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Fischler Report: The Mysterious Element That Makes or Breaks a Contender

Stan Fischler looks at what attrition can do to an NHL team, the play of Auston Matthews, the Vancouver Canucks, Claude Giroux, the Quad City Mallards and shares another story from John Forslund.
Steven Stamkos

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as exhaustion.

It envelops teams when they least expect it and, really, there's no ready radar to detect its onslaught in advance.

Except, perhaps, a 9-0 loss

The secret word is attrition and through the years it has affected the outcome of playoff series as it will to the Bolts as they go for their Stanley trifecta.

You can bet your bottom dollar that coach Jon Cooper is wondering when to rest the likes of Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos; not to mention tire-worn goalie Andrei Vasilivskiy.

This champions' core has played many years of hockey and if it happens to appear a bit blue in the face after a close game; blame it on attrition.

NHL history has shown how attrition stopped excellent teams right in their tracks. Exhibit A would be the 1932-33 defending champion Maple Leafs.

Conn Smythe's sextet beat Boston in the first round but the winning game -- six overtimes -- lasted until almost two in the morning.

An hour or so later the Toronto bunch climbed aboard a Pullman train which arrived in New York City at two the next afternoon. With no time for a snooze the exhausted Leafs were on the ice that night and were easily extinguished, 5-1 by the fresh Rangers, New York won the series three games to one and the Stanley Cup.

Attrition ended the Islanders dynasty in 1984 after Bill Torrey's boys had won a record 19 consecutive playoff series. Injured to the core, the Nassaumen fought hard but they neither could beat attrition nor the Oilers.

This spring it could happen to Tampa Bay; not to mention a few other clubs. Here's how our Alan Greenberg views The Attrition Effect:

"Tampa Bay is most susceptible. At the end of the season the Bolts will have played more games than any NHL team over three seasons . There's the fatigue factor and player losses.

"Of this year's top contenders, Calgary is the freshest. The Flames did not make the playoffs and their 56-game season ended May 19, giving them a whopping 130 days to rest.

"Carolina and Colorado lasted two rounds but both have been there, done that and have young legs to sustain them. My conclusion; There's no way the Bolts win again, especially because of attrition and there's nothing they can do about it."

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EXCLUSIVE: THE SCOUT'S REPORT – LOOKING FOR AN OT EDGE!

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.

Saturday night the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Kraken played an excellent and extremely entertaining back and forth game that eventually went to overtime on the heels of Nick Suzuki’s 14th goal of the season with 2:12 remaining in the third period. The Kraken however took the contest in the shootout, but in overtime, I picked up on some subtle, yet heady play.

In the extra session, Kraken goalie, Phillipp Grubauer displayed his brilliant hockey IQ. Following a shot on net from Canadiens forward, Mike Hoffman, Grubauer advanced the puck with his glove hand to Kraken teammate Vince Dunn to try and catch the Canadiens on an odd-man rush heading back up the ice. Mind you they are playing 3 vs. 3 in OT, so anytime a defender is caught behind the play, it results in a 3-on-2 odd-man rush.

Minutes later the same thing happened, only a different result.

This time Canadiens forward, Artturi Lehkonen streaked down the right side and fired a puck on net. Grubauer routinely grabbed it with his glove hand, then took a stride forward to attempt to advance the puck again to a Seattle skater. Only this time the wise Lehkonen skated right up to Grubauer smothering him, not allowing the goalie to catch The Canadiens napping.

Grubauer was so frustrated that Lehkonen was on to him, that he almost came to blows with the Finnish forward; and a rare overtime fight nearly ensued.

Both Grubauer and Lehkonen showed their impressive cerebral style of on-ice persona and others should take note of what Grubauer was trying to do -- and how Lehkonen thwarted the effort.

That being said, and this is a side-point only, I question: Was advancing the puck by Grubauer even legal? See the NHL rule below…

  • 67.3 Minor Penalty – Goalkeeper - The object of this entire rule is to keep the puck in play continuously and any action taken by the goalkeeper which causes an unnecessary stoppage must be penalized without warning. A delay of game penalty shall be assessed to a goalkeeper who:
  • (iii) Throws the puck forward towards the opponent’s net;
  • NOTE: In the case where the puck thrown forward by the goalkeeper being taken by an opponent, the Referee shall allow the resulting play to be completed, and if goal is scored by the non-offending team, it shall be allowed and no penalty given; but if a goal is not scored, play shall be stopped and a minor penalty shall be imposed against the goalkeeper.

I understand the idea is to keep the puck in play, and that’s what Grubauer was doing, but in what instance does a goalie throw a puck forward for it not to be in play? According to this rule, should a penalty have been assessed to Grubauer? Maybe an update to the rule is in order. I guess that’s a question for Steven Walkom, the NHL’s Senior VP and Director of Officiating. 

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I'M JUST SAYIN':

* If I'm Bruce Boudreau I'd make sure to persuade ownership not to involve J.T. Miller in any deal.

* J.T. -- that's for Just Terrific -- is reaching the apex in his career. I'm sure Cousin' Brucie shares my thoughts.

* Let's not get too crazy about Jack Eichel's effect on Vegas. You'll have the answer by the end of the second playoff round.

* If the Knights are still alive; good deal. If not, well, the Sabres knew what they were doing.

* For the life of me, I cannot even guess if g.m. Kevyn Adams is planning to bring Don Granato back as Buff coach next season.

* Sure is more talk than ever that Auston Matthews is a better player than King McDavid.

* Guess that's because they teach Bacchecking 101 in Arizona hockey schools.

* Last September Jonathan Huberdeau was rated the NHL's 25th best player. He's gotta be in the Top Dozen now.

* You know your onions if -- in ten seconds -- you can name the Coyotes coach. (Hint: His first name is Andre.)

* Jack Campbell's and Robin Lehner's latest injuries underline a point that's been obvious since the season's first week. There's something about contemporary goaltenders and their styles that makes them so susceptible to wounds.

* Who's right and who's wrong in the Jack Eichel vs. The Sabres

verbal tug of war? Flip a coin for the answer.

HOW TO STOP AUSTON MATTHEWS

It's automatic that foes will try to disable the Matthews Goal Machine. He's frequently targeted," says our man in Toronto, Rob Del Mundo. "Teams try to clutch and grab him and hope the officials turn the other way.

"It isn't so much of Can Matthews be intimidated as much as it is can he play through adversity? And the adversity will intensify during the playoffs. Matthews has yet to elevate his game in the post-season. So far Auston's worst enemy in the playoffs has been himself."

And, perhaps, a suspension.

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WHO SAID IT? "They go from crushers to rushers to ushers." (Answer below.)

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NIX TO CLAUDE GIROUX

He's the Flyers' captain and leads the "Insiders" Trade Rumor League, "The only definite," says our Al (The Outsider-Insider) Greenberg, "is that the Flyers price is probably too high for a vet with an expiring contract.

"If I were a GM" says Pal Al, "I'd think twice about Giroux. He's 34 and his aging legs are obviously tiring. Without a guarantee of re-signing, giving up significant assets can be costly. Claude plays his 1,000th game as a Flyer on March 17. The trade deadline is March 21. It will be an interesting few days."

JOHN FORSLUND'S STORY HOUR

Seattle Kraken TV voice John Forslund is celebrating his 30th anniversary behind an NHL microphone. In this second of an exclusive four-part series, Forslund harks back to his childhood days in hockey-mad Springfield, Massachusetts with our Glenn Dreyfuss.

Hall of Fame defenseman Eddie Shore had bought the AHL Springfield franchise and was known as Mister Hockey around the Indians home rink, the Eastern States Coliseum. We'll let Forslund take it from here:

"The Kings played many home games on Saturday nights and on this day my father told me that we'd go to a game. He decided to get tickets that Saturday morning so I went along with him as well as did some of my friends.

"Kids, as we were, we did kids things and on that particular morning, we noticed that an arena door was open and that there was nobody around but us guys. So, we sneaked into the building and, right away, noticed that our (Kings) team was out on the ice having a practice.

Naturally, we wanted to watch but before we could do anything this big fellow wearing a fedora came around the corner. And it was none other than Eddie Shore. Well, we'd been around Springfield hockey long enough to know that Mister Shore was a tough hombre off the ice as a team owner as he was when he played defense for the Bruins.

Before we could run away -- or do anything for that matter -- Shore roared at us: "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU GUYS ARE DOING?"

Well, we were scared half to death but there was no sense in lying. We were honest with Shore and told him about my dad buying tickets and then we saw the open door and wanted to see the practice.

Instead of yelling anymore, Eddie called, "Come over here" Of course, we still thought we were in big trouble. So, what do you think the big guy did? He gave us pucks!"

I learned a lot about hockey just watching Shore. He was ahead of his time when it came to hockey techniques and ways to practice and skate. He had developed drills such as the breakout and did a lot of teaching at the schoolboy level in our town.

Generously, he'd give Coliseum ice to the high schools for practices. As a matter of fact my brother-in-law played for Springfield Tech's high school hockey team and he'd tell me stories about how Eddie Shore would put on his sates and practice with the high school teams. And, in between the scrimmages, Eddie would give the boys tips about skating. Shore was a great hockey man and I was lucky enough to meet him!

(NEXT ISSUE, John recounts sage words from legendary hockey broadcaster Dan Kelly and John's dispute with his club owner on how to call a hockey game.)

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A QUAD CITY SUCCESS STORY

Once upon a puck, the Quad City Mallards comprised one of the most successful franchises in the minors. The team's president/GM/owner Howard Cornfield was mostly responsible for that. Thankfully, Howard never has forgotten his halcyon QC days and recently returned the favor.

Along with Scott Mullen Exec Director of TaxSlater Center, they sponsored a game that generated nearly $90,000 for local charities. Mallards players returned to QC from all over the States and Canada at their own expense. They raised money to fight breast cancer and support local veterans. Kudos for this major event in the minors.

A longtime buddy of mine, Cornfield was honored with a banner-raising acknowledging his accomplishments both keeping hockey In Quad Cities and making the Mallards one of the most successful franchises in minor pro history.

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Glen Sonmor on tough guys who think they are scorers.

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