Thoughts are the countdown to the Super Bowl begins:
*First off, on a non-hockey note, how about the Atlanta-New England Super Bowl? Matt Ryan vs. Tom Brady in what should be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair. Here’s hoping the Patriots get the win and Roger Goodell has to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Robert Kraft and Co. in the aftermath of the Deflategate saga.
*OK, now to hockey.
*Talk about a game Henrik Lundqvist needed. The Rangers netminder gets the shutout win in Detroit, stopping all 21 shots he faced in the Blueshirts 1-0 overtime win. Lundqvist is coming off what is probably the worst stretch of his career. In 18 games prior to Sunday going back to November 23rd, the 34-year-old had allowed 55 goals while posting a .890 save percentage. Lundqvist had allowed four-plus goals in nine of those 18 games, including a stretch of four in a row.
*Something I find shocking: Lundqvist had never won at The Joe prior to Sunday.
*The prayers of the Hockey Needs More Offense crowd are being answered. A 7-6 final in Ottawa as the Blue Jackets take down the Senators in overtime.
*My personal thoughts on the issue of offense in the game: I have zero qualms with a 2-1 game. I also don’t believe low-scoring necessarily means lack of offense. There’s nothing more thrilling than a great game of goalie. With that said, goal scoring certainly doesn’t hurt, and I don’t particularly hate the high-scoring games.
*On another note: Cam Atkinson is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the league. He’s up to 23 tallies after a two-goal effort on Sunday, including the winner for Columbus in overtime.
*Love these ‘One More Shift’ ceremonies the Blackhawks have been holding. Sunday night it was Jeremy Roenick’s turn, not only one of the greatest to wear the Chicago sweater but one of the greatest American-born players in the history of the game. As great a player as he was, he was – and still is – one of hockey’s premier personalities and a great ambassador for the sport.
*Pair of Blackhawks milestones on Sunday night, a 4-2 win over Vancouver. Brian Campbell notched his 500th career point while Corey Crawford picked up his 200th career win. Crawford joins Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, and Ed Belfour on the list of goalies to record 200 wins in Chicago. No small company.
*Crawford might be one of the most overlooked players of his generation. Going back to the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he’s won 135 games to go along with a 2.28 GAA, .922 save percentage, and 16 shutouts. Oh, and he’s won two Stanley Cups. Give this man more love.
*Speaking of overlooking and underlooking and ranking and overrating and underrating (OK, you get the point), Larry Brooks breaks down the NHL’s Greatest 100 list.
*Another ‘L’ for the Boston Bruins on Sunday, falling to a far-superior Pittsburgh team that may never lose again on home ice. The Bruins have won just eight of 24 going back to December 7th.
*The madness surrounding Claude Julien’s job security is all noise, in my opinion. Had the Bruins decided part ways with Julien, they’d have done it already.
*Bottom line is Julien is in the elite class of NHL coaches, and the Bruins front office believes that. This is a bridge year for Boston. Reinforcements will come in the next few years as blue-chip prospects Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Jake DeBrusk begin breaking into the league.
*Not so much a watch out for, rather more of a be vigilant of – the Islanders. New York is on a four-game point streak, John Tavares has come alive in the past few weeks, and hey, the Isles even scored a powerplay goal in a nice 4-2 win over the Kings on Saturday. While five teams stand between them and current eighth-seed Philadelphia, who beat the Isles, 3-2 in overtime on Sunday, the five-point difference between the Islanders and Flyers is no chasm.
*Philadelphia has a special talent on its hands in Ivan Provorov.
*Really good read by Michael Russo of the Star Tribune on former interim coach John Torchetti and how he’s handled the fallout of being passed over in favor of Bruce Boudreau last summer.
*The Lightning have more regulation losses than wins, in last place in the Eastern Conference at 21-22-5.
*The Oilers are not only winning the Battle of Alberta, they’re running away with it. Having Connor McDavid gives you a slight leg-up.
*Meanwhile in Ontario, another battle is brewing.
*Penn State’s first weekend as the No. 1 team in the nation was one to forget, coming out of a weekend series at home against Ohio State winless. While the Nittany Lions salvaged the tie on Friday night, the Buckeyes came out Saturday and won, 6-3.
*As for the new No. 1, expect Minnesota-Duluth to reclaim the top spot after a weekend sweep at North Dakota. BU, winners of eight straight and 10-1-1 in its last 12, loaded with NHL talent that appears to coming together, could take the top spot as well.
*Owen Sound upped its winning streak to 14 games on Saturday with a 6-2 win over Barrie. The Attack have Barrie again Thursday night before the big showdown with OHL Midwest leader and defending Memorial Cup champion London on Saturday.