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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: More Observations

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02/11/2010 3:19 PM - By Chad Huebner

I’m not dead. . . yet.

And I wasn’t in a coma.

And I wasn’t held hostage by a pack of mangy-looking marmosets.

Let’s just say I’ve been having a writer’s block of epic proportions. That, or maybe I’ve lost some steam finding something interesting to write about hockey on a weekly basis.

In the meantime, I’ve been watching my fair share of hockey, and without the pressure to perform in the written word on a weekly basis like a mangy marmoset on my back, I’ve begun to enjoy hockey for what it is again, a truly great and energizing sport.

But there comes a time when I just want to say something about what’s been going on in hockey lately. Plus, it helps fill up the dead time in an office job which, if you know anything about office work (even if it comes from seeing that gem of a movie “Office Space”),  there’s a lot of dead time.

So last time I kicked off the New Year/Decade with some observations. Why stop it when the going gets good? Here are some more of my observations on stuff like. . .

Caps’ Win Streak: The Caps look to be a shoe-in as a Number One seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It took a lot of hard work to keep it alive (witness their comeback against Pittsburgh in OT in the Sunday, Feb. 7 game). It was nice while the streak lasted, but does it mean anything in the long run?

It seems to play out that long winning (or undefeated) streaks don’t necessarily mean that team will win the Stanley Cup. Consider:

--The 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins set the all-time mark for most consecutive wins with 17. The team with the best record that year wound up losing to the New York Islanders in the Patrick Division Semifinals four games to three (back then, only the top four teams in each division made the playoffs, and the teams had to play against each other in the first two rounds).

--The 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings won an astounding 12 straight on the road. They, too, had the best record in the NHL that year (their 124 points was the second-highest point total in NHL history) only to be bounced out of the Western Conference Quarterfinals by the Edmonton Oilers, who rode the improbable wave all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

--The 1929-30 Boston Bruins won 20 home games in a row, obviously finishing the season with the best overall (38-5-1) and home record (an eye-popping 21-1-0) in the NHL, only to lose to their long-standing rivals, the Montreal Canadiens in two straight games in a best-of-three Stanley Cup Finals.

--The 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers went on the longest undefeated stretch in NHL and in sports history, going unbeaten in 35 straight games (25-0-10). As the overall top seed, the Flyers made it all the way to the Cup Finals before losing to the New York Islanders in what would be the first of four consecutive championships for that club.

--The 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres began their seasons winning 10 straight for the best starts ever to a NHL season. Both were bounced out of the playoffs in their respective Conference Finals.

Obviously, I’m not against win streaks, especially when they’re done by my favorite teams. But it seems to play out, at least in the NHL, that winning consistently goes a longer way then short bursts of greatness. And win streaks in the playoffs weigh more than during the regular season.

‘Hawks Trade Talk: Rumors keep flying that the Blackhawks are looking to make a deal with the Anaheim Ducks for Scott Niedermayer. Getting a playoff veteran and Stanley Cup winner could really help the young ‘Hawks in the mentoring department.
But the real issue for the ‘Hawks, at least lately, is that there are some cracks in the defense.

After Norris Trophy candidate Duncan Keith and his equally exceptional linemate Brent Seabrook, the ‘Hawks look somewhat ordinary on the blueline. There are times the second and third lines play out of the their minds, then there are times when you have to wonder where there head is in the game.

Most people point to goaltending being an issue, and whether or not Cristobal Huet is a legitimate netminder going down the stretch. Sure, in the very early start of the season, Huet looked as solid as a. . . well, a crystal ball. But when he felt more comfortable being the ‘Hawks top goalie, his game improved, and the ‘Hawks went on a tear that has them challenging the San Jose Sharks for Western Conference supremacy.

Lately, though, things haven’t looked as spectacular as they did even going through that bone-crunching eight-game road trip. But you really can’t blame all of the losses on goaltending. The defense at times looks porous, and even Keith and Seabrook have been making some bone-headed decisions with the puck.

Enter Niedermayer as a choice for beefing up the back line.

Yes, I was probably one of many who wanted to see Ilya Kovalchuk in an Indian-head sweater. But considering what the ‘Hawks would have given up in such a trade, plus the fact the ‘Hawks might be able to get Kovy in the offseason for a much cheaper price tag (I don’t really see the New Jersey Devils signing him to a long-term deal), it doesn’t sound as good of a deal as it did when we first heard about Kovy being trade bait.

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

Thanks, Rolling Stones, for that piece of wisdom. And may you never set foot on the stage for a Super Bowl halftime show. End the Geezer Rock madness, NFL!

The Hawks’ bus continues to motor along. The offense will be fine, it’s those two guys in back the ‘Hawks should be concerned about.

Olympics: Regardless of where I stand on the “Should the NHL continue stopping the schedule in favor of the Olympics?” issue, I can’t wait for Olympic hockey to be played. Men’s and Women’s.

This is the ultimate All-Star Game, nay, an All-Star Fest that lasts two weeks. By having the NHL involved only makes it better for everyone. Yes, you still have Canada, U.S. and Sweden as the top dogs (with Russia nipping on their heels like a Samoyed, a cute Russian breed, by the way), but there might be a few surprises on the way to anointing Canada as the winners.

Speaking of the host country, talk about pressure! I don’t remember the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary all that well in terms of hockey, but I’d assume there was pressure on the Canadians to bring home the gold. Well, with the awesome talent Team Canada has assembled this time around (five words: The Marleau-Thornton-Heatley Line) plus the fact they were coming off of such a poor performance four years ago, and there really isn’t any margin of error for the Canucks (the Canadian, not the Vancouver, kind).

And of course, with all that pressure can result in certain defeat. It all depends on who they would face in the Gold Medal Game. Their chances stand better against the U.S. (sorry, America, I don’t mean to turn traitor on you, but your talent level comes up a little short against these guys) than, say, the Swedes, who seem to do the most when it counts.

Then again, they are playing on a NHL surface, aren’t they?

But then again then again, since nearly every team has NHL influence, ice surface wouldn’t necessarily favor teams from North America.

Whatever happens will be memorable no matter what. That said, I wouldn’t mind the following three teams (in order of who I think has the better chance) making it all the way to a medal round: 1) Slovakia (the “dark horse”), 2) Switzerland (my favorite cheese and clock-making neutral country in the world) and 3) Germany (technically my Fatherland. . . but before all that “nastiness” that happened in the 30s and 40s).

One Thing I Wish The NHL Network Would Do Is: Show more Canadian Junior games aside from the All-Star Game. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s curious about watching the players in the league where most of the NHL draft picks come from. Maybe I can say “I was there, I saw him play!” when some Junior super-uberstar makes it in the big leagues. The NHL Network could just show a Canadian Junior Game of the Week to whet our U.S., hockey-mad appetites. (And how about U.S. Junior hockey? There’s plenty of talent coming from the USHL these days.) If nothing else, it’s another excuse to have Don Cherry on TV in some capacity.

The Latest Hockey Book I’m Reading Is: “Forgotten Glory: The Story of Cleveland Barons Hockey,” by Gene Kiczek. Gene’s book chronicles on the best minor-league teams of all time, from their beginnings in what is now known as the AHL in 1937, to their last year in 1973 before the WHA came to town. Before this book, I also read Gene’s “High Sticks and Hat Tricks: A History of Hockey in Cleveland,” so I think I know as much about Cleveland hockey as any living being should know. Both are great reads.

I’m hoping someone out there will come out with similar works on Cincinnati (which does has a long and distinctive minor league hockey history with one stop in the WHA) and Pittsburgh (which was known for great hockey long before the Penguins came to town). Anyone? Let me know if you find any books on either city. I’m running low on hockey books to read right now.

Remember; e-mail me at chadhuebner1972@yahoo.com for anything on your mind. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.




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