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Bluelines: The Little Things That Mean a Lot

Stan Fischler returns for his weekly Bluelines column, talking about "the little things" in the NHL, Marie-Philip Poulin, the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending situation, Mason Marchment's hot play, Emile Francis and more.
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That always and ever, now and forever,
The Little Things Mean A Lot -- Former hit tune.

The "Little Things" also mean a lot to NHL coaches such as Mike Sullivan who would like his Penguins to address them now that we're in the season's far turn, heading toward the home stretch. "Little Things" like fore and backchecking that win games, as Pitt likes to do.

Surprise team of all surprise teams, the Pens recently were confronted with a couple of major league challengers and emerged looking more minor than major. Egag! Crosby, Inc. actually looked average; sometimes under-average. They lost three straight -- bowed to the Devils, 6-1, last night -- and that's a big thing.

"It's hard to play a perfect game out there," Sully said.

That's precisely where "The Little Things" come in and become big things. And it's especially true of an overachieving club like Pittsburgh that just won't go away.

Ever important right wing Bryan Rust told the Post-Gazette's Ron Cook that the Pens "have a dogfight down the stretch." Which is roughly equivalent to a lifeguard telling Australian surfers that there are 'Sharks in them thar waters."

But Pitt hardly is alone searching for the "little things." In Toronto, defense -- like the end of winter -- always is a concern. Then there's the perplexing question about goaltending otherwise known as the Dauntless Dubby Dubas frustrating goaltending search. 

So far, Dubby has addressed the "little things" with little moves. For his dubious defense, he added Ilya Lyubushkin. Then he added a band-aid on top of the band-aid on top of the band-aid where sits the aching sore -- goaltending. He got a good game out of Petr Mrazek last night in a 3-1 decision over Minnesota, though.

Was obtaining Carter Hutton some sort of a joke? Have pads, will travel.

Granted that Hutton has been bedeviled with injuries but why in the world would Dubby claim a goalie with a 7.76 goals-against average and .741 save percentage. But enough with the Leafs; let's turn to more pleasant pastures overlooked by Mount Royal.

The "Little Things" -- like "trust" -- mean a lot to Montreal's Mighty Mite, Cole Caufield. Remarkably, his budding career has been revived by rookie mentor Marty (No Blues For Me) St.Louis. This bundle of brains and energy, is Exhibit A in Hockey 101.

In case you want to enroll, the class description is How To Make Little Guys Play Big.

The first student, Sir Caufield, already got his first grade from Prof St.Louis; an A.

"Marty trusts me and he trusts my game and that's the biggest part for me," says The Kid From Wisconsin. "He's putting me out there in situations to succeed. Plus I'm playing with Suzuki and Anderson -- two great players -- and that helps."

Habs have won four straight with The Prof partly because he's a straight shooter! The "Little Things" do mean a lot.

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COULD MARIE-PHILIP POULIN PLAY IN THE NHL?

If, as many agree, Canadian Olympic Women's star Marie-Philip Poulin is the best female player in history, is she good enough to play in a men's league?

Even the NHL?

My Toronto buddy-author Rob Del Mundo has studied the growth of women's hockey with admirable objectivity. He rates Poulin better than Uncle Sam's Cammi Granato and Canada's legendary Hayley Wickenheiser.

"Poulin's two goals in Canada's 3-2 gold medal win over the United States completed an unprecedented feat," Del Mundo insists. "She's the only player -- male or female -- to score in four different Olympic gold medal games.

"To put her accomplishments in context, Canada has scored ten goals in the past four gold medal games since 2010 and Poulin has scored an astounding seven of them; three of which were game-winners."

As for the NHL? Rob says forget-about-it. "Don't expect any NHL scouts to be knocking on her door any time soon."

At 5-6, 160 pounds -- no matter how high her skill level -- that automatically would put her at a disadvantage. Adds Del Mundo: "The exponential difference in the speed of the game and size of NHL players would be too much to overcome. But she might have been a good fit for the ECHL.

Apparently, the ECHL's Trois -Rivieres offered a tryout but Marie-Philip declined. "She's opting to rejoin the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association," adds Del Mundo, "and help continue to promote the women's game."

Which is a commendable pursuit. And full disclosure, I speak personally as a grandfather of a teenage lass who loves hockey-playing. My 13-year-old granddaughter, Avigail (Gully) Fischler, is pursuing her career as a defenseman for a team in Thun, Switzerland.

Marie-Philip is a perfect role model for Gully and, who knows, someday she may make a name for herself. Kendall Coyne-Schofield, Brianna Decker and Jocelyne Lamoreux-Davidson already have demonstrated women's skills at recent NHL All-Star Games.

"Poulin," Del Mundo concludes, "has opened the possibilities to pursue an NHL career; perhaps in player development -- like Coyne-Schofield with the Chicago Blackhawks or Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette with the Maple Leafs. But not as a player."

I'M JUST SAYIN':

* Joe Sakic was seen chatting with Jeff Gorton at UBS Arena. Draw your own conclusions but omit Cole Caufield from all of them.

* Sometimes less is more as when Rod Brind'Amour needs only four little words to sum up his canny Canes: "They dig in!"

* Beantowners will dutifully lionize Tuukka Rask for noble service; and that's only right. But the fact is that Bruce Cassidy's sextet did well before the aborted Rask comeback and will do just fine with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman between the pipes. (Likely better.)

* Don't forget that Marty St.Louis learned all about "swagger" from the King of Swag, John Tortorella.

* In the simplest terms, St.Louis succeeds because Marty has The Knack.

* The most objective view of the Oilers under rookie coach Jay (Lumberman) Woodcroft comes from our unblushing Gus Vic: "When Edmonton has been stripped down from its sum to its parts, the Oilers are a second-round team at best -- and still a candidate to miss the playoffs altogether."

* We don't get many executives slugging it out in public but the Winter Olympics certainly got some blood boiling. See what You think about this absence of revolutionary decorum:

* Retired IIF President Rene Fasel ripped the Finn's style of play en route to Olympic Gold: Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn't think it was Finny nor funny. "Fasel clearly demonstrated his incompetence in understanding the great game of hockey."

* Not to be outdone, broadcaster Gord Miller entered the fracas with his own high stick: "Fasel is not exactly an objective observer. He has a lucrative consulting contract with the Russian Federation." (Hmmmmmm and Hmmmmmmmmmm!)

* Candidate for the Most Overused Word Of The Season: Resilient.

* You have to like Jumpin' Jack Campbell's reaction to a bad goal: "It's not acceptable on my part." (That's even when it's the fault of his faulty defense.)

* YAY to Zdeno Chara for breaking Chris Chelos' mark for games played by a D-man with 1,652.

* If you like college hockey as much as I do, check out TSN's coverage tonight at 7 p.m.

Cornell at Quinnipiac. Tomorrow night it's Colgate visiting Q, also at 7 on TSN.

* Department of I Love A Mystery: Sean Avery has signed with the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears. Big question: which goalie will he pick on now that Marty Brodeur's retired?

* If Mister Mouth still has his legs, odds say there'll be at least one NHL inviting him to camp. Betcha Sly Sean is gathering stories for another book.

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WHO SAID IT? "I tell you, it has its own personality. Like it's talking to you." (Answer below.)

ERIC HORNICK'S PERSONAL ARCHIVES:

Celebrating his 40th anniversary as a super statman, the Islanders Figure Filbert picks one of his Most Memorable Moments. Take it away, pal:

"It was the deciding Game Five of the Isles-Penguins series in 1982 after Al Arbour's team had won two straight Cups. But this looked like a colossal upset. Pitt led 3-1 late in the third period when John Tonelli and Bob Nystrom combined to tie the game and then win it in overtime on another Tonelli goal that saved the Dynasty. That was the game when Arbour made his goalie change from Bill Smith Roland Melanson to get some precious 'rest time.' By the way have you ever noticed how many memorable playoff goals had Tonelli's name associated with them?" (Our Hornick Cavalcade will conclude on Monday with a couple of 14-Carat Eric gems.)

THE MARCH OF MARCHMENT:

"Thank you very much," says Bill (The Mark Of) Zito to Kyle (Dubious) Dubas for Mason Marchment. The zealous Zito garnered a Toronto castoff who must be thrilling his ex-NHL dad, Bryan (Beware of His Checks) Marchment.

Over a recent span of eight games, Kid Marchment tallied nine goals and 16 points. That bundle included a hat trick and a separate franchise six-point effort. Zorro Zito is making his mark among GMs. He's paying Mason a paltry $800,000.

"Zito will be stingy on raises," predicts Southland Hockey Sleuth Al Greenberg, "and multi-year contracts. Marchment may have to ply his trade elsewhere." (He's too good to lose. Zito is too smart to lose him.)

CAT TALES VIA THE LATE EMILE FRANCIS

Emile (The Cat) Francis played in so many places, he could have written ten books just on his minor league experiences alone. The Cat, who recently passed away, was only 17 years old in 1943, when he signed his first contract with the Philadelphia Falcons.

In a sense, the leap from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League to the Eastern Amateur Hockey League (EAHL) was like hedge-hopping right to the NHL. For one thing the EAHL was no more amateur than Connor McDavid and, for another, the teenaged Cat was facing big-leaguers when he goaled for the Falcons. But I'll let him tell it as he told me:

"One of the teams we faced was the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters, whose home rink was in Baltimore. The Cutters were all pros and several from the NHL. One of their goalies was Frankie (Mister Zero) Brimsek and on defense, they had some kind of bruisers. On the left, there was Art Coulter, who captained the 1940 Rangers Stanley Cup team. And on the other side they had Johnny Mariucci, who was a big, mean Blackhawk before he enlisted.

"When they came to the Philly Arena you always could expect all hell to break loose and the guy who usually got into it big time with the fans and our team was a big Jewish defenseman from Minneapolis, Manny Cotlow. And here I was all of seventeen playing against these guys. Sure toughened me up in a hurry."

A year later, Francis, now all of 18, was in goal for the Washington Lions. The good news was that the Cutters had gone off to war and were replaced by the Baltimore Blades. "They weren't a soft touch either," Cat went on, "not with a huge guy named Paul Waldner on defense. They didn't nickname him 'Boxcar' for nothing."

Beneath what some perceived as a hard-nosed exterior was Francis' sensitivity to all manner of hockey types, including New York's roller hockey fraternity. While working out of the old Madison Square Garden on 49th Street and Eighth Avenue, Emile would stroll past a schoolyard that doubled as a roller hockey rink.

A couple of the roller guys were the brothers, Joe and Brian Mullen. Remarkably, both made it to The Show thanks in large part to The Cat who created a Metropolitan Ice Hockey League for the locals.

"Emile did a lot for lots of people". Brian recalls. "The Cat had the biggest influence on my hockey career."

Ditto for Nicky Fotiu who, incredibly, made it from street hockey in Staten Island and then ice hockey on Long Island and eventually to wear the Rangers Blueshirt.

Fotiu: "With Emile's guidance, I was sent to Cape Cod to play for the Rangers farm team and that allowed me to become the first New York City native to make it to the big team. Cat's inspiration will be felt beyond his years throughout New York City."

The encomiums for Francis are endless. He dealt five players to Providence to get Eddie Giacomin and then taught Ed how to be a Hall of Famer. "Put it this way," Giacomin concludes, "the relationship I had with Emile was powerful and influential. I'm forever grateful for the belief he showed in me."

MOTHERS; RAISE YOUR SON TO BE A GOALIE:

The Goaltending Carousel goes round and round, creating jobs and more jobs. Vet goalies who never thought they'd wear an NHL jersey again keep coming out of the woodwork.

Our Easy Al Greenberg, who wishes he owned The Used Goalie Lot, welcomes the return of J.F. Berube, 30, to the Columbus depth chart.

"With Elvis Merzlikins, Joonas Korpisalo and top prospect Daniil Tarasov all injured," says Big Al, "Berube got the call. He hadn't seen NHL action for almost four years and he didn't disappoint." (A 33-save,7-3 win over Buffalo. He followed that with a 39-save gem, beating Toronto in overtime.)

Montreal added to the goalie glut, acquiring Andrew Hammond, 27, from Minnesota. He obliged by beating the Islandeers in a 3-2 Shootout. His previous gig was a single game for Colorado in 2017-18. "Heads turned," Greenberg concludes, "when Kent Hughes pulled the trigger on that first trade."

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Rangers coach Mike Keenan after his Blueshirts won the 1994 Stanley Cup.

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