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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Musings: Underdogs, Easy fixes and terrible PP

Who doesn’t love cheering for the unheralded underdog? Watching the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers  become the first NCAA men’s basketball #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed was fantastic. In one-game scenarios, it is difficult to find a bigger upset in my books, because very few other sports have the 64th ranked team playing the #1 team in a playoff scenario.

Some tweeted me saying the 1980 USA Hockey victory over the Soviet Union, which is a good example, but I’d go with a #16 over a #1, especially because the Retrievers crushed them by 25 points. It wasn’t like they got lucky. They dominated Virginia. Virginia was the only NCAA Division 1 program who hadn’t given up 70 points in a game all season, until Friday night.

Will we see some upsets in the 2018 NHL playoffs? I hope so.

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The Retrievers victory was extremely impressive, but I also tip my hat to Virginia head coach Tony Bennett in his post-game interview with Tracy Wolfson.

“It stings. I tried to tell the guys in there, ‘This is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times, and you’ve got to be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, big losses, great wins. And you have to deal with it.’ That’s the job. I don’t know what to say but that was a thorough butt-whipping.”

Sports can teach us so much about ourselves when we win or lose. The Virginia young men will carry the tag of first #1 team to lose in the opening round, but I love Bennett’s quote about it not defining them. Ultimately, it is just sports. I’m as passionate about sports as you are, but it is great to read reminders that if you play sports, or you son or daughter plays sports, it is not who you or they are. It is just something they do.

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HOCKEY NOTES…

Jan 20, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (98) celebrates his second period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Since 1971, only three times (not including lockout shortened 1995 and 2013) has the NHL goal-scoring leader not scored 50 goals: Teemu Selanne (47) in 1999, Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk (41) in 2004) and Sidney Crosby (44) last season. This year Alex Oveckhin and Patrik Laine are tied with 43 goals with ten games remaining. Both are on pace for 49 goals, but I hope one reaches 50. The race for the Maurice Richard Trophy should go down to the final weekend. Laine is on fire. He’s on a 15-game point streak, putting up 18 goals and 26 points. He could become only the second player from a Canadian team to win the Richard Trophy, after Iginla won it in 2002 and shared it in 2004.

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2. Yesterday Jesse Puljujarvi was the only Oilers forward to not get any PP time. Anton Slepyshev had :15 seconds, Iiro Pakarinen had :34, Mike Cammalleri had 1:04, Ty Rattie had 1:43. The top guys had a lot with Leon Draisaitl at 8:17, Connor McDavid at 6:46, Oscar Klefbom 6:29, Ryan Strome 6:30 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 5:44. Milan Lucic had 2:14. It seems odd Puljujarvi didn’t get a sniff.

Since February 1st, Puljujarvi is seventh on the Oilers in most PP time (15 minutes). However, it has mainly been the top unit of McDavid, Draisaitl (63 min each), Klefbom, Strome (55 each) and Lucic, 44 minutes. RNH only played in eight of the 23 games. Despite producing little offence, the first unit hasn’t changed much. They are only seven of 50 over the past 23 games, 30th worst PP in the NHL. Draisaitl has four goals, McDavid has two and Puljujarvi has the other one. Why would he get no PP time yesterday?

Puljujarvi did play the fourth most EV minutes of any Oilers forward yesterday, but to not give him any on the PP, in a rare game where the Oilers actually had a lot of PP time, is odd. It seems Jay Woodcroft is married to the top-unit. Yes, they created some good chances, and yes Lucic lost his spot to Nugent-Hopkins, but the powerplay is not improving. Regardless of what the staff want to say about shot attempts; goals are what matter. The Oilers PP has sucked the hind banana (RIP Pat Quinn) since November 20th. It is a league-worst 11.2% in their past 52 games. The four left shots and one right shot on the first unit is not working. I don’t care how many new formations they make with the existing five players, but it isn’t working. Why not at least try two right-handed shots with McDavid and Draisaitl? It literally can’t get any worse than being dead last in the NHL for the past four months.

3. They changed personnel on the PK and it worked. Draisaitl and Strome have really helped up top because they haven’t allowed the seam pass as easily as we saw earlier in the season. Of course abandoning the ridiculous “I” or “L” formation they used with the two forwards in a straight line in the slot has helped as well. Cam Talbot has been better also, but the new formation and new players has helped the PK. The PP unit is not working, and while it looks like they will try RNH in place of Lucic more, that still has four lefties, none of whom thinks shoot first.

4. The NHL’s annual GM meetings are going on in Florida today. Of course goal interference will be a hot topic. I won’t pretend there is a simple answer, but they will tweak something, and likely find some common ground on what is, and what isn’t goalie interference. However, there is one EASY rule decision they can make: the offside review has eliminated way too many goals that shouldn’t be called back. When a player skates, at some point his skate will come off the ice — it is the natural part of skating. If a skate is off the ice, but not inside the blueline prior to the puck, it should not be ruled offside. This is so simple.

Malkin is skating across the blueline. He doesn’t gain entry into the zone any quicker. There is zero advantage gained by him. The NHL is eliminating goals for no sane reason. If your skate is off the ice, but not in the zone it is a good goal. Simple. Please, NHL GMs: common sense isn’t your enemy.

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5. The Calgary Flames are unofficially out of the playoffs. They have nine games remaining and are four points back of Los Angeles for the second wildcard spot, but have to jump over the Kings, Stars and Blues to get in. If they go 7-2 then the Kings have to go 4-5-1, Dallas has to win only four of nine and the Blues can only go 5-5. The Flames likely won’t win any tiebreakers due to having only 33 ROW. They are done. And that makes six playoff teams from last year who are out including Edmonton, Montreal, Chicago, Ottawa and the Rangers. If the Blues miss that will be seven, and if one of Anaheim, Minny or Columbus somehow miss then it will be an NHL-record eight teams who miss the postseason after making it the previous year.

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  • jake

    That PP yesterday, that turned into a 5-3 for a bit. They started firing shots but way too late. They pass it around the outside and I am not sure they even know what the end-play is, who is supposed to take the shot to score.

  • TrentonL

    perhaps JP lack of PP time is related to bonuses, ie. they dont want to give him easier points? weird employee relations if that is the case but its the oilers so…..

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    Can the Oilers struggles be cured with a right shot PP dman? It would certainly cover up a lot a short comings. If this is fixed through trade then it has to be a lefty dman going the other way. Trading RNH for a dman doesn’t get the oilers any further ahead. See ya Klefbom…(that’s the best case scenario)

      • HOCKEY83

        It would be ridiculous for the Oil to give up on Klefbom. He played through injuries all season and he’s still just 24. He needs to be given at least one more healthy season to evaluate him properly. They shut him down for extensive shoulder surgery.

  • LAKID

    Calgary has an excuse, bad coach. Edmonton has 3 excuses Horrible GM , terrible assistant coaching ( and that puts the coach in a bad light), Terrible goaltending. Calgary has traded away their future but Chia is not done and I fear for the Oiler’s next season.

    • HOCKEY83

      Calgary has traded away their first and second for this season but that’s hardly their future. Their prospect pool is very deep and very talented. Better than most. Bad Coaches. They need to get rid of all of their coaching staff right down to the goalie coach. Edmonton needs to get rid of the old boys club. Both teams are an embarrassment to Alberta and Canada.

  • Summercrush

    You guys overrated Puljujarvis ability to shoot. He has a shot but he still needs a lot of practice. He should be in the AHL. It is so stupid having him in the NHL. He gets no ice time and no PP time.

  • Hemmercules

    I haven’t been watching the games much lately but it continues to blow my mind how awful the PP is and there have no repercussions all season. I mean, keep Woodcroft if you want, but get another mind working on that PP at least. The guy is drowning and it seems like management just continues to let it happen. If your usual top unit isn’t getting it done then bender it, what is there to lose?

  • SRELIOFAN

    Seeing the Flames miss the playoffs makes me so happy. As bad as this season has gone for the Oilers at least we have a first round pick. That trade for Hamonic does not look good right now.

    • OnDaWagon

      Didn’t you want Hamonic here? And, a lot of posters on here whined when he got traded to Calgary. He is at best a 3-4, with not a lot of offence ability. Decent player, nothing more.

    • HOCKEY83

      Safe to say stupid moves were made all around for the Alberta loser teams. Flames gave their 1st and 2nd this year for Hamonic. Oilers traded away Hall and Eberle for Strome and Larsson as well as added Lucic for 6 mil a season until he’s 34 with a NMC and signed McDavid and Draisaitl for a whopping 21 mil for at least 7 more years. But hey at least you got a first round pick.

  • GK1980

    The Oil have been terrible for 10 out of 11 years, you would think the franchise would learn by now. The PP is still a disaster. If his isn’t fixed for next season it will be another year out of the post season.