(WARRIOR, pictured above, is consoled by his teddy after Brownlee tears a strip off of him.)
I thought I’d be like the Oilers in Denver and not show up today, but there’s so many things rattling around my big, empty head…
Opinions on defenceman Joni Pitkanen are definitely split. On one hand, there’s no denying Pitkanen’s physical tools, skating ability and the fact he’s a very intelligent player. People in that camp don’t even flinch at the thought that agent Larry Kelly is said to be asking $4.5 million a season for his client in a new deal with the Oilers. “Pay it! That’s a bargain,” they say.
On the other hand, there’s a legion of fans who question his emotion and intensity. Pitkanen’s about as much of a blood-and-guts guy as the average librarian or accountant. The unsettling thing about the often-injured Pitkanen is the question about his ability to play with pain. Igor Ulanov he isn’t. I shudder to think what might have happened had Pitkanen and Ulanov, who had the pain threshold of a cadaver, sat side-by-side in the dressing room.
Ulanov once had to be forced off the ice by officials at Madison Square Garden after taking a slapper in the mouth because he wanted to wait until the end of the period for repairs—he ended up needing 30 stitches. Uli was wicked tough. When I asked him what the hell he was thinking, he seemed offended.
“What?” he scowled. “It’s blood on my face. My leg is not broken.” My guess is Joni and Igor would’ve had issues. But I digress…
Anyway, I was talking with Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock before he did an interview with Bob Stauffer and I on Total Sports Thursday. Hitch, coach in Philadelphia when Pitkanen broke in, has his own take. He says Pitkanen hasn’t been the same player since he suffered knee and ankle injuries in 2005-06, a campaign in which the big Finn was tearing it up before he got injured and was limited to 58 games.
“Look at 2005-06,” Hitchcock said. “You’re going to see 46 points. What people don’t realize is he had 41 points in 40 games before he got hurt.
“He was over a point a game before he got hurt. He got injured, then he came back and got injured again. He went knee and then ankle… he has not been the same player since.
“He was a reckless, go-to-the-net guy. He was getting game-winners. He’s become a very careful player now. He’s missed games this year with a knee, hasn’t he?”
A knee. A back. A hip. The flu…
“I just think when you get banged up that many times, it takes a lot to come back,” Hitchcock said. So it seems, Hitch. So it seems.
—After a debate on radio with the obnoxious wannabe who calls himself THE WARRIOR, I’ve got one question: WARRIOR, when you get your butt kicked around the block in the third person like you did yesterday, does it hurt first-hand?
THE WARRIOR, frantic and absorbing much scorn on the popular fan site Hockey’s Future after our exchange, made a lame attempt at taking a poke at me, saying he hated to see me “reduced” to becoming a blogger.
I haven’t been reduced to anything. If an old-school hack who spent almost 25 years in the traditional newspaper business like me can embrace new media, anybody can. If this internet thing ever catches on, THE BIRDMAN wants to be part of it.
—Between bumps, bruises and the wear and tear of 17 straight starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mathieu Garon gets a night off in Phoenix or San Jose. Garon left the game in Colorado with the score 3-0 after Steve Staios rode Milan Hejduk into him. In Chicago, Matt Greene dumped big load Dustin Byfuglien on him.
The Oilers record for consecutive starts, by the way, is 20.
—I get the part about the Hockey Hall of Fame wanting Andrew Cogliano’s stick, but did they have to take Ladislav Smid’s brain, as well? What was he thinking on that 2–0 goal in Denver?
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.