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Fischler Report: The Importance of Good Goaltending

Stan Fischler discusses goaltending in Toronto and Edmonton, the Vegas Golden Knights, Jonathan Toews, the connection between Evgenii Dadonov and Red Kelly, Pete DeBoer and much, much more.
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SCOUT'S REPORT EXCLUSIVE: GROWTH OF A SUPERSTAR

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 look at Jack Hughes' progress.

A quick glance at Jack Hughes statistics through his first three seasons yields the obvious. The kid can flat-out play. He's blossoming into a superstar, living up to his number one overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.

In his rookie season as an 18-year-old, he collected 21 points, and in his sophomore campaign, he upped his totals to 31 points in five fewer games played. In his third season in New Jersey, he's broken out and has 24 goals with 30 assists for 54 points in only 46 games (1.17 points per game) -- including a dominating two-goal performance last night versus Montreal, leading to a 3-2 Devils shootout win (No. 86 scored in the shootout as well).

But numbers are numbers, and anyone can easily see his rise by just looking at the scoresheets or reading his statistics. The real question is, how is he doing it? What's the difference between this year and last year?

I'm lucky enough to live in New Jersey and have seen him play in-person many times already, and from my eyes, I see two major differences/improvements.

The first is strength. Through his first two seasons, Hughes netted 18 goals, all of which came from near the faceoff dots or below. He used his incredible hands to put home rebounds, breakaways and one-timers. This season, the slick 20-year-old has added a powerful and accurate wrist-shot to his arsenal, including a bullet from the top-of-the-circle in Saturday's contest versus the Washington Capitals.

The second is confidence. Hughes entered the NHL with a massive amount of skill, and in his third season, he rarely hesitates to use his vast skill-set. His confidence allows him to use his game-breaking speed when needed, and to use his incredible puck handling skills in tight areas without worry.

But that's not all. Hughes became a different player confidence-wise when Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald took a leap of faith early this season, inking Hughes to a monster eight-year, $64 million contract. Hughes no longer had to worry about earning a contract, and instead, all he had to do was play hockey.

Fitzgerald said at the time. "He’s a great player and we think he can be one of the elite players in the league. As he grows and develops and matures as a player, the sky’s the limit for this young man."

Boy was Fitz right!

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GOALTENDING IS EVERYTHING -- EXCEPT IN EDMONTON AND TORONTO

If they are lucky, the Edmonton Oilers will make the playoffs.

If they are lucky, the Toronto Maple Leafs will win its first playoff round.

The results of the above assertions seriously are in doubt for a pair of simple reasons:

1. For their goaltending, the Oilers give you The Sieve Twins -- Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. On Saturday night, the pair combined to give up nine goals to Calgary. Nine goals! And this from a team that's battling for a playoff berth.

Then, post-game, the Oilers spokesman-for-the-debacle, Zach Hyman, had the audacity to tell the media, "It's not on the goalies; it's on us."

Applesauce, my friend; It is on Koskinen -- knocked out of the box by Calgary -- and Smith. You're not a goalie, Zach Hyman, they are; or at least supposed to be reasonable facsimiles, thereof. For sure, neither resembles Marc-Andre Fleury.

2. Toronto lost to Montreal on Saturday night, 4-2. Jake Allen made 49 saves -- forty-nine saves -- for the Habs. Erik Kallgren made 14 saves-- fourteen, you almost can count them on two hands -- for the Leafs. Imagine, Jake The Rake finished with more than three times as many stops as the other fella.

So, which team is in worse goalie trouble, Toronto or Edmonton?

It's a tie!

THE BEST LESSON FOR OPTIMISM OVER PESSIMISM

If your favorite contending team is into a losing streak at this point in time, there's a natural tendency to toss your hands in the air and feel as if the end is near

No, the end is not near. And I speak from experience.

During the 1966-67 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were on a treadmill to oblivion. The Punch Imlach-led club was a mess. And I do mean mess. Here's why:

1. Many of the players were fed up with the martinet Imlach.

2. Punch was hospitalized with what seemed like a nervous breakdown.

3. The Leafs had lost 10 straight games.

4. Imlach's elderly sidekick, King Clancy, had taken over the team in what appeared to be a very desperate, even hopeless, measure.

Guess what? Hogtown's favorite hockey team went on to win The Stanley Cup.

The simple moral of the story -- especially for Tampa Bay fans -- is this; don't give up the ship. Your team isn't out of it until the NHL Stat Man says so! You know how to win.

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CELEBRATING 'FIGHT NIGHT AT THE JOE'

Thanks to the ever-alert Rob Del Mundo in Toronto, this month marks the 25th anniversary of one of the NHL's most notorious brawls. March 26th was the exact date of the Red Wings-Avalanche Pier Sixer that involved ten fights and 148 penalty minutes.

The most discussed bout had Detroit's Darren McCarty pummeling Claude Lemieux. That, of course, was revenge for the naughty-naughty that Claude pulled on Kris Draper in the 1996 playoffs.

"That game was a catalyst for the Red Wings." Del Mundo notes. "They had to become more physical and they did. Detroit won three Cups in the next five years."

Rob points out that one episode involved the Wings' Brendan Shanahan body-checking goalie Patrick Roy. Del Mundo suggests that Shanny's Leafs might take a leaf out of the Red Wings book. Perhaps Auston Matthews already has and got a two-game suspension for his crosschecking no-no.

Trouble is that the current Toronto team has a lot less muscle than those Wings who tore up The Joe and the Avs. (If Shanny had another Tie Domi it would be a different story.)

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* Word is slowly getting around that Roman Josi is the best all-around player in the league. First, as a defenseman and second, as a scorer.

* The Toronto Sun's eminent columnist Steve Simmons suggests that Josi -- the pride of Switzerland -- should win both the Norris and Hart Trophies. And I second the motion!

*It's even money that cap issues will cost Vegas a playoff spot.

* I'm disenchanted with Jonathan Toews.

* As captain of the Blackhawks, he has a responsibility to curb his lack of enthusiasm over rookie GM Kyle Davidson's trade deadline moves.

* Mum's the word. At least it should have been with Toews and his hockey team even though Davidson moved a pair of the captain's pals.

* Unless a sincere apology is delivered by "Captain" Jonathan, Davidson will have no alternative but to move the former leader elsewhere.

* The tune "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" never will be Derick Brassard's theme. Or, as The Wise Man Of The South, Al Greenberg, notes: "Brassard has become 'King Of the Hired Guns.'"

* Now that Brassard has moved his equipment to Edmonton, it marks Derick's third deadline trade.

* Think about it; since 2015-16, when Brassard led the Rangers in goal-scoring, he's played for no less than eight NHL teams.

* Remember not long ago when the Golden Knights seemed as magical as the city they represent? Suddenly, those days seem like long, long ago.

* The NHL voiding of the Evgenii Dadonov trade-that-was-not-a-trade is the latest Vegas blunder.

* Every day in every way it appears that g.m. Kelly McCrimmon should have retained Marc-Andre Fleury who simply goes down as the most popular player in Vegas' young hockey history.

* I like Deadskin's Sam Feis' comment: "The Knights were so desperate they tried to trade the player they couldn't trade."

* It's hard to get excited about the Flyers situation minus Claude Giroux. Philly seems to be on a treadmill to Nowhere. Goaltending included.

* The headline-writer at The Toronto Star who wrote the following deserves a prize: "Maple Leafs Win In The New Jersey And Against New Jersey."

* I hope Craig Anderson returns to Buffalo next season. No question, the Sabres are on the rise. Andy, old as he is, still has the goods.

A TRULY SIGNIFICANT GAME:

When the Rangers whipped Pittsburgh, 5-1, in New York last Friday, a few meaningful events took place. 1. Tristan Jarry, last year's playoff failure, got yanked after giving up three goals in five minutes; 2. Chris Kreider scored his 44th goal; and, 3. Recent Blueshirt acquisition Frankie Vatrano scored again. Street smarts -- and the result at MSG -- tell me that the Pens will be plopped early in the playoffs while the Rangers will go far. (And I don't need analytics for that.)

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HOW THE EVGENII DADONOV FIASCO BRINGS BACK RED KELLY MEMORIES

Hall of Famer Red Kelly was a pal of mine. Every winter he'd show up in New York at the annual Canadian Society Hockey Awards fete. Red and his wife Andra were among the sweetest folks you'd ever meet.

That is, except for one bloc of hockey people during the 1959-60 hockey season. And that would be Rangers fans. To put it mildly the Blueshirts Faithful had it in for Kelly, the way -- more recently -- Islanders fans resented John Tavares' signing with Toronto. So, let me tell you about the Kelly Saga.

A Hall of Fame defenseman with Detroit, Kelly still was in his prime in 1960 when he and Red Wings manager Jack Adams intensely feuded and, finally, Adams decided to trade Red to the Rangers. The deal was Kelly and forward Billy McNeill to New York for Bill Gadsby and Eddie Shack. On paper, at least, it seemed to be an Even-Steven exchange.

As a Rangers beat writer at the time, I was pleased that the Blueshirts would get two quality players and most of the fans shared my view. But there was a problem. Kelly balked at coming to The Big Apple. He not only balked, he downright refused and said that he was retiring from The Game.

That seemed fair enough at the time. The trade was cancelled leaving Gadsby and Shack still wearing the New York uniform. What we didn't know was that there was a heck of a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiating. Mostly it was Toronto's GM-coach Punch Imlach convincing Kelly to come out of "retirement" and play for the Leafs.

Ultimately, NHL President Clarence Campell approved the deal. The Rangers high command -- then not an NHL power broker -- was left in an unpleasant situation that worsened over the years as Kelly helped Imlach win four Stanley Cups -- believe it or not -- as a center.

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WHO SAID IT?

"Goaltending is a normal job. Sure. How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake a red light went on over your desk and 15,000 people stood up and yelled at you?" (Answer below.)

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A NICE THOUGHT ABOUT PETER DEBOER

Considering that Peter DeBoer started his post-college life as a lawyer, it seems inconceivable that The Man celebrated his 1,000th NHL coaching game last week.

My dealings with Pistol Pete date back to his Devils coaching days, especially the 2011-12 campaign when New Jersey went to the Stanley Cup Final. To do so, the Garden Staters had to beat the Rangers in what was a memorable six-game series.

Right in the middle of it, Pete must have touched one of John Tortorella's sensitive nerves. The resultant bench duels were a classic contrast in personalities;

Torts raving and DeBoer kind of soaking it up. DeBoer outcoached The Mouth and Marty Brodeur out-goaled Henrik Lundqvist and that was that.

Congratulations on 1,000, Pete!

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LOOKING BACKWARD WITH FORBES KENNEDY.

Thanks to Glenn Dreyfuss, producer of Paul Patskou's NHL Time Machine, we're able to reach back to the past with neat tales. Try this one: Forbes Kennedy vs. Gerry Cheevers, John McKenzie and NHL President Clarence Campbell. Kennedy, if the name seems strange, was Tie Domi before Tie Domi.

Forbes Kennedy's eleven-year NHL career ended infamously in 1969 during a playoff game. Kennedy's Maple Leafs were losing 10-0 to the Bruins when the trouble started. "I got in front of the Bruins net," Kennedy recalled, "and whacked Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers. He gave it back to me and we exchanged punches and wound up knocking down a linesman."

Calm appeared to have been restored until Kennedy then engaged in a wild slugfest with an unlikely Bruin, John (Pie) McKenzie. "It turned out that Johnny and I had lived together and were the best of buddies," chuckled Kennedy. "But you wouldn't have known it by the way we went at it. If anything it proved that there are no buddies on the ice.'"

For his fury, Kennedy was assessed a slashing minor, two fighting majors, a misconduct, a game misconduct and a hearing with NHL President Clarence Campbell. "When I was told about the hearing," said Forbes, "I said to Campbell, 'I'm not going.' and when Campbell heard that, he shot back, 'What do you mean 'You're not going?' So, I said, 'I have a game tonight.'

And the president ended it by telling me, 'What! do you think you're playing?'"

Campbell won the verbal battle. Kennedy was suspended for the remainder of the series. And, as it happened, knee injuries would prevent his return to the NHL.

But the once tough, rugged Kennedy came up with a most touching tale that should resonate with everyone. It's about an incident after he retired.

Forbes hoped his injuries would heal and he'd get a gig on an NHL expansion team but his knees still hurt and he retired. Away from the NHL he became depressed and actually stopped watching hockey. Then, one day he had to visit his doctor. We'll let Forbes take over.

"A year later I went to get my knee worked on and there was a little girl at the doctor's office. I noticed that she had braces on her head and on her legs. She was only about four years old and couldn't walk. I was told that her parents would put candy out in front of her and she would crawl and cry as they tried to get her to walk.

"That's when I said to myself, 'You, big, yellow. S.O.B.' I looked at that little girl and I'm crying. I was all right; nothing was wrong with me except for my knees. It wasn't the end of the world for me. Then, I started watching hockey again!"

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT: Hall of Fame goalie Jacques Plante, the first NHL netminder to wear a mask during a game.

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