Hall of shame for Preds' Smith
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
Gretzky and Leafs a match made in heaven?
Who among us could not feel Craig Smith's shame?
The Nashville Predators forward had an empty net and missed from six feet.
Now -- like Bill Buckner, Scott Norwood and Patrick Stefan -- he will be doomed to the eternal highlight loop of notable misses.
The lesson here: Funny how slippery the puck gets when you put some mustard on it.
Here are this week's offerings with the condiments at a minimum.
JUST SAYING: I believe in track records. A guy scores 20 goals four years in a row, it's not reasonable to expect him to score 40 this season. Which brings us to Wayne Gretzky and the Leafs. Gretzky might be the greatest player in history, but his post-playing career has been somewhat less than glittering. The Phoenix experience might be a small sample size and there were other forces at work to be sure, but it was not good. Team Canada winning the Olympic gold? You could ask about 2006. Just saying there's nothing there that leads me to believe if Gretzky ran the Leafs it would mean success. If he was just a frontman, wouldn't having him around make it tough for the guys who were actually running the team? I guess for creating a buzz it works, but apart from that it smells like the Gretzky brand is being used to make potential American ownership of the Leafs more palatable to Leafs Nation. Is that even necessary? I don't think Leafs fans would care who owned the team if it won. They've been owned by a faceless Canadian fund. How's that working?
HEAR AND THERE: One NHL coach told NHL Saturday the effectiveness of the controversial 1-3-1 defensive system, which has remained a hot topic, would be considerably diminished if the NHL called obstruction and interference to the same standard as it did coming out of the lockout. "I think obstruction, especially in the neutral zone, has crept back in the game," said the coach, who didn't want his name used for fear of unfavourable treatment from officials. "Defenders skate in front of opposing players to slow them down and (officials) look the other way like they don't know they're there. If you crack down on the obstruction, it makes it a lot tougher to play the 1-3-1, the trap, the left-wing lock, whatever you want to call it." In other words, the NHL doesn't a need new rule, just call what it has to the letter of the law ... Since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench in St. Louis, the Blues haven't given up a goal in the second or third period in five games. A key has been an improvement in the Blues' transition game, getting the puck moving quicker out of their zone.
THE BUZZ: The Columbus Blue Jackets go into Nashville Saturday with a 13-game losing streak on the road (0-10-3). I don't think the odds are good they will end it. The Jackets haven't won in Nashville since April 2006, going 0-12-5 during that time. Then again, I guess you could say they're due. Then again, it is the Blue Jackets we're talking about ... With the Pittsburgh Penguins hitting Florida (captain Sidney Crosby won't play against the Florida Panthers Saturday), the talk has turned to Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman. He hit Crosby into the glass last Jan. 5 and the Penguins captain hasn't played since. There has been a lot of speculation about which hit -- Hedman's or that by David Steckel a game earlier -- caused the most damage. "A lot of guys asked me about the hit," Hedman said. "I said, 'It's tough to explain.' I just finished my hit and that was the end of it for him." Hedman doesn't think he's the bad guy in this and just wants Crosby to be back. "You don't want to be in a sport where you end someone's career. But he's on his way back and that's good to see. I just told everybody I hope he recovers fast." ... Next chance for Crosby to play would be Monday at home against the Islanders. Pittsburgh is home to the Blues Wednesday and the Senators Friday.
JUST WONDERING: Remember Jaroslav Halak? Had a good playoff for the Habs a couple of years ago? After a wretched start, he might be the St. Louis Blue who has benefited most from Hitchcock's arrival. Halak is 2-1-1 in his past four starts with a 1.23 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage -- and he's still having trouble ousting Brian Elliott from the net (league-leading 1.43 GAA and second in save percentage, .946) ... About the Leafs and potential American ownership? Why be skittish? American George Gillett bought the Montreal Canadiens when nobody wanted them and they enjoyed a resurgence under his watch. He took it all personally. Don't know if you would be able to say the same for a big American equity firm.
THE LAST WORD: The Chicago Blackhawks spanked the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday in what might be the NHL's best rivalry right now. It brought back thoughts of their playoff series last spring in which Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said, "We haven't exposed them for what they are," when Chicago was down 3-0 in the series. For those with short memories, the Canucks won Game 7 in OT. Vancouver D Kevin Bieksa was asked the other day if he had taken that remark personally. "I didn't take it as an insult because I didn't understand what it meant and I still don't understand what it means. If someone can explain it to me, maybe I'd be insulted."