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.

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