Five Thoughts for Friday
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
1) If I were a Canadian, I'd describe my reaction to Erik Karlsson's first game in the Olympics as "crapping me pantaloons." He's friggin' untouchable.
2) But it also allowed me to finally put into words exactly why I don't enjoy hockey on international ice rinks as much as North American rinks: I think the larger ice surface diminishes the value of skill. I think there's this perception that with larger ice surfaces, skill is more valuable--but my impression is that the opposite is true. My feeling is that in a North American rink, a guy like Karlsson creates space with his talents. On the international stage, he doesn't have to create that space--it already exists. So the end result is essentially people chasing each other all over the ice. I don't enjoy that kind of game as much. Sure, it's fast-paced, but when there's always room to make a play, then you don't necessarily need to have playmaking skills to be successful.
This was always my concern with former prospect David Rundblad. His highlight reel is so fun to watch... but most of those moves don't work over here. And if you take those moves away, what's left? And this is by no means intended to diminish Rundblad's skill--he's good--but I think there's a significant difference between having room to make a play and creating room to make a play. I enjoy the North American ice surface more because it forces you to create room somehow. Some guys, like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Erik Karlsson, have the talent to do that on their own. Sometimes teams use systems to artificially create that room. There are definitely negatives to the North American ice surface--the system method for creating space led to the New Jersey Devils' neutral zone trap, for instance--but my enjoyment comes from watching guys make something out of nothing. Everyone's got open ice at the Olympics, which means you don't need to have the talent to create space--just to take advantage of it.
3) It got lost in the shuffle, but Stephane Da Costa had a pretty good game for the Binghamton Senators last Saturday, even though the end result was a 5-4 OT loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs-- I hate those guys. Anyway, Da Costa was a big part of the team rocketing out to a 3-0 first period lead. Da Costa only finished the night with one assist, but his linemates, Mike Hoffman (2G, 1A) and Cole Schneider (2A) really tore it up. Da Costa was a factor in that game even if he wasn't on the scoresheet.
Would he have made a difference in the Senators' 7-2 buttwhippin' at the hands of the Boston Bruins? Doubtful. Does that score combined with his good play in Binghamton mean that sending him down was the right thing to do? Well... no. But it doesn't look like it was the wrong thing to do, either. Would getting his teeth kicked in by the Bruins have irrevocably ruined his development? Nope. Does getting one assist and getting his line going for one game in Ottawa mean he's going to continue to stay hot and and come back and continue playing well? Nope. He might not even get recalled at all, since, frankly, Mike Hoffman deserves another shot.
But, look, Da Costa is going to get to play tomorrow against the Penguins and Saturday against the Sharks, and then next week against the Penguins, Bulldogs, and Utica Comets. (I really hate these guys.) He might even play the following week against the Toronto Marlies. That's six games he wouldn't have gotten to play if he had stayed up. I think when it comes to young players, experience is the most important part of growing--I've mentioned this numerous times with regards to Jared Cowen's play this season--and while those six games won't make or break Da Costa's career, they're not going to hurt, either. And if there's no net negative outcome to the move, who cares?
4) So, Finland dropped some bombs on Austria, winning 8-4. Team USA rolled Slovakia 7-1. Even Russia took down Slovenia 5-2. Canada, I guess, did okay, topping Norway 3-1. On Wednesday, Sweden won their game against the Czechs 4-2, and Switzerland beat Latvia 1-0. Anyone think Switzerland or Latvia are going to medal in this tournament?
And man, I hate blowouts. Hate, in the true sense of the word. They hold no entertainment value for me. I mean, the spirit of the Olympics is competition, right? Rooting for a blowout is like cheering for the bully in a fight. I wish the competition--especially in the hockey tournaments--was more evenly balanced. As far as I'm concerned, there's no real reason to watch any games before the medal round. Until then, the question is not, "Who's going to win?" It's, "How much are they going to win by?"
I'll pass on that action.
5) As much as I am loving watching Karlsson play with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and I am seriously loving it, I'm actually starting to think that pair wouldn't be so great together in the NHL. It's that whole North American ice issue rearing its head once again. I think what makes Karlsson the best defenseman in the world is his ability to turn any situation into an attack. OEL certainly has that, too, and therein lies the rub. Marc Methot hit the nail on the head a few weeks back when he was talking about the differences between playing with Karlsson versus playing with Eric Gryba: Karlsson's style of play almost forces his partner to sit back, because you never know when he's going to take off. In the Olympics, who cares? There's so much room on the ice that the kind of devastating turnovers we see in the NHL don't happen as often--it's harder to separate a guy from the puck in open ice when he always has room to make a move.
In the NHL, though, players don't get that luxury. It's why we see so many teams opt to dump the puck in and chase it rather than risk neutral zone turnovers. And, of course, that's not to say dump-and-chase doesn't happen on larger ice, because it still does, but not, I believe to the same extent. Turnovers are the ultimate killer in this game, and smaller ice surface is unforgiving when it comes to that aspect--there's no room for mistakes.
And that means if you pair a guy like Karlsson with a guy like OEL, you're essentially asking one of them to sit back and cover while the other one does his thing. And while there are worse things in the world than having two speedy, skilled defensemen covering for each other, the net result would be that you're not maximizing both players' talents at the same time. It'd be like being behind the wheel of a sports car in a traffic jam--what's the point? No, I think the ideal partner for Karlsson in the NHL would be Zdeno Chara. Obviously, that's never going to happen, but if you can find a guy that Karlsson trusts enough to really let him run wild, I think that's the best of both worlds. I think Jared Cowen could be that guy in a few years, but right now, I don't think the Sens have that kind of player. Eric Gryba's probably the closest fit, because when I mention Chara, it's not because of his size, it's because of his difficulty to play against in his own zone.