this week: pax + the stupidest rule in sports + as far as sid goes, let me tell ya

Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland: Franklin Arbuckle painted Foster Hewitt at work for the cover of Maclean’s that found newsstands on March 3, 1956.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal’s leading scorer, was in the news this week, having left a game last week and unsettling Canadiens fans everywhere. Sniper was a word used to describe him; we learned that his nicknames include Pax and Max Pac. Midweek, the nhl.com was reporting:

Pacioretty appeared to sustain an upper-body injury at 5:48 of the first period against the Florida Panthers on Sunday when he hit his head against the boards after being checked by Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and then getting his feet tangled with Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic.

A former Hab, Sergio Momesso, who now works on the radio in Montreal for TSN690 said he’d seen Pacioretty looking, quote, groggy and not good.

From the Canadiens:

Head coach Michel Therrien confirmed that Max Pacioretty met with team doctors on Wednesday morning. He will not play against Detroit on Thursday night or in the regular season finale on Saturday night in Toronto. Pacioretty’s condition will be re-evaluated next week. Therrien did not rule out Pacioretty returning to the lineup as soon as next week, too.

“We know exactly what he has,” Therrien told reporters on Thursday. “He won’t play the next two games. He will be re-evaluated next week and we’ll have more details next week.”

At habseyesontheprize.com, Andrew Berkshire was among those fearing the worst:

Max Pacioretty has been involved in 34.5% of the Canadiens’ goals, among the highest marks of any player in the NHL. Can the Habs survive without him?

Answer: nope, sorry, don’t think so,

Saturday. Pacioretty skated in Montreal while his team prepared for its game in Toronto. Therrien: “He’s reacted really well to the treatment that he got.”

Patrick Kane skated this week in Chicago. “He’s progressing real well,” commented his coach, Joel Quenneville. Kane’s collarbone was broken on the left side on February 24. Quenneville: “Every day it seems like he’s getting a little stronger. His skating has always been fine, he’s handling the puck extremely well. It’s good signs every day, seeing the progress.”

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The Philadelphia Flyers handed out their in-house trophies today before the last game of their non-playoff season. As team MVP, Jacob Voracek won the Bobby Clarke Trophy (reported Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer) while Mark Streit got the Barry Ashbee as the as top defenceman. The Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (most improved) went to Chris VandeVelde. Streit also took the Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award. Claude Giroux won the Toyota Cup, reflecting his accumulation of three-star selections over the course of the season.

“We know how to play in order to have success,” said Boston winger Milan Lucic on the last day of the regular season, as his team tottered on the lip of the playoffs, “we’ve got to bring that here tonight and hope that things go our way.”

Tanner Glass of the New York Rangers paid US$3,897.85 to butt-end Boston’s Adam McQuaid.

Montreal’s P.K. Subban deservs to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman, lobbied lots of people who follow/love/report on the Habs, including Sean Gordon of The Globe and Mail and Andrew Berkshire, who worked up some numbers to show why.

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At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver argued persuasively why the NHL should (as they do in the playoffs) just let teams play overtime until somebody scores. Whatever you think about the shootout, it’s the “loser point” that irks Silver as “the stupidest rule in sports.”

For the non-puckheads among you, here’s how it works: The NHL awards one point in the standings to a team that loses a game in overtime or a shootout. But teams get two points for winning a game, whether in regulation or beyond. You don’t need a degree in #fancystats to recognize the problem: There are a total of three points to distribute when a game goes to overtime but just two otherwise. So it really pays off to play for OT. As FiveThirtyEight contributors Noah Davis and Michael Lopez documented Wednesday, this encourages dull, passive hockey. Goal scoring falls dramatically in the third period of tied games, right when a game should be coming to its climax.

Overtime is exciting and it finishes a game with actual hockey rather than with one-on-one skills contests. For those who worry that the games will go on and on, exhausting players and fans, disrupting travel schedules, well, no, sorry: Silver’s researching shows that, most of the time, overtime ends quickly. Adjust it if you want, if you must, subtracting players as the periods go on, for example, until it’s just goalies on the ice. Now that be a worthwhile duel to witness. As Silver writes, “Would you not stop whatever you were doing to watch Henrik Lundqvist versus Tuukka Rask, one-on-one?”

“This is cross-checking,” explained Patrick Burke from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety narrating the video verdict that accompanied the announcement that Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien was being suspended for four games for a vicious crosscheck on the neck of a New York Rangers’ forward, J. T. Miller. Vicious wasn’t a word the NHL used; excessive force was as far as they were prepared to go.

“Violent, deliberate, could have broken his neck,” Alain Vigneault said, the Rangers’ coach, before the league decided its punishment. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it was one of the most vicious cross-checks I’ve seen this year.”

“He’s not a guy that is a dirty player, so he definitely didn’t mean to do that,” offered Byfuglien’s teammate Mark Stuart. “He’s not out there to injure guys.”

Jets captain Andrew Ladd:

“It doesn’t look good on video. I think it’s easy to slow it down after the fact. “In the course of a game, things happen quick. I know he didn’t mean to get him in the neck. He was probably trying to get him in the back and hit the wrong spot.”

Byfuglien was, himself, contrite. “I was lucky he wasn’t hurt, he told The Winnipeg Sun. “That’s a good thing. You never want to see that happen. It’s right there and it’s plain as day. I was just playing defence. It is what it is. I wasn’t focused on doing it. It was just what happened in the heat of the moment. It was simple. It’s right on the tape.”

James Wagner of The Washington Post talked to a baseball pitcher last week, Stephen Strasburg, a son of San Diego who throws for Washington:

Strasburg lives in Virginia with his wife, Rachel, and one-year-old daughter during the season. They have a favorite Italian restaurant in Clarendon and a sushi spot in Alexandria. His father visits, as do his wife’s parents and sisters. Strasburg has even grown to like hockey and the Capitals.

“I still don’t know the rules,” he said. “But I’ve gone to a couple games and love it. Granted, I’ve been pretty spoiled because I’ve been on the glass a couple times but I enjoy that. I just try and follow the puck.”

Detroit coach Mike Babcock mourned the death of his father last month, Mike Sr. From a family tribute printed in The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix:

Mike’s children remember him as ‘larger than life.’ He was a dad that could fix anything, an admirable husband, and a steadfast example of compassion, kindness, hard work and faith. He was so proud of us all. Mike and his wife Marcia Conway Babcock enjoyed their travels, the cabin at the lake, their fishpond and beautiful yard. They watched a lot of hockey, yelled at television screens, polished the Stanley Cup, and held Gold medals.

At Puck Daddy, Yahoo! Sports’ own Greg Wyshinski pencilled up a list of coaches likely to lose their jobs once the season wraps up.

Peter Horachek and Buffalo’s Ted Nolan are toast for sure, he figured. Maybe Craig Berube in Philadelphia and San Jose’s Todd McLellan. Maybe also Pittsburgh’s Mike Johnston and Claude Julien in Boston. Question marks hover overhead for Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim and Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis, he thought, too — all depends on what happens in the playoffs.

The death, a week ago, of Elmer Lach at 97 prompted NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s condolences. Notice of the death at nhl.com went on:

Throughout his retirement, Lach demonstrated the kind of toughness that was a signature trait during his playing days, a period that saw him break his nose seven times, crack his jaw twice, shatter his cheekbone and sever two veins on a skate blade. In 2005, Lach, then 87, refused to acknowledge any pain when he sustained a double fracture to his ankle. A month after his 93rd birthday in 2011, Lach fell after shoveling snow at his home in Pointe Claire, Quebec, and broke his hip. He returned home 12 weeks later, joking with Montreal Gazette sportswriter Dave Stubbs that “I was still breathing, which was good.”

Another former Hab died on Monday, defenceman Dollard St. Laurent, who also won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 1961. He was 85.

“A reporter from Sweden visited the Red Wings this season and asked Mike Babcock what he liked about Niklas Kronwall,” wrote Gregg Krupa of The Detroit News a week or two ago.

Babcock walked him over to the stick rack and pointed to a shovel leaning there.

The Red Wings award it to players who have worked their tails off in games.

“That’s what I like about Nick Kronwall,” Babcock said in his assertive way. “He works real hard. He digs right in.”

“And when you ask him about how things are going, it’s always about the team. It’s never about Nick Kronwall.”

What’s wrong with Sid, the former Kid, is a question that continued to circulate, even as Crosby, who’s 27, continued to challenge for the NHL’s scoring lead.

Wayne Gretzky said to give the guy a break. “As far as Sid goes, let me tell ya, the more you play and the older you get, the harder it is to win those trophies,” he told Pierre LeBrun from ESPN.

“It’s not easy winning them. For him to be in the battle again coming off the concussions and everything he’s gone through in his career, he’s still right there. When you’re down a bit in your production obviously people are always pointing, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ But it becomes harder with each and every year to surpass what you did the year before, simply because you’re getting a little bit older and you’re getting a little bit more worn. He’s played a lot of playoff games and gone to two Olympics. It gets harder and harder. For him to be in the hunt right now says a lot for his makeup. It’s tough.”

With the NHL’s post-season drawing near, Matt Larkin from The Hockey News got into the spirit with a page commemorating five big moments (post-1967) that changed the course of playoff history, e.g. Don Cherry fouling up that line change in 1979, Boston versus Montreal, opening the door for Guy Lafleur to tie the game, e.g. Mark Messier guaranteeing a win for the Rangers in 1994 in the series with New Jersey. And don’t forget 1986, April 30, when Edmonton’s dominant Oilers were gathering steam on their way to a fourth successive Stanley Cup only for defenceman Steve Smith to bounce the puck off goalie Grant Fuhr’s leg into his own net and the champions to fall out of the playoffs. “Smith falls to the ice and sobs,” Larkin writes. “It’s his 23rd birthday.”

Las Vegas favoured the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup, which is to say that bovada.lv, your online gambling destination, promoted some odds, with the top of the board looking like this:

New York Rangers: 13/2
Chicago Blackhawks: 7/1
Minnesota Wild: 8/1
Anaheim Ducks: 9/1
Montreal Canadiens: 10/1

Over at The Hockey News a poll of readers and dreamers had the Rangers as slight favourites over the Canadiens, followed by Chicago, St. Louis, and Minnesota.