. The Coyotes rock a 10-6-1 record away from the apathetic confines of the Arena, while playing even in front of the raucous crowd (7-7-2 home record). Apologies to Coyote fans for my exaggeration; you do create a pretty good scene during playoff games, and according to your Wikipedia page, ticket sales have increased and season ticket renewals are at an all-time high.
The Hurricanes have played some dreadful hockey this season, and look poised for a high draft pick. The results haven’t come yet under Kirk Muller, but the latest in a line of NHL ’94 stars-turned-head coaches (or in Randy Cunneyworth’s case, NHL ’94 bit players-turned-head coaches) hasn’t had nearly enough time. It was nice to see the Canes were able to unload Tomas Kaberle to Montreal recently, but the fact that he was on the roster only highlighted what I believe to be an uncertainty over the direction of the club. Carolina has multiple rookies and/or prospects that many still believe to be future impact players in the NHL. What they don’t have is a calming influence on the blue line, and with the only man on the team capable of delivering that, Joni Pitkanen, out indefinitely with a concussion, things look very bleak for the Canes this season.
Speaking of bleak outlooks, Montreal heads into Chicago tonight with very few believers left on the bandwagon. Professional writers are using terms like “gongshow” and “lack of direction” rather frequently these days to describe the Habs, and it’s hard to argue with any of them. The latest uproar surrounds new hire Cunneyworth’s lack of a grasp of the French language, but I’ve never been to Quebec so I’ll save any comment on that.
The Habs will concede the game try to spark the team by starting Peter Budaj at the Hawks, who just possibly might be tired from last night’s loss in Pittsburgh. One would have to expect a Chicago victory. Corey Crawford is expected in nets for Chicago, but nothing is yet confirmed at the time I write this, and Ray Emery has started the last six games to the tune of a 5-1 record. If it is Crawford tonight, it is an absolutely huge game for him. Most people expect Crawford to be the Hawks’ goalie going forward, but the season is almost halfway gone, and at this moment it’s hard to justify Crawford over Emery. A game against Montreal at home is the kind of game that any division title contender should wish for right now.
What should be noted is that this is exactly why the Blackhawks were so smart in giving Emery a tryout, and subsequently a contract and the backup job. I urged the Red Wings to make this same move, but instead Razor Ray is winning for the rival team. Things may turn and nothing is certain, but right now, credit must be paid to Emery for persevering through his terrible hip injury and to Chicago for realizing how important he could be to a roster capable of winning another Stanley Cup, but backstopped by a second-year starter.
St. Louis will start Brian Elliott at Colorado, who will counter with Giguere. Some people will go on about the Shattenkirk trade (my ode to MvsW), but I think enough time has passed that we can evaluate a game between the Blues and the Avs in a way that includes players besides Shattenkirk, Stewart and Johnson. Since I never pick the Avs, give me the Blues. David Backes will be the anti-Paul Stastny tonight in a micro-matchup between young American centers on different sides of the slope right now.
Tampa Bay plays at San Jose tonight, and I’m not going to waste anybody’s time going into detail on a game that, quite frankly, I’m not going to watch. I expect the Sharks should get this one done at home, but the NHL, like all professional sports leagues with built-in parity, is unpredictable. Not many people may remember this or care, but this game is a matchup between last season’s conference final losers. Give the winner a bronze medal, I say.
In what’s probably the game of the night, my Detroit Red Wings travel to Vancouver for the first time this year. Detroit beat Vancouver at Joe Louis Arena 2-0 on October 13 in a game that was unexpectedly dominated by the Wings, but that was when the Canucks were still in the beginning stages of their hangover. It seems the headache is gone now, and the home/road records would suggest a Vancouver win tonight. The Canucks are 9-4-1 at home this season, while the Red Wings are a simple 8-8-0 on the road. Detroit is usually a pretty good road team, but has instead opted for an eyebrow-raising 13-2-1 start on home ice en route to another good record through 32 games (21-10-1). Jimmy Howard is confirmed as the starter for Detroit, while Roberto Luongo is expected for Vancouver. That game starts at 10 p.m. eastern time.

Sundays are almost always lean in terms of NHL scheduling. In my younger 20s, we would refer to Sunday as “the day of reflection,” which usually tied in with getting our minds and bodies right after a few nights of good ways to make bad decisions. I think given my advanced age and rededication to the upkeep of this blog, Sundays are a good day to reflect upon the week that was with specific regard to Tram’s Table posts that previewed something that could use a little reviewing as well.

Boston Bruins d. Philadelphia Flyers 6-0

On Friday I previewed the Saturday afternoon duel for first place in the eastern conference between Boston and Philly. The title of the post was “Concussions Hinder Flyers Ahead of Saturday’s Tilt with Bruins for East’s Top Spot.” While I may have upset some Boston fans by glossing over the B’s issues, specifically the concussion suffered by Daniel Paille, the angle probably was spot on. Granted, it would have taken more than just Giroux and/or Pronger to reverse a 6-0 drubbing on home ice, but the Flyers had the look of a team that was more limited than a typical “9-1 in their last 10” team should be.

The Bruins looked like a team capable of winning a(nother) Stanley Cup. To do so, they may have to face the Flyers for a third straight year, and after last spring’s second-round sweep, it’s hard to find anything from yesterday that would suggest a reversal of the outcome of this potential series. It’s even harder when you consider that Chris Pronger is, at least as it stands right now, not going to take part in any more hockey this season.

Bachman d. Poulin 3-2 as predicted… then gets torched at NJ

On Thursday I keyed in on the Dallas at New York Islanders matchup because it involved the two goaltenders with the least amount of combined NHL experience. Dallas trotted out its AHL usual, Richard Bachman, formerly of Colorado College. The Isles sent out their preferred AHL tender as well: Kevin Poulin.

There is no need to retroactively preview the game, since that was another post, but the “something in the realm of a 3-2 Dallas win” turned out to be something of an exact final score.

Since that game, New York went back to this season’s best starting option in Al Montoya (of the University of Michigan… gotta plug NCAA hockey & especially the soon-to-be-defunct CCHA). Dallas, meanwhile, chose to roll Bachman again on Friday night in New Jersey on Scott Niedermayer jersey retirement night. It didn’t go well for The Pen Name. The Devils beat the Stars 6-3 with no empty netters.

Dallas plays next on Monday night on Versus at 8:00 eastern time, where they will host the horrendously struggling Anaheim Ducks. We will see if Bachman gets his fifth straight start or if Dallas benches The Pen Name in favor of regular backup Andrew Raycroft (he of the 3.53 GAA).

Red Wings blast Kings 8-2

On Tuesday I put my two cents in on the firing of Kings’ head coach Terry Murray, and the possible changes in playing style that may necessarily follow. It was recently announced, to nobody’s surprise, that Murray will be replaced by a Sutter brother for the second time. Eleven years ago, it was Duane Sutter who took over for Murray in Florida. Now it will be Darryl Sutter to try to lead the Kings back to the playoffs.

One possible side effect of Murray’s axing that I noted was a rise in the goals against department for the Kings. This would not necessarily hurt the team, as they could allow 0.5 more goals per game, but score 1.0 more and end up doing better in the overall standings. But the opening up of play would have a negative effect on goaltender Jonathan Quick, and to a lesser degree his backup, Jonathan Bernier. The drawbacks would probably be more fantasy-related than actual hockey-related, since the goal of any netminder is ultimately to just win games. But both gentlemen are up for a contract renewal after next season, and statistics can have a way of affecting a free agent’s next deal.

In the end, I don’t think there should be too much to worry about for L.A.’s goalies, because I don’t believe many people consider Sutter’s style to be all that different from Murray’s. Sutter presided over Miikka Kiprusoff, who in 2004 was not all that unlike Quick as far as career plot. That Calgary Flames team came within one goal line review of winning the Stanley Cup. And who knows, maybe the best forward from that ’04 Flames team will be a King before long… I should note that I doubt this will happen, but the Flames probably should be preparing themselves to trade captain Jarome Iginla before he retires and they get nothing in a potential deal.

After noting that L.A. was 6th in goals against per game in the NHL at the time of Murray’s firing, we looked at the five teams playing “better defense,” and noted that of the five, only Detroit had seemingly no shot at toting a Vezina-winning goalie. I’m sure my opinion is at least a little bit skewed by the fact that I root for the Red Wings, but I constantly hear people saying that Jimmy Howard is not that great, but that he plays for a team that doesn’t require great goaltending.

We broke the shots against per game statistic down and hopefully made a dent in some of that misguided armor.

Last night was a perfect Rug Game (it really tied the room together), as the Kings went into Joe Louis Arena and promptly got blown out of the building. Quick allowed 3 goals on 7 shots and was yanked less than 9 minutes into the contest. Bernier provided little relief, as he was only able to stop 15 of the 20 shots he faced en route to an 8-2 mauling. Howard saved 27 of 29, but as usual, that was of little note. Sutter will reportedly take over head coaching duties for the Kings on Tuesday, per Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times.

The news out of Philadelphia that Flyers’ captain Chris Pronger is out for the remainder of the 2011-12 campaign with “severe post-concussion symptoms” comes juxtaposed with the current seven-game win streak that the team has used to propel itself to the top of the eastern conference standings.
While on the one hand Pronger is the type of do-it-all minute chewer that no team can truly “afford” to lose, the fact remains that the team is getting better results than any other team in the league. The Flyers are the only team with a 9-1 record in that patented “L10” column, and their top overall points percentage is largely due to a league-best 12-3-1 record away from home.
Flyers’ fans have long complained that but for the team’s shaky goaltending, the Stanley Cup would go to Philly on something of a regular basis. While this season was supposed to be the beginning of the end of that narrative, all we’ve really seen is more of the same.

The bullies currently sit first in the NHL in goals per game, but have let themselves down in their own zone en route to a 2.79 goals against average that sees them sit 18th overall. While the overreacting and short-sighted types are starting to declare the Ilya Bryzgalov era a failure just a few months in, many others believe the goalie will progress to his mean and turn in a season that should see the Flyers at least in the top 12 in total defense. There is no guarantee that will happen, but backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky enjoyed a successful stretch with Brian Boucher last season before both goalies (and Michael Leighton) fell apart at the end. If Philly can find that stretch of quality defense and goaltending soon, they can separate themselves in the division.
Perhaps the more concerning stat is the offense. Sure, it’s never concerning to lead the league in goals scored, but now the Flyers have to deal with team and league leading scorer Claude Giroux being sidelined indefinitely, also due to a concussion. Doubly frustrating has to be the fact that the wound was self-inflicted, as Giroux took a knee to the head from teammate Wayne Simmonds, who came over from L.A. in the Mike Richards trade. Giroux should be back before too long, which is nowadays simply to say sooner than Sidney Crosby came back, and when the catalyst does return he should give the Flyers a boost that by that time they may end up needing.
If I were a Flyers fan, I’d be depressed over the nature of Giroux’s injury largely because he has such a small frame. That Giroux picked up a nick is not shocking, but one would “hope” that it would have been acquired in the normal course of a hockey season — in other words, the summation of a small man being continually checked by bigger men. Here, we have what many would consider terrible luck rather than the normal cost of doing business.
All of these successes and injuries sets up a rather large Saturday night duel with the defending champion Boston Bruins, who sit two points back of Philly and lead their own division by six points over Toronto and eight over Buffalo. The game is in Philadelphia, but Boston’s road record is a solid if not under-represented 9-3-0. Twelve road games in the first 30 means the Bruins will have to make up six over the rest of the season, but their division does not seem to be able to pose a legitimate enough threat for that to matter in the end. Barring injuries or a massive dip in form (like, say, their start to the season), the Bruins will probably be playing down the stretch for seeding within the top 2 or 3, not battling it out within the division against noticeably less complete teams.
The matchup between Boston and Philly is always heated, but with first place on the line (technically a tie for first — Philly would have the tiebreaker even with a loss) and the recent news surrounding concussions affecting the Flyers’ roster, this one takes on a heightened sense of midseason importance. Throw in the fact that these two have met in the conference semifinals the last two seasons and have each won a Wales Trophy over those seasons, and the atmosphere could be downright hockey-worthy.
Of note is that while the Flyers lead the league in scoring, Boston is right behind them in second. But as Philly has been just below average defensively (18th), the Cup champs are doing what they do best. The Bruins lead the NHL in goals against, giving up exactly 2 per game. Based purely on the gaps between the averages, the Bruins would win this game 3.05 to 2.83. Put the Flyers on home ice, and like I said, should be a damn good game for that (not at) all-important first place spot 31 games in.
The game is an afternoon one, which should add another variable in this edition of the rivalry. Game time is 1 p.m. eastern time, and the game is being carried on the NHL Network.

There are ten games on the docket in the NHL Thursday night, but despite two-thirds of the league’s teams seeing action, there is an abundance of youth starting in net for most of them. Outside of Henrik Lundqvist, Miikka Kiprusoff and Curtis Sanford, it’s hard to find any starter tonight that isn’t still a developing netminder, even those with Stanley Cups (Cam Ward & Antti Niemi).
But there isn’t time to highlight all of the matchups, so let’s look at the game tonight that features the two goalies with the least amount of NHL experience: Dallas at the New York Islanders.
For the road Stars, the annual injury to starter Kari Lehtonen has somehow not yet yielded the plunge off the cliff that many would have foreseen. Lehtonen hasn’t played a game since November 26, but Dallas still sits atop the division that few predicted would be substantially weaker at this point than any in the western conference. The reason for this water-treading has not been backup Andrew Raycroft, who has earned his typical 3.53 goals against average.

Instead, the Stars may have found the man to bridge the Lehtonen injury gap in former Colorado College goalie Richard Bachman, who coincidentally came into being ten years after Stephen King started writing novels under the same name. Bachman, the goalie, relieved Raycroft of his duties a week ago at San Jose, and went on to start the following two games. In that time, Bachman has allowed 1 goal on 72 shots. Tonight’s game is on the road, but that’s nothing new for The Pen Name. All of his appearances this season have been away from the friendly slush of American Airlines Arena.
While Bachman will try to extend his fantastic run against a team with just 9 wins in 28 games, the offensively challenged Islanders will trot out their newest goalie-of-the-future, Kevin Poulin.
Poulin was very good in 10 games last season with the big club, posting a .924 save percentage and rocking an unusual winning record for an Islander goalie. His work in Bridgeport this year has been less than mediocre, but he’s been tabbed for a while now and no Al Montoya success should stand in his way. Poulin’s .892 and 3.37 numbers are strangely comparable to those of Raycroft, except Poulin’s been doing that in the AHL. In his defense, he is coming off injury this season and also knows that he’s the franchise’s golden child, so why give a shit about the red light turning on in Bridgeport? I guess my CCHA bias is coming out again…
Poulin’s job should be made more difficult by the fact that Bachman’s emergence has exactly coincided with the return of two of Dallas’ most important skaters: captain and left wing Brenden Morrow and defenseman Alex Goligoski. I’m by no means saying that Raycroft would have saved 71 of 72 as Bachman has, but increase in team quality over the past week as compared to the couple before it has to start with the returns of Morrow and Goligoski.
Dallas has a hockey team that I typically enjoy watching, thanks in large part to their physicality. But one symptom of a team tougher than its talent is that it often times tries to lure opponents to sleep, which is something the Stars definitely have succeeded in doing with Lehtonen between the pipes. I’m not sure that’s the best strategy on the road against a team that has youth and knows it needs to get in the win column.
If Dallas comes out firing and intense, expect them to get a lead and hold onto it. Something in the realm of 3-2 makes sense to me. But if they try to play that sleepy, “extend the 0-0 as long as we feel like” game, the troops may rally in front of Poulin like they did last year in his brief pre-injury stint.
Players to Watch
Dallas – Trevor Daley & Stephane Robidas — Daley has been Dallas’ leading scorer in the short Bachman era, and both of the defenseman’s goals have been of the game-winning variety. Robidas is one of my favorite players in the league, and always tallies up the hits and blocks while playing time on the power play and giving the Stars solid two-way play from the blue line.
New York – John Tavares & Milan Jurcina — It doesn’t take a lot of guts or brains to peg Tavares as a player to watch, but I hadn’t mentioned him yet and he’s one of the more talented centers in the league. Jurcina is a mammoth of a D man, and one that the Isles were wasting early in the season. Not so lately, however, as the big Slovak has skated over 22 minutes in each of the last two games. Jurcina is not the best player ever, and certainly doesn’t have the offensive impact from the back end that team captain Mark Streit does, but I still think that given the proper time to play into his role, Jurcina can be an impact player that can help the young Islanders transition into the playoff contending team they want to become.
I know none of you will be watching tonight, but don’t let the names on the front of the sweaters fool you. This game will be an interesting one. Puck drop is 7 p.m. eastern time.

After the news broke Monday that Terry Murray had been fired as the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings (just a couple weeks after locational rivals Anaheim Ducks fired their head coach, Randy Carlyle), my immediate question was whether this would result in the Kings adopting a more offensive style.
Murray’s Kings have been killing it on the defensive end for a few years now, although I don’t think that fact ever got as much pub as the perceived offensive potential of star youngsters Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. The truth of the Kings’ style is that they were largely based around a fundamentally sound system of positional responsibility, and only a few players tended to deviate from this JV Devils game plan (Jack Johnson comes to mind).

Kopitar has the physical gifts to be a 100-point scorer consistently, but under Murray’s system it seemed more and more like the big Slovenian had stabilized as a point-a-game player in this his sixth NHL season. And all that is fine… if you’re winning.
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As Anze Kopitar watches the Kings’ coaching situation intently, you could consider his fantasy upside under a more offensive system.

Kings’ management has apparently decided that 29 games is enough of a sample to determine that the team is not winning. Perhaps that firing across town expedited the process. It has been suggested that because of the town that the Kings play in, there is an onus on playing a more wide-open style that will yield higher scoring games. I think that while that may be true, it is a very soccer attitude to have — this idea that the home team somehow is required to take more risk than it wants to in order to appease the fans. In my experience, there is one thing that a team can do to sustain fandom: win games.
Of the Five Teams Playing Better Defense than LA, Only Detroit’s D Seems to go Unnoticed.

I looked it up and saw that LA was sitting in 6th in the NHL in goals allowed per game, and decided to examine the general feeling surrounding those five teams playing better D than the Kings.
In St. Louis’ case, Brian Elliott is on the tongues of every professional pundit I’ve heard giving an early measuring point on the Vezina Trophy. His tandem-mate Jaroslav Halak has picked his game up nicely since just before the firing of former head coach and 2006 Kelly Cup champion Davis Payne.
The other goalie up for mention with Elliott on everybody’s list is the incumbent, Boston’s Tim Thomas. He and Tuukka Rask have the defending champs allowing just 2.07 goals per game, second only to the 2.03 figure sported by the Blues.
Coming in third is the Minnesota Wild (2.10 GA/G), who have been known as a great defensive team throughout their existence, with the exception of the last year and a half before the hiring of rookie head coach Mike Yeo. The Wild have the luxury of what now looks like a trio of capable big leaguers in regular starter Niklas Backstrom, finally healthy Josh Harding and 21 year-old Matt Hackett.
Fourth place belongs to the perenially Vezina-worthy Henrik Lundqvist and his outstanding backup Martin Biron. The Rangers are built from the back out, and boast what many could argue is the best pure starter and the best sole backup in the league. Biron is that rare goalie who can post around a 2.00 GAA and at the same time not have anyone in the league believe he is worthy of consideration as even a time share. Amazing, but definitely to the Rangers’ benefit. Their GA/G number is 2.11.

Regardless of allegiances, Marty Biron’s mask is pretty awesome.
And then there’s the goaltender that may be the closest to the Jennings Trophy without ever having a shot at the Vezina: Jimmy Howard. Constantly dogged by the myth that Detroit’s team defense is so good that he only has to make 20 saves a game (the Red Wings actually give up 27.5 shots per game, which while 2nd in the NHL, is still only 5 shots away from dead last in the league), Howard will never get the respect he deserves as a mentally stable goalie with the ability to steal games. He will struggle to shake the comparisons to his predecessor, Chris Osgood, who played at the height of the Wings’ puck possession era.
Detroit is unlikely to get the Jennings for Howard and his backup Ty Conklin, but the fact that the Wings are 5th in total defense should raise some eyebrows after last season’s complete disregard for basket protection. En route to a surprising return to the top of the Central division in 2010-11, the Red Wings let it rain — into their own net. Their 2.89 GA/G stat was 23rd in the NHL. None of the 7 teams they beat out were even close to a playoff spot.
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Jimmy Howard doesn’t need your love. Or a mask.

So while it is funny and aggravating that so-called hockey people refuse to give Howard any credit for this season’s 2.21 team goals against average (Howard’s personal GAA is 1.85 with a league-leading 17 wins that he had nothing to do with), it only highlights people’s slowness to react. Detroit is not a juggernaut anymore, and in fact the entire league’s range of shots allowed per game ranges from 26.2 to 32.6. And yet, Howard will not be invited to the NHL awards as a Vezina candidate this year or ever, because the late-‘90s and mid-2000s Red Wings dominated the time of possession stat a little too much.
Getting back to the Kings, I wouldn’t be surprised if their goal scoring and goal allowing go up in tandem. Only time will tell if that’s a better recipe for success in the standings, and more importantly, in the playoffs.