There is almost a sensory overload when it comes to the NHL right now.
Everything is happening. There is lots to discuss about playoffs, coaching and management changes, and free agents. And I learned a really cool tidbit about Sidney Crosby and a little thing he does that resonates with his teammates.
Let’s start with the postseason.
1. The playoffs have been good, but the second round is shaping up to be excellent. The Jets/Preds series has been great and the animosity is rising, which will only make that series better. It’s amazing to think since NHL hockey arrived in Winnipeg in the fall of 1979, Jets fans had never witnessed a round two victory until Friday night. The Jets had only made the second round twice, and both times they got swept by the Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and 1987. Good for the Jets and their fans, they have waited a long time to taste a little playoff success and I hope they get some more.
2. I’ve never understood the Alex Ovechkin “needs to do more” refrain. His Capitals have lost to the Penguins three times in the playoffs, and ironically all three years the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016 and 2017. Here are his numbers straight up against the Penguins in the playoffs.
In those 20 games he produced 12-14-26, while in 19 games head-to-head Sidney Crosby scored 11-11-22. In case you’re curious, they are even in 5×5 points, 14, and Crosby actually had more powerplay goals, four to three.
In those three series, Ovechkin scored 21.8% of Washington goals and was involved in 47.3% of their total goals. Meanwhile, Crosby scored 15.9% of the Penguins goals and was in on 34.9% of them. Crosby’s supporting cast has been the difference in their head-to-head meetings, not a lack of production from Ovechkin.
This year, in two games Ovechkin has 2-1-3 and Crosby has 1-1-2. These two superstars have been very equal head-to-head, but Crosby’s teammates have been better.
3. I understand Oilers fans are upset Connor McDavid wasn’t a finalist for the Hart, but he is far from the first player to win the Art Ross and not win the Hart, or even be a finalist. But even if he was a finalist, I’m curious what argument you make that says he was clearly more valuable than Nathan MacKinnon or Taylor Hall. I think those two will be in a close race to win, while Anze Kopitar, Claude Giroux and McDavid were battling for third. I can see arguments for all three finishing third. Claude Giroux had 102 points and wasn’t a finalist. People in Philly are equally upset, and I can see why, but I believe it is really a two-horse race this year.
4. It likely won’t make Oilers fans feel better, but I’m not sure anyone got snubbed more than Wayne Gretzky in 1994. With the Los Angeles Kings he led the NHL with 130 points. He received no votes for the Hart. Five goalies received votes. I’d argue this was the unofficial start for some inside the NHL, and for some of those covering it, deciding it was more important to prevent goals than score them. How asinine was it that the league’s leading scorer, by ten points, didn’t receive one vote? Not surprisingly we saw a big dip in goals-per-game across the NHL after 1994.
5. Seriously, the league’s leading scorer, who had 10 more points than Sergei Federov, who won the Hart, and 44 points more than any other member of the Kings, didn’t get one measly vote? I firmly believe this was where hockey people got sick of offence. They looked more for “two-way” play, which of course is the polite way of saying a guy isn’t great offensively, and found ways to eliminate offence. Goalie equipment grew exponentially. Hooking, holding and obstruction became the norm and in the 24 years since the NHL still seems hell bent on finding ways to eliminate offence. Hello offside review. I’m sorry, just because goals-per-game went up this year doesn’t mean the overall mindset has changed. It hasn’t. Hockey, and sadly many who coach it, manage it, cover it and watch it will find more ways to critique a gifted offensive player than they will a player who can’t makes the simple, easy play.
6. Did you watch the pre-game intro for the Vegas Golden Knights game v. San Jose in game two. It was unreal. The best I’ve seen, and this is a first-year team. You don’t need to constantly bring up past franchise success in a video to get fans riled up. Be creative. Be expressive. Be bold. That was awesome and of course the place was going wild. I’m sorry, but the Edmonton pre-game intro isn’t even in the same league.
7. For the first time since 1991 all four second-round playoff series were tied 1-1 after two games. That is crazy. I’d love to see four game sevens this round, and I don’t think it is unrealistic.
8. I heard a great story for former NHL Tyler Kennedy, who was in Edmonton for the Alzheimers tournament this past weekend. He was the youngest alumni in the tournament. He is only 31, but back issues forced him to retire after the 2016 season. Despite the early retirement, he still played 527 and won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. He shared this story about Crosby.
“The guys loved him, because he does little things. When he felt a guy needed a boost he would give him a handwritten note. He’d take the time to write it out, not just say it. His notes would vary, but often it was just reminding the guy why he was important to the team and what he did well. He did it in private, not in front of the team and that’s why he is such a great leader.”
9. I also asked him about Evgeni Malkin and if he is underrated, which I believe he is. “The gap between Sid and Geno is smaller than people think. He does everything. He is so skilled, he’ll play physical and he’ll even fight. I know when he fought Wheeler this year, his teammates loved it. He is also a very funny guy. Just like Sid, he is well respected.”
10. Kennedy thought about a comeback last fall, but after three weeks of training his back got sore and he knew he couldn’t do it. He plays in a few tournaments and works in Pittsburgh running some camps. He is happy, despite an early retirement, and after watching him wheel around the ice in the Alzheimers Faceoff tournament, you can see his skill level is still very high.