Farewell from Your Favorite Healthy Scratches

Written by Mike Salerno on .

As Green Day's version of Avril Lavigne famously sings, "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Unfortunately, today is that end for Tonight's Healthy Scratches. With that said, we're excited to announce a new partnership with Bloguin's main hockey blog, Puck Drunk Lovewhich will begin effective immediately.

We are extremely excited about this move. While we are very loyal to and thankful for our readers here, we will be exposed to a wealth of new readers at Puck Drunk Love. We'll be posting more frequently and under the direction of managing editor David Rogers and myself in a lesser editorial role, which should drive the quality of our content through the roof. We hope you'll join us, if for no other reason than to see if I'm just blowing smoke up your ass.

Before we left in the middle of the night like the Baltimore Colts, I wanted to make sure our small, yet loyal, readership knew how much I truly appreciated their part in making this site so special to me. When we started this project 15 months ago, myself, Frank Castaldi and Brian McCormack were at different stages of our careers, and the former two were flirting with irrelevance. 

Our work here has not only been enjoyable, but it's started to pay dividends as well. We've gotten recognition from a number of reputable hockey scribes, such as Sean Gentille of The Sporting News, and Katie Baker of ESPN's Grantland. As many of you know, Brian has been working as an intern with Stan Fischler since the early summer and I've begun what I hope is the start of a long, illustrious career at ESPN. And now we both move on together from this space to a bigger stage.

You are to thank for a good chunk of that success. Your page views, your comments, your "likes" on Facebook and retweets on Twitter all kept our motor running strong enough for us to continue to churn out more content. And on a more personal note, it came at a time in my life when I needed it most. I met and became friendly with many of you since we launched, and your support means the world to me.

Also, before going, I wanted to take the time to single out a few other individuals who have contributed to our site, either directly or indirectly. Obviously Frank, one of our founding members, was terrific despite having to step aside during last year's playoff run due to personal reasons. We all enjoyed his take on the Rangers-Flyers 24/7 series and are appreciative of the work he's done here.

Christian Arnold, now of New York Hockey Journal, became an integral piece of our playoff coverage last season. We wish him all the best, especially now that he isn't freezing his face off outside the NHL offices through the middle of the night. And the next time we run a live blog, we fully expect to see him pop in and give his take on the day's events.

I also wanted to thank a few guys at Bloguin who made this site look way prettier than we ever imagined. Our CEO Ben Koo, Dave Kelsey, our Network Operations Manager, and Derek Hanson, Bloguin's President, all played crucial roles in ensuring the success of our site. I'm sure I've been a pain in their asses more than once (and will continue to be) but they've been incredibly helpful every step of the way. Thank you, gentlemen, for helping craft our vision.

We've thoroughly enjoyed bringing you our skewed take on hockey's biggest news, both on and off the ice, and sincerely hope you'll continue to follow us at PDL.

Thanks for reading. Now hey, how about a hug?

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On the Need for Power Rankings, Or Lack Thereof

Written by Mike Salerno on .

Earlier today, Adrian Dater at Sports Illustrated, released his version of the uber-ridiculous exercise in futility known as "power rankings." He conjured up quite a stir by ranking the Edmonton Oilers third, ahead of the 2012 Presidents Trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Los Angeles Kings, who won something or other last season too.

If you're not familiar with the idea of this column, it gives writers an excuse to lazily list each team in a particular professional sports league in whatever order they see fit based essentially on any number of factors they deem relevant to their cause.

Oh you mean like standings? Well, yes. No. Kind of? Alright, not really at all. Power rankings are like standings with a poetic license. If you've got an agenda to establish, wins and losses need not apply.

One could argue that the best time (and, perhaps, only time) for such an article would be prior to any games being played. After all, how else would we ever determine who's best and who's worst without any tangible proof?

Now, this is not an indictment of Dater's character or work by any stretch. I'll leave that to the more experienced, professional trolls such as Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert. People make outlandish predictions without any consequence all the time.

And I understand that there is an editorial movement that pushes this sort of thing on its' writers, no matter how hard they may fight it. Good journalism can't change the fact that people just want to read four non-descript sentences about the teams they love, the teams they love to hate and the teams they forgot existed.

But Dater's been around for a while. If he wanted to write a calculated, intelligent column for a change, he likely would have the freedom to do so. Why not profess your penchant for Edmonton's stable of young stars by putting together a piece claiming Edmonton may very well be the favorite in the Northwest division?

A "worst-to-first" column would surely draw it's fair share of snarky comments from the peanut gallery, but at least it would be original. You could spend as many words as you saw fit gushing about Eberle's ability to score early and often, and how Justin Schultz is going to take the league by storm.

Or you could spend five listless lines justifying your aggressive gesture, jettisoning the Oilers among the league's elite. I guess that works too.

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2013 World Juniors: Red, White and Blue Collar

Written by Brian McCormack on .

 

This wasn't the star-studded US lineup we've seen in some other tournaments. No Chris Kreider, no Kyle Palmieri, no Emerson Etem. If you want to go further back, there weren't too many Zach Parises or Phil Kessels on this list either.

Even names that could have carried the torch offensively, like Alex Galchenyuk, ultimately weren't solely responsible for the United States' third gold medal at the World Junior Championships.

That's not how Phil Housley ran this team.

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2013 World Juniors: USA's Housley Right Man for the Job

Written by Mike Salerno on .

 

Three games into the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship, you wondered if Team USA would miss qualifying for the medal round for the second consecutive year. With the seventh-place finish of 2012 still reeking after back-to-back 2-1 losses to their two biggest rivals, the Americans were in playoff mode one game early.

Questions swirled. Is Phil Housley really the right guy for this job? Is he relying too much on his offensive defensemen? Is he pushing the right buttons?

Turns out those questions were a bit premature. The Americans steamrolled Slovakia to get into the medal round, then didn't let up a bit against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. A combined 16-3 score in two games? Well that certainly wasn't the offensively-starved US team we saw through three games.

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2013 World Juniors: USA-Sweden Gold Medal Game Live Blog

Written by Mike Salerno on .

Hello hockey fans and welcome to our 2013 World Junior Championship Gold Medal live-blog! If you've been following the progress of this tournament, you know that anything is possible in a one-game scenario, which makes today's matchup with the United States and Sweden so interesting.

The Americans got to the gold medal game with a surprising thrashing of the heavily-favored Canadians and have enjoyed stellar play from John Gibson throughout the tournament. Though questions about their offense lingered after consecutive 2-1 losses to Russia and Canada in the preliminary round, the United States has combined to outscore its opponents 21-4 in three games since.

Sweden returns to the gold medal game after a thrilling shootout victory over Russia in the semifinals, the same team they defeated a year ago in overtime to capture their first gold since 1982. Despite not having 2012's overtime hero Mika Zibanejad and suffering injuries to three defensemen, the Swedes are still standing and looking to repeat.

So grab some breakfast, hop on the couch and come talk hockey with your favorite healthy scratches!

2013 World Juniors: Gibson, US Stun Canada, Will Play for Gold

Written by Mike Salerno on .

Unbeatable, they said. A juggernaut, they exclaimed. Team Canada, a gross compilation of first-round picks and future stars that awaited the Americans in the semifinals, was licking their chops as they prepared to get back on the ice after a flawless record in Group A play.

But when the puck dropped on Thursday afternoon in Ufa, the Canadians were met by an American team that hardly resembled the one they beat just a few days ago. The United States clinched a spot in their third gold-medal game at the World Junior level with a resounding 5-1 victory, making a squad that was considered Canada's best roster in over a decade look like a rag-tag bunch of peewees.

John Gibson was the unsung hero in net for the Americans, as he's been for the majority of the tournament. Despite suffering two 2-1 losses in the preliminary round, Gibson's 1.51 goals against average was tops in the tournament heading into action on Thursday. The backbone of this United States squad was as strong as ever as his team built a 4-0 advantage, making key stops against J.C. Lipon and Ryan Strome on a breakaway. He made 36 saves in all.

He was finally solved early in the third period by Ty Rattie on a sloppy play by both his defensemen and the officials as the play appeared to have been blown dead after Rattie's initial shot rang off the post. But that proved to be the only time he'd be beaten despite a significant uptick in pressure applied by the Canadians.

With just under 10 minutes to go in the third period, the Canadians threw everything they could at Gibson. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to outwait him from 10 feet away. But he couldn't get it past Gibson's glove, who got enough of it to push the shot over the net. The Canadians fired six shots on that power play, but were turned away each time.

It wasn't just Gibson who was nearly perfect, either. While he was putting out fires in the defensive zone, the Americans strong forecheck pushed Canada back on their heels early, allowing the team's high-scoring defensemen to creep into the rush. Captain Jake McCabe struck twice, beating Malcolm Subban to the glove side as the US took a 2-0 lead into the locker room.

McCabe, who was named Player of the Game, has scored two goals all season at Wisconsin. Though McCabe is known more as a conservative defenseman, he was able to find open space in the high slot because of a relentless effort around the net by the American forwards.

Early into the second period, John Gaudreau remained hot, getting his first of two goals with an absolute laser of a shot Subban never had a chance on. Gaudreau's second marker served as the ultimate extinguisher at 15:41 of the third, shutting down all hopes of a frantic Canadian comeback like a year ago. Gaudreau now has six goals in his last three games, including a hat trick in a 7-0 thumping of the Czechs in the quarterfinals.

The Americans chased Subban, instantly making him (and apparently Ryan Murphy) the scapegoat for his dilapidated defensemen, when Jim Vesey danced in and beat him to the far post to make it 4-0 with just a few minutes to go in the second period. Questions will undoubtedly swirl about if he deserves to start the bronze-medal game on Saturday, which is unfortunate for a player who was shaping up as the tournament MVP to this point.

But now, it's Gibson who's distinguished himself from the field. And it's the Americans, not the unstoppable Canadians, who will play for gold on Saturday.

Eberle's Three Goals in Under Three Minutes

Written by Brian McCormack on .

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As NHL Execs and union leaders prepare to meet in New York City to once again negotiate a cease-fire in the war that has destroyed at least half of an NHL season, Jordan Eberle seems to be more ready than ever to get back to work for the Oilers.

Playing in the American Hockey League during the lockout for the Oklahoma City Barons, where recently signed Oiler Justin Schultz has been turning heads, Oiler regulars like Eberle and Taylor Hall have been doing their part to remind us not just how bright the future in Edmonton is, but also how dangerous they can be in the Western Conference with a potentially shortened 48-game season.

On New Years Eve, Eberle celebrated 2012 with one of the best scoring feats of his career.

In a 5-2 win over the Texas Stars, Eberle, who leads the league in scoring with 49 points in 32 games, recorded a natural hat trick in only 2:43.

Eberle's first came at 15:44 of the first period on a feed from Hall. Eberle slid in behind the Texas defense and took the Hall pass between the circles, deking to the forehand to beat goaltender Yann Danis.

Nine seconds later, it was Hall setting up Eberle again. Eberle got the puck above the right face-off circle, carrying it down to the dot and lifting the puck over Danis' glove for his second goal of the shift.

At 18:27 on the powerplay, Eberle capped off his three minutes of dominance, taking a cross-zone feed from Schultz, driving the net and lifting a back-hander over Danis for the hat trick and his 23rd of the year. Eberle would later add an assist on Schultz's 17th of the season.

It remains to be seen whether or not the men behind the desk are ready to play hockey this season. Jordan Eberle certainly is.

2013 World Juniors: Americans Have Their Johnny on the Spot

Written by Mike Salerno on .

 

They call him "Johnny Hockey" in Chestnut Hill. You can't go very far on Boston College's campus without hearing about John Gaudreau, the slippery sniper with the smooth hands. But in the first three games of the World Juniors, it was more likely you'd hear about him on the side of a milk carton than on the scoresheet.

In what became a must-win game against Slovakia after consecutive 2-1 losses to Canada and Russia, Gaudreau showed up in a big way. After being part snakebitten and part overpowered in the previous two games, the 5'8" Calgary Flames draft choice had three points through two periods as the Americans routed Slovakia, 9-3.

Getting Gaudreau going is an essential part of the Americans offense. No United States forward had scored since the 7-0 rout of Germany to open the tournament, and confidence was waning. Consider this: half of the Americans offensive production has come from the blue line. Prior to this game, Alex Galchenyuk was the only forward with more than three points.

This team was starving for goals. Looking ahead to the medal round, if Gaudreau, Jim Vesey and JT Miller can stay hot, the depth of the US forward group will no longer be an issue.

Accolades have followed him everywhere he went. In the USHL, he won the Rookie of the Year award as he helped Dubuque to the Clark Cup championship. As a freshman at Boston College, he won the Beanpot MVP, was named to the All-Hockey East team, and scored a pretty snazzy goal to seal the National Championship game. His pure ability has never been in question.

But finally faced with some adversity--and some defensemen that could handle his shifty moves-- it was unclear how Gaudreau would respond. Now, it seems Johnny Hockey may have finally arrived in Ufa.

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2013 World Juniors: Jaskin's Three Assists Push Czechs to Knockout Round

Written by Mike Salerno on .

One thing is certain in the unpredictable, topsy-turvy Group A: nothing is certain. That sentiment manifested itself in the first of two games in the final day of the preliminary round.

After a pair of dazzling assists from Dmitrij Jaskin that broke a 1-1 tie to give the Czech Republic a two-goal lead with just 20 minutes remaining, that unpredictability reared it's exciting head. Switzerland's power play struck twice in the final eight minutes to send the game to overtime. That gave the Swiss a point in the standings they desperately needed to pull ahead of Finland, the team who a pair of idiots picked to reach the Gold medal game.

But in the extra session, it didn't take Jaskin long to strike again. As the puck wrapped around the boards, Jaskin picked it up at the hash marks and showed the creativity that got him picked 40th overall in 2011 by the St. Louis Blues. Jaskin noticed Tomas Hertl was skating into the same corner he was facing, and as he reached the net, Jaskin threw the puck against the back boards.

The puck bounced perfectly onto Hertl's stick, who then beat Swiss goaltender Melvin Nyffeler to the far post for a wrap-around goal. The game-winner pulled the Czechs into a tie in points with Sweden for the moment.

In the second period, Jaskin helped the Czechs regain the lead with two plays that are sure to be on a highlight reel coming to you soon. Skating into the corner and holding a Swiss defenseman off with one hand, he slid a pass out in front of the short side of the net right on the tape of teammate Michal Svihalek.

His second assist was a one-touch, backhanded pass to Tomas Hyka, the third man trailing on a 2-on-1, who essentially deposited the puck into a vacated net. Take your pick. One was prettier than the last.

(videos courtesy of CZHokej)

With Russia, Canada and the United States all in Group B, no one was sure what to expect from Group A. But Jaskin's play has elevated the Czechs to the medal round, and a legitimate threat for a medal. Jaskin has been one of the more impressive players at this tournament on a team that features a lot of speed but not many household names. If he pulls off plays like that in the knockout stage, he may quickly become one himself.

2013 World Juniors: Seth Jones and His Very Bad, No-Good, Terrible Tournament

Written by Mike Salerno on .

Sample size. It's the new buzzword on the lips of every insider, scout and writer about the unlikely performances we've seen at this tournament so far.

It's why Malcolm Subban's stellar performance against the Americans on Sunday came as such a surprise after two "shaky" outings in which he allowed three goals to Germany and Slovakia. Nevermind that he's had a fantastic year to date with Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League. But more than anything, it's also being used as an apologetic crutch for the subpar play of United States defenseman Seth Jones.

Jones, who riled up a number of people outside USA Hockey by claiming the Americans were the team to beat heading into the tournament, has been a contributing factor to each one-goal loss his team has suffered in the last three days. Jones was beaten on what turned out to be the game-winning goal both times, but the consensus top-two pick in June's upcoming NHL Entry Draft is merely "not playing like himself."

Instead of putting his money where his mouth is, he opted instead to insert his foot.

Now, we all have bad days at work. Who isn't human? And to suggest that Seth Jones' gaffes are the only reason the Americans are looking at a win-or-go home game against Slovakia tomorrow would just be silly.

After all, has anyone else noticed that Jon Gaudreau has been virtually invisible now that he's not able to dance around everyone like he does in Hockey East? Or how about the onslaught of penalties the preceeded the United States' final power play with 1:37 to play? The power play itself, with the exception of Jacob Trouba, has been abysmal.

The point is, in the wake of a pair of one-goal losses finger-pointing is useless. But had it not been for John Gibson early, a few more mistakes by Jones and his defensive colleagues would've ended up in their own net and this game would've quickly become a rout.

Take a look at this end-to-end rush by 17-year old Valeri Nichushkin on Russia's game-winning goal in the third period on Friday. Granted, Nichushkin skates around four Americans as if they were traffic cones, including Jones. But to allow the player to beat you to the outside that deep in the zone with enough room to cut up through the crease and create havoc around your net is troubling for a player who's supposed to have such good hockey sense.

Now here's Canada's second goal in the first period on Sunday. Notice how before Ritchie goes around the net, Jones takes note that Strome is breaking toward the crease. He sees him there. Nothing to worry about, right?

Wrong. As the play develops and Ritchie emerges from the other side of the goal, Strome is left alone enough that he can get good enough wood on the puck to beat Gibson, even with Jones standing right next to him. Without putting a finger on him, Jones allowed Strome to give Canada a 2-0 lead.

The first video is an example of a physical mistake, which will happen from time-to-time at every level of hockey. That, as painful as it may be, is forgivable. But the mental mistakes are the ones for which players are most held accountable. He simply cannot continue to let that happen. Expect both of these plays to be part of a greater learning experience for Jones, even though it comes at the team's expense for now.

Jones rebounded nicely in the third period after taking a bad slashing penalty in the second. Head coach Phil Housley and the Americans are hoping he's found his way out of this slump. He may not have been wrong about the Americans being the best team in this tournament, but for that to be true, he's got to raise his level of play significantly from where it currently stands.


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