The countdown to the end of the regular season is on for the Oilers, their fans, Wanye — who can barely manage a smile these days, even when he wears his Eberle jersey, and for many of the those who cover the team. No one likes watching a overwhelmed team, but our curiosity and love of hockey keeps us coming back for more.
The only lineup change looks to be Devan Dubnyk replacing Nikolai Khabibulin between the pipes. I get the sense that most fans really don’t care about the line matchups or line combos at this point, considering the Oilers top players aren’t on the road trip.
So each of the remaining games I will match some thoughts/views to the countdown as we descend towards the final game.
- Glenn Healy thinks Linus Omark is selfish and a hotdog. Healy didn’t like it when Omark was behind the net and tapped his stick on the post to try and distract Brian Elliott. He even said Omark should leave the Harlem Globetrotter stuff in the minors and act like a pro in the NHL. Nothing irks me more than listening to former goalies stand up and defend goalies at every turn. What was wrong with Omark trying to distract the goalie by tapping his stick; and how is that selfish? I know that Healy, and Kelly Hrudey, felt Omark was being selfish when the stick tap didn’t work and he came out in front and tried a spin move, but does that really make him a selfish player? I’d say it makes him creative. The next time Healy critiques a goalie, will be the first time, and it is embarrassing how former goalies protect active goalies at every opportunity during a broadcast.
- I commend the NHL for coming down hard on Matt Cooke, but until they actually discipline a "regular/normal" player I don’t see Cooke’s suspension making much of a difference. No player will look at Cooke’s suspension and think they should change their game, because no player thinks they are as dirty/cheap as Cooke. Had the league given Brad Marchand or Dany Heatley a five-game suspension for their headshots last week, that would have sent a message to the rest of the league. A week after being suspended for a paltry two games, Marchand was on record as saying the league should throw the book at Cooke. I know Cooke is a repeat offender, but his elbow on Ryan McDonagh wasn’t even his most egregious hit. Until the league actually comes down hard on a first time offender, I don’t see players changing their tune.
- I hope Manny Malhotra is only out for the remainder of this season. You never want to see an eye injury, especially on such an innocent looking play. What bothers me more though, is how many people instantly clamour that the league needs to make visors mandatory. Some media/bloggers and fans love to make knee jerk reactions on hot button issues. No one knows how serious Malhotra’s eye injury is, but many have thrown out Bryan Berard’s name as a comparison. Between Berard’s devastating eye injury in October of 2006 and Malhotra’s there has been more than 7,000 NHL games, which equates to 252,000 man games. I wouldn’t say these types of injuries occur often. There has been some close calls like Mats Sundin and Ethan Moreau, but they all returned to play without any serious damage, as did Berard for a short time. I’m not sure why some media and fans feel it is their right to tell others what equipment to wear. These are grown men, and every year more guys willingly put on visors, so why not just let the game evolve to where players want to wear them. Why is everyone so quick to want to take away our freedom of choice? The reality is that not many players are suffering eye injuries, and visors won’t prevent every injury anyway, so why not let the players make their own choice?
- Nashville forward, Blake Geoffrion, has scored on his last four shots. In eleven games he has six goals on 16 shots for a ridiculous 37.5 shooting %. You would think he’d be Nashville’s first line with those numbers, but the Preds don’t rush any of their players and Geoffrion is only averaging 8:10 TOI per game. It will be impossible to continue scoring at his rate, especially with limited minutes, but right now the Preds are getting the most out of their 2006 2nd round pick.
- I know we aren’t "morally" supposed to wish failure on others, but I can’t help myself when I watch the Calgary Flames wilt during their push to the playoffs. The Flames were great for nine weeks, but their bubble has burst and sitting in 10th place with only seven games left, the Phlegms will be joining the Oilers on the golf course in early April. If I’m a Flames fan I’d be pissed that the owners didn’t have the guts to fire Darryl Sutter last summer. Sutter’s grumpy attitude was clearly having a negative impact on the coaches and players, and their slow start cost them a playoff spot, and ultimately delayed them another year from their inevitable rebuild.
- It doesn’t matter who the owner is in Phoenix, or what type of deal the city of Glendale gives him on parking. The Coyotes don’t draw enough fans, and unless they go on a Cinderella run to the Cup one year, they will never have enough fans to support the team. End the agony already and relocate them to Winnipeg.
- The race for the Hart trophy could be decided in the final ten games. Daniel Sedin leads the league with 93 points, while brother Henrik and Steven Stamkos are tied for 2nd at 86 and Marty St. Louis sits fourth with 85. The Sedins play together as does Stamkos and St. Louis, but Corey Perry sits 5th in the NHL with 79 points and only Stamkos, 43, has more goals than Perry’s 39. You can’t say that Perry rides Ryan Getzlaf’s coattails anymore, because when Getzlaf was out for 14 straight games, Perry produced eight goals and 15 points in those games. I don’t think he’ll win because some don’t like how he plays, but Perry should be given serious consideration for the Hart this year. His production is right up there with the best in the league, and he adds a physical, gritty side to his game that the other top-four scorers don’t. If he was playing in a hockey market he’d be getting way more consideration for the Hart.
- I just finished reading Been There Done That by Steve Ludzik. It is an easy read, and filled with some interesting and honest stories about his journey from battling Colitis as a 15-year-old to staring in the OHL and eventually making it to the NHL. My favourite story is when Ludzik talks about being at the draft in 1980. The Blackhawks took him in the 2nd round. One of his junior teammates from Niagara was Daryl Evans and they were sitting together in the stands during the draft. Evans is best known for scoring the winning goal for the Kings in game three of the Miracle on Manchester in 1982, but this story is much better. Evans had 95 points in his draft year and was pegged to go in the top three rounds. They took a break after the fifth round, and Evans had yet to be drafted. He was pissed. Ludzik tells us how he was shocked when after the break Evans, "Returned to his seat with several sheet of bright yellow bristol board and the thickest coloured markers he could find. He marched back into the Montreal Forum and started to write on them: EVANS STILL AVAILABLE. EVANS STILL NOT TAKEN." Evans actually held them up when the draft resumed. How awesome is that. The book is filled with some great stories. Ludzik jumps around from story to story without much notice at times, but the book is enjoyable if you are hockey fan. You can get it at www.ludzy.com
- Every year certain members of the media get to vote on the Oilers defenceman of the year. Even though he only played 35 games I still voted for Ryan Whitney. It felt weird voting for a guy who only played half the season, but I just didn’t think Theo Peckham or Tom Gilbert had done enough to get my vote. I’ll be curious to see how the others voted. Who would you have voted for?
- The good news after the loss to Colorado is that the Oilers have all but wrapped up 30th place. They would need to win four of their final ten games, and have the Avs go 0-9-2 to beat them in a tiebreaker. That’s not going to happen, so for the 2nd straight year the Oilers have the best chance of picking 1st. We will have ample time to debate who they should pick at number one, but if I’m picking I take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He is over six feet, and he will be more than 185 pounds by the time he is 19. If you havent’ seen him play you can watch him live during the WHL playoffs starting this Friday. The Oil Kings are in Red Deer on Friday and Saturday, and host RNH on Monday the 28th and Thursday the 31st. Go watch him yourself and let me know what you think.
HONKY TONK HOCKEY
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Pekka Rinne and his sparkling 2.09 GAA and .930 SV% will look to improve those numbers against the offensively-challenged Oilers tonight. The Oilers deserved a better fate v. Colorado and Phoenix, but I don’t see them beating Rinne more than once tonight. Preds win 3-1 and push the Flames one step closer to playoff elimination.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: With the 26th and 30th ranked powerplays in the NHL going at it tonight, don’t expect a PP goal from either squad. The Preds PK is 6th, while the Oilers have improved recently and have vaulted up to 28th, so the defensive special teams will be WINNING tonight.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: While Ladislav Smid wasn’t able to end his 91-game scoring drought on Saturday, another unlikely offensive source will light the lamp tonight. After shaking of the "winger" rust last game, Jason Strudwick will bury his 14th career goal tonight. Strudwick, who dreams about being a singer, will be inspired by his visit to the Grand Ole Opry yesterday and bang home a rebound in the 2nd period. When they pan to him on the bench you will see him seranading his teammates with Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. Unfortunately for Strudwick, most of his young teammates will have no clue what song that is.