The idea that the NHL regular season is just an 82-game preseason is maybe the last vestige of a time when 16 of the then-21 teams made the playoffs. These days, when exactly half the teams are culled, some genuinely decent teams don’t make it. Teams like the Knights last year can rack up over 90 points and not make it, though we thank them for it because it was utterly hilarious. It may be a pointless and endless jaunt for teams firmly ensconced at the top of the standings, but for a whole host anywhere near the cutoff line, it’s a necessary exercise filled with excitement and drama. As dramatic as a Thursday night in Calgary can be, that is.
But that doesn’t mean that the NHL decides who has 82 games end justifiably or in utter dejection isn’t one of the dumber things going in sports right now. One need look no further than the Pacific Division to see why.
God save the Kings
Let us start with the Los Angeles Kings. The Figueroa Formation (I just thought of that) currently sits third in the Pacific, the last automatic playoff spot, with 58 points. Folks, lemme tell ya, the Kings aren’t good at anything. They’re 17th in goals per game. They’re 22nd in goals-against per game. Their penalty kill makes the baby Jesus weep. Their power play barely rises to the level of decent. Their metrics are just above middling, 13th in Corsi-percentage and 10th in expected goals percentage at even-strength. Their goaltending is less presentable than a puke-puddle in Hollywood, a far more common occurrence than most people realize. They’re not even getting all that lucky, considering their shooting percentage is 24th in the NHL.
This isn’t even a team being carried by some Atlas-like performance by anyone. Kevin Fiala is producing at a point-per-game rate, good for 32nd in the league, and their leading goal-scorer Adrian Kempe (I always have this urge to call him “Mario” because apparently, I have a fascination with mid-70s Argentine strikers with incredible hair. Unlikely I’m the only one. And yes that was “Kempes” but it’s that kind of day) is on pace for 31 goals. There is simply nothing remarkable about the Kings, who scream that they should be a team that misses out on the playoffs by anywhere from 5-10 points.
And yet they have not just a spot but an automatic spot thanks to three wins in overtime and an additional four in the shootout. That’s seven points they’ve gained in the standings in things that don’t really have much to do with hockey as we know it.
Yes, I know, fans love 3-on-3 overtime. Listen to the crowd during it, I’m told. This is the same argument the Cherry acolytes trot out to keep fighting in the game, and no one who can count to six thinks fighting should be in hockey anymore. 3-on-3 is faux excitement. It’s a farce. It’s fake. I know, lots of things happen. But it’s really no different than the Manfred Man in extra-innings and everyone loathes that too. It’s being simply handed a chance to score without doing anything to earn it, which is the whole point of hockey. I’m sure if we decided baseball games by not allowing pitchers to throw anything other than batting practice fastballs, we’d see some of the game’s biggest sluggers end games with majestic blasts that would get a whole lot of ooze-filled goobers clapping like seals. What makes baseball’s best baseball’s best is they can do that while facing the most difficult challenges on the mound. Ditto hockey. Connor McDavid isn’t Connor McDavid because he can scorch through space that other teams simply can’t cover, it’s because he creates it against five defenders.
Problem rampant elsewhere in NHL, too
The Kings aren’t alone. The division-leading Knights have five overtime wins and an additional three in the shootout. Again, eight points they basically go out of a skeeball machine. Their 21 regulation wins are good for 11th best in the league. And this is a division leader? Their +17 goal difference is 12th. Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames, a genuinely well-constructed team, lead the league in losses in overtime with nine. That doesn’t mean they lack something, it just means a whole bunch of coin-flips — basically, rebounds that bounced a certain way that led to a 2-on-1 the other way which is all overtime is — haven’t gone their way. And now they’re scrapping for their playoff lives even though they have a goal difference some 14 goals better than the Kings.
The Oilers have 25 wins in regulation, again the whole point of the exercise, which dwarfs anything anyone else in the division has done. They get a wildcard spot for their troubles.
We know why it works this way. Gary Bettman and his cronies long ago figured out the shootout and the point given for just reaching overtime creates fake parity. Teams always kind of look like they’re in the playoff chase unless they’re truly a disaster (and most of them these days are trying to be a disaster as they “Suck Hard For Bedard”). Only nine of the 32 teams right now would “appear” to be under .500 to the layman, and a three-point gap to a playoff spot or division lead sounds small if you don’t know how hard it is to gain any ground in this wasteland of ginned-up equality.
But it is not what it appears to be, and it never has been. And for that, we get whatever it is this Kings thing is presented as a playoff team. Maybe it is all a waste of time.
Thomas Partey: Arsenal midfielder to have MRI scan after FA Cup fourth-round defeat at Manchester City | Football News
Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey will have an MRI scan this weekend after coming off injured in the FA Cup fourth-round defeat at Manchester City.
Partey was substituted at half-time in Friday night’s loss as he was replaced by Albert Sambi Lokonga.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta confirmed the Ghanaian, who has been an influential part of their season, was in “some discomfort”.
Arteta said: “He had some discomfort and it was getting worse and worse.
“He was uncomfortable to continue. (Saturday) or the day after he will have an MRI scan and see what he has.
“We have at the moment the injury of Mo (Elneny). It is not possible to get him fit. (Albert) Sambi has come in and has done well.
“It is true Thomas is a big influence and a big personality and in the second half we didn’t have him.”
The Gunners are on the lookout for a new midfielder before the transfer window closes and any serious injury to the 29-year-old could accelerate those plans ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, with Mohamed Elneny currently out injured.
Arsenal had a £60m bid for Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo rejected on Friday.
The south-coast club insist Caicedo is not for sale in this January transfer window, but Arsenal remain interested and are deciding whether to go back in with an improved offer.
Late on Friday night, the Ecuador international released a social media post asking Brighton to take up a ‘magnificent opportunity’ following Arsenal’s £60m bid.
Asked about a move for the 21-year-old following the defeat at City, Arteta responded: “You know that I am not going to comment on any players until anything is done, and I will continue like that.”
Asked if Arsenal hope to be busy in the coming days, the Spaniard replied: “We have been pretty active in the market.
“We have some necessities and if something else is available, the club is willing to try to do it when it is reasonable and hopefully it’s a player that can improve our squad.”
Keane: I expected more from Arsenal at City
Roy Keane says he “expected more” from Arsenal in their 1-0 FA Cup defeat at City and labelled their performance “disappointing”.
The north London side sit top of the Premier League, five points ahead of City but they were beaten by Nathan Ake’s second-half winner in the first meeting between the two sides this season.
Arteta, however, did make six changes from last weekend’s Premier League win over Manchester United, while City made just two as they included the likes of Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne in their starting XI.
Former Manchester United midfielder Keane told ITV: “It was hard to gauge Arsenal tonight because of the team they put out.
“Looking at the starting line-up you could sense that this was not their priority. They want to get that Premier League title.
“But I know the players are going to be down for the next few days as they don’t want to get beat.
“They’ll recover and if they go on to win the league, they’ll say they had to sacrifice this game, but when you make so many changes particularly defensively, you send the message that you’re not that bothered – which is not a good message to send.
“I expected more from Arsenal tonight but they were disappointing.”
Pep: Arsenal will switch things up in title race
Pep Guardiola has dismissed suggestions City’s 1-0 win will have any impact on the Premier League title race.
The Spaniard admitted the tactics employed by his former assistant Mikel Arteta surprised him as Arsenal’s man-to-man marking interrupted City’s flow.
“It was a tight game, a difficult opponent,” Guardiola said. “The second half was better apart from 10 minutes after the goal.
“I didn’t expect this approach, the man-to-man. It made the process difficult. In the second half we had to contact more than usual with Erling (Haaland), it is what we had to do. But it is a victory, the next round, we will see what we have to do.”
City head to the Emirates on February 15 in the Premier League but Guardiola said he did not think this result will have any bearing.
He said: “I am pretty sure both teams are going to adjust something.
“I have the feeling now they are going to do something differently.”
Keane: It’ll take a lot to stop City
Guardiola’s side have now won their last three games after suffering back-to-back defeats earlier this month.
Keane told ITV: “Pep Guardiola criticised his players a couple of weeks ago but they’ve reacted well.
“These boys are naturally winners over the past few years so they’re used to it. It’ll take a lot to stop them.
“What we saw tonight was the experience Manchester City have shown over the last few years, knowing how to win games.
“There was one real lapse from Arsenal and they got punished for it.
“It’s good to win matches when you’re not at your very best and there’s a lot more to come from City. They weren’t at their very best tonight but in the FA Cup it’s about getting the job done.”
FA Cup Hits and Misses: Man City and Arsenal take lessons from Etihad tie, Leandro Trossard catches eye, John Stones suffers injury | Football News
What lessons will top two take from their cup clash?
Pre-match it felt like Mikel Arteta’s team selection could open the door for a damaging defeat for Arsenal. But in the end his side equipped themselves well and although the FA Cup defeat will frustrate and hurt his players, perhaps the Arsenal head coach escaped the Etihad without his priority – the Premier League challenge – substantially hit by the loss to rivals Manchester City.
The more optimistic Arsenal supporters may even suggest the game offers encouragement, with Arteta likely to field a far stronger starting XI when the sides finally meet in the league at the Emirates on February 15.
But really there was little given away by either side in regards to how that game could play out in a couple of weeks. City looked more effective with Julian Alvarez playing off Erling Haaland, so that could be an option, while Pep Guardiola noted how Arsenal’s man-to-man marking set-up limited his team’s options. Expect him to be already mulling over possible solutions.
He will certainly need to decide on his best defensive options, with Stones looking set to be a doubt, and the two Premier League games both sides have to play before their next showdown could shift the storyline too. Anyway, Arsenal might have Moises Caicedo in their midfield by then.
This was a tie far removed from the all-action thriller that was Arsenal vs Manchester United last weekend but it serves as an intriguing appetiser for the bigger contests to come between the Premier League’s top two so far this season…
Trossard looks like he could become a key asset for Arsenal
He’s only been at the club for just over a week but already Leandro Trossard has seamlessly slotted into this Arsenal team – and appears to be a real asset too.
After an encouraging cameo in the final stages of the win over Manchester United on Sunday, Trossard was handed his first start for the Gunners at the Etihad and immediately caught the eye.
Driving down the left flank into the space left unoccupied by Rico Lewis drifting infield, Trossard caused City real problems early on. He teed up Takehiro Tomiyasu for a thunderbolt and another cross was prodded just wide of the post by Eddie Nketiah. In between he hit the target himself, drawing a good stop from Stefan Ortega in the City goal.
He was subbed off after 65 minutes but finished the match as Arsenal’s joint-top chance creator (two), joint-top crosser (two) and also their joint-top tackler. Indeed, his chasing back will have pleased Mikel Arteta, with Riyad Mahrez hardly getting into the game behind him.
Perhaps the one problem for Arsenal was that all this output came from just 21 touches – the fewest of any starter from either side. If Arsenal can find a way to get him even more involved in the coming weeks, new boy Trossard could play a key role in the run-in.
How big a loss will Stones prove in title race?
Pep Guardiola’s face said it all.
John Stones winced and tucked his legs into his chase, to reduce the pain that had shot through his right hamstring in freezing conditions in Manchester.
Trossard had left the England centre-back’s thighs burning for most of the opening half, slightly exposed by Rico Lewis’ exuberance to get forward down the right channel.
Another twist, another turn and Stones felt the ping and his likely period on the sidelines will put Manchester City’s clear depth in this area to the test.
At the start of the month, Guardiola highlighted Stones’ form, telling Sky Sports: “John he played extraordinary in the World Cup and he can adapt perfectly with three or out wide.
“He is playing at the best level, maybe for the first time in seven years since we arrived together. When he is playing like this it’s so good.”
Such was the significance of Stones’ injury, Aymeric Laporte was in no way ready to replace him. Sheepishly, he stripped off as his side temporarily had to play with 10 men.
It was hardly the sharpest of responses from Laporte, who would go on to make a crucial interception shortly after Nathan Ake’s decisive opener.
With fixtures coming thick and fast in February – including the second instalment of this epic trilogy with Arsenal – greater emphasis will be placed on Laporte and Ruben Dias, who was an unused substitute on Friday. It could be a tense wait for Guardiola as Stones is assessed.
Arteta’s harsh Holding lesson learned
Haaland won five of his seven duels in the first half, predominantly up against Rob Holding. The Arsenal centre-back was booked on the stroke of half-time and it had been coming. It left Mikel Arteta with a conundrum to solve.
Would he be trusted to be careful during the second period against one of the world’s most prolific strikers?
Holding didn’t know whether to stick or twist, and mismatch brought back nasty memories of when he was sent off before half-time in the North London derby at Tottenham towards the end of last season as Arsenal’s season unravelled.
Holding was also in the Arsenal side that were beaten in the third-round stage last season by Nottingham Forest, which led to Arteta apologising for his side’s display.
With a face like thunder, Arteta ripped into the performance of the players while criticising the low standards that came with it.
“I accept losing guys, I accept losing. I don’t accept these standards, I’m telling you. I don’t accept them, I don’t accept them, these standards,” he said while furiously wagging his finger around.
“When I lose a duel, I am upset,” Arteta ended as he stormed out of the dressing-room.
It is a scene that has been revisited more recently as a marker for how far Arsenal have come in the past 12 months, but on Friday night Arteta showed he had learned from harsh previous lessons.
Against the most ruthless finisher in England, the Spaniard took no chances as William Saliba replaced Holding at the interval.
Incidentally, Arteta defended Holding when he was sent off against Spurs last May, telling Sky Sports: “If I say what I think, then I am suspended for six months. I don’t like lying. I prefer not to say what I think. I cannot say what I think. I am so proud of my players. A beautiful game was destroyed.”
But here, Arteta was wise not to make the same mistake twice, for Holding’s own good and for the wider good of his team.
Real Madrid rule out summer move for West Ham’s Declan Rice – Paper Talk | Transfer Centre News
All the top stories and transfer rumours from Saturday’s newspapers…
Moises Caicedo is considering handing in a transfer request to force a late move to Arsenal or Chelsea
The ECB have offered Azeem Rafiq three days with their legal team to prepare him for the Yorkshire racism hearing next month in a move that will raise questions about the governing body’s role in the process.
Roma attacker Nicolo Zaniolo has reportedly rejected a move to Bournemouth having told his agent that he has no interest in continuing negotiations with the Premier League club.
Dani Alves has been ‘signing autographs for fellow inmates in prison’ but has since been moved to another jail for ‘security reasons’ after being remanded without bail over an alleged sexual assault.
The Saudi Pro League is set to adjust its rules in a bid to lure Lionel Messi over to the Middle East to join long-term rival Cristiano Ronaldo, according to reports.
Real Madrid have reportedly ruled out a summer move for West Ham midfielder Declan Rice.
James Maddison could still join Newcastle United ahead of next week’s January transfer deadline in spite of Leicester City having already rejected at least one concrete bid for the 26-year-old’s signature, according to reports.
Chelsea have three goalkeepers on their transfer shortlist to put the futures of both Edouard Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga at risk, according to reports.
Chelsea are ready to launch a fresh swoop for Enzo Fernandez and are even willing to offer Benfica ‘a few players’ in return for the Argentina midfielder, according to reports in Portugal.
Football chiefs are to rip up the rule book on penalties to clamp down on gamesmanship after Emi Martinez’s World Cup antics.
Leicester City are set to complete the signing of Brazilian winger Tete from Lyon until the end of the season.
N’Gola Kante is reportedly set to return from injury for Chelsea’s Champions League last-16 clash with Borussia Dortmund.
Dele Alli finally appears to have won over the Besiktas fanbase after a goalscoring return to the starting line-up.
Gabriel Martinelli has agreed a new contract with Arsenal until the summer of 2027.
The bitter rift between Uefa and the former Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli, could leave one of the architects of the European Super League liable to legal action from the governing body.
Nottingham Forest are willing to offload summer signings Lewis O’Brien and Harry Toffolo this month.
Rangers have tabled an improved £2m package to land Morgan Whittaker.
THE SCOTTISH SUN
Rangers have teamed up with AC/DC to launch a new clothing range ahead of the rock band’s upcoming 2023 tour and new book which will be released this year.
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