That 70s Line, Jack Johnson saga among week's plusses, minuses
The week's most notable positives and negatives from around the NHL:
• If you like advanced stats, you probably really like the Kings’ line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. The hard-working trio—“They’ve saved our bacon,” says coach Darryl Sutter—leads the league in zone time. The line’s value is clear when you consider that star forwards Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar, both of whom have struggled with injuries, have combined for just 16 points. Toffoli (18 points), Carter (17) and Pearson (11) are L.A.’s three top scorers and are also tops on the team in plus-minus rating, at +13, +13 and +12, respectively. No other Kings forward has a higher rating than +4. Still, on a team with four very good lines, the Carter-Pearson-Toffoli combo doesn’t see the ice a great deal. Pearson is averaging just 12:56 per game, Toffoli clocks in at 14:11 (Carter averages 17:57, but he sees time on the power play). That’s less than a quarter of a game.
• Remember how one-sided that Ryan Kesler deal was supposed to be? It turns out that forward Nick Bonino, who went from the Ducks to the Canucks in the trade, is pretty good, too. Without much fanfare, Bonino has 15 points in 19 games, an achievement that’s all the more impressive considering that he only sees spot duty on the power play, mostly when Vancouver puts an extra forward on the ice with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. For the most part, Bonino has been playing with Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins on a second line that has more than held its own—all of Bonino’s points this season have come at even strength. In parts of five seasons with Anaheim he scored just two game-winning goals, but he has already scored three game-winners this year. Bonino is not overly physical and he hasn’t been especially durable, but the 26-year-old Hartford native is a good fit on a team which has so far quietly been among the league’s most improved clubs. With Bonino, the Canucks have lost just six games this season, and they lead the NHL with eight road victories.
• In a week in which Peter Forsberg joined hockey’s Hall of Fame, it makes sense to recognize another Forsberg (albeit no relation) for his fine play. Twenty-year-old Predators rookie Filip Forsberg has emerged as a rare offensive weapon in Nashville. He leads the team with 22 points, but it’s another statistic of his that really jumps out. In just 19 games this season, “Fil the Thrill” is an NHL-best +20. In parts of two previous seasons, he was –13 in 18 games. Forsberg has had just one minus-game all season, against the Stars on Nov. 6, when he was –1. He is one of just four active NHL players with a six-game rookie goal-scoring streak. The others are Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Michael Grabner. That’s some foursome. The Predators’ line of Forsberg, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro has been one of the best in the NHL this season.
• Here’s to the 6,200 hearty souls—maybe they had really good cross-country skis—who braved the snow and somehow made it to the Sabres’ 4–1 defeat of the Sharks on Tuesday night. It isn’t as if a Buffalo game is must-see entertainment these days. Indeed some nights Sabres games are better viewed with hands in front of faces. But folks in Buffalo don't sweat a little bit of snow, not even six feet of it. It was against this backdrop that the Sabres played, and played well. Sure they postponed their next game, against the Rangers on Friday, but that doesn't change the fact that the fans of this team are some of the best in the NHL. Buffalo my have never won a Stanley Cup, but the people of the city surely deserve one.
• This has been a rough year for Jack Johnson. On the ice, the Blue Jackets’ defenseman is –12. Off the ice, he filed for bankruptcy in October. Despite earning nearly $21 million in NHL salary during his career, the former first-round pick has assets of just $50,000 and is $10 to $15 million in debt. A report in The Columbus Dispatch says that Johnson’s wages had been garnished for the past two seasons in order to pay off several high-interest loans procured by his parents, Jack Sr. and Tina. Four of those loans carried interest rates in double figures, including one at an absurd 24% from New York-based Pro Player Funding, a group that specializes in monetizing contracts (i.e. borrowing against future earnings). Johnson is earning $5 million this season from Columbus, but given the club’s early-season injury woes and its poor showing in the standings, his dilemma has only added to the cloud hanging over the franchise.
• The Slava Voynov storm clouds continued to gather this week when the Kings defenseman was charged with felony abuse of his wife. If convicted, he could face up to nine years in prison and possible deportation to his native Russia. Though Voynov's wife has said that she did not want him charged (and is unlikely to testify against him), this matter won't be going away for a while and could bring some public pressure to bear on the NHL. The league, however, did the right thing on Friday by granting the Kings salary cap relief. Voynov had been suspended with pay, so GM Dean Lombardi was hamstrung by the blueliner's $4.16 million hit when it came to replacing him.
• Don’t worry, Maple Leafs fans. It isn’t time to panic just yet ... or maybe it is. Toronto lost 6–2 to Buffalo last week, and then lost 9–2 to Nashville two nights later, driving one of their most devoted fans to the brink of madness. The Leafs’ faithful were ready to clean house before their team rebounded to beat the Lightning 5–2 on Thursday. It was a blueprint game for Toronto. James van Riemsdyk scored twice, Tyler Bozak won 22 of 30 face-offs and the defense shut down Tampa Bay sniper Steven Stamkos. Face it, the Leafs are Jekyll, Hyde and (former NHL journeyman Bill) Derlago all rolled into one. “Sometimes we play great, said Stephane Robidas. “Sometimes, we beat ourselves.” That's Toronto in a nutshell. The Maple Leafs aren't getting along with their fans either. There have been boos for the home team at Air Canada Center, where a few patrons have gotten so fed up that they have thrown their jerseys onto the ice. The players have noticed, and after their victory over the Lightning, they did not gather at center-ice to raise their sticks in a salute to the home crowd. That doesn't bode well. After Toronto visits Sidney Crosby and the Penguins next Wednesday, the team will play eight of its next nine games at home. Things could get ugly.
• Speaking of ugly, the Flyers looked listless in New York last Wednesday, losing 2–0 to the Rangers. After the game Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall took his frustrations out on a door outside the visitors’ locker room at Madison Square Garden—a hit bigger than anybody on his team had made all night. Hextall had a right to be disappointed. Not only was the loss the Flyers’ third in a row, but it was also the result of an especially the lazy effort. And it was especially galling for Hextall given that he was an avowed Rangers-hater throughout his career. Unfortunately for the GM, his theatrics didn’t make much difference. Philly returned home and dropped a 3–2 decision on Thursday night to the Wild. The Flyers have now lost nine straight regular-season games in regulation at MSG against the team that also knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
• Um, who is Anatoly Golyshev? Well, he’s a 19-year-old forward with Automobilist Yekaterinburg—gotta love the industrial names of Russian teams; Metallurg Magnitogorsk, anyone?—of the KHL. Why include a non-NHL player as a minus? His tale is too good to pass up. Golyshev has an all-timer of an excuse. It turns out that Golyshev’s dog ate his passport. No fooling. Golyshev’s Yorkshire terrier, Tiffany, was hungry last week and decided to have a snack. This is rather inconvenient for a player whose league includes teams based in Belarus, Croatia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia, as well as Golyshev’s native Russia. Golyshev leads his team with 13 goals in 26 games. He has been dropped from away games for the time being, but Automobilist has a three-game home stand coming up, which will be enough time for him to get a new passport, and for Tiffany to snag some Alpo.