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Carving a bird
One bird down
11/21/06 - By Ken Smyth

Give the Sharks some credit, after a four game road trip lacking in style points they return to the Tank and win 6-1, coming down on the Philadelphia Flyers like a shoe on a bug. Two goals on the board in the first five minutes; before the opposition's first shot on Vesa Toskala. First bird before Thanksgiving successfully plucked and roasted. Now for the Duck.

Coach Ron Wilson was openly critical of his team for some pretty sloppy habits of late. Can't say I blame him. Winning coaches often get fired because their team isn't playing quite as good as the management thinks it should; call it the Steinbrenner Syndrome. But the Sharks came out strong Saturday night, with six goals from six people and four lines contributing. Vesa Toskala handled only 18 shots but kept the Flyers face in the sand with some spectacular saves off Geoff Sanderson and Derien Hatcher in the first period. Some credit to the scouting staff too, or maybe Tivo, for way the Sharks capitalized on goaltender Robert Esche on short side shots. A bit sloppy in the third period, but by then it was settles except for who got the drumsticks.

They'll need a good effort like this against the Ducks Tuesday- it's the two baddest boys on the coast meeting in the renamed Pond. It's now the Honda Center; sorry, I can't picture Teemu in a Civic. Luckily the Ducks slapped the Coyotes around (doesn't everybody?) to break their two-game slide. Hope they feel all good about themselves, skip practice and spend the day at the beach, its almost 90 in So Cal. Game on.

More from Saturday

As for the Flyer fanatics, dozens of whom were present in their Halloween-ey gear, they came to rag on us as usual but were shut down pretty quick by the score. These weren't posers or wannabe east coasters out there; most of those Flyer shirts carried names of recent past glory: Renberg, LeClair, Primeau. Give them some credit, too.

Most of them stuck it out quietly till near the end, though a group near Visiting Goalies' stool got a bit testy when SJ Sharkie came by to mock them in the third period.

John Stevens was given a two-year contract to coach the Flyers, removing the "acting" from his title. Which suggests that management sees the awful start this season as an aberraton, not a sign that the team needs complete overhaul. In turn that suggests they saw the games in LA and Anaheim, but skipped San Jose.

Inter division schedule - or lack of a plan

Okay, a few words about the NHL schedule formula: it sucks. Granted that the eastern teams are likeing the idea seeing the Sharks, Kings, Canucks, etc only in glacial epochs ending in "R". Granted too that the NHL brass likes having the Flyers, Rangers, Devils etc. play each other a lot in a division separated by an hour flight, including security; and that Hockey Night in Canada can show a Montreal/Toronto game three out of four Saturdays. It still sucks.

This scheduling scheme was devised as a way to help teams save on travel expenses. That crutch is no longer needed. The Canadian dollar is up against the US dollar like almost every currency not printed on Charmin. Attendance is good as fans forgot the labor dispute almost immediately and the salary cap is working.

Meanwhile, Western fans can't get a good look at stars like Ovechkin, Crosby, Kovalchuk, etc. not to mention the Leafs, Canadiens, Ragers, etc. Cities in the Hockey Homeland up north are especially miffed about that. It's also clear that the Western Conference travel schedule puts their teams at a competitive disadvantage in May and June during the playoffs, and those airline miles don't trade for Stanley Cup rings. Maybe that falls on deaf ears in Eastern Conference, but its bad for the gameas a whole.

So here's my plan, thought up during an eleven-hour Singapore Airlines odyssey. Right now the teams play one division in the other conference at home, another on the road and the third not at all, in rotation. That makes ten games. Why not make it twenty games, playing one division on the road only, one at home only, one at home and on the road? That way every team gets to play every other team.

The ten added inter-conference games on a teams schedule get taken out of the intra conference schedule. Instead of playing each team in the other divisions of the coference four times, make it three and alternate which division gets the extra home game against a given one.

For example- the Pacific Divison teams would play every team in the Northwest and Central division three times in a season. One season they would play the Central teams two home and one on the road and the Northwest one home and two on the road. Next season it would reverse with the Pacific playing Central one home two road and Northwest two home and one road.

This wouldn't hurt travel schedules much for the Western Conference, but the East would need to buck it up and sit on a plane a bit more. It would let every NHL team play every other every season. It preserves the divisional rivalries, keeping things a bit nasty. My two cents, and I'll take it in Canadian even up.

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