By Ryan Lambert
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
Hahaha. Man, I love Ilya Bryzgalov.
Like remember that "Why you heff to be mad?" interview? Hilarious. Then he was talking about the universe, he was all, "It so humangous beeg!" and boy did I ever laugh. Then he said his dog was like a hot girl and I just about had to go to the hospital I was guffawing so hard.
I love that stuff. I wish more athletes would be like him and just say whatever funny old thing pops into his head. Did you ever hear that story about him and Wayne Gretzky and the hot dogs? Great guy. Great for the game.
But there are some things that are no laughing matter and that includes whether he is starting the Winter Classic. Hey I'm all for candor and honesty, don't get me wrong, but if he says he's not starting, then Peter Laviolette says he hasn't decided who gets the nod later today, what am I, as a member of the hockey media, supposed to think?
I'll tell you what: This guy just isn't serious enough.
(Coming Up: Caps and the Winter Classic; Josh Gorges and the Habs; figuring out Kovalchuk; Darryl Sutter Effect in LA; the Sabres' failed contract; the Jets mke history; the Red Wings' road issues; all hail King Geno; the Bruins end 2011 sourly; a very underrated NHLer; trading Ryan Miller; everyday the Blackhawks are shufflin'; the James Reimer question; and what does Raffi Torres have to do to get suspended 'round here.)
There is, and should be, an appropriate amount of solemnity with which I as a media member expect all players to approach their roles with the team. Bryzgalov has fallen well short of that level in the last few days, especially because he's been so bad at hockey lately. Like really bad. So bad Sergei Bobrovsky — who by the way works harder than Bryzgalov and actually knows his place on the team — is a more viable goaltending option against one of the best teams in the league.
The Winter Classic, unlike other regular season games, is at once more and less important than all others. It's more important because it's outside. And it's less important because it's outside. Sure you want guys having fun out there and having this opportunity take them back to When They Were Kids, but because everyone in the hockey world descends on this event, it is also designated as the gravest January game of the season.
If he was sitting for next weekend's game against the Senators, this kind of attitude wouldn't be a big deal, but because it's the Winter Classic, it very much is. In fact, let's just call a spade a spade here, like Scott Burnside did.
Bryzgalov isn't the endearing, five-faced weirdo we all know and previously loved, he is now officially mentally weak. We don't need him joking about packing a thermos for the backup role. We need him earning the big contract he got this summer. Obviously. What better way to earn it than to start in this one game here, especially given his fragile psyche?
But look, maybe Bryzgalov just doesn't get how it works in real hockey markets. He played well in Anaheim and Phoenix, where there is literally no pressure to win or act professionally. But in Philly the pressure is on, which is why "some say he's more interested in being an off-ice personality than a Vezina Trophy candidate."
How am I, as a member of the media, supposed to sculpt this game to fit the narratives I've made if this guy is going to insist on being both not-very-good and disarmingly forthcoming?
He talked to the press for nearly a half hour yesterday and covered all kinds of topics, including how terribly he's played lately and how he hasn't given his team, which is, like, REALLY good, a chance to win. This type of unforgivable behavior would be acceptable if we weren't already 37 games into that nine-year deal, which, I'll remind you again, was for nine years and a boatload of money. He hasn't been the best goaltender on the planet yet. He's lucky they don't put him on waivers.
So the lesson here for well-paid hockey players is as it always was: Be honest with us media types. Don't give us the typical "I'm just playing hard and focusing on my game" quotes we always hear. We'll kind of resent you for it.
But when you're being honest, don't also be bad at hockey. That's inexcusable.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Saku Koivu returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 8 and guess what? The Ducks lost. This time it was 4-2 to the Avalanche. When do they start selling guys?
Boston Bruins: The Bruins got steamrolled by Dallas on New Year's Eve, snapping their latest winning streak at seven games. No matter how good you are, if you take the first 40 minutes off, you're not going to win in this league. The good news is that was just their third regulation loss since Nov. 1.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres won't be on Time Warner Cable any time in the near future thanks to a dispute between the TV provider and MSG that Buffalo Business First called a "failed contract." Lot of those going around these days, isn't that right Ville Leino?
Calgary Flames: Yesterday was Olli Jokinen's 1,000th career NHL game. Did you know he's on pace for 65 points and 25 goals this year? That would be his best in four years. And still he's broken 50 points in every season since 2002. Very underrated NHLer.
Carolina Hurricanes: The biggest Hurricanes story of 2011? When Jeff Skinner became the darling of the hockey world. In related news, it has not been a good year for the Carolina Hurricanes. They won just 36 of their 86 games in the calendar year, about a 68-point pace over an 82-game season.
Chicago Blackhawks: For a team that is one of the best in the league, it's kind of weird that the Blackhawks still haven't settled on regular line combinations.
Colorado Avalanche: JS Giguere got the start in Anaheim, his first time visiting the team with which he won a Stanley Cup, and didn't have much work to do in making 18 saves for a 4-2 win.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus gave up four goals in the third period on Saturday night against Washington, running their third-period goal differential to minus-26 in 38 games this year. That's 52 against and just 26 for, and the worst in the league (which you probably could have inferred).
Dallas Stars: Philip Larsen "had his bell run a little bit" and will be evaluated over two days to determine if he has a concussion. Jordie Benn was called up to replace him.
Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: The Red Wings have very quietly won 12 in a row at home, but have lost three of the last four away from the Joe. In fact, this has been going on all season. They're 15-2-1 in Detroit and 9-11-0 on the road. One of only three playoff teams in the league with sub-.500 road records.
Edmonton Oilers: Hey look the Oilers are on another losing streak. This is their fourth run of losing three or more in a row this season and they've won just one of their last eight.
Florida Panthers: Jose Theodore suffered some sort of lower body injury on Saturday night and will be out "for a while." Hey that's alright. Jacob Markstrom is fantastic.
Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar scored for the first time in 17 games and the Kings beat the Canucks 4-1 and they still haven't lost in regulation in six games under Darryl Sutter. Things are going really well in LA right now, is the point.
Minnesota Wild: The Coyotes, who had lost their last five games, took on the Wild, who had recently snapped an eight-game skid, on Saturday. And the Coyotes won. It's going that badly for Minnesota right now.
Nashville Predators: Kevin Klein missed six games with the flu, but then returned last night, scored a goal, set up another one and generally played really well. That assist would have been a length-of-the-ice empty netter but Sergei Kostitsyn tapped the roller in to pick up a hat trick while it was in the crease.
New Jersey Devils: Turns out if you want Ilya Kovalchuk to score goals all you have to do is get him penalty shots.
New York Islanders: The Islanders' youth beat the Oilers' youth on Saturday because the Islanders' youth is also backed up by at least two NHL-level defensemen.
New York Rangers: How were the Rangers received during their Winter Classic practice? "We got booed today by the people cleaning the seats," Brad Richards said. Oh Philadelphia, never change.
Ottawa Senators: Do the Senators really have 11 points from their last seven games? Yes they do. It helps that two of them, including the latest, were against the Sabres though.
Philadelphia Flyers: Real great Q&A with Ed Snider in the New York Times but it doesn't touch on why my cable bill is so damn high. I mean seriously what the heck.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Phoenix Coyotes are hosting a carnival for charity on Jan. 22 but those in attendance are warned that under no circumstances should they let Raffi Torres take them onto the ride called "The Hitting Zone."
Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin was December's first star of the month by scoring 6-14-20 in 13 games. The Pens only had Sid Crosby for three games during the month.
San Jose Sharks: Why do the Sharks sometimes struggle? They don't hit. Like, at all. They're dead last in the league with just 591. Not that hit stats are especially reliable or anything but they do give you a general enough idea over half a season or so that the Sharks have a problem making opponents pay physically.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues are on their first three-game slide of the season which is kind of surprising if you think about how bad they were before hiring Ken Hitchcock.
Tampa Bay Lightning: For everyone scoring at home, the St. Pete Times Forum is no longer the name of the Bolts' home rink because the newspaper changed its name to the Tampa Bay Times. One wonders how much of this decision was intended as a protest of the 1-3-1.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Can James Reimer get it back together in 2012? A better question would be: Did he ever have it together to begin with?
Vancouver Canucks: Chris Higgins will play tonight despite a mysterious ailment that has kept him out of the lineup (and occasionally in the hospital) for the last little while.
Washington Capitals: The question on everyone's minds these days is, "When will the Capitals host the Winter Classic?" and the answer is, "Soon probably.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets went 10-3-1 last month, the best December in team history (and having 12 home games didn't hurt either), which isn't saying much since they just started existing this year. Haha just kidding they're the Thrashers.
Gold Star Award
Sergei Kostitsyn and Steven Stamkos both had hat tricks against bad teams this weekend so hooray for them!
Minus of the Weekend
Seriously, Brendan Shanahan, how many games in a row does Raffi Torres have to target an opponent's head to get a suspension around here?
Play of the Weekend
Great goal by Michael Ryder. That's not just some AHL callup he beat either.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "JohnnyDuck93" is just trying to help.
Can everything around here be got?