Midway through last season, then-Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau decided his team was incapable of winning the Stanley Cup by playing fire-wagon hockey. He completely changed the way his team played, implementing a defensive-oriented system designed to ultimately achieve playoff success.
Many factors contributed to Boudreau’s decision, not the least of which is probably organizationally-imposed pressure stemming from a widely-held belief that defense wins championships. Hockey observers the world over have preached the importance of this mantra since time immemorial, and after three consecutive playoff failures, Boudreau was forced to capitulate.
As the conference semi-finals get underway, the post-mortem analysis has begun on the eight teams that failed to advance past the opening round. Fans and pundits alike are trying to figure out exactly why Stanley Cup contenders like Vancouver, Boston, and Pittsburgh bowed out early, and in shocking fashion.
Trying to rationalize sport is a complete waste of time, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. In hockey, the loser of a playoff series receives the same general criticisms, some of which include a lack of scoring depth, shoddy defense, poor goaltending, injury problems, or all of the above.
Some writers, perhaps for the sheer sake of creativity, like to think outside the box when coming up with reasons for a team’s untimely post-season demise. Boston Globe writer Gary Dzen went as far as to cite the much ballyhooed Stanley Cup hangover as one of the countless factors that doomed the Bruins this spring.
Not surprisingly, the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs has delivered some fantastic action and great storylines. But while the hockey world salivates in anticipation of the next chapter of the Battle of Pennsylvania, one of the most incredible accomplishments in the history of professional sports has gone largely unnoticed.
This past weekend, the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League won their 28th consecutive game. The farm team of the Tampa Bay Lightning concluded its regular season schedule with an impressive three road wins in three nights.
Norfolk’s streak is the stuff of legend. Prior to this season, no pro hockey team had ever won more than 18 straight games. The Admirals have set a remarkable standard for excellence that will most assuredly land them in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Some analysts believe there could be anywhere between four and ten NHL coaching vacancies by the time the Stanley Cup is awarded in mid-June. Undoubtedly, the Montreal Canadiens will be one of the teams searching for a new headmaster in the off-season.
The fervor surrounding Randy Cunneyworth’s inability to speak French has been well documented. The Francophone press and Quebec politicians have been ripping the Canadiens to shreds ever since Cunneyworth took over for Jacques Martin back in December.
The vast majority of fans and pundits believe Cunneyworth has been treated unfairly by his detractors. Most people seem to think the Toronto native was never given a chance to succeed in Montreal. It’s a fair argument.
As April approaches, the NFL is still licking its wounds over a disgraceful bounty scandal, in which defensive players for the New Orleans Saints were paid cash bonuses for injuring opponents. The revelations have spawned further investigations to determine whether other teams may have offered defenders financial incentives for administering knockout blows.
It’s not particularly shocking to learn about pro football players trying to hurt each other. The fact that a defensive player often lunges at a wide receiver like a guided missile, as opposed to remaining grounded and trying to make a standard arm tackle, indicates there are times when a linebacker has little regard for the welfare of his intended target.
That was the reaction of Owen Sound Attack head coach Greg Ireland after gritty forward Mike Halmo was suspended ten games for a massive open-ice hit on Russian sniper Nail Yakupov, the projected number one pick in this summer’s NHL draft.
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the hit. Some people think Halmo led with his elbow, left his feet, and targeted the head of a vulnerable player. Others feel Yakupov leaned into the hit after cutting to the middle of the ice, and that Halmo simply braced himself for contact because he had no time to adjust his path once he committed to the check.
While watching a Providence Bruins game last Friday, a friend of mine posed an interesting question: “What would happen if a team’s starting goaltender got hurt, and was replaced by the backup, who was also injured during the same game?”
It’s not something I’ve really considered, but after a moment’s thought, I responded by saying, “The team would need to have a skater play goal. Otherwise, they’d probably have to forfeit.”
Strangely enough, that very scenario played itself out two days later when 17-year-old center Connor Crisp had to don the pads for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters after the team’s lone goaltender was injured early in a game against the powerhouse Niagara IceDogs.
There’s no doubt the Jeff Carter trade makes the Los Angeles Kings a better hockey team. Trading for one of the most prolific goal-scorers over the last four seasons is a sure-fire way to upgrade your roster. The question is, does the trade help the Kings become a Stanley Cup contender?
Let’s start with the facts.
To describe the Los Angeles offense as anemic is an understatement. The team has scored a league-low 129 goals this season, which means they’re on pace to finish the campaign with about 170 tallies. Furthermore, the Kings have potted a mere 84 even strength goals on the year. That’s a frightening number, summoning awful memories of the dead-puck era.
For years, I’ve marveled at the power of the sports narrative. Pundits and reporters make a living trying to explain why a particular game panned out the way it did, how individual athletes performed, or failed to perform, in the heat of battle, and what intangible factors contribute to success.
What’s interesting about these narratives is that, although they’re often compelling, there’s usually no conclusive evidence to support the provided explanations. That, in itself, is perfectly fine, as there’s nothing wrong with expressing an opinion. The problem is many misnomers are routinely accepted as fact, despite the lack of proof.
For example, almost every sports fan believes Baltimore Ravens place kicker Billy Cundiff choked when he shanked what would have been the game-tying field goal in the AFC Championship game against New England last month. Everyone seems to believe Cundiff would’ve converted that same attempt had a trip to the Super Bowl not been on the line.
If there’s one thing a professional sports league simply can’t tolerate, it’s the appearance if impropriety. When situations arise that cause people to question your credibility, an appropriate response is required in order to maintain that credibility.
In that regard, the NHL has badly mishandled the mysterious clock stoppage in Los Angeles that led to a Kings victory over Columbus on Wednesday night.
Not surprisingly, Columbus general manager Scott Howson called the league out on the carpet after the game:
About Tasca's Take
Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.
Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.