Obscured in the NHL by controversies surrounding goons such as Chris Simon, and foul-mouthed tirades from coaches such as John Tortorella, has been a remarkable feat by a Sharp shooter with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Heading into Thursday night's competition, Patrick Sharp had scored six – SIX – shorthanded goals. Let’s put this in perspective:
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•Jason Blake, signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs for megabucks as a free agent in the off-season largely because of his scoring prowess, entered Thursday night with five goals – one fewer than Sharp had scored shorthanded.
•Renowned sniper Sergei Fedorov of the Columbus Blue Jackets had as many goals on the season as Sharp had shorthanded.
•Recognizable names such as Todd Bertuzzi, Sergei Zubov, Jozef Stumpel, Mike Grier, Raffi Torres and Jordin Tootoo all had fewer goals on the season than Sharp had shorthanded .
•No team in the NHL had scored more shorthanded goals than Sharp.
•Not one team in the NHL had scored more shorthanded goals than Sharp.
•Two teams – the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers – had not produced even a single shorthanded goal this season.
Needless to say, Sharp is on pace to set an NHL record for shorthanded goals. The 26-year-old right-winger from Thunder Bay, Ont., also should be en route to the NHL All-Star Game next month.
So what's his secret?
''It's just attacking, being aggressive,'' Sharp explained after scoring his sixth shorthanded goal in a Chicago win over the Nashville Predators Wednesday night. ''If we're passive, standing around, that allows their skill players to deal the puck and make plays.”
•Rick Tocchet returns to the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 7, and he'll be right back as Wayne Gretzky's assistant coach.
Gretzky has been tightlipped about what role Tocchet would play in the Coyotes' scheme, but sources have revealed that he'll be the head coach's right-hand man, just as he was before he was charged with being part of a gambling ring. Last May, Tocchet pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with that ring.
The Coyotes have been using three coaches this season, the smallest staff in the NHL. There's plenty of room for Tocchet. Truth is, Tocchet is one of Gretzky's best friends. The two have a lot in common. A lot.
•Let's credit Gretzky, by the way, for his coaching this season.
The Coyotes haven't been bad at all, after a terrible season in 2006-07. There were times last season when some of us suggested The Great One would be, or at least should have been, fired as Phoenix's head coach.
But he's persevered, with victories lately against the Rangers in New York and the Flyers in Philadelphia, and he's doing his utmost to prove that not all superstars turn out to be lousy coaches.
•The outdoor game at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium on New Year's Day will attract the largest crowd in NHL history -- about 72,000 customers.
The game between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins will be carried on NBC, with high-profile Bob Costas participating in the coverage.
"Other guys have more expertise in hockey than I do," Costas said. "But I really enjoy the NHL. And, for this game, it'll be my job to provide overview and set the scene. That's how I'll approach it here. I'm not going to analyze the game. I'll present the concept. It really is an event."
•And the event should be interesting, even though the participants probably won't like it much.
"I know people who've participated in outdoor NHL games before didn't enjoy it," said the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, "but, for me, it would be pretty cool to play outside."
Kane is a Buffalo native, and he's certain there will be no negative feedback from the fans in the stands at Ralph Wilson Stadium, regardless of how inclement the weather may be.
"People don't worry about weather in Buffalo," he said. "It's just like being at a Bills game. They know how to handle it, and they love it."
•Goaltender Henrik Lundquist of the Rangers was included in People Magazine's list of 100 Most Beautiful People.
Henrik's twin brother, Joel, who plays for the Dallas Stars, was not included.
•Every NHLer would like to end his career with a Stanley Cup victory, perhaps a game-winning goal, or something memorable of that nature.
Imagine, though, how Chris Simon must feel. After 17 years in the NHL, his last move on the ice was stomping an opponent with his skate. He's been suspended for an NHL-record 30 games and, face it, he'll never be back in the league.
What a dreadful way to go out.
•And, on a happier note, here's wishing you and yours the very best of the season.
Back at you in the new year.