If there are three constants of the Ron Wilson-Brian Burke Era, they would be chaos, defeat and a mind numbing amount of goals allowed. Some might lay all the blame at the feet of beleaguered former goalie Vesa Toskala, but chances are that we’ll look back at the Finnish netminder as a scapegoat who received far too much blame over the years. (Not to say that he wasn’t a big part of the failure, though … it doesn’t take an “expert” to recognize that he allowed plenty of awful goals in his time in net.)
Hockey people can debate the importance of high-end defense vs. elite offense or goaltending, but few would doubt that an abysmal defense will make otherwise talented teams come apart at the seams. I’m not sure if I would describe the Toronto Maple Leafs as “otherwise talented” – they aren’t exactly pretty in any area on the ice – but there seems to be a lack of commitment to defense despite the many salary cap dollars invested in the position.
Some Maple Leafs fans may yearn for the ugly wins that often come from playing the neutral zone trap, but both Wilson and Burke will not resort to that entertainment-destroying strategy. Here’s what they told Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun.
“Philosophically, it goes against us,” Wilson said.
“We’re not going to do that. We just have to play better defensively … I don’t know if (trapping) is going to get us where we need to go. Playing the neutral-zone trap and squeezing the life out of every game, that goes against what Brian and I believe in.”
And that goes against what Neilson and Burns believed in.
“It’s not entertaining,” harumphed Burke, a trap hater.
“You can dumb this game down and make it successful. We could have five guys stand in front of our net. But we’re in the entertainment business. I believe that our goals against can come down with improved goaltending and better defensive play.
“And yes, I care deeply about our (Leafs) history. But those two, Burns and Neilson, were defensive-oriented coaches. Both of those guys, I admire. Both guys I have or have had good relationships with. It’s just not my cup of tea (trapping).
So, take heart Leafs fans. Your team may or may not be a contender anytime soon, but as long as Burke and Wilson are running the show in Toronto, they shouldn’t be yawn-inducing. They’re aware of their place as entertainers, even if the team might resemble a circus act rather than an ensemble of gifted actors.
Recently, the Washington Capitals went five whole games without scoring a power-play goal.
It was a real nightmare for those guys.
Despite the fact Washington went 3-1-1 over those five games, one headline called it a “troubling power-play drought” — which tells you how few “troubling” things the Caps have had to deal with this season.
Overall, special teams have been a boon for Washington, which ranks first on the power play and fifth on the penalty kill.
Compare that to, say, Calgary, which ranks 29th and 29th, respectively. Now that’s troubling.
Anyway, here’s how all 30 teams rank when their special teams are combined:
Not surprisingly, there’s a strong correlation between good special teams and winning hockey games.
In the left column, 12 of the 15 teams are currently in a playoff spot. New Jersey, Buffalo, and Montreal are the exceptions.
On the right, only four teams — Colorado, Detroit, Nashville and the Rangers — are in a playoff spot.
John Scott’s had enough time off following his All-Star Game MVP award.
Now, he wants to get back to work.
Scott, who made major headlines at the end of January thanks to his unforgettable All-Star performance in Nashville, will return to Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s this weekend, as the IceCaps play a pair of games against the Toronto Marlies.
“It’ll be nice to [be] back playing hockey and doing my thing. I’m actually really excited for it,” Scott said, per ESPN. “This has been the longest break I’ve had, ever. But I play like 7-8 minutes, I won’t be too out of shape, I’ll be able to keep up.”
Scott, 33, hasn’t played since his Pacific Division team won the annual ASG 3-on-3 tournament on Jan. 31. Following that whirlwind weekend, the Montreal organization allowed him to take a leave to be with his wife, Danielle, who gave birth to twin girls on Feb. 5.
Scott only appeared in four games for St. John’s prior to the All-Star Game, going pointless with six penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating.
The John Scott story, coming to a theater near you?
Therrien on Habs recalling Scott: ‘You never know’
Journeyman Peter Budaj looks as though he’ll make his first regular-season NHL appearance since April of 2014, when the Kings take on the Rangers at MSG.
Recalled from AHL Ontario due to an injury to Jonathan Quick, Budaj gets the nod tonight after Quick’s backup, Jhonas Enroth, was beat for four goals on 29 shots in last night’s loss to the Islanders.
Budaj, 33, has certainly earned another crack at the big leagues. After catching on with the Kings through a PTO in training camp, he’s been terrific in Ontario, going 26-9-3 with a 1.58 GAA and .935 save percentage. The Slovakian netminder also has eight shutouts this year.
For the Rangers, Antti Raanta gets the start in goal, giving Henrik Lundqvist a night off.
— Ben Scrivens, who appears to be the new No. 1 in Montreal, will go for his fourth straight win when the Habs visit Buffalo. Chad Johnson is in goal for the Sabres, who’ve really struggled of late.
— Marc-Andre Fleury goes for the Penguins, while it looks like Cam Ward is in for Carolina.
— Really good matchup in Detroit as Semyon Varlamov goes up against Petr Mrazek who, according to Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, has “crashed Braden Holtby’s Vezina party.”
— Battle of All-Star netminders in Tampa Bay, as Ben Bishop goes for the Bolts while Pekka Rinne starts for Nashville.
— The red-hot Brian Elliott will continue to roll as St. Louis’ No. 1 in Florida. The Panthers will go with their old reliable, Roberto Luongo.
— Now that Karri Ramo’s on IR, it’s Jonas Hiller time for the Flames. He’ll start tonight in Arizona, against Louis Domingue.
Contrary to a report by La Presse newspaper, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien says that Canadiens goalie Carey Price could still play again this season.
“We know what’s going on with Carey,” Therrien told reporters today. “It takes more time, obviously, than we were expecting. Like I said, he’s working extremely hard and he’s put in a lot of hours to make sure that he’s going to make that comeback. The fact that he’s working extremely hard is not to make sure that he’s going to look good this summer on the beach; he wants to come back and play for the Montreal Canadiens.”
That being said, Price does not appear close to a return. He’s yet to practice with teammates. He’s yet to even skate in goalie gear.
The Habs have 27 games left to get back into a playoff spot. They close out the regular season on April 9, less than two months from today.
Related: With Price possibly done for the season, Scrivens has Dubnyk-like opportunity