Pierre LeBrun and Craig Custance look at two teams going in very different directions in the Northeast and a goalie who has lost his mojo in Philly.
Custance: Good morning, Pierre. What a night of hockey we had Thursday night, eh? The Jets and Flyers played in a game that could have taken place 25 years ago, and the Canadiens sent the Bruins into last place in the Eastern Conference with a gritty road win. Unbelievable. Before we dive into the problems facing the Bruins, and there are plenty to rehash, I must give credit to the Canadiens, who have turned things around this week with consecutive wins over the Flyers and Bruins. After a firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn, which was at best a scapegoat move, the Canadiens have found their game.
I asked Carey Price on Thursday night what he's learned about his team in the past two games. "We've got a lot of character in this room," he said. "We all said it before, we aren't in any panic. We knew we had the talent in this room to win hockey games." Their solution? "Just keep things simple, simplified out there, and it's been working out for us." Can you imagine the panic in Boston if the Canadiens can repeat that effort against the Bruins on Saturday?
LeBrun: Your trip to Boston was well-timed, my friend. Suddenly, in 48 hours, the panic-stricken streets of Montreal are calm -- for now -- and it's B's fans lighting up Twitter with concern. According to TSN research guru Kevin Gibson, the Bruins are the first defending Stanley Cup champions to be in last place of the conference through games of Oct. 27 in the expansion era (1967-68). And remember that last season, seven of the eight teams that were sitting in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on Nov. 1 ended up making the playoffs.
It's hard to make up ground, although the Bruins aren't that far behind. You probably didn't see it, Craig, but there was a great TV shot of GM Peter Chiarelli and president Cam Neely in the dying seconds showing their emotion as Boston nearly tied it. The heat is on in Beantown. And I sense a dressing room with some sour souls. Even before Thursday's game, Chiarelli shared this with me: “I’m always working the phones, but I am a little more diligent these days,’’ Chiarelli told ESPN.com.
If the B's can't muster a trade to shake things up, and clearly Chiarelli will try, then I would expect head coach Claude Julien to shake things up lineup-wise Saturday in La Belle Province. And yes, another Habs win Saturday night, and Bruins fans will be ready for a meltdown. Then again, they can at least stare up to that shiny Cup banner from June and find peace.
Speaking of finding peace, that didn't happen in Philadelphia on Thursday night until the buzzer sounded in a wild, 9-8 win by the visiting Winnipeg Jets. I traded text messages with Jets head coach Claude Noel after the game, and he quipped: “You'd have to be here to believe it !”
Custance: I would have loved to have been there. It's going to be hard to top that game during the regular season in terms of pure entertainment value, and apparently the scrum with Ilya Bryzgalov provided just as much entertainment after the game. It's not surprising, since he's one of the best talkers in the goalie fraternity, but I'm not sure whether Flyers fans are getting too much enjoyment when their new franchise goalie says something to the local media like: "I am the reason we lost the game tonight. I am lost in the woods right now." That it came against Winnipeg, a city in which he said he wouldn't play when there were rumors of the Coyotes moving to Manitoba, makes it worse.
I give Bryzgalov credit for taking the blame, which I'm sure endeared himself to some of his new teammates. When nine goals are scored, there's usually much more blame around than just the goaltender, but that trade and signing have the potential to be a complete disaster for the Flyers -- especially if you contrast it against it to what Tomas Vokoun is doing in Washington for $1.5 million. It's early, but there were definitely concerns whether Bryzgalov had the mental makeup to succeed in an intense market like Philadelphia, and this start isn't helping.
LeBrun: I do believe Bryzgalov will settle down and be fine, but right now he's a train wreck, and he sounds like one. Is the weight of a nine-year, $51 million contract that pays him $10 million this season in salary (including $5 million in signing bonus) too much for him to handle? Admitting he has zero confidence to the media in a market that runs goalies out of town? Yes, like you, Craig, I give him credit for honesty and humility.
But I wouldn't make it a habit in Philadelphia. This is a town that's eaten up goalies like steak and cheese sandwiches. "The most excited I ever was in my career was going to Philly," former Flyers goalie Sean Burke told me for a February 2009 story on ESPN.com. "The second-most excited I ever was was to get the heck out of there." Thing is, Bryzgalov certainly isn't alone in the current state of affairs. The Flyers' defensive coverage is abysmal right now. Chris Pronger, how quickly can you heal?
And finally, we should turn our attention to Edmonton, where Thursday night the young Oilers handed the Washington Capitals their first defeat of the season, 3-1, despite being outshot 35-19. Nikolai Khabibulin (surprise!) was outstanding again. It's an important win for the Oilers, who fancy the way the Caps were built on skill and want to mirror that model. Rookie center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins garnered another point Thursday night with an assist in what was his ninth game of the season. I spoke with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini a few days ago, and he was keeping his cards close to his vest, saying only that the Oil would decide at some point after the kid has played his nine games. Hard to believe they would send him down, in my opinion.
Custance: I agree, Pierre. Nugent-Hopkins has proved he can play at this level and deserves to stay. If he does, it sets up an interesting battle for the Calder Trophy this season. He should be in the hunt all season long, but I can't tell you how impressed I was with Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog when I spent time with him this past weekend. He's won over teammates with his humble but confident demeanor and brings a nice blend of goal-scoring and physical play to one of the league's better young teams.
Youth is making an impression on the league with the Oilers, Avs and Senators all exceeding expectations. Think any of those three get in the playoffs?
LeBrun: The Avs, by the way, made it official to Adrian Dater of the Denver Post that Landeskog was staying. Again, no surprise there. But of those three young teams you mentioned with playoff chances, my money is on Colorado above Edmonton and Ottawa. Sure is fun watching the Oilers, though.
Have a great weekend, pal. We’ll chat next week.