Undispelling Myths

Some blogs out there (cough, cough) take everything the press says with a big 'ol bag of salt. A couple of things recently dismissed as myths are 1) the importance of the first goal, and 2) the assertion that third period comebacks have indeed made a comeback. There are a lot of foolish myths the hockey media perpetuates, but they are at least a little bit right about these two.

First Goal Wins
I amassed the records of teams scoring first over the first 100 games of the '03-04 and '05-06 seasons through the end of overtime. I counted shootouts this year as ties. In '03-04, the team scoring first went 69-19-10 for 148 points in those 100 games. Note that those numbers do not add up to 100 because of a pair of scoreless ties (the ultimate evidence of the importance of a first goal?). Had a team managed a first goal in those games they would have pushed that record up to 152 points. In '05-06, the team scoring first went 62-28-10 for 134 points. The first goal is clearly less important this season than it was last season.

Some contend that the first goal is no more important than the second or third goal. Looking at stats from games ending in a 2-1 score appear to support that claim. Games where the first goal is most important are unlikely to end in a 2-1 score. The first goal is obviously most important when it stands up as the game winner. Saying the first goal is no more important than the next assumes that there is a next goal, and that the other team scores it. Next, the assertion that all goals are equal assumes that strategies and tactics remain the same, independent of the score. Even if a coach preaches a constant game plan, individual plays will always depend on the score - more risk-taking when behind, more conservative when ahead.

I tabulated the team records when scoring 1st, 2nd, etc:

The points do not include the OT loser points - this is straight up 2 for a win, 1 for a tie and includes OT. In '03-04, teams scoring 1st collected 148 out of a possible 200 points. Those scoring 2nd collected 122 out of 200, etc.

The second goal of the game corresponds to the most points in the '05-06 season so far. Interesting. Over time, I think the first goal will emerge as the most important again, but it won't be as big as last season.

Revenge of the Comeback
According to the nhl.com stats as of last night, I compiled this table to compare team records in '03-04 vs '05-06 when leading/trailing after the 2nd period:

With the banishment of ties, I had to convert the '03-04 records to '05-06 points by dividing the 89 ties into 45 wins, 44 OT losses for the leading teams and 44 wins and 45 OT losses for the trailing teams. I think this is very generous to the '03-04 trailing teams - one would expect that the better team would typically be leading after 2, and would typically put up a better than .500 record in the OT/SO. This may be negated by the fact that I'm comparing the early '05-06 season to the whole '03-04 season and teams may figure out how to play better defense as this year progresses.

Given these assumptions and limitations, on a per-game basis, teams that are trailing after 2 periods are doing about 15% better this season than they did over the '03-04 season.

In summary, there are a lot of idiotic myths perpetuated by the media. However, the myth of the first goal and the myth of the third period comeback do have a kernel of truth to them. Whether the media exaggerate these truths is subject to reader/viewer interpretation.


The Habs blueliners have netted one goal so far this season. Patrice Brisebois has scored five. First Patrick Roy, now this. I dub it 'The curse of the Nords.'


Offensive, indeed

This is a piece of a screenshot off the ESPN NHL page.

If an error of this magnitude was printed in Canada, we might be dealing with another Quebec referendum. The Habs actually lost 5-2 to the Rangers.


Away for a bit

I'll be on a work-imposed hiatus for the next few days...


There Arose Such a Klatter

The Ongoing NHLPA debate
NHL games are being played, and most likely will be played without labour disruption for the next six years. That NHLPA infighting is news at all baffles me. If this story leads to the union being disbanded, it might be newsworthy. This is not a union in the typical sense. These players don't have to worry about their kids' dental plans or eyeglasses. The minimum wage earners get nearly half a million dollars per year. There is a another story out there that affects workers with a lot more to lose than NHLPA members. I respect that Trent Klatt is fighting for what he thinks the right for people in his line of work. I just don't see why I should be interested.

Burnside's latest
This time, he's putting an NHL twist on an NBA story - the recently enacted dress code.

The new rule is all over the news because of the percieved racial implications. That's pure headline gold for ESPN, and that's why Burnside is trying to drag the NHL into that powder keg. Of course, on their front page Burnside's article is introduced with a photo of Jarome Iginla.

News like this turns into a 'race issue' because people keep on insisting that race is, indeed, an issue. Three years ago when Iginla won the Art Ross, I heard a story on PBS radio exclaiming how noteworthy it was that a player of African descent led the league in scoring. I had never really thought about it until I heard that report. How patronizing.

The NBA players are saying the league wants to keep the 'hip-hop culture' out. They say they are being forced to conform and are being prevented from expressing their individuality. Personally, I don't see how wearing a 'do-rag' or your ballcap sideways makes you an individual when everyone else is doing it too. I guess it's kinda like how a barbed wire bicep tattoo or eyebrow piercing makes you an individual, just like everyone else with a barbed wire bicep tattoo or eyebrow piercing. Maybe NBA players think they are being forced to conform with traditional white European attire. I understand that, and I would resent it too. They can still embrace and pay respect to their roots - look at how Jim Brown and Nelson Mandela dress.

Habs News

Jose Theodore, Sheldon Souray, and Michael Ryder were named among the 81 potential Canadian Olympians. Theo is the only one with a serious chance to make the team, and even if he does it is unlikely he would play.

The oft-maligned Niklas Sundstrom "felt a pop" in his groin in Tuesday night's game against the Bruins. That means Pierre Dagenais is likely to be back in the lineup tomorrow vs. the Isles. Sunny's groin pull is not thought to be as bad as Zednik's. Speaking of Zed, I wonder what he thinks of Alex Perezhogin's great play on the top line?

Hazing is no laughing matter, but Red Fisher's latest article is charming.

Minnesota did it again the other night. In a loss to the Canucks last week, the Wild had two goals on five shots halfway through the game. Then on Wednesday night, they rang up five goals in seven shots at one point in the third period against the Sharks. Lemaire's bunch and the Buffalo Sabres are making my predictions look pretty silly right now.

It is feast or famine in Atlanta. The Thrashers are leading the league in participation in blowout games. Four of their seven games have been lopsided - 6-0 and 9-1 whippings at the hands of the Lightning and Leafs were preceded by a home-and-home "thrashing" of the Caps by a combined score of 15-4.


Plop plop, fizz fizz

Oh what a relief it is,
to finally get a win at home before a three day break. And seeing the Hawk in a Habs jersey? How cool is that!With the Bruins missing Thornton, Zhamnov and Slegr, this was a game the home team should have won decisively. The result was too close for comfort thanks to a terrible first period from the Habs. They looked like the keystone cops with pucks sliding off heels and skipping over sticks. At first I thought it might have been soft ice, but the problem disappeared in the 2nd and 3rd. Could be a young team squeezing their sticks at home. The Canadiens outplayed the B's by a good margin in the final 40 minutes, and the score was kept close by the goaltending - Raycroft outplayed Theo.

On the whole, it was a good performance by the Habs. Kovalev is an alien. His stickhandling is simply jaw-dropping. The top line was dominant, with Koivu's usual effort and Perezhogin's steady improvement. Fisher's article contains a great quote from Saku:

"On my goal, I thought the kid (Perezhogin) had lost the puck. I was gonna give him heck, but hey, he's a great player. He did the job. If he's not great now, we're gonna make him great," Koivu promised.

Now that's leadership. I also thought Plekanec had an excellent game, aside from his 1st period gaffe. Markov is starting to add another dimension to his awesome all-around game: leading the rush. Souray is getting better with baby steps, and even Ribeiro started to look better in the 3rd.

I don't like to gripe about officiating. Referees have very difficult jobs. They don't have the benefit of a bird's-eye view of the ice or slo-mo instant replays. Nonetheless, the penalty calls seemed very inconsistent and there were what I perceived to be even-up calls. Neither team knew what to expect from shift to shift, which led to a lot of diving. From the start, there were a lot of "obstruction" offenses - little hooks on the gloves of a shooter, etc. - that went uncalled or unnoticed. Late in the game, the rodeo was back on with hooking and holding, clutching and grabbing reminiscent of '03-04. Perezhogin made the rookie mistake of making a tackle look too blatant and received a minor for it. TSN analyst Pierre McGuire had the gall to say the officiating had "consitancy to the end," presumably just because the refs made a call in the final minutes.

Five of the seven goals were scored during one of 18 power play opportunities. As a fan, that's not what I want to see. I want to see more goals like Koivu's off the rush. If they had clamped down early on the obstruction, I think there would have been fewer penalties last night. Because of the inconsistancy, players were constantly testing their limits with the refs to see what they could get away with from shift to shift.

Another jewel by McGuire was his gushing over Brian Leetch. A pokecheck on the Habs' #7 defenseman, rookie Mark Streit, was replayed as evidence of Leetch's defensive brilliance. McGuire also cited Leetch's team-leading icetime when describing him as a "monster performer." A closer look shows the reason for all those minutes - power plays. On a defense thinner than Calista Flockhart and with Boynton in just his second game, Leetch was fourth in icetime when you combine even strength and shorthanded minutes. When he's not on the PP Leetch is a liability, and Mike Sullivan knows it. I will concede the Leetch is superb on the PP - he had a goal and an assist with the extra man last night. However, he was on the ice for Koivu's even strength goal and at least two of Montreal's PP goals, one of which his man (Ryder or Perezhogin) scored from the lip of the crease. The more even strength and shorthanded minutes he gets in the next 6 games vs. the Habs, the happier I'll be. Boynton, on the other hand, is clearly the leader on the blueline. With the younger UFA age, Mike O'Connell is going to have to seriously rethink the way the Bruins handle contract disputes. Was ticking off Boynton and risking losing him in a couple of years really worth the $150,000 they saved?

Visors: has anyone ever considered that, by not wearing a visor, a player may be making a sacrifice for the team? If Pat Leahy was wearing a visor last night, Sheldon Souray's high stick would very likely have been missed. Since Leahy was cut, it was an automatic four minutes. More visors = fewer double minors for high sticking.

Lastly, there is an article on ESPN about Alex Perezhogin by Scott Burnside. It starts out OK, but quickly turns into a sappy piece about Perezhogin's and Stafford's struggle to "walk free of their shared past." Get a load of this line:

"Perhaps that's where the answer to that difficult question lies, that question of two players being able to finally put the past behind them."

...and that's why they're two of ...Bart's People.

And why, oh why, do reporters keep calling referring to the Bertuzzi and Perezhogin incidents as "hits??" They're only "hits" in the mafia sense of the word. Calling them that does a huge disservice to hockey. Hits are legal in hockey. Sucker punches and vicious high sticks are illegal, and are not hits.


What's brown and gold and has no centre?

With Joe Thornton and Alexei Zhamnov out with injuries, the Habs will be facing “Team Boston Cream Donut” tonight in Montreal. Please don’t let the fact that Boston Cream donuts actually have a centre ruin my witty analogy for you.

In a much-anticipated line shake-up, this
Gazette article mentions the Canadiens will be honouring the legacy of the Expos in tonight’s game. The beginnings of this tribute were laid in 1994. The Expos were in first place and looked very promising, with their logo that was both a script lower-case ‘elb’ and a red, white and blue upper-case ‘M.’ Then they cancelled the World Series and the Expo fanbase never really recovered. That year was actually the last time I ever watched a MLB game. The Labour Dispute Theme of ’05 rolls on.

In other news,
Damien Cox is striking while the iron is hot. The iron in this case is Bryan McCabe, and the pose being struck is one in favour of McCabe playing for Team Canada in Turino. The cries of “Please God, NO!” were audible across the nation, but not in T.O. There, the masses will simply nodded sagaciously and wonder why McCabe, Allison, Lindros, Tucker, Belfour, Wendel Clark, Tomas Kaberle and maybe Tie Domi haven’t already been named to Canada’s Olympic roster. Jeez, they put nine pucks past Atlanta's third-string goalie, and see what happens??

Seriously, why would Gretzky et al invite McCabe and settle for a poor man’s Ed Jovanovski when they can bring the real Jovocop? Cox mentions McCabe has amassed only 10 PIMs thusfar. Hmmm. Using a nifty little tool called math, I can see that rate would put Gentle Bryan on pace for 137 PIMs this season. That’s 50 more than he had in ’03-04.

What’s with Chris Stevenson’s pun-laden diatribe on the Havlat incident? He’s my favourite Ottawa-area writer, but there’s only one Ron McLean.



The gentleman responsible for TSN's "Power Rankings" is one Scott Cullen. The October 17th edition has the Ottawa Senators at #1, the Toronto Maple Leafs at number two.
I'll pause for a minute to let that sink in.
The Carolina Hurricanes are sitting in third.

I agree with a couple of things in Cullen's top three: The Sens are #1, and the Leafs are one spot ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes.

He also writes a regular column defending his rank-ings from outraged emailers - the latest one is here. His explanations are the usual for these sorts of things. He only takes into account real injuries and real stats. When it suits him, that is. When taken to task on the Flyers low position last week, he explained:

"...Forsberg has a greater propensity for getting injured than either Naslund or Thornton."

A half a page later, he has the nerve to say his ranking of Toronto...

"...was based on a team with a healthy Eric Lindros and a healthy Jason Allison. If they do get hurt, as you suspect, then it's possible that they'll drop in the rankings, but not before."

It's pretty obvious that the Leafs high standing this week is due to their 9-1 rout of Atlanta. Running up the score and padding stats is good for Power Rankings. So is a severely anomalous penalties for/against ratio. Toronto is currently standing in first overall with 51 power play opportunities, and is tied for 8th with 34 times shorthanded. This is not a clean team. These figures will change. Of course none of these statistical blips are mentioned in Cullen's write-up.

I'll try to make this my last post on the subject of "Power" Rankings.

Longest. Post. Ever.

No room for pictures in this one.

Ottawa writer Don Brennan kinda-sorta-but-not-really defends Martin Havlat's kicking.
Even a backhanded defense of this act is unwarranted. Bear with me for a couple of personal anecdotes.

About twenty years ago when I was a bantam, I was intentionally kicked in the throat by an opposing player. It was in the dying seconds of the final game of a tournament, we were in the opposition’s home rink. My team was leading by a goal. There was a faceoff in our zone. I was lined up to ice the puck if we won the draw.

After the puck was dropped, the two centres tied each other up. The puck was sitting there between the opposing centre’s feet – he had his head down and was trying to kick it back. I got there before anyone else and flattened him. He landed on his back and I was leaning over him because of my momentum, but I was still on my feet and trying to keep my balance. Then he started kicking.

One skate came up under my neck guard (a newly required piece of equipment at the time). I instantly dropped to my hands and knees, threw off my gloves and helmet and clutched my throat. When I found no trace of blood (thank God, Allah, Buddha, Ganesha, and the rest of the gang), I went bonkers. I went after the guy in a rage, but was intercepted by an official before I could do anything stupid. I recall screaming at him, “He kicked me in the [flippin’] throat!” several times. That was the only time I was ever escorted off the ice by an official.

On my way out of the rink, I had to pass through a gauntlet of parents from the other team. I’d gotten dirty looks from parents before, but never like this. If a player is escorted off the ice without his stick, helmet or gloves, he’s usually the one in the wrong. Being an adrenaline-charged teenager who was feeling a little scared and more than a little vengeful, I had made quite a scene. After I showed the adults the abrasion on my neck and explained what had happened, their posture changed radically. One woman said, “Oh my God! With his skate?”

I think I was pretty fortunate. The worst that came of it was that the abrasion looked an awful lot like a hickey, which resulted in some ribbing from classmates back at school. I was told by my coach that the player who kicked me would not be playing again that year due to a suspension.

The second incident was a couple of years ago in an industrial league. I was pinching deep in the attacking zone (rarity of rarities) looking to pass the puck to the slot. An opposing defender dove to intercept any potential pass. Showing uncharacteristic patience, I moved the puck around him and tried to step over him as he slid into my feet. I knew I didn’t quite make it when my second foot landed on something too soft to be ice. The sliding player let out a holler and several expletives.

When you grow up playing hockey, you learn at an early age to exercise caution in a dressing room full of guys in their sock feet. You can tell instantly when you’re stepping on something other than ice. When I felt that “something else” underfoot, all my weight was instantly transferred to my other foot. I lost my balance, and we lost a scoring chance. The guy was fine - we had a chat at the next stoppage. I had stepped on his shoulder, and tore a small hole in his jersey but no blood was drawn. Very fortunate again.

My point here is that I would expect anyone who has played for a long time to have the same ingrained awareness of their skates and the potential they have to cause harm. So, I have a hard time buying the uncontrollable-reaction excuse trotted out by Brennan and Havlat himself. I do understand how a player could instinctively stick a leg out to catch a piece of a shifty player, which happens in so many of those “dirty” knee collisions. But kicking? I dunno. Then again, I have always been one of the bigger players at every level I’ve played and I’ve never experienced being caught between an Ogre And A Hard Place, as Brennan describes. Even so, I can’t imagine ever kicking at another player, unless serious personal injury to myself was imminent.

A couple of tidbits to accompany the preceding essay:

Tom Benjamin has commented that the obstruction crackdown seemed to wane in Saturday’s games. I watched Toronto-Montreal and Edmonton-Calgary, and was thinking the exact same thing. Only I didn’t want to say anything for fear of it coming across as sour grapes (the proverbial sour grapes, not Don Cherry) after the Habs lost. I noticed more little tugs on the hands of shooters, more interference with forecheckers after dump-ins than just a week ago. Maybe it was just the officiating crew.

Pat Hickey says we should expect a shakeup on the second line. With Pierre Dagenais dogging it so far this season, and ’03-04 wunderkind Ryder and Ribeiro looking lazy and disorganized, I’ve been expecting that shakeup for a week now Pat.

Saturday, the news was released that Bernie Geoffrion’s #5 and Yvan Cournoyer’s and Dickie Moore’s #12 will be retired this season. What? No Big Bird, you say? According to this article by Dave Stubbs, ‘Robinson’s’ number is already retired. You’ll just have to go read it.

But seriously, consensus seems to be that Larry Robinson is the single most deserving player of having his number retired. My theory is that the organization is going in chronological order, and we have a few years to go before 2009. Number 19 will be in the rafters by then. In the meantime, one has to wonder who else will be up there. Cournoyer was already a little iffy in my book, but then he has to share a banner with Moore. I just hope the organization keeps this whole thing in perspective. With 41 Hall of Famers from the Habs, not everyone can have their number retired. How do you decide? Maybe Stan Smyl and Neal Broten really meant that much to the Canucks and North Stars. But this is the Montreal Canadiens. It’s one thing to say a player is worthy of a retired number. It’s another thing entirely to say they’re worthy of a place beside Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau.


Pot. Kettle. Black.

It looks like the poop really hit the fan in Atlanta tonight.

"They were head-hunting." - Pat Quinn

Earlier, I
alluded to the likelihood of events like this "happening" to the Leafs. Specifically, Toronto's goon squad sticking up for china dolls Jason Allison and/or Eric Lindros. What goes around comes around Pat. Take Domi's head-hunting on Scott Niedermayer, or Tucker knee-hunting on Canadian Olympian Mike Peca, just to name a couple of highlights.

More Pat Quinn:

"That's trying to hurt people and there should be no place in the game for that. This was a disgrace."

Ugh. The hypocrisy is giving me a headache. I agree with Quinn, of course. The words just ring hollow coming from someone whose team has committed the very same acts with grim regularity, someone who committed the very same acts himself as a player.

While scanning the boxscores for games in progress tonight, I stumbled across an interesting sight. Here is the score of the Vancouver-Minnesota game halfway through the second (I gleaned the screenshots from the
ESPN scoreboard):

Here are the shots on goal at this juncture of said contest:

That's 26 for the Canucks and 5 for the Wild. Either Minnesota really focuses on quality rather than quantity in their scoring chances, or Dan Cloutier is not an adequately talented puckstopper for a Stanley Cup contending team.

Update: The Canucks pulled out a win, and Cloutier was not pulled.

Where not to get Fantasy info

I found the following nugget of knowledge in Sportsline.com's fantasy hockey section:

I would understand if they mentioned former Hab hopeful Matt Higgins. That's a slip I've made myself when talking about exciting newcomer Chris Higgins. But Jonathan?? Where on Earth did that name come from? Go ahead and tell your league commish you've signed Jonathan Higgins. Then watch him chortle.

Toughest Division in the League

Before the season started, I read a lot about how the Northwest would be the toughest division in the NHL. In this article, Craig MacTavish says:

"We are in the toughest division in the NHL. Look at the stats from the last season. "

Yes, Craig, look at the stats from last season. The Northeast had more points, more wins, fewer losses, and a betyter GF/GA differential than the Northwest. The Northeast had four playoff teams to the Northwest's three. I will concede the Northwest performed better in the postseason, with the Flames reaching the Cup final.

How about this season, then? It's still too early to tell, but that won't stop me from telling. It's still the Northeast by a long margin.


Habs 2, Thrashers 0

Ho ho! What have we here? Could it be a good, 'ol fashioned, goaltender controversy??

Yann Danis earned the
shutout in his first ever NHL game. Jose Theodore has been unspectacular, to say the least. Of course, this performance by the rookie netminder will raise questions in the Montreal media. Such questions are premature - Theo is a traditionally slow starter and will continue to get the lion's share of the starts. If Theo is still struggling after ten or fifteen games, we will reasses the situation. For now, Danis' shutout is just another reason for optimism for Habs fans this season.

The bad news tonight for the Habs is a possible injury to heart-and-soul player Steve Begin. He was helped off the ice in the second favouring a knee.

On the other side of the ice, Atlanta was held scoreless for the second time in four games. I guess that high-octane offense I was so worried about earlier today is only combustable when playing the Caps, against whom the Thrashers have bagged 15 goals in two games. I'm starting a petition to get the Canadiens into the Southeast division.

In a news update from the Sens game on Tuesday, TSN hockey guru Bob MacKenzie says Zdeno Chara has been scolded for knocking that tooth out of Raitis Ivanans' head with a late punch. Seems Sean Avery received a vicious scolding as well after he made racist remarks. Is this part of the new CBA??

The league will promptly deal with players who misbehave by issuing them a stern finger waving and toungue lashing.

Go pick on someone your own size!

I'm talking to you, Zdeno Chara! Sign a contract with the Lakers to beat up Shaquille O'Neal or something. Ivanans may be the closest thing the Habs have to Chara-sized, but he still should have been allowed to go into the tilt with Mike Ribeiro sitting on his shoulders. That is one scary player - a Norris contender who can absolutely rag doll the league's toughest goons.

Now the Habs are
off to face the fast-and-loose Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers. The game is in Atlanta, less than 24 hours after losing the home opener to the Sens. They should be pumped - they were already the highest scoring team in the league before adding their Richard trophy winner. Marc Savard is the reigning Offensive Player of the Week. That promising start could disappear in a hurry.

Although the upcoming game against Atlanta worries me, I think the Thrashers are unlikely to be a long-term threat in the East. Prior to the start of this season, they were often labelled as one of the up-and-coming franchises, deep in young talent. Trading Dany Heatly removed a huge chunk of the "young" from their talent pool, replacing it with the comparably talented yet more mature (and pricier) Marian Hossa. Now Atlanta is in a very similar financial boat as Ottawa, only the team isn't as good. After signing Kovalchuk, the Thrashers are brushing against the cap ceiling. When Marc Savard and Kari Lehtonen are up for raises, those big fat contracts doled out to Hossa, Holik and Kovalchuk won't look so great. They were an improving team. Now they're merely an improved team with very little room to grow under the cap.

On the topic of obstruction, this quote by a scout on how defensemen have to adjust to the obstruction crackdown is from the latest article by Chris Stevenson:

"These guys should go watch a good industrial league to learn how to play with these rules. Those guys are ex-junior players playing those non-body contact leagues where it's all about positioning, skating and having a quick stick."

Hear hear! As a stay-at-home defenseman who grew up able to play the body, it really is a big adjustment playing in no-hitting leagues. If players (like yours truly) aren't gifted offensively, playing more conservatively and with less aggression does take a lot of the fun out of the game. The rule changes are meant to make the game more fun for the casual fan to watch, and the casual fan doesn't care how much fun the stay-at-home defensemen are having. The casual fans (and dare I say most serious fans?) want Mario Lemieux, Markus Naslund, Crosby and Ovechkin to have fun on the ice. That is, as long as regular season games don't start looking like the all-star game where only the goalies break a sweat.

Lastly: Like stats? If I had data like
this on all 30 teams, I would only have time for hockey pools.


There is clearly a conspiracy afoot. The two Ontario-based NHL teams are involved in a secret plot against the Montreal Canadiens. Toronto and Ottawa have met in two games: the first shootout in NHL history on opening night, then the Turkey Day Shootout of '05 last night. The result: four points for the Senators and two for the Maple Leafs. That's the equivalent of two wins for the Sens and one win for the Leafs! It doesn't add up! Any effort by the Ottawa Senators to win tonight's game in Montreal will only serve to confirm my suspicions. In retaliation, the Canadiens must form alliances with the Buffalo Sabres and the Boston Bruins.

But seriously, tonight's home opener is a great opportunity to wrest a couple of points from the Senators. After another emotional episode in the Battle of Ontario, the Sens might be a little low on gas. Plus, Ray Emery is expected to get the start.

Finally, what's up with Pat Quinn's head?? A puck in the eye, then a stick in the other. Maybe it's finally hockey karma for his cheap shot on Bobby Orr umpteen many years ago. Bet it doesn't sting nearly as much as going 0-3 to start the season.


1/30th Season Report

The Habbies are still first overall, tied with a team from the Motor City more familiar with this lofty postion in the standings. Starting 3-0, all three wins on the road, with victories over their biggest division rivals in Boston and Toronto - you can't ask for any more than that. Rumour has it that Theo was sub-par in the Toronto game Saturday night. I missed the game, and the HNIC season opener, in favour of a two day hike during a torrential downpour. Never again. Anyway, if you can post a perfect record with your cornerstone player off his game, you have durn good reason for optimism. The home opener on Tuesday should be a raucous event.

I have watched a few other games, and it looks to me like there is still a fair amount of clutch-and-grab hockey. Players still get away with a lot more than they do in the leagues I play in (as low-level as organized hockey gets). However there seem to be more pretty plays, exciting goals, and more offense in general. There have been 251 goals in the first 80 games played. If you check the standings you might be fooled by the GF/GA numbers which include a goal for shootout wins, of which there have been four this season. Excluding those goals you still get a sky-high average of 6.27 goals per game, so maybe the level of officiating is a good compromise. The part I like is that there seem to be a lot of comeback wins, although I can't back that up with numbers. A third period lead is no longer a death sentence for the team down a goal or two. So, 80 games into the season, I must say I like the product. We'll see if it lasts.


Ride On!

Not a bad start to the season for Michael "Knight" Ryder. Three goals in two games, including two game winners.

For a lark, take a look at his
profile on TSN. He's on pace for 123 goals and no assists! How does he do it?

Well, this is an excellent example of a player with plenty of deficiencies (his speed and passing to name two) but possesses a few skills that are far above average. Brett Hull has made a Hall-of-Fame career out of his one-timer, and Ryder has a magnificent release. Of course, that's not all there is to his game. If it were, he'd be Pierre Dagenais. Ryder has a work ethic. He has 8th-round-draft-pick hustle. That's what gave him his NHL opportunity at the ripe old age of 24, and that's what will keep him in Montreal. Another Michael, surname Ribeiro, would do well to learn a lesson or two from Ryder's play.

I read a couple of Ranger blog posts after last night's game, including the excellent
Hockeybird, for their view on the proceedings. I have only one quarrel with a point made in a couple of them (including the post linked) that Ryan Hollweg's charging penalty was undeserved. The case made is that he did not take the requisite three steps prior to checking Saku Koivu. According to the official rule #47, charging,

"A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner."

Hollweg's crime was that he jumped before the hit. There is no "three stride" requirement for a charge. Now, everyone has seen players leave the ice before a big hit - it's often unavoidable. However, I believe the ref (either McCreary or Craig Spada in this case) also took into account that Koivu was facing the boards, and was somewhat blindsided. Just sayin'.

How 'bout them rookies?

Chris Higgins and Alex Perezhogin both scored their first NHL goals last night. The Habs' crop of rookies is turning into a real story this year. None of them stand out as Calder contenders, but they look to be solid NHLers.

Perezhogin played on the top line with Koivu and Kovalev, although he had to share his time with Ryder later in the game. His goal was on a breakaway, 2-line pass from Kovalev, and his shot to beat Weekes was absolutely Kovalev-esque. For the rest of the game, he was certainly energetic, making an effort to do every little thing at full speed. At times it looked like his hands and feet were moving faster than his head, but the effort is noted and appreciated. When he settles down, he'll be a dangerous player 1-on-1.

Higgins scored a nice goal on an equally nice pass from Plekanec. These two seem to be more polished players than Perezhogin and played a high tempo yet composed game. As the game wore on Ribeiro was atrocious, and Dagenais was atrocious from the get-go. Plekanec actually logged more icetime than Ribeiro, who may find himself trying to set up fancy goals for Ivanans if he doesn't pull up his socks.

Montreal had three extended 5-on-3 power plays, and failed to score on the last two. That cost them a regulation win. A team that calls itself 'skilled' has to make a minute-long 5-on-3 an almost automatic goal.

Andrei Markov played a stellar game. I thought he would have a very good year based on his season in Russia and the new rule enforcement. His quick stick and his speed stopped Jagr all night - those skills will make for the best defensive defensemen in the new NHL, if the crackdown persists.


Woot! Tied for First Place!

...along with 14 other teams! How I missed staying up past my bedtime watching regular season NHL games!

I didn't get to see the game, unfortunately. Unwilling to blow money on a fancy cable package or unsightly satellite dish, I will regrettably be forced to sit through Leafs games night after night. Oh well, apparently that's the team Canadians everywhere - all the way from Hamilton to Kingston - want to watch.

It seems Richard Zednik is suffering a minor groin injury, which limited him to 6 shifts last night. Although Julien loves him on the third/checking line, here's hoping Jan Bulis gets to fill in for Zed on the top line with Koivu and Kovalev.

Note that the Leafs/Sens match was a three point game. I don't like these, for two reasons:

Imagine we're down to the final game of the season. The Habs are sitting in 7th place with a record of 40-32-10 for 90 points. The Leafs are playing the Bruins, and both teams have identical 41-33-7 records for 89 points. If either team wins in regulation, the Habs are in 8th and make the playoffs. If regulation time ends in a tie, the Habs are out of the playoffs. There's something wrong with that.

Offense is supposed to be emphasized, but these pity points for losing reward defensive play. I don't expect Gary Bettman would understand the math: The lower the score of the game, the more likely it is to end in a tie. If there are no goals scored, there is a 100% chance it ended in a tie. If 1 or fewer goals were scored, there are three possible outcomes: 1-0, 0-1, and 0-0. One of three outcomes is a tie. I won't break it down by probabilities because that would get messy. If two or fewer goals are scored, there are six possible outcomes, two of which are ties. Here's a table:

Of course, the number of possible outcomes will not equal the number of actual outcomes. There have been far more 4-4 games than 8-0 games in league history. However, I am sure there is at least a correlation.

So, the team you coach is guaranteed a point if you are at least tied after regulation time. You are more likely to be tied after regulation time if fewer goals are scored. Thus, you coach your team to limit the number of goals, even if it means giving up goals scored in favour of limiting goals against. Going for the extra point is too risky when you can sit back, get your single point then go for another in the OT/shootout.

I would like to see the league go with what was done in soccer: three points for a win and one each for a draw. No pity points for a loss, and games won in extra time are simply wins. Nice, tidy standings with comlumns labelled 'W' 'L' and 'T.'

Unfortunately, ties have no place in the *new and improved* NHL. The best we can hope for is three points for a regulation win, two for an OT/SO win, one for an OT/SO loss, and none for a regulation loss. Nice, tidy standings with columns labelled 'W' 'L' 'OT/SO W' and 'OT/SO L.' Ugh.


West Predictions

Some quick n' dirty comments...

Vancouver - They did take some backward steps, just not as many as the other perrennial Western powers.
Calgary - I think they overachieved two years ago. Durn good team, just not runaway favourites.
Colorado - They lost a lot, but could afford to. Tanguay and Hejduk are ready to take the reins.
Edmonton - Yes, four teams in the same division can make the playoffs. See the Northeast. Horcoff is not a legit #1 centre, but neither is Daymond Langkow. Or Craig Conroy, for that matter, and he was Jarome's centre for the Flames' cup run. Horcoff will be better than Langkow this season.
Minnesota - Looking at the roster, I don't know how Lemaire does it. They will take a beating in their own division, facing four of the top six squads in the conference.

Detroit - Still has good depth, and a pretty good D.
Nashville - Everyone's favourite cinderella team. Not mine.
St. Louis - Not a bad collection of talent, but the wheels could fall off.
Chicago - Aucoin, Lapointe and Khabibulin do not a team make. Lacking depth up front.
Columbus - Better than '03-04, but that was pretty bad. Nash's injury hampers them right oout of the gate.

San Jose - Depth defined. However, I wonder how some of their top players will cope with the new rules. Hannan plays close to the legal limits, and Cheechoo is not a great skater.
Dallas - Old? Or Experienced?
Anaheim - Niedermayer is the biggest difference-making skater in the league.
LA - Fair bit of roster turnover makes them hard to place. Garon will impress.
Phoenix - I don't see them as a last-place team, and that prediction has nothing to do with Gretzky.
See my Eastern Conference predictions here.


Final Cuts

According to the TSN story, the final cuts are Peter Vandermeer and Ron Hainsey.

That's somewhat of a surprise. Rumour has it that Vandermeer was signed to a one-way deal, but lost his job to Raitis Ivanans. Three weeks ago, I would have bet that Mark Streit would make the team as the #6 or 7 defenseman. When camp started, he struggled while Ron Hainsey looked OK for a change. Then it came to light that Hainsey would have to clear waivers before he could be assigned to Hamilton, leading me to think they would go with Hainsey instead. Turns out I was right in the first place. It remains to be seen whether Hainsey will remain with the Habs organization.

Also making the cut were Chris Higgins, Alex Perezhogin and Tomas Plekanec. That leaves us with a roster of 23 - 14 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders. The additional forwards give Julien some flexibility, being able to go with skill (Perezhogin, Plekanec) or grit (Begin, Ivanans) depending on the opposition. Keeping a couple of hungry forwards around might motivate guys like Dagenais, Sundstrom, Ribeiro and maybe even Kovalev to put in a full effort every night.

In the "Where Are They Now" department, the
Nashville Predators have taken a flyer on Yanic Perreault's faceoff-winning, corner-picking, springtime-disappearing talents. I wish him the best of luck. Perreault's signing with the Habs coincided with the team's emergence from it's darkest period in history - the reign of Tremblay and Peanut. Andre Savard had arrived from Ottawa, and there was hope. The second-line centre was the biggest FA to come to Montreal in a long time - pilfered from the Leafs, no less.

Lastly, TSN has published their first "
Power Rankings" of the season. "Power Rankings" are silly. Why would the media stoop to printing these college-football-type standings? Don't they realize that, unlike college football, real, actual standings are available for NHL teams? Actually, power rankings are even worse because they're typically the opinion of one journalist rather than the compiled votes of a bunch of journalists. Anyway, they have the Habs at twelfth. Strangely, the Boston Bruins are immediately after the Sens in second place, to which I can only say "HUH?" It seems Brian Leetch continues to fool hockey writers everywhere.

The lockout has ended.

CBC lockout, that is. Finally, no lockouts stand in the way of my Winter Saturday night ritual. Unless the liquor stores lock out their staff... horror of horrors! Let's move on.

You had to think they would have an agreement by the start of the NHL season. After a whole season without NHL hockey, doing without Hockey Night In Canada upon it's return would add insult to injury. After all, HNIC is easily the best hockey broadcast available around here - even with Coach's Corner and Bob Cole & Harry Neale constantly wearing their Maple Leafs underoos.

What is a Voltigeur, anyway?

Latendresse is, once again, a Voltigeur. See you this time next year, Gui.

Update: A Voltigeur is a 'trapezist.' Thank-you, anonymous contributor!


Making Room... but for who?

Marcel Hossa has been dealt to the Rangers for Garth Murray.

The Habs are getting a less talented player. So why make this trade? I can think of two reasons:

- Something is better than nothing. If Hossa wasn't going to make the team, Gainey might as well get something in return for him rather than lose him on waivers. Murray has already been assigned to the AHL by the Rangers, and will join the Bulldogs.

- Filling a need. The Canadiens are stacked potential second-line in scoring forwards, but lack gritty players and defensive types that tend to flesh out rosters. Murray is versatile (can play centre or the wing), and knows what his role will be if he ever cracks the NHL. He's supposed to be tough and gritty, but apparently is a Prince fan and has two cats. Hmmm, I wonder if this information was known by whoever from the Habs scouted him.

So, Hossa is out of the picture. That will clear the path for one of Higgins, Plekanec, Perezhogin, or Latendresse. I can't see Gainey keeping Latendresse. He's a patient guy and isn't likely to submit to fan or media pressure. If Gui makes the team it will be because he earned a spot ahead of one of the other guys, and the staff thinks he can help the club this season. Danius Zubrus jumped to the NHL at 18, and hasn't developed into the star that so many were expecting. Then again, Patrice Bergeron did the same, and he seems to be for real. Gainey will probably take the conservative path.