Mid-November, mid-week, mid-roadtrip. Seems like a good time for a look around the league. This week, the Flames get a rare win in Montreal, the Canucks have a stinker in St. Loo, and a Flame prospect is quietly having a very nice year in Chilliwack.
Calgary has a couple of days to enjoy the sights of Montreal after a very workmanlike 1-0 win. It's the type of game I think many of us would have hoped to be the norm in Brent Sutter's Brave New World. 25 shots against, and Kent only counted 3 scoring chances for the Habs in the third, at a point when Montreal should have been really chasing the game.
Kipper 5 V 5: 0-22 vs. St Louis, 1-26 vs. New York, 0-17 vs. Montreal. Season: 22-321, .931 SV%.
Pretty nice week. Here's a list of regular goalies from the last two years (80 games total) with .931 5 V 5 SV% or better:
07/08: Giguere - .935, Fleury .933
08/09: Thomas .937, Vokoun .931, Luongo .931
Here's to it lasting. I will say that I've mentioned throughout the season that if the Flames ever remembered how to kill a penalty, Kipper's numbers would start to reflect his good play. The Flames have risen to 8th in PK percentage, and Kipper's overall SV% has gone from around .900 to .917. He and the team were quite sound last night. 17 shots at 5 V 5 is a pretty good number on the road, and Montreal was averaging 21-22 a game before last night.
Next up for the Flames is a trip to Buffalo on Friday. Jochen Hecht has struggled this season, with 1 goal on 43 shots. Makes Joker's 2 for 36 pace look good by comparison. Or less bad, to be more precise. Buffalo has a pretty good goalie that we might see in the Olympics for the U.S., and Lindy Ruff has decided to take a step back in terms of his style, with good effect, although the Sabres have dropped their last two.
Down on the farm:
Abbotsford has one of those lovely 3 game in 3 night excursions through the U.S. Midwest starting tomorrow in Milwaukee. The story for the team so far has been Leland Irving. His .928% is 11th in the AHL, and considering how crapulent the Heat have been at killing penalties, that number looks pretty solid. Funny, isn't it? The Flames get Kipper going, McE has a very good outing in Dallas to quell the nerves, and Irving looks like he's taken a step forward. I'd rather have too many goalies than not enough, of course, so my noting this is more in amusement than any sort of lament.
Up the road in Chilliwack, a Flame draft pick from last year is doing all right for himself, albeit somewhat under the radar. Ryan Howse was Calgary's 3rd round pick last summer, 74th overall. His numbers last year were just OK, with 31 G, 13 A, 44 PTS in 61 games. This year, he's picked it up, with 15 goals and 23 points in 22 games. More importantly, he's on the good side of the +/-, after two years deep in the hole. A player should have better numbers as they age in junior, but going from .7 PPG to 1.05 PPG is still a nice move. He doesn't look out of place in this list composed by Jonathan Willis, which is all the Flames could hope for given his draft pedigree.
I mentioned in the preview before the Blues game last Thursday that I suspected that St. Louis would break out sooner rather than later. With that in mind, last night's 6-1 smoking of the Canucks doesn't surprise me that much, because they were due and Andrew Raycroft was also due to revert to form. Still nice to see, though. With Luongo back and Daniel Sedin reportedly on his way back this week, the Canucks may not be responsible for oppostion fans receiving free hamburgers quite as often.
The Wild have started to get results as well, beating the Leafs 5-2 for their 4th win in 5. Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune filed his blog post after watching the game from a couch in his hotel room. Hmm. A game story based on watching events via television. Silly idea, it'll never take off. Marty Havlat still hasn't done much at EV, but Mikko Koivu was good last night, and the Wild, like St. Louis, wasn't going to be terrible every night for the balance of the season.
The center of the universe wants a clutch of showcase events over the next few seasons, including a Winter Classic at BMO Field. And it isn't just me that refers to Toronto in that manner. Brian Burke, as always, gets right to the point:
"In my mind, Toronto is the centre of the hockey universe," said Burke, who is also co-owner of the company which hosted the two-day conference. "People who don't live here hate to hear that but it's true."
As long as the team is lousy, fill your boots, BB. Oh, and he also noted that the Leafs were open to negotiations regarding a second team in the GTA. Magnanimity, your name is Burke. The NHL says the Leafs don't have a veto on the matter, of course. Right.
Speaking of nonsense, Phoenix is scouting Chris Chelios. As a fan of a fellow Western Conference team, I encourage all such activities. They're banged up on the back end, like several other teams, but he's no solution, Coyotes fans.
The Hurricanes are in shit order. Things aren't getting much better, either, as Cam Ward took a nasty slice from Rick Nash's skate the other night, and will be on the shelf for an extended period. Manny Legace has been signed to fill in, but as David Lee, notes, he doesn't exactly have a good track record of December health. Teams aren't always going to perform exactly as they have in the past for any number of reasons, but the suspicion seems to be that the Canes got old in a hurry.
Away from the rink, the GMs have been having their regular meetings in Toronto, with head shots and long term contracts on the agenda for today. In that piece, Pierre Lebrun also notes that Don Waddell is still trying get Ilya Kovalchuk to sign an extension. There's always plenty of discussion regarding attendance in various places and the viability of certain markets, but losing the only top-flight player they have would be a very bad thing for the Thrashers. I never really care any more if a team stays or leaves any particular market, but every franchise needs a hook to help sell itself if it hopes to ever prosper, especially in places where the roots don't run deep. That hook is normally winning, of course, and I don't think losing Kovalchuk is exactly the sort of message that franchise wants to send. I wonder if Kovalchuk sees his future there, or in a place with better management?
Finally, Rene Fasel is still out there chasing Gary Bettman's approval for NHL players to go to the Sochi Olympics. The lack of a transfer agreement with Russia might well be part of why the league isn't in a hurry to go along, as well as the stated reasons of season disruption and injuries. Even accepting that, the players really want to go, so I'd guess that participation will be something that the league agrees to in the next CBA, for a price.
That's all for this week. As always, the comments are open for items on note.