Last summer, Vancouver general manger Mike Gillis suggested, perhaps facetiously, that if his sport were to keep heading in its defensive direction they should rename it Goalie. Knowing Gillis' trenchant wit, he might have been kidding.
Judging from the statistics this weekend, however, Gillis' jest might not be a laughing matter. His injury-ravaged Canucks hunkered down on Saturday against the Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings, managed a mere 13 shots and won the game 1-0. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs summoned up the same number of shots on goal (13) in defeating Boston 3-2.
The Buffalo Sabres were a positive juggernaut in defeating Montreal 2-1, garnering a lusty 19 SOG in the win. New Jersey totaled 18 shots in their 2-1 win over Florida. Edmonton could only total 19 shots in their loss to St. Louis.
Sunday it got better, but Calgary still had 17 shots in beating St. Louis 3-2 while Detroit got all the way to 21 shots in knocking off Anaheim 2-1.
One weekend does not confirm a change. Still, a pattern emerges: Teams collapsing down on excellent goalies, shot blocking by every defensive player and the tedium of icing the puck won most of these games. Clubs that carried the flow of play generally lost. Some of this is due to the injury scourge catching up to clubs in an abbreviated season of five games in seven nights. Some by refs swallowing the whistle.
Defence has always been fundamental to winning in hockey, but it feels like something has been altered. Coaching, equipment, shot blocking and the great ability of today's player seem to have tipped the balance to defence. The NHL has gamely tried to gerrymander the equation between offence and defence by creating more penalties and restrictions, but the trend, as judged by goals, is against scoring.
There are a million suggestions how to re-balance the game (hockey has more social engineers than a government think tank). But for the first time we may have gotten to a place from which change is impossible outside major renovations. And if they are adopted, will the game still be hockey?
You have to admire Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night In Canada. The man tries. Like Galileo attempting to get the Catholic Church onside, Friedman is singlehandedly trying to drag HNIC's high priests into a hockey renaissance.
During one of Saturday's segments, Friedman bravely resurrected the Corsi Number, a metric that measures how many shot attempts by his own team and the opponent a player is on the ice for. Many analysts see it as a far better stat than plus/ minus.
You'd have thought he'd just told the David Suzuki fan club there might be a slight hitch in Dave's idea of imminent extinction via climate change. Panelists Glenn Healy, P.J. Stock and Kevin Weekes either mocked the metric or ignored it. The trio seemed more interested in the faux-couture collar on Stock's jacket.
The disbelieving look on Friedman's face was like that of a man watching three people trying to discover fire using wet sticks. If you want to try an office pool, guess the next time Friedman bothers mentioning a hockey metric for the red-meat chorus.
Speaking of HNIC's talent roster, who had the bright idea of transferring Kelly Hrudey from the studio to the booth? Hrudey appeared to have found a place in the Toronto studio as an amiable analyst and foil for Ron Maclean. He was never going to succeed Don Cherry, but he could break down tape and had developed some personality.
Now, he's adrift in the booth with either Mark Lee or newcomer Rick Ball. Witty repartee and novel insight were never Hrudey's strong points. (Sincerity and experience are.) Saturday Hrudey was reduced to admiring the hapless Edmonton Oilers for "not quitting" even as St. Louis boxed their ears. That's all ya' got?
Is this a way to save on travel for the Calgary-based Hrudey or punishment for the brief episode of fellow Calgarian Eric Francis on HNIC? Please, get him back to his comfort zone. Then we can find a place where Kevin Weekes finally looks comfortable on TV.
James Hinchcliffe introduces himself to Canada with his Indy car win [in St. Petersburg]. Here's my piece from Thursday done in Dunedin.
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