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Nov
02
2011

The Fourth Line: Bye, Bye Bruins

It's been that kind of a season in Boston

In this week’s edition of The Fourth Line, the memory of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup victory fades with each passing loss.

The first month of the NHL season has given hockey fans many surprises. The two biggest, are teams headed in opposite directions,  last season’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins, and the once great Edmonton Oilers.

Currently the Bruins are dead last in the Eastern Conference with just six points, and after losing three games in row, and five of their last seven, are very much in search of answers. Boston, who finsihed last October with a 6-2 record, were 3-7  during the month this season, as it has become evidnet that more than a cup hangover is plaging the Bruins.

Last week, many Boston fans, and perhaps players and coaches as well thought they would get healthy so to speak, and turn things around, as the Bruins got set to host their hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in a home-at-homme series.

Like Boston, Montreal came into the mini-two game set struggling, and were 2-5-2 to start the season. However, the  Habs came into TD Bank Center last Thursday night with a bit of momentum, as they had just beat the Philadelphia Flyers to end a five game losing streak the night before. With much on the line for an early season hockey game, the Stanley Cup champions came out on all cylinders and scored a power play goal to take the lead. It would be the last lead of the two game series for Boston, as the Canadiens scored the next five goals, spanning  the next game as well and  swept the home-at-home from the Bruins.

Montreal won 2-1 in Boston, and two nights later in Montreal, the Canadiens jumped out to a 3-0 lead at home. The Bruins never quit and rallied to close within one, but an empty net goal sealed the sweep, giving the Habs a 4-2 decision.

The Bruins were forced to search for answers as much of Boston’s trouble can be traced to their offense, or lack there of. The Bruins are not simply scoring goals. In 5-on-5 situations or with the extra man. The Bruins are 27th in the NHL with 21 goals (2.10 GPG) in 10 games, and the power play is converting just 12.8 percent of the time, which is 25th in the NHL.

On Sunday, following a video session, the three on ice team leaders (team captain and two alternates) met with the Boston media, and although they didn’t have any startling revelations, like drinking beer in the clubhouse between periods, they all admitted that they simply must get better.

“I think everybody is just determined to get back to playing up to our standard that we’ve set for ourselves,” said  Andrew Ference speaking to reporters. ”Whether it’s individually or as a team, we know we have a lot more to offer, so I think it’s just a matter of knowing where that bar is and how to get back to it. ”[There's] lots of cleaning up to do.”

“I believe in this team. I know what we have,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “I know we are in a deep hole but if anybody can get out of it, it’s this team.” The Bruins simply need to find a way to put the biscuti in the basket. Since scoring a season-high six goals during a win over Toronto on Oct. 20, the B’s have been outscored 10-5 in three consecutive defeats.

Boston faces the very hot Ottawa senators on Tuesday, which might just be what the doctor ordered.  They’ve won four straight against their Northeast Division rivals and 18 of the last 23 matchups, including last season’s final two at the TD Garden by a combined 9-1. However, Boston thought they had it made for the two games vs. the Habs last week.

While the Stanley Cup Champions struggle mightily, the once mighty Edmonton Oilers have visions of their glory days gone by to start the 11-12′ season. The very—very young Oilers could be  the best team skating right now. Through 11 games this season, the Oilers have 16-points (7-2-2), and lead the NHL’s Northwest Division. Entering play on Tuesday night, they are tied with the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks for the overall lead in Western Conference.

The Lottery Line, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle

Led by the youngest, and perhaps most productive line combination in the league, the Oilers are flying around the ice. They ended the Washington Capitals unbeaten season last Thursday, and looked impressive in doing so.

The Oilers boast the last two No.1 overall selections in the NHL draft, and the No.22 overall pick in 2008. this has prompted a call for a nickname for the young trio, and so far, the recently suffering fans of Edmonton like the following:

The Lottery Line,  the Kid Line or the Baby Oil Line, or whatever the tee-shirts eventually read, the combo of Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberlee, is currently 1-2-3 in scoring for Edmonton and have combined for almost half of the Oilers’ 24 goals this season.

Nugent-Hopkins, who at 18, is the youngest of the group, wasn’t exactly slotted to spend the entire year in Edmonton, but his play has dictaed otherwise.  He notched his first career goal on his first career shot, and then scored all three Oiler goals, notching his first career hat trick during a 4-3 loss to vancouver back on October-15.

If he was able to play in Edmonton’s first 10 games this season, then his three entry level contract would begin, and he would stay with the Oilers instead of heading back to his junior club in Red Deer of the WHL. Last Saturday night he recorded two assists in Edmontons 11th game of the year.

Nugent-Hopkins loves playing with Hall, and Eberlee, and relishes his opportunity and future in the city where they once won back-to-back Stanley Cups twice, and five in seven seasons. “It’s awesome,” Nugent-Hopkins recently said of his line. “They make things so much easier out there and they also make it a lot of fun, too. I feel like we complement each other with the way we play. It’s been great and I’m really happy with the start we’ve had.”

“They’ve been great for me,” he explained. “They’re only a couple years older than me, but they went through this whole thing last year. It’s great getting to play with those guys; getting to talk with them, get some feedback and everything.”

Check out this video of a super goal that Hall scored with the help of his linemates during the win over Washington last week. Hall, who was touted as the second coming, of Gretzky, two seasons ago, leads the Oilers with a plus-5. Jordan Eberle, who is the only one of the three old enough to enjoy an adult beverage legally,  leads the team in assists with seven.

It’s not just offense leading the way, defense and special teams have been equally as important in Edmonton garnering 16 of a possible 22 points. Led by a young defense and a rejuvenated Nikolai Khabibulin in net, the Oilers have the best goals-against average in the NHL and both the power play, and penalty kill are in the top 10 in the NHL.

In fact, Khabibulin leads the NHL with an incredible 1.12 goals against, and an equally amazing .960 save percentage, and was voted the No.3 star in the NHL for the month of October.

However, all teams face adversity and the Oilers got their first taste on Tuesday when veteren defenseman Andy Sutton was suspended five games. Sutton was reprimanded for delivering an illegal hit to the head of Colorado Avalanche rookie forward Gabriel Landeskog Friday night in Denver (click here to view). Sutton, who makes 2.125 million per season, will lose $57,432.45 in salary, as the money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

The Oilers will have some on ice adversity over the next two weeks. After playing eight of their first 11 games at home, Edmonton will take to the road for a six game,12-day road trip. They  start Thursday in L.A, and from there head to Phoenix, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, and Chicago before returning home to play the hot Ottawa Senators on Nov-17.

While Khabibulin, and the Lottery line aren’t quite Grant Fuhr, Wayne Gretzky, Jarri Kurri, and Mark Messier, they are certainly giving fans hope that a chance to win another Stanley Cup could happen sooner, rather than later.

OH CANADA PART TWO:

It’s only fair that after I pointed out last week how bad some of the Canadien teams were playing to start the season, I point out what a turn around they have made this week.  The Ottawa Senators, who appeared in the bottom three poll, have really turned their early season around. The Sens have won six in a row after Sunday’s victory over Toronto. Ottawa still struggles early in games, and has had to come from behind, as they trailed by at least one-goal in each of their last three victories. Ottawa does have  the top-ranked power play in the league but are last in the NHL in goals allowed per game.

The Montreal Canadiens have won three in a row, and are off until Friday, when they face, the above mentioned Senators in Ottawa.  Six of the seven Canadien teams entering play on Tuesday night had winning streaks of at least one game. Only the Maple Leafs were on a losing streak, and that was one game to the Senators.

Prior to this column last week, all seven Canadien teams combined to post a losing record. This week, they combine to

S-C-O-R-E-B-O-A-R-D

post a 38-30-8 record. Even the Winnipeg Jets have won three of their last five, and last Thursday in Philadelphia, won a contest that resembled the NHL All-Star game and not because of the talent on the ice, but because of the final score.

All four goalies from both teams played in the contest, with each requiring aloe treatments following the game. The cause was minor burns on the back of their neck, because of the 17 combined goals allowed. Winnipeg starter Ondrej Pavelec surrendered seven goals on 43 shots and was forced to re-enter the game after his backup, Chris Mason, who allowed one goal on just five shots, left with an apparent groin injury (code for slightly burnt neck) with 8:20 left in the third period.

Flyers backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky started the game, but was pulled early in the second period after surrndering five goals on 15 shots, and the multi-million dollar backstopper Ilya Bryzgalov, who usually starts for Philadelphia’, relieved Bobrovsky and gave up four goals on 10 shots. Bryzgalov gave the proverbial, “it’s my fault” speech to reporters following yet another poor showing. “I have zero confidence in myself right now,” he said. “I am terrible. (The offense) scores eight goals and we are still losing. It’s obviously a terrible goalie and that’s me. ”I am the reason we lost the game tonight. I am lost in the woods right now.”

Bryzgalov called the game, “the low point of his career”, and that’s not good news for Flyers fans, who felt like he was the missing Stanley Cup puzzle piece. Bryzgalov, who was signed to a multi-year deal during the off-season, and makes $5.66 million per season, has not played well this season.

He is allowing over three goals per game (3.16) and has a dismal .880 save percentage. The 17 goals matched a Philadelphia record for combined goals in a game. And the Flyers hadn’t allowed nine in a game since Oct. 23, 1993, when ironically, the former Winnipeg Jets did it. Back in 2001 during the NHL All-Star game, the North American, and World Team combined to score 26 goals, but the least amount of time it took to score five goals combined was almost eight minutes, on Friday  the teams combined for five goals in the first 4:31 of the third period.

The most goals the Flyers ever have allowed in a game was 12 on Jan. 30, 1969, against Chicago. Philadelphia’s franchise record for goals in a game is 13, as the Jets tied their mark for goals in a game set Nov. 12, 2005, at Carolina when they scored nine as the Atlanta Thrashers.  The club mark for goals allowed in a game is 10, set Jan. 18, 2008 at Buffalo.

The drama was short lived from the over dramatic Russian goalie as Bryzgalov  rebounded to record 24 saves during the Flyers 5-1 win over Carolina two nights later.

Getting your ice kicked: The week in fisticuffs:

Brookbank and Dorsett kick things off

Before I begin, let me thank the great hockey fans at hockeyfights.com for taking all the time necessary to compile a great and needed web site. It is great that there is a site devoted to the time-honored tradition of dropping the gloves in the NHL. Great Job guys, and keep up the good work.

This week’s portion of fisticuffs will focus on just two games, The Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, and last weeks tilt between the Habs and Bruins. In a much-anticipated bout that took a while to get started, P.K Suban of Montreal, and Brad Marchand on the Bruins, dropped most of their arm equipment, took off their helmets, and finally dropped their gloves.

immediately following a couple of penalties that led each player to the penalty box with coincidental double minors, including un-sportsman like conduct infractions against each other, they met at center ice following the expiration, stripped off the necessary equipment, and what happens next you can watch by clicking here.

On Sunday, the Blue Jackets and Ducks played a fight-filled affair, as both teams are now one and two atop the leader board in team fights. The Ducks lead the NHL with 11 fights, and the Blue Jackets are second with nine. Last week the Ottawa Senators Zenon Konopka stood all alone at the top of the list with four bouts, and now reclaims the lead with five as I write this article with a bout against Shawn Thornton of the Bruins.

Not far behind, are two players that started and ended the ice kicking in Columbus on Sunday. Heavy weights Sheldon Brookbank from Anaheim, and Derrick Dorsett from the Blue Jackets, are featured in these two solid bouts. Click here for the first one and here for the second.

 

 

KESSEL CONTINUES TO SHINE, NHL DOLES OUT 3 STARS FOR OCTOBER:

Entering play on Tuesday, Phil Kessel,of the Toronto Maple Leafs, continues to lead the NHL in points with 18, and goals with 10. Kessel’s hot start led to him being named the NHL”s No.1 star for the month of October. The No.2 and No.3 stars are back stoppers from two of the three teams tied atop the Western conference.

Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen  was second, and the previously mentioned Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, was third. With victories in every game for Dallas this season, Lehtonen is the biggest reason the Dallas Stars are tied with Pittsburgh for the most wins in the League with eight, and lead the Pacific division with 16 points.  Lehtonen has allowed more than two goals in a game only once through his first nine starts.

Hockey History:

The Picture that made Plante famous, taken Nov1-1959

On this date in hockey history, Nov-1 1959, Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers fired a shot at Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante and hit him in the face. Of course, back in those days’ goalies did not wear masks but following the injury that night Plante changed all of that.

Plante left the game for repairs, and only agreed to return if he could do the unthinkable, wear a mask.

To the objection of his coach Toe Blake, who was vehemently against goalies wearing masks, Plante was allowed to wear the mask he had been using in practice, and returned. Actually, Blake had no choice but to allow Plante to wear it, he had no other goalie to replace him that night.

Not only did Plante wear the mask, and win the game against the Rangers, but also he went on to win the next 18 games, and as they say, the rest is history.  Hockey history.

Plante, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest innovators to play the position of goalie, also became the first goalie to stop a puck behind the net, allowing his defenseman time to gain possession, and set up a breakout play with the puck. Plante recorded 508 career victories including the playoffs, and posted a career goals against of 2.379. Plante’s 82 regular season career shutouts is fifth all-time.

The Top 5 & Bottom 3:

No.5- Chicago Blackhawks 16 pts. (7-2-2): The Hawks sneak into the poll in part because of the Red Wings slide; Detroit has lost four in a row, and all of a sudden looks old. Chicago will need to fix their power play, which is at the bottom of the league if they want to stay here.

No.4- Pittsburgh Penguins 18 pts. (8-3-2): I hate the Penguins, but have more respect for Dan Bylsma and the job he is doing than any other coach in the NHL. Target date for Crosby’s return seems to be November-11.

No.3- Dallas Stars 18 pts (8-3-0): Who knows how the season will end for Dallas, but after a tough World Series for the Rangers, and a Cowboys less than stellar showing on Sunday night, they are the best thing going in Dallas. The Stars are a plus-5 in goal differential and are second behind the Oilers in goals against. An early season recipe for success in the playoffs.

No.2- Washington Capitals 16 pts (8-2-0): Two losses out west dropped the Caps down a notch, the loss to the Oilers was a hard fought game, but Vancouver drubbed Washington and took advantage of a Mike Green-less defense. The Caps beat the Ducks at home on Tuesday in overtime, but it was not easy for Washington. Alex Ovechkin and company are still the best all around team in the league but I thought after all of their hard work so far this season, and with a victory over Washington, the No.1 team should be…………….

No.1- Edmonton Oilers 16 pts (7-2-2): They may not be able to return here after a six game road trip, but then again if they are No.1 when they return, they could be in the top spot all season. My guess is, the Oilers are for real, but lack the depth to make any serious noise through late spring, at least this season.

Are Oilers headed back to glory days?

Bottom 3:

No.28- Winnipeg Jets- With wins over the Flyers and Panthers, the Jets are 4-6-1, and will have weeks like this where they excite their fans.

No.27- New York Islanders- Since making this poll at No.5 following the first week of the season, New York has lost five in a row, and although they have points in their last two games, they are not scoring any goals. They have seven goals in their last five games.

No.30-Columbus Blue Jackets- At this pace, the Jackets are on track to draft the consensus early favorite as the No.1 overall selection in June’s entry draft. RW ,Nail Yakupovn of the Sarnia Syting (OHL) has 34 points in 16 games, and while the Jackets could use the scoring, its defense Columbus really needs. They have allowed 40 goals, which is next to last in the NHL. Defenseman Matthew Dumba of Red Deer in the WHL may be a better fit.

Have a great Hockey week.

Alan Zlotorsynski writes for TheFanManifesto.

Follow the entire team on Twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or like us on Facebook by clicking here.

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