EXCLUSIVE: LINDHOLM A DIFFERENCE-MAKER
In every issue, Bluelines and The Fischler Report will bring you a special, in-depth report by David Kolb, whose scouting career dates back to the early 2000s working for the Tampa Bay Lightning. As you will see by the following, this is an in-depth, no-nonsense evaluation of specific tactical success. An exclusive from last night. The Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning -- But how? Here's our hot off the presses reason why.
Game changers are hard to find, especially at the deadline.
Last night, the newest Boston Bruins defenceman, Hampus Lindholm made a great first impression and was the best player on the ice, aside from David Pastrnak, who netted a hat trick, in the B's 3-2 win over the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lindholm did the little things that not many defenders in the NHL can do. Most impressive is the way he holds the offensive zone at the blueline. Not only is his rangy puck-tracking acumen off the charts, but once he keeps the puck in the zone, he knows what to do with it. Unless he is heavily pressured, he remarkably has the presence of mind to find an open man in the offensive zone, hitting him with a crisp tape-to-tape pass -- instead of taking the easy way out and dumping the puck to a corner.
But what really changes games are his puck retrieval skills and what he does with the puck after gaining possession in his defensive zone. Often backliners will skate back and blindly whisk the puck up or around the boards, hoping a forward will aid the puck to the neutral zone.
The 6-foot-4 Swede is phenomenally strong and fast -- and in tight areas tends to win pucks. Playing with his head up, he'll then find the proper outlet pass, creating instant offense.
This happened nearly halfway through last night's win, when he was able to muscle, fend off and beat newest Bolt, Brandon Hagel out of the corner. He then found teammate Erik Haula in full stride leaving the defensive zone. Haula found Pastrnak, who scored, getting the Bruins on the scoreboard, evening the contest at 1-1 and helping juice the TD Garden crowd.
Lindholm finished his Boston debut with an assist and was plus-2 in 23:26 with four shots on goal, and was paired with Charlie McAvoy - giving the Bruins defense their 1-2 punch they once owned before Torey Krug took off to St. Louis.
WOMEN'S PRO HOCKEY NEEDS UNITY, NOT ENMITY
One reason why I'm in Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is -- what else? -- hockey.
My younger son, Simon, has three stickhandling kids and two of them are playing the ice game on the Swiss side and immensely enjoying it. So, I decided to check out the scene.
On Wednesday night my granddaughter, Avigail, 13, prepared for a big game. Her team, the HC Thun Dragons -- all male except Avigail and Joana -- was playing the SCL Young Tigers.
What a classic. In a terrifically contested match, Thun won 3-2, with the deciding goal coming with only a minute and a half on the clock. Avigail, one of her team's leaders, played her usual solid game on defense.
Musing on the train ride home, I recalled a Swiss coach saying that -- b Avigail's rate of growth -- in a few years she could play for the national women's team.
Then the thought came to me; maybe she could even turn pro.
But where? With whom?
I know there are a couple of pro women's hockey groups here in North America but every time I turn around they seem to be scrapping with each other; or forming another league.
What gives with ladies hockey? Why is it year after year the have they failed to unite into something akin to a National Women's Hockey League.
If there's a distaff version of the NBA; why not a sister circuit in hockey?
This question has been bruited about for years; far, far too long. And you can bet that the NHL has been keeping an Argus eye on their endless feudin' fussin' and fightin' to the point of it becoming a gigantic bore.
What this unfathomable, frustrating tug-of-war has needed is someone of wisdom and experience to intervene; a veritable master of problem-solving in hockey.
Or, to put it more specifically, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
According to Sportsnet's Jeff Marek this is soon to happen. The NHL in some way, shape and form will try to intervene to bring the sides together.
Details are irrelevant now since I don't know any nor do I care to except that I know that the dual team of the Commissioner and his able Deputy Bill Daly have the savoir faire to reach an equitable solution to bring the sides together.
If that happens -- and I'm convinced it's inevitable -- there should be a female NWHL commissioner with vast hockey experience who Bettman can trust.
No doubt they have potential candidates in mind, but I know who I'd pick. That would be a gal who has been an NHL executive for more than a dozen years.
It would be a female who already has held commissioner roles in two different sports leagues and who has the vim, vigor and vitality to take on this challenge like no other woman I know.
Her name is Jessica Berman, Bettman and Daly's long time aide de camp who most recently has led the National Lacrosse League and currently is top banana at women's soccer.
The bottom line is clear: If anyone can solve this un-Civil War between the ladies leagues, it's Commissioner Bettman.
(P.S. A large YAY to Jeff Marek for breaking the story. Wait til I tell grand-daughter Avigail about it; she'll be tickled pink. I am already!)
PICKING A CUP-WINNER NOW THAT THE TRADE DUST HAS CLEARED
That's how I found Adam Proteau's THN, post-trade review and the fact that Colorado led his list and that there's substantive logic to it. After all, in THN's Annual lasr fall the Avs got one of the highest ratings and the team is even better now.
But in my mind, there's an asterisk in order for the Avalanche and it's spelled Darcy Kuemper. While g.m. Joe Sakic has fortified his defense and added to his already rich offense, I find it hard to believe that Kuemper is a goalie who can take his club to a title. Not with the likes of Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy around on already stacked teams.
I would have ranked the Rangers on top. Before Chris Drury made any moves, his club had the surge of a Cup Finalist. By beefing up his offense and defense -- and losing nothing in the process -- Drury has quality, youth and motivation going for his Blueshirts, big-=time.
As for Pittsburgh getting a high-rating with little action, sometimes less is best; especially with Sid and Geno being augmented by the efficient Rickard Rakell. But, I raise the same issue with Pitt as with Colorado; goaltending. It failed Mike Sullivan's skaters last spring and it could be finis again.
Frankly, I was surprised Adam had my buddy Bill Guerin's Wild so high. Then again, Billy The Kid nabbed the best goalie available. Marc-Andre Fleury looms as a positive force for Minny.
On the other hand, I was surprised to see Florida in a lower position than Pitt and the Wild. After all, the already-loaded Panthers collected the best-by-far available forward in Claude Giroux. Hey, the Cats have everything except a guarantee that Aaron Ekblad will be playoff-ready at show time.
At this point in time, my gut tells me that the Rangers should be rated the most-feared team -- even without a captain. Carolina is scary too, and the Canes do have a captain.
Right now I'd take them over Colorado and Pitt in a best-of-seven. As for the two Florida teams; well, not so sure.
THE MAPLE LEAFS ANNUAL FAILURE
With his job on the line Kyle Dubas did his best to bolster his Leafs for the playoffs.
Here's what Mike Augello, my man in Toronto has to say about the Hogtowners:
"Mark Giordano improves the Leaf depth. The other addition Colin Blackwell addresses the club's need for a depth forward. He's someone who can re-invigorate Toronto's stagnant fourth line.
"The move that Dubas did not make is what will be debated until the playoffs-- goaltending. The Leafs doubled down on Jack Campbell and are looking to veteran Petr Mrazek to bounce back from a tough stretch."
My view: That's a big gamble on Dubas' part. Perhaps the defense-tightening will compensate for the potential crease woes and the Goal Machine will take care of the rest.
I'M JUST SAYIN':
* Bill Zito is addressing a precious playoff need; pre-playoff rest for his weary warriors.
* There were many reasons for Florida to obtain defenseman Ben (Benny The Dip) Chiarot. "He'll help guys in the homestretch play more balanced minutes," says Zito.
* But here's the bottom line quote: "So we have optimized rested players."
* If Pittsburgh's goaltending fails -- as it did in the 2021 playoffs -- the Pens have a sweet prospect in Taylor Gauthier. The big Calgarian -- now starring for the Portland Winterhawks -- was voted WHL Goalie Of The Week.
* Neither crystal ball, ouija board nor tea leaves have told me this but my hunch is that the biggest first-round upset will be a golf course exit for the overrated Avalanche. (See me on this when we get to the ninth hole.)
* Don't ask me why but it seems that more fans want to see Vegas fail than any other playoff-bound -- they hope -- sextet, and I'm nor sure why.
* I got it! Jealousy!
* Evander Kane is making a positive difference for the Oilers. The problem is that his addition may not be enough to compensate for deficient goaltending.
* One of the metamorphosis acts of any career is how Phil Kessel has turned so lovable in Arizona after being no-so-adored in old T.O. Good for Phiery Phil.
* I got a kick out of Mike Stephens' THN piece the other day on notable players who were not traded.
* The one that hit me hardest was J.T. Miller who remains a valued Canuck. Maybe he belongs in Vancouver since J.T. also means Just Terrific!
* Pardon the self-promotion but if you're looking for a few really off-beat hockey stories, get a copy of my new book, TALES OF BROOKLYN. (Available on Amazon.)
* I always liked Joe Thornton which is why I savored his comment after his visit to San Jose: "When you play somewhere for so many years, you become family."
* Another reason to fear Carolina: The return of top D-man Tony DeAngelo.
* Vegas has become vague-er as a playoff team.
HOW TO FILL SEATS IN ONE EASY NHL LESSON
Back in the 1950s when Chicago Stadium was half-empty for Blackhawks games, GM Bill Tobin bemoaned the effect of tv on attendance. Hearing that, Leafs boss Conn Smythe shot back, "Put a winner on the ice and you'll fill the house."
Smythe's advice is still fresh and evident if you study the intense coverage that's descended on Sunrise and the Cup-pursuing Panthers. Our crack Florida correspondent, Alan (Big Al) Greenberg sends this bulletin:
"Panthers have been bombarded with media coming out of the woodwork. Even TV stations are covering as well as the dailies who haven't had writers for years!"
LOOKING BACKWARD; A TRIP THROUGH TIME WITH SCOTTY BOWMAN.
Thanks to producer Glenn Dreyfuss, we're able to bring you snippets from Paul Patskou's widely-acclaimed "Hockey Time Machine."
In this one, the NHL's winningest coach tells a tale about his first year of coaching Junior Hockey in Peterborough, Ontario.
"I was 24-years-old and the previous coach (former Toronto Maple Leafs Hall of Fame center) Ted Kennedy warned me that every Monday I had to face the six Board of Directors at a meeting.
"Kennedy told me that they questioned his every move so I prepared for that at my meeting. Sure enough, one of the directors got up and asked, 'Why did you use Jimmy Roberts -- usually a defenseman -- as a forward?'
"Before I could open my mouth, one of the directors (former NHL Hall of Fame defenseman) Dit Clapper shouted 'WHY DON'T YOU SHUT UP?' And it turned out -- thanks to Dit Clapper -- that it was the last meeting I had to attend!"
WHO SAID IT?
"If he ever scored 50, I'd hate to see what he'd look like?" (Answer Below)
WISHING FOR A SHOWDOWN:
With the homestretch just ahead this is the perfect time to imagine playoff foes and the possibility of a sensational showdown.
My personal hope is that somehow the defending champion Lightning go up against the no-kidding-round-tough Hurricanes. When they met on Tuesday night, all heck broke loose at the end after Nikita Kucherov dropped a bomb (himself) on Sibby Aho. If Sibby didn't land in Dreamland it was mighty close to it.
The final score was 3-2 for the Canes. The I.Q. (Intensity Count) went through the roof. Hope they meet in May.
APPLESAUCE OR NOT? After beating the Champs, Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour couldn't help himself and added a beef about the refs making a late "Phantom Call" against his darling Carolinians.
Applesauce or not?
Applesauce all the way. Maven Rule: When your team wins, don't say one discouraging word about the officiating!
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: Bruins aide -- Hall of Fame defenseman -- Tom Johnson after forward Craig Janney got his first NHL goal off a deflection to his eye.