This might have been more fun before the NHL added shootouts to settle tie games. Now somebody has to win the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta.
|'They're trying to be better, to play hard,' Oilers coach Pat Quinn says. (Getty Images)|
So in a perverse way, their meeting Saturday will be the highlight of Hockey Day in Canada.
The 'day' is actually an annual television gimmick north of the border that makes it a lot more visible than the "Hockey Weekend across America" USA Hockey promotes simultaneously south of the border. The goal in both cases is to bring fans closer to the game's roots, but the effort is more tangible in Canada because all six teams are involved in a triple-header broadcast.
There is a standard drill, of course with lots of touchy-feely stories about small towns and trips down memory lane by players interspersed throughout the broadcasts. Still it tends to be a pretty good production for someone who might be stuck indoors because of a snowstorm, and this year, it has the good fortune of pretty good story lines on the ice, too.
Like the matinee in Ottawa, where the red-shot Senators will try to extend their winning streak to nine against the struggling Montreal Canadiens. Ottawa was a playoff bubble team at best earlier this month, but with the return of injured players Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, the Senators are now making a push for the Northeast Division lead.
Then there's the surging Vancouver Canucks, who have won six in a row to take over the lead in the Northwest Division and in controversies around the league. They visit sad sack Toronto in what will be a 44-day road trip while their building is taken over by the Olympics.
But for Saturday night entertainment, how can you beat Calgary trying to keep Edmonton winless in 2010? The Oilers are the worst team in hockey with a losing streak now at 12 games and the Flames can extend it if they avoid losing for the 10th time in a row themselves.
Truth is things are more dire these days for the Flames. The Oilers didn't have much in the way of expectations to begin with this season, but the Flames did and to some, they had Stanley Cup potential. Calgary started strong, too, and led the Northwest as late as mid-December under new coach Brent Sutter. But this skid that has been characterized by a lack of offense, particularly from captain Jarome Iginla, has the Flames struggling to stay inside the playoff cutoff line.
Meanwhile, Edmonton has won only one game since Dec. 11 and now has to worry only about who will still be around after the trade deadline. Few players are untouchable on a roster that has not reacted well to out-of-the-box thinking by Edmonton's management, and even those with no-trade clauses like No. 1 defenseman Sheldon Souray are considering accepting a trade.
The Oilers created a precedent by hiring a coaching tandem of Pat Quinn as head and Tom Renney as associate, but the organization seems to have overestimated the young players it has brought in over the last few seasons. Things have rarely been in sync this season for the Oilers, and they have been imploding for the last six weeks.
"They're trying to be better, trying to play hard," Quinn said after Edmonton's latest loss. "I can't tell you when, but they'll get a just reward sooner or later."
Against a bitter rival might be nice. And good television, too.
• Good thing for Patrick Kane that he overshadows what he does off the ice with what he does on it. You'll remember of course the incident last summer in Buffalo when the 21-year-old Blackhawks star was arrested for a scuffle involving a cab driver. The problem was washed away in a few days, but now Kane, and a few teammates this time, have been caught in another embarrassing, if less sinister situation. It happened in Vancouver this week after Chicago lost to the Canucks. Kane, John Madden and Kris Versteeg were photographed shirtless in the back of a limo with beer and some fully-clothed women and the camera-phone picture appeared in a local newspaper the following day. Harmless when you come right down to it, but the incident forced the players and several teammates to answer questions about it prior to a critical game Friday in San Jose. The consensus was to move on, but Kane admitted that "it's probably time to grow up a little bit."
• Sometimes you wonder what mirror people are using. Take the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, for example. Apparently they have forgotten there was some consideration of criminal charges for their Patrice Cormier after his on-ice assault against an unsuspecting opponent during a recent Quebec junior league game. Now they have decided to appeal his season-long and playoff suspension. Cormier left 18-year-old Mikael Tam convulsing on the ice and with head trauma that threatens his career, and since Cormier will be over age after this season, his junior career is effectively over. Still he was drafted last year by the New Jersey Devils, so he has a future, and for now Rouyn is in contention for a playoff spot and wants him back. In the meantime, Cormier's YouTube sensation elbow on Tam has charged up the already intensifying debate about hits to the head in the hockey world and has gotten politicians in Canada to weigh in. The NHL predictably told the politicians to mind their own business, but the NFL reacted to Congress' increased interest in concussions, and the NHL will have to as well. New Jersey understood that and opted against signing Cormier immediately to a pro contract to circumvent the junior league's decision. The Huskies should realize they're in the wrong lane on this.
• Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis raised a few eyebrows this week when he reached out to Comcast for help in financing his purchase of the NBA Wizards and the Verizon Center the team's share. Leonsis has a stake in the company that owns both, and has first refusal on the remaining 56 percent of the shares belonging to the late Abe Pollin's estate. A Washington Business Journal report said Leonsis approached several companies about financing the purchase, including the cable giant. Comcast holds the broadcast rights to the Capitals and has an ownership stake in the Blackhawks as their rights holder. However, the company is the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the team's biggest rivals. The situation had the potential to be sticky and a reminder of the "Norris Hockey League" days in the 1960s when the Norris family had significant interests in three of the Original Six teams. But Leonsis' bid hit a wall by week's end, according to the Washington Post, with the estate putting both properties up for auction.
They said it
"Boys will be boys" –- San Jose's Joe Thornton on the Blackhawks' limo ride.