Thursday, December 31, 2009

NHL Recap 12-30-09: Night of the Goalie and the Penalty Shot

Abbreviated version again. Still sick and Nyquil is in the system. I won't be long for consciousness.

Clean sheets of the night
--Tuukka Rask needed to make just 18 saves to blank Atlanta, 4-0, behind goals by Byron Bitz, Marco Sturm, Steve Begin and Patrice Bergeron. Marc Savard had two assists.
--Shutout No. 104 and 105 for Martin Brodeur came against the same team after New Jersey stifled the Penguins yet again, 2-0, for the Devils' fourth win in four tries this season against Pittsburgh. Niclas Bergfors scored his fourth goal against Pittsburgh and Jamie Langenbrunner had an empty netter. Brodeur made 32 saves.
--The Flyers might have figured things out. Their fourth straight win came in impressive fashion, as Simon Gagne's hat trick and assist fueled Michael Leighton's 22-save shutout, and Philadelphia walloped the Rangers, 6-0.

Not shutouts, but close
--Carey Price made 34 saves and Tomas Plekanec scored in overtime to give Montreal a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay. Brian Gionta scored his first goal since returning from a broken foot for the Habs.
--Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff held off Los Angeles, making 10 of his 23 saves in the third period, and Craig Conroy's first goal of the season was the winner for the Flames, who downed the Kings, 2-1. Rene Bourque had a goal and an assist.
--Jeff Deslauriers allowed only Phil Kessel's power play goal with four minutes left in the game, finishing with 27 saves, and Patrick O'Sullivan scored twice to lead Edmonton over Toronto, 3-1.

Goaltending need not apply
Colorado opened a three-goal advantage, then held off a late Ottawa rally to earn a 4-3 victory.

The Senators scored twice to close the gap from 4-1 to 4-3 with 5:51 remaining but could not get the tying goal as Craig Anderson held the fort, making 27 saves. Ryan O'Reilly's first goal since puberty (OK, it was Nov. 6) proved to be the game-winner. O'Reilly hadn't even gotten a point since Nov. 23.

Ryan Shannon scored twice for Ottawa. Matt Duchene scored his 11th for the Avalanche.

That's not something you see every day
Getting one penalty shot in a game is rare enough.

But two? And for the same team? That's rarer than a San Jose playoff series victory. And it was the Sharks who got the two penalty shots.

Ryane Clowe (second period) and Joe Thornton (third period) were awarded penalty shots after being fouled by Mike Green and John Erskine, respectively, and both converted to help San Jose frustrate Washington, 5-2.

Joe Pavelski scored twice for the Sharks, who led 3-0 before Mike Knuble got the Caps on the board early in the third period. San Jose answered with two goals in 3:14, on Pavelski's second and Thornton's penalty shot.

Apart from the Thornton goal, Marthornley had just one point, an assist by Dany Heatley.

The last time one team had two penalty shot goals in one game was Feb. 11, 1982, when Vancouver did it against Detroit in a 4-4 tie, according to the San Jose telecast.

Alex Ovechkin tied Marian Gaborik atop the NHL goals list with his 26th.

Notable games
Thursday, Dec. 31 (11 games)
Heavy slate on New Year's Eve.

-Colorado (23-12-6) at Detroit (19-14-6), 7 p.m. ET.

-San Jose (25-8-7) at Phoenix (25-13-3), 7 p.m.

-Los Angeles (22-15-3) at Minnesota (20-17-3), 8 p.m.

-New Jersey (28-9-1) at Chicago (26-10-3), 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NHL Recap 12-29-09: Lalime saves Sabres; Ducks tame Wild

Not sick now. Just pissed. Maybe a little sick too. For various reasons.

Hey wait, put him back in
Ryan Miller looked downright mortal in allowing three goals on 11 shots against Pittsburgh. Fortunately his understudy didn't.

Buffalo backup Patrick Lalime relieved Miller after the Penguins took a 3-0 lead 1:28 into the second period and stopped the bleeding, making 18 saves just in the second period, many of them stellar, and 27 overall, to lead the Sabres to a 4-3 stunner over Pittsburgh.

The man who will probably get the headlines more is Drew Stafford, a healthy scratch last game who hadn't scored in his past 15. And with good reason. Stafford started the Buffalo comeback by converting a penalty shot, netted a second goal later and set up the game-tying goal in the third period by Paul Gaustad, the latter two being pretty nifty plays by Stafford. Jason Pominville tallied the winner on the power play after Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams took a foolish offensive zone penalty and the Sabres held off the Penguins from there.

But it was Lalime most responsible for the comeback. If he'd given up another goal or two in that second period, Pittsburgh most likely wins.

Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz scored for the Penguins.

Remember when Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan was struggling? Me neither.

The second-year player scored goals 18 and 19, the latter being the winner on the power play, and set up Dan Sexton's goal, and Anaheim held off yet another Minnesota charge, 4-2. Jonas Hiller made 29 saves.

Ryan has eight goals and seven assists in 14 December games, with one more to play, and has 15 goals and 11 assists since October ended. His power play goal came three seconds after a 5-on-3 advantage ended and gave the Ducks a two-goal lead.

While the holding penalty to Kyle Brodziak was rather weak - "marginal" as the Ducks announcers called it - the Wild had three power plays in the final eight minutes of regulation, albeit the final one coming with just 48 seconds left. Kim Johnsson's goal with 6:53 remaining had Anaheim thinking "Not again" before Todd Marchant's empty-netter had the Ducks breathing easy.

Antti Miettinen also scored for Minnesota.

Stars of the night
--Dwayne Roloson made 41 saves and three more in the shootout to lead the Islanders over Columbus, 2-1. Josh Bailey scored in regulation and Rob Schremp had the only goal in the tiebreaker for New York. R.J. Umberger scored for the Blue Jackets.
--Steve Ott broke a 4-4 tie with his second goal of the game and Dallas defeated Chicago, 5-4. Ott also had an assist and Marty Turco made 33 saves. Patrick Kane had a pair of goals for the Blackhawks.
--Shea Weber notched three assists and Nashville hung on for a 4-3 win over St. Louis.
--Jason LaBarbera made 28 saves and went 3-for-3 in the shootout as Phoenix set a franchise-record with its 10th straight home win, 3-2 over Vancouver. Lauri Korpikoski had the shootout winner.

Stat of the night
1-37 - The Islanders power play in the last nine games. Ugh. And it's still better than the Penguins. Double ugh.

Quote of the night
"We got one of those loser points so everybody can get off our case because we didn't have one. But I would rather have won and still have people on our case for not having one of those loser points."
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. The Canucks suffered their first loss after regulation Tuesday

Notable games
Wednesday, Dec. 30 (8 games)
-Toronto (14-17-9) at Edmonton (15-20-4), 9:30 p.m. ET. That Pat Quinn head explosion is going to happen soon, and it might occur if he loses to his former team.

-Washington (24-9-6) at San Jose (24-8-7), 10 p.m., one of many potential Stanley Cup Final previews. (Unlike Toronto-Edmonton. That's not likely to be the final series.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NHL Recap 12-28-09: Wild mimic Leafs; 'Canes win, 'Canes win

Abbreviated version. Think I'm getting sick.

Let's be like Toronto
Words never before spoken this season.

The Minnesota Wild must've watched the Toronto-Pittsburgh game and took some lessons, because they ended their game in similar fashion. After Scott Parse tied the score at 3-3 with 2:37 left, Eric Belanger needed just 12 seconds to silence the crowd by scoring his second of the night, and Minnesota hung on for a 4-3 win over Los Angeles.

Belanger added an assist, and Martin Havlat and Kim Johnsson also had goals for Minnesota, which never trailed. Niklas Backstrom made 29 saves.

Drew Doughty netted his ninth of the season for LA, a goal that probably shouldn't have counted, and Jack Johnson also scored for the Kings.

Making them count
The Carolina Hurricanes haven't done much on the road this season. But it's newsworthy when they do.

Carolina earned just its second road win of the season in impressive fashion, doubling up Washington, 6-3, behind a five-point night from Eric Staal. The Hurricanes' only other win away from Raleigh was at Pittsburgh.

Staal scored twice, once into an empty net to seal the game, and set up first-period goals by Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen as Carolina opened a 3-0 lead. Jokinen also had two assists.

Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green had a goal and assist each for the Capitals.

Stars of the night
--Zach Parise broke out of a long goal scoring drought by netting a pair, including the winner, and New Jersey reclaimed first in the East with a 3-2 win over Atlanta. Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 23rd for Atlanta. Parise hadn't scored in 12 games.
--Speaking of droughts, Columbus ended a nine-game winless streak, which tied the franchise record, in surprising fashion, as Steve Mason mustered a good effort for once, blanking Detroit, 1-0 in overtime. Fredrik Modin scored the winner and Mason made 34 saves.
--Pascal Leclaire made 29 saves and Ottawa erased a 2-0 deficit by scoring the game's final four goals to defeat Montreal, 4-2. Benoit Pouliot scored the 20,001st franchise goal for the Habs. Mike Cammalleri had the preceding one.
--Mike Smith made 31 saves, Martin St. Louis scored in the second period and Tampa Bay hung on to knock off Boston, 2-1.
--Rene Bourque netted his second career hat trick - once even-strength, one on the power play and the last shorthanded - and Miikka Kiprusoff made 34 saves as Calgary rebounded for a 4-1 win over Edmonton.
--Evgeni Nabokov stopped 31 shots and three more in a shootout and the Sharks bested Phoenix, 3-2.

Monday, December 28, 2009

NHL Recap 12-27-09: Leafs pull upset; Nucks douse Flames

If they can lose to Carolina...
Then the Penguins can certainly lose to the Maple Leafs. And one of these days, the team will learn to actually work and not try to win on talent alone when it faces a team significantly below it in the standings.

Toronto might have had the fresher legs, even despite playing Saturday, but the Leafs certainly gave forth a much stronger effort than Pittsburgh, and Ian White's goal with 1:22 remaining, just 53 seconds after Mike Rupp tied it for the Penguins, gave Toronto a 4-3 victory.

Lee Stempniak had a goal and two assists and Jason Blake scored his 25th career goal, and 48th point, in 48 games against the Penguins. Sidney Crosby netted his 23rd of the season.

Team Finl-augh!
So Miikka Kiprusoff won't play in the Olympics unless he's Finland's starting goalie? Well, after he gave up four goals in the first period Sunday, Finland might not want him.

Mason Raymond scored the first two of his three goals, a natural hat trick, to cap off a terrific first period for Vancouver, and the Canucks chased Kiprusoff after one period in a 5-1 victory that sent Vancouver past Calgary in the standings.

Jarome Iginla scored his 20th of the season as the Flames opened the scoring, but quick responses by Henrik Sedin and Kyle Wellwood, who scored in a span of 1:50 after Iginla's goal, put the Canucks ahead. Then came Raymond's hat trick, his first, with two in the opening period and another in the second. Bob Luongo made 29 saves.

Stars of the night
--Jeff Carter and Danny Briere had a goal and assist each to lead Philadelphia over the Islanders, 2-1. The Flyers have won three straight.
--Tim Thomas made 25 saves and Marco Sturm broke the tie in Boston's 2-1 victory over Florida.
--Teammates Tim Connolly and Mike Grier each scored twice with an assist for Buffalo in a 5-3 defeat of St. Louis. Connolly's goals both came in the third period, once on the power play and once shorthanded, to snap a 3-3 score.
--Patrick Kane had two goals, including the winner in the final minute, and an assist, and John Madden netted a pair as Chicago swept a home-and-home with Nashville, 5-4. Kane has netted the game-winning goal in each of the Blackhawks' last three victories.

Non-3 Stars Selection
Connolly. Buffalo's Chris Butler (two assists) was third, the Blues' Alexander Steen (two goals) was second and Grier was first.

Stat of the night
0 - Number of remaining games this season between division opponents Chicago and Nashville. Am I the only one who finds that weird?

Quote of the night
"I have a few concerns that are certainly very noticeable and you can't hide it. It's got absolutely nothing to do with systems, absolutely nothing. It's other things that we have to deal with and we're going to. Whether it's liked or not, it's going to be dealt with."
Flames coach Brent Sutter

Notable games
Monday, Dec. 28 (8 games)
-Carolina (9-22-7) at Washington (24-8-6), 7 p.m. ET. Why, you ask? To see if the Caps can score 15.

-Calgary (20-12-5) at Edmonton (15-19-4), 9 p.m., to see if either Sutter's or Pat Quinn's head actually explodes on the bench.

-Phoenix (24-13-2) at San Jose (23-8-7), 10:30 p.m., to see Marthornley (Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Dany Heatley) against Ilya Bryzgalov.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

NHL Recap 12-26-09: Caps win East showdown; Hawks take West

Had to get them eventually
Anyone who might not have been too impressed with the quality of Washington's schedule or the Capitals' play against tougher teams had to change their tune a little after Washington downed New Jersey, 4-1, in a showdown of two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin each had a goal and two assists to power Washington's attack, which included 40 shots on Martin Brodeur. Michal Neuvirth made his third straight start in net for the Capitals, who avoided being swept by the Devils after having lost the first three meetings, and the youngster made 29 saves.

Cancel the parade
A week ago, Nashville was tied for first place in the Western Conference with 47 points.

Now the Predators are fifth.

A three-goal second period helped give Chicago a 4-1 win over Nashville and handed the Predators their second straight loss, dropping them six points behind Western leaders Chicago and San Jose, who both have 53 points.

Four different players scored for the Blackhawks: Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp. Jonathan Toews and Tomas Kopecky each had two assists and Cristobal Huet made 25 saves.

Martin Erat scored his 13th for Nashville.

Stars of the night
--Todd Bertuzzi scored twice and Jimmy Howard made 28 saves to give Detroit a 2-1 lead over Columbus.
--Vincent Lecavalier set up three goals and Ryan Malone's 19th of the season was the difference in Tampa Bay's 4-3 win over Atlanta. Nik Antropov and Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and assist each for the Thrashers.
--Guillaume Latendresse scored the first and last goal for Minnesota, which hung on for a 4-3 win over St. Louis, which got a goal and assist from Patrik Berglund.
--Peter Budaj stopped 39 shots and Chris Stewart scored twice to lead Colorado over Dallas, 4-1.
--Daniel Sedin scored once and set up two others for Vancouver in a 4-1 win over Edmonton. Henrik Sedin had one goal and one assist.
--Patrick Marleau scored twice, Joe Thornton assisted on three goals and Dany Heatley netted his 23rd plus added two assists in San Jose's 5-2 smackdown of Anaheim. The Sharks scored the game's first five goals. Marleau's goals were the 300th and 301st of his career.

Working late
--In its first game without captain Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa launched 40 shots on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, but needed a shootout to down the Sabres, 3-2. Alex Kovalev and Mike Fisher converted in the tiebreaker after Ryan Shannon and Chris Neil scored for the Senators. The Sabres erased a 2-0 deficit on goals by Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.
--Philadelphia blew a 3-0 lead in the final 10:36 of regulation but recovered to defeat Carolina, 4-3 in a shootout. The Flyers stars came out, as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Daniel Briere all scored. Jussi Jokinen netted twice for the Hurricanes, who played former teammate Michael Leighton, who made 37 saves. Briere and Richards scored in the shootout.
--The Islanders conceded a goal in the final minute of the third period to the Rangers but Kyle Okposo's tally in the last minute of overtime gave New York a 3-2 win over New York. Heh. The Isles held a 2-0 lead before squeaking out the win. Brandon Dubinsky had both Rangers goals.
--What's with blowing 2-0 leads but winning anyway? Montreal led 2-0 before needing Andrei Kostitsyn's goal 34 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 win over Toronto. Scott Gomez had a goal and an assist, Andrei Markov had two helpers and Jaroslav Halak made 47 saves in his fourth straight start for Montreal. Halak has stopped 180 of 186 shots during his current four-game win streak.

Taking deposits
If the playoffs started today, the fourth seed from the Western Conference, the last recipient of home-ice advantage, would be the Phoenix Coyotes. Los Angeles fans were ecstatic upon the return of Ryan Smyth and an expected surge to the top, but Phoenix shut down the Kings, 3-2, limiting the visitors to 25 shots.

Adrian Aucoin, Martin Hanzal and Keith Yandle scored for Phoenix. Dustin Brown and Michal Handzus had goals for the Kings, who welcomed Smyth back only to lose Justin Williams to a broken leg on just his second shift of the game. The duo was part of one of the NHL's top lines early in the season with Anze Kopitar.

The win was the Coyotes' franchise-record tying ninth straight at home.

Non-3 Stars Selection
Gomez. Third star was Toronto's Mike Komisarek, Kostitsyn was second and Halak first.

Stat of the night
201:04 - Time, in minutes and seconds, since the Red Wings last had a lead before Bertuzzi's second goal of the game 2:44 into the third period.

Quote of the night
"Usually games like this you try to run as fast as you can out of the building."

-Gomez. Toronto out-shot Montreal, 49-23. That seems to be a theme for both teams. The Canadiens give up more shots than they allow almost each night, and sometimes they win. The Leafs are constantly putting up huge shot totals but rarely getting wins. That probably means something, but I don't know what.

This was the sixth time Toronto has registered 40 shots or more on goal and it leads the NHL in shots per game at 34.1. Conversely, Montreal is 28th (third-worst) in shots allowed per game at 32.6. Montreal's last four games, shots allowed: 40, 50, 47, 49. Bonus stats of the night. Yikes.

Notable games
Sunday, Dec. 27 (6 games)
-Nashville (22-13-7) at Chicago (25-9-3), 7 p.m. ET, a chance for the Preds to get some revenge.

-Vancouver (22-16-0) at Calgary (20-11-5), 8 p.m. The Flames, after such a um, hot November, are in danger of being passed in the standings by the Canucks, who are the only NHL team not to have an overtime/shootout loss. They've had only two games go beyond regulation, both shootout victories, both back in October.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

NHL Recap 12-23-09: Star awakes; Flyers win a game

Now that's a response
One game after being Martin Brodeur's 104th shutout victim, Pittsburgh unleashed its frustrations on a not-all-that hapless Ottawa squad with an 8-2 rout.

Oddly enough, the final score isn't indicative of what went on. The Senators fired 24 shots on Marc-Andre Fleury just in the first period and finished with a 47-36 advantage, one off the record by a visiting team in Pittsburgh. Fleury allowed only Anton Volchenkov's goal to tie the score at 1-1 in the first period and Chris Kelly's wrister with under two minutes left.

Pittsburgh's offense was powered by Evgeni Malkin, the target of quite a bit of criticism of late, both for his lackluster play - which, in Geno terms, is a meager 34 points in 30 games - and for spending an unhealthy amount of time in the penalty box - 50 PIMs in those 30 games, including 24 in the last seven.

Malkin responded to the harsh words by netting his fourth career hat trick - in front of Team Russia GM Vladislav Tretiak - and had another called back on a Pittsburgh penalty to lead the charge. Bill Guerin scored twice and had two assists as well, and Chris Kunitz had a goal and three assists. Both Guerin and Kunitz tied a team-record of four points in one period. Sidney Crosby had three helpers and the Penguins also got goals from Ruslan Fedotenko and Sergei Gonchar.

Marring the evening was a hit by Craig Adams on a vulnerable Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, leading to a slight shoulder separation which Alfredsson said would keep him out for "a few weeks." The Senators had welcomed back to the lineup from injury Chris Neil, Shean Donovan and goalie Pascal Leclaire, who started but was pulled after the second period having given up six goals on 24 shots.

We lost to.. who?
Tough times for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Their coach is constantly trying to send messages by benching his star players, with the method rarely seeming to work, and now the team can't put many pucks behind Philadelphia's third-string goaltender, Michael Leighton, a waiver-wire castoff of the woeful Carolina Hurricanes.

Leighton made 31 saves and Mike Richards and Blair Betts each scored twice to lead the Flyers to a sorely-needed win, 5-2. Richards finished with a three-point night, Simon Gagne added an empty-net goal, and Claude Giroux and Oskars Bartulis had a pair of helpers each.

Zenon Konopka and Victor Hedman scored for Tampa Bay.

Stars of the night
--Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara had a goal and two assists each as Boston won a shootout high-scoring affair with Atlanta, 6-4. Maxim Afinogenov had three points (one goal) to lead the Thrashers.
--Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and Alex Ovechkin had three points (one goal) as the Capitals got to Ryan Miller early and often in a 5-2 Washington win over Buffalo.
--Jaroslav Halak stopped 46 shots in his third-straight start, Glen Metropolit netted a pair of power play goals, and both Kostitsyn brothers (Andrei and Sergei) scored to help Montreal wallop Carolina, 5-1. Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez both had three assists.
--Niklas Backstrom made 30 saves, Owen Nolan came an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick and Minnesota maintained its home dominance over Edmonton, 3-1. The Wild are 11-0 against the Oilers at home when Backstrom starts.
--James Neal scored twice to snap a 1-1 tie and Dallas defeated Columbus, 3-1. Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards assisted on both Neal goals and Alex Auld made 33 saves.
--Chris Mason made 23 saves and St. Louis knocked off Calgary, 2-1 in a shootout, getting tiebreaker goals from Brad Boyes and T.J. Oshie.

Clean sheets
--Antti Niemi - who from henceforth shall be known as "Antti freaking Niemi" - posted his fourth shutout of the season for Chicago, 3-0 over Detroit in Joe Louis Arena, making 33 saves. Patricks Kane and Sharp and Jonathan Toews scored for the Hawks. The Red Wings lost consecutive 3-0 games to Chicago. It's the fifth time this season Detroit has been blanked, most in a season before Dec. 31 since 1958-59.
--Niemi would've been tied for the league lead in shutouts if not for Phoenix netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, who earned No. 5 Wednesday when his Coyotes defeated Anaheim, 4-0. Bryzgalov needed to make just 21 saves and got goals from Scottie Upshall, Martin Hanzal, Taylor Pyatt and Robert Lang.

Timely end to the droughts
--John Tavares snapped a six-game goalless streak by netting the eventual game-winner for the Islanders in a 3-1 defeat of Toronto. Fittingly, Tavares' last goal came against the Maple Leafs.
--Rangers forward Vinny Prospal hadn't scored a goal since Nov. 21 (14 games without a goal), but netted a pair, including the winner, to help New York take down the Panthers, 4-1. Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury had a goal and assist each. Henrik Lundqvist shook off a knee to the head by noted goalie hunter Keith Ballard to make 33 saves.

Stat of the night
5 - Combined goals by Calgary's Jarome Iginla (three) and Olli Jokinen in the Flames' 10 games in December. The duo has totaled just 13 points in that time.

Quote of the night
"If we can just get rid of some of those boneheaded soft plays, we'll get there."
Edmonton coach Pat Quinn

Notable games
Saturday, Dec. 26 (13 games)
The NHL is taking the next two days off, so we must look ahead to Saturday's action. Games of note:

-New Jersey (26-8-1) at Washington (23-8-6), 7 p.m. ET

-Chicago (24-9-3) at Nashville (22-12-3), 8 p.m.

-Los Angeles (22-12-3) at Phoenix (23-13-2), 9 p.m.

Wild Beautiful, Boring Pupae At The Break

As the NHL shuts down for a couple days in deference to all the non-Jewish fans, I thought, "what the heck? Why not gut out a post?"

You see, my lack of posting this season about the Wild is not because I don't care's because I haven't had anything to say.

This Wild team is going through the kind of "re-positioning" season they probably should have gone through earlier; and likely would have, had Lemaire not been around to continuously apply lipstick to the roster's collective snout.

Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this. Years of constant identity re-defining ("we're a defense-leads-the-rush we're a defense-starts-the-rush team...") combined with inconsistent drafting and the self-divesting of assets without care for the return (hell, without care for A return in many cases) left the team with, well, no identity.

I'm just saying that dissecting every second of action on a team that's voluntarily gone back into chrysalis is not intriguing to me. This is why I don't write a blog about my children. I just can't see why anyone would care who farted at dinner and then said something cute about it afterward - especially because I struggle to come up with anything cute to say most of the time anymore.

The overall story is getting better. This team now pretty consistently works its tail off. They skate hard, they forecheck (and with more of a concerted effort across the entire 5-man unit - as promised) and they're fun to watch.

But, for the recent success (11-4-1 over their last 15, 15-7-3 over their last 25), the Wild (39 pts) is still basically equidistant between last in the Western Conference (Edmonton, 34 pts) and 8th (Dallas, 43 pts). And now they've managed to climb just far enough out of the basement to likely relegate them to the second-third of the 1st round in next year's entry draft. So we've got a team that's not a contender and not in position to win the lottery either....sound familiar, Wild fans?

Look, I'm not hoping they lose every game. I'm not that kind of "fan." And I'm not pissed because they're not a contender and I expect them to make a run for the Cup this (and every) year. I'm not that kind of "fan," either. It's just....sort of ho-hum right now for me with the Wild. And I'm cool with that. I'm just not inspired to copy/paste everything Russo says about them every day.

So, yeah, I think there's hope for the future. I think this team is more entertaining than they have been in the past. But it's almost too bad DR isn't around to see this, because my expectations are truly managed for this season. Almost.

Happy Holidays, all!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday wishlist


'Tis the time for joy, goodwill, eggnog, shopping, gift-giving, give-receiving and eggnog (spiked). So let's take a look at what NHL teams are asking Santa Bettman for this holiday season:

Atlanta: A reasonable contract extension for Ilya Kovalchuk. And at the risk of sounding greedy, a playoff spot as well.

Anaheim: The return of Chris Pronger. Flyers fans might be willing to agree to this.

Boston: A potion to turn Milan Lucic into Phil Kessel. (No, I'm not letting that go. The Bruins can't score.)

Buffalo: A quick elimination for Team USA in the Olympics so Ryan Miller can get some rest.

Calgary: Olli Jokinen to not suck.

Carolina: A do-over on the 2009-2010 season.

Chicago: A bigger salary cap. Better yet, none.

Colorado: A defense that won't give up more than 30 shots each game.

Columbus: A hypnotist to tell Steve Mason it's 2008-09 again.

Dallas: The dissolution of shootouts. Or the return of tiebreaker specialists Sergei Zubov and Jussi Jokinen.

Detroit: Goals. Or good health. Or both.

Edmonton: A new body for Nikolai Khabibulin.

Florida: Dr. Frankenstein to give David Booth a new brain. (But not Abby Normal's. Anyone? Also, I say that jokingly, but believe me, I sympathize wholly with Booth. And not because I committed to him for five years in a salary cap league.)

Los Angeles: More months in the year so we can get more Ice Girls calendar pictures. Rawr.

Minnesota: Is fire-retardant gear too easy? Too harsh?

Montreal: One of those amusement park cardboard cut-out things outside the visitors locker room that says "You must be this tall to enter this room" and set the height at about four feet. Or a pink slip for GM Bob Gainey.

Nashville: Taylor Swift in nothing but a Predators' third jersey. Rawr.

New Jersey: A fountain of youth so Martin Brodeur plays for another 20 years, at least.

New York Islanders: One "Nullify a contract from a previous regime" card - you know, like a Monopoly "Get out of Jail free" card - and use it on Alexei Yashin's contract. He has an annual cap hit of $3.235 million on the Isles' books through 2015. Seriously.

New York Rangers: Six more Marian Gaboriks. Or even just one. Someone to take the pressure off Marian Gaborik The Original.

Ottawa: The 2006-07 version of Dany Heatley, but muzzled.

Philadelphia: A time machine to go back to 1975.

Phoenix: Fans. (Too harsh?)

Pittsburgh: A new power play. Maybe a young winger who can score goals.

St. Louis: The right to play the rest of their games on the road.

San Jose: One playoff series victory. Next year's present will be two.

Tampa Bay: New owners, ones who know how best to run a hockey team and won't run out of money.

Toronto: More truculence. Can't ever get enough of that.

Vancouver: Martin Brodeur's heart and brain in Bob Luongo's body.

Washington: A "How To" guide on playing defense for Mike Green.

Lastly, two special ones:

The NHL: A new television contract.

Gary Bettman: A brain.

NHL Recap 12-22-09: Sharks Revenge; Avs buried

We meet again, Mr. Hossa
The last time Chicago and San Jose shared the ice, Marian Hossa made his Blackhawks debut and scored two goals. Chicago scored three times while shorthanded in a 7-2 rout in San Jose.

This time, the upper glove was on the other foot as Joe Thornton's shorthanded goal in the second period helped the Sharks fend off the Hawks, 3-2.

Jason Demers gave San Jose a 3-1 lead, after Dany Heatley scored the only goal in the first period, and Hossa scored late in a 4-on-4 situation with Cristobal Huet was pulled (so a 5-on-4 but not a power play situation), but Evgeni Nabokov and the Sharks defense held strong.

Well, Nabokov did. Chicago out-shot San Jose by a whopping 47-14 margin, including 21-7 in the third. Patrick Kane had the other Chicago goal. Both he and Hossa had an assist, as did Thornton and Heatley for the Sharks.

Swarmed under
The Sharks might have fought off a late push by the Blackhawks, but Colorado couldn't say the same in its game against Anaheim.

Trailing 2-0 going into the third period, the Ducks out-shot the hosts 15-7 in the third period and 43-17 overall, and the pressure paid off in the form of four goals in the final period for a 4-2 Anaheim victory.

The first goal was debatable: At the time Scott Niedermayer slammed the puck home, teammate Bobby Ryan was in the crease, seemingly preventing Craig Anderson from getting into position to make a play on Niedermayer's shot. The play stood with 7:34 remaining, and Dan Sexton tied the score 2:39 later.

Anaheim then struck twice in the final 30 seconds, getting the game-winner from Ryan Getzlaf and an empty net goal by Todd Marchant. Jonas Hiller earned the win for the Ducks. Rookie Brandon Yip netted his first career goal and Paul Stastny scored for Colorado.

Here a Sedin, there a Sedin, everywhere a Sedin Sedin
The Sedin twins combined for six points and Vancouver ended Nashville's four-game winning streak, 4-1.

Both Henrik and Daniel Sedin had a goal and two assists, and Steve Bernier and Sami Salo scored for the Canucks. Bob Luongo made 20 saves, losing his shutout with 5:24 remaining on a goal by Patric Hornqvist.

Dan Ellis made 32 saves in the loss.

Non-3 Stars Selection
Heatley, though there was nothing wrong with the selections: Thornton third, Kane second and Nabokov first.

Stat of the night
109.1, 67.6, 102.1 - Percentages of arena attendance capacity Tuesday (Chicago, Colorado, Vancouver.)

Quote of the night
"We basically robbed one here tonight and we can chalk that one up to Nabby."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan

Notable games
Wednesday, Dec. 23 (12 games)
Last day before the Christmas break. Games of note:

-Buffalo (22-10-3) at Washington (22-8-6), 7 p.m. ET

-Chicago (23-9-3) at Detroit (18-13-5), 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Max deal a bad idea for all involved


One of the biggest off-ice stories around the Eastern Conference, if not the NHL, is the impending status of Atlanta star and captain Ilya Kovalchuk.

On July 1, 2010, Kovalchuk is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. After having traded free agent-to-be Marian Hossa at the 2008 trade deadline, Thrashers general manager Don Waddell would really like to re-sign Kovalchuk. He's a phenomenal talent and the face of the Atlanta organization. Losing him would set the development of the team back years.

For his part, Kovalchuk claims to enjoy the Atlanta area. Reportedly, he wants to stay with the team, as long as they can be competitive.

His desires are understandable. In seven completed seasons in Atlanta, Kovalchuk has been to the playoffs just once, and it was a short-lived sweep in 2007 at the hands of the Rangers.

Waddell has taken measures not just to improve the team but to surround Kovalchuk with buddies. In the summer, he signed Russians Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov, and together with Kovalchuk, those two have formed a very potent line. Secondary scoring from the Little White Russian line (Bryan Little, Todd White, Slava Kozlov) has been lacking all season, but Atlanta still finds itself sixth in the East as of this writing.

In their place though, has been the great Rich Peverley, a waiver wire castoff who has been a near point-per-game player. Fourth overall pick Evander Kane is having a solid rookie campaign and Colby Armstrong is one of the better role players in the league.

On the blue line, Tobias Enstrom is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the newcomers, as his 29 points have almost surpassed his total last year of 32 in a full season. His 2008-09 season was a bit of a backstep after he tallied 38 points in his rookie season. Pavel Kubina, another offseason acquisition, has 20 points, and youngster Zach Bogosian - the 2008 third overall pick - has eight goals and is an overall stud in the making.

There's plenty of reasons to have hope in Atlanta, especially with the emergence of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

So what's the holdup in Kovalchuk signing a new contract?

Well, if reports are to be believed, Kovalchuk is seeking a maximum contract, which under the current settings is $11.36 million annually, and he's hoping to get that over 10 to 12 years. Yowza.

If that's true, it's easy to figure out why Waddell doesn't want to commit to that. There aren't many teams in the league who can, let alone who would want to, so he has to figure - if that's what Kovalchuk's demand is - that Waddell can bring the amount down a bit.

If you're Kovalchuk, whose contract this season calls for $7.5 million at a cap hit of $6.4 million, do you really think it's wise to ask for a max deal?

Let's first look at other players. If Kovalchuk is indeed asking for that much, he is saying that he's the best player in the league and would make almost $2 million more than Alexander Ovechkin. Is there anyone who would take Kovalchuk over Ovechkin?

But it also goes beyond that. If Kovalchuk truly wants the Thrashers to be competitive during his time with the team if he re-signs, he cannot possibly sign a maximum deal. According to, the Thrashers have a tad over $25 million committed to 10 players for 2010-11. However, that total includes no goaltender - Johan Hedberg will be a UFA, and Pavelec and Kari Lehtonen will be RFAs - and is missing several other key players, among them Kubina, Afinogenov, Armstrong and Kozlov, who will all be UFAs after this season.

Little will be a restricted free agent and will command a raise. Kozlov will be 38 in May and could retire, so re-signing him might not be an issue. But Bogosian will need a new contract after 2011 and Kane's current deal expires after 2012. If the latter two develop as everyone expects them to, their price tags will be fairly large.

And if 20 percent of the cap hit is tied up in one player, that isn't likely to leave much room to pay enough of a supporting cast to make the Thrashers a playoff-caliber, or Stanley Cup-contender team.

That's certainly something Waddell needs to take into account. Kovalchuk should too. Players like Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin could easily demand the max amount allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, but they all took less money to stay with their team so that their general managers could spend on other players.

Maybe Kovalchuk knows this, and all these rumors about him demanding the max are untrue. That's certainly possible. But if they're not, and he gets his max deal, he'll surely be happy that he's raking in a lot of dough. But if Waddell - or an eventual successor - finds his hands tied and the Thrashers continue to be on the fringe of the playoff picture at best, then I doubt Kovalchuk will find his springs all that exciting.

Waddell said the situation would be resolved before Christmas. So he's got two and a half days left to sign Kovalchuk, who might want to see if someone throws a Brinks truck or two at him in the offseason.

But if Kovalchuk is sincere about wanting to stay in Atlanta and turn the Thrashers into a winner, he should sign for Ovechkin- or Crosby-like money and let his GM find the pieces that make Atlanta a dangerous opponent.

Otherwise, the only thing he'll have to do during the playoffs is count how much money he's earning.

NHL Recap 12-21-09: Brodeur sets record; Panthers beat down Flyers

Record-breaker of the night
Somehow it seems fitting that with all the offensive talent the Penguins boast on their team, they are the ones who are shut out for the NHL-record 104th time by Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur.

Not only because Pittsburgh would seemingly be a team not likely to get blanked, but also because Terry Sawchuck's 103rd career shutout also came against the Penguins.

Brodeur was rarely tested. He made a lot of saves - 35 - but the only time the Penguins really came close to scoring was when Sidney Crosby rang a shot loudly off the post with 1:41 to play. Brodeur's best save was a glove stop on Evgeni Malkin in the final minute.

Zach Parise had three assists for New Jersey in its 4-0 victory.

Congratulations to Brodeur, who received some applause at the end from the Pittsburgh crowd.

Rematch of the night
Is it just coincidence or is it the team? Either way, sparks always seem to fly when Philadelphia is involved in a hockey game.

This time, the Flyers played their first game against Florida since Mike Richards turned David Booth's brain into slush, and the rematch didn't disappoint. There were three fights in the first period, including Richards against Panthers captain Bryan McCabe, and a fourth fight in the third period.

Oh, Stephen Weiss registered four points (one goal) and Nathan Horton had two goals as the Panthers won, 4-1. Florida scored the game's first four goals. Michael Frolik had a goal and two assists.

Booth traveled with the team but still isn't close to returning.

Ironically, the Associated Press recap describes the Flyers as "punchless." Funny.

Stars of the night
--Henrik Lundqvist stopped 32 shots, Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik each had a goal and assist and the Rangers held off Carolina, 3-1, getting an empty net goal from Marc Staal to seal the win.
--Ryan Malone scored two third-period goals, and also had two assists, and Tampa Bay doubled up the Islanders, 4-2. Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos had a goal and assist for the Lightning. Mike Smith made 36 saves for the win.
--Tim Thomas made 29 saves, and Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm pushed pucks past Brian Elliott in the third period to give Boston a 2-0 win over Ottawa. Sturm became the first Bruin to reach double figures in goals. Elliott made 27 saves.
--Craig Anderson allowed two third-period goals in a span of 1:52 but his 28 saves helped Colorado hold off Minnesota, 4-3. Seven goals and only Colorado's T.J. Galiardi had multiple points with two assists.
--Patrick Marleau scored twice and Evgeni Nabokov made 36 saves for the Sharks, who got a Dallas own-goal to seal a 4-2 victory. Ryane Clowe was credited with a goal when Dallas rookie Ivan Vishnevskiy lost control of the puck at his blue line and it slid all the way into the vacated Stars net.
--Alexander Steen had a goal and three assists and Andy McDonald scored twice to power St. Louis over Edmonton, 7-2. After going 5-1-0 on a six-game road trip, the Oilers went 0-4-0 at home and are last in the West.
--Scottie Upshall had two goals and a pair of helpers, Shane Doan and Matthew Lombardi had a goal and two assists each and Phoenix smacked Columbus, 5-2.

Working late
--Jochen Hecht forced a tie with 7:01 left in regulation and teammate Derek Roy scored in overtime to give Buffalo a 3-2 win over Toronto. Both players also had an assist and Ryan Miller made 34 saves for the Sabres.
--Say what you want about Marc-Andre Bergeron's defensive capabilities - and I have - but the dude can score. Ask Johan Hedberg. Bergeron scored with 1:45 left to force overtime, then netted the winner 2:23 into the extra period to give the Canadiens a 4-3 win over Atlanta. Tomas Plekanec had a goal and three assists and Jaroslav Halak faced 50 freaking shots, stopping 47 for Montreal. Yikes. Nik Antropov scored twice for the Thrashers. The Canadiens had 23 shots in comparison.

Non-3 Stars Selection
Halak. Antropov was third, Plekanec second and Bergeron first.

The selection of Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin (one assist) as his game's No. 1 star was curious to say the least. Maybe Toronto held a ceremony honoring the Leafs' 10 greatest Nikolai's or something and they wanted to maintain that theme. Maybe that's next game. They hold a ceremony for everything else.

Stat of the night
54.3 - Percentage of the Islanders' penalty killing over the last nine games (16 goals on 35 chances.) Too bad they don't play the Penguins any time soon. That number would skyrocket.

Quote of the night
"I don't know -- you know, I like the nice crisp air when we come visit here. When you step outside the hotel I think this has the cleanest-smelling air around; I don't know if that has something to do with it."
Thomas, talking about winning his 10th straight game against Ottawa

Tim Thomas is awesome. He should be mic'd up and uncensored every game.

Bonus quote
"We're not an assertive team in one-on-one situations. We want to chase pucks a lot of times. That's what little kids do. They follow the puck with their eyes and with their bodies."
Edmonton coach Pat Quinn, who is also awesome for great quotes

Notable game
Tuesday, Dec. 22 (3 games)
San Jose (21-8-3) at Chicago (23-8-3), 8 p.m. ET, Versus. First meeting of the two since Chicago's 7-2 embarrassment of the Sharks in California.

Monday, December 21, 2009

NHL Recap 12-20-09: Wings blanked, Blues win

Passing of the torch?
Oh, that pesky regular season.

Detroit netminder Chris Osgood was one of his team's best players in the 2008 and 2009 postseasons, but he is in the midst of his second consecutive dreadful regular season. Ty Conklin saved Detroit's bacon to the tune of 25 wins last season, and now it's Jimmy Howard who's stepping to the forefront. But he's not doing it as a quality backup; Howard is becoming the No. 1 guy in Motown, if he's not already.

Performances like Sunday's won't help Osgood's cause. He gave up two, possibly three, soft goals in a 3-0 loss to Chicago in just his third appearance in December and has only one win since Nov. 7.

Of course, it doesn't help when his teammates don't score, and Cristobal Huet needed to stop just 20 shots for his third shutout of the season. Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell and Dustin Byfuglien scored for the Blackhawks.

Assuming Detroit makes the playoffs - the Wings are ninth currently, tied with Dallas in points but having played one more game, and once healthy, they should qualify - it will be interesting if Howard is the starter despite having no postseason experience, or if a switch or rotation of some kind will be in order. Remember, in 2008, Detroit started with Dominik Hasek before Osgood replaced him after four games, and Osgood backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup.

Road sweet road
Is St. Louis a bad town? Because the Blues play so much better on the road.

St. Louis continues to have the worst home record in the league, having earned only 14 points from 18 games, but once the Blues head on the road, look out. Following a 3-1 win at Vancouver Sunday, St. Louis is an impressive 9-3-3 away from Scottrade Center.

David Backes scored two goals, the second snapping a 1-1 tie, and teammate Keith Tkachuk followed with his eighth of the season 1:27 later to give St. Louis a two-goal advantage, and Ty Conklin slammed the door on the Canucks from there.

Shane O'Brien scored his first goal in 166 games for Vancouver, which failed to convert on two third-period power plays. Conklin made 29 saves.

Stat of the night
10 - Shots through two periods for Detroit

Quote of the night
"There's obviously a little vendetta. Maybe we should pretend every team kicked our dog before the game. I'm an animal advocate by the way."
Backes. St. Louis has out-scored Vancouver 9-2 in two meetings this season. The Canucks swept the Blues out of the playoffs in 2009.

Marquee matchup
Monday, Dec. 21 (11 games)
Fun week ahead in the NHL. It's all or nothing. Eleven games Monday, three Tuesday, 12 Wednesday, then the Christmas break Thursday and Friday, then 13 games Saturday. Monday's top game is New Jersey (25-8-1) at Pittsburgh (25-10-1), 7:30 p.m. ET. Winner gets top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, currently held by the Devils.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

NHL Recap 12-19-09

Stars of the night
--Henrik Lundqvist, 35 saves (16 in the third period) as the Rangers edged Philadelphia, 2-1.
--Karlis Skrastins and James Neal, two goals and an assist each for Dallas in a 4-3 win over Detroit.
--Jonas Hiller, 39 saves as Anaheim doubled up Phoenix, 4-2.
--Pittsburgh's penalty killers. The Penguins killed off all eight Buffalo power plays, including a 5-on-3 in the first period, a penalty with 2:06 remaining and a power play in overtime and Pittsburgh beat the Sabres, 2-1 in a shootout. Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves. Very entertaining game for only two goals scored.
--Matt Cullen, a goal and assist as Carolina won a game, 3-2 over Florida, avenging Friday night's 6-3 defeat.
--Jonas Gustavsson, 25 saves in his first start since having a second heart operation, and Toronto blanked Boston, 2-0. Phil Kessel remains scoreless against his former team.
--Alex Ovechkin, two goals and an assist as Washington scored four times in the third period to erase a two-goal deficit and defeat Edmonton, 4-2.

Don't look now, but...
The Nashville Predators are tied for the most points in the Western Conference. Nashville has 47 points, as do Chicago, Los Angeles and San Jose.

Martin Erat and Marcel Goc had a goal and two assists to help the Predators knock off Calgary, 5-3 on the road. Nashville erased a 3-2 deficit by scoring the game's final three goals.

Happy returns
Making a very early return from a tendon injury suffered in the opener, Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov scored two power play goals in support of Jaroslav Halak's 40 saves and the Canadiens defeated the Islanders, 3-0.

Non-surprise of the night
On the heels of the equipment fire that probably threw a wrench or two in the plans, Minnesota, also playing short a skater, dropped a 4-1 decision to Ottawa. Noted goal scorers Anton Volchenkov, Jarkko Ruutu and Erik Karlsson were among those who scored for the Senators, along with Milan Michalek, in support of Mike Brodeur's first career start. Martin Havlat ruined Brodeur's shutout bid.

Who are these freaking guys?
Speaking of big-name players netting goals, New Jersey had players like Rob Niedermayer (his fifth), Dean McAmmond (his first two) and Rod Pelley (his first), along with Brian Rolston's 13th, and held off Atlanta, 5-4.

The notable part of this game was Martin Brodeur was pulled after giving up three goals on six shots in the first period and was replaced by Yann Danis the rest of the way. Of all the "M. Brodeur"'s in the league, who woulda thunk it was Martin getting lit up?

Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina had a goal and assist for the Thrashers.

Non-star of the night
What is taking place in Columbus cannot be called a sophomore slump. It's more like a sophomore disaster. Or sophomore catastrophe. Or just a nightmare for young goalie Steve Mason, who gave up three goals on seven shots in just over four minutes and was pulled in Colorado's 5-2 rout of the Blue Jackets.

Wojtek Wolski had three points, scoring twice, and Milan Hejduk also registered three on a goal and two assists.

Non-3 Stars Selection
Montreal's Tomas Plekanec, two assists and 16-9 on faceoffs. Marc-Andre Bergeron (assist), Markov and Halak were the three stars.

Stat of the night
8 - Number of minutes played at even-strength in the third period of the Pittsburgh-Buffalo game. There were six minor penalties called in the final 20 minutes, plus another in overtime

Quote of the night
"I would've thought we would've ripped the hinges off the gate tonight to get out on the ice. We were so far from that, in my opinion, to start the game. We got what we deserved."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette

Marquee matchup
Sunday, Dec. 20 (2 games)
Detroit (18-12-5) at Chicago (22-8-3), 7 p.m. ET. Marian Hossa's first game against the Red Wings.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

NHL Recap 12-18-09

Stars of the night
--Ryan Miller, 40 saves for Buffalo in a 5-2 win over Toronto. Mike Grier and Toni Lydman had a goal and assist each for the Sabres.
--Radek Dvorak and Rostislav Olesz, a goal and two assists each for Florida in a 6-3 stomping of Carolina.
--Jeff Halpern and Steven Stamkos, two goals each as Tampa Bay stamped on St. Louis, 6-3. Goalies really didn't have all that good a night for the most part.
--Mason Raymond, two goals to lead Vancouver past Washington, 3-2.

That's called "spreading the wealth"
Eleven different players registered one point, and no one on New Jersey had more than one, as the Devils doubled up Ottawa, 4-2. Somehow, though, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Niclas Bergfors were not one of the 11 point-producers.

Jay Pandolfo broke a 2-2 tie with his first goal since Oct. 8, a span of 13 games. Pandolfo had missed 17 games with an injury in the middle of that stretch. Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolson and Bryce Salvador also scored for New Jersey, and Martin Brodeur made 27 saves in his record-breaking 1,030th NHL game.

Alexandre Picard and Jarkko Ruutu scored for Ottawa.

Triple double figures
Three members of Chicago scored their 10th goal of the season to help the Blackhawks defeat fellow Original Six team, Boston, 5-4 in a shootout.

Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews each reached double figures in goal scoring, all netting their tallies in the second period to lift Chicago to a 3-2 lead. Andrew Ladd later broke a 3-3 tie, but David Krejci's second goal of the game for Boston tied the score at 4-4 with 2:43 remaining to force overtime.

Overtime was scoreless, and Toews and Patrick Kane scored in the shootout and neither Boston shooter could get a puck past Antti Niemi, who made 25 saves. Tim Thomas stopped 40 Chicago shots.

Stat of the night
32-10 - Buffalo's scoring margin over Toronto in their last eight meetings, all Sabres wins

Non-3 Stars Selection
Tampa's Martin St. Louis, a goal and two assists and a +4. Third star was the Blues T.J. Oshie (one goal), second was Alex Tanguay (TB, two assists) and Halpern was No. 1.

Quote of the night
"I would almost call this loss tonight dumb. It was a dumb loss. The goals we gave up ... to me, the game against Edmonton [Dec. 11] in the third period, in our own building, we got pushed around. Tonight, we just played dumb."
St. Louis coach Andy Murray. The Blues have 14 points at home, fewest in the league

Marquee matchup
Saturday, Dec. 19 (12 games)
Pittsburgh (24-10-1) at Buffalo (21-10-2), 7 p.m. ET.

Friday, December 18, 2009

NHL Recap 12-17-09

Stars of the night
--Niklas Backstrom, 30 saves in Minnesota's 3-1 win over Montreal.
--Ryan Callahan, two goals and two helpers as the Rangers offense erupts to sink the Islanders, 5-2. Dwayne Roloson fantasy owners are unhappy.
--Jimmy Howard, 30 saves in Detroit's 3-0 win over Tampa Bay, a victory that saw yet another Red Wing fall to injury, this time Henrik Zetterberg.
--Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 34 shots and Calgary knocked off Los Angeles, 2-1. The Kings were hurt by Justin Williams taking two penalties in the final four minutes.
--Patric Hornqvist, two goals and one assist for Nashville in a 6-3 win over Edmonton. Pekka Rinne owners not happy with their guy being pulled after five minutes and giving up two goals on four shots.
--Joe Thornton, two goals and two assists in San Jose's 4-1 win over Anaheim. Thornton has a league-best 48 points.

Working late
--Sidney Crosby's power play goal tied the game at 2-2, then his shootout goal sealed Pittsburgh's 3-2 win over Philadelphia, sweeping the home-and-home series. Kris Letang also scored in the shootout and Bill Guerin had a regulation goal. Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves. Crosby is 5-for-5 in shootouts this season. This game featured a 3-on-3 for two minutes in overtime and it was one of most boring stretches of two minutes I've seen. It's also the second lackluster 3-on-3 I've seen in two weeks. For those who want to tack on a 3-on-3 overtime, it's a bad idea.
--Rich Peverley's second goal of the game lifted Atlanta to a 6-5 overtime win over Dallas. He also had an assist. Maxim Afinogenov had a goal and two assists and Ondrej Pavelec made 42 saves for the Thrashers. Stephane Robidas scored twice and added an assist for Dallas.
--Jason LaBarbera made 38 saves and Robert Lang's shootout goal guided Phoenix over Columbus, 2-1. Keith Yandle scored in regulation for the Coyotes and Rick Nash countered for the Blue Jackets.

Stat of the night
4-11 - Dallas' record in overtime/shootout games

Non-3 Stars Selections
3. Crosby
2. Robidas
1. Backstrom

Quote of the night
"It was a masterpiece, wasn't it? That was like a high-priced painting, that one. That wasn't pretty, but they can't all be pretty."
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, with sarcasm dripping heavily

Marquee matchup
Friday, Dec. 18 (6 games)
Washington (21-7-6) at Vancouver (19-15-0), 10 p.m. ET.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NHL Recap 12-16-09

Stars of the night
--Tuomo Ruutu, hat trick to lead Carolina over Dallas, 5-3.
--Dwayne Roloson, 25 saves in the Islanders' 2-1 win over the Rangers.
--Jonas Hiller, 28 saves for Anaheim, which got Saku Koivu's late power play goal to defeat Vancouver, 3-2.

Clean sheets
--Ottawa's Brian Elliott fended off all 22 shots Buffalo threw at him to guide the Senators over the Sabres, 2-0. Alexander Picard and Mike Fisher scored for Ottawa. Ryan Miller made 26 saves and was named the game's No. 1 star in Ottawa.
--Cristobal Huet continues to make his doubters look silly after making 27 saves in Chicago's 3-0 victory over St. Louis. Patrick Kane assisted on all three Blackhawks goals, by Troy Brouwer, Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa. Jonathan Toews had two assists.

If a record falls and no one's there to see it, does it still count?
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur didn't break Terry Sawchuk's shutout record, but if he had done it Wednesday, not many people would've witnessed it. The announced crowd in New Jersey, to see a team vying for the top overall spot in the NHL, with history on the line each night, was just 12,178, barely 69 percent capacity at the Prudential Center.

As it was, Brodeur, who tied Patrick Roy's record for most goalie appearances, actually allowed the game's first goal in the opening period, but goals by Ikka Pikkarainen and Patrik Elias gave the Devils a 2-1 win over Montreal. Brodeur finished with 17 saves.

Two steps forward, one step back
December has been a good month for Toronto, which won six of its first eight games, but the Maple Leafs suffered a setback by giving up six goals to defensively-strong-but-offensively-challenged Phoenix in a 6-3 home loss.

Petr Prucha scored twice, and Vernon Fiddler, Paul Bissonette, Scottie Upshall and Radim Vrbata had goals for the Coyotes, who had scored only eight goals in their last four games. Martin Hanzal and Keith Yandle had three assists each.

At it again
Atlanta erased another multiple goal-deficit in the third period, but Michael Frolik's goal with 1:21 remaining allowed Florida to avoid the collapse and defeat the Thrashers, 4-3.

Stephen Weiss had a goal and assist for the Panthers, who received goals from Radek Dvorak and Bryan McCabe.

Ilya Kovalchuk led Atlanta with a goal and an assist.

Stat of the night
141:21 - Chicago's current streak, in minutes, of not allowing a goal

Non-3 Stars Selection
Eric Staal, a goal and two assists for Carolina. Third star was the 'canes Joni Pitkanen (two assists), second was Carolina's Jussi Jokinen (one goal, one assist) and Ruutu was No. 1.

Quote of the night
"There has to be something done, and we'll see along the way before [Thursday] night's game. We'll see where we go with them. It's just simply unacceptable how we started that game. I wish I could give you an explanation about it. I can't."
Rangers coach John Tortorella, whose tirade included more than the above quote, and was followed by him smacking a chair and storming out of the interview room. New York is 0-3-2 in its last five and 1-6-2 in the last nine, with just 15 goals in that time.

Marquee matchup
Thursday, Dec. 17 (9 games)
Let's go with a doubleheader: Pittsburgh (23-10-1) at Philadelphia (15-16-1), 7 p.m. ET, to see what they do for an encore after a seven-goal, three-fight night, followed by Los Angeles (22-11-3) at Calgary (19-10-4), 9:30 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NHL Recap 12-15-09

Stars of the night
--Sidney Crosby, one goal and two assists, and Jordan Staal, two goals, in Pittsburgh's 6-1 rout of the Flyers.
--Brad Boyes, three assists as the Blues edged the Flames, 4-3.
--Jonathan Quick, 27 saves to help Los Angeles hold off Edmonton, 3-2.
--Tomas Fleischmann, two goals to power Washington past Colorado, 6-1. Surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin combined for just one assist in the rout.

Red-light special
Ten different players scored goals in a wild 7-4 win for Nashville over Tampa Bay. For the Predators, no one had more than one goal - Jerred Smithson, David Legwand, Ryan Jones, Patric Hornqvist, J.P. Dumont, Dan Hamhuis and Martin Erat. Marcel Goc and Joel Ward had two assists each and Legwand also had a helper.

Vincent Lecavalier scored twice, Steven Stamkos broke an eight-game goalless streak and Kurtis Foster also had a goal for the Lightning.

Nashville scored five times in the second period.

In the lick of time
Marek Zidlicky's goal with 38.8 seconds to play gave Minnesota a 2-1 win over Columbus and prevented the conference rival Blue Jackets from earning the charity point. Guillaume Latendresse canceled out Rick Nash's opening tally and Niklas Backstrom made 21 saves in the win.

Stat of the night
3 in 16 - Fights in seconds from the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia brouhaha. Mike Rupp fought Aaron Asham, Eric Godard dropped the gloves with Riley Cote, and Craig Adams and Daniel Carcillo mixed it up, all in a span of 16 seconds. There is really a genuine and undying - growing, in fact - hatred between these teams.

Non-3 Stars Selection
Minnesota's Mikko Koivu, two assists and a key play to set up the Zidlicky winner. Backstrom was third, Latendresse second and Zidlicky first.

Quote of the night
"I haven't felt angry this year yet, but I am angry now about how we played. How could you like the result? We were the team that was supposed to be rested and fresh. I don't know if there is any excuse for being dumb."
Oilers coach Pat Quinn, an HtP regular

Marquee matchup
Wednesday, Dec. 16 (8 games)
Buffalo (20-9-2) at Ottawa (16-12-4), 7:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NHL Recap 12-14-09

Stars of the night
--Brian Boucher, 26 saves, and Kimmo Timonen two goals and an assist as Philadelphia downs Boston, 3-1.
--Johan Hedberg, 46 saves in Atlanta's 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers.
--Steve Sullivan, hat trick for Nashville in its 5-3 win over Columbus.
--Jimmy Howard, 30 saves for Detroit in its third straight 3-2 win, this one over Phoenix.
--Ryan Kesler, a goal and assist to help Vancouver defeat Los Angeles, 3-1.

It's good
Nathan Horton converted the extra point to cap off his hat trick and Florida chewed up and spit out the Islanders in a 7-1 rout. Michal Repik and Stephen Weiss had a goal and assist each for Florida, Horton added an assist and Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves.

Well holy shi...
Your No. 1 star from the Toronto-Ottawa game, won by the Maple Leafs, 3-2: Mike Komisarek. How bout that? He had five hits, blocked two shots and had an even-rating. Jason Blake, Francois Beauchemin and Phil Kessel scored in support of Vesa Toskala's 22 saves.

Ten different players recorded points for Buffalo in a 4-3 win over Montreal. Andrej Sekera, Patrick Kaleta, Tim Kennedy and Clarke MacArthur recorded the goals and only Jochen Hecht (two assists) had multiple points.

Stat of the night
27 - The ranking of Vancouver's penalty killing that killed off five Kings power plays

Non-3 Stars Selection
Atlanta's Slava Kozlov, a power play goal and the shootout clincher. Third star was Marian Gaborik (goal), second was Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto (two assists) and No. 1 was Hedberg.

Quote of the night
"To be honest we were a team that forgot we were playing tonight and we're looking forward to the Rangers games."
Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson, pulled after giving up five goals. The New Yorks play each other Wednesday and Thursday.

Marquee matchup
Tuesday, Dec. 15 (6 games)
Philadelphia (15-15-1) at Pittsburgh (22-10-1), 7 p.m. ET, Versus. Throw out the records when these teams meet. They do not like each other.

Monday, December 14, 2009

NHL Recap 12-13-09

We feel your pain
But there is no sympathy.

Chicago has struggled to score goals recently, despite having a solid record, with just six goals in the last four games. The Blackhawks broke out against Tampa Bay, getting four pucks behind Antero Niittymaki and into the net (they actually got five behind him, but he sprawled back and stopped the fifth from crossing the goal line) for a 4-0 victory.

The Lightning are in the midst of a woeful stretch, having lost eight of their last nine games. During that time, Tampa Bay has mustered just 13 goals. Four came in the lone victory and three came in one other game. So that's six goals for the other seven games. Sunday was the third time in the last nine that the Lightning have been shut out.

Scoring the goals for Chicago were Patrick Kane, Ben Eager, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. Antti Niemi faced just 18 shots. Hossa also had an assist.

We're not giving up yet
Colorado has struggled since the calendar changed from October, but the Avalanche aren't about to go away in the Northwest Division. They opened up a 3-1 lead and held on for a 3-2 win over Calgary to regain first place, though Colorado has played three more games than the Flames but is only two points ahead.

Three straight power plays led to a 5-on-3 advantage for Colorado in the first period and Wojtek Wolski converted to open the scoring. Chris Stewart and Darcy Tucker also recorded goals.

Rene Bourque and Mark Giordano tallied for the Flames, who got 32 saves from Miikka Kiprusoff but put only 21 shots on Craig Anderson.

Stats of the night
1 - The total number of goals Niemi has given up in his last three appearances, all coming after Nov. 7, as backup to Cristobal Huet.

11,448 - Announced attendance in Colorado.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook, two assists, plus-3, four hits. Third star was Chicago D Cam Barker (no points, +1, three shots, one block, one hit), second was Niemi and Hossa was first.

Quote of the night
"I thought tonight's game was a very, very important game. But obviously it was just the coaches who thought that. It's a tough league to be average in."
Calgary coach Brent Sutter

Marquee matchup
Monday, Dec. 14 (8 games)
Phoenix (19-11-2) at Detroit (16-11-5), 7:30 p.m. ET.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

NHL Recap 12-12-09

No separate Wild recap, at least not from me. Short version of the recap too; rough day.

Stars of the night
--Niclas Bergfors, two power play goals for New Jersey in its 4-1 win over Philadelphia.
--Ryan Miller, 36 saves, and Patrick Kaleta two goals in Buffalo's 3-2 win over the Rangers.
--Alex Kovalev, hat trick, including his 400th goal, to lead Ottawa over Carolina, 4-2.
--Matt Stajan, two goals and an assist in Toronto's 6-3 upset of Washington.
--Jonas Hiller, 35 saves to guide Anaheim over Columbus, 3-1.
--Ilya Bryzgalov, 37 saves in Phoenix's 2-1 win over San Jose.
--Bob Luongo, 38 saves as Vancouver hung on to beat the Wild, 4-3.

Working late
--Frans Nielsen's goal 24 seconds into overtime gave the Islanders a 3-2 win over Boston. Matt Moulson scored his 15th goal and Dwayne Roloson made 30 saves for New York.
--A carry-over power play allowed Ilya Kovalchuk to score 1:18 into overtime and give Atlanta a 4-3 win over Montreal.
--Evgeni Malkin scored seven seconds after a Florida penalty and 37 ticks into overtime to give Pittsburgh its third 3-2 win over the Panthers of the season. All the games have gone beyond regulation.
--For the second straight night, Todd Bertuzzi had two goals, including the overtime winner, as Detroit edged Nashville, 3-2.
--Michal Handzus scored the only goal in the four-round shootout and Los Angeles defeated Dallas, 3-2.

Stat of the night
Minnesota won 49 out of 69 faceoffs (71 percent) but the magic number for one extra goal was 50. So close.

Non-3 Stars Selections of the night
3. Roloson
2. Chris Osgood (Detroit, 33 saves)
1. Brent Johnson (Pittsburgh, 29 saves)

Quote of the night
"I just said to the coaches in there, I've walked into the same press conference: Bryzzie was good and we got a couple goals. Thanks."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett

Marquee matchup
Sunday, Dec. 13 (2 games)
Calgary (19-8-4) at Colorado (18-10-6), 8 p.m. ET.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

NHL Recap 12-11-09

Stars of the night
--Michael Frolik, two goals for Florida in its 4-2 win at New Jersey. Scott Clemmensen made 26 saves against his former team.
--Patrick Lalime, 39 saves for Buffalo in a 2-1 victory over Chicago. Probably the shocker of the night. The Sabres payed their backup and still the Blackhawks couldn't score. Thomas Vanek and Clarke MacArthur scored for Buffalo.

Working late
--Mike Green's goal 1:16 into overtime gave Washington a 4-3 win over Carolina, erasing an early 2-0 deficit. Alexander Semin scored twice. Eric Staal netted his first goal in ages (Oct. 21 to be exact) and Tim Gleason's shorthanded goal with 6:30 remaining forced the tie. Cam Ward (36 saves) played about as well as one could expect when his team was out-shot 40-19.
--Craig Anderson backstopped Colorado to a 2-1 shootout win over Tampa Bay in his first game since goalie assassin Keith Ballard injured Anderson on Dec. 2. Wojtek Wolski's goal with 7:49 to play tied the score at 1-1, and he followed that up with the only goal of the tiebreaker. Anderson made 21 saves and Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki stopped 33 shots.
--San Jose and Dallas staged a thrilling 11-round shootout, won eventually by the stick of Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen and a Marty Turco save, 3-2. Only three players scored in the shootout. Dany Heatley scored his 20th goal of the season. Brad Richards tied the game at 2-2 in the third period with his 10th. Turco finished with 33 saves and Evgeni Nabokov made 42.
--Wild-Flames details below.

House of horrors
Minnesota wasn't the only team playing in an arena it hates. Anaheim entered Joe Louis Arena last night carrying a 3-22-3 (with three ties) record in Detroit.

And now the Ducks are 3-22-4 (with three ties.)

The Red Wings overcame a 2-0 deficit, aided by a whopping 10 power plays, and defeated Anaheim, 3-2 in overtime. Todd Bertuzzi scored twice, including the winner with the man-advantage in the extra frame. Tomas Holmstrom also scored on the power play and Jimmy Howard made 25 saves.

Saku Koivu and Dan Sexton scored in the second period for Anaheim.

It just gets worse and worse
I believe I saw a tidbit from an article that said the Blues' current home winning percentage would rank 41st all-time in St. Louis history, out of 42 seasons. That's bad.

And it won't improve after the Blues gave up four third-period goals as Edmonton overcame a 3-0 deficit to come away a 5-3 winner. Dustin Penner had four points, a goal and three assists. Three of those points came in that third period. Gilbert Brule scored twice, Sam Gagner tied the game and Shawn Horcoff put Edmonton ahead, 4-3, before Penner's goal closed out the scoring.

David Backes scored twice for the Blues.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Turco, who was stellar in the shootout. Third star was Steve Ott of Dallas, with seven shots and 11 hits, second was Nabokov and Niskanen was first.

Quote of the night
"As defensemen, we always joke around that we'll be the last used in a shootout."

Marquee matchup
Saturday, Dec. 12 (12 games)
San Jose (19-7-7) at Phoenix (18-11-2), 8 p.m. ET.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Game #31: Wild 2, Flames 1 (OT): He's alive!


Good God, that's Martin Havlat's music!

After mercilessly peppering Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff with shots, but able to get only one past him through 60 minutes, the Wild stared at the possibility of yet another loss in the Saddledome, a place that's never been kind to the new version of the Minnesota NHL team. Until...

Greg Zanon gained control of a loose puck near his own net, chipped it to Havlat, who flipped the puck up ice to Marek Zidlicky. What followed was a 2-on-2 break, Zidlicky slid it to Havlat, trailing as the third man in the attack. Two more passes back and forth between the two gave Havlat a gaping net at which to shoot, and he made no mistake, burying the chance for his third goal of the season and a 2-1 Minnesota win in overtime.

Wild offense: Persistent. Did anyone have a bad game? I was going to pick on Zidlicky but the OT set-up absolves him. Kudos to Havlat, who played possibly his best game, Chuck Kobasew, Antti Miettinen... seriously, everyone down to Derek Boogaard could've scored.

Wild defense: Kept the Calgary shot number low, but did give up several good scoring chances. But really, the best defense proved to be a dominating offense.

Flames offense: A brief surge early in the second period but no real sustained attack. Curtis Glencross made a nice play to poke a loose puck away from Niklas Backstrom for Aaron Johnson's goal but that would be it. Backstrom made 22 saves, and more than a couple were very good ones.

Flames defense: Overwhelmed. Kept bending, bending, then finally broke in overtime.

Stud: Despite losing, it's Kiprusoff, who made 44 saves. The Flames had no business getting even one point if not for him.

Dud: Going to go to Dion Phaneuf. Got burned by Kobasew in a play on overtime, and had his bacon saved by partner Mark Giordano, but Phaneuf also made what I thought was a dumb play, flipping the puck at the side of the net in overtime. Not sure what he was trying for, but it allowed Zanon to start the game-winning rush.

Leader: Havlat. In addition to the goal, he made several very slick passes to set up excellent scoring chances that his teammates couldn't bury.

Lagger: Whither Jarome Iginla?

Turning point: James Sheppard's opportunistic goal. Shane Hnidy's shot missed the net, but a fortunate bounce confused Kiprusoff and Sheppard snuck the rebound under the crossbar to tie the game.

Key play: I had a handful of plays in mind, but it's got to be Havlat's OT goal.

The Assembled Multitude came in from dancing in the streets to share their wisdom with us:

Chicken Little: You do realize we shouldn't have let the game get to overtime, right? Had a 5-on-3 power play and couldn't do squat... OK, that's all I have.

Pollyanna: Woooo! A win in Calgary! And a dominating one! Eat it, Kipper!

Bottom line: This game was as different from a competitive and entertainment standpoint as possible compared to the win in Colorado. The Flames had no business being on the same ice with the Wild, who controlled play from the outset and had only a handful of letdowns. Six points in four games on the current road trip and Minnesota has a chance to make it a really good time away from the X.

Next: Saturday, Dec. 12, at Vancouver, 9 p.m. CT on CBC, FS-North and XM 204.

NHL Recap 12-10-09

Stars of the night
--Tuukka Rask, 32 saves in The Saga of Kessel 2: The Re-Return. Otherwise known as Boston 5, Toronto 2, in Boston. Mark Recchi scored twice late to extend a 3-2 lead and Phil Kessel was again held off the scoresheet by his old mates. Kessel gets soundly booed in Boston, but I hope that's directed at ownership; once again, would you rather pay Milan Lucic $4 million or Kessel $5 million? Still can't wrap my brain around that.
--Brian Elliott, 23 saves for Ottawa in a 2-0 road win over Philadelphia. Nick Foligno broke the scoreless tie with 8:29 left in the third period and Jesse Winchester scored into an empty net.
--Sergei Gonchar and Pascal Dupuis, one goal and assist each in Pittsburgh's 3-2 win over Montreal.

Working extra late
--It took five shootout rounds before Nashville earned a 4-3 victory over Columbus. Jason Arnott's tiebreaker goal canceled out Fedor Tyutin's in round four, Antoine Vermette failed on his attempt and Steve Sullivan's goal earned the Predators the extra point. Arnott also scored in regulation, as did Martin Erat, and Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for the win. Mathieu Garon made 36 saves and Rick Nash broke a five-game goalless drought for Columbus.
--The Kings and Coyotes spat on the previous item, requiring eight rounds to decide a winner. In a rather thrilling shootout, Los Angeles came away the victor, 3-2, when Justin Williams squeaked a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov and Scottie Upshall's attempt was stopped by Jonathan Quick. It was the fourth chance for LA to win, after taking leads of 1-0 (in round 2), 2-1 (round five) and 3-2 (round seven) in the tiebreaker. Yes, there were more goals in the shootout (4-3) than in regulation (2-2).

Quick finished with 29 saves and Jack Johnson and Oscar Moller scored in regulation for the Kings. Upshall and Radim Vrbata scored for Phoenix.

In Soviet Russia, we score much in third period
But in Canada, the Atlanta Thrashers can't get a whole lot of offense going.

Daniel Sedin doubled his goal total for the season with a hat trick, Mason Raymond added a goal and Bob Luongo (22 saves) slammed the door on Ilya Kovalchuk and his brethren in Vancouver's 4-2 victory.

The Thrashers, who got goals from Nik Antropov and Colby Armstrong, have lost three straight, all in Canada, scoring just five goals in that time.

Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows had two assists each for the Canucks.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Rask. Recchi was the third star, Derek Morris (one goal; Boston) was second and Boston's David Krejci (one goal, one assist) was No. 1.

Quote of the night
"I actually like shooting these pucks because you don't know where it's going, so obviously he doesn't know. The puck makes funny little moves out there."
Dupuis, who hasn't met a shot he doesn't like, talking about his knucklepuck shot that deflected off Carey Price's glove and behind him for the eventual game-winner

Marquee matchup
Friday, Dec. 11 (8 games)
Minnesota (14-13-1) at Calgary (19-8-3), 9 p.m. ET. That's right. Two of the hottest teams in the league right now, both 7-2-1 over its last 10 games.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wild, Avs Fire Up Way Back Machine; Bore Us To Tears

For all you Wild hockey nostalgists out there, last night's game in Denver was for you.

Was this new-fangled, up-tempo, forecheck-like-a-banshee Todd Richards heathen hockey just wearing you out? Then I hope you caught the snooze-fest at Pepsi Center. It could have been any Wild game from 00-08 if you didn't look at the names on the backs of jerseys.

The Wild, on a goal from Antti Miettinen and a handful of saves from Niklas Backstrom took down the Avs in a 1-0 "Ambien Special."

Here's the thing: have we as Wild fans really bought into this newer style so quickly and thoroughly that last night's game was so obviously a departure from the fan's perspective? I mean, there was all kinds of caterwauling for an end to Lemaire-ian hockey. Most of it from non-State of Hockey peeps, to be sure, but a fair number of Wild fans had also gotten on that bandwagon by the end of the Risebrough/Lemaire regime's tenure.

There's no judgment here, just trying to take the pulse of the fans. Of course, it's easier to love the one you're with, so to speak, when the one you're with is 7-1-1 over their last nine games. But,'s not like Devils fans are hating having Lemaire back right now, either. The Wild has less star power this year than last year, and they're not as successful in the win column...yet the product is....better....right?


NHL Recap 12-9-09

Revenge of the Goalies
Ten games were on the NHL schedule. Four were shutouts and two others were nearly so.

The list of goalless games:

--Ryan Miller, 35 saves as Buffalo shut the door on Washington's potent attack, 3-0. Nathan Gerbe had a goal (his first in the NHL) and an assist and Derek Roy had two helpers.
--The much-maligned Steve Mason, last year's league leader in shutouts, stopped 32 shots for his first clean sheet of the season to lead Columbus over Florida, 3-0. Jason Chimera and Derick Brassard led the offense with a goal each.
--Ty Conklin made 42 saves in Joe Louis Arena and the Blues beat Detroit, 1-0. Brad Boyes had the lone goal.
--Niklas Backstrom earned his first shutout and Antti Miettinen's goal was the difference for the Wild in their 1-0 win at Colorado.

Offensive stars of the night
--Ironically, the first offensive star is a defenseman, Andy Greene of New Jersey, who scored two goals to help the Devils beat Carolina, 4-2. Cam Ward returned for the Hurricanes and made 27 saves.
--John Tavares scored two power play goals for the Islanders, but Jason Blake's goal with 4:05 to play gave Toronto a 3-2 win. Vesa Toskala made 30 saves.
--Zack Stortini had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in Edmonton's 3-2 win over Tampa Bay. Stortini assisted on the Oilers' first goal and his goal proved to be the game-winner. He fought Zenon Konopka twice. Tampa played much of the game without its two leading goal scorers, Ryan Malone and Steven Stamkos (33 combined goals, 17 by Stamkos), who left with injuries. Malone played less than five minutes and Stamkos played less than eight.

Too many chefs in the kitchen?
Maybe we were all a bit premature in crowning Chicago. Since Marian Hossa's return, the Blackhawks are 4-2-1 but have just nine goals in the last six games. They put two past Henrik Lundqvist and they were enough for a 2-1 overtime win over the Rangers, but that offensive explosion against San Jose is an aberration at this point.

Is there such a thing as too much talent? Are there enough pucks on the ice for everyone to shoot? Are the high-end players always looking to set each other up rather than take a shot themselves? Is it a chemistry issue, and the players just need time to learn each other's tendencies? Is it Hossa Karma? The Hawks have earned points in five of seven since Hossa's debut, but scoring one or two goals a night won't cut it.

Jonathan Toews scored on a power play with 5:55 to play to force overtime and Dustin Byfuglien made an outstanding end-to-end rush for the winner in the extra session. Lundqvist made 39 saves while Cristobal Huet was considerably less tested, making 17.

He's figured it out
After scoring just two goals in the first 19 games, Calgary's Olli Jokinen has five goals since Nov. 19, and his seventh of the season turned out to be the game-winner for the Flames in their 3-1 win over Atlanta.

Calgary held the Russians - Nik Antropov, Maxim Afinogenov and Ilya Kovalchuk - off the scoresheet, though Colby Armstrong's goal with 7:33 remaining made things interesting. Rene Bourque's empty net goal sealed the win, and Miikka Kiprusoff made 24 saves.

Two of the brightest Kings stars - Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar - hadn't scored goals since the eighth grade picnic. For Brown, his last goal came over a month ago, on Nov. 7 (14 straight games without a goal). For Kopitar, his streak was at 13 games.

They're both on one-game goal scoring streaks now.

Kopitar scored on a power play to give LA a 3-2 lead in the second period, Teddy Purcell broke a 26-game goalless drought and Brown scored just over a minute into overtime to give the Kings a 5-4 win at San Jose.

Drew Doughty had a goal and assist and Jack Johnson had two assists for LA.

Patrick Marleau netted his 20th of the season, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski scored, and Manny Malhotra's goal forced overtime for the Sharks.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Edmonton goalie Jeff Deslauriers, 32 saves. Third star was Martin St. Louis (one goal, one assist for TB), second was Edmonton's Ryan Stone (lone assist on the GWG) and Stortini was first.

Quote of the night
"(Lundqvist) was the one who played. He was about the only one who played. My concern tonight is just a level of competing, which was horrid as far as I'm concerned. It was unacceptable. ... If guys thought they were trying tonight, they're in for a rude awakening."
Rangers coach John Tortorella

Marquee matchup
Thursday, Dec. 10 (6 games)
Phoenix (18-11-1) at Los Angeles (19-10-3), 10:30 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Game #30: Wild 1, Avalanche 0: Just win, baby


(Note: This is a short-version because my attention was spread out, but I saw enough to know that I didn't like what I saw.)

DirecTV customers were rather thankful they don't get Versus right now, because the cable channel's Game of the Night wasn't even as entertaining as watching a dog of less-than-average intelligence chase the shiny part of a flashlight on the carpet, and there wasn't as much action as the pooch would provide, either.

But there's no nitpicking or arguing with the results. Antti Miettinen's early goal, his eighth of the season, held up and Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves as Minnesota downed Colorado, 1-0, to bounce back from a shutout loss at Phoenix.

Wild offense: Andrew Ebbett must mean that much, eh? Colorado routinely allows 30 or more shots per game and the Wild barely got to 20 (22). Let's just move on.

Wild defense: The best defensive play of the night came from Martin Havlat, whose timely "oops, did I do that?" dislodging of his own goal cage seconds before a Colorado goal protected the lead. Props to Greg Zanon (five blocked shots) and Kyle Brodziak (three).

Avalanche offense: Cover-your-eyes awful.

Avalanche defense: It's an easier job when your offense is on the power play a lot.

Stud: Versus reporter Lindsay Soto. She's hot.

Dud: Soto. Doesn't mean she's good at her job.

Leader: Minnesota's penalty killing units, successfully preventing Colorado from scoring on any of its six power plays, and sometimes, not even allowing a shot on goal.

Lagger: John Scott, for causing three of those power plays.

Turning point: I don't know, was there even one turn in this game? The Mittens goal I guess. Put the road team ahead early.

Key play: The Colorado no-goal.

The Assembled Multitude removed their hands from their eyes long enough to chime in with their thoughts:

Chicken Little: Did I miss something? Is Lemaire coaching again?

Pollyanna: Um.. er... well.. hey, it's a win. Hurray for Backs! First shutout of the season!

Bottom line: Hey, it's two points, on the road, against a division opponent ahead of Minnesota in the standings.

Next: Friday, Dec. 11, at Calgary, a step up in competition, at 8 p.m. CT, on FS-North and FS-Wisconsin and XM 237.

NHL Recap 12-8-09

Better late than never
It took a couple games, but Philadelphia finally responded to its coaching change, as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Claude Giroux each scored two goals to help the Flyers rout the Islanders, 6-2.

Four Flyers had two assists each: Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere and Matt Carle. Richards also had an assist and Brian Boucher made 22 saves.

The only bad thing for Philadelphia is the news that No. 1 goalie Ray Emery will miss six weeks after needing abdominal surgery.

John Tavares netted both goals for New York.

Domination, thy name is... wait, we lost?
Some numbers from the Montreal-Ottawa game: the Sens out-shot the Habs, 46-27. The Senators won nearly twice as many faceoffs, 47-24. Ottawa had seven power play chances. Montreal had three.

Ladies and gentlemen, your final score: Montreal 4, Ottawa 1.

Jaroslav Halak made 45 saves as the Canadiens are again woefully out-shot, the Montreal penalty-killers were spectacular, and two late goals put an end to Ottawa's comeback hopes. Andrei Kostitsyn scored a power play goal with 2:12 remaining for a 3-1 lead, then Scott Gomez made Filip Kuba his bitc- well, you know, stripping Kuba neatly of the puck in the Ottawa zone en route to an empty net goal 1:07 after Kostitsyn's goal.

Ottawa shot itself in the foot on a couple occasions, once when Alexei Kovalev took a penalty while the Senators were on a power play and down 2-1 in the third, then again by taking a too many men on the ice penalty that led to the third Montreal goal.

Mike Cammalleri extended his goal-scoring streak to three, and has five goals in that time, and Marc-Andre Bergeron also scored for the Habs. Mike Fisher tallied for Ottawa.

No, it's an "Erat trick"
Speaking of guys who are scoring a lot lately, add Nashville's Martin Erat to the list. He also extended his goal-streak to three games after netting a hat trick against Vancouver in the Predators' 4-2 win. Erat, who had an assist as well, also has five goals in his past three games.

Pekka Rinne made 34 saves for Nashville, which also got a power play goal from Patric Hornqvist - a healthy scratch in the previous game.

Ryan Kesler broke his 14-game goalless drought for Vancouver and Daniel Sedin made things interesting by scoring with 3:35 left to close the gap to 3-2, but Erat scored into an empty net to essentially end the contest.

Like shooting Ducks in a pond
Anaheim fired 42 shots on Dallas goaltender Marty Turco and that pressure erased a 3-0 deficit in the Ducks' 4-3 overtime win.

Part of that tally included 14 third-period shots and seven more in the extra frame, and it was unknown Dan Sexton scoring his first two NHL goals in his third career game, both coming in the third period. His second goal slipped through Turco somehow with 1:02 remaining to force the tie, and Saku Koivu converted his own rebound in overtime to give Anaheim an improbable, yet probable, victory.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 19 saves.

Brad Richards had two goals and James Neal and Loui Eriksson each had two helpers for the Stars.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Bergeron, whose goal turned out to be the winner, and he also played a key role in setting up Kostitsyn's goal. Third star went to Roman Hamrlik, second was Fisher and Halak was first.

Quote of the night
"I'd say it was probably the coolest feeling. Take my coolest previous feeling and multiple it by 10, if not more. That is what it was."

Marquee matchup
Wednesday, Dec. 9 (10 games)
Atlanta (15-9-3) at Calgary (18-8-3), 9:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NHL Recap 12-7-09

Stars of the night
--Alexei Ponikarovsky, two goals 28 seconds apart and one assist in Toronto's 5-2 win over Atlanta.
--Ray Whitney, one goal and one assist as Carolina got its first road win, 3-2 over Pittsburgh.
--Shawn Horcoff scored once in regulation and had the winner in a shootout as Edmonton downs Florida, 3-2.

Clean sheets
--Martin Brodeur earned his record-tying 103rd career shutout, 3-0 over Buffalo, tying him with Terry Sawchuk.
--Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves and Alex Ovechkin scored twice to lead Washington over Tampa Bay, 3-0.
--Still without Craig Anderson, Colorado backup Peter Budaj stopped 35 shots, Chris Stewart had two goals and an assist and the Avalanche blanked St. Louis, 4-0.
--Phoenix held Minnesota to three shots in the third period in support of Ilya Bryzgalov, whose 28 saves led the Coyotes to a 2-0 victory.

Thrilling game
Philadelphia and Montreal combined for just 28 shots on goal in Monday's game, won by the Canadiens, 3-1. Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Plekanec had two assists each and Carey Price made 14 saves for the win.

Montreal had one shot in the first period. Philadelphia had just two in the third, when it started trailing only 2-1. The teams each set a franchise-low for combined total shots in a game (15 for Philadelphia, 13 for Montreal.)

Holding the fort
Los Angeles mustered only 16 shots and allowed 13 just in the third period, but goalie Jonathan Quick (26 saves) stood tall and the Kings held off Calgary, 2-1. Jarret Stoll's power play goal was the winner.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Quick. Jay Bouwmeester (30:45 ice time, no shots, +1, one hit, two blocked shots, no points) was the third star, Justin Williams (one assist) was second and Stoll was No. 1.

Quote of the night
Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet, who didn't talk to reporters after the 3-0 loss. During the game, several of the Lightning's top players played limited shifts in the third period.

Marquee matchup
Tuesday, Dec. 8 (4 games)
Vancouver (16-13-0) at Nashville (16-11-2), 8 p.m. ET.

Monday, December 7, 2009

But Soft, What Light From Yonder Window Breaks?

It is December, and Coach Richards is the sun! With all - and I do mean all - due respect to Sweet Willy S, the Wild and its fans are surely star-crossed lovers this season.

The team, so horrid early in the season, has managed to pull off a rather stunning 6-2-2 run over their last 10 games (10-3-3 over their last 16.)

However, the yang to that yin is that the Wild has moved up in the Western Conference standings from 15th to....well, tied for 12th. And the Wild, with 29 points, is still closer to 15th (Anaheim, 26th) than it is 8th (Nashville, Dallas, 34 points.)

But, let that not take away from the improvements on the ice that are fueling this run.

The Wild is efforting much, much better and more consistently. You can even see the fruits of Richards' emphasis on forechecking, and with more than one forward. They're creating turnovers in the offensive zone - which, having spent so many seasons watching Lemaire hockey, I admit I had to rub my eyes and look it up in the hockey dictionary to be sure of what I was seeing.

They are really skating hard - in all three zones. This is not to say they weren't skating hard before, so maybe it's that they're still skating hard, but they're going with a purpose. It's almost reminiscent of Fred Shero's infamous line "Take the shortest route to the puck carrier and arrive in ill-humor." Well, apart from Richards' definition of ill-humor is more like "be prepared to pressure the poor bastard into giving up the puck" where Shero's was more like "be prepared to beat the snot out of the sonofabitch, or don't bother coming back to our bench."

They're battling better - and to greater success. This was a common refrain from Richards earlier in the season, and only recently have we begun to see what he was talking about. And it looks good.

They're shooting the puck. This is an unscientific analysis, but the Wild appears to be taking approximately 247% more shots than in previous seasons. Now, it might be a coincidence that they have more goals this year through 28 games (78) than they did last season (74) or in 07-08 (70), but it might also be a by-product of what seems to be more shots-taken.

So, while it's going to take an extended stretch of playing at a 0.625 winning percentage to make an assault on 8th place in the west, at least there are some signs of life, and the hockey is considerably more watch-able than it was in the early stages of the season.


NHL Recap 12-6-09

Stars of the night
--Jimmy Howard, 28 saves in Detroit's 3-1 road win over the Rangers.
--Jason Spezza, one goal and one assist in Ottawa's 4-3 shootout win over Anaheim.

Off with his head
King Henrik Lundqvist would like another crack at Daniel Cleary's game-winning goal. With the score tied 1-1 late in regulation, Cleary threw a shot on goal that squeaked by Lundqvist but didn't go in until Lundqvist brought his skates together, knocking the puck over the goal line with 2:03 remaining.

A penalty shortly after on the Rangers effectively ruined any chance at a comeback, and Kris Draper scored a power play goal into an empty net. Pavel Datsyuk also scored for Detroit, while Brian Boyle scored for the Rangers. Marian Gaborik was held without a point for just the fourth time this season.

Don't blink; you might miss something
The Senators had three separate one-goal leads against the Ducks. Each time, they conceded the tying goal in less than a minute.

After Jarkko Ruutu gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead, Ryan Getzlaf countered 15 seconds later. Spezza's goal on the power play - just his third of the season and first on the road - was canceled out by Joffrey Lupul in 31 seconds. Finally, Corey Perry scored 50 seconds after Filip Kuba gave Ottawa a 3-2 lead.

Alexei Kovalev and Daniel Alfredsson scored in the shootout. Getzlaf converted his chance for Anaheim, but Perry and Lupul both missed the net on their attempts.

Non-3 Stars Selection of the night
Ottawa goalie Brian Elliot, who made 33 saves. Perry (one goal, one assist) was third, Kuba second and Lupul first.

Quote of the night
"It's desperation for us right now. We're at the 30-game mark. We have to put something together and go on a run here or we're going to be out of it pretty soon."
Perry. The Ducks have lost five straight games and are last in the West.

Marquee matchup
Monday, Dec. 7 (9 games)
New Jersey (19-7-1) at Buffalo (16-8-2), 7 p.m. ET, Versus.