Fleury's milestone, Lucic's follies among week's plusses, minuses
The week's most notable positives and negatives from around the NHL:
• If he had a reason to be demoralized by his playoff shortcomings of the last few seasons, Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t let it affect his play this season. With 27 saves in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime win against Boston on Monday, Fleury joined the 30 other goalies in NHL history who have won 300 games. At 29, Fleury is the third-youngest ever to achieve the milestone. His 13 wins are third-best in the league and his other marks (.924 save percentage and 2.14 GAA) are both among the league’s top 10. Imagine all this from a goalie who went 17-41-2 during his first two seasons. Yes, Fleury would be short of 300 if not for shootouts, but the salient point of his achievement is that his play has been strong this season at a time when many assumed it would be weak. But life is good in Pittsburgh these days. The Penguins celebrated the milestone by photoshopping Fleury’s head onto the body of Gerard Butler, who starred in the movie 300. In fact, their goalie’s head already seems to be in the right place.
• What better tribute to the late Pat Quinn than to recall a record that will likely never be broken. Quinn is remembered for several things both good (coaching Canada to the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics) and bad (his devastating head hit on Bobby Orr in the 1969 playoffs). He played for nine NHL seasons, coached in exactly 1,400 regular season games, and may be the only hockey player with both a law degree and a B.A. in economics. But the Quinn-coached Flyers did something that no team had done before, has done since or likely will ever do again. They played 35 straight games without a loss: 25 wins and 10 draws. The run began on Oct. 14, 1979 with a 4-3 win on home ice against Toronto and ended on Jan. 7, 1980 with a 7-1 loss to Minnesota. Keeping a streak like that will be even harder these days with overtimes and shootouts in place to break ties. Unfortunately, the story didn’t have a happy ending for Quinn. Though his Flyers finished the season with 116 points, 25 more than the New York Islanders, the Isles eliminated Philly in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Bob Nystrom’s legendary overtime winner.
• It isn’t easy to avoid the physical ravages of flying pucks, swung sticks and even a case of the mumps for an extended period of time. So hats off to the NHL’s new active ironman, Andrew Cogliano. The Ducks centerman broke into the league with Edmonton in 2007 and has yet to miss a game during his entire career. When defenseman Jay Bouwmeester of the Blues suffered a lower-body injury while catching a skate in a crack in the ice last Saturday, he was forced sit out Sunday's game after playing in 737 consecutive contests. So Cogliano's 563 without a benching or absence due to illness or injury are now tops. He has quite a ways to go to catch Bruins assistant coach Doug Jarvis, a superb defensive center and face-off man for many years in Montreal, who owns the longest such streak in NHL history (964), followed by Garry Unger (914), Steve Larmer;(776), Craig Ramsay (776) and Bouwmeester.
• Here’s a quick plus. Have you seen the video of leap-frogging hockey goalies Julius Hudacek and Henrik Lundberg of Orebro. This was just a 2-1 win during the regular season. Imagine what a celebration would look like after a Swedish League championship.
• Reputation is a hard thing to measure in hockey. You can be known as clutch (Chris Drury), a leader (Mark Messier), a gamer who plays through injury (Doug Gilmour), a ferocious hitter who makes players skate to the other side of the ice (Scott Stevens), an ace goalie who will cough up a mysterious goal in the playoffs (Roberto Luongo), or the meanest dude on the ice. You don’t necessarily have to be the best fighter (John Ferguson, Clark Gillies, Bob Probert, Joe Kocur, Georges Laraque etc.), but if you have a rep as a guy who can play and won’t back down from anyone, a Rick Tocchet-type, then you give yourself some extra room on the ice and gain the respect of your peers.
Milan Lucic had all of that going into last season’s playoffs. He was a power forward with seasons of 24, 30 and 26 goals on his resumé. Then his Bruins dropped a seven-game series to the Canadiens and some enterprising TV people read Lucic’s lips while he made his way through the handshake line and threatened to "effing kill" Montreal’s Dale Weise when the teams met again. His words smacked of sour grapes. And last week Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout knocked Lucic down with one punch while Lucic seemed disinterested in scrapping. Lucic later called Prout “gutless” and said it was good that the teams would meet again later this season (Dec. 27 in Columbus and Jan. 17 in Boston). But here’s one thing about enforcers, protectors and other NHL tough guys: They don’t complain. Everyone loses or takes one on the chin at some point. Lucic is also struggling with his game. He has four goals and seven assists in 23 outings, numbers that are far off his usual production, at a time when the injury-plagued Bruins need himto pick up his play. He's the kind of player who can easily recover from this sort of thing, but for now Lucicis one player who has taken a nasty two-hander to his reputation.
• File this under teams that have other clubs' numbers. Sometimes one gets psyched out by another’s building. Right now, here are a few examples of that. The Flames always seem to flame out when they play in Anaheim. Their 3-2 loss at the Honda Center last Tuesday left Calgary with an 0-14-5 mark since it last won a game there on Jan. 19, 2004. And the Flyers haven’t won a regular season game in Madison Square Garden since Feb. 20, 2011, so their 2-0 defeat there on Wednesday shouldn’t be a surprise, though GM Ron Hextall wasn't pleased. That made nine straight losses to the Rangers for the team that also dropped an opening round playoff series against New York last season. Remember all those years when the Bruins couldn’t beat the Canadiens in a postseason series? You have to wonder if Boston is starting to get psyched out by Montreal’s surprise win in the second round of the playoffs last season. The Habs have swept all three meetings between the clubs so far this season, outscoring Boston, 13-5.
• Here’s a quick minus. Which team had Monday through Thursday off, giving its players a nice break and a chance to enjoy American Thanksgiving? The Montreal Canadiens.
• It may not be nice to pick on hockey parents, because most of them do right by their kids, but of all the issues plaguing the Blue Jackets this season, who would have expected that financial fumbling by well-meaning parents would be one of them? Defenseman Jack Johnson is having a bad season by any definition. The former first-round pick (third overall) is -16 in 18 games, ranking dead last in the NHL. A week ago it was reported that Johnson, a man in the middle of a seven-year, $30.5 million contract, had filed for bankruptcy. He reportedly gave legal control of his finances to his mother, Tina, and she borrowed $15 million—much of it with high interest rates—against his future earnings. One loan carried an interest rate of 24%. If there's a plus side to this terrible saga it will be that other players become more aware of how to protect their money. But if you can't trust your parents, who can you trust?