Almost – if not every – NHL team is guilty of taking its feet off the accelerator to at least some extent to preserve a win. Call it “going into a shell” or “playing not to lose,” but plenty of head coaches would rather go into prevent defense mode instead of trying to enhance a lead.
Tuesday just happened to provide two of the starkest examples of such practices, and for those who cringe at such tactics, the troubling part is that both the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers were rewarded with wins in the process. Let’s take a simplistic look at what happened:
The Sharks scored once on 29 shots in the third period and lost 3-2 overall. Roberto Luongo made 52 out of 54 saves.
To be fair, the Sharks received four power-play opportunities in that final frame. Still, teams tend to take penalties when they exert such limited pressure that they only fire two shots on goal in a period.
Overall, the Panthers fired 24 shots on net. Yes, that’s less than what San Jose generated in the third period. The Sharks fired 30 more shots on goal overall.
Kirk Muller says losing is for losers, but maybe winning isn’t necessarily for shooters. They didn’t register a single shot on goal in the third period.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets fired 19 shots on goal in that final frame, with Boone Jenner being the only player who could beat Anton Khudobin all night. Carolina managed to cling to that lead and win 3-1.
Unlike the Panthers, the Hurricanes at least technically aren’t completely out of the playoff picture, even if their chances are very slim (tonight’s win bumps them to 1.6 percent odds, according to Sports Club Stats). Still, unlike the other game, the gap between teams doesn’t seem that pronounced; Columbus now has seven more standings points than Carolina while San Jose has 37 more than Florida. The Hurricanes even approached the Blue Jackets’ shot total in the second period, as Columbus only held a 17-15 advantage.
Khudobin finished with 46 saves.
It’s tough to say if it’s the best bet to play conservatively or aggressively, but these two contests might embolden a coach or two to lean all the way toward the former.
“Nope,” Dubinsky said. “You know, I’ve played the same way my whole career and I’m not going to change. The next time I have an opportunity to play (Crosby), I’m going to play him hard.”
In case you’re wondering, that next opportunity comes on Dec. 21 in Pittsburgh, assuming that both players are healthy and not suspended.
One can understand Dubinsky’s perspective, although such honesty would be that much more interesting if there’s another incident with Crosby. His initial reaction to the hit was interestingly candid, admitting that his “stick rode up” on his adversary.
Would that stance – which, from a harsher view, might seem flippant to Dubinsky’s critics – open the door for a bigger future bit of a discipline?
Maybe, maybe not … but at least his comments aren’t as inflammatory as what John Tortorella said (at least on the record).
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