April 16 2012 11:42AM
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse being an Oiler fan, along came a weekend of high-scoring, high-intensity, fight-filled playoff hockey, and you could only sit hopelessly by and watch with real emotional interest.
After watching the last 72 hours I wonder how far away the Oilers truly are from being a playoff contender? We'll debate that and much more today.
I'm fairly certain that some people are just wired to focus on the negative, but after a weekend of hockey that had fans in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto glued to their TVs, despite none of their teams playing, it seems some only want to focus on a few dumb plays, rather than talk about how intensely great the games were.
What I find astonishing is how some fans, media and bloggers expect players to ramp up their intensity, but remain perfectly controlled at all times. Sorry folks that is asking the impossible. In the heat of the moment some players, like the rest of us humans, will make the odd bad split-second decision.
The worst was Carl Hagelin, who took three strides and then delivered a blatant elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson. This was incredibly stupid, and well-deserving of a three game suspension. If playoff games are a 2:1 ratio to regular season games, then he got a six games. Duncan Keith got five, so why are people upset about the Hagelin suspension? Shanahan explains his ruling here.
Aaron Asham delived a cheap shot to the chest/neck area of Brayden Schenn after Schenn delivered a clean, hard hit late in the Flyers 8-4 romp. Asham will have a hearing later today, and I'm guessing he gets at least three games. It won't matter cause the Pens are done, but it was a dumb play.
Matt Carkner was suspended for one game, ruling here, for attacking Bryan Boyle. Carkner asked him to go and when Boyle didn't respond, Carkner took matters into his own hands. In game one Boyle roughed up Sens star D-man Erik Karlsson and the Sens wanted to send a message that that wasn't going to be tolerated moving forward.
I'm a fan of fights, I think they have their place in the game, but I'm not a fan of this type of fighting. I don't have a problem with him being suspended and if he got two or three games I would have be fine with it as well.
Another really dumb play was Brent Burns' elbow to the back of Scott Nichol's head. Nichols is an agitator and gets under guys skin at times, but this was just dumb. First of all you Burns was standing still and leaning forward so he wasn't going to generate much force anyways, but a "chicken-wing" elbow should be outlawed from the game. That is not a natural body reaction, it is a clear conscious decision. I'd love the league to make the "chicken wing" elbow an automatic three game suspension, and likely more depending on the severity of it.
The other play didn't involve an elbow or a cross-check, but according to Nick Kypreos James Neal will be having two separate hearings with Brendan Shanahan today. One involving a hit on Sean Couturier, where I'm sure the debate will be if Neal tried hard enough to avoid hitting Couturier. The other is a hit on Giroux (at 3:14 of video) where it looks like Neal tried to go after his head. The Giroux hit will likely earn him a suspension.
I'm sure some of you think there were other wrong decisions, but those were the major ones that people were talking about. The Neal/Couturier hit was borderline, but the rest should all be suspension worthy.
Okay so those incidents weren't great. I think most fans would agree, however, do they need to be the focus of the weekend?
We saw just under 695 minutes of incredible intense playoff hockey, and those incidents totalled less than 45 seconds. Carkner raining punches is what made it longer than a combined 30 seconds.
So why do we focus on 45 seconds of 695 minutes?
Suspend the players and move on, but the game isn't in disarray because of a few dumb plays.
Should the NHL be concerned? No way. There was 100 times more clean, hard hits than there was cheap ones, and the intensity this weekend was electrifying.
THOUGHT ONLY GOONS FOUGHT?
I was amazed at how many people were upset at the alleged brutality of some of the games. The Flyers and Pens clearly don't like each other, and outside of the stupid play by Asham and Neal, which had nothing to do with fighting by the way, the game was incredibly entertaining.
I would argue that Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending was harder to stomach than watching a few scrums, tilts and the odd cheap shot, but some went as far as to say it was embarrassing for the NHL.
The anti-fighting brigade must be really agitated right now, because of the 21 fighting majors that were handed out, only one of them went to a "goon", Matt Carkner. The rest were guys who play, and in some cases are stars for their teams. Those in the anti-fighting camp will tell you fighting is bad for the game and the health of the players, yet of the 21 guys involved only one had an injury. A broken nose, which isn't serious.
Here's the list of fights:
- Shea Weber v. Todd Bertuzzi...This happened early in Friday's game and settled the score from game one.
- Matt Carkner...Dumb play by Carkner, although did you notice the Sens killed off the major. Guys rally around penalties like that often it seems.
- Brian Boyle v. Chris Neil...Boyle didn't want the Sens to think he was scared, which is the mental battle in playoffs. No harm.
- Joe Pavelski v. Kris Russell...Two surprising combatants...Not a bad tilt in the flyweight division.
- Dominic Moore v. Vladimir Sobotka, Justin Braun v. Roman Polak and Doug Murray v. Barret Jackman. These three happened at the same time late in the Blues 3-0 win. Some will say needless, while others will say it is part of the battle. Moore suffered a broken nose, so the Sharks weren't happy, but no serious injuries.
- Sidney Crosby v. Claude Giroux and Kris Letang v. Kimmo Timonen. These happened at the same stoppage in the first period. Four unlikely combatants, and while Crosby and Giroux really didn't throw many punches most fans were riveted because of the star power of those involved.
- Scott Hartnell v. Craig Adams...It was late in the game and Adams was annoyed with Hartnell pestering Crosby.
- Anze Kopitar v. Alex Burrows. Stemmed from a huge Dustin Brown hit on Henrik Sedin. Burrows and Kopitar are top-six forwards on both teams.
I also remember many saying fighting doesn't happen in the playoffs, but I think we should change it to, "those who are only fighters won't play in the playoffs," and I've always be fine with that. If guys who play legitimate minutes want to drop them, I'm all for it. It just adds a different element to the game.
I find the games more interesting when guys who play a lot get so fired up that they want to engage with another player of similar stature. You can say you don't like fighting, and that's your right, but those who play the game at the highest level aren't opposed to it.
Not every game needs a fight to be exciting, but if we polled people right now I have a sneaking suspision that the Flyers/Pens game rated a lot higher than any of the other three games yesterday. It wasn't just the fights of course, because they were only a small percentage of the game. It was the endless goals, the shoddy goaltending, the big hits, the non-stop energy of the building and the obvious animosity between the two rivals.
That was entertaining hockey.
- Unbelievable finishes in the first two games of the Chicago/Phoenix series. The Dogs and their fans had their hearts ripped out twice in the final 15 seconds. I wonder if Hawks fans love Brent Seabrook more than Duncan Keith right now. He was in on both game-tying goals.
- It seemed clear to me Mike Smith wasn't concussed when Andrew Shaw bumped him behind the net. Guys don't usually have an immediate "garage sale" after getting hit. Guys who are instantly concussed move very slow, if at all.
- Raffi Torres is a cheaper version of Claude Lemieux. He sleep walks through most of the regular season, but shows up in the playoffs. When he plays with some fire he is very effective.
- Paul Holmgren has to be executive of the year. He trades Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but adds four solid contributors in Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier and Voracek. Signing Jagr has worked out great. All the kids are raving about how his work ethic has rubbed off on them. Bryzgalov's signing will look awful in a few years, but in game two he made two huge saves when the Flyers were down 2-0 that allowed them to get back in the game.
- The Flyers/Pens have scored 32 goals in three games. The other 14 teams have scored 74 goals in 16 games. I know some of the goals have been ugly in the Pens/Flyers series, but nothing is more exciting than goals in my opinion. It gives you a sense that the game is never over.
- The Boston/Washington series has produced four goals, and while both games have gone to OT, those games have had long stretches of dreadfully boring hockey. I'll take up-tempo offence over "safe team play" any day.
- Despite the speed bump of the Blue Jackets, the Flyers and Kings are linked with the Carter and Richards deals, and both are leading 3-0. Can we say that both teams benefitted from those deals? The drama surrounding a Kings/Flyers Cup final would be great.
- If the Canucks get swept I wonder if Alain Vigneault gets the axe. I'm not sure he is the problem in Vancouver, but he'll likely be gone. The bigger problem is what the Canucks do with their goaltending. It is clear the organization doesn't have faith in Roberto Luongo, but with 380 years left on his contract I don't see how they get rid of him. They put themselves in this predicament by signing him to that asinine deal, and then playing Cory Schneider. Can you think of a team that would consider trading for Luongo?
- As I watched most of the games over the weekend, I couldn't help but think how far the Oilers need to go before they can compete. They have the high-end skill to compete in the future, but unless they drastically increase their size, grit and depth I think they are still a few years away. Maybe it's just because the intensity has been dialed up so much (playoffs v. regular season) that it's an unfair comparison, but I don't see this team being playoff ready.
- Can those who think Brent Sutter is an upgrade over Tom Renney please explain why? Sutter has never won an NHL playoff series and he's missed the playoffs three straight years. If you think Renney needs to go, that is one thing, but I don't see Sutter as an upgrade. Winning the world juniors, which is essentially an All-Star team, doesn't mean he is great with kids. Renney has won more playoff series than Sutter, and if you think working with kids is important, look at how well Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins performed under Renney.
- A big thank you to Century Casino and Farlie Travel for sponsoring my #MSCharityPoker tournaments this weekend. We raised $8,000 for MS. Also congrats and good luck to Greg and Charles. They both won a seat in the WSOP main event this June. Thanks to all of you who played, and hopefully you'll play again next year.