Look, for casual sports fans, I get it.
Your team loses, again. Failure must be explained, somehow, so the best player on the team gets blamed. After all, that person was supposed to come in wearing shining armor and kill that dragon called defeat, right?
For those who don’t follow things too closely, it’s understandable to get roped into that lazy, hackish “Blame Phil Kessel” nonsense. It’s also understandable when some especially hot take spewer goes the generic and easy route by attacking the guy with the highest salary.
Ultimately, it’s also really silly.
Is Kessel the kind of player who will win you a championship? Who knows.
That’s not the point, though, really. The Los Angeles Kings didn’t just win their second Stanley Cup because of Anze Kopitar, they did it thanks to the efforts of Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Marian Gaborik and so on. You can draw out the same long lists for the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
The point: good hockey teams tend to stockpile enough talent that credit and blame can go around. (Granted, lazy hacks will still just bury Sidney Crosby, anyway. Hey, habits are habits, right?)
Getting rid of Randy Carlyle was a great first step for the Leafs, even if doing so during the season instead of when the writing was on the wall back in the summer wastes months and what may or may not have been a crucial training camp for a different coach. This team still has personnel issues, yet Carlyle’s tendency to take opportunities away from skilled players in favor of limited “character guys” ranks among the handful of ways he didn’t make matters any better for Toronto.
I’m not so sure their assistants will right the ship, although perhaps there will be a little bit of fear-based improvements here and there. The problem is troubling for Toronto fans: the Maple Leafs were getting a lot of bounces and frequently great goaltending, yet they find themselves a wild card team.
The issues started at Carlyle’s bench and trickled up to the front office (why GM Dave Nonis gets off the hook is probably a matter of craven corporate politics), then finally made their way down on the ice.
Their schedule is beastly until early February, so this soap opera may only become more dramatic. If you’re a fan of the team, root against regression and a Kessel trade.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a $20,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Thursday night's NHL games. It's just $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts Thursday at 7pm ET. Here's the FanDuel link.
CAPITALS 6, MAPLE LEAFS 2
-- Even with empty-net goal inflation, this is obviously not the result Toronto wanted a day after canning Carlyle, but at least there was some on-paper progress, as the Buds carried much of the play and ended up with more shots on goal (though much of that gap came in catch-up mode). Still, it would be a long-term boon if they merely avoid getting shelled every night.
-- Eric Fehr is to Washington what people thought Radim Vrbata was to Arizona: a guy who simply plays well in that specific environment. Not well enough to make your fantasy team, mind you, but still.
-- As far as I can tell, Toronto mixed around lines but settled back in with James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel. I'd like to see what Nazem Kadri can pull off in Bozak's spot, but then again, so do many Toronto fans (and they've already received a late holiday gift in Carlyle's dismissal, anyway).
-- Marcus Johansson scored two goals to give himself three points in two games and 24 points in 39 contests in 2014-15. He's a nice player whose peripherals leave something to be desired.
-- Braden Holtby has owned the Washington net to such a degree that I wonder if Justin Peters will even face the Steve Mason-less Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night. Either way, Holtby's been a hoss. Well done.
BRUINS 3, PENGUINS 2 (OT)
-- I get the feeling Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins really needed this one. Pittsburgh generated a heavy shot advantage (39-24), yet Rask was up to the Task, stopping 37 of 39. He's now 16-10-6.
-- Patrice Bergeron scored two goals, generated two PIM, five SOG and dominated in the dot. You think he gets a little charged up when he faces his buddy Sid?
-- Speaking of Sidney Crosby, it was a rough night for him (-2, zero points), but his newly formed line still has some potential. He had three SOG, Steve Downie also had three and David Perron fired five on Rask. I'd wager they'll have plenty of successful nights if they flirt with that kind of volume.
-- Slow nights aren't so bad when Evgeni Malkin can fill in, though, naturally. It feels like Pittsburgh's lines are in a bit of a blender because of injuries, mumps and transactions, so when in doubt, ask yourself if that player can do much on his own.
(I'm not saying that's the only rule of thumb, but it's less stressful than navigating the waves of line changes, too.)
RANGERS 4, DUCKS 1
-- This road trip through California (and really six of seven away games counting this win) still serves as a test for the Rangers, but they passed their first section with flying colors. They've now won 11 of their last 12 games.
-- Derick Brassard has quietly enjoyed a great start to the season with 31 points in 35 games, including four points in his last three contests. His career-high for points in just 47, and he had 45, so he could really blow away his former high marks if he can stay healthy.
How tormented must the Columbus Blue Jackets feel to see the continued improvement of departed first-rounders Brassard and Jakub Voracek? I almost wonder if they're tempted to see what those Filatov and Zherdev fellows are up to ...
-- Speaking of players matching their previous work, Rick Nash has as many points (39) in 37 games that he generated in 65 contests back in 2013-14. He's a goal away from matching his 26 from last season, too. The lockout-shortened campaign means he should pass the 42 points he scored in 2012-13, while other marks could fall too.
It wouldn't be shocking if this ends up being his second-highest scoring season, but he'll have to hustle to catch his best-ever mark of 40 goals and 79 assists from 2008-09.
-- Ilya Bryzgalov has either been rusty so far or he's just flat-out done. It's hard to tell since last night marked his first start since Dec. 19. I don't really blame Anaheim for leaning heavily on Frederik Andersen, but Bryzgalov's second Anaheim tour might not last very long at this rate.
RED WINGS 3, FLAMES 2
-- After losing the first game of their six-game road trip to Vancouver, Detroit now has two wins in as many days against Western Canadian teams. This could be a frisky Detroit team if they snag a solid wildcard/lower-division spot.
-- Karri Ramo suffered an injury, which shouldn't alarm many people who aren't friends, family or his agent.
-- Justin Abdelkader continues to take advantage of his opportunities. He has two goals and three assists in his last two games, but his overall work has been nice, especially as a category-clogger.
-- Mikael Backlund played his first game since Oct. 28 on Wednesday, generating a goal and an assist in just under 18 minutes of ice time. There are some Calgary players who seem to be riding good luck (to varying degrees), but this 25-year-old forward could give the Flames a legitimate boost.
-- Petr Mrazek wins his second in a row, although it feels odd labeling it as much since his last victory came back on Dec. 23. Detroit's in a tough enough spot that they should give him the backup spot instead of Jonas Gustavsson, even if it's only on an interim basis.