By Stu Hackel
With cameras everywhere, especially from HBO, the Flyers play their biggest rival on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. It will be the first trip back in the hated orange and black for two notable ex-Penguins, Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr.
The welcome for Jagr likely won't be any friendlier than it was when he returned with the Capitals and Rangers. He was loudly booed in the city where he began his career and once ranked second only to Mario Lemieux in adoration. In fact, the fans' hostility might be more amped considering that Jagr flirted with signing with Pittsburgh last summer before reaching a deal with Philly.
"How, in a situation like that, can there be so much bad attitude and anger from those people?" Jagr told Anthony J. SanFilippo of suburban Philadelphia Delaware County Daily Times. "I don’t get it. What kind of world are we in right now? That’s (bleeping) scary. We should be in a world with a lot of love. Instead there’s one guy, who is 40 years old, who is almost done, and he’s causing all that (animosity) over hockey? My brain just doesn’t understand that.”
Jagr added, “When I left Pittsburgh I was traded. The first time I came back with Washington everybody booed me so bad. But I was traded. I didn’t leave. But they are going to hate me anyway. They’ve hated me for seven years. Then, when there is a chance that I am going to go back there, all of the sudden they switch for one or two months? Then I don’t go, and they go back to hating me, but even more than before. I don’t get it. I don’t know what kind of world we’re living in. I don’t get it.”
Those comments also ran in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, so the locals will be aware of them by game time.
Talbot, a hero of the Pens' 2009 Stanley Cup, expects less hostility, as he told reporters yesterday. This video of his and Jagr's comments show a sharp contrast in moods heading into the Pittsburgh game:
Goodbye, Columbus: Expect changes and probably trades -- finally -- in Columbus. The NHL's 30th-best team has lost six straight, most recently failing to get the bonus point after a regulation tie against Calgary on Wednesday. But even before then, GM Scott Howson said he'd seen enough.
“We’re just not good enough as a team," he told Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch before the game against the Flames. “The first six or seven weeks of the season, it was too disjointed. We had (James) Wisniewski out. We had (Jeff) Carter out. We had (Radek) Martinek out. We had (Mark) Dekanich out. … It was just too disjointed to get a clear picture. The picture is becoming clearer now. We aren’t playing well enough and … me as management has to find a solution to help the team.”
Howson added, “Everything’s on the table. We’ve got to look at everything. We’ve got to seriously look at everything. Now that’s different than saying, ‘I’m going to phone every GM tomorrow and say who do you want, (Rick) Nash, Carter or (R.J.) Umberger?’ but we’ve got to look at the whole situation and we’ve got to consider everything.”
Writer Hunter's reaction? "This can be reassuring and maddening. When you listen to him talk, sometimes he seems almost too reasonable to be running a professional sports franchise when the paying customers want to win yesterday. At other times, you almost want to take him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. Where was he a month ago when the season was leaving town?"
Hunter reports that Howson doesn't seem to be contemplating dismissing coach Scott Arniel. One wonders how long things will go before ownership asks Craig Patrick, the team's new senior advisor for hockey operations, if he'd be interested in taking over running the show in Columbus.
A Wild Tumble: A few weeks ago, everyone marveled at Minnesota Wild, who were atop the league and surprising observers with their aggressive play. Then they were slammed with injuries and have now lost eight straight. Not only have they fallen from the league's top echelon, but following their 2-1 postgame skills competition loss in Nashville on Wednesday, they now sit in the Western Conference's sixth spot and can't even be considered a sure thing for the playoffs.
But the belief in the Wild's room is that they may have turned the corner in that game. They outshot the Predators in every period, but the play of goalie Pekka Rinne, who stopped 34 shots during the actual game and everything in the gimmick afterward, denied the Wild two points.
"It was our best effort out of this stretch," defenseman Justin Falk told The St. Paul Pioneer Press. "By no means is anybody happy that we only got one (point), but we'll take the positives from this."
The Wild will try to halt their slide when they play the Oilers at home on Thursday. Edmonton has only three wins in the last month, but got the extra point against Minnesota last week by winning the postgame skills competition.
ETC: As an addendum to Wednesday's post on the wave of concussions in December, keep an eye on Tampa Bay's young defenseman Victor Hedman, who was bodied into the boards early in Tuesday's game against the Flyers and didn't return. He won't play Thursday against Montreal. The Lightning is calling it only "an upper body injury."...The Bruins played poorly -- for them -- yet managed to win again on Wednesday in Phoenix. That's the sign of a good team. Fox Sports Arizona's Craig Morgan asks if Boston is better this season than last year's Cup winner and the answer could be "Yes."....The Stars are excited that goalie Kari Lehtonen will be returning Thursday against the Blue Jackets after missing 12 games with a groin injury. Dallas is 13-4-1 with Lehtonen in goal....And, finally, if you can only watch one hockey game on New Year's Eve, make a resolution to catch the Red Wings-Blues rematch. Their tilt on Tuesday, a 3-2 Detroit victory, was a real good one.