What we learned from the last week of play in the NHL:
The mighty have fallen far
An interesting change took place at the bottom of the standings last week when the Chicago Blackhawks, losers of seven straight, dropped behind the Kings and into last place overall. The Blackhawks (9-17-5) also rank last in goal differential (minus-31) and power-play percentage (11.6). Joel Quenneville shouldn’t have been fired for coaching them to a 6-6-3 record — he should get votes for coach of the year. In some ways it’s sad to see, because their ascent and 2010 Stanley Cup triumph — their first of three titles in six seasons — revitalized the franchise and made hockey relevant in Chicago again. Their fall is the inevitable product of a hard salary-cap system. Just ask the Kings, who are going through the same problems after rewarding core players on their two Cup champion teams with lucrative contracts that extend well beyond those players’ productive years.
Washington’s Tom Wilson became a sympathetic figure
Yes, it’s possible to feel bad for Tom Wilson, one of the NHL’s dirtiest players. He took a blindside hit from Vegas forward Ryan Reaves last Tuesday that knocked Wilson’s helmet off and left his head bare when it hit the ice. Wilson was dazed and Reaves was ejected. Afterward, Reaves told reporters, “He ran into a lion in the jungle.” Standard stuff, until Reaves inscribed that phrase while signing copies of a photo of the dazed Wilson and the photos were put up for sale online by memorabilia dealer Inscriptagraphs. The photos were destroyed, but evidence lives on in the form of screen shots. Wilson, recently back from a long and deserved suspension, missed the next two games because of a concussion. He’s no angel — and being on the receiving end of a nasty hit might make him think twice the next time he can choose between making a clean hit or a dirty one — but Reaves was crass to try to profit from someone’s brain injury.
Sounds familiar: The Flyers need goaltending help
Memo to new Philadelphia general manager Chuck Fletcher: You’ll need to upgrade your goaltending if you still think the Flyers can make the playoffs this season. Michal Neuvirth, back from another injury, gave up three goals on 10 shots in a 7-1 loss to Winnipeg on Sunday, the Flyers’ eighth defeat in 11 games. Prospect Carter Hart is their goalie of the future but he’s only 20 and they don’t want to push him. One reason Ron Hextall was fired and replaced by Fletcher is that club executives believe the Flyers can reach the playoffs this season and they disliked Hextall’s long-term approach. But without consistent goaltending, the playoffs will remain a distant dream. Speaking of goaltending, the Arizona Coyotes lost Antti Raanta to a lower-body injury and surgery that might end his season. Goaltending by committee might be their solution the rest of the way.
Scoring is actually up
Every season, high-scoring games are common early, until coaches figure out how to defend and smother creativity. But the average number of goals per game has stayed around 6.10 (excluding shootout goals) since the third week this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The average at the same point last season was 5.93. “It seems we may be going through another era like the ’80s when there’s going to be lots of goals,” Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. After years of decline this feels like a goalfest, but it’s far from the 8-6 and 7-5 games common in the old Smythe Division. Again, per Elias, from 1980-81 through 1989-90 the goals-per-game average ranged from 7.34 to 8.03. Murray contributed 72 goals to that total while playing for the Blackhawks.
Seattle worth waiting an extra year