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Public meeting addresses concussions as training camps begin

With training camps kicking off this weekend, the topic of concussions returned to the forefront of many hockey discussions. Perhaps that’s why the Outcomes following Concussion in Hockey (OuCH!) seminar was scheduled today at St. Michael’s Hopsital in Toronto.

About 200 people attended the public meeting, which addressed a wide variety of issues related to concussions in the sport.

Researcher Michael Hutchinson presented his observations from studying about 200 concussions that occurred in the NHL from the beginning of the 2007-08 season to midway through 2010. Some of Hutchison’s findings were pretty obvious. For instance, forwards suffer the most concussions, which seems sensible since there are more of them on the ice and they tend to touch the puck more often. There were some interesting observations, though, including the fact that concussions happen more often in the first period than the second or third.

Hutchison points out that this trend doesn’t follow the typical pattern of injuries.

“Generally athletic injuries have been thought to be sustained later on in the game when people are tired and fatigued,” he said. “And this was a situation where most of the concussions occurred in the first period.”

He speculated that high adrenaline and energy levels in the 20 minutes that follow the initial drop of the puck may lead to more contact between players, as may a team’s strategy to set the tone with aggressive forechecking.

James Christie of The Globe & Mail covered an interesting portion of the seminar that revolved around the mental health effects of concussions. One doctor referred to concussions as a “hidden injury” that cannot be treated like a normal broken bone or pulled muscle.

“I’ve spent 12 years doing this stuff in an acute setting, but what I haven’t seen is articles from the psychiatric point of view,” Dr. Shree Bhalerao told the conference, organized by Dr. Michael Cusimano, St. Michael’s neurosurgeon and pioneer in brain injury management. There will be between 15,000 and 20,000 concussive brain injuries across Canada this year, Dr. Cusimano said.

(snip)

“There’s still an attitude out there that brain injury is like a broken arm,” said Dr. Cusimano. “You can’t take your brain for granted.”

Dr. Cusimano told the audience that 30 percent of patients suffering from concussions exhibit signs of depression and “diminished motivation.” They tend to suffer from anxiety, increased irritability and “can lapse into substance abuse.” A worrisome 87 percent dealt with issues related to short-term memory, as well.

Of course, the most important goal is to prevent these injuries from happening – at least to the best of peoples’ abilities. Dr. Cusimano and others want actions to be taken now.

Dr. Cusimano said about one in 4,000 hockey players has a pro career “but about 70 per cent of young mothers are thinking they don’t want their young athletes playing hockey. “There’s an urgency to do something now, not 10 years from now,” he said.

It might take people some time to turn around what’s been called a “macho culture,” especially when that frame of mind isn’t always as foolish as it seems. After all, a player who sits out games because of injuries is more likely to lose his job, especially if that person is in a replaceable role like a lower-line grinder or an enforcer. Ultimately, it might take a little longer than experts would like, but at least discussions are pushing hockey leagues to become more progressive about serious head injuries.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.