Happy Holidays, folks! Though neither of us quite resembles a hulking man in a red suit, we've compiled a list of players who have been naughty and nice so far this NHL season. Here again are two of your favorite Puck Drunk Love writers, Steve Lepore and Mike Salerno, discuss who's been giving the gift of hockey happiness this season, and who should be expecting some coal.
Mike Salerno: Wow, the naughty list seems to be extra long this year. Sheriff Shanahan sure has been busy. I feel like breaking out into song.
"You know John Scott and Phaneuf and Thornton and Clarkson...." Whoops. Sorry, it's infectious.
But in all seriousness, if you count the preseason escapades, 29 players have been suspended already this season. It seems like every other night another hit is being questioned. What's going on here?
Steve Lepore: I think it's the games having less meaning from October through December, don't you? Last year, with the 48 game schedule and no out-of-confernce games, every game could turn a team's playoff fortunes and turn the team you were playing's fortunes. It was usually not the typical meatheads getting suspended, too.
Now, am I arguing for a permanent 48-game schedule? No. But it's pretty obvious to me that these clubs smarten up when each game increases in value. It'll never happen, but I have to think going to fewer out-of-conference games might help.
Salerno: That's a good point, Steve. I agree, and while tensions always run the highest in the playoffs, the goonery is often kept to a minimum (aside from when the Flyers and Penguins meet, I suppose) so you may very well be on to something. Either way, here's hoping for less boneheaded decision making in the second half. Who are some of the names at the top of your nice list?
Lepore: Anyone who shows up in goal for the Los Angeles Kings. Since Jonathan Quick went down with his injury, the Kings are 14-3-3 with just 31 goals given up in those 20 games. More importantly, Martin Jones has been fantastic, starting his career 8-1-0 with a .953 save percentage. More mind-bendingly, until Monday night against Dallas, Jones had never surrendered more than one goal in a period. Mike, what does this say to you about the Kings' defensive system?
Salerno: Don't forget Ben Scrivens! Prior to Jones' hot streak, Scrivens was among the league's best in GAA and save percentage as I profiled last week. Their continued success despite losing Quick to injury says a lot of things to me about the plug-and-play ability of the Kings goaltending situation.
Nobody's contesting that what Jonathan Quick did in the spring of 2012 was anything short of phenomenal. And Jonathan Bernier's success there too could've been attributed to his talent more than anything. But I think Darryl Sutter's philosophy of a strong, defensive game that limits opponent's high-percentage chances has inflated the worth of any goaltender that mans the home team's crease at the Staples Center. We're seeing that come to the fore now with the success of Scrivens and Jones.
This isn't exclusive to Los Angeles, either. The Blues have been implementing this style of play for years, and were getting great results with a revolving door in net until recently as well.
Speaking of St. Louis, Alexander Steen's near the top of my nice list. His 24 goals already match a career-high and are one more than he had in the last two seasons combined. While nobody expects him to keep pace with Ovechkin for the Maurice Richard Award, he's been arguably the biggest surprise of this season so far.
Lepore: Ovechkin has easily been the nicest player to watch this season, for sure.
Speaking of goalies, on my naughty list: Team USA's goalie prospects for Sochi. We looked at the 5-6 top guys in August and thought this would be a massive strength, but look what's happened: Jonathan Quick is hurt, Craig Anderson has been terrible, Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas are toiling away on bad teams, Cory Schneider can't usurp the 41-year-old he's been paid to usurp.
The one American goaltender to make my nice list? Ben Bishop. You could argue he's been a huge factor in keeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in one of the three automatic playoff spots from the Atlantic Division. Top five in save percentage, goals against and shutouts. Question: is he on moving onto your Sochi shortlist?
Salerno: And all this time I thought it was the excess egg nog that was giving me a stomach ache. The American goaltending situation is certainly not where it was six months ago, that's for sure. But I think there's something to be said for playing on a bad team every night that will serve Miller well in Sochi. Maybe that's just blind optimism, though.
By default, Bishop has to be considered for a spot at the very least. On a team that was left for dead when Stamkos went down, he's been one of the real bright spots for Tampa Bay this year. I think I'd still give the top two spots to Miller and Quick, so in reality we're talking about a roster spot that saw exactly 0 minutes of ice time in Vancouver. But it's certainly a concern as we close in on the roster announcements.
It's going to be an interesting 10 days, that's for sure.
From all of us here at Puck Drunk Love, have a safe, and happy holidays. Come back soon for more discussions like this, and tell us who's made your naughty and nice lists!