As the NHL boasts about record attendance in the month of March, home teams are doing precious little to reward their faithful fans.
Tuesday night was the latest, eye-opening example.
Of the six early starts – all with playoff implications – the road team won five times.
The only exception was Tampa Bay over Florida, with the Lightning being the only home team of the group not facing “playoff pressure.”
Yet the results shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Here’s why:
Most would acknowledge the Bruins play a road-type game. And despite all the good things the Leafs had accomplished of late, the 6-2 loss left them 1-4-0 in their past five at the Air Canada Centre.
There was probably a time in February when the Sabres liked the looks of their remaining schedule. Following a third-period collapse against the shaky Senators, few can recall that time. Buffalo is now just 3-6-2 in its past 11 at HSBC Arena, effectively killing their post-season aspirations.
The Flyers, like the Bruins, have a better winning percentage on the road, and showed that against the Rangers, beating a New York team that shares the Eastern Conference lead in home wins.
And the Penguins now trail only Montreal for road wins in the East, after a blanking of the Devils.
Beyond those early results, here’s a few things that should be noted and/or debated, based on some intense channel surfing:
• Viktor Kozlov was a good pickup by George McPhee and the Caps. At $2.5 million a season for two years, Kozlov leads Washington with a plus 24-rating, will likely top 50 points again and is 3-for-7 in shootouts after scoring the winner versus the Hurricanes.
• Is it really in the Sabres’ best interests to extend Ryan Miller this summer, if the asking price is beyond $5.5 million per season? Granted, they are far from deep in this position within the organization, but Miller simply has not come up with the big saves consistently the past month, something you’d expect from the game’s elite.
• Dion Phaneuf can’t be far away from a Norris Trophy. It’s bordering on ridiculous just how good he has been lately, and in his third season, all the right numbers keep rising.
• Daniel Briere bashers take note: He has lifted the Flyers off the playoff bubble with eight goals (six at even strength) and 14 points in the past dozen games, being held off the scoresheet only once.
• It could be just me, but I often find being one of the NHL’s three stars of the week can turn out to be a curse. Not for everyone of course, but usually at least one of the three. This week’s victim was Vesa Toskala. Named the No. 2 star on Monday, his first game of this, the penultimate week of regular season, was a clunker – highlighted by a rally-killing fifth Bruins goal when Toskala never recovered from horribly misplaying the puck in the corner.
• And maybe this is the year of the Rangers – the Kitchener Rangers. They were the best team in the OHL in the regular season. They’re off to a terrific start in the playoffs and, of course, will be hosting this year’s Memorial Cup. In addition, recent graduates of the program – Mike Richards and Derek Roy, who keyed Kitchener’s 2003 championship run – are having career years at the NHL level, while playing under newfound contractual pressure.
Brian Duff is a host of the NHL Network’s ‘On the Fly’ and host of Leafs Lunch on AM 640 Toronto Radio.