Tom Gilbert

Are you not entertained? Linus Omark’s shootout goal causing foolish controversy

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It’s been talked about all weekend long and generating conversation everywhere this weekend. Linus Omark’s shootout goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning where he added a little spinorama twist to the start of his approach and ultimately scored on Dan Ellis to win made the Lightning very upset and got all of the talking heads to weigh in on what they think about it.

After the game, various Lightning players sounded off about how they thought Omark’s approach lacked class and was ultimately disrespectful. Hockey Night in Canada’s Hot Stove panel touched on it last night and got fascinating takes each from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Calgary Sun writer Eric Francis, and NBC’s own Mike Milbury.

LeBrun preached to see the cutdown of the shootout while Francis and Milbury each said it was great to see a “gimmick within a gimmick” put to good use. Francis spoke about how showing personality is frowned upon, a point that was spoken about beautifully by Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy today. As for taking the Lightning to task over their seemingly whiny opinions, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks pulled absolutely no punches in ripping the team and Dan Ellis in particular for voicing their complaints about Omark’s goal.

Ellis wasn’t alone among the crybaby Lightning in condemning the move, which only goes to prove that Tampa Bay lacks more than quality goaltending, it lacks a measure of class despite the presence of Steve Yzerman in the executive suite and Marty St. Louis in the room.

Our view on this is simple. Omark’s move is the exact sort of thing that the shootout was approved for. The NHL brought the shootout in to put an end to ties because teams were tanking out in games in overtime so as to not lose a point in the standings and they wanted to give the fans something entertaining in which to provide each game a winner and a loser. It all seemed like a good idea at the start until the shootout became a staid, boring skills competition in which it’s rare to see a player try something anything new and different in which to score a goal.

What Omark did, for all intents and purposes, is just get a little flashy with the skating. He didn’t try anything ridiculous directly in front of Dan Ellis in order to fake him out of his breezers and embarrass him. He just started his approach with a little something extra to get a “wow” from the home fans. If Ellis stops Omark on his attempt, Omark gets dressed down for it by head coach Tom Renney for “not taking things seriously” and Omark gets ripped in the press for flubbing his chance to win the game for his team.

Instead, Ellis failed to do his job in stopping the shot and Omark adds another highlight reel shootout goal to his résumé. Yeah, he’s done things like this before, some even more flamboyantly, in Sweden and in the minor leagues. Coming up with something creative is something the Lightning should’ve known about already. Apparently these are the sorts of things you’re supposed to stop doing when you get to the NHL. Ridiculous.

The NHL has been looking for their version of the NBA’s slam dunk for years now. Highly skilled goals on the ice don’t get the highlight replay the way vicious hits and fights do and that’s something the NHL wanted to change. The shootout was the perfect answer for that because, let’s face it, the shootout is the perfect breeding ground for instant highlight material. A one-on-one battle between shooter and goalie that puts the game on the line? It’s ideally made for creativity and gratuitous flamboyance. Instead, some old school line of thought bottles all that up because no one wants to be the guy that ruins the game for their team.

This is where that antiquated line of thought has to end and the shootout is treated like the gimmick that it is. You want to end a team game with a circus, then break out the bearded lady and the fire eaters already and let Linus Omark do all the spinoramas he wants to do. The free points given away by reaching overtime is candy enough for the teams to digest, so why not give the fans a show for all the money they plunk down on tickets, cable packages, jerseys, and other merchandise. Gimmicks beget gimmicks and Omark’s shootout goal was like a breath of fresh air in a part of the game that desperately needed it.

If the NHL wants to rope in the regular shmoe to be a fan, they’ll want more guys like Linus Omark doing insane things in the shootout, not less of them. They’ll also want to hear less complaining from other players who think that such creativity is an insult to them and the game. The only thing insulting to hockey is to hear hockey players getting upset about another player doing his job.

James Neal could return to Predators lineup tonight

DENVER, CO - MARCH 05:  James Neal #18 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche to tie the score 2-2 in the third period at Pepsi Center on March 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 5-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators lineup could be getting a big lift on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche with the possible return of winger James Neal.

Neal, who has been sidelined since Nov. 25 with an upper body injury, returned to practice on Tuesday for the team’s morning skate and has been activated from injured reserve according to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

The original diagnosis for Neal was to be sidelined on a week to week basis, but it appears he is on the verge of making a return to the lineup after just 10 days.

If he returns on Tuesday he is expected to skate on a line with Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, according to the team.

Prior to the injury Neal had been on quite a scoring tear for the Predators with 10 goals and four assists over a 13-game stretch. It was during that stretch that the Predators had started to turn their season around after a slow start and were quickly climbing the Western Conference standings. They were then hit by a series of injuries that took both Neal and Ryan Ellis out of the lineup. Since Nov. 25 the Predators have now lost three out of their past four and sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points behind Winnipeg for the second playoff spot (the Predators, though, still have four games in hand).

Neal’s 10 goals are still tops on the team. Nobody else has scored more than seven.

Scheifele injury not long-term, but he’ll miss his third straight game tonight

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
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Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg’s No. 1 center and the NHL’s eighth-leading scorer with 26 points through 26 games, will miss his third contest in a row this evening when the Jets host the Red Wings at the MTS Centre.

But fear not, Jets fans. Scheifele won’t be out much longer.

“He’s getting better,” head coach Paul Maurice said on Tuesday, per the Jets’ Twitter account. “He skated this morning and felt incrementally stronger each day. This is not a long-term injury.”

Scheifele, 23, hasn’t played since a 6-3 loss to Edmonton on Dec. 1. His absence is, quite obviously, a big one — in addition to the offensive production, Scheifele averaged over 20 minutes per night and led the team in faceoffs taken.

He’d also developed terrific chemistry with rookie sniper Patrik Laine, who sits second in the NHL in goals right now with 16.

To their credit, the Jets have done well without Scheifele in the lineup. They beat the Blues 3-2 in OT on Saturday, then followed that up with a 2-1 win in Chicago on Sunday.

Eichel is good to go against McDavid and the Oilers

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres looks on during the second period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres played the Washington Capitals close last night, giving themselves a chance to beat one of the best teams in the NHL — on the road to boot.

Though the Caps eventually won in overtime, it was another encouraging performance by the Sabres, who’ve been a much better side since Jack Eichel returned to the lineup.

Buffalo (9-10-6) has gone 2-1-1 in the four games Eichel has played. Tonight, another big test, as Connor McDavid and the Oilers pay a visit to KeyBank Center.

“We have to try and fight our way up the standings,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told reporters last night. “You might have some lulls in the season, but we already had ours. We have to make sure we’re pushing forward and doing everything we can to get two points. Getting a point is OK, but we had the lead in the third.”

Eichel will indeed play tonight. He confirmed that this morning, after there was concern he’d tweaked his ankle against the Capitals.

“I’m fine. I’m good,” Eichel said, per the Buffalo News. “Going through an injury like this, you know it’s going to come back and bother you at times, but it’s fine now.”

With Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, the Sabres have a formidable one-two punch down the middle. When Eichel was out with his ankle injury, it was a serious challenge to fill his spot, and the Sabres just couldn’t manage it very well.

Now, with Eichel back, it’s about finding that belief — a belief that the Sabres are good enough to compete, that they don’t need to go into a shell as soon as they get the lead.

That’s what seemed to happen last night in Washington, where the Caps outshot the Sabres, 16-9, in the third period and Marcus Johansson‘s goal at 13:42 sent the game to sudden death.

“I mean give them credit, they’re a good team, but I think we’re starting to sit back and they have speed, you know?” said goalie Robin Lehner. “I think we see that we can play. We’ve just got to stop changing, changing how we play.”

The Ottawa Senators are getting tested

Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson stands in front of his bench as the hats are cleared off the ice after a hat trick by Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. The Penguins won 8-5. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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We’ve gotten pretty good at identifying vulnerable hockey teams these past few years as the analytics movement has taken hold. The 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs were due for a regression, and regressed. Ditto for the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche and 2014-15 Calgary Flames.

Sometimes, teams can survive an entire season while bucking the odds. Which is why the Ottawa Senators will be interesting to watch the rest of the way in 2016-17.

Under new coach Guy Boucher, the Sens are an impressive 15-9-2, good for second place in the Atlantic Division.

But the Sens also have many of the statistical markings of a vulnerable team:

— A score-adjusted Corsi that ranks 27th out of 30
— A 9-0-2 record in one-goal games
— A goal-differential of minus-3

After last night’s 8-5 loss in Pittsburgh, the Sens head to California with just one win in their last four, and without their starting goalie, Craig Anderson, who’s taken another leave to be with his wife.

Anderson has been brilliant this season, going 12-6-1 with a .924 save percentage. He’s been a huge key to their success, twice earning the NHL’s first-star-of-the-week honors.

The starting duties will now fall temporarily on Mike Condon, who’s gone 3-1-1 with a stellar .943 save percentage since coming over from Pittsburgh. The Sens’ No. 3 goalie, Andrew Hammond, has been recalled for the road trip, which starts Wednesday in San Jose, continues Saturday in Los Angeles, and wraps up Sunday in Anaheim.

“It’s a good test to see where our team is at,” forward Derick Brassard told reporters prior to last night’s defeat. “We’re going to play four of the best teams in the league. It’s good for the team to get together and battle through this.”