Monday, November 30, 2009

NHL Recap 11-29-09

Stars of the night
--Jim Vandermeer, 2 goals, including the overtime winner, as Phoenix downed Anaheim, 3-2.
--Evgeni Nabokov, 25 saves in San Jose's 4-2 win over Vancouver.

Corey Perry's assist on Bobby Ryan's goal extended his points streak to a franchise-record 18 games. Teemu Selanne in 1999 held the old record.

Dany Heatley has now gone three games without a goal. Dan Boyle helped pick up the slack, scoring to break a 1-1 tie and Frazer McLaren netted his first career goal for San Jose.

Ballroom blitz
The Sharks struck for two goals in 13 seconds in the final three minutes to stretch their lead from 2-1 to 4-1, a good thing since Vancouver scored with seven seconds remaining.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 26 saves. Coyotes center Mathew Lombardi (one goal) was the third star, Perry was second and Vandermeer was first.

Quote of the night
"We are not an offensive juggernaut as of yet. We realize that if we can keep our head above water and keep picking away, we think that we are capable of being better than what we've done so far."
Phoenix captain Shane Doan

Marquee matchup
Monday, Nov. 30 (8 games)
Pittsburgh (18-9-0) at N.Y. Rangers (13-12-1), 7 p.m. ET. The teams met Saturday and the Penguins embarrassed the Rangers, 8-3. New York became obsessed for exacting retribution on Matt Cooke, whose elbow to Artem Anisimov's head knocked the forward out of the game. Cooke received a two-game suspension. Also in the game, New York's Sean Avery jumped Ruslan Fedotenko and ended up with seven minutes in penalties for his actions.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Around the league


So, what's going on in the NHL? Let's take a glance.

--It's looking like Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere might be over the struggles that have plagued him basically since the start of the 2008-09 season. Giguere has started Anaheim's last three games, all wins, giving up just four goals in that time. He made 41 saves against Calgary and blanked the high-powered Blackhawks offense. It'll be interesting to see who starts for the Ducks tonight, Giguere or Jonas Hiller.

--There are so many injuries in the NHL today that no one is safe. Not only did Penguins president David Morehouse suffer a heart attack as the team was set to leave San Jose earlier this season, but referee Dave Jackson tore his ACL and MCL after a collision in the Columbus-Montreal game last week and will miss the rest of the season.

--Speaking of injuries, former Penguins prospect Angelo Esposito, a one-time consensus No. 1 pick that Pittsburgh drafted at No. 20, can rehab with Jackson after tearing his ACL. Esposito was the centerpiece of Pittsburgh's trade for Atlanta's Marian Hossa at the 2008 trade deadline and will miss the rest of the season. Esposito tore the ACL in the same knee last season as well.

--Speaking of Atlanta, how happy is Maxim Afinogenov to be away from Buffalo and Lindy Ruff? Not that I'm bashing either of those latter two entities, but the speedy Russian, who always butted heads with Ruff, has found new life with the Thrashers and countrymen Nik Antropov and some guy named Kovalchuk.

After scoring 16 goals and 48 points in 104 games over the past two seasons with the Sabres, when Afinogenov was often injured or a healthy scratch, he already has 10 goals and 24 points in 23 games this season. He's surpassed his 2008-09 totals (6-14-20).

--What's gone wrong in Columbus? After being so staunch defensively a year ago, the Blue Jackets can't hang onto leads. In 2008-09, they were ninth-best in team goals against average and third-best in shots against. This season? Third-worst in GAA (3.44) and 24th in shots against.

--I poked my head into a Colorado blog recently to try to learn of the extent of Milan Hejduk's injury and was somewhat surprised by so many comments I was seeing about how third-overall pick Matt Duchene is a bust and won't amount to anything in the NHL. Little early to give up on him, isn't it?

(Hejduk is day-to-day, for the record. Which is significantly better than David Jones.)

--Not to heap more misery on Minnesota fans, but Martin Skoula (3-4-7) has more goals and almost as many points as Martin Havlat (2-6-8).

--The Penguins are starting to get healthy. In recent games, they welcomed back to the lineup Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, and three more regulars returned Saturday. Spark-plug right winger Tyler Kennedy and defensemen Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang played against the Rangers after missing several weeks each, and they combined for five points in the 8-3 rout.

Defenseman Jay McKee, who ranked among the league's leading shot-blockers prior to his injury, could return Monday.

--Coaches who may be feeling some heat: Randy Carlysle (Anaheim), Paul Maurice (Carolina), Andy Murray (St. Louis), and there are rumblings that Philadelphia's John Stevens should loosen his collar a bit.

--Marian Gaborik's been phenomenal for the Rangers, but that just makes them a one-dimensional offense instead of no-dimensional. He needs to get more support.

(Maybe I should've waited to say that until after Monday's Rangers-Penguins rematch. New York might score five goals from five different players, none who wear #10.)

--Who says the best players are in the East? Five of the top six scoring leaders, including No. 1, and seven of the top 10 are in the West. In order: Thornton, Gaborik, Kopitar, Brad Richards, Marleau, Heatley, Crosby, Penner, Parise, Perry.

--Kevin Lowe is somewhere saying, "Great, Dustin Penner. NOW you start playing well."

--I wasn't sure where Christian Ehrhoff would fit in on Vancouver's blue line, but he leads the Canucks D in scoring with 17 points, including six goals, which is fifth-best on the team.

--Lastly (about time, right?), is Phil Kessel missing Marc Savard or is Savard missing Kessel? Savard has four goals and six assists in 11 games (on pace for roughly 74 points over an 82-game season) while Kessel has eight goals (three assists) in 12 games, on pace for roughly 54 goals over an 82-game season.

It helps that Kessel is averaging more than five shots per game. Over an 82-game season, Kessel would register an Ovechkin-like 458 shots for the year, nearly double his total from last year of 232. Once again, I question why Boston wanted to pay Milan Lucic (hurt again) $4 million but not pay Kessel $5 million.

Farewell for now, and Happy Square Dance Day to all.

NHL Recap 11-28-09

Stars of the night
--Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias, two goals and two assists each as New Jersey skated past the Islanders, 6-1.
--Johan Hedberg, 34 saves in Atlanta's 1-0 win over Philadelphia. The great Rich Peverley had the goal.
--Sidney Crosby, hat trick and two assists as the Penguins spanked the Rangers, 8-3.
--Ryan Kesler, three assists, Mason Raymond a goal and two assists as Vancouver blitzed Edmonton for five first-period goals in what became a 7-3 rout.

Working late
--Michael Ryder's goal in the fourth round gave Boston a 4-3 shootout win over Ottawa, a game in which the Bruins trailed 2-0 then led 3-2 before conceding Milan Michalek's second goal of the game with 20 seconds left in regulation. David Krejci and Dennis Wideman each had a goal and assist for Boston.
--Washington's Eric Fehr scored four seconds after a power play started with 16 seconds remaining for his second goal of the game, and the Capitals went on to a 4-3 shootout win over Montreal. Nicklas Backstrom's goal was the winner.
--The Flames scored twice in 1:19 late in the third period en route to a 4-3 shootout win at Columbus. Olli Jokinen had a goal and assist and Jamie Lundmark's goal in the fourth round earned the extra point.
--Yet another late goal that led to a win. This time it was Henrik Zetterberg scoring with 57 seconds left for Detroit in what proved to be a 4-3 Red Wings shootout victory at St. Louis. Todd Bertuzzi's shootout marker was the winner. Brad Boyes, called out on this blog yesterday, has goals in two straight games.
--Dallas conceded two goals in 47 seconds but rebounded and defeated Tampa Bay, 4-3, on Tom Wandell's overtime goal off a feed from Loui Eriksson. Stephane Robidas and Brad Richards each had two points for the Stars.
--Josh Harding made 20 saves, including several key stops, and Minnesota got some nice contributions from newcomers Guillaume Latendresse (game-tying goal) and Andrew Ebbett (shootout clincher) to defeat Colorado for the second time in two nights, 3-2.
--Jonathan Quick stopped 32 shots in regulation and two more in the shootout, and the Kings knocked off Chicago, 2-1. Wayne Simmonds (LA) and Jonathan Toews scored in regulation, and the Kings got shootout markers from Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson.

Oops, we did it again
For the second straight game, Carolina conceded five goals in the third period and lost to Buffalo, 5-1. Ryan Miller (30 saves) was sensational for the Sabres, who had five different goal scorers. Tyler Myers had three assists.

Are we at the point where we feel sad for Carolina? Past it? Not there yet?

Not resting on his laurels
Nashville backup goalie Dan Ellis hadn't played since Nov. 10, a 4-3 loss to San Jose, but showed little signs of rust in making 23 saves to help the Predators beat the Panthers, 4-1. Nashville scored three times in the third period. Dan Hamhuis had a goal and an assist and J.P. Dumont netted the winner.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Just one tonight. The voting parties did a good job. Vancouver's Alexander Edler, who had a goal and two assists. Third star was Christian Ehrhoff (one goal, one assist), Raymond was second and Kesler was No. 1.

Quote of the night
"When I walked into the building and saw the free hats, the thought did cross my mind that hopefully somebody would get a hat trick to see those things on the ice. It takes a little bit of extra time, but I liked why they went on the ice."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma; it was Hat Giveaway Night in Pittsburgh.

Marquee matchup
Sunday, Nov. 29 (2 games)
San Jose (17-6-4) at Vancouver (14-11-0), 10 p.m. ET. What is it with the Canucks and playing on Sunday? Anyway, fresh off a seven-goal outburst, it'll be interesting to see what Vancouver does for an encore.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

NHL Recap 11-27-09

Stars of the night
--Martin Brodeur, 32 saves in New Jersey's 2-1 shootout win over Boston. Zach Parise scored in regulation and in the shootout for the Devils.
--Tim Connolly, two goals and two assists to lead Buffalo over Philadelphia, 4-2.
--Chuck Kobasew, hat trick for Minnesota in its 5-3 win over Colorado.
--Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 40 shots to help Calgary heap more misery on Detroit, 3-0. Jamie Lundmark and Olli Jokinen each had a goal and an assist.
--Kurtis Foster, two goals, Martin St. Louis three assists as Tampa Bay rolled over the Rangers, 5-1.
--Alexei Ponikarovsky, a goal and three assists, and Niklas Hagman and Phil Kessel, two goals each in Toronto's wild 6-4 win over Florida.
--Chris Mason, 37 saves as St. Louis snapped Nashville's seven-game win streak, 3-1.
--Lauri Korpikoski, two goals for Phoenix in a 5-2 win over Dallas.

A pair of firsts
Islanders rookie John Tavares scored his first game-winning goal and New York recorded its first win when trailing after two periods by besting Pittsburgh, 3-2. Tavares now has 10 goals on the season. The Islanders were 0-7-3 when losing after two periods.

Oops, cancel the parade route
How does a team go from being considered the prime Stanley Cup contender to just a plain old contender? By following a 7-2 shellacking of a top team by being blanked 3-0 by one of the worst, as Chicago did when it was shut out by Anaheim. Teemu Selanne had two power play goals and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 28 saves.

Seriously, they just won't die
A short time ago I mentioned Atlanta's incredible goal differential in the third period of games. The Thrashers improved that stat Friday in a big way. Trailing 4-1 after two periods, Atlanta roared back for five goals in the final 14 minutes of a 6-4 win over Carolina.

Slava Kozlov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Maxim Afinogenov and Rich Peverley had the key goals. Tobias Enstrom had three assists for Atlanta.

Warm welcome
OK, not really. Dany Heatley played his first game in Edmonton since twice refusing to waive his no-trade clause, and while he was held to one assist - while Dustin Penner had a goal and assist - the Sharks came away 5-4 winners in a shootout. Patrick Marleau carried the scoring load, netting a hat trick - including a shorthanded goal with 1:26 remaining when San Jose pulled its goalie - and an assist.

Non-3 Stars Selections of the night
3. Mikko Koivu (three assists)
2. Selanne
1. Ponikarovsky

Quote of the night
"I'm not going to dissect the game tonight because we were outplayed and the best thing about tonight is we play tomorrow and we can push this one right out (of our minds). We stunk tonight! It was an embarrassing loss! Let's leave it at that."
Rangers coach John Tortorella, who coached his first game against his former team, Tampa Bay

Bonus quote
"We have a group that stares at the puck and doesn't recognize danger."
Oilers coach Pat Quinn, fast becoming a regular contributor after a loss

Marquee matchup
Saturday, Nov. 28 (13 games)
Chicago (16-6-2) at Los Angeles (14-10-2), 10:30 p.m. ET.

Friday, November 27, 2009

NHL teams say no thanks


As promised, here are what NHL teams are NOT thankful for, things they could do (or could have done) without.

Anaheim: The 2009 offseason. Gone is Chris Pronger. Acquired were Joffrey Lupul and Saku Koivu. The result so far: a 14th-place standing in the West. Yes, the goaltending has been shaky, but Lupul and Koivu have been decidedly underwhelming. And while I railed against Pronger's MVP candidacy yesterday, that doesn't mean I don't think he's good or valuable to his team.

Atlanta: The uncertainty over Ilya Kovalchuk's desire to remain in town.

Boston: That it's after Thanksgiving and Dennis Wideman hasn't fully realized the season has begun.

Buffalo: Kevin Lowe, for forcing Buffalo's hand to match an offer sheet the former Edmonton GM made to Thomas Vanek, who vies with Brad Boyes for title of "most one-dimensional, least-threatening 40-goal scorer in the league." Vanek wins because of that offer sheet, which comes with a cap hit of over $7 million.

(In case you're wondering, yes, I own Vanek and Boyes both, and no, I don't feel any shame in using this blog to air my fantasy hockey grievances. Let's move along.)

Calgary: That former Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough didn't trade James Sheppard as part of a package for Olli "I like to shoot the puck, and Iginla likes to shoot, we'll get along just fine" Jokinen.

Carolina: Karma. Ever since Scott Walker - he who sucker-punched Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward and escaped suspension - scored in overtime of Game 7 to eliminate Boston in the second round this spring, nothing has gone right for the Hurricanes. They were soundly swept by the Penguins in the Eastern Final and are now suffering a nightmare season. If you offered the Hurricanes a chance this season to be swept in the conference final again, they'd take it without blinking an eye.

(See what I did there? Eye? Of the storm? Hurricane? Moving on.)

Chicago: That Dale Tallon and his salary cap advisors (like current GM Stan Bowman) screwed up the cap so much that the Blackhawks can't legally sign Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith to extensions until they clear salaries off next season's cap. The move I like to question (besides the obvious Campbell/Huet ones)? Paying Dave Bolland over $3 million after one half-decent season.

Colorado: That fans in Denver seem to be paying more attention to the "We're great, now we suck, now we're great again" Broncos and not attending hockey games.

Columbus: Two of the most dreaded words in sports: "sophomore slump." Steve Mason, I'm talking to you.

Dallas: Former GM Brett Hull, for signing Sean Avery, half of whose cap hit will remain on the Stars' books through 2012.

Detroit: The KHL, for luring away Jiri Hudler in a season in which Detroit lost Marian Hossa to Chicago, and center Valtteri Filppula and wingers Johan Franzen and Jason Williams to injuries.

Edmonton: "The Oilers sign Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year contract." The pertinent part is italicized. It's Month 2 for the 36-year-old Khabibulin (who has started more than 50 games in a season once in the last four seasons) and he's already experiencing back problems. For a goalie, that's probably a bad thing. Four years, really? Even for a guy with as squeaky clean an injury history as Khabibulin's?

Florida: Mike Richards, for turning David Booth's brain into mush, jeopardizing the career of a core member of the Panthers. Oh, and Booth's life. But mainly the career part.

Los Angeles: Too many distractions from the Ice Girls. Wait, that might be a good thing.

Minnesota: That 2008-09 was a contract season for Martin Havlat.

Montreal: Mike Komisarek leaving as a free agent. The Curse of Patrick Roy (Starting date: 1995.)

Nashville: That Steve Sullivan, similar to Havlat, regained his health and point production just in time to get a nice new contract, then forgetting how to score. (He's doing better recently, I'll give him that.)

New Jersey: The silly trapezoid behind the goal cages.

New York Islanders: Mike Milbury. Still. Honorable mention to Garth Snow.

New York Rangers: Bob Gainey, for not taking Chris Drury along with Scott Gomez.

Ottawa: Pascal Leclaire, for being born on an Indian burial ground or something. How else do you explain being injured worse while resting because of being injured? More importantly, what's next?

Philadelphia: That Daniel Carcillo is employed.

Phoenix: I think we all know the answer to this one. And it's not that it's hot there. (It's a dry heat anyway, right?)

Pittsburgh: The barren cupboard at the wing position. It's great having game-breakers like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but an injury to either, as evident this season, nearly incapacitates the offense. There's no Johan Franzen, no Marian Gaborik, not even a Vanek or Boyes among the wingers.

San Jose: The label of "perennial underachiever" that won't go away until a championship is won.

St. Louis: Boyes, for his best (worst?) impersonation of Jonathan Cheechoo, and the goal-total decline that goes with it. He needs to pull out of his spiral and soon.

Tampa Bay: Not trading Vincent Lecavalier for a bushel of goodness. The Lightning belong to Steven Stamkos now.

Toronto: Every year since 1967.

Vancouver: The International Olympic Committee, for kicking the Canucks out of town for a month and a half.

Washington: Michael Nylander's contract. Possibly Nylander himself, I don't know. But certainly the contract.

274, 275, 276.....

The "death by 1,000 paper cuts" that is this Wild fan's 2009-2010 season rolls on.

Forgive me, but the Wild is just dead-ass boring.

They're not talented enough to really compete for anything worthwhile, and they're not healthy enough to rely on their talent. Yes, they're working harder - and for closer to 60 minutes per game, which is both a nice and recent development - and that's encouraging. But it makes me feel like they're just getting back to their baseline for comparison which is: honest, hard-working team that "efforts" its way to a 2-1 loss.

Now, that's not really a problem, per se. Which is to say I have personally espoused a willingness to be patient provided that honest effort is there. Part of that stems from the memory of the experience of losing a team - in other words, something is better than nothing. And part of that stems from understanding that it does (or, should, unless you're the Rangers) take time to build a winner - time that the Wild still really hasn't had enough of, particularly considering how prior management ate its young.

But why, then, do I find a game such as Wednesday night's 2-1 SO loss to the Bruins to be so hard to sit through? If I'm allegedly happy to just have a professional team from Minnesota to watch again, should I not be bothered when that team is utterly devoid of intrigue? I should not, and yet I am (was?).

And I'll admit: that realization's a bit discomfiting.

Because, in a way, it strikes at the heart of the whole "State of Hockey"/Minnesotans as American hockey cognoscenti thing. In short: it feels like it casts us down with.....common hockey fans. Those "score or be traded," "win or you're fired" feral, gaudy American sports fans. Not the Canadian (okay, ex-Vancouver) hockey connoisseurs that we Minnesotans like to posture ourselves after - relative to our fellow Americans who follow those quaint, barbaric sports such as football and basketball. I mean, the Maple Leafs still sell out, for the love of God, and that team's streak of failure is almost Red Soxian. The Wild has had to resort to giving away free tickets to employees and their friends and family to keep their vaunted sellout streak intact.

This isn't some introspective "search your sports fan soul" entry. It is what it is. I wish the Wild could accomodate greater expectations for this season. I am, however, experienced enough to know they can't. I don't sit there and mutter to myself and shake my head at the TV as I'm watching games. I Farmville....


NHL Recap 11-26-09

Stars of the night
--Brian Elliott, 32 saves in Ottawa's 2-1 win over Columbus. Steve Mason had a solid outing ruined by giving up a soft goal late to Nick Foligno on a power play that proved to be the game-winner.
--Bob Luongo, 31 saves to help Vancouver down Los Angeles, 4-1. Anze Kopitar has almost fallen off the earth; no goals in eight straight now.

Be careful what you say
Blue Jackets defenseman Jan Hejda called out Ottawa's Jason Spezza - despite being in different conferences - after the teams' last meeting, a 1-0 Columbus victory, accusing Spezza of not wanting to play as Ottawa's season appeared to be over. Well, Spezza scored 53 seconds after Kristian Huselius gave Columbus a 1-0 lead late in the first period Thursday. Later, Hejda was in the penalty box when Foligno scored his goal.

That was apparently used as motivation by Ottawa; the funny thing is, Hejda made those comments back on Jan. 30. Spezza has a long memory, I guess.

Third time's the charm
One player who's become a running punchline in the NHL is Vancouver's Kyle Wellwood. The jokes center mainly around his weight, but he's also gone the first 19 games without a goal. Things are so bad, he basically had to score three times Thursday before finally getting one.

Wellwood was originally credited with a goal off a scramble in front of the net. That was changed to Tanner Glass' goal - bringing disappointed boos from the Canucks fans, who desperately wanted Wellwood off the schneid. Then, late in the game, Wellwood had a crack at an empty net from the blue line, only to have his shot appear to deflect off Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and glance off the post.

He got another chance a few seconds later, however, and buried it for his first goal of the season. He netted 18 a year ago. Wellwood also had an assist, and Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows each had a goal and an assist for Vancouver.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Vancouver's Ryan Kesler. One assist and a dominant night in the faceoff circle, winning 18 draws and losing just seven (72 percent). The third star was LA's Dustin Brown (despite being a minus-4; he had seven shots on goal); Henrik Sedin was second and Luongo was No. 1.

Quote of the night
"You remember it -- you don't worry too much about it but going into the game I definitely looked back to when we were struggling and they weren't shy to step on us a little bit and rub it in."
Spezza. But I still can't get over that they're still upset from a quote from so long ago.

Marquee matchup
Friday, Nov. 27 (12 games)
New Jersey (15-6-1) at Boston (12-8-4), noon. Not sure how entertaining this game will actually be, given the current state of offenses of both, but it's the only game between teams who are in the top-five in their conference. The Bruins are streaking, with four straight wins, all with Tuukka Rask in goal. The Devils look to get their first road win since going 9-0 to start.

Hockey will be on virtually all day. A game at noon, a game at one, two games at 2 p.m., one at 4 p.m., then into the standard schedule of games at 7, 7:30 and on.

Lastly, since we're in the holiday spirit, Happy Pins and Needles Day to all.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NHL teams say thanks


This is not an original idea. I can't remember when I first saw this type of column, or who wrote it, but someone else did it before me. Just getting that out of the way now.

But, on this American holiday, let's take a look at each NHL team, even the Canadian ones, and see what they are thankful for on this day.

Anaheim: Corey Perry. Without him, the Ducks might be even further back in the standings than they are now.

Atlanta: The staying power of Rich Peverley as a legitimate scoring option. A waiver-wire acquisition from Nashville last season, Peverley notched 35 points (13 goals) in 39 games for the Thrashers last season and has eight goals and 24 points in 21 games this year. Together with Ondrej Pavelec's emergence could play a factor in Ilya Kovalchuk staying in Atlanta. That would be what the Thrashers would be most thankful for, but maybe that's going to have to be a Christmas present.

Boston: The doctors who worked on Patrice Bergeron. After consecutive seasons of 70+ points, Bergeron had his career nearly derailed by a concussion stemming from a check-from-behind from Philadelphia's Randy Jones, who received a two-game suspension. Bergeron played only 10 games from that hit in 2007-08. The following year, he played 64 games, and while he posted only 39 points, he appears fully recovered now and has become Boston's top scoring threat (seven goals, 18 points) during Marc Savard's absence.

Buffalo: Ryan Miller, who if voting were conducted today, should be one of the top candidates for the Hart Trophy. He has been phenomenal.

Carolina: That the Hurricanes don't play in Toronto, Vancouver or New York. The media isn't as harsh in Raleigh.

Calgary: The end of October. It's a testament to how good Jarome Iginla is that nine points (four goals) in 12 games in the opening month is considered sub-par. Since the calendar changed months, the captain has exploded for 12 goals and 14 points in 11 games with three November contests to go.

Chicago: It's probably too harsh to say the death of owner "Dollar" Bill Wirtz, but when fans of the team of said owner actually boo during what is intended to be a moment of silence and ceremony to honor him, that's a rather telling statement as to how he mismanaged (misowned?) the team. Since his death in 2007, coincidence or not, the Blackhawks have re-emerged as a force in the NHL, potentially dominant for years to come.

Colorado: Florida not re-signing Craig Anderson, who should be the MVP if the season ended today. I don't know why there's all this love for Chris Pronger as MVP; Philadelphia was fifth in the East last season without Pronger and it's fifth right now. The Avalanche, however, were dead last in the West last season - and it wasn't all that close - and are now third. Most of it is on Anderson's shoulders.

Columbus: Rick Nash signing a lengthy extension to stay in town. He's really really good.

Dallas: The health of Brad Richards, who has a team-high 30 points in 22 games, which is fourth in the league.

Detroit: That it's only November. The Red Wings are 10th in the West right now but there's plenty of time for them to get healthy and climb in the standings.

Edmonton: Dustin Penner finally living up to the big contract he signed several years ago.

Florida: Tomas Vokoun, who faces shot after shot each night and, like Miller and Anderson above, gives his team a chance to win.

Los Angeles: Ryan Smyth, who has elevated Anze Kopitar's game to a new level. Hopefully for the Kings, Smyth doesn't miss too much time.

Minnesota: That Doug Risebrough is no longer employed. Things may not be going well this season but they're more likely to change for the positive under Chuck Fletcher than Risebrough.

Montreal: That Toronto threw a lot of money at Mike Komisarek, who would be the worst free agent-signing if voting was conducted today.

Nashville: Pekka Rinne winning the goalie competition with Dan Ellis. He's been one of the forces behind Nashville's current seven-game win streak.

New Jersey: The ageless Martin Brodeur. Healthy again at 37, he has returned to the workhorse form he's provided for so long and doesn't appear to be missing a beat.

New York Islanders: Winning the lottery and being able to draft John Tavares, who for the most part has been living up to the hype and has given Islanders fans a reason to watch.

New York Rangers: Bob Gainey for taking Scott Gomez off the Rangers' hands and providing cap room to sign Marian Gaborik.

Ottawa: That the Sens ran that bum and locker room cancer Dany Heatley (18 goals, 29 points) out of town. Milan Michalek does lead the team in goals with 11 but Jonathan Cheechoo has only four points.

Philadelphia: Ray Emery, who's proving all his doubters, and there were many (including me, yes) wrong.

Phoenix: Wayne Gretzky's resignation as coach. Sorry; no one's questioning his skill as a player, but that doesn't mean he'd make a good coach. Under Dave Tippett, the Coyotes are a much more competitive squad.

Pittsburgh: A red-hot October that made it easier to accept an injury-plagued losing streak that appears over, both the losing and the injuries.

San Jose: That Ottawa ran that headcase Dany Heatley out of town, enabling the Sharks to find a taker for Cheechoo's contract (two years, $3M cap hit for little-to-no production.)

St. Louis: That Erik Johnson didn't play golf in the summer.

Tampa Bay: The "bust" label attached to Steven Stamkos lasted for just half a season.

Toronto: That Boston preferred to pay big bucks for Milan Lucic and not Phil Kessel.

Vancouver: That one of the top American skaters (Ryan Kesler) plays in Canada.

Washington: Semyon Varlamov, who after a mostly-sluggish start is starting to show that his 2009 playoff form wasn't a fluke.

Perhaps on Black Friday, a list of what teams are NOT thankful for.

NHL Recap 11-25-09; Mini-Wild recap: Boston 2, Wild 1 (SO)


Nick is more than welcome to write a longer Wild recap (aren't I nice and gracious to give him permission to write on his blog? Anyway) but I'll post the briefest of recaps. I didn't see the game and I'm not going to pretend I did, so I'm just going to glean information from other sources.

Boston 2, Minnesota 1 (SO)
There's going to be games like this kind for every team at some point during the season. You control play, minimize scoring chances against you, and you just can't score. So you don't win. Minnesota got a win at Pittsburgh in a game just like that when the Penguins played as described. Wednesday, the Wild were on the other side of the equation, limiting Boston to 16 shots, getting 29 of their own, but losing 2-1 in a shootout.

Andrew Ebbett made a nice debut for the Wild, scoring in his first game. I don't know why Minnesota passed on making a claim on Ebbett in the first place, but that wasn't as nonsensical as Chicago claiming Ebbett. Anyway.

Turning point: Seems to be when Andrew Brunette failed to corral a chance with a gaping net in overtime.

Stud: Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask.

That's all I'm going to do on the Wild. Onto the rest of the league.

Stars of the night
--Martin Brodeur, 24 saves in the Devils' 3-1 win over Ottawa.
--Brian Boucher, 28 saves as Philadelphia edged the Islanders, 2-1.
--Carl Gunnarsson, three assists for Toronto in a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay.
--Sidney Crosby, one goal and one assist in Pittsburgh's 3-1 win over Montreal.
--Daymond Langkow, one goal and one assist to help Calgary defeat Phoenix, 2-1.
--Wayne Simmonds, ditto numbers in LA's 3-1 victory over Edmonton.
--Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 28 saves in his second straight strong outing in Anaheim's 3-2 win over Carolina. Corry Perry extended his points streak to 16 with an assist and Teemu Selanne had a goal and assist.

Clean sheets
--Semyon Varlamov continued his stellar recent play by stopping 25 shots in Washington's 2-0 win over Buffalo. Alex Ovechkin scored but was also ejected after committing a major penalty for boarding. No suspension apparently according to the AP recap.
--Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec blanked Detroit in Joe Louis Arena, 2-0, by making 40 saves and getting goals from Nik Antropov and Slava Kozlov.

Working late
--Henrik Lundqvist's chance for a shutout was ruined by Dominic Moore with under five minutes remaining, but the Rangers rebounded to beat Florida in the shootout, 2-1. Marian Gaborik netted his 19th goal of the season and P.A. Parenteau had the only goal in the shootout.
--Goals by Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes lifted St. Louis to a 4-3 shootout win over Dallas. David Backes, Erik Johnson and T.J. Oshie scored in regulation for the Blues. Brenden Morrow scored in the final 30 seconds to salvage a point for the Stars.
--David Legwand willed a puck just past Craig Anderson in overtime to give Nashville a 4-3 victory over Colorado, the Predators' seventh straight win.

Have the Blackhawks become unstoppable? They scored the first seven goals against San Jose in what became a 7-2 win, and that's not even the "holy s---" part. Three of the goals came shorthanded, including two - one by Marian Hossa - on the same penalty kill, 28 seconds apart. How does that happen to any team, especially the Sharks? Yikes.

Hossa finished with two goals in his first game of the season. Another scary part is only Duncan Keith (three assists) had more than two points for Chicago. Not scoring goals were guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. And the Blackhawks still scored seven? Look out, NHL. Chicago looks so loaded that not even Hossa's seemingly-negative karma can stop it.

Four of the goals came against Evgeni Nabokov, who was chased just before the end of the second period.

Non-3 Stars Selections of the night
There were so many games (14) Wednesday and so many choices that I'm doing my own 3 Stars of guys who weren't 3 Stars. Note that these weren't necessarily the best players of the night, just players with strong performances who weren't a Star in their respective games.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh; 18 saves, some very timely and huge)
2. Teemu Selanne (Anaheim; one goal, one assist)
1. Niklas Hagman (Toronto; two goals)

Quote of the night
"I don't think frustration is the word. We should be embarrassed about the way we came out and played. That was ugly. Seven goals? That's breakdowns from everybody. That's just bad hockey."
Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle

Marquee matchup
Thursday, Nov. 26 (2 games)
Los Angeles (14-9-2) at Vancouver (12-11-0), 10 p.m. ET. Anze Kopitar seems to be really struggling without Ryan Smyth in the lineup. Smyth could miss up to a month. Kopitar doesn't have a goal since Nov. 9 (seven straight goal-less games) and has five assists in those seven games. Thrice he's been held without a point in that span.

Lastly, happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it. To those who don't, you're missing some good turkey.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Game of the Night: Columbus at Montreal


Welcome to the first of what hopes to be a semi-regular feature, where I keep tabs on a random game on the NHL schedule and provide some thoughts and analysis on a non-Minnesota/Pittsburgh game. Tuesday's game of choice, well, there wasn't a choice, as Columbus and Montreal were the only teams in action.

Tuesday's game was one example of "That's why you play 60 minutes."

Both Montreal and Columbus need to learn that, but after Tuesday night, the Blue Jackets need to hit the books more.

A slow start and a soft goal allowed by Mathieu Garon to Montreal's Mike Cammalleri gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead, but even with that, the Blue Jackets controlled the first 35 minutes or so. A quick goal from Antoine Vermette just 46 seconds after Cammalleri's tied the score, and in another 1:26, Columbus took the lead on Anton Stralman's power play marker.

The Blue Jackets continued to pepper Carey Price. He stood as tall as he could, and Columbus helped out by missing the net on a few occasions. Price would've been justified in calling 9-1-1 - or the French-Canadian equivalent - and reporting a missing hockey team.

Even after Marc-Andre Bergeron's innocent-looking wrister from the point eluded Garon for a 2-2 score, Montreal's attack still looked fairly lifeless. The goal, at 9:30 of the second period, was just Montreal's second shot on goal in the period.

Another quick answer from Vermette on the power play after Travis Moen took a retaliatory roughing penalty restored Columbus' advantage at 3-2. The momentum didn't last very long. Shortly after Vermette's goal, Jared Boll was sent off for tripping and though the Canadiens didn't score on the man-advantage, they wrested control of the game, getting numerous chances to score late.

They continued to press in the third period - aided by spending the first 1:56 on another power play - and were rewarded 2:18 into the period. Roman Hamrlik hit the cross bar shortly after the power play ended and Glen Metropolit banged home the rebound for a 3-3 score. Less than three minutes later, Bergeron took a pass from Ryan White and blasted it past a sprawled Garon.

Columbus recovered a little and tested Price on several occasions. But a near-miss by the visitors allowed the hometown Habs to salt the game away. Montreal survived a scare close to its goal by Columbus and earned a 2-on-1 going the other direction with Maxim Lapierre and Sergei Kostitsyn. Lapierre took a short pass from Kostitsyn at the blue line, skated in on Garon, waited him out, and wristed a shot into the back of the cage for a 5-3 lead with 4:35 remaining and Montreal's third-straight goal.

Once the scoreboard showed 5-3, that was essentially the end of the game. Columbus failed to mount much of an attack in the waning moments.

Montreal will be happy to get the two points. Jacques Martin might have something to say about how the team played for the first 35 minutes, but the Canadiens were the better team over the final 25, and that was enough for the win. Martin needs to tighten up his defense though. For the third straight game, and sixth time in nine, Montreal was out-shot. In six of those games, the Canadiens have allowed at least 32 shots on goal. They're relying a little too much on Price.

The Blue Jackets fall to 12-8-3 and remain in third place in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. The Habs improve to 12-11-1, remain fourth in the Northeast Division but climb to 10th in the East.

Scoring summary
1. MTL - Mike Cammalleri, 12 (Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec) 5:50 1st
2. CLB - Antoine Vermette, 5 (Rick Nash, Anton Stralman) 6:36 1st
3. CLB - Stralman, 4 (Nash, Fedor Tyutin) PPG 8:12 1st
4. MTL - Marc-Andre Bergeron, 4 (Josh Gorges, Plekanec) 9:30 2nd
5. CLB - Vermette, 6 (Raffi Torres, Derrick Brassard) PPG 11:46 2nd
6. MTL - Glen Metropolit, 5 (Roman Hamrlik, Max Pacioretty) 2:18 3rd
7. MTL - Bergeron, 5 (Ryan White) 4:56 3rd
8. MTL - Maxim Lapierre, 2 (Sergei Kostitsyn) 15:25 3rd

Three Stars
3. Vermette (2 goals)
2. Bergeron (2 goals, GWG)
1. Price (33 saves)

Non-Star: Plekanec, two assists, 14 faceoff wins.

Quote of the night
"We did not manage the game -- that's the story of our season. We had a game well in control, we played two perfect periods, and then we didn't manage the damn game."
Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, not a happy man

Marquee matchup for Wednesday (14 games)
Chicago (15-5-2) at San Jose (16-5-4), 10:30 p.m. ET. Marian Hossa expected to make his debut for the Blackhawks. Assuming he plays, he faces Dany Heatley. The two were traded for each other in August of 2005.

A pick-me-up


The NHL has come under significant fire lately for all kinds of reasons. Franchise bankruptcies, franchise stability (or instability) in warm-weather locales, players running others and getting away with it, and various other sordid bits of badness.

So let's take a moment and give the league credit for what it gets right.

... Hang on, I can do this.

(Assuming "The Thinker" pose.)

I didn't think this would be so hard. Sigh.

OK, all joking aside. Here's a partial list of what I like about the NHL, in no particular order:

--Tag-up offsides. That delayed offside garbage the NHL used was ridiculous on so many levels, I can't even think straight when I recall those days.

--Seeing my team score a goal in person.

--Not just a salary cap, but a rookie salary cap. The NFL also uses a cap system but has no limit on what rookies can make, and that can lead to nasty holdouts like Michael Crabtree this season. For those unfamiliar, Crabtree was considered the top wide receiver in this year's draft but was not the first wide receiver chosen. He was drafted 10th overall, after Darrius Heyward-Bey was selected seventh. Crabtree felt he should've been paid as if he was drafted higher in a startling lack of common sense.

Crabtree ended up not signing until well after the season started. On the other hand, and I've mentioned this in a previous blog post, there was never any concern over whether the Penguins could sign Sidney Crosby, or Tampa Bay getting Steven Stamkos under contract, or the Islanders locking up John Tavares. NHL rookies can make only so much and their first contract can run only so long, so their signings are almost technicalities. This system helps the have-nots because they can get their top picks under contract at reasonable amounts.

--Zambonis. I think this is self-explanatory.

--Having faceoffs in the attacking zone after a team goes on a power play. Wonderful idea.

--Instant replay, even if there are sometimes silly rulings. (I happen to find merit in the "intent to blow the whistle" ruling, but some of the recent explanations for disallowed goals don't make sense.)

--No more two-line passes. (As a rules violation.)

--Delay-of-game penalties for shooting the puck into the crowd from your own end.

--No appeals for suspensions. The league still needs work on handing out proper penalties, but it doesn't allow players to appeal their suspensions. One of my biggest pet peeves about baseball is a player arguing against his suspension, sometimes not having a hearing on it until possibly a month or more after he was supposedly suspended; in the meantime, he plays on as if nothing happened. That doesn't happen in the NHL. (Where you probably won't be suspended anyway. But that's a different topic.)

--Playoff overtime. Sometimes not changing anything is the best move.

--And the goals that go with it. (As long as they don't come against my team.)

--The 'C' and 'A' system.

--Only three TV timeouts per period, none in overtime.

--Coaches dress up.

--Alyonka Larionova. (Just don't sing the national anthem, please.)

--Speaking of that, though, Jeff Jimerson, one of the finest anthem singers in the league.

--In the same vein, Lyndon Slewidge.

--Did I mention the Zambonis? Those things are awesome.

--Penalty shots.

--The Stanley Cup. Doesn't matter who gets it. I stayed behind in 2008 after Game 6 to watch Detroit hoist it. It was bitter but still an experience to witness in person.

--Lastly, Zambonis. Seriously.

There are probably other things, subtle things, that I didn't list or overlooked. So, Gary Bettman, you screw a lot of things up, but there are some good things about your league.

(See, I can't even give the league a compliment without making it a backhanded compliment. Such is the life of being a fan and follower of the NHL.)

NHL Recap 11-23-09

Stars of the night
--Marian Gaborik, two goals and two assists in the Rangers 7-4 stomping of Columbus.
--Dwayne Roloson, 58 - that's FIVE-EIGHT - saves and Josh Bailey scored the winning goal in the Islanders' 4-3 overtime win over Toronto. Seriously. Fifty-eight. 58. Five-eight. 5-8. This is becoming a sort of a trend for the Leafs; they can dominate games in the shot department but can't light the lamp enough.
--Pekka Rinne, 30 saves, and Martin Erat two goals in Nashville's 3-1 win over Detroit, the Predators' sixth-straight win. Hopefully no one silly gave up on Rinne in any keeper leagues. Not that I have Buddha anyone in mind.
--Patrice Bergeron, four assists in Boston's 4-2 win over St. Louis.
--Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 41 saves to lead Anaheim over Calgary, 3-2 in a shootout. Teemu Selanne had the shootout winner. Corey Perry extended his league-best 15-game scoring streak with an assist.

Clean sheets
--Marty Turco halted Carolina's modest winning streak by stopping all 22 shots, and Dallas defeated the Hurricanes, 2-0. Jamie Benn and Brad Richards had the goals.
--In relief of Nikolai Khabibulin, Jeff Deslauriers blanked Phoenix on 36 saves, and the Oilers won 4-0. Sheldon Souray and Shawn Horcoff had a goal and assist each for Edmonton. Souray and Ales Hemsky scored seven seconds apart in the first period. It was Hemsky's 100th career goal.

Start the play, help finish the play
Ottawa blue liner Chris Phillips is known for his stout defensive play, not his offense. Monday he made a nice play to strip Alex Ovechkin of the puck, then, just seconds later, was part of a 2-on-1 in overtime and set up Mike Fisher's winner as the Senators knocked off the Caps, 4-3.

Deja vu all over again
A month ago to the day - Oct. 23 - the Penguins erased a 2-0, third-period deficit and defeated Florida, 3-2 in a shootout. Monday, Pittsburgh trailed the Panthers 2-0 after 40 minutes before rallying for two goals to force overtime, then Sidney Crosby scored the winner on the power play for a 3-2 win. In the previous game, Crosby had both third-period goals and the shootout winner.

The tying goal, by Michael Rupp, came on a shift when the Penguins controlled the puck in the Florida zone for 88 seconds at even-strength.

Tomas Vokoun made 42 saves in the loss, and has faced over 40 shots in five straight games against the Penguins, but has just a 1-1-3 record in that span.

Hanging on
After limiting Philadelphia to 15 shots through two periods and leading 5-2, Colorado conceded 19 shots and two goals in the third period but hung on for a 5-4 win, despite several close calls from the Flyers in the waning minutes. Paul Stastny had three points, including a goal, and David Jones scored twice for the Avalanche. Danny Briere had two goals and two assists in the loss.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Filip Kuba, three assists for Ottawa, including the lead pass that helped set up Fisher's game-winner. The third star was Mike Green (one assist, four shots, and incidentally his "ole!" play allowed Phillips to get past him at center ice in the 2-on-1 break), second star was Peter Regin (one goal for Ottawa), and Fisher was No. 1.

Quote of the night
"We didn't tell Dwayne, but we figured as long as they didn't hit 70 shots, we'd be all right."
Islanders coach Scott Gordon, on Roloson. New York was out-shot 61-21.

Bonus quote of the night
"Our forwards were available and wanted the puck. That made for a good early performance until we got fat and happy. I don't know why this team would ever have that happen to them because we haven't accomplished squat yet."
Oilers coach Pat Quinn

Marquee Matchup of the night
There's only one game Tuesday. Columbus (12-7-3) at Montreal (11-11-1), 7:30 p.m. on TSN. The Blue Jackets are fresh off giving up seven straight goals to the Rangers after taking a 2-0 lead in what became a 7-4 loss. In the Canadiens' last game, they lost to Detroit, 3-2 in a shootout.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thus endeth the Pouliot era


With the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft, the Minnesota Wild end up with Guillaume Latendresse.

The Benoit Pouliot time will go down as one of the more disappointing in the Wild's brief history, and his departure comes almost with a whimper, after Monday's trade of Pouliot straight-up to Montreal for Latendresse, chosen in the same draft year, 45th overall.

Looking at just the stats, the winner of the trade seems to be Minnesota, as Latendresse has nearly as many NHL goals (48) as Pouliot has NHL games (65).

Selected fourth overall, Pouliot never materialized into, well, anything with Minnesota. Whether that was never getting a chance to show what he could do - again, 65 NHL games since being drafted in 2005 - or because he never proved himself worthy of more playing time, Minnesota fans can rue their team not drafting Devin Setoguchi (eighth overall), Anze Kopitar (11th), Marc Staal (12th) or T.J. Oshie (24th).

Given that Pouliot didn't exactly light up the AHL either, the fact that Chuck Fletcher acquired anything worth more than a roll of stick tape can be considered a win.

Here's the problem, Minnesota: Many Montreal fans feel the same way about Latendresse.

Pouliot's potential was never realized in Minnesota. On the other hand, Latendresse arrived in Montreal with a splash, scoring 16 goals with 13 assists in his rookie season (2006-07) seeing role-player minutes. Those numbers are still career-highs. Latendresse appeared in fewer games as his time in Montreal went along, and his numbers went down. He never managed to take the next step. This season, he has just two goals and one assist in 23 games. Pouliot, in 14 games, has two goals and two assists. Was he starting to figure it out? Hard to say.

The consensus seems to be Pouliot has more potential than Latendresse. Both players have similar statures - Pouliot is 23, stands 6-3 and weighs 199 pounds; Latendresse is 22, and is 6-2 and 230. Their contracts are the same, $803K that expires at the end of this season. Both will be restricted free agents in 2010.

I haven't read comments from Minnesota fans, but I'd imagine there's some kind of split in two factions: One that's glad Pouliot is gone, the other saying Minnesota should've gotten more for a former fourth-overall pick.

Canadiens fans are split the same way. Some think they got a steal getting Pouliot for Latendresse. Others think Latendresse was, and will be, better than Pouliot.

It's probably going to take a couple years before a winner is determined from this trade, if there even will be a winner. This is very much a "change of scenery" for both players involved. Pouliot may erupt in Montreal or his career may stay the same as it is now. Same with Latendresse.

Instant analysis says Minnesota may have gotten the better of the trade. But a move like this isn't made just for immediate help, and if Latendresse is used as little as Pouliot was, then it's a sideways move.

Only time will tell.

NHL Recap 11-22-09

Stars of the night
--Martin St. Louis, 3 assists in Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime win over Atlanta. Steven Stamkos scored the winner in overtime.
--Antti Niemi, 30 saves in Chicago's 1-0 blanking of Vancouver. Bryan Bickell scored the goal.

They won't go away quietly
Saturday, Atlanta trailed the Penguins 3-0 going into the third period but made things interesting with two goals in the final frame. On Sunday, the Thrashers were down 2-0 after 40 minutes, but made it 2-1 in the third. Tampa regained its two-goal advantage only to see Atlanta strike twice in the final five minutes to force overtime. Atlanta leads the league in third-period goals scored (32) and is second-best in third-period goals allowed (13). Only the Blackhawks have given up fewer goals in the final period.

Streak on, streak off
Patrick Kane's five-game goal scoring streak and nine-game points streak ended Sunday. The Blackhawks have won seven consecutive games.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
St. Louis. Third star went to Atlanta's Tobias Enstrom (one goal, one assist), the second star was former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster, now with the Lightning, with a goal and assist, and Stamkos was the No. 1 star.

Quote of the night
"They should be embarrassed after the first two periods. That's the term that comes to mind. You get dejected because you feel you wasted the first two periods."
Atlanta coach John Anderson

Marquee matchup
Monday, Nov. 23 (10 games)
Columbus (12-6-3) at the Rangers (11-10-1), 7 p.m. ET.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NHL Recap 11-21-09

Stars of the night
--Jarome Iginla, hat trick in Calgary's 5-2 win over Los Angeles.
--Tomas Vokoun made 32 saves and Florida held off the Rangers, 3-2, for its fifth win in six games.
--Filip Kuba, four points (one goal) and Daniel Alfredsson two goals and an assist in Ottawa's 5-3 win over Buffalo.
--Martin Skoula, 2 goals, Marc-Andre Fleury 31 saves as Pittsburgh survived a third-period charge by Atlanta, 3-2. Props to Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg, who made a ton of great saves and kept his team in the game. Two of the goals took bounces off his defensemen; only Skoula's second goal beat Hedberg cleanly.
--Stephane Robidas, two goals and two assists for the Stars in their 5-3 victory over the Devils, who have now lost three straight on the road after nearly tying the league-record for road wins to start the season.
--David Perron scored twice, with the second being a very pretty goal, to lead St. Louis over the Islanders, 4-1.
--Ilya Bryzgalov's 23 saves helped Phoenix upend Philadelphia, 3-1. The game-winner, by Keith Yandle, came seconds after a possible offsides was not called. Even the linesmen seemed confused. The Flyers were not happy.
--Jonathan Toews, 2 goals and 1 assist in Chicago's 5-2 romp over Edmonton.

Gimmicks of the night
--Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg scored in the shootout to lift Detroit over Montreal, 3-2. Datsyuk also scored in regulation. The Canadiens wasted 32 saves by Carey Price and two goals by Mike Cammalleri.
--Vesa Toskala stopped 31 shots, Niklas Hagman had a regulation and shootout goal and Phil Kessel also scored in the one-on-one as Toronto knocked off Washington, 2-1.
--Mike Santorelli and David Legwand scored in the shootout and Nashville won its fifth in a row, 4-3 over Columbus. The Blue Jackets wish they had won after getting two goals by R.J. Umberger and 45 Steve Mason saves.

All hail Lou Brown
All right, you guys, let's listen up. We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that's two in a row. We win one tomorrow, that's called a winning streak. It has happened before.
Paul Maurice must have stolen this from Major League 2, because Carolina won its second straight game, 3-1 over Tampa Bay, as Chad LaRose realized the season started. One of the more dangerous Hurricanes in the Eastern Final this spring, LaRose scored his first goal of the season and added an assist.

He can score, too
Joe Thornton broke a 2-2 tie with his seventh goal of the season with 11:11 remaining in the third period and San Jose earned a 3-2 win at Anaheim. Thornton also assisted on Dany Heatley's 18th goal, and Heatley had an assist on Thornton's marker.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Iginla. Seriously. Despite his hat trick, Iginla was not named one of the game's three stars. Those went to LA's Drew Doughty (No. 3, one goal, one assist), Daymond Langkow (No. 2, shorthanded GWG, one assist) and Curtis Glencross, the No. 1 star who had a great shift shorthanded to set up Langkow's goal, but that was Glencross' only point of the night.

Quote of the night
"It was just beautiful to watch. I had a good front-row seat tonight."
Carolina goalie Manny Legace, who needed to make just 20 saves, talking about the Hurricanes' defense.

Marquee matchup
Sunday, Nov. 22 (2 games)
Chicago (13-5-2) at Vancouver (12-10-0), 10 p.m.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NHL Recap 11-20-09

Stars of the night
--Carey Price, 32 saves to lead Montreal past Washington, 3-2. Missed most of the end of the third period but sounded pretty hectic. In the last two minutes, the Caps had a power play, pulled their goalie and Price was without his stick for a while.
--Owen Nolan, 2 goals in Minnesota's 3-2 win over the Islanders.
--Dany Heatley scored a hat trick and Joe Thornton notched four assists as San Jose pounded Philadelphia, 6-3. Heatley now leads the league in goals with 17. Second time this season Thornton had four assists, which ties a franchise record, and has a league-high 24. Coincidence?
--Christian Ehrhoff 2 goals, 1 assist in Vancouver's 5-2 win over Colorado.

Working late, but quick
--Bryan McCabe scored 40 seconds into overtime and Florida won in Detroit, 2-1, behind 39 saves by Scott Clemmensen. Stephen Weiss also scored and assisted on McCabe's winner. Four wins in five games for the Panthers. Have they figured things out?
--Patrice Bergeron deflected Zdeno Chara's wrist shot from the point past Ryan Miller just 47 ticks into overtime to give Boston a 2-1 win over the Sabres.

Warning, warning, danger, Will Robinson
The Avalanche have lost five of their last six games and gave up at least five goals in four of those contests. They've won just three of nine games in November. Not saying the honeymoon is over, as Colorado still leads the Northwest by three points, but the team is going through the complete opposite of its October. The ship needs to be righted soon.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Philadelphia's Claude Giroux. The road team rarely gets a star when the home side wins by three, but Giroux figured in on each of the Flyers goals, scoring two of them. San Jose's Manny Malhotra (one goal, one assist) was the third star, Heatley was second and Thornton first. Not often you'll see a guy with a hat trick not be the player of the game, but I guess it can be argued his goals wouldn't have happened without Thornton, who had the primary assist on each Heatley goal.

Quote of the night
"It felt like we were in our own end for 10 minutes. There was a lot of red out there."
Price, on the game's finish

Marquee matchup
Saturday, Nov. 21 (13 games)
Columbus (12-6-2) at Nashville (11-8-1), 8 p.m. ET. Doesn't seem flashy on paper, but the Preds have won four straight and the Blue Jackets have won three in a row. Plus, Rick Nash is always worth the price of admission.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game #22: Minnesota 3, Islanders 2


I've never really entirely bought into the "injuries can't be used as an excuse" theory. If it's one injury, maybe two, then it's a little more valid. It takes more than one player to make a team, after all.

But there's a point where injuries become a reason if they're plentiful enough. For a team that's already low on offensive talent, missing players like Petr Sykora, Martin Havlat and late-scratch Brent Burns makes for an even lesser lineup. Call-ups from the AHL can go only so far.

When that happens, contributions from role players are even more important. And at this point in his career, that's what Owen Nolan can best be described as, and he came through with a very good overall game, netting two goals, including the winner with 1:07 remaining to lift the Wild over the Islanders, 3-2, Friday night.

Wild offense: Mikko Koivu's power play goal probably helped the masses forget a woeful Minnesota power play that went 1-for-5 but failed to convert on a lengthy 5-on-3 in the second period. The losses of players mentioned above certainly results in a less-than-dangerous power play.

Wild defense: On the other hand, Minnesota's penalty killing was stellar, stopping all six New York chances, including one that came with four minutes remaining in the third. Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky each blocked three shots overall.

Isles offense: Puzzling. Matt Moulson leads the team with 10 goals but I didn't see him out there on the top power play, especially late in the game. Yes, I'm a disgruntled fantasy owner. Moulson still had five shots, but New York's only contributions on the score sheet came from role players Jon Sim and Josh Bailey.

Isles defense: Eek. Don't leave your man until the puck for sure gets out of the zone. On Nolan's second goal, there was nary a soul around him. He had time to discuss with Martin Biron where Nolan would shoot, and predict the exact spot and hit said spot.

Leader: Nolan without a question. Not only did he score twice, but he had a key blocked shot on a late penalty kill.

Lagger: Kyle Okposo's return to St. Paul went less than ideal. He had three shots but also had several good scoring chances and missed each one. Bury one and it's a different game.

Stud: Not sure how popular this choice will be, but Kim Johnsson logged 31:48 of ice time, a good 5:59 more than anyone else in the game. With the absence of Burns and the 17 minutes Shane Hnidy was off the ice, Todd Richards needed someone to log big minutes.

Dud: He is just a kid, but whither John Tavares? Did not notice him much.

Turning point: Hard not to say Nolan's second goal. It came off a bad giveaway and it came late enough that the Islanders didn't have much time to make a comeback.

Key play: Eric Belanger's keep-in - or Blake Comeau's giveaway, depends on perspective - at the blue line that set up Nolan's winner.

The Assembled Multitude spoke:

Chicken Little: So we beat the Islanders. Barely. On home ice. Color me not so impressed.

Pollyanna: But we did it without a lot of regulars! And the Islanders have played some good hockey lately. Gritty, character win. Doesn't have to be pretty.

Bottom line: And it wasn't pretty, but it's two points in the books. No Havlat, no Burns. A fickle, cynical fan might say their absences helped the team (that is a collective minus-25 not in the lineup, after all) but it's not easy winning games when a lot of players relied upon to produce offense aren't playing.

Next: Some lengthy time off to prepare for Boston coming to town Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. CT on KSTC and XM 238.

One suspension, one not

Two videos for your viewing pleasure. The first resulted in a two-game suspension for Dallas' James Neal. The second resulted in no games missed for Colorado's Ryan Wilson.

Neal's hit:


Survey says: What the eff? How did Wilson escape suspension when he clearly targeted the head of Edmonton's Ethan Moreau and even left his feet to deliver the hit? It's another one of those "head shots" that the NHL claims to want to get rid of, yet Wilson receives no discipline.

The best part is the Colorado announcers glorifying the hit. At the very end of the above video, they seem to start discussing whether it's a head shot, so maybe they backed down a little. It's hard to tell.

As for the Neal hit, I find it a little difficult to judge. When I saw it initially, I thought, "Absolutely suspend him." From another angle, it seemed to me to not entirely be a check from behind, kind of half behind and half from the side. Given the collision, I figured Neal would get one or two games, and two is what he got. As Bob McKenzie pointed out, you see that type of hit a lot in the game. In this particular instance, Derek Dorsett's head slammed into the glass. The suspension probably came from that as much as anything.

When I saw the Wilson hit though, I felt a little more outraged. There was no need for Wilson to target Moreau's head. Delivering a shoulder into Moreau's chest would've achieved the desired effect. Wilson hit a player in the head, and the player didn't have his head down; once again, Wilson clearly lifted up in order to deliver the blow.

The question is, does this fall on Gary Bettman's shoulders or Colin Campbell's? I guess you can say it's both; presumably Bettman hired Campbell to be the Discipline Czar. Well, both are incompetent, and both clearly lie through their teeth when they say they want to get rid of head shots.

The NHL is such a joke in many ways and this week has been very bad for PR, with the officiating foul-ups - there was another in the Toronto-Carolina game Thursday when the puck was in the net and the referee was BEHIND the net but not looking IN the net when he blew his whistle - and the questionable hits that receive no suspension.

If you ask me, the bigger problem is the inconsistency with disciplining players for violent hits like Wilson's. Bad calls are going to be made in every game, every night. They will continue to happen whether humans or robots make the calls. Does that make it right? No, but no one is being physically hurt.

When you get players like Wilson targeting the heads of others and getting away with it, or Mike Richards on David Booth, who still isn't close to playing hockey after a recent setback, then you endanger the lives of the league's workforce. What will it take before the NHL starts protecting its players? Is it going to take a player's death from an on-ice hit before league officials say, "Oh, we might want to do something about that"?

Which brings up another point. I don't know why exactly the league determined Neal should be suspended, but if it was because of the injury suffered to Dorsett, that again raises the question of why Richards got away clean after Booth left a bloody mess on the ice after being hit.

There's a lot of talk these days about the shoulderpads the players wear and how they are like "missiles" when delivered in a check. OK, fine, fix those. Next, start throwing the book at these players for their violent hits. No more slaps on the wrist.

Wait. I'll take a slap on the wrist first. Let's do baby steps. Right now, these players aren't even receiving that much discipline. So let's start with slaps on the wrist, rather than a verbal chastising - if they're even receiving that - and then let's bring out the big guns. Which, in NHL terms, is a one- or two-game suspension.

Next, players: Come on. I know you've got that whole players association mess to work out, but where's the respect for each other? Aren't you taught as children not to hit a player when you see his numbers? Would you like to be on the receiving end of someone's elbow or shoulder to your head? If not, why do you target others in such a manner?

It's a threefold problem when it comes to nasty hits like this: The league's woeful discipline, the players' tougher equipment, and the players' lack of respect for each other. Unfortunately, none of it seems like it'll be fixed soon. Maybe the equipment.

But until all three things are resolved, expect more hits like Wilson's, Richards', or Neal's.

NHL Recap 11-19-09

Stars of the night
--Tuomo Ruutu, 4 assists, Tim Gleason 2 goals as Carolina wipes out a 3-0 deficit in a 6-5 shootout win over Toronto. That sound you heard was that of many people, including the unnamed author of this post, jumping off the Jonas Gustavsson bandwagon as the Hurricanes overtake the Maple Leafs undertake the 'Canes for last in the NHL.
--Michael Ryder, 2 goals for Boston in its 4-3 shootout win over Atlanta. The Bruins survived three points by Ilya Kovalchuk, one a goal, and managed to best Ondrej Pavelec despite 39 saves.
--Chris Mason, 34 saves as the Blues won a home game, 3-2 in overtime over Phoenix.
--Jason Arnott scored twice to help Nashville down New Jersey in a shootout, 3-2.
--Kristian Huselius, 2 goals and 1 assist in Columbus' third-straight win, a fight-filled 4-1 decision over Dallas. Good bounceback effort from Steve Mason (25 saves).
--Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne, 1 goal and 2 assists each in Anaheim's 4-3 overtime win over Tampa Bay.

Working late
--Shootout winners: Ruutu (Carolina), Patrice Bergeron (Boston), Martin Erat (Nashville).
--Overtime winners: Erik Johnson (St. Louis), Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim).

Wait, the game is 60 minutes long, not one? Since when?
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Ottawa just 69 seconds into the game on a goal by Jordan Staal, but proceeded to completely stop playing, allowing the next six goals in what became a dominating 6-2 victory for the Senators, who out-classed, out-hustled and out-worked the Penguins. Chris Phillips scored twice and Pascal Leclaire made 25 saves.

Even with the return of Sergei Gonchar, the Penguins' power play was pathetic. One for five, but the one came well after the game was decided. One goal earlier could've changed the course of the game. The eventual winner, from Chris Kelly, came right after he came out of the box and scored on a breakaway.

In Soviet Russia, Blackhawks eat Flames
OK, so there's not really any connection to Russia here, but Chicago torched Calgary (see what I did there? Flames? Torched? Anyway) in a 7-1 romp, chasing Miikka Kiprusoff (six goals) after two periods. Kris Versteeg scored twice, Duncan Keith had three assists and Cristobal Huet made 27 saves.

The window to "buy low" on Huet in fantasy leagues is probably shut, if it wasn't already. Since giving up four goals in a loss on Oct. 17, Huet has allowed more than two goals in a game only twice in 10 appearances.

Quote of the night
"We definitely let one get away there. ... I'm kind of at a loss for words. You shouldn't lose a hockey game where you have a 3-0 lead, let alone one with a lead with three seconds left."
Toronto center Matt Stajan. In addition to being up 3-0 at one point, the Maple Leafs scored with 29 seconds remaining in regulation for a 5-4 lead only to give up the tying goal with 2.2 seconds left.

Marquee matchup
Friday, Nov. 20 (6 games)
Tempting to say Philadelphia at San Jose but the nod goes to Colorado (13-6-3) at Vancouver (11-10-0) because it's a division game. Eh, screw it. Watch the Flyers (12-5-1) and the Sharks (14-5-4), 10 p.m. ET.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Destination: Harding 2, The Re-visit


Back in late June, I discussed each team's goaltending situation in an attempt to analyze where Minnesota backup goalie Josh Harding might end up if he were to be traded. That analysis was done before the NHL draft, let alone the opening of free agency, and some situations have changed, some for the better, some for the worse.

My conclusion, frankly, I don't want to repeat, as it looks more than a bit foolish right now. I said some destinations that made sense were Philadelphia, Toronto, and possibly places like Dallas, Edmonton or Tampa Bay.


Anyway. Here's another look at the 30 teams and who they have in goal, now that we're roughly seven weeks into the season (I know it's an odd time to do this now, but whatever):

Anaheim: No change here. Jonas Hiller and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are still duking it out, figuratively speaking, for the No. 1 job. Hiller's had a string of good performances, but also some bad ones. However, Giguere's been hurt and hasn't had much time to play any better than Hiller. Still, even with the rumors of a Giguere-to-Toronto trade, the Ducks would saddle up with Hiller.

Atlanta: In June, this was a very possible place for Harding to land. Now, not so much with the emergence of Ondrej Pavelec. His staying power remains to be seen, as he's gotten lit up several times, but he's also shown an ability to win games on his own. Kari Lehtonen's time in Atlanta appears done, as are the chances of Harding being traded here.

Boston: This was a slight dark horse because Boston likes to keep Tim Thomas rested during the season, so having a competent backup is a must. Then Tuukka Rask signed a two-year extension. Beantown is out of the picture.

Buffalo: There weren't any openings in June, and there aren't any now. Ryan Miller is at the top of the discussion of "best goalies in the league right now" and while backup Patrick Lalime has barely played, the Sabres won't bring in Harding.

Carolina: Here's a place Wild fans may want to point to, and say, "Oh, oh, look, they lost their starter, they need a goalie." With the injury to Cam Ward, and now to backup Michael Leighton, an opening seems available. But Ward signed a six-year extension and is their goalie of the future. Carolina won't - or at least shouldn't - trade assets for a young goalie just to help tread water during a nightmare season. Unless Minnesota wants to take Rod "I used to be good" Brind'Amour and his minus-17 off Carolina's hands.

Calgary: Still don't know who the backup is. Miikka Kiprusoff hasn't had many nights off despite management saying he'll play less.

Chicago: I'm sure the Blackhawks are still the fans' preferred trade partner, especially in light of the news of new contracts for Chicago's Big Three - Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith - but I still don't see it happening. Cristobal Huet's contract makes him nigh-impossible to move and besides, he's starting to figure out how to stop a puck. His GAA is 2.25 with a .902 save percentage, a stat that would probably be higher if not for Chicago's outstanding defense preventing many shots on goal.

The Hawks surely want to move Brian Campbell, and Minnesota does have Kim Johnsson and Marek Zidlicky coming off the books after this season though...

Colorado: I said this was, going in alphabetical order, the first true No. 1 opening. Woops. Not any more. Craig Anderson has been sensational, and he's not going anywhere.

Columbus: Is Steve Mason a broken young man? Mathieu Garon has made two straight starts since Mason allowed eight goals to Detroit in a 9-1 loss, and Garon won both. But Mason is still the main reason why Columbus got to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They'd be foolish to give up on him. Sort of like how foolish Ken Hitchcock was to let Mason stay in the game long enough to give up eight goals. Really seemed like a Mario Tremblay/Patrick Roy situation if you ask me, but Mason's back between the pipes tonight. We'll see how he responds.

Dallas: Marty Turco is having that bounceback year I thought he'd have. Mostly. His peripherals are much better - 2.24 GAA and .920 save percentage, compared to 2.81 and .898% last season - but he has just six wins in 13 starts. In five of the losses, he gave up three goals, and he gave up four in another and two in the seventh. That's not all that bad; sometimes a goalie's team has to score. That four-goal game was his worst of the season and the only time he's given up four.

But what I said in June is still true: He's 34 and in the last year of his contract. Wouldn't the Wild love to ship Harding and Pierre-Marc Bouchard off to Dallas for someone like James Neal or Loui Eriksson? Dallas gets its potential goalie of the future plus a playmaker to go with Brenden Morrow and Neal/Eriksson, whichever stays, while Minnesota gets a young, gifted scoring winger. Or even Fabian Brunnstrom? Rumor is Dallas is looking to trade him.

On paper, that might make sense, although Dallas may ask for a little more if it's giving up Neal or Eriksson. At this point, they might be considered untouchable. Especially since Bouchard still has that concussion thing going on, and it's unlikely that anyone will take him right now. But Harding for Brunnstrom, who was highly touted but has just one goal in 17 games? Neither team is exactly in a sell-high situation, but they seem to match up. Minnesota needs forwards and Dallas seems to need a goalie soon. I don't know what the Stars have in the pipeline in the AHL.

Detroit: I sort of brushed off this suggestion before, reasoning that Chris Osgood is a proven Stanley Cup winner and is money when it counts, and besides, the Red Wings would give Jimmy Howard a shot to see what he can do. But neither goalie has really been all that impressive and that's been Detroit's weakest link of the season. They're both under contract for one more season, and Howard seems to be playing a little better lately, so it still seems unlikely Harding lands here.

Edmonton: This was the second clear-cut opening. Now? Well... I own Nikolai Khabibulin in a fantasy league. I've considered cutting him. He isn't exactly getting the job done, but his team's offense is insanely schizophrenic. (See what I did there? Insane? Schizophrenic? I double emphasized the point by using two terms for crazy. Anyway.)

Khabibulin is getting pretty old - 37 in January - and he has a 3.03 GAA for the team that can't decide if it scores five goals a night or none. He has lost four games when he's allowed only two goals. Plus he's old, you know? Edmonton gave him a four-year contract, which was one of the head-scratchers of free agency, so maybe the Wild can still nab a solid return for Harding, who could learn under Khabibulin and help Edmonton rebuild when the Wall crumbles. (See what I did there? Bulin Wall? Crumble? Rebuild? Anyway.)

Florida: Want to bet the Panthers wish they'd re-signed Anderson? Not to go all Russo on you, but in my previous post on Harding, I said in the Florida section, "if I'm whoever-Florida-hires-as-GM, I'd try to re-sign Craig Anderson." Tomas Vokoun, however, is still playing well (three shutouts, .921%, but that 2.81 GAA, before last night's game, could be better) but Florida is one of the bigger disappointments of the season. It doesn't help that David Booth has been on the shelf after Mike Richards' cheap shot earlier this season. But Vokoun is the guy and Scott Clemmensen (three years) is there to back him up.

Maybe, however, some swap involving the backup goalies - Harding to Florida to eventually take over for Vokoun and Clemmensen to Minnesota to give Niklas Backstrom a breather a little more often - and some young players (like Nathan Horton; rumor has him on the trading block again) could be arranged. I wouldn't bank on it though.

Los Angeles: This was another team that didn't really have a clear cut No. 1 goalie but appears to have him now in Jonathan Quick, who is playing about as often as Kiprusoff or Evgeni Nabokov, which is to say, a lot. Backup Erik Ersberg has played in three games. Harding won't end up here.

Montreal: Same as before. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are trying to figure out who's better. Management is doing the same. They don't need to add another goalie to the competition. Actually maybe they do, but I think Bob Gainey's psychiatrist is already on speed-dial. Why add the psychologist to the list?

Nashville: Also same as before. Pekka Rinne is stealing back his No. 1 job, though both he and Dan Ellis have played well at times and poorly at times. In the long run, Rinne should win the job.

New Jersey: Unlike Khabibulin, I don't think Martin Brodeur is going to get old. Even at 37, and after a bit of a rough start, Marty is the old Marty. How long he keeps it up remains to be seen, but no backup plays much when New Jersey is the employer.

New York Islanders: This is less likely since the Islanders signed Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. But it's still a "what's up with Rick DiPietro?" Short-term, they're set. Long-term, they hope they're set with DiPietro if he ever gets healthy. Roloson is playing pretty well in fact, as are the Islanders overall.

I'd actually see New York moving Biron, maybe to Carolina, or Buffalo as the scuttlebutt says, but not acquiring Harding.

New York Rangers: Lundqvist is still good. Steven Valiquette is still a capable backup. Still no dice here.

Ottawa: There have been some bumps in the road for Pascal Leclaire, so I don't think his numbers (2.83 GAA, .896%) accurately reflect how well he's played. Ottawa has its No. 1.

Philadelphia: This was the gold-medal winner before, but Ray Emery is making a believer out of us all. He's 27 and a free agent at season's end, but if he plays like this the rest of the season, the Flyers will want to re-sign him.

Phoenix: Also making a believer out of people is Ilya Bryzgalov, who has rebounded from some tough seasons to put up a remarkable one so far. He is one who has greatly benefited from Dave Tippett's coaching and should be Phoenix's guy for a little longer.

Pittsburgh: The way he played early, Marc-Andre Fleury was making a legitimate case to be Team Canada's No. 1 goalie, though at this point, that's likely to go to Brodeur. But Fleury should give him a run.

San Jose: Nabokov is still good, but still getting old and still a pending free agent. I have no idea what the Sharks will want to do. It might depend how the season fares. I was probably too quick to write off San Jose the first time, but the Sharks are entering - if they're not already there - a "win now" mode given their recent failures in the playoffs. Harding is not the answer for a "win now" team.

St. Louis: Another preferred partner by fans. If the Blues could score a freaking goal, they'd be a lot better. Chris Mason (2.27, .923%) and Ty Conklin (2.24, .928%) are getting absolutely no support. Working in Minnesota's favor is both guys will be 34 at season's end. So maybe this is another place we can work out a Harding/Bouchard-for-Conklin/young sniper type of discussion.

Last season, the Blues had players who could score goals - David Backes, Brad Boyes, to name two - who are not scoring this season. Many people thought the return of Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald would help the team. Well, McDonald is faring well, but Kariya is not. Neither is Keith Tkachuk. St. Louis may want to bid farewell to those two when the season concludes and get younger, and adding Bouchard's playmaker capabilities to Boyes' goal scoring ability could prove to be potent.

Tampa Bay: What once was a very slight possibility seems less so now. Mike Smith is having an up-and-down season but Antero Niittymaki is not, and at this point, Tampa may want to give Niittymaki an extension. Like, right now.

Toronto: Another messed up situation. Vesa Toskala was dreadful, now he's doing sort of OK. Jonas Gustavsson had grabbed the reins as No. 1, only to hand them back after some sub-par performances. That Giguere-to-Toronto rumor doesn't make much sense to me, given how badly Brian Burke wanted Gustavsson. Now that he's got him, I doubt Burke goes after Harding.

Vancouver: Not here, nope. Not with Bob Luongo's lifetime contract.

Washington: Semyon Valarmov wasn't doing that great at the beginning of the season, but his team kept bailing him out. He's playing better lately, and Jose Theodore is having a turbulent season. Sometimes he'd play great, sometimes he'd play Toskala-like, and now he left the team for personal reasons, but that absence is not expected to be long. But it's looking like Varlamov will be "the guy" next season.

So what does that leave us? If you ask me, sensible locations are shaping up to be Dallas or St. Louis, with Florida and Edmonton as possibilities, and not ruling out Detroit, although the Red Wings I think would be far down on the list. Whether a trade happens obviously remains to be seen. I have no inside knowledge, but it seems to me that Dallas and St. Louis match up best with Minnesota.

NHL Recap 11-18-09

Stars of the night
--Michael Frolik, 2 goals in Florida's 6-2 win over Buffalo. This was a 3-2 game with two minutes left. Frolik scored a power play goal to make it 4-2, the Panthers got an empty-net goal, then added another one later.
--James Neal, 2 assists; Dallas beats Detroit, 3-1. I'm impartial enough to say Detroit got royally hosed by a truly dreadful call. But I'm still anti-Detroit enough to say the Red Wings have benefited from officiating for over a decade, so, get over it. Every team is on the wrong end of bad calls during a season. Welcome to the club.
--Radim Vrbata, 1 goal, 1 assist in Phoenix's 3-2 win over Minnesota.
--Brian Boucher, 37 saves in Philadelphia's 3-2 win over Los Angeles.

That's why you're backups
Neither Colorado nor Edmonton played its No. 1 goalie in Wednesday's matchup. That's partly why the final score ended up being 6-4 Edmonton. The Avalanche, aided by two Milan Hejduk goals, opened a 4-2 lead only to see the Oilers score the next four goals, the final one being into an empty net. Edmonton had six different goal scorers, getting the winner from Patrick O'Sullivan, and 12 Oilers recorded points, including winning goalie Jeff Deslauriers.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
It's a tie tonight between Boucher and Alex Auld, 31 saves for Dallas in handing the Red Wings their first regulation loss at home of the season. Dallas' Mike Ribeiro (one goal) was the third star, Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit's goal) was No. 2 and Neal was the first star. In the Philly game, Braydon Coburn was the third star with two assists, LA's Justin Williams was second with a lone assist and Mike Richards was No. 1 with a goal. Boucher did give up a bad first goal but seemed to rebound nicely.

Quote of the night
"They just played boring until they got a lead and then they played more boring."
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, gracious in defeat.

Marquee matchup
Thursday, Nov. 19 (8 games)
Toronto at Carolina. Heh. Kidding. Chicago (12-5-2) at Calgary (12-5-2), 9:30 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Game #21: Phoenix 3, Minnesota 2


Streaks come to an end sometime. Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's woeful career record in Minnesota meant little Wednesday night, as did Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom's numbers against the Coyotes.

This game maybe looked familiar to Wild fans. The Coyotes, under coach Dave Tippett, basically play a style similar to Jacques Lemaire's. Tippett knows his team doesn't have the greatest of offensive talent, and he preaches defense. And especially on the road, playing without several regulars, including defenseman Ed Jovanovski, the Coyotes look to slow the play down and not allow many chances.

They played that style to perfection in the first period, conceding just four shots to the Wild, before Minnesota found its legs in the final 40 minutes. Phoenix looks to limit the opponent's chances to score and must capitalize on its own, and that's what the Coyotes did, scoring on a 2-on-1 in the third period and getting Scottie Upshall's winner off a juicy rebound left by Backstrom.

Wild offense: Antti Miettinen ruled the night, being part of a sweet give-and-go with Mikko Koivu to set up Andrew Brunette's goal, then scored the tying goal himself late in the third period.

Wild defense: Was run ragged in the first period and lucky not to be losing after the opening 20 minutes, but two breakdowns led to both Phoenix goals in the third.

Coyotes offense: Upshall had a number of chances throughout the night and stuck a dagger into the Wild just 19 seconds after Miettinen made it 2-2. An unexpected contribution from defensive stalwart Jim Vandermeer aided the cause.

Coyotes defense: One of the better defensive plays was by Bryzgalov, whose little poke of a centering pass led to the Vandermeer goal. Overall, the defensemen were great early, but it helped that the attack was mainly in Minnesota's zone. They began to falter as the night went along and began giving up more chances.

Leader: Phoenix's Radim Vrbata, one of the streakiest players (good and bad) in the league. He can score 10 goals in a seven-game stretch or go 10 games without a goal. He had two points tonight, including a power play goal, and his excellent outlet pass freed Vandermeer on the 2-on-1. Never mind that the power play goal came on a brutal slashing call; those things happen and must be handled. Vrbata also made a subtle little play late in the game with Backstrom pulled to bleed the clock a little rather than risk an icing call.

Lagger: Was that Martin Havlat signing an April Fool's joke in July?

Stud: Bryzgalov. He made some big stops in the final moments while protecting that one-goal lead.

Dud: Backstrom. Got beat by Jim Vandermeer and I still don't know how that Upshall goal slipped by him.

The Assembled Multitude:

Chicken Little: Did we really just lose at home to Phoenix? A team that can't score at all? Oh wait, neither can the Wild.

Pollyanna: Hey, the Coyotes have shut down better offenses than ours, like Pittsburgh, San Jose and Chicago. No shame in losing to this team. At least we scored some 5-on-5 goals!

Bottom line: The Coyotes aren't the walk-over many people might assume they are. They may have slowed from their hot-start but especially on the road, they're going to be a tough team to play against, and nothing should be assumed when playing them.

Next: Home against the Islanders, another "don't take us lightly" team, Friday at 7 p.m. CT on KSTC and XM 207.

Don't Give In

Look, I know it's super tempting for some Minnesotan hockey fans to get all geeked because Danny Irmen's making his NHL debut tonight, and for the Wild no less, and in St. Paul, no less. Well, maybe it is to the Minnesotan Gopher hockey fan. And I guess we should include the North Dakotan Gopher hockey fan, too. That's right, Mr. and Mrs. Irmen and Mr. and Mrs. Potulny, all four of you.

Wait, so that's Gopher Puck Nation and the Irmens and Potulnys, right? For those scoring at home?

Okay, so back to not getting too geeked up.

Most people with at least a cursory knowledge of hockey in North America know that Minnesota is a hockey hotbed. Lots of NHLers with Minnesota ties right now, including some of the better young American players. Names like Erik Johnson, David Backes, Keith Ballard, Brandon Bochenski, Dustin Byfuglien, Ryan Carter, Tom Gilbert, Alex Goligoski, Jordan Leopold, Paul Martin, Peter Mueller, Matt Niskanen, Kyle Okposo, Zach Parise, Kurt Sauer, Mark Stuart, and Blake Wheeler.

But there is a frustratingly vocal minority of Wild fans that seem to think that every Wild team should be populated with as many Minnesotans as possible. I've written about this here before. It's still annoying.

Danny Irmen was the best option to get called up now from Houston. That's great. He had a decent camp. He's been kicking around the A for a while (this is his 5th season in Houston)....but there's the rub, no? He's played 247 games in Houston (according to and he's put up 40-50-90 (.36 pts/gm), as a guy who's not cast in a checking forward's role, in other words, you'd think some offense would have been expected.

But, even if this is the beginning of a long and beautiful NHL career for Danny, it should not be a call to take up the banner for more Minnesotans on the team, to those that would be inclined to take it up in the first place.

To begin with, Danny's Minnesota connection is tenuous at best. He went to school at "The U." But he ain't from the land of sky blue waters, folks.

Let me put it this way. If, God forbid, there is ever another strike in the NHL and a bunch of American ex-communicated NHLers got together and decide to get through the layoff by playing a tournament of "home state" teams, Danny would have to ask permission to play for the Minnesota team - and that's assuming the NoDak team either didn't want him or the Pony Express was shut down up there while they were trying to organize the league so no one got word of it. Same goes for that Kessel dude up in Toronto (I'll let the implied parallel between NoDak and Wisco sit there for their own peeps to sort out.)

But, more importantly, IT DOESN'T MATTER WHERE HE'S FROM!!

Why the heck would it?

Here's a general guideline for those of you that are girding your loins to march on Wild HQ with Danny's mug on a banner screaming for more players with Minnesota connections:

Demanding that the Wild trades for every Minnesota-born NHLer is dumb. It makes you look dumb. Don't do it, unless you want to look dumb. Same goes for demanding the Wild trade for every player with Minnesota hockey connections. Dumb. What about Sid Crosby? Why not scream for him? Because you'd look dumb. That's why. So don't do it for anyone else with the smallest Minnesota connection.

We call ourselves the State of Hockey, for the love of Mike (Ramsey). Act like you've been there.


NHL Recap 11-17-09

Stars of the night
--Carey Price, 30 saves and one in the shootout that he juuuust got with his right toe; Montreal beats Carolina, 3-2, behind a late tying goal from Andrei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre's shootout winner. The Hurricanes lost goalie Michael Leighton to an injury. I'd like to write about why Carolina has fallen so far but honestly, I'm clueless. Injuries are part but not nearly the entire answer.
--Mike Fisher, 2 goals in support of Pascal Leclaire's 30 saves to lead Ottawa over Toronto, 3-2.
--David Legwand and Joel Ward, 1 goal and 2 assists each as Nashville edges San Jose, 4-3. Pekka Rinne (29 saves) is starting to pull away from Dan Ellis in the race for the No. 1 netminder job. Calling Carolina, calling Carolina. Dan Ellis may be available in a trade.

He's baaaaaack
Alex Ovechkin made a triumphant return to Washington's lineup, scoring the Caps' first goal in their 4-2 win over the Rangers. Ovechkin powered a one-time slap shot from the point past Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game at 1-1. I swear he didn't even take a full windup and I still didn't see the puck go to the net. It was in and out that fast.

Matt Bradley returned from being bloodied badly in a fight - he received six stitches over his left eye - with Aaron Voros to score the eventual game-winner and Washington survived two Marian Gaborik goals.

Time to wonder if this is the real Rangers team. Missing Brandon Dubinsky and Chris Drury is hurting, but they've been in a long slump. New York is 4-8-1 since having a seven-game win streak snapped Oct. 17.

Back on track
The Avalanche snapped a three-game losing streak with an impressive 3-2 win at Calgary. Craig Anderson made 34 saves, and that number would've been higher if his defense hadn't blocked so many shots, 24 in total. Brett Clark blocked five and Scott Hannan, Kyle Quincey and Ryan Wilson blocked three each. Extra props to Wilson for scoring his first NHL goal and also adding an assist.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Anderson. Hannan was third, Calgary's Rene Bourque (shorthanded goal) was second and Wilson was first.

Quote of the night
"I could feel the blood coming, but there is no pain or anything. It's just one of those things that is more annoying than anything."
Bradley, on being bloodied. Got to love hockey players, don't you?

Marquee matchup
Wednesday, Nov. 18 (5 games)
Philadelphia (11-5-1) at Los Angeles (13-7-2), 10:30 p.m. ET.