Some notes on the world of hockey as we head for yet another busy weekend in the NHL:
• There was some grumbling, mostly out of Chicago, after Doug Armstrong selected Mike Babcock to coach Team Canada at the upcoming World Cup, but that was the easiest, and smartest, call the GM will make throughout this entire process.
That’s not a knock on Joel Quenneville, who is eminently qualified for the job after guiding the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in the past six seasons. But after Babcock led Canada to Olympic gold in Vancouver and Sochi, Armstrong would have been crazy not to give him right of first refusal. The World Cup hosts may be the favorites going in, but there are no guarantees in a short tournament like this one. If things go sideways, Armstrong is going to face his share of the heat. And that's a risk he only would have magnified by selecting Quenneville over the safe choice.
Quenneville will be part of a refreshed coaching staff, though, along with veteran Claude Julien of the Bruins and newcomers Barry Trotz of the Capitals and Bill Peters of the Hurricanes, and his willingness to play the good lieutenant has him well positioned to be the head man at the next big event, whether that's the Olympics in 2018 (still a possibility) or the next World Cup in 2020.
• Checking your ego at the dressing room door has been the mantra of Team Canada for two decades, so it was no surprise to hear Babcock say he would have been happy to serve under Quenneville if that’s the way Armstrong had wanted to play it.
“Had things been switched around and Joel asked me to be on his staff, I would have said yes in a heartbeat,” Babcock said on Thursday.
But that's probably not true, at least in the mind of one hockey insider. “Not a chance,” the source told SI.com. “He wouldn't have wanted his presence to be a distraction and that’s what he would have been [in that role]. He would have wanted to allow [Quenneville] to run the show his way.”
• You have to hand it to Julien. Does any coach face a greater challenge than managing the swings of mercurial winger Brad Marchand? Few skaters produce highs and lows quite like this 27-year-old, who was honored on Monday as the NHL’s First Star of the Week after scoring four goals and six points to lead the Bruins to three straight wins. “He wants to be a go-to guy,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said. “And he’s been that the last couple of nights. [Emotion] is a big part of his fabric when he’s at the top of his game.”
But too often emotion is also his downfall. And it can really cost his team, as it did on Thursday night in Boston's 4–1 loss to the Capitals when his pointless cheap shot to the head of T.J. Oshie—in full view of the official, and while he was killing a penalty no less—led to 1:18 of 5-on-3 time for Washington. John Carlson cashed in to give the Caps a 3–1 lead, and that was the game.
Julien responded appropriately, giving Marchand just one 18-second shift in the next eight minutes, a move that seemed to get the player's attention. But the coach knows that it's only a matter of time before Marchand jams a stick in the team's spokes again.
Marchand is an incredibly valuable asset, an elite possession player who consistently generates more scoring chances than the team allows when he’s on the ice (his +18 mark is second only to linemate Patrice Bergeron, according to war-on-ice.com). But that tendency to let emotion take over too often leads to the sort of selfish and undisciplined play that comes back to sting the ’s.
Edgy is good, but by his age Marchand should have learned when it is appropriate and when it is time to rein it in.
• The long-term shoulder injury suffered by Connor McDavid earlier this week not only robbed fans of our first chance to watch the young phenom match up against Sidney Crosby, but our second as well. The Penguins and Oilers, who meet o Friday night in Edmonton, are set to face off again in Pittsburgh on Nov. 28. In other words, we’ll have to wait until next season to see the two meet ... unless, of course, Team North America earns a crossover game against Team Canada at the World Cup.
The injury also rules McDavid out for his first scheduled showdown against Jack Eichel on Dec. 6, but he should be ready to roll when the Oilers visit Buffalo on March 1.
• Nothing like making the most of an opportunity. The Devils needed someone to kickstart their sluggish offense and Mike Cammalleri has delivered. The 33-year-old was quick off the line, chipping in four goals and 12 points through New Jersey’s first 13 games. That’s a breathtaking pace for a player who has managed to reach the point-per-game mark just once in his career: his 82-point season with the Flames back in 2008-09. Ice time has been key to his success. He’s averaging 20:02 per night, third behind Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac among the team’s forwards, and the most Cammalleri has received, on average, during his 13-year career.
• Speaking of Henrique, the Devils center probably needed a couple of ice bags for his mush after getting absolutely fed by Jonathan Toews Friday night. The Blackhawks captain doesn't fight often, but when he does drop the gloves he gets his money's worth. His three previous opponents: Joe Thornton (2013), David Backes (2010) and Martin Hanzal (2008).
• The Flyers continued two miserable streaks in Thursday’s 2–1 OT loss to the Flames. The defeat was their sixth straight, and fourth in a row on their current five-game road swing. Maybe more troubling, though: It extended their run of allowing at least 30 shots-against in every game so far this season. To be fair, Calgary’s Mikael Backlund didn’t land the 30th shot until the 35-second mark of overtime, marking the fifth occasion this season that opponents have had extra time to pad their stats. But the consistent failing of Philly’s defense to limit scoring opportunities is digging a nightly hole out of which this team can’t seem to climb. In Tuesday’s loss to Edmonton, for instance, the Flyers allowed 49 shots—the most given up by Philly team in five years—and that to an Oilers side that was playing without rookie sensation McDavid for much of the night.
Philly is coughing up a league-worst 34.3 shots per game, but it’s not just quantity that’s a problem. It’s quality. According to war-on-ice.com, the Flyers allow 14.4 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes, another chart-topping total, and one that’s up considerably from the 11.3 per game they allowed last season.
Discipline is clearly part of the overall problem. Philadelphia's penalty killers have spent 81:56 on the job this season, third most in the league, and about 30 seconds more per game than in 2014-15. Injuries to third and fourth line centers Sean Couturier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare haven’t helped, either. Both are defensive stalwarts whose steady play has been missed. (Couturier returned to action on Thursday.) Ultimately, though, it comes down to effort and execution, and that’s on the guys who are on the ice as well as the system of rookie coach Dave Hakstol. Right now, neither are delivering.
• A perfect encapsulation of the Dallas Stars this season: Defenseman Alex Goligoski leads the league with 139 scoring chances generated while he’s on the ice at five-on-five ... and he’s second-last with 129 scoring chances against. Never a dull moment in Big D, especially when Goose is flying.
The numbers game
• Hard to believe but the Canadiens have won 12 of their first 15 games in a season for the first time in the franchise’s illustrious 98-year history in the NHL.
• The Capitals, at 9-3-0, have matched their best 12-game start in the franchise’s 41-year NHL history. The Caps also started 1991-92 and 2011-12 with the same record.
• Penguins forward Eric Fehr is now the first player in NHL history to score a shorthanded goal in each of his first two games with a team.
• GoPro has designed a camera mount that works with a hockey puck. Much nauseating video followed.
• A member of Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup squad has found a second career leading the fight against blood cancer.
• Kevin Allen looks back at the career of 2015 Hall of Famer Phil Housley, a player whose legacy “opened the door for other Americans” according to Scotty Bowman.
• Former NHL referee Paul Stewart thinks the current crop of zebras needs to be re-educated on how to call a penalty shot. He is sooo right.
• Here are 15 ways to tell if you were a hockey fan in the 1990s.
• Bob McKenzie offers an excellent look into the early-season struggles of Jeff Skinner, Michael Dal Colle and controversial 2016 prospect Sean Day.
• A Penguins prospect was cited for public drunkenness after getting into an argument with a cab driver. Not a good look for a former top pick looking to earn a spot with the big club ... or, you know, for anyone trying to be a functioning adult in society.