Sunday, January 31, 2010

Boom Boom Burkie

(Edited 11:13 p.m.)


First, some background. When I attend Penguins games, I have a sort of deadline with myself that I leave the house an hour and a half before the scheduled game time. So for a 12:30 p.m. start like today, I leave at 11. Except I overslept and didn't wake up until 10:53. Didn't leave much time to get ready or anything, plus I had some errands I wanted to do before departure that didn't get done.

The point is, I wasn't aware of this little trade Brian Burke made until I got to the arena, Tweeted from my phone the absurdity of 12:30 p.m. starts and then read other Tweets. Then I hopped on TSN.

Then I thought: Holy sh!t.

I wasn't surprised that Calgary shipped off Dion Phaneuf. But I thought they would use him to acquire Ilya Kovalchuk. Not Matt freaking Stajan and Niklas frickin' Hagman. I know only one Maple Leafs fan and only vaguely, and that is the awesome Down Goes Brown, but I have to wonder if Flames fans should be concerned that the Toronto fan base (meaning DGB) is all but ecstatic that Stajan and Hagman are gone.

Calgary also got Ian White and Jamal Mayers. White's a good player and is a nice return. I guess Stajan might center Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque. The Flames seem about to ship Olli Jokinen off to the Rangers for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins, both struggling players with 20-goal seasons in their past. Calgary's doing everything it can to snap out of its offensive slump. It'll be interesting to see what happens with all the new pieces and where Brent Sutter puts all them.

Toronto gets a 24-year-old All-Star defenseman who can do just about everything. Then Burke continued the blow-up process by shipping off salary cap-nightmare Jason Blake - he of the 10 goals for $4 million at age 36 with two years remaining on his contract - and Vesa "Five-hole" Toskala to Anaheim for Jean-Sebastien "I won a Conn Smythe once" Giguere.

As DGB mentions, everyone will ask how the Leafs will score, but he correctly points out they weren't scoring anyway. Still, I wonder if they have anyone even capable of scoring now other than Phil Kessel and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Stajan and Hagman are both streaky but they could get it done. Blake used to be a solid sniper and had 25 goals as recently as last season.

On the other hand, it's not like Toronto has anything to play for this season. Today's trades should make the organization better, improves the cap situation, and maybe having Giguere will help the development of Jonas Gustavsson. Giguere is re-united with his old goaltending coach, so maybe he can hook up to the Rejuvenation Machine.

I don't know what the Flames or Ducks were thinking with these trades, to be honest. Anaheim might have gotten rid of Giguere's contract but now they have Blake's. Maybe Calgary flips Stajan and Hagman for Kovalchuk. Phaneuf isn't having his typical season but he's better than Jay Overrated Bouwmeester.

Anyway. I'll let DGB have the last word: "Today is a good day to be a Leaf fan."

(I lied. I get the last word, and it is this: I hate 12:30 p.m. starts.)

NHL Recap 1-30-10: Oilers pull off the 0-fer

Short version. People in the city need to learn how to efficiently exit parking lots in high-traffic areas. Grr. Jeff Dunham show kicked ass though.

One slump ends, one continues
I'd have to research this further (I won't, but I should) to find the last NHL team to not win any games in a month. Regardless, Edmonton is part of that presumably exclusive club.

Jarome Iginla had a Gordie Howe hat trick, totaling four points overall on a pair of goals, and Calgary snapped its nine-game losing streak by dismantling Edmonton, 6-1, and handing the Oilers their 13th straight loss and 20th in the last 21. Edmonton is one loss shy of tying the franchise record for a winless streak.

Iginla fought Sheldon Souray, who reportedly broke his hand in the fight and consequently lowering his trade value. Dustin Boyd scored twice and had an assist, and Rene Bourque and Dion Phaneuf also had goals for the Flames. Jay Bouwmeester had two assists and Miikka Kiprusoff made 27 saves.

Sam Gagner scored for the Oilers.

In other action
--Ray Emery made 31 saves and Philadelphia edged the Islanders, 2-1.
--Cam Ward made 39 saves and Carolina knocked off Chicago, 4-2.
--Alex Burrows had two goals and two assists, Danrik Sedin had five points (2+1 for Daniel, 1+1 for Henrik) and Vancouver scored four times in the third period to beat Toronto, 5-3.
--Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 24 shots and Phoenix hung on to defeat the Rangers, 3-2.
--Martin Erat's goal and assist helped Nashville end a five-game losing streak, 4-3 over Atlanta.
--Jason Demers and Patrick Marleau had two goals each and San Jose downed Minnesota, 5-2.

Working late
--Threes wild: Mike Fisher scored at 3:33 of overtime during 3-on-3 play for Ottawa's third goal of the game - and Fisher's third OT goal of the season - and the Senators beat Montreal, 3-2 for a franchise record ninth straight win.
--Anze Kopitar had a goal and an assist and Los Angeles defeated Boston, 3-2 in a six-round shootout.
--Kris Russell's sixth goal of the season in overtime gave Columbus a 3-2 win over St. Louis.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"We made enough mistakes to be a team that didn't give itself a chance to win."

Stat of the night
6,896 - Announced attendance in Carolina, 36.8 percent capacity. Holy crap.

Notable games
Sunday, Jan. 31 (6 games)
-Detroit (26-19-9) at Pittsburgh (33-21-1), 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

NHL Recap 1-29-10: Devils escape; Preds fading

It took longer, but New Jersey back on track
Two-goal third period lead. Martin Brodeur in goal. Against Toronto. No way that lead's falling, right?

Not quite. The Maple Leafs scored twice in the final five minutes to force a 4-4 tie, but Travis Zajac's power play goal late in overtime allowed New Jersey to escape with a 5-4 victory. Zajac also had three assists for a four-point night.

Zach Parise's pass set up Zajac's one-timer and the winger also scored two goals. Dainius Zubrus had a goal and two assists and Patrick Davis scored his first NHL goal for the Devils, who had lost two straight and were 2-5-1 in their last eight. Brodeur finished with 25 saves.

Alexei Ponikarovsky scored his 19th goal and helped set up Matt Stajan's equalizing goal in the third period, and the Maple Leafs also got goals from Carl Gunnarsson - his first in the NHL - and Colton Orr.

Red Wings benefit from Nashville's skid
I can remember writing that the Predators were competing for the fourth spot in the Western Conference. Now they're barely clinging onto eighth.

Jimmy Howard made 46 saves in a nice bounceback effort and Detroit hung on for a 4-2 victory over Nashville that puts the Red Wings even with the Predators at 61 points, one more than No. 9 Calgary.

Howard had conceded 14 goals in his previous four starts but it was a save he didn't need to make that changed the fortune of this one. Nashville's Cal O'Reilly rang a shot off the crossbar from six feet away with a completely wide-open cage available with the Predators trailing 3-2, and Henrik Zetterberg scored a few minutes later to double Detroit's lead.

Jason Williams, Nicklas Lidstrom and Drew Miller also scored for the Red Wings. Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula had two assists each.

Francis Bouillon and Shea Weber scored for Nashville, which is on a five-game losing streak, all in regulation and all by one or two goals.

Stars of the night
--Mike Knuble had two goals and an assist, Michael Neuvirth made 35 saves and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and two helpers in Washington's 4-1 win over Florida.
--Ryan Miller made 30 saves and Buffalo held off Boston, 2-1.
--James Wisniewski's power play goal tied the score at 1-1, then his shootout goal gave Anaheim a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay. Jonas Hiller made 30 saves.
--Mike Modano scored two goals, including the game-winner, for Dallas in a 3-2 win over Colorado.

Stat of the night
8 - In eight days, New Jersey and Toronto will play three times.

Quotes of the night
"Miracles happen."
Anaheim right winger Teemu Selanne, on Wisniewski's shootout winner

"Thanks Teemu. I would say something else, but you have 595 goals."
Wisniewski's response

Notable games
Saturday, Jan. 30 (10 games)
-Edmonton (16-30-6) at Calgary (26-20-8), 10 p.m. ET. Whose losing streak ends, Calgary's nine-gamer or Edmonton's 12? Also, can the Oilers win their first - and only - game in January?

-Minnesota (27-23-4) at San Jose (35-10-9), 10:30 p.m. Two hot teams with the Sharks trying to maintain first in the NHL and the Wild trying to get to within a point of the playoffs, depending on other results.

Friday, January 29, 2010

NHL Recap 1-28-10: 'Canes figuring it out; Hawks rule the bay

But is it enough?
It took a couple months. OK, more like a few months. Several months. But Carolina seems to have rediscovered its form that got the team to the conference semifinals. However, the hole the Hurricanes dug for themselves is big enough that it might not matter.

Matt Cullen and Eric Staal had a goal and assist each and Carolina earned its third straight win and fourth in its last five, 4-1 over the Islanders.

Cullen and Staal struck in the first period before Stephane Yelle gave Carolina a 3-0 lead on a shorthanded goal in the third period. Matt Moulson ruined Cam Ward's shutout bid with 4:31 remaining, then Jussi Jokinen's empty netter closed out the scoring. Ward finished with 26 saves.

Despite the recent splurge of points, Carolina is still last in the Eastern Conference and 12 points out of the No. 8 spot with 29 games remaining.

Fast start, slow collapse, strong finish
That's the recipe Chicago used to win its third game of the season against San Jose and take the season series. Here's hoping they meet in the playoffs.

The Blackhawks jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead only to see San Jose slowly whittle the lead down until the Sharks forced overtime, but Troy Brouwer's second goal of the game gave Chicago a 4-3 win.

Dustin Byfuglien and Brouwer scored 48 seconds apart early in the first period, then Andrew Ladd made it 3-0 less than three minutes later. San Jose weathered the storm and Joe Pavelski's goal before the period ended got the Sharks back into the game. Pavelski scored again in the second period, then Manny Malhotra tipped Rob Blake's shot for the tying goal five minutes into the third.

After the tying goal though, Chicago grabbed momentum back and dictated the pace from there, and eventually it paid off in the form of Brouwer's winner. Cristobal Huet made 34 saves. Evgeni Nabokov had 35 for San Jose.

Stars of the night
--Jim Slater scored two goals, including the go-ahead tally with 6:32 to play, and Atlanta erased a 3-1 deficit by scoring thrice in the third period and knocking off Philadelphia, 4-3.
--Brian Elliott made 30 saves and Ottawa tied its franchise record with its eighth straight win, 4-1 over Pittsburgh.
--Anze Kopitar scored twice, his 100th and 101st of his career, and Jon Quick stopped 29 shots - seven in the game's first 50 seconds - to lead Los Angeles past Columbus, 4-1.
--Josh Harding gritted out a 29-save shutout, his first of the season, and Martin Havlat's goal was the only one in Minnesota's 1-0 win over Colorado.
--Phoenix blew a 2-0 lead but rebounded to defeat Calgary, 3-2 in a shootout, getting 24 saves from Ilya Bryzgalov and tiebreaker goals by Robert Lang and Lauri Korpikoski.
--Chris Mason stopped 24 shots and St. Louis edged Edmonton, 2-1, for the Oilers' 12th straight loss and 19th in the last 20. Edmonton has one more game in January and must win it to avoid going winless for the month. The Oilers play the Flames, who have lost nine straight. Someone's streak will end.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"We only give up that one shot and it happens to be a goal. It's those types of situations that have prolonged this. There isn't a soul in our room that doesn't hate this. You'd almost think the odds would eventually work in your favor."

St. Louis had one shot in the third period. It was Alexander Steen's go-ahead goal.

Stat of the night
31 - Wins for Phoenix in 54 games, the fastest the franchise has reached that mark in its 30-year history

Quote of the night
"The mistakes we made the first 5 minutes of the game, that's not a characteristic of ours and is unacceptable. Yeah we fought back and we are proud of that but you're not going to win many games against good teams in this league with that kind of start."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan

Notable games
Friday, Jan. 29 (6 games)
-Nashville (29-20-3) at Detroit (25-19-9), 7:30 p.m. ET. After a nice spell for a while, the Predators are hanging onto a playoff spot. The Red Wings try to claw their way back in.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

NHL Recap 1-27-10: Sabres rebound; Giguere thrown to the wolves

Buffalo happy to be back East
After a trip out west that saw Buffalo go 1-3-1, the Sabres had to be happy being back home. Even if they had to face off against New Jersey, one of the best road teams in the league. But no problem there.

Ryan Miller made 39 saves during the run of play and another two in the shootout and Buffalo earned a 2-1 victory, snapping a four-game winless streak. Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville scored in the tiebreaker for Buffalo, with Miller making saves on Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner.

Adam Mair scored his second goal in two games for the Sabres and Brian Rolston equalized for the Devils. Buffalo center Tim Connolly's 16-game points streak ended. Martin Brodeur made 30 saves.

I'm guessing they don't like each other...
I know Jean-Sebastien Giguere hasn't had a strong season. Or that he didn't have a strong 2008-09. But I have to wonder if something personal is going on here between Giguere and coach Randy Carlyle.

Giguere hasn't started a game since Jan. 3. So who does Carlyle choose to start against the league's best offense, on the road? Giguere, of course, not Jonas Hiller. About that...

Washington launched 49 shots on Giguere, and three goals in a span of 4:15 on consecutive shots to open the third period vaulted the Capitals to a 5-1 runaway. Giguere stood tall for a while, making 34 saves in the first 40 minutes - seriously - before the fateful third period. He was in for the duration and finished with 44 stops.

Alexander Semin scored twice, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Mike Knuble and Shaone Morrisonn had a goal and assist each. Dan Sexton scored for the Ducks, who shockingly gooned things up a bit in the third period. Michael Neuvirth made 30 saves for the win.

Stars of the night
--Eric Staal and Sergei Samsonov each scored twice, Cam Ward made 37 saves and Carolina routed the Rangers in New York, 5-1.
--Antero Niittymaki made 33 saves, Steve Downie had two assists and Vincent Lecavalier had a nifty goal and assist for Tampa Bay in a 3-0 win over Montreal. No word if Andrei Markov called out Carey Price again.
--Antti Miettinen had two goals and Minnesota took it to Detroit, 5-2. Pavel Datsyuk had a brace for the Red Wings.
--Loui Eriksson scored the only shootout goal and Dallas erased a 3-1 deficit to defeat Calgary, 4-3. Stephane Robidas had two assists for the Stars. Jarome Iginla broke his 11-game goalless streak and also had an assist.
--Mason Raymond had two goals to reach 20 for the season and Ryan Kesler had three assists in Vancouver's 3-2 win over St. Louis. The Canucks played their last home game until after the Olympic break. They will play eight road games before the break and six after.

Stat of the night
3 - Tampa Bay has its first three-game winning streak since January 2009. Holy monkeys. Coincidentally, the third win of their last streak was Jan. 27. Against Montreal. Eerie.

Quote of the night
"A hit a lot of times can be such a crowd-getter-into-er. (Pause.) That's not even English. You know what I'm talking about."
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who caught and laughed at his own words during the pause, talking about a hit by Ovechkin

Notable games
Thursday, Jan. 28 (8 games)
-Ottawa (29-21-4) at Pittsburgh (33-20-1), 7 p.m. ET. Ottawa is on a seven-game win streak and is creeping up on Pittsburgh for the fourth spot in the East.

-Minnesota (26-23-4) at Colorado (30-15-6), 9 p.m. Wednesday's win over Detroit has the Wild creeping further up the standings. Big test against the Avalanche.

-Chicago (36-13-4) at San Jose (35-10-8), 10:30 p.m. Don't think I need to say anything about this one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To trade or not to trade


I am so unimaginative with titles. I swear I've ripped off Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" like 132 times in the past year and a half of doing this. Sorry, Billy.

Anyway, Pierre Lebrun over at ESPN (I know, I know, make your "What does ESPN know about hockey" jokes now) speculated earlier this week that he believes a trade of Atlanta captain, star and franchise player Ilya Kovalchuk is "inevitable."

So let's take a look at who might be able to land the cream of the 2010 trade deadline and for what. if I'm Atlanta GM Don Waddell, my wish list looks something like: One or two young, impact forwards and/or a quality defenseman, but won't rule out goalies. Draft picks won't be factored in but of course would likely be included in a deal.

Boston: I heard this rumor: Blake Wheeler, Tuukka Rask and a first-round pick. That'd be something for the Thrashers to consider. With how badly Boston needs offense the Thrashers might be able to get more. Other trade candidates are Michael Ryder, Marco Sturm, maybe even Dennis Wideman if they want to pull the plug on him. Marc Savard + Ilya Kovalchuk reunited = scary. (Savard's career-high 97-point season came in 2005-06 with the Thrashers.)

Calgary: The Flames might be as desperate as Boston is for offense. Would they consider moving Dion Phaneuf? The rumor of him being on the block has been floated around before. I'm sure the Thrashers would love to get him to match up against the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Then Calgary can take a run at re-signing Kovalchuk with the money saved. Probably though the Flames assume - or pray - that everyone who's in a slump for them right now - which is everyone - snaps out of it in time to make a playoff push.

Chicago: Sickeningly so for the rest of the NHL, the Blackhawks might make the most sense. How, you ask? I'll tell you. Kovalchuk has stated he'll test the free-agent market if he's traded. Assuming he sticks by that, he's a rental player for his new team. Chicago needs to unload salary from future seasons. So the Blackhawks trade some combination of: Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg or Cam Barker, and maybe another piece here or there. Atlanta gets a couple guys locked up for a couple seasons, Chicago unloads its cap and still somehow strengthens its team then lets Kovalchuk walk at the end of the year. I just threw up in my mouth.

The teams could even swap goalies, with Chicago sending Antti Niemi to Atlanta to add to its stable of "Someone step up and take the No. 1 job, please" in exchange for Johan Hedberg, who would give the Blackhawks a veteran backup with playoff experience should Cristobal Huet falter instead of relying on a rookie.

Colorado: The Avalanche have something nice going, and I don't mean just this season. They have a lot of young, talented players. Plus they have cap space. Will they want to part with any of those youngsters (David Jones, Chris Stewart, Marek Svatos to name some) for Kovalchuk? Oh, Svatos they probably want to get rid of since he can't stay healthy. Jones is out the rest of the season but was having a nice breakout year when he was on the ice. They may still want to get rid of defenseman John-Michael Liles too. The Avs could match up well on paper, but I'm not sure how likely it is they'd re-sign Kovalchuk so I doubt they'd part with youngsters to get him.

Los Angeles: Jack Johnson, Justin Williams, Wayne Simmonds, Alexander Frolov, Jarret Stoll... I think the Kings could swing a deal. Their GM doesn't like Johnson's upbringing, which Johnson didn't like, suggesting that marriage can't possibly last much longer, and Frolov disappears at times but has goal-scoring potential. Williams is a two-time 30-goal scorer but the major problem with him is he can't stay healthy. Still, imagine a top line in LA of Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Kovalchuk. Plus I think the Kings still have the cap space to potentially re-sign Kovalchuk.

Philadelphia: I'd ask for James van Riemsdyk and/or Claude Giroux, but the Flyers would want to unload Danny Briere's contract, maybe Simon Gagne (who I wouldn't want if I'm Atlanta). How funny would it be though if some deal is arranged and Braydon Coburn goes back to Atlanta, after being traded to Philadelphia for Alexei freaking Zhitnik? The Flyers could be a good fit.

St. Louis: You could take your pick of slumping youngsters: David Perron (though he's not having that bad a year to be fair), Brad Boyes, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Carlo Colaiacovo... this would be more likely if Kovalchuk was willing to talk an extension, but if the Blues are desperate to reach the playoffs, maybe they mortgage the future for the present. Not sure that would be smart though. Their big win against Calgary Monday got them closer to the eighth spot and maybe they hope their scorers turn things around in time.

Those are the teams I think are the ones with playoff aspirations plus the means to acquire Kovalchuk. That doesn't mean those are the only ones that would be in the running. Anaheim, for instance, supposedly is unwilling to pay Bobby Ryan's next contract and could ship him to Atlanta. But if they don't want to pay Ryan, would they pay Kovalchuk? Probably better to just hang onto Ryan for either the compensation draft picks if he walks as a restricted free agent or trade him for another RFA or someone who is locked up long term.

Take Buffalo. The Sabres need a goal scorer - their leader is Thomas Vanek with 15, half as many as Kovalchuk - but they have a history of frugality, so they probably wouldn't want to part with young talent for a rental unless they think Kovalchuk will push them to Stanley Cup contender status, which he might. They definitely won't part with Tyler Myers, who might win the Calder Trophy.

Then there are some teams who'd like to add Kovalchuk but the pieces might not be there. Like Detroit (unless they part with Valtteri Filppula; but never underestimate Ken Holland), Minnesota, the Rangers or Pittsburgh. Some other teams are in Buffalo's boat; they have the pieces and the need but probably wouldn't re-sign Kovalchuk and could damage the franchise with a trade like that. For instance, Nashville, the Islanders or Phoenix. I could see New York making a free-agent play for Kovalchuk if he's talked down from the max.

Here's who I think isn't in the running, either because of their place in the standings, their current personnel or other mitigating factors: Carolina, Columbus, Dallas (more wrong than Kovalchuk would fix), Edmonton, Florida, Montreal, New Jersey, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. But I learned when the Penguins acquired Marian Hossa in 2008 that anything is possible.

I think there's three teams I haven't mentioned: San Jose, Vancouver and Washington. They can earn "dark horse" status - they each have the means to pull off a deal but I'd be a little surprised if one happens. Also, it's a little too depressing to think of any of these teams getting Kovalchuk. (Like Chicago.)

My most likely destination for Kovalchuk: Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston in that order.

NHL Recap 1-26-10: Scary Caps; The Sens are mightier than the Devils

Lucky 7, not Great 8
This is why the Capitals are scary: Washington poured seven goals past Islanders goaltending. Alex Ovechkin had zero points. Ditto Mike Green. Yikes.

Alexander Semin scored two goals and five other players had two points as Washington stormed New York, 7-2, scoring four first-period goals. Brendan Morrison, John Erskine and Jason Chimera each had a goal and assist while Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann each had two assists.

Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble scored their 15th goals for Washington, which has won seven straight and 10 of its last 11. Jose Theodore made 18 saves in two periods before leaving with an injury. Michael Neuvirth made 11 saves.

Robbie Schremp and Kyle Okposo scored for the Islanders.

Maybe give him a rest?
I know Martin Brodeur had a shutout a few games ago. But he's now also been yanked from a game three times in the past three weeks. That might not sound like a lot but it is for Brodeur.

The latest to get to him was Ottawa, who pushed three goals past Brodeur on just 12 shots, while Brian Elliott was perfect on 24 shots for a 3-0 victory. Alexei Kovalev, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza scored for the Senators. Filip Kuba had two assists.

Brodeur was replaced after the second period. He's started so many games in a row that I can't count that high. Yann Danis last started a game on Nov. 21. I think it's 30 straight starts. But Brodeur also relieved Danis in that Nov. 21 game, so he hasn't had a full game off since Nov. 6. So I think it's 37 straight games he's appeared in. He's 4-6-0 in his last 10.

Stars of the night
--Shane Doan's three assists helped Phoenix get to overtime against Detroit then he scored the winner for a four-point night for the Coyotes, who earned a 5-4 win. Keith Yandle had two goals. Phoenix scored twice in the final 90 seconds to force the extra frame, spoiling Nicklas Lidstrom's two goals.
--Dustin Brown had three assists and Drew Doughty had a goal and a helper for Los Angeles in a 5-3 win over Toronto, which got two goals from Niklas Hagman.
--Johan Hedberg made 34 saves and Maxim Afinogenov's first goal since Jan. 9 lifted Atlanta to a 2-1 win over Anaheim.
--Steve Mason fended off 29 shots and Columbus survived a third-period charge by Nashville to pick up a 3-2 win.
--Shawn Matthias scored twice in the third period, once on a penalty shot, and Florida edged Montreal, 2-1.
--Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane had two assists each and Chicago got goals from four different players to hand Edmonton its 11th straight loss and 18th in the last 19 games, 4-2.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"We played like deer in the headlights. We knew it was a good team we were playing and it was like we were going to just stand there and hope nothing bad would happen."

Chicago scored on the first shot of the game 44 seconds in. I really hope Pat Quinn never gets fired. I know I've said that before but it bears repeating.

Stat of the night
212,500 - By scoring his 10th goal of the season, Doughty triggered a $212,500 bonus clause in his contract

Quote of the night
"You're feeling pretty small right then. You just want to crawl under the bench and hide."
Doan, who took a penalty that Detroit turned into a 4-2 lead with 4:38 remaining in regulation

Notable games
Wednesday, Jan. 27 (7 games)
-New Jersey (34-16-1) at Buffalo (30-14-7), 7 p.m. ET. Two teams licking their wounds of late.

-Detroit (25-18-9) at Minnesota (25-23-4), 8 p.m. Two teams clawing for a playoff spot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Take on Legislating Head Shots

Okay, about the Liambas, Kassian and Cormier hits.

All of these hits are pretty awful in my opinion. (Actually, I'm going to say a blanket "IMO" right now that I intend to cover the rest of this post.) I can see no legal hockey purpose to any of them. Cormier just got suspended for the rest of the regular season (18 games IIRC) and his Q team's playoffs. Kassian got 20 games. Liambas got what amounts to a lifetime suspension out of junior.

Now, that's clearly hyperbole, but still...hard to argue that it wasn't a strong reaction to what, to my eye, is a less-egregious hit than either the Cormier or the Kassian hits.

Kassian's victim, Matt Kennedy was concussed on the hit, and it was not his first, but he is apparently back on the ice. Cormier's victim, Mikael Tam is not in hospital though it is not known what, if any, lingering effects of the hit he will feel (reportedly he does not remember the incident - thank goodness.)

Now, if you dig a little deeper, in all three cases the offending player has a history of at least questionable plays. Liambas had the affrontery to hit John Tavares from behind last March, but his rap sheet is long as you peruse YouTube. Same for Kassian. And Cormier - the captain of the Canadian WJC team that lost to the US on Canadian soil a couple weeks ago - had elbowed a Swedish player in a WJC tune up game not long ago. Same exact infraction!

So, I know players have to finish their checks. I also know players at the junior level are trying to get to the next level, and going 100% all the time is part of that. I also know that violence is a part of the game of hockey. Yeah, I said it. It is. Hockey people that try to pretend that it's not are kidding themselves. It is. Deal with it.

But, and I realize I'm walking a fine line here, there are some things that are so egregious that they must be met with a harsh penalty.

Now, I feel like the penalties meted out in each of these instances were pretty harsh. I am not calling for harsher penalties against Liambas, Kassian or Cormier. Certainly in the context of other suspensions for similar acts, these are pretty severe penalties.

I want to talk about the idea of how to legislate this kind of thing out of the game.

First, I'm not sure you CAN, much less that I want to. If I'm going to accept that violence is a part of the game then the threat of this kind of thing is a by-product of that threat. I can't have my cake and eat it too, in other words.

And, if violence IS a part of the game, then I don't know that you could reverse-engineer hockey players and take away the gene that makes them walk that fine line, on occasion.

Lou Lamoriello, in reacting to the Cormier elbow (he's Devil's property) said (among other things) that this incident wasn't indicative of the Cormier THEY knew. Bullshit, Lou. How many elbows to heads does it take? If you want to protect your investment, fine. But don't treat us like jerks with that kind of horse crap. I'm sure Jeffrey Dahmer was a nice, quiet neighbor....most of the time. But the point here is that Lou didn't exactly throw Cormier to the wolves on this. No, he didn't condone what he did, but he didn't even issue a veiled "you better clean it up if you ever want to make it to the show, kid" line in his prepared statement. So, trying to legislate this kind of play out of the game seems to me to be a fruitless endeavor on the face of it.

So what does that leave us with, since crossing the line - though an inevitable occurance in a game in which violence is an innate trait - still can not be tolerated?

Well, for one, it's got to start at the NHL level. If the league to which all these players aspire allows this kind of thing, how can the junior leagues ever hope to curb it?

I don't think I want to go down the path of a bunch of smaller suspensions for a la carte infractions. Feet came off the ice? One game. Contact with the head? One game. Player's back facing you at impact? Two games. Second offense? Multiply a la carte total by 1.5.

No, I think that turns into a nightmare for the game from an optics standpoint ("7 out of 23 players on Team X's active roster were suspended for last night's game...") and, yes, that's assuming you could get all the various league disciplinarians to agree to and then enforce the standards.

Plus, I just don't think three games in the context of a season or career sends any kind of message.

Here's my latest idea.

My college was an "open" campus. You could drink, even underage, openly throughout campus. Basically the thinking was, look, you're in college. If you want to drink, we know you're going to figure out a way to do it regardless of what we do. Furthermore, we'd rather not have you have to drive off campus somewhere to get your drink on, then either drive around some more or at least have to drive back to campus, your drink having been gotten on.

So we're going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Go ahead and drink. But you have to conduct yourself in a manner befitting someone enjoying arguably more responsibility in this way than they deserve. If you can keep yourself under control, Campus Security - who will be wandering around, checking in on parties and such, consistent with their job - will not give you a hard time. Really. But, if you step out of line, we're going to bust you. Big time.

And you know what? It worked?

I drank a fair piece in college. Right in front of campus security. Walked around campus with a beer in my hand (and a load on in my belly/head) often. But I didn't get in any fights, break any windows, vandalize any property, or throw any elbows along the way. I had the ability to walk the line, and I did, and I didn't cross it. And whether it was more that I was given the freedom to walk the line (and, to choose whether or not to cross it) or that the consequence for crossing it was significant in my mind that kept me from crossing the line, the fact is I - and the vast, vast, vast majority of my collegiate peers - didn't.

So, I'm proposing that they first define the line in regards to excessively violent acts. Allow for "hockey plays," "incidental contact" and even the hittee exacerbating the incident with his own actions. But define a line. These things are okay, THESE things are not. Give me a break, most of these hits no one in his right mind is going to watch on video and say "whaddaya mean! That's a clean hit!" This shouldn't be that hard to do.

Then, if a player commits such an act, instead of getting one or two games the first time out, they get 20 games (based on a NHL 82-game schedule.) Flat fee, done. No more of this slap on the wrist stuff. Take a page from the junior leagues and hit the player hard enough that they notice. And make it so the team still has to carry the cap hit while the player is suspended. Second offense? 30 games. The stick Colin Campbell wields now clearly just isn't scary enough. Colie's gotta wield a nastier stick.

In the meantime, if that player's team is able to fill his role with someone else while he's suspended, maybe that player is looking for work the next season. And maybe, just maybe players will start to see that kind of play as A) getting you in the really hot water and B) potentially career threatening. And maybe that gets them to think twice.

As for guys like Cormier, I'm sorry, but fool me once, eh? There's no gray area on an elbow like either of the two he threw. They weren't protective, or trying to create space, or even get at the puck. These were just dirty plays. I'm all for second chances, but Cormier's already used his up, it would seem. Lamoriello placing you under his protection (pun intended?) notwithstanding, Patrice Cormier, you get labeled as a "dirty" player in my book.

Up to you to prove me wrong, meat.


EDIT: Saw this article linked in the NYT Slap Shot Blog. Good piece.

NHL Recap 1-25-10: Quick-strike Pens; Flames still sputtering

My first is better than your first
The Rangers offense has been woeful, horrid, abysmal, pick your adjective. Artem Anisimov's first career two-goal game wasn't enough to save it.

That's because Penguins forward Chris Conner, just called up from the AHL Monday, had his first two-goal game as well, and Pittsburgh scored twice in one minute to turn a 2-1 deficit into an eventual 4-2 victory.

Conner opened the scoring less than three minutes into the contest. Some fairly dull hockey followed, then Anisimov scored his first goal late in the second period, breaking a personal 17-game goalless drought and a team streak of 156:32 without scoring. Anisimov's second goal was a shot that Marc-Andre Fleury had squeezed against the post, only to have it slip onto the goal line then be pushed the rest of the way over by Fleury's skate. That came with 10:45 to play in the third period, several minutes after the Rangers failed to score on six minutes worth of power plays to start the period.

But after the 2-1 lead for the Rangers, Evgeni Malkin took over, driving to the net and drawing a penalty, then scoring on the power play 31 seconds after Anisimov's goal. One minute later, Sidney Crosby drove the net, got a good shot away and Conner pounced on the rebound and threw it past Henrik Lundqvist for a 3-2 score.

Crosby, Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar each had two assists and Pascal Dupuis had an empty net goal and an assist. Fleury, in his first game back after suffering a broken finger on his glove hand, made 28 saves.

Disaster looming
Things are bad in Calgary right now. Really bad. Ty Conklin and the Blues took advantage of it.

Conklin stopped all 34 shots he faced and St. Louis handed Calgary its seventh consecutive loss (six in regulation), 2-0, behind goals by Patrik Berglund and David Perron.

During Calgary's losing streak, it has scored nine goals, with four coming in one game. High-priced defenseman Jay Bouwmeester hasn't scored a goal in 36 games and has only two on the season. Jarome Iginla has been held to two assists in his past 11 games. Olli Jokinen has one goal in his past nine and just 10 on the season. Dion Phaneuf? No goals in 17 straight. Three assists in that time.

The Blues, meanwhile, are now four points back out of a playoff spot.

Long-awaited trip to British Columbia not a joy
Buffalo hadn't traveled to Vancouver for a game in four years. The Sabres are hoping the next wait will be longer.

A disallowed goal, four points from Danrik Sedin and Bob Luongo's 30 saves all played a part in Vancouver's 3-2 victory over Buffalo, the fifth straight for the Canucks.

Yet the unlikely star was defenseman Brad Lukowich, who appeared in just his eighth game of the season. He'd spent much of the year in the AHL because of salary cap purposes. His first goal of the season five minutes into the third period quickly canceled out Thomas Vanek's tying goal and was the winner, set up by the Sedins.

Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin had the other goals for Vancouver.

Buffalo appeared to tie the game at 2-2 late in the second period but Paul Gaustad was called for cross checking on the play and waiving off the goal. The Sabres eventually got a power play, which Vanek converted. Adam Mair also scored and Tim Connolly extended his points streak to 16 games.

Stat of the night
172 - As bad as New York's scoreless drought of 156 minutes was, it wasn't even the Rangers' longest this season. That was a 172-minute stretch in mid-January.

Quote of the night
"When you give the Sedins a breakaway from your own blue line when your focus was not to give them anything, I don't think you deserve to win a game."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, discussing the game-winning goal

Notable games
Tuesday, Jan. 26 (8 games)
-Phoenix (29-18-5) at Detroit (25-18-8), 7 p.m. ET, Versus. The Coyotes are trying to return to the top four in the West. The Wings trying to create some separation between them and No. 9 Calgary.

-New Jersey (34-15-1) at Ottawa (28-21-4), 7:30 p.m. Now that they've got their stars back, the Senators are playing some pretty good hockey. The Devils are still really good on the road (17-7-1, tied for the league low for road losses with San Jose.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NHL Recap 1-24-10: Potent Pittsburgh power play?; Ward sets franchise record

Cocked and loaded
Believe me, I'm not one of those um, individuals who yells "SHOOOT" during power plays. In fact, one of the Facebook groups I'm a member of is called "Yelling SHOOOT during a power play is the most annoying thing in the world."

But it's amazing how much shooting the puck works. The Penguins often get too cute on the power play, always looking for the perfect setup. That's one big reason why Pittsburgh's power play is in the bottom five in the league. Well, two shots from the point by Sergei Gonchar, one with a little help, found their way through Ray Emery on the power play and Pittsburgh edged Philadelphia, 2-1.

Jeff Carter scored on the power play to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead when he smacked the puck off the back of the net then punched it past Brent Johnson. Philadelphia later had a goal by Mike Richards disallowed when Simon Gagne and Evgeni Malkin perpetrated each other's personal space and Gagne ended up with an extra minor.

Gonchar's shot on that man-advantage snuck through to tie the score. Then Matt Cooke deflected Gonchar's slapper with 1:47 left in regulation for Pittsburgh's second power play goal after Kimmo Timonen took a delay-of-game penalty. Johnson made 27 saves.

Ward takes advantage of slumping Bruins
Needing one win for a milestone, Cam Ward had to like seeing Boston on the schedule. A nice offensive outpouring from his teammates certainly helped too.

Jussi Jokinen had a goal and two assists and Ward stopped 27 shots for his franchise-best 131st career win as Carolina walloped Boston, 5-1. Ward passed Arturs Irbe on the Hartford/Carolina list. At the same time, the Hurricanes hurdled the Oilers to get out of the NHL basement (39 points to 38.)

Leading 1-0, Carolina struck for three goals in the second period in less than seven minutes. Ray Whitney, Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter scored in that stretch, and Chad LaRose made it 5-0 just 15 seconds into the third period. Tim Thomas was yanked after giving up the fourth goal.

David Krejci's power play goal with 11:04 remaining spoiled Ward's shutout bid. The Bruins, who have five goals in their last four games, have scored the fewest goals in the NHL and are on a five-game losing streak. Want to make another Phil Kessel-Milan Lucic crack but I won't.

Back to normal
How bad are things for Dallas on the road? This kind of thing happens: A potential icing on Colorado hits a linesman's skate, the Avalanche get a 3-on-2 as a result and score a backbreaking goal.

That goal, by Chris Stewart, was the third in Colorado's 4-0 win over the Stars and the Avalanche regained sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division. Craig Anderson made 27 saves for his fifth shutout of the season. The win was Colorado's sixth straight.

After earning a rare victory away from Texas on Friday, Dallas dropped its 11th road game in the last 12 outings (1-9-2).

Special teams staked Colorado to a 2-0 lead in the first period, getting a rare goal from Brett Clark on the power play then a great individual effort from T.J. Galiardi for a shorthanded goal. Paul Stastny scored a power play goal late in the third period to close out the scoring. Stastny and Stewart each had one assist.

Stat of the night
10 - Of the 52 PIMs in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game, including 30 in the first period, only 10 came off fighting majors (Kris Letang vs. Darrell Powe). This is the same rivalry that boasted three fights in a span of 16 seconds in the second meeting of this season. My theory is that at this point in the season, getting points takes precedence over fisticuffs, though I have no evidence to support it. It's more of a question than a theory, actually. In fact, I've seen the Flyers having multiple fights in recent games against other opponents, so bang goes that. Let's move on.

Quote of the night
"We're making some real bad mistakes that end up in the bottom of our net, and we dig ourselves a hole, and we don't seem to be able to fight out of it."
Boston coach Claude Julien

Notable games
Monday, Jan. 25 (3 games)
Buffalo (30-13-7) at Vancouver (31-18-2), 10 p.m. The Sabres' trip out west is something of a litmus test and they're failing, posting just a 1-2-1 record. The Canucks are fresh off a nice 5-1 win over Chicago.

NHL Recap 1-23-10: Sens healthy, happy; 'Nucks rout Hawks

As players return, the team wins
The Ottawa Senators are suddenly a team to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference. Coincidentally or not, it's happened at roughly the same time they got their top line back.

Center Jason Spezza became the third Ottawa player to score a goal in his first game back from injured reserve and the Senators edged Boston, 2-1, for the Senators' sixth straight win.

Daniel Alfredsson scored his 14th goal of the season with six seconds to play in the first period and Spezza's goal broke a 1-1 tie after Daniel Paille scored for the Bruins. Brian Elliott stopped 32 shots for Ottawa, which is now just three points behind Pittsburgh for fourth in the East.

In addition to Spezza, Alfredsson and Milan Michalek had scored immediately upon returning to the Ottawa lineup.

Second-guessing maybe?
For the first time this season, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville started backup Antti freaking Niemi for a second straight game. Wonder if he regrets that move.

Vancouver pounced on Niemi for three first-period goals and Quenneville pulled the plug on the youngster, replacing him with Cristobal Huet to begin the second period. It wasn't enough as the Canucks rolled to a 5-1 win despite being out-shot, 44-28.

Danrik Sedin (my new name for the Sedin twins) had six points on two goals and an assist from NHL leader Henrik and one goal and two helpers by Daniel. Alex Burrows had three assists and Steve Bernier and Mikael Samuelsson also scored for the Canucks. Henrik Sedin's second goal of the game might've been the biggest, as it came 32 seconds after Jonathan Toews scored for Chicago in the third period to make the score 4-1.

Instead of gaining momentum from the Toews goal, the Blackhawks were back to trailing by three. Bob Luongo shut the door from there, making 43 saves. Vancouver hurdled Phoenix for fourth in the West, tied in points with Colorado for the Northwest Division lead but with one more game played.

Stars of the night
--Jeff Carter had two goals and an assist as Philadelphia doubled up Carolina, 4-2.
--Anze Kopitar's goal and two assists helped Los Angeles erase a 2-0 first-period deficit and defeat Detroit, 3-2.
--Alexander Semin notched four points on a goal and three helpers for Washington in its 4-2 win over Phoenix. Alex Ovechkin scored his 33rd goal and an assist.
--Jamie Langenbrunner had a goal and two assists, Zach Parise scored a pair and the Devils scratched out a win over the Islanders, 4-2. New York held New Jersey to one shot in the second period, but the Devils held the Islanders to three shots in the third. Travis Zajac had three assists.
--Mikko Koivu's brace led Minnesota to a 4-2 win over Columbus.
--Joe Pavelski's two goals and Evgeni Nabokov's 38 saves guided San Jose to a 5-2 win over Buffalo.

Clean sheets
--Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves and Mike Cammalleri had four points, including two goals, as Montreal beat down the Rangers, 6-0. Benoit Pouliot scored his 12th goal on a nifty deflection.
--Tomas Vokoun picked up his sixth shutout of the season, stopping 39 shots, and Florida defeated Toronto, 2-0. Goals were by Cory Stillman and Kenndal McArdle.

Working extra late
--Jeff Halpern's shootout goal in Round 5 was the only one to find the back of the net legally and Tampa Bay outlasted Atlanta, 2-1. The Lightning seemed to score on Kurtis Foster's chance in the fourth round but the puck was ruled to have bounced off his leg and into the net, thus a rebound and thus no-goal. Antero Niittymaki made 37 saves and Steven Stamkos scored in regulation for TB.
--Collapse, thy name is St. Louis. The Blues held a 3-0 lead after T.J. Oshie's goal early in the third period, but Anaheim roared back, getting a goal from Scott Niedermayer and two from Bobby Ryan, including the tying goal with 30 seconds remaining. Then James Wisniewski's shootout goal in the bottom of the seventh round gave the Ducks a shocking 4-3 win.

Stat of the night
7, 9 - Goals and points for Cammalleri in three games against the Rangers this season

Quote of the night
"I said, 'Give a defenseman a try. We never get an opportunity. When I saw it go in, it was a pretty good feeling."
Wisniewski. It was his first career shootout attempt.

Notable games
Sunday, Jan. 24 (3 games)
-Pittsburgh (31-20-1) at Philadelphia (26-21-3), 12:30 p.m., NBC's first Game of the Week. The Penguins will be on NBC three straight weeks, which is absurd.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

NHL Recap 1-22-10: No-goal costs Preds; Dallas ekes out a rare road win

Tying goal waived off, Avalanche win by one
Nashville's flight from Colorado to Columbus won't be pleasant.

The Predators appeared to score the game-tying goal late in the third period on a power play only to have the goal immediately washed out and Patric Hornqvist sent to the penalty box for goaltender interference with 7:31 remaining. That helped the Avalanche hang on to defeat Nashville, 2-1.

There was definite contact between Hornqvist and Craig Anderson at the top of the crease. One of the 19 replays the Nashville telecast showed the rest of the game seemed to show Anderson's skate making the initial contact with Hornqvist's, but Hornqvist's elbow and shoulder appeared to knock Anderson, who made 29 saves, off-balance a second or two before the puck went into the net.

The opinion here is the goal should've been waived off but Hornqvist not given a penalty. That call has been made before.

Nashville also won't be happy with being shorthanded nine times in the game. Colorado scored both goals on the power play, with Matt Duchene scoring a 5-on-3 goal and Brandon Yip netting the game-winner.

Cody Franson scored Nashville's goal, also on a power play. The Predators were 1-for-5, getting another man-advantage in the final 21 seconds.

Stars find someone they can beat on the road... barely
Pop quiz: What is the significance of Nov. 18, 2009? Answer: The last road regulation win for Dallas. Until Friday. But the Stars nearly blew it.

Dallas twice held two-goal leads only to see Edmonton tie the score at 3-3 on Sam Gagner's second goal of the game with 1:02 left in regulation before James Neal pounced on a loose puck and slammed it past Devan Dubnyk with 23 seconds remaining to allow the Stars to escape with a 4-3 win.

Even then, it was a close call. The Oilers charged into the attacking zone and Marty Turco needed to make a big save off Dustin Penner with about five seconds remaining, though Penner might have kicked the puck.

Trevor Daley, Mike Modano and Jamie Benn also scored and Steve Ott had two assists for Dallas. Turco made 35 saves. Ryan Potulny had Edmonton's other goal and Penner picked up two assists.

Dallas had been 1-10-3 on the road since Nov. 18 when the Stars won in Joe Louis Arena of all places, 3-1. The one win after that was in a shootout over San Jose. Under the new math, that's a bad record.

This is Jacques Lemaire's team alright
Wild fans can maybe thank their lucky stars they have a new coach. Minnesota has shown it can score goals in bunches, especially when trailing in the third period. Right now, New Jersey can barely score at all. (See below for details.)

Mathieu Darche, veteran of 102 games over seven seasons, had a goal and an assist, and Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves as Montreal out-Deviled the Devils, 3-1. New Jersey has lost four of its last five games.

Zach Parise's 21st goal opened the scoring for the Devils but was canceled out by Benoit Pouliot's ninth goal with Montreal and 11th overall. Darche deflected Brian Gionta's shot for the eventual winner in the second period and Mike Cammalleri essentially sealed the win with his 24th goal of the season midway through the third period.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"That was a bad way to finish, for sure. It's disappointing. I hate it. I can't stand it. Tonight should have been a better feeling. It makes me sick to think of how we give games up.

"This started 13 or 14 games into the season, where we started finding ways not to win. They worked very hard to have a good result, and that's what makes this one so distasteful and so disappointing. I knew in my heart when we scored that late goal that we were going to win that hockey game. Unfortunately it didn't grab my heart, it grabbed my guts. We still haven't found a way to stop losing."

Stat of the night
10 - Number of goals past a goalie for New Jersey in its last eight games. The Devils, 3-5-0 in that stretch, scored more than two goals just once (three). One game was a 1-0 shootout win (thus zero goals in regulation/overtime) and one goal of a 2-0 win was into an empty net with one second left.

Quote of the night
"I looked at it again, and to me it's a good goal. At worst it's incidental contact and no penalty. But obviously I'm not a referee and there's not a whole hell of a lot I can do about it right now."
Predators coach Barry Trotz on the disallowed goal

Notable games
Saturday, Jan. 23 (12 games)
-Los Angeles (28-19-3) at Detroit (25-17-8), 7 p.m. ET. Two teams clinging to a playoff spot. Both are in right now (Kings No. 7, Wings 8) and if the playoffs started today, one of these teams would have Calgary's massive slump to thank for being in the postseason.

-Phoenix (29-17-5) at Washington (32-12-6), 7 p.m. Big test for the Coyotes' defensive system.

-Chicago (35-12-4) at Vancouver (30-18-2), 10 p.m. Playoff rematch between two of the current top teams in the West. The Canucks are an impressive 20-7-1 at home.

-Buffalo (30-12-7) at San Jose (34-10-8), 10:30 p.m. The Sabres are just 1-1-1 on their current West Coast trip, beating Phoenix, losing to Anaheim and then a shootout defeat to the Kings. The Sharks are 6-0-1 over their last seven to take over the NHL lead, though they've played one more game than the Blackhawks, who are two points behind.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Shout out to Hockey Wilderness

HTP has shifted a bit this year, you may have noticed.

We've intentionally moved away from Wild game recaps and day-to-day goings on (Wild-related) and things like that. Well, truth be told a big part of the reason for this shift is the work Nathan and Bryan (and, now, Elise! <-- great addition, guys....she's a gamer!) do over at Hockey Wilderness.

As part of the mighty SB Nation, they are gobbling up "market share" among Wild blog consumers for good reason. If you want Wild-centric wall-to-wall coverage, for my money Hockey Wilderness is as good as it gets in the Wlogosphere.

And, as several of you who read both HW and HTP have pointed out to me, HW does a lot for HTP. Easily more than HTP does for HW.

So, in part because I'm in arrears to you, Nathan and Bryan (and Elise!) but more so because it's well-deserved, thank you. Both for the comprehensive Wild coverage as well as the generous linkys.


*rule one when tossing bouquets: spell your intended recipient's name correctly....particularly if you're going to write it twice! Sorry Bryan!

NHL Recap 1-21-10: The other Capitals; Toronto finds new way to lose

Not just the Great 8
Alex Ovechkin is scary enough to play against by himself. Now he's got a pretty good supporting cast.

Tomas Fleischmann and Nicklas Backstrom used two "here, have a goal" giveaway coupons granted to them by Pittsburgh early in the third period and Washington outgunned the Penguins, 6-3, in the teams' first meeting since Pittsburgh earned a 6-2 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Fleischmann broke a 3-3 tie 2:32 into the third, taking an excellent lead pass from Alexander Semin, and beat Brent Johnson on a breakaway. Less than a minute later, Backstrom walked out in front of Pittsburgh's net unchallenged on a power play and went top shelf on Johnson for a 5-3 lead.

Ovechkin scored a pair of goals and added an assist, capping the night with an empty netter from his own end. Mike Knuble also scored for the Capitals, who got 35 saves from Jose Theodore.

Sidney Crosby scored his 33rd goal, Nick Johnson his first in his NHL debut, and Kris Letang scored for Pittsburgh. Ruslan Fedotenko and Evgeni Malkin each had three assists.

Palm of hand, meet forehead
What must Ron Wilson be thinking when Toronto took a too many men on the ice penalty in overtime? Hint: It's not printable (Internet-able?) on this family blog.

Martin St. Louis scored with 10 seconds remaining after Tampa Bay went on a power play in the final minute of overtime and the Lightning came back to defeat Toronto, 3-2.

Ryan Malone's goal with 3:49 remaining in regulation forced a 2-2 tie. Four of the game's five goals were scored with the man advantage, and there were 13 total 5-on-4 situations. Steven Stamkos had a goal and two assists and Vincent Lecavalier had three helpers for the Lightning.

Matt Stajan and Ian White both had power play goals for the Maple Leafs.

In other action
--Third-period goals by Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger gave Columbus a 3-2 win over Boston. Steve Mason made 32 saves for his first win since Dec. 28.
--Dwayne Roloson (33 saves) out-dueled Tomas Vokoun (35 saves) to lead the Islanders to a 2-1 shootout win over Florida, getting tiebreaker goals from Robbie Schremp and Matt Moulson.
--Peter Regin had a goal and two assists, all on the power play, for Ottawa in a 3-2 win over St. Louis.
--So much for that high-powered Rangers offense. Ray Emery made 24 saves and Philadelphia got goals from James van Riemsdyk and Mike Richards to blank New York, 2-0. Shockingly, the game included four fights. Legitimately shockingly, one involved Marian Gaborik against Daniel Carcillo.
--Eric Staal's hat trick in his first game as Carolina captain, plus Cam Ward's 32 saves, powered Carolina to a 5-2 win over Atlanta.
--Drew Miller scored once in regulation and again in Round 8 of the shootout to give Detroit a 4-3 win over Minnesota.
--Scottie Upshall's natural hat trick in a span of 10:25 in the third period turned a 2-1 Phoenix deficit into a 4-2 Coyotes win over Nashville. Ilya Bryzgalov made 41 saves.
--Well, it wasn't 9-1. Antti Niemi needed to make just 19 saves and Chicago edged Calgary, 3-1, getting goals from Patrick Kane, Ben Eager off his skate and Duncan Keith into an empty net.
--Christian Ehrhoff and Kyle Wellwood scored in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and give Vancouver a 4-3 win over Dallas. Henrik Sedin had one assist.
--Patrick Marleau's 35th goal and two assists led San Jose's 3-1 win over Anaheim.
--Jon Quick made 26 saves and two in the shootout, including a breakdance-like save, for Los Angeles in a 4-3 win over Buffalo.

Stat of the night
1,200 - Senators forward Alexei Kovalev dressed for his 1,200th career game Thursday. But he tried hard in only 729 of those. (Oh snap!) He had two assists.

Quote of the night
"On special teams, I don't want to use the word horrific, but that's the first thing that comes to my mind."
Atlanta coach John Anderson. The Thrashers were 0-for-6 on the power play and allowed three power play goals on four penalty kills. Horrific is indeed the word, John.

Notable games
Friday, Jan. 22 (3 games)
-Nashville (29-18-3) at Colorado (28-15-6), 9 p.m. ET. Same thing I wrote yesterday, two teams the rest of us are still trying to figure out if they're for real or not.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

NHL Recap 1-20-10: Hey, I was right; Living up to the pressure

Old school goalie duel
Go me. I said the Florida-New Jersey game should be a good goaltending affair, and it turns out even I'm right sometimes. Well, sort of.

Martin Brodeur stopped all 22 shots he faced and Tomas Vokoun only allowed one shot slip past him in New Jersey's 2-0 win over the Panthers. Travis Zajac scored late in the second period then Dean McAmmond scored a shorthanded empty net goal with less than a second to play for the Devils.

Brodeur wasn't tested much, as the Devils played a tight, defensive game, in earning his seventh shutout of the season and 108th of his career. And, naturally, he found another record to tie, becoming the second goalie, along with Patrick Roy, to have 13 seasons of 30 or more victories. Sheesh.

Vokoun made 30 saves. The win snapped Florida's three-game winning streak and ended New Jersey's three-game losing streak.

So far, so good
I'm sure that Montreal article calling Benoit Pouliot Montreal's next greatest center centre has already made its rounds among the Wild blogosphere. He's living up to the hype so far. Too bad his teammates aren't.

Pouliot scored a pair of goals, his ninth and 10th of the season, to help Montreal overcome a two-goal deficit, but Andy McDonald's goal in overtime gave St. Louis a 4-3 road victory.

Paul Kariya and Alexander Steen had a goal and assist each for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1. Both times when they were ahead by two, Pouliot scored to cut the gap in half. Someone tied the game at 3-3 for the Canadiens with 33 seconds remaining in regulation. The box score says it was Mike Cammalleri, the AP recap says it was Scott Gomez.

David Perron had scored in the first period for St. Louis, which got 35 saves from Ty Conklin.

Carey Price made 24 saves for Montreal.

Of course, Pouliot's been listed as a left winger for Montreal, and was 0-1 on faceoffs, so I guess he's not really the next franchise center centre for the Habs.

Whatever they're called, they're also good
I don't really get the "brain eaters" or whatever nickname it is that Wild fans have for the Sedin twins. I do get that, in addition to whatever cuisine they enjoy, they're not all that bad as hockey players.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined for six points, with Daniel scoring the overtime winner on a power play, for Vancouver in a 3-2 comeback victory over Edmonton.

Sedin's goal came after teammate Sami Salo forced the extra period by tying the game at 2-2 on the power play with 4:06 remaining in regulation. Henrik Sedin had three assists and has a league-best 70 points, and Daniel had two. Alex Burrows also scored for the Canucks, who got 31 saves from Bob Luongo.

Sam Gagner and Sheldon Souray scored for the Oilers, who still managed to get two of the game's three stars, including the top two. It was Edmonton's ninth straight loss.

Stat of the night
80 - Percentage of effectiveness Devils coach Jacques Lemaire thought his team played at after out-shooting their opponent 32-22 and conceding almost no prime scoring chances

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"You want me to get into my kids' inheritance again? It's not a good call. There's no penalty, no action that would warrant a call. But I am not wearing the black and white."

Quinn was asked about the overtime penalty on Denis Grebeshkov that led to the Sedin winner. What's funny is Gary Bettman was at the game.

Quote of the night
"I think he was trying to challenge me and I couldn't stop laughing. Whatever, if he wants to challenge me then we'll see what happens the next game we play but big [Montreal enforcer] Georges [Laraque] might be in the lineup for that one. Maybe I'll try to get a goal off him instead."
Blues enforcer Cam Janssen, discussing Price throwing punches at Janssen after the latter bowled over the former

Notable games
Thursday, Jan. 21 (13 games)
Good night of hockey.

-N.Y. Rangers (24-19-7) at Philadelphia (24-21-3), 7 p.m. ET. Two teams with suddenly high octane offenses.

-Washington (31-12-6) at Pittsburgh (31-19-1), 7:30 p.m. From the sound of things, 28 NHL teams should study what Detroit did on Tuesday to learn how to properly defend Alex Ovechkin - who was held without a shot on goal - and the rest of the Capitals. But the Penguins don't really play defense these days, so this game could be a slaughter.

-Nashville (29-17-3) at Phoenix (28-17-5), 9 p.m. Two teams the rest of us are still trying to figure out if they're for real or not.

-Chicago (34-12-4) at Calgary (26-18-6), 9:30 p.m. The funny thing is, if there is one team that could hand Calgary a worse loss than 9-1, it's Chicago.

-Anaheim (23-20-7) at San Jose (33-10-8), 10:30 p.m. The Ducks have beaten some good teams lately, and is a letdown after that 9-1 win coming?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sykora Postmortem

Lots of autopsies on the Petr Sykora/Minnesota Wild experiment today as the Wlogosphere masticates this "story."

Sure it didn't work out, for any of a number of different reasons.

But here's the bottom line for me: I'd still rather have a GM with the honesty to see a hole in the roster and the sack to go out and try to fill it, than a GM with neither of those qualities.

There's no GM out there with a 1.000 batting average on FAs.

But Wild fans should have a clear memory of a GM with both a crippling case of myopia and a stunning ability to delude himself into a state of reticence, if nothing else.

No, the grass ain't always greener....but in this case it is.


NHL Recap 1-19-10: Snowman in New York; Ducks are giant killers

What got into them?
After scoring one goal in a three-game stretch, the New York Rangers are suddenly an offensive juggernaut.

Sixteen of the 18 skaters recorded points, but only Marian Gaborik recorded more than two in New York's 8-2 destruction of Tampa Bay. Gaborik did not score a goal but picked up four assists. The Rangers have scored 14 goals in their last two games.

Brandon Dubinsky, Vaclav Prospal, Marc Staal and Christopher Higgins each had a goal and an assist. Matt Gilroy picked up two helpers. That was it for the multi-point performers for New York. Pretty nice balance, eh? Chris Drury, Enver Lisin, Aaron Voros and Daniel Girardi also had goals. Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves.

Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay scored for the Lightning.

No extra points for quality wins
It's been a tough season for Anaheim, which despite winning six of its last seven games is still four points out of a playoff spot. But the Ducks have developed a habit of beating some pretty solid teams.

Jonas Hiller stopped 41 shots and Anaheim pounced on Buffalo for the game's first four goals before hanging on for a 5-4 victory. The win against the one-time Eastern Conference leader is added to wins for Anaheim over Nashville, Chicago and Calgary this month.

Ryan Getzlaf, Evgeny Artyukhin, Mike Brown and Bobby Ryan scored in the first 10:26, including Getzlaf and Artyukhin in the opening 1:53, forcing Sabres coach Lindy Ruff to pull backup Patrick Lalime and insert Ryan Miller, who was supposed to get the night off.

After the first period, Ruff pressed the right buttons because Buffalo stormed back in the second to score the next three goals, by Tim Connolly, Clarke MacArthur and Steve Montador. Miller slammed the door on the Ducks until Troy Bodie scored off a giveaway with 4:07 left in regulation for a 5-3 Anaheim lead.

Jochen Hecht's goal in the final minute for the Sabres made things interesting but Buffalo could not tie the score. Of Hiller's 41 saves, 16 came in the third. The loss was Buffalo's first in regulation since Dec. 23.

Stars of the night
--Jeff Carter scored two unassisted goals and added one assist to lead Philadelphia past visiting Columbus, 5-3. R.J. Umberger scored twice for the BJs. Some Flyers fans mistakenly thought Umberger scored the third Columbus goal and in a surprisingly classy move, threw hats onto the ice for the former Philadelphia player.
--Jose Theodore stopped 44 shots and Washington mounted a late comeback to defeat Detroit, 3-2. Nicklas Backstrom scored a power play goal to tie the game at 2-2 with 6:45 to play (with an assist going to Theodore) and Dave Steckel scored the eventual winner just 46 seconds later.
--Ilya Kovalchuk had two goals and an assist and Ondrej Pavelec made 37 saves for Atlanta in a 4-3 win over Toronto, which got two goals in 32 seconds from Alexei Ponikarovsky.
--Here's the who's-who of Ottawa's 4-1 win over Chicago: Brian Elliot (29 saves), Peter Regin (a goal and assist) and Chris Neil (two assists). The Blackhawks out-shot the Senators, 30-18, but goals from Zack Smith and Ryan Shannon, along with a late power play goal by Mike Fisher, gave Ottawa the win. Marian Hossa had a shorthanded goal for Chicago.
--Sidney Crosby tied a career-high with six points on two goals and four assists and Evgeni Malkin's hat trick paced Pittsburgh's 6-4 win over the Islanders. The Penguins scored four power play goals. They had only four power play goals total in their seven previous games. It was also the first time Crosby and Malkin each scored multiple goals in the same game.
--Responding to Crosby's performance, Patrick Marleau had two goals to break the short-lived tie with Crosby atop the NHL goals leaderboard, giving him 34, and Dan Boyle had a goal and two assists in San Jose's 5-1 rout over Los Angeles. Ryane Clowe also had two goals and Evgeni Nabokov made 36 saves for the Sharks, who reclaimed the overall NHL lead.

Stat of the night
8 - Shorthanded goals by Chicago, a league-best

Quote of the night
"The only thing we did, was the bus was on time to get to this game. The bus driver was the best thing we had."
Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet. He's almost in the Ron Wilson/Pat Quinn zone for quotes.

Notable games
Wednesday, Jan. 20 (3 games)
Ugh. None really. Florida (21-20-8) at New Jersey (32-14-1) I guess, 7 p.m. ET. Should be a good goaltending affair between Tomas Vokoun and Martin Brodeur, though last time I said that, Phoenix beat the Devils 4-3. So what do I know?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

NHL Recap 1-18-10: Seriously, welcome back; Isles surging

The NHL decided to mimic the NFL playoffs. Lot of blowouts. Five of 10 games decided by at least four goals.

Think Ottawa missed its captain?
So, welcome back Alfie. Not to mention a slumping star.

Daniel Alfredsson scored a natural hat trick in his second game back from a shoulder injury, following up his three-point (one goal) performance from Saturday, to lead Ottawa to a 5-1 rout at Boston. Under the new math, that's six points in two games.

The Senators have won three straight games now and scored nine goals in the two Alfredsson appeared in. Additionally, Mike Fisher's engagement slump might be over, as his three helpers in Monday's game give him six points in his last three games. Prior to that, it took Fisher 16 games to record six points.

Alexei Kovalev opened the game's scoring for the Senators followed by the next three from Alfredsson, the last being on the power play and coming against Tuukka Rask, who replaced Tim Thomas after the latter allowed three goals. Daniel Paille gave Boston a small glimmer with his sixth goal before Jonathan Cheechoo's fifth goal, thanks to a snafu by Dennis Wideman and referee Dan O'Rourke, ended the comeback hope.

Filip Kuba had two assists and Brian Elliott made 22 saves for the Senators.

Don't look now, but...
The New York Islanders would be in the playoffs if they started today. They have their own welcome back party and a nice surge to thank for that.

Rick DiPietro stopped 20 shots to earn his first shutout of the season, 15th of his career and first since Feb. 21, 2008 (1-0 over Tampa Bay), and Matt Moulson potted two goals to lead New York to a surprisingly easy upset of New Jersey, 4-0.

It is New York's fourth straight win, sixth in the last seven and ninth in the last 12.

Moulson and Mark Streit scored in the first 3:44 of the game for a quick 2-0 lead, and Josh Bailey and Moulson netted goals 2:23 apart late in the second period. The Islanders had a whopping 46-20 shot advantage, and the New Jersey telecast estimates the Devils really had only about four scoring chances.

I once labeled Bailey a role player in a recap and I don't think that was right. He's been a big part of the Islanders good run of play, with five goals and 13 points in his last nine games, and is part of New York's future.

The Devils, meanwhile, have lost three straight games and four of their last six, all in regulation. Martin Brodeur was pulled after two periods. He made 28 saves and was replaced by Yann Danis.

DiPietro failed to get an assist again though. Come on, Ricky. Help out the team.

Stars of the night
--Steve Downie is rapidly becoming a hockey player and not just a goon. His 11th goal broke a 2-2 tie and Tampa Bay defeated Carolina, 3-2.
--Jason Pominville scored twice and added an assist, Thomas Vanek registered three points including a goal the day after I called him out, and Buffalo annihilated Phoenix, 7-2. Ilya Bryzgalov was chased after giving up three goals, two fairly soft ones, on 13 shots. The Sabres are 8-0-3 in their last 11 and now tied for first in the East.
--Raffi Torres scored a pair of goals and Columbus doubled up St. Louis, 4-2.
--Tomas Vokoun got into the shutout act again, stopping 27 shots, and Gregory Campbell scored the only goal in Florida's 1-0 win over Atlanta.
--Alexei Ponikarovsky had a goal and assist and Toronto overcame blowing a 3-0 lead to knock off Nashville, 4-3, on Phil Kessel's goal with 5:48 left in regulation.
--Brad Richards had three assists, Loui Eriksson scored his 20th goal and Dallas held off another third-period charge from Minnesota, 4-3. Antti Miettinen had two goals and an assist.
--Matt Duchene had two goals and an assist, John-Michael Liles had three points (one goal), Wojtek Wolski had three assists and Kyle Cumiskey scored twice in support of Craig Anderson, who stopped 24 shots for Colorado in a 6-0 rout of Edmonton. The Oilers have lost, get this, eight straight games and 15 of their last 16, and all but one of those losses were in regulation. Edmonton has earned three points in its last 16 games. Holy monkeys.
--Joe Pavelski had a goal and three assists and Dany Heatley scored twice as San Jose ripped Calgary a new one, 9-1. The funny thing is Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau combined for a whopping two assists (one each).

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"I won't be flashing my teeth, because I think they just got kicked in."

Stat of the night
33 - Consecutive appearances by Martin Brodeur. Guy needs a rest, doesn't he?

Quote of the night
"Good effort? Yeah, but without goals, you get no points. So what's the difference?"
Thrashers captain Ilya Kovalchuk, talking about Atlanta registering 14 shots on goal in the third period after getting just 13 in the first two periods

Bonus quote
"It's very humbling to see what happened. When you get beat this bad you better realize it's a wakeup call."
Calgary coach Brent Sutter

Notable games
Tuesday, Jan. 19 (8 games)
-Detroit (24-16-8) at Washington (30-12-6), 7 p.m. ET. Can anyone stop the Capitals? Especially in Washington, where they're 16-3-3?

-Chicago (34-11-4) at Ottawa (25-21-4), 7:30. Can anyone stop the Blackhawks, especially on the road, where they're 13-6-3?

Monday, January 18, 2010

NHL Recap 1-17-10: Rangers score, Rangers score; Ducks stars pwn Flames

Little Internet jargon for you there in the headline. Anyway.

Rangers right winger leads rout
You're probably thinking Marian Gaborik when I talk about a Rangers winger who can score. But no. Well, OK, he had some points too, but the player I'm referring to is American Olympian Ryan Callahan.

Callahan's four-point night ignited a 6-2 New York victory over Montreal as Jaroslav Halak makes me look bad, giving up all six the day I said he's been giving the Canadiens a better chance to win than Carey Price. Jerk.

Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta scored to give Montreal a 2-0 lead before the first of Callahan's two goals got New York on the board. Brandon Dubinsky scored the next two goals, one shorthanded on a setup by Callahan before Callahan's second gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead.

Then Gaborik scored his first goal in six games, his 29th of the season. He also had two assists. Callahan capped off his night by setting up Chris Drury for a goal to close things out. Dubinsky also had an assist for a three-point night for New York. Henrik Lundqvist needed to make just 18 saves. Halak finished with 28, playing the whole game.

The six New York goals were one more than the Rangers had scored in their five previous games and five more than they'd scored in their previous three, when they went 0-2-1 with two shutouts against.

Back and forth and a do-si-do
Opponents better start bringing their boxing gloves when they play the Ducks. A whirlwind game saw all kinds of action when Calgary headed to the Honda Center.

In the end, it was Anaheim stars Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan who came through, each scoring a goal in the third period to give Anaheim a comeback, fall-from-ahead, comeback victory, 5-4 over the Flames.

Olli Jokinen staked Calgary to a 1-0 lead with his 10th goal before Anaheim scored the next three. In addition to Dan Sexton's eighth goal in limited action, noted scorers Evgeny Artyukhin (his third) and Troy Bodie (his first career goal) bested Flames backup Curtis McElhinny.

A goal late in the first from Jamie Lundmark gave the Flames new life, and they scored twice in the second to take a 4-3 lead on goals by Mark Giordano and Curtis Glencross. Three of Calgary's goals came on breakaways.

Prior to that though were fisticuffs and goonism. There were two fights in the first period, between Sheldon Brookbank and Brandon Prust, then Kyle Chipchura and Eric Nystrom. In between those, Ryan and Jokinen misbehaved and received 10-minute misconduct penalties.

Tempers cooled after the first, and when the third period rolled around, Perry tied the game up at four before Ryan's 21st goal put Anaheim ahead to stay. Jonas Hiller made 33 saves, 19 in the third period.

In other action
--Patrick Sharp had a goal in regulation and the winner in the shootout to lead Chicago past Detroit, 4-3. Troy Brouwer had a goal and assist and Patrick Kane also scored for the Blackhawks, who got 35 saves from Antti freaking Niemi. Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg each had a goal and assist and Pavel Datsyuk posted two helpers plus a nifty shootout goal for Detroit.
--Brooks Laich had two goals and an assist, Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal on a penalty shot, and Washington took it to Philadelphia, 5-3. A goal with under 20 seconds remaining by Danny Briere made the final score look closer than the game probably was. Ray Emery didn't fare so well in his first game back for the Flyers.

Stat of the night
2,000 - Career shots on goal for Ovechkin, the fastest player to reach 2,000 since it became a statistic in 1967. He's done it in 4 1/2 seasons when no one else had done it in fewer than six. He has 249 goals. The 2,000th was his penalty shot goal, the first time he's scored on a penalty shot in six attempts.

Quote of the night
"I got traded. It wasn't like I wanted to go. ... I loved my time here."
Canadiens center Scott Gomez, traded from the Rangers to Montreal in the offseason, who was booed every time he touched the puck. Maybe the Rangers fans simply didn't like Gomez's time there as much as he did.

Notable games
Monday, Jan. 18 (10 games)
-Buffalo (29-11-6) at Phoenix (28-16-5), 7 p.m. ET. Ryan Miller v. Ilya Bryzgalov.

-Minnesota (24-22-3) at Dallas (20-17-11), 8 p.m., Versus. New v. old.

-Calgary (26-17-6) at San Jose (31-10-8), 10 p.m. Jarome Iglina v. the tag team of Evgeni Nabokov and an eight-game goalless streak.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thoughts from around the league


--Not that Buffalo isn't a dangerous team already, but the Sabres might be on top the NHL standings if they were getting any production from $7 million man Thomas Vanek. He has 12 goals, 14 assists in 41 games and is on pace for his lowest goal total of his career, which started with 25, 43, 36, and 40 goals by year.

--Are the 2009-10 Capitals like the 2008-09 Penguins? It took that Pittsburgh team a couple trips to the postseason before figuring out how to bring the Stanley Cup home, and right now, the Capitals are getting scoring from everyone in the lineup and looking like a tremendous force to be reckoned with. One day I expect to see their goalies scoring goals.

--I would like to change places with Mike Fisher. His personal and team slump be damned.

--The clock is ticking on Ilya Kovalchuk's new contract with the Thrashers. The question is when does it strike midnight and Atlanta general manager Don Waddell determine he'll have to trade his star, who has said he will not sign a long-term contract if he's traded? It doesn't seem to look good that Kovalchuk will be back in Atlanta except as a member of the opposition. I saw one potential trade rumor of Boston offering Blake Wheeler, Tuukka Rask and a first-round pick.

Seems somewhat decent, though that would spell the end of Kari Lehtonen, whose time might be done anyway, and I doubt Waddell would want to pull the plug on the Lehtonen or Ondrej Pavelec experiments at this point. I'd look for another skater if I were him.

--If Alex Ovechkin somehow ended up as a member of the Penguins, he would be infected with the disease that has pervaded this hockey city for years that causes players to forgo open shots and instead decide to make an extra pass. His shots total would be reduced by 90 percent.

--Does Montreal still want to trade Jaroslav Halak or should they consider moving Carey Price? They keep playing Halak over Price and Halak keeps playing better. Maybe his playing time is just to increase his trade value, but shouldn't the Habs also be playing for themselves? They're ninth in the East right now, tied in points (50) with the No. 8 Islanders. Halak has been giving them a better chance to win these days.

--While we're on the subject of two-headed goalies, we'll jump to the West and ponder what Nashville will do with Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne. That's almost a full-on 50-50 split, with one goalie starting a game then the other getting the next assignment, regardless of whether Goalie A won his game or not. They're both unrestricted free agents-to-be. Should the Predators move one of them to bolster their front line? Nashville is fourth in the West but have the third-fewest goals of the current eight playoff teams. (But more than Calgary; who would've thought that?)

--Speaking of not scoring, Brad Boyes looks like he's becoming the next Jonathan Cheechoo, the one-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner who has fewer goals (four) than teammates Chris Phillips (five) and Chris Neil (six), two players known for defense and goonery, respectively. Cheechoo is also a minus-10, tied for second-worst on Ottawa, and has just 12 points.

But back to Boyes. He never peaked as high as Cheechoo's 56 goals, but did have 43 two seasons ago. He dropped to 33 last season and has just nine in 47 games this season. The good news for St. Louis, and what's keeping Boyes out of the same conversation as Cheechoo for now is Boyes does lead the team in points. The bad news is it's only 31, thanks to 22 assists. But he needs to score goals.

At least he's not alone on his team. David Backes has been a bit of a disappointment in the goals department, Paul Kariya has not recovered aptly from his injury, and Patrik Berglund has been the biggest letdown so far. Pretty much no one on St. Louis is playing up to expectations, except goalies Chris Mason and Ty Conklin. Little surprise the Blues are 12th right now.

--Chicago is good.

--Carolina is not. Hard to figure out why too. It's mostly the same team that reached the conference final a year ago. The biggest loss was Dennis Seidenberg. Some injuries certainly have been a factor (Erik Cole, Joe Corvo, Cam Ward) but they were bad with these guys in the lineup too. Chad LaRose is their biggest disappointment (19 goals in 08-09; one this season.)

--Pittsburgh might be suffering from its Stanley Cup hangover now. The long seasons the past couple years seem to be catching up to the Penguins, who too often get off to bad starts. They used to be able to snap themselves out of it, and sometimes still can, like in Edmonton Thursday. But there have been too many defensive breakdowns, not enough secondary scoring and they decide to start playing too late in a game to come back.

--One thing that's impressed me most about Minnesota is the no-quit factor. It seems every time I'm monitoring scores and I see the Wild down by multiple goals in the third period, a few minutes later it's suddenly a one- or two-goal game. Their six wins when trailing after two periods leads the league and their 50 third-period goals are tied for sixth. Now OK, the pessimist might say that's because they get off to bad starts, but I know one thing I root for in my teams is to fight to the end and not roll over.

I don't know if that's also in part because teams haven't yet realized Jacques Lemaire isn't coaching any more and the Wild can score in bunches or what, but few leads seem safe with Minnesota. Phoenix, a tight defensive team, learned that Saturday but survived.

--Edmonton, like Carolina, is bad. The Oilers are suddenly in the running for the No. 1 overall pick. Dustin Penner has all but disappeared over the last month after a terrific start. The Oilers were 6-2-1 at one point. They're 10-24-4 since. I don't even know how it happened. The Ales Hemsky injury was very bad, as were injuries and subpar seasons by certain defensemen (Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky.) The goaltending has been spotty and inconsistent, but no one can score on this team.

Hard to believe the Oilers were in the Stanley Cup Final as recently as 2006. Though a quick look back reveals they were eighth in the conference that season, a fact I'd forgotten, so maybe it's not that big a surprise.

--I wonder if the Justin Williams injury for Los Angeles is getting much play out there. That might be an underrated injury. Williams, Ryan Smyth and Anze Kopitar formed a really awesome line, the one that had Kopitar briefly atop the NHL scoring lead. It's been a struggle since for both Kopitar and Smyth, and the Kings have dropped to eighth in the West. Smyth has just four goals (no assists) since returning from an injury on Dec. 26.

--And finally, I'm willing to bet the Stanley Cup playoffs are going to be a hell of a lot more exciting than these boring NFL playoff games, of which six of the first seven games were blowouts. Ugh. What a dull NFL postseason.

Dear Habs Fans (re: the trade)

Thank you.

You're welcome.

As of right now, I can't imagine either party is too bummed about this deal.

Pouliot 11 GP 6-1-7
Latendresse 24 GP 13-6-19

And I suppose it's possible that both players regress to the kind of play that got them in hot water before.

To wit:

Pouliot with Minnesota this season: 14 GP 2-2-4
Latendresse with Montreal this season: 23 GP 2-1-3

But, and if I have to say this, we're not going to shove twenty cameras in Gui's face every time he goes two games without a goal.

Not that you shouldn't do that to Benoit. By all means, scrutinize every hair on both of his testicles. That's what makes you Montreal.

But, let's just chalk this one up to mutual benefit, eh?


NHL Recap 1-16-10: More Wings controversy; DiPietro gets first win

Maybe there is a conspiracy
Another day, another bad call for Detroit.

For those who missed it, the Stars' Steve Ott's shootout goal in round six seemed to be stopped by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard just before it slid over the goal line. The referee closest to the play ruled no-goal. To my understanding, he was overruled by the other on-ice officials and a video replay confirmed what the other officials said. Either that, or a video review overturned the original call of no goal despite the replays not seeming to be conclusive.

Regardless, the goal counted, and Patrick Eaves failed to score on his chance and Dallas won the game, 3-2, overcoming an early 2-0 deficit. Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson scored for the Stars, who got 26 saves from Alex Auld.

Brian Rafalski and Todd Bertuzzi had Detroit's regulation goals.

Worth the wait
It took a while, in more ways than one, but the improbable has happened: Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro has returned to the "Win" column.

DiPietro, making his first home appearance in over a year, stopped 31 shots and Patrick Kaleta in the eighth round of the shootout to lead New York past Buffalo, 3-2. It was the former Team USA goalie's first victory since Dec. 26, 2008, when he made 28 saves to defeat Toronto, 4-1.

John Tavares and Sean Bergenheim staked DiPietro to a 2-0 lead before Mike Grier and Drew Stafford countered for the Sabres. For Tavares, it was his first goal since Dec. 23 and just his second since Dec. 9.

Trent Hunter was one of three Islanders to score in the shootout. His was the deciding tally.

The bad news? DiPietro's three-game assists streak, spread out over three calendar years, was snapped. For shame, Ricky. For. SHAME.

Stars of the night
--Jonathan Toews scored two power play goals in the third period and added an assist, Patrick Kane posted three helpers and Chicago squeaked by Columbus, 6-5. Rick Nash scored twice, breaking an 11-game goalless streak, and Kristian Huselius had a goal and two assists for the BJs.
--Craig Anderson made 37 saves and Colorado knocked off New Jersey, 3-1.
--Dustin Brown scored once in regulation and again in the shootout to lead Los Angeles to a 4-3 comeback victory over Boston. The Kings trailed 3-1 going into the third before goals by Brown and Anze Kopitar, who also scored in the shootout.
--Devin Setoguchi found the back of the net twice, Patrick Marleau did so for the 32nd time, and San Jose doubled up Edmonton, 4-2.
--Daniel Alfredsson had a goal and two assists in his return to the lineup to carry Ottawa past Montreal, 4-2. Benoit Pouliot scored his eighth for Montreal.
--Tomas Vokoun made 47 saves, Cory Stillman scored twice with an assist and Rostislav Olesz also had two goals for Florida in a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay.
--Ilya Kovalchuk scored a tiebreaking goal less than a minute after that tie was forced, and also had one assist, and Atlanta recovered to defeat Carolina, 5-3, and spoiling Jussi Jokinen's two-goal, three-point night.
--Roman Polak had a goal and assist to help St. Louis earn another home win, this one a 4-1 victory over the Rangers.
--Ed Jovanovski's four assists and Petr Prucha's two goals carried Phoenix past Minnesota, 6-4, despite Guillaume Latrendresse's first career hat trick.
--NHL scoring leader Henrik Sedin had a goal and two assists for Vancouver in a 6-2 walloping of Pittsburgh, which was forced to turn to junior goalie Alexander Pechurski, who was signed to a one-day amateur tryout contract, doesn't speak a word of English and whose name might be Pechursky. That's how unknown this guy is. He's 19 years old and was the backup because of injuries to regular goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson, and was put into the game after third-stringer John Curry was hung out to dry and was the victim of some weird bounces.

Pechurski, who played in a WHL game Friday, was even named the third star after making 12 saves and allowing one goal which he was helpless on. He wore Fleury's pads during the game because his junior pads don't meet NHL criteria ("No, it wasn't comfortable," he said through a translator) and had a generic, all-white mask that had several Penguins decals on it.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"... if you play with a little bit of fear you are really in trouble."

Stat of the night
7 - Losses when leading after two periods for Columbus

Quote of the night
"I was trying not to cry on the ice. That's the one thing I told myself. I wouldn't cry. It's an emotional time for me. It's been a long time coming, been a rough road. Just to get the win was amazing."

Notable games
Sunday, Jan. 17 (4 games)
-Chicago (33-11-4) at Detroit (24-16-7), 12:30 p.m. ET.

-Philadelphia (23-20-3) at Washington (29-12-6), 3 p.m.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NHL Recap 1-15-10: Leafs fall hard; Ellis blanks Flames

Back to earth
Well, that Vesa Toskala immortality lasted long, didn't it?

Fresh off a 38-save shutout of Philadelphia, Toskala was no match for Washington, giving up six goals on just 24 shots in a 6-1 Capitals rout of Toronto. Alex Ovechkin led the charge, to say the least, with a five-point effort, including his 29th goal and a career-high four assists.

Mike Knuble scored twice, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green each had two assists, and Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr and Tom Poti also scored for the Caps. Jose Theodore made 28 saves.

Tomas Kaberle, on the power play, had Toronto's lone goal.

Here to stay
Nashville seems to have no intent on fading from contender status.

Patric Hornqvist scored the only goal of the game with 6:22 remaining in regulation and the Predators marched into Calgary and shut down the Flames, 1-0, behind 22 saves from Dan Ellis. Nashville sits fourth in the Western Conference and has won seven of its last eight after a three-game sweep of western Canada. The goal was Hornqvist's team-high 19th.

Miikka Kiprusoff made 20 saves for Calgary.

Stat of the night
230 - Hornqvist's draft position, last overall, by Nashville in 2005

Quote of the night
"They scored on just about every chance they had."
Toronto coach Ron Wilson

Notable games
Saturday, Jan. 16 (12 games)
-New Jersey (32-12-1) at Colorado (26-15-6), 3 p.m. ET.

-Boston (23-16-7) at Los Angeles (26-18-3), 4 p.m.

-Minnesota (24-21-3) at Phoenix (27-16-5), 8 p.m.

-Pittsburgh (30-18-1) at Vancouver (27-18-2), 10 p.m.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What To Do About Zidlicky?

There's a subset of Wild fans that formed an opinion about Martin Skoula, back when he was tripping over goal lines and losing the team games, that is simply unable to give up the ghost to this day. And I suppose that's their prerogative. Nevermind Skoula had a very solid (if unspectacular) season for the Wild last year, once a bum always a bum to these fans. Okay, so it's not quite Bucky Bleepin' Dent Red Sox Fan Crazy Patheticness yet. But, still, it's a little pathetic and a little unnecessary......

.....especially since there's a new candidate for fan crazy-inducing play: Marek Zidlicky.

After coming over from Nashville, Zidlicky teamed with M-A Bergeron last season to provide the Wild a scoring threat from the blue line (particularly on the power play) the likes of which they really hadn't had before.

Brent Burns is a pretty good threat from the blue line to the dots, but he's been suffering through an identity and injury ravaged last season and a half. Kim Johnsson should and does get some power play time but only recently (coughcontractyearcough) has he shown any consistent finishing tendencies at all - which is different from saying he's been finishing consistently. Kurtis Foster was a power play specialist by default if nothing else because he frankly wasn't that good at anything else (and, frankly, his main "speciality" was putting the fear of god into the people sitting behind the net about 6-10 rows from the ice when his shot went high.) But those are pretty much the highlights of the Wild's blue line offense history.

And, to be honest, I don't recall a surfeit of Zidlicky brain cramps last season. Nothing, at least, like this season.

Zidlicky has been producing Skoula-like (circa 07-08) defensive brain cramps with near-stunning regularity this season. At first it could have been chalked up to his, like everyone else on the team that was a hold-over from the Lemaire days, having to learn how to re-calibrate "risk-reward" in Coach Richards' new system. But, uh, that should have happened by now. And it has....with most of the rest of the team.

So I started researching this post with the idea that my meta-statement would focus around why the Wild doesn't need to re-sign Marek Zidlicky beyond this season (he's slated to be an UFA on 7/1.)

Here's the problem, though: the numbers don't lie.

For all his defensive, um, adventures, Zidlicky is still only a -2 on the season. And he is definitely used in critical situations. His 4-25-29 is good enough for 12th-best in the entire NHL, and there are only 7 (seven) defensemen with more assists than his 25 right now.

Zids isn't just scoring on the PP, either. In fact he has as many power play goals this season as Brent Burns does (2.) That could be one of the reasons his +/- isn't worse, but if he's scoring at even strength more than he's giving up....

So, it's hard to make a case that Zidlicky's defensive shortcomings outweigh his offensive contributions. You want a comparison? Zids is the 12th-highest scoring defenseman in the league right now. Kim Johnsson ranks 96th. Zids costs the Wild about $1.5M less than Johnsson (cap hit) this season. Now, I have no interest in stoking the "Johnsson is overpaid and adds nothing" fire here. I think those arguments are indicative of someone who doesn't know the game very well. I'm just saying, on a relative AND absolute basis, Zidlicky's value to the team is real.