Some new musings in honor of a new month. Hang onto your sleigh bells.
• December will be a huge month in determining the trajectory of the underachieving Anaheim Ducks this year. The Ducks boast two of the best young stars in the game up front with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, but currently sit last in the Pacific Division and are in danger of fading in the Western Conference playoff race.
Prior to Tuesday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim had picked up points in five of six games to get somewhat on track. Tuesday’s contest was one of just five the Ducks will play at home in December, while venturing out on the road for 10. There’s nothing like a tough stretch of schedule on the NHL highway to either galvanize a team or tear it apart. By the New Year, we should know whether a team that beat San Jose and nearly dropped Detroit in last year’s playoffs has any chance to return to the post-season this year – or if another young star could soon be joining their midst via a high pick in the 2010 draft.
• One the shootout’s best aspects; it allows goalies a chance to be on the fist-pumpin’ side of celebrations they’ve traditionally been forced to absorb after allowing a goal during the normal bounds of play.
Good goalies regularly make saves that alter the course of a contest every bit as much as a big goal does, but don’t really have an outlet to metaphorically pat themselves on the back the way an exuberant goal-scorer can by actually slamming his body against the glass.
But thwarting a shooter in the 1-on-1 setting gives goalies an opportunity to exude a little in-your-face attitude, at least partially settling the score for a decades-long disparity of excited antics.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets went 11 rounds deep in the shootout Tuesday night, before Brent Seabrook finally bested Steve Mason to give Chicago the win.
It was only the second goal Mason surrendered on those 11 attempts and, a couple of times along the way, he emphatically motioned to his bench immediately after making another big save, waving his arms upward as if saying to his team, “C’mon boys, I keep picking you up, now do the same for me!”
(Mason let his frustrations out in a more traditional, stick-smashing manner after Seabrook scored to drop the Columbus sophomore’s career shootout mark to 6-10.)
Meanwhile, Cristobal Huet could be seen barking at Fedor Tyutin after the defenseman was denied on the old Peter Forsberg stick drag, a maneuver the French goalie clearly felt was a faux pas.
The knock on the shootout has long been that’s it’s not “part of the game,” but at least it allows goalies to get a little outwardly giddy before the final score is determined.
• The appeal of the World Junior Championship is punctuated by the often overflowing excitement of its youthful participants. Fans frequently share in that emotion, not necessarily because of national allegiances, but because a draft pick of their favorite NHL team is playing a prominent role in the tournament.
But a recent NHL transaction hammers home how perilous putting faith in a big WJC can be. The Montreal Canadiens, on Wednesday, traded Kyle Chipchura to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth round pick. Chipchura was captain of the 2006 Canadian team that won world junior gold. Though never projected as a big offensive producer in the NHL, Chipchura scored four goals and five points in six WJC games that year after being chosen to wear the ‘C’ from a sea of worthy candidates.
The goalie on that golden team, Justin Pogge, also became a member of the Ducks last summer after failing to gain a foothold in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Pogge, playing for that powerhouse Canadian squad, went 6-0 with three shutouts and a 1.00 goals-against average.
Granted it’s not difficult to set partisan tongues in Toronto and Montreal wagging, but you have to believe both organizations firmly believed they had a pair of keepers at that point.
Four years later, the reality is something very, very different.
I guess the only good news for Chipchura and Pogge is they have some fond memories to reminisce over while they try to prove their worth as pro players.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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