Top Shelf Thursday: Weekly NHL notebook
1. Wednesday night's Kings/Ducks game that ended in a 6-5 Ducks shootout win, was a sensational display of hockey on national TV. Not to discredit the NFL, or even the NBA, but this game was stellar television. It had everything. Star players galore, scoring, hitting, comebacks and of course a shootout. With so many lopsided games on the NFL's national primetime slate this year, the NHL just showed that their game can be just as compelling. Ryan Kesler turned it on in the third period, with two goals and then the eventual winning goal in the shootout. Even overtime in this game felt like a heavyweight fight, with each team taking their best shot. Chances are, these two teams are going play again and it'll be must see TV. Who would have thought even 10 years ago that some of the best hockey would be played in Southern California.
2. If you're still on the "blame Phil Kessel for everything bandwagon," just stop. Kessel has 21 points (10g, 11a) in just 16 games and is playing perhaps the best hockey of his career. He's been much maligned during his time in Toronto, as if he had to somehow do more to make up for the team's glaring weaknesses in the back end. This season, the Madison, Wisconsin native has been as good as anyone else out there. He has that ability to get in the zone when he's on and with confidence, take some absurd shots. A lot of being a great goal scorer is believing you can score from anywhere with any shot. That comes with confidence and it's contagious. Phil's Maple Leafs are 9-5-2 on the season. Though they'll need some steady goaltending and strong defensive play to keep up the pace, Kessel looks poised for a tremendous year that could help guide the most enigmatic franchise in the sport back to the playoffs.
3. An interesting quote from New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello the other day:
Just spoke to Lou Lamoriello: "I do not think this is the time to take fighting out of hockey. It keeps the game in a better place."- Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) November 12, 2014
I have to agree with Lou. Yes, head injuries are something that the NHL needs to take seriously and no stone should be left unturned in the pursuit of player safety, but fighting still has a place in the game.
I used to produce a podcast for TSN's Cory Landsberg and former NHL enforcer Ken Belanger. Belanger was a great fighter and someone who would put himself out there to protect his teammates. Ken is vehemently pro-fighting because of how it creates a release valve for the tension of the game.
This is a very valid argument. When an NHL game gets chippy, the last thing anyone wants to see is players taking runs at each other, especially hits to the head, much like what John Moore was suspended for earlier this season. Fighting provides the ability for the game to calm down for a second as two guys go at it. Not condoning line brawls, goalie fights or anything of that nature, but there is a place for fighting. Though there may be some injuries as a result of a big scrap, the rest of the game is cleaner as a result of that safety valve. The NHL may move away from fighting eventually, but I firmly believe it has an important place in the game.
4. The NHL needs to take a serious look at the 3-0n-3 format the AHL has adopted for this season. This week, two fantastic games, the aforementioned Ducks/Kings contest and the Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks both went to a shootout after 65 minutes of tremendous play by both teams. I've never been a fan of the shootout, but to see those games come down to a skills competition took the intensity out of the games. The AHL has been using a format for overtime that features three minutes of 4-on-4 followed by four minutes of 3-on-3. Think about how exciting that would be at the NHL level. Some teams may go two forwards and a defensemen, others may go all forwards. Through last Sunday, in 171 AHL contests, just five have gone to the shootout. That's a more than acceptable number. With the amount of highly skilled forwards in the NHL, seeing players work with so much open ice would be far more exciting than the shootout ever was or will be. Take notice, Mr. Bettman.
5. It's been a good start for the Canadian teams this season. Last year, just one of the seven Canadian team qualified for the playoffs, the Montreal Canadians. There's a good chance that the number is substantially larger this season. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are all either above .500 or currently in a playoff position. That's a great thing for the sport. While the standings will for sure change as the season rolls on, having competitive Canadian teams is fun, because it helps fuel the rivalries across the NHL. Apologies to the Edmonton Oilers, who unfortunately, seem as lost as ever, but the rest of their geographic counterparts are packing their buildings and playing exciting hockey. The Pacific Division is particularly interesting, as the Canucks and Flames seem set on breaking up what was thought to be a guaranteed one-two-three finish in California between the Ducks, Kings and Sharks.
Goal of the Week:
What a beauty this was, by Seth Griffith. He not only fought off Marek Zidlicky, but put the puck between his legs to beat Cory Schneider for the goal. In a world that's dominated by top-ten dunks, this is about as slick as it gets, beating the Devils netminder just under the left pad.
Stat of the Week:
Many thought that the Minnesota Wild would be a major player out West this season, but so far their 7-7-0 record has left a lot to be desired. Look no further than their power play struggles as culprit. Through 14 games, the Wild have converted on just two of 44 attempts with the man-advantage, good for an abysmal 4.6%. That has to change for the Wild if they expect to qualify for the playoffs in the loaded Central Division.
1. He's not a name that everyone is talking about, but Vlad Tarasenko is quietly having an incredible season for the St. Louis Blues. Through 15 games, Tarasenko has nine goals and ten assists. Perhaps even more impressive is the way he's scoring his goals. He has looked almost Datsyukian in some of his scoring plays.
2. The Sharks seem like a team that's on the verge of disaster. At 8-7-2, they've played some pretty poor games so far this season and with more competition in their division than expected, it's not out of the question that they miss the playoffs. Look for Patrick Marleau and or Joe Thornton to be traded if they fall out of it.
3. Quick, name the defenseman with the most points in the NHL right now? Did you guess Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames, if so, you're right. Giordano has been a big part of the Flames success, with five goals and 14 assists, to go with a plus-six rating.
4. Beer of the week: Sweet Baby Jesus: DuClaw Brewing: This is as interesting a beer as they come. It's a chocolate peanut butter porter. Yes, the thought sounds sweet and gross, but the beer does an amazing job of providing that deep smoky flavor of a porter, with just an essence of the chocolate and the peanut butter. One of my absolute favorites.
5. Recipe of the week:Pan Roasted Chicken with Saba-Grape Sauce, Roasted Fennel and Sunchokes. This one might be a bit more gourmet than I usually go with, but it's a tremendous dish. Saba is a sauce taken from fresh pressed grapes. The mixture of the sweetness with the crispy roasted chicken gives this dish a really unique flavor profile.
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