Of all the things I’ve gotten grumbly about in all these years writing the Dose, the two that tended to get the ‘ol water boiling the hottest and the fastest were scoring issues and the league’s suspension system.
Out of the interest of my own sanity, I decided to really dial back the rage and griping about scoring. Yes, I mention it here and there, but it’s not something that gnaws at my hockey-loving soul as much these days. It’s sort of a stance that parallels my willful ignorance of many facets of politics: why lose sweat over something you legitimately have zero chance of improving? I’m not the masochistic type, so I’m trying to let it go.
Supplementary discipline is a different beast, yet I’m rarely angry about it any longer.
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The reasoning is simple: the NHL has successfully confused me. They’ve backed themselves into a nonsensical corner of mostly weak punishments (aside from a guy who has one-and-a-half-feet in retirement already, like Raffi Torres), and I’m not sure how well they’d survive appeal processes if they started upping the suspensions.
They’ve made this rickety, terrible bed, and now players hoping to play the game to at least a legal level of safety (i.e. suspension-worthy hits actually receiving worthy punishments) are the ones who have to pay the price.
Brad Marchand received just three games for a reckless, pointless hit that could have broken his victim’s neck. It’s less of a punishment than he received three years prior for a fairly similar deed.
Marchand is on the Department of Player Safety’s speed dial, but who’s going to really lose here? At 27, he shows little signs of changing, especially since the league’s will to actually reprimand him rarely amounts to sitting in timeout for a while (and sometimes he even avoids the timeout chair).
The good news is that the heightened need for speed and skill - even if those talents are used to destroy offense far more often than create it - means that we’ll likely see less and less Raffi Torres-type guys with limited offensive ability and maximum chaos potential.
The NHL should do more to police the guys who can stick it out. I’ve said this before, but I shudder to imagine how many careers Tom Wilson will shorten. He’s just 21, and it seems pretty obvious what his M.O. is. And it also seems obvious how lax the NHL is when it comes to deterring terrible stuff.
Granted, they’ll hand out huge punishments if you make lewd jokes about celebrities or do windshield wiper motions in front of a legendary goalie’s face (R.I.P., Sean Avery’s doofus antics), but go ahead and needlessly hit to hurt and the league will maybe slap your wrist every now and then.
This mini-rant implies that I’m angry, yet that’s not true; if I were reading this out loud it would sound as if I was using a cue card. The league’s policies once enraged me, but now I’m numb, merely hoping that great players don’t lose months or years off their careers thanks to guys like Wilson and Marchand (the latter of whom is fairly close to great when he’s playing actual hockey).
So … numbness. That’s basically what the NHL is going for, right? Congrats, then, I guess.
MAPLE LEAFS 3, PENGUINS 2 (SO)
-- Jonathan Bernier made 39 saves for the win. The Leafs netminder was not supposed to be the starter Wednesday night but James Reimer was experiencing tightness (?) and couldn’t go. Bernier, in turn, delivered what was probably his best performance of a so-far horrific season.
-- Despite absorbing the loss, Matt Murray was excellent as well, making 34 out of 36 saves while turning some heads (and earning some cheers) with his great play. The 21-year-old put up some impressive numbers at times in the AHL, so I wonder if the playoff-desperate Penguins should just go with Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury (Murray and Fleury can even sort-of rhyme if you put enough willpower behind it) once "The Flower" is healthy.
-- On the playoff note, the Penguins are actually in decent position to climb into a wildcard spot. They trail New Jersey by five standings points, but they have one or two games in hand on most of the teams that are just a bit ahead of them, even if Ottawa and Tampa Bay won't be easy to hold off.
(I personally expect the Devils to fade, but this is a pretty busy picture overall.)
-- The Leafs have gotten at least a point in eight of their last nine games. The ideal scenario for the Buds is to finish with high draft pick, yet also with at least a modicum of self-respect. So far, not so bad.
-- Sidney Crosby scored a goal (8th of the season) and added an assist for the Penguins. People even reported sighting of Vintage Crosby!
CAPITALS 5, SABRES 2
-- The Capitals scored four goals in the third period to put the game out of Buffalo's reach. The win gives Washington a nine game winning streak. Braden Holtby has a league-leading 24 wins.
-- Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and put up 10 shots on goal. It is the 42nd time in his career that he’s generated 10+ SOG. Yes, that is indeed bonkers.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov added two assists for Washington, including a pretty insane no-look dish to Ovechkin.
-- Nicklas Backstrom left the game in the second period with an an upper-body injury. His status for tomorrow's game against the Carolina Hurricanes is uncertain at the moment, but he may be in the lineup.
-- Brian Gionta and Zemgus Girgensons scored for Buffalo. Jack Eichel centered Gionta and Girgensons and picked up an assist on each goal for Buffalo. Yes, Eichel was the main catalyst on those goals.
-- Matt Moulson was a $5 million healthy scratch in this one. His contract won’t run out until 2018-19. Yikes.
DEVILS 3, SENATORS 0
-- Mike Cammalleri scored twice for New Jersey, pushing his goal total to 14 (and his points to a fairly shocking 35 in 31 games). He looked downright assertive on one of his tallies, and while luck is going his way, he’s clearly going to get every chance to keep this up.
-- Cory Schneider made 36 saves for the shutout. Schneider is now at 16-10-5 with three shutouts and a very nice .927 save percentage. Ray Shero is a little batty to call that MVP material, but every sign points to Schneider being one of those guys who is probably actually worth $6 million per year.
I whispered that, by the way, because the Chaotic Gods of Goaltending may decide to turn him into Vesa Toskala for a month to punish my own hubris.
-- Erik Karlsson played 33:13 TOI and put up six shots on goal for Ottawa, that’s not the first time he’s gotten 30+ minutes of ice time and it probably won’t be the last. I find it worrisome for his season-long energy, but Ottawa clearly needs him.
-- The Devils have gone 8-1-3 against the Atlantic Division this season.
-- If the NHL was more serious about actions rather than results, Chris Neil would probably face a suspension for his ridiculous leaping check/check attempt. Oh well.
RANGERS 5, LIGHTNING 2
-- Anton Stralman and Dan Boyle each scored a goal and added an assist against their former teams. When in doubt in Daily Fantasy, I often like to go with cheap players facing their old buddies in familiar confines. Coincidence or not, a jump in production happens often enough that it’s sometimes worth the random dice roll.
-- Dominic Moore picked up a goal and an assist for the Rangers. His GWG was quite the impressive bit of hand-eye coordination.
-- Kevin Hayes was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Alain Vigneault believed that he left Hayes on a “long leash” but apparently now Hayes is in the doghouse. Sometimes players bounce back in big ways from this - especially big, young, talented ones like Hayes - so keep an eye on him whenever he returns to action.
-- Going into the game on Wednesday night, the Lightning had won the five previous regular season contests against the Rangers. This was the Rangers’ first road win since Nov. 21.
SHARKS 4, FLYERS 2
-- This was a surprisingly hate-filled game considering how infrequently these two teams face off. I was surprised that the earth didn't tremble when Radko Gudas and Joe Thornton matched hard feelings and burly beards. Thornton got the last laugh, of course, scoring a goal and an assist.
-- Logan Couture returned to the Sharks' lineup and made an immediate impact, generating two important assists.
-- Joe Pavelski was the big star of this one, however, scoring the last two goals (including the GWG) to push his total to 20 goals. He leads the league with seven SOG and has hit the 20+ goal mark seven times in his career.
He's one of those guys who'd probably get a little more hype in a bigger hockey market.
-- Brent Burns already has 15 goals and delivered a monster check or two. I really wouldn't put it past the pizza-lover to get 30 this season, especially with the way he's constantly shooting the puck.
-- Claude Giroux scored his 12th goal of the season to end a five-game pointless streak. I understand the Flyers going low-octane to basically be in lockstep with the most of the league, but it's a bummer, and the sadness is seen most clearly in the muted production of guys like Giroux and Jakub Voracek.