Woe, Canada. That might become the anthem north of the border come spring.
As late as Thursday, no Canadian-based teams were holding a playoff spot in the NHL – the latest into the season for that scenario since 1970. The Canucks snuck back in to third place in the Pacific with Thursday’s win in Boston, but the shocking demise of Montreal and the continued struggles in Ottawa, Calgary and Winnipeg have made the possibility a real one.
(No one was thinking playoffs much this year in Toronto or Edmonton, especially after Connor McDavid’s injury).
The Canadiens entered Saturday’s visit to Toronto 4-16-1 in their last 21 games, a stunning fall largely attributed to the long-term injury to goaltender Carey Price. It’s the first time since 1940 they’ve lost as many as 16 games in so short a stretch.
“I’m the guy that provides the players,” General Manager Marc Bergevin told Montreal reporters on Thursday. “I’m the guy that put this team together. It’s on me and me only.”
While giving a vote of confidence to coach Michel Therrien, Bergevin did not have good news on Price. The GM said it could be another three weeks or more before his goaltender returns to the lineup. Price is skating on his own minus equipment and his loss is obviously the big issue; three replacements have posted an abysmal .890 save percentage since Thanksgiving.
But in 16 of the last 21 games, the Habs have scored two goals or fewer. In 10 of them, they’ve been shut out or held to one goal. That’s not on the goaltender.
Bergevin, like many GMs, said the salary cap makes the trade market move very slowly until teams totally define if they’re buyers or sellers. But don’t look for him to make any drastic moves for offense.
“I never put the organization in a vulnerable position for years to come,” he said. “I’m not panicky. I won’t move in panic.”
Maybe Bergevin won’t. But you wonder what will happen elsewhere.
Ottawa gave up five goals in the first period at New Jersey last week. The Sedins and Ryan Miller are getting no younger in Vancouver. Winnipeg actually has tickets available for some games, a first since returning to Manitoba four years ago. Edmonton and Calgary have combined for just 13 road wins (the Sabres have 10, by comparison).
Rogers Sportsnet is in the second year of its 12-year, $5.2 billion deal with the NHL. Imagine what the ratings will be in April and May if not a single Canadian team is playing. Yikes.
Weather woes for NBC
Talk about a colossal bummer. The postponement of Sunday’s Penguins-Capitals game because of the blizzard in Washington, D.C., had to be a huge disappointment for the NHL and NBC.
First off, of course, is the loss of a Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin matchup. But this one comes on the day of the NFL’s conference championships, when plenty of people setting up for the afternoon and evening would be looking for some sports in advance of kickoff. And it means the loss of plenty of promos for next weekend’s All-Star Game and skills competition as well.
Speaking of the snow, it might have made sense for the NHL to simply move Monday night’s Sabres-Rangers game to Wednesday night, the final day on the schedule prior to the All-Star break. The Sabres were already on a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back so a Tuesday-Wednesday one would have made no difference. Can’t do it. There’s a Bruce Springsteen concert in Madison Square Garden.
Davey is back
One of the NHL’s longest-running feuds between a star and his old team finally came to an end Saturday night when the Leafs honored former captain Dave Keon and announced his statue will join Legends Row on the plaza of Air Canada Centre. Keon was honored along with the families of two deceased greats, defenseman Tim Horton and goaltender Turk Broda.
A reconciliation with Keon, who has stayed away from the franchise since the 1970s, was a main point of interest by Leafs president Brendan Shanahan with the team heading to its centennial celebration next year. Keon, now 75, played 16 years and won four Stanley Cups in Toronto but in 1975 got into a contract dispute with owner Harold Ballard, who wouldn’t grant him a release.
Keon was thus forced to sign in the WHA and didn’t return to the NHL until a stint with Hartford after the leagues merged. Keon, in fact, played a 1980 game at the Aud on a Hartford team that also included fellow Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Mark Howe and Bobby Hull.
Keon didn’t show up at the Maple Leaf Gardens farewell ceremony in 1999 and has mostly stayed away from the ACC as well, but the thaw in relations is a huge step for the Leafs’ big celebration next year.
They said it
• Leafs coach Mike Babcock on Legends Row additions: “Most of us honor Tim Horton every day.”
• Hall of Famer and current player agent Igor Larionov, speaking to ESPN.com last week after being honored as part of the Sharks’ 25th anniversary celebration: “I know when the Sharks came to San Jose, we put a show on every night. No matter if we’d be losing or winning, we played good, exciting hockey to entertain the people. We showed them how to play a puck-possession game, a puck-control game where you’re creating these great masterpieces for scoring chances. That’s when the people start to realize it’s something they want to see more and more. I wouldn’t pay my money to watch the kind of hockey it is today sometimes. Sometimes it makes me want to stay home and bang my chest against the house.”
• Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa on the club’s two Florida losses after their 12-game winning streak: “We had the great stretch, but now it’s over. We have to forget about it and get a new one. The last two games, throw in the garbage. We have to be way better.”
Around the boards
• Someone will trade for disgrunted Tampa Bay prospect Jonathan Drouin. But let the buyer beware. No matter how high in the draft he got picked, I wouldn’t want a 20-year-old who repeatedly goes into snits over playing time he doesn’t deserve and then quits on his AHL team on bad advice from his agent. Good luck meshing that personality into your locker room.
• After watching Dylan Larkin here Friday, it’s going to be one wild Calder Trophy race between the Red Wings’ American phenom and Chicago’s Artemi Panarin. Jack Eichel remains clearly on the outside looking in, especially now that he has goals in just three of his last 21 games.
• From Elias Sports: Patrick Kane is the fourth Chicago player to be the first NHLer to get to 30 goals in a season. Bobby Hull did that an NHL-record seven times, last in 1968-69. Doug Bentley did it in 1942-43 and Max Bentley did it in 1945-46.
• The Canucks’ Miller became the first NHL goalie in more than five years to face 48 or more shots in back-to-back games when he stopped 46 of 49 in the overtime loss Tuesday against the Rangers. That came after he made 47 saves in a 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders two days earlier. Tomas Vokoun last pulled that feat in December of 2010, for Florida.
The Canucks have given Miller shot levels from the 2013-14 Sabres in his last four starts: An average 44.5 shots on goal against has led to an average of 41.8 saves per game from the 35-year-old, who managed to go 1-2-1 in those games.
• While the Sabres were getting blanked Friday by Detroit, the Rochester Amerks were posting a wild win in Grand Rapids, Mich., in a matchup of the teams’ AHL affiliates. The Amerks’ snapped the Griffins’ 15-game home point streak with a 5-3 win as Linus Ullmark stopped 41 of 44 shots to earn his first AHL win since returning last week.
Western New York native Tom McCollum faced 49 shots in the Grand Rapids net and stopped 44. Jerry D’Amigo had two goals and Justin Bailey had two assists to lead the Amerks.