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Fischler Report: S.O.S – Big Avalanche Threat

Stan Fischler looks at just how dominant the Colorado Avalanche are, how bad the Montreal Canadiens are playing while comparing their season to another terrible campaign from over 80 years ago and more in this week's Fischler Report.
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Stuck on an NHL mountainside, a whole bunch of NHL teams are being swept away by an Avalanche driven from Mile High Denver. Last night, Dallas got snowed under, 4-0. Imagine, if you will, that Colorado has not lost a regular-season game since Dec. 16.

With a ridiculous 34-8-4 mark, coach Jared Bednar's sextet looks quite a bit beyond scary; as in, you wish his Avs are not the next team on your agenda.

This outfit is growing stars on top of its stars. In fact, during the recent Vegas festivities, Nazem Kadri was confirmed as another joining the galaxy of very good ones if not quite in the class of Cale Makar, who is the second-coming of Ray Bourque, 2001 Avs Cup-winner. By the way, Kadri notched his 20th goal last night,

Ah, but is this Joe Sakic-molded monster better than, say Carolina, Toronto, Panthers, Rangers or even the defending champ Bolts?

Team Rarely Lose has the offensive power usually found somewhere over the rainbow. The attacking units – most often than not – negate any defensive weaknesses of which Colorado has few.

Then again, since no team is perfect, the suggestion here is that goaltending should be Sakic's concern and the "culprit" is Darcy Kuemper, fugitive from the Arizona salt mines.

Yet, my Kuemper-watcher, Alan Greenberg, analyzed Darcy during a recent Lightning attack. Sir Alan exited with exalting praise for the Saskatoon-bred goalie.

"Anyone who witnessed Kuemper's magical 36-save effort to defeat Tampa Bay," Greenberg insists, "would cease to criticize his capabilities. Kuemper's career numbers are similar to those of departed Phil Grubauer." Blanking Dallas last night, Darcy looked just dandy.

So, who's left to criticize, the stick boy? We can't knock Darcy's backup, The Prince of Plzen (Czech), Pavel Francouz. Within recent memory, he racked up seven straight wins, including back-to-back shutouts.

The defense in front of them is headlined by Captain Marvel Makar, ably assisted by Devon Toews and Sam Girard who all play a zephyr-like north-south game. Plus, 2019 (fourth overall) Draft pick Bowen Byram is cut from the same cloth.

They skim passes to Gabe Landeskog, Nate MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, arguably the league's best offensive trio. Then there's finally-found-his-niche Kadri who centers the second unit.

Speaking of Kadri, if he strays off the straight-and-narrow path, he can bolox things up for his formidable teammates. The Big N must avoid disciplinary issues.

"He can be the difference between a Cup and an also-ran," pipes in Al Greenberg.

A bigger challenge is the homestretch schedule; more road games than home games and precious little rest; not to mention more formidable foes.

For the nit-pickers, it's worth pointing out that the Avs' penalty kill is less than sensational but also better than past performances.

Let's face it, Colorado's offense – with all cylinders going – is reminiscent of the Gretzky Oilers of the mid-1980's. For the moment at least Denver's favorite hockey team is the class of the Western Division. There's every reason to believe they can reach the Cup Final.

But it's only February and a ton of potholes can emerge; starting with that old bugaboo – injuries. And, as we've seen in the past, Colorado goaltending is most vulnerable. Both Kuemper and Francouz have a bothersome injury history. For the otherwise awesome Avs; that's the club's weakness now!

I'M JUST SAYIN'

* Goalie Guru George Grimm has been analyzing Trevor Zegras' "Michigan" (Lacrosse-style) goal against Habs goalie Sam Montembeault for weeks. Grimm concludes: "If Sam had not been on his knees, Zegras might not even have attempted the shot or Montembeault might have been able to stop it."

* So, what's the point? The point is that the Butterfly causes more goals than it stops. Grimm: "The Butterfly may be taking away the five-hole, but it's opening up the one and two holes."

* Ex-NHL goalie Steve Baker believes that we're gonna see a lot more "Michigans" a la Zegras. "And it will force goaltenders to adjust their game."

* I feel for Dom Ducharme and hope Montrealers remember his miracle run of 2021 rather than his failure of 2022.

* Pat Verbeek is showing his smarts by drafting Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer as an

aide de camp. Nieder's low-key, down-to-earth approach will be a huge Anaheim asset.

* Speaking of Ducks, I'm glad to hear that old pal, Adam Henrique – from his Devils' big-goal days – figures that Anaheim is "well-placed" for the home stretch.

* When Kevin Weekes talks, I listen. And learn.

* If you're interested in team values, the money magazine, Forbes, gives Edmonton a $750 million evaluation. That puts the Oilers in a tie with Winnipeg, Colorado, Anaheim, Buffalo, Seattle, Florida, Columbus, Arizona, Calgary, Carolina, Ottawa and Nashville.

* San Jose, Minnesota, St.Louis and Tampa Bay are just above them at $800 million.

* ESPN's Barry Melrose figures the Oilers will make a second-half drive in the West. I do, too. The Oil could have done it with Dave Tippett calling the shots.

* Fine; but let's not get too nuts over quick wins for a new coach. That fervor evaporates in a month. Check out Bruce Boudreau and the Canucks for verifications.

* Also worth noting: How Vancouver finishes the season with Cousin Brucie. Also, will the Canucks be any better in the end with BB than it was with Travis Green?

* ESPN's Messier vs. TNT's Gretzky remains a worthwhile watch. Mess consistently swings away; The Great One mostly avoids the grate ones.

* In fairness, Wayne said at the start that his responses would be prudent and without the Torts torrent. That Gretz "takes the short club" is fine by me. That's Wayne and that's fair.

* Backchecking:: is that in either McDavid's or the Draisaitl vocabulary?

* Beasty Bard Marchand's appeal of his six-month suspension had to have been made with his tongue well-ensconced in his right cheek. The Clown is lucky he didn't get a dozen games!

* I ask you; is it asking too much of McDavid ad Draisaitl to elevate their I.Q,– as in Intesity Quotient? Time has come for the Gold Dust Twins to elevate their leadership as leaders.

* In Edmonton at least, the best players are not the best leaders!

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YOU GOTTA LOVE THIS INSIGHT: Via the Gus Vic X-Ray Machine: "Edmonton's offense is remarkably predictable. When playing five-on-five, their cadence is to enter the offensive zone on the right side an abnormally high percentage of the time. If I can see that, you have to think coaches with two commas in their salaries can see it as well."

JACK'S LESS NIMBLE

If there was such a thing as a Goaltenders' Union it would order a study titled "What Makes A Goalie Tick – And Then Not Tick."

Exhibit A would have to be Toronto's enigmatic Jumpin' Jack Campbell. The former Dallas first-rounder is guaranteed to give any general manager the heebie-jeebies and that's what Jake has done to his employer Kyle Dubas.

My man in Hogtown, Michael Augello isn't getting migraines over Campbell but he understands Dubas' plight. After all, Jack had a swell start to 2021-2022.

"He earned an All-Star nod," notes Augello, "with a 12-4-1 record and a .946 save percentage. "The 30-year-old is an impending free agent and had resisted Dubas' attempts to get him signed.

"But since December 1st, Campbell's numbers have declined dramatically to (at one point) .893. In one game he was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots against New Jersey on January 31st."

The good news is that Dubas has a former number one – Petr Mrazek – as Campbell's backup. Toronto's schedule this month is cramped with a total of nine postponed games to be made up.

But Pistol Pete got a licking in Saturday night's loss to Vancouver. Mrazek's opposite, Thatcher Demko made 51 saves while Petr petered out with a meagre 21 stops.

Augello: "The possibility of playoff success may rest on Dubas improving his defense before the March 21 trade deadline.

"Then again, the possibility of Campbell remaining a Leaf will depend on how well he shapes up in the homestretch."

TEN SECOND TRIVIA: Which NHL coach and general manager started out as a milkman?Wren Blair. Disenchanted with his Ontario milk route, he turned to hockey and eventually became g.m.-coach of the Minnesota North Stars.

MONTREAL'S FIRST TERRIBLE PAST:

The Canadiens plunge to subterranean NHL depths truly defies credulity. I mean, really, how bad can these Habs get? With Marty St.Lous behind the bench or Marty Miami coaching this woebegone team is beyond challenging. That they made it to the Cup Final last year seems more like a fantasy hockey game turned to a dream and now a living nightmare. Their 8-33-4 record is mighty low.

But, hold on, habitual Hab lovers; if you think this Montreal outfit is bad, you ain't heard nothin' yet 'cause I've got one for you. During the 1939-40 season – remember, The Great Depression still engulfed North America–the NHL featured seven teams. The Seventh team was the New York Americans who shared Madison Square Garden with the Rangers.

During that 48 game season, the Habs finished a hapless dead last with a record of 10-33-6. That's 25 points total. At times during Canadiens home games, The Forum looked more like a mausoleum than a coliseum. In fact, the Habs fiscal situation was so serious there was genuine talk of moving the franchise from Canada to Cleveland.

Just in the nick of time, local interests stepped in and saved the Canadiens for Montreal. Eventually, a new coach, Dick Irvin, moved from the Maple Leafs to Montreal and by the 1942-43 season, Irvin restored the club's dignity and coaxed them into a playoff berth.

Soon, the Rocket Richard Era began and the franchise never edged as close to the cliff as it had 82 years ago. That won't happen again; not with the strong ownership group. What remains to be seen is how long it will take for the new general staff to turn this sorrowful sextet competitive again.

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STAT KING CELEBRATES: This is a big year for Eric Hornick, King of Hockey Stat Men. He's not only celebrating his 40th anniversary doling out numbers and facts for the Islanders telecasts but he's now in demand by the networks. In this second part of our exclusive interview with Hornick, Eric details how the stat science has changed since 1982 when he broke in as a rookie.

MAJOR STAT ADVANCES: "Times have changed in the statistics business in a lot of ways. For example, when I started in 1982, there was no internet, no sports radio and the only way to read stories from other cities was via The Hockey News. I also relied on team media guides and my own research. I used to pass notes to SportsChannel's play-by-play man Jiggs McDonald and his 'color' commentator, Ed Westfall, on index cards.

"I had a box of cards that I'd go back to for future games against the same opponents. That all changed in 1989 – Mick Vukota, who rarely scored, got a hat trick that night – against the Capitals in Landover. I was concerned that I was going to be farther away so, to make sure my notes could be seen, I switched to white boards.

"I liked that method so much I never went back. Today I have six white boards at my disposal at any game. Obviously, the internet changed what was available. Nowadays, I love to read stories from other city's perspectives. It also allows me live stats and, for me, live research." (Next issue, Eric will detail "The Most Important Stats" and will name "His Most Memorable Broadcasters" and how their various demands differed.)

BOOK REVIEW: GOLD!: HOW GRETZKY'S MEN ENDED CANADA'S 50-YEAR OLYMPIC HOCKEY DROUGHT. BY TIM WHARNSBY. Review by Rob Del Mundo:

"In time for the 20th anniversary of Canada's 2002 Men's Olympic Gold Medal win, Wharnsby provides an in-depth, behind the scenes recap of the events that culminated in victory at Salt Lake City. Tim interviewed no fewer than 35 playeers and management staff including The Great One himself

"From the early tournament jitters to the turning point in a preliminary round tie against the Czechs, to Joe Sakic's MVP performance in the Gold Medal Game – it spoiled the party for the host Americans – 'Gold' is a splendid chronicle of Canada's journey. Wharnsby meticulously recalls minute details. These include which players roomed together, what adjustments were made after the embarrassing opening loss to Sweden, and who persevered through injury throughout the tournament. A must-read for all."

WHO SAID IT?: "Shorter runways. Buses have a hard time taking off on short runways."

(Answer below.)

A MYSTERY OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH:

The hockey world once again is rightfully celebrating Black History Month. It's something that I take very seriously for several reasons. One, among them, is that I had the pleasure of watching the first Black pro forward line during the late 1940's

Skating in the fast Quebec Senior Hockey League, Herbie Carnegie, his brother Ossie and Manny McIntyre dazzled with the Sherbrooke Saints. Along with such QSHL teams as the Montreal Royals – a Habs farm club – and Ottawa Senators, these QSHL outfits played road games at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers farm club, the New York Rovers.

The Carnegies and McIntyre comprised a line that I'll never forget. They blended creativity with speed as few other trios in the NHL could match. Of the three, Herbie was the best player and, in the eyes of many – including mine – deserved to play in the NHL.

Now here's the mystery. I never missed a Rangers or Rovers game during Herbie's heyday. I read every newspaper – including the Toronto Globe and Mail – listened to all the radio sportscasts. Additionally, I clipped stories daily for my scrapbook which I have to this day. Yet, never did I see a story about Herbie Carnegie getting an NHL tryout with the Rangers.

Considering that this was precisely the time that Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in my hometown with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the fact that Carnegie was getting an audition with the Blueshirts should have been a major story. Not minor but major.

Yet, apparently, Herbie did get a quiet tryout and Rangers manager Frank Boucher did offer him a minor league contract. It could have been with a New York farm club in the Pacific Coast League, or St.Paul of the U.S. League, or the Rangers AHL farm team in New Haven.

Apparently, Herbie rejected Boucher's offer on the grounds that he could make more money playing in the QSHL. He had a family – with kids – to support and even the offer to skate with New Haven was insufficient.

To me the mystery is this: How come such a potentially sensational hockey story never became the big one that it should have been except for some tiny wire reports that failed to detail any substantive facts, anecdotes or anything about the actual episodes?

I recall doing a tv interview with Rangers publicity man Stan Saplin – he handled press during the time the Carnegies played at The Garden –and he reported that he didn't even remember Herbie actually getting a Rangers tryout.

Looking backward, I still find it all un-real; that such an important event escaped significant courage.

As for the postscript, attempts at having Herbie Carnegie inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame have had my fervent support. Meanwhile, the mystery remains just that; a mystery!

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Pierre Larouche, on the best part of being back in the NHL after a stint in the minors.

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