Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hold your head up


Silver isn't really that bad a color. Hey, it's what the Stanley Cup is.

The United States had a hell of an Olympic tournament. Everyone and their mother had Canada and Russia pegged for the gold medal game. Finland, the 2006 silver medalist, had its supporters as a medal contender. Slovakia, with a number of talented NHL players, was labeled a sleeper pick.

And I haven't even mentioned Sweden, the 2006 gold medalist, which had literally oodles of elite talent.

That didn't leave much room for the Americans on the podium. And here they are, regretting that they won only silver medals. Not too shabby.

Of course, some countries, in some sports (read: Canada in hockey) look at it not as winning silver but losing gold. For the youngest team in the Olympics, a team facing long odds, reaching not just the medal round but the gold medal game is a tremendous accomplishment. It ended in disappointment, but Team USA should be proud of how they played and what they were able to do. I know I am.

Ryan Miller was sensational. Buffalo fans should be thrilled with that. If not for a mental lapse by Erik Johnson that led to Canada's first goal, the teams might still be playing. (Well, not really, since they end games with shootouts, but you know what I mean.)

Although the rematch favored Canada, let's not retroactively underscore the Americans' win over Canada in the preliminary round. Some people might say, "Big deal, they couldn't beat them when it counted." But the victory gave the USA the top seed in the playoff round and let them avoid teams like Canada, Russia and Sweden in the first two rounds.

If the Americans don't earn that preliminary round win, maybe they don't win a medal of any color.

After losing that game, Canada seemed to be on a mission and romped through its next two opponents, reestablishing itself as the favorite. The United States made the Canadians work for every inch in the gold medal game.

Losing in overtime is a moral victory, but a silver medal isn't a bad consolation prize for a team not many people talked about before the tournament. So, excellent job, Team USA, and congratulations on a fantastic tournament.

A congratulations also to Canada, and a shout-out to the fans for the warm reception for Miller as he received his silver medal. Very classy.

Both the USA and Canada had disappointing tournaments in 2006. Both found redemption in Vancouver. The gold meant everything to the Canadians, but the silver should also be seen as a big step for the Americans.

Hopefully Team USA makes the next leap in 2014 and brings back the gold.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Golden questions


Some questions to consider, and potentially to worry about, ahead of the USA-Canada rematch for Olympic gold:

--Does Ryan Miller have another Jim Craig performance in him?

--Is Canada better prepared after having to fend off a determined Slovakia team, compared to the United States having a cakewalk in the semifinals?

--Is Sidney Crosby saving his breakout Olympic performance for the last game? (He has six points, one off the team lead, but it seems he's been a little quiet.)

--Who do the Americans put their top defensive players against: Crosby's unit, the San Jose line, or the Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry line, which might be Canada's best? (Or at least the hottest.)

--Did Patrick Kane wake up just in time?

--How will Roberto Luongo handle the pressure of playing in the biggest game of his life, not just in Canada but in his NHL home?

--Will Canada decline any power plays it gets? Oh wait, that would've been a question for Russia. Never mind. (Belarus had a better power play than Russia. Not even the Belorussian mothers would've thought that.)

--Will American viewers have to suffer through Pierre McGuire on NBC or will he be off with TSN or some other Canadian network?

--If a US player scores in the third period to snap a tied score, does he celebrate like Mike Eruzione did in 1980?

--If he does, do the hockey gods punish him by letting Canada score twice in 30 seconds?

There are others, like who will be the hero, who will be the goat, etc., but that's enough to chew on for now. Enjoy the game.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Women's hockey: Stay or go?


In the wake of Canada's 2-0 victory over the United States to win its third straight Olympic gold medal in women's hockey, the head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has put the sport on notice: Get better soon, or there will be no more gold medals.

According to this ESPN article, Rogge has given the sport eight years to improve or risk removal from the Olympics.

It's hard to blame him.

The disparity is so great between the North American teams and everyone else that I'm fairly sure even a non-hockey fan would notice it. Games involving the United States and Canada I mostly skipped, except for the gold medal game and bits and pieces of the USA games. There was just nothing entertaining about watching the powerhouses rout the have-nots. It'd be like watching the Capitals play a small high school team.

It's a good thing the IIHF doesn't allow body checking in women's hockey. The gap would be even wider. The gold medal game was thoroughly entertaining and immensely physical ("for a girl"), and I can only guess that if checking were allowed, Canada and the USA would win games by 30 when they played other opponents.

The IOC removed softball from the Olympics because the USA dominated. I thought the gap was closing in that sport but must admit to not knowing for certain. But if they're going to remove softball, they might as well get rid of women's hockey. Discounting the gold medal game, Canada and the USA combined to out-score their opponents 86-4 in four games each. A seemingly fluke victory by Sweden over the USA in the 2006 Olympic semifinals prevented the North American countries from meeting in every significant final in the sport's history.

I watched a handful of the other women's games. It was, well, not easy to watch. (I'm trying to be diplomatic here.) My heart went out to the players. I know they're trying their best and giving it their all. They just don't have it. Not yet, anyway.

China won the seventh-place game and it was obvious they had one good player, captain Sun Rui. So it was heartwarming to see them finish their tournament on a good note. And as that ESPN article I linked to above says, China has all of 67 girls (out of 200 million) in the country who play hockey. Not 67 million or even 67,000, as IIHF president Rene Fasel said, but 67.

So while it makes complete sense to remove the sport, here's hoping the IOC doesn't. Men's hockey is one of the biggest draws to the Olympics and there's little reason to think women's hockey can't become one as well. It is going to take time and a lot of work though. By removing the game, that's also going to eliminate exposure and a dream for all the young girls who currently have hopes of playing in the Olympics. That will kill the sport further.

I'm sure the USA and Canada can't be too thrilled with the state of the sport. You don't get better by beating teams 18-1. It's awful for the sport to see scores like that. Because it leads to posts like this and worse ones. (I'm at least saying give it a chance.)

For instance, let's see what the growth will be like in Finland. Winner of the bronze medal game against Sweden - which I thought was a fairly quality game - the Finns have 3,500 registered female hockey players. That's compared to 85,000 in Canada and nearly 60,000 in the USA. Finland has a second bronze medal in its cupboard now. I don't know how many of the current players watched the 1998 team win bronze and say, "I hope that's me one day" but I'm willing to bet more than a few thought that.

I'm rooting for China too. I hope they find more players willing to play. The Chinese beat Slovakia to finish seventh, and hopefully they can use that as a springboard.

Maybe that's what the IOC is thinking. There are plenty of critics who say get rid of it now. But Rogge's comments suggest that he's willing to give the sport time to level the playing field. Hopefully some day we'll get Slovakia against Finland in the gold medal game, and China-Russia in the bronze game.

As things currently stand, there's only one game worth watching. If the other countries are unable to create a competitive balance, then the sport, I'm sorry to say, doesn't belong in the Olympic Games.

Unless it's a seven-game series between Canada and the USA with body checking allowed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympic rumblings


Now that we're into the semifinals of the Olympic hockey competition, some thoughts:

--Russia wasn't nearly the powerhouse everyone thought it was. (Easy to say that now, huh?) Sure, the Russians had phenomenal talents up top, but no depth. The NHL > KHL. And when those elite talents didn't show up, the team was lost. Russia was great in destroying hapless Latvia, but not too impressive otherwise. There seemed to be little to no chemistry.

--Brian Burke and Ron Wilson wish they could manage and coach Team USA all the time rather than run the Maple Leafs.

--The IIHF cares more about protecting its players than the NHL does. Witness Joni Pitkanen's major penalty, game misconduct and automatic one-game suspension after elbowing Sweden's Patric Hornqvist in the head. In the NHL, he probably gets nothing but a minor penalty, if that.

--Having said that, I'm pulling a 180 by saying the IIHF has some cheesy rules. If you lose your helmet, you have to retrieve it or leave the ice immediately. Imagine how Pavel Kubina feels, after he abandoned his defensive position to retrieve his lost lid (or abandon it to go to the bench per rule) only to have Finland score the first goal in their quarterfinal game seconds later by taking advantage of the vacated area.

--I sort of think the crease violation rule is a little iffy too, but at least the IIHF tries to protect the goalies. Nothing wrong with that I guess.

--Torn on no-touch icing. It'd cut down on potential injuries, but I've seen a number of plays recently where an offensive player would've gotten to the puck to cancel the icing and potentially lead to a scoring chance, but he never got the opportunity. Other than the injury limitation (which is good, don't get me wrong) I don't really see much of a benefit. But I wouldn't object to a switch. Not going to lobby for it either at the present time.

--Why couldn't the Czech Republic score goals? Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, David Krejci, Martin Havlat, Tomas Kaberle, Tomas Plekanec, Tomas Fleischmann just to name a few... the Czechs had some quality NHL-level talent but couldn't put it together. They scored 10 goals in three preliminary round games, half coming against Latvia, the tournament's worst team, and needed overtime to beat that Latvia team later in a qualifying game. I like Milan Michalek, but he probably shouldn't be your best forward with names like those above.

--The scary thing about Canada's rout of Russia is we didn't hear a whole lot from Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton or Jarome Iginla. Seven goals and that trio combined for a single assist.

--The Rick Nash legend grows. He, along with Shea Weber, was credited for shutting down Alex Ovechkin. Nash was already a stellar offensive talent, but apparently he can defend too. NHL teams take note: To shut down Ovechkin, make sure you get Nash and Weber on your team.

--Hell of a tournament from Switzerland. A team with a handful of NHL players, albeit good ones in Jonas Hiller and Mark Streit, and the Swiss put forth excellent outings in two games against the United States and a near-upset of Canada. Not a team to be trifled with. I sort of got a Miracle on Ice vibe from them, a team that wasn't as talented as others but got great goaltending and tremendous workmanlike efforts to hang with the big boys. They just didn't get their miracle.

--Doc Emrick is the best announcer ever. He should just be locked up in a booth somewhere and be forced to announce every hockey game. I think he'd be on board with the idea. It has to be better than watching the Devils play 30 times a season.

--Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury on the same set. Really? That's who you want analyzing Olympic hockey? A guy who once said the fans can kiss his ass and a knucklehead who went into the stands to fight fans once? Were Bob Probert and Dave Schultz unavailable? Roenick was a very good player and often provided colorful quotes, but he and Milbury are cut a little too much from the same cloth. I guess we count our blessings that Brian Engblom isn't involved.

--Three more games and the NHL can breathe a sigh of relief if no significant injuries occur. To an NHL-salaried player, anyway.

--Olympic hockey is fun.

--Now that I think about it, putting Probert and Schultz in the same rant with Milbury is probably insulting to Bob and Dave, so sorry guys. I take it back.

--How desirable is a USA-Canada rematch in the gold medal game?

--Not too much for Americans, I bet. Should that happen, what are the odds Ryan Miller pulls off a repeat performance? Then the Canadians can brag and say, "Ha, nice win a couple games ago when it didn't mean anything."

--I saw this note somewhere: Only twice has the host country won gold in men's ice hockey: 1960 and 1980.

With that, I bid you adieu. Until next time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Brian Burke Suffers No Fools

I'm a Brian Burke fan. Not because he has ties to Minnesota. But because he's awesome. His no BS, straight-talking, "bring it on" personality epitomizes hockey to me. You get the feeling that every one of his players knows where he stands in Burke's mind at all times - and I have to think that resonates with them.

I can't begin to understand the challenges of going through the adversity he's had to go through recently, and yet he's managed to at least compartmentalize all that and arrive on the scene in Vancouver as pugnacious, truculent and belligerent as ever.

Oh, and he just might have put together a medal-worthy hockey team, too.

You get the sense that playing the underdog is not Burke's ideal scenario. That he'd rather lead with his chin. But that's not to say he's not damn good at it. Like this quote from the great Scott Morrison's blog two days ago:

"We've had a strong military element in our preparation from the start," said Burke. "Who said it was necessary?

"It's part of what we do. We are very proud of the military in our country and it's part of what we do.

"The real heroes in America don't wear hockey uniforms. They wear police uniforms, they wear camo, they wear fire uniforms and we want our players to understand that what we do is small potatoes compared to what those people do."

Go ahead and entertain in your mind what he's saying by omission in this quote.

I know. It blew my mind, too.

If nothing else, only Brian Burke could make Ryan Kesler worthy of cheering-for by Wild fans.

Yep, I'm a Brian Burke fan, alright.

Good on ya, lad.

Slainte mhath.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Surging Senators


Who woke up the Ottawa Senators?

Ottawa enters the Olympic break as probably the hottest team in the league, given Washington's stumble the last week. The Senators have won 14 out of their last 16 games and have vaulted past a slumping Buffalo team for first place in the Northeast Division. They went into the break scoring three goals in the third period to turn a two-goal deficit into a 4-3 victory over the Islanders.

Their success is not that big a surprise, either.

Once Cory Clouston took over the head coaching job from Craig Hartsburg last Feb. 1, Ottawa became a different team. Rather than be in contention for a top-five selection in the 2009 draft, Ottawa made a spirited run at making the playoffs before the last couple weeks of the season derailed things, and the Senators finished 10 points out of the No. 8 position.

Despite the disappointing end, the Senators really turned their season around and played significantly better. At the time of the coaching change, Ottawa was 13th in the East and a good bet to finish lower. The Senators finished 11th.

Before Dany Heatley's demand to be traded, there were expectations that this year would be different and the Senators would begin and end the season in postseason positioning. General manager Bryan Murray traded Antoine Vermette to Columbus for goalie Pascal Leclaire, who was second in the NHL in 2007-08 with nine shutouts. If Leclaire stayed healthy, Ottawa would be in good shape. He hasn't, but Brian Elliott has been there to carry the team, much like he did last season.

Then the Heatley trade happened, and part of the return for one of the game's premiere goal scorers was Jonathan Cheechoo, at the time a bad acquisition and even worse now that he's been so awful he's been demoted to the AHL. Getting Milan Michalek, who is tied for the team lead with 20 goals despite missing a few games with an injury, helped soften the blow. For a fair return, both players had to contribute in the 20 to 25 goal range. Michalek's delivering. Cheechoo hasn't and probably won't.

The one player who seemed to miss Heatley the most was Jason Spezza. He was so good in the early going that he had all of one goal before Thanksgiving. But now he's learned how to play without Heatley, and he's been nothing short of scorching since the middle of December.

In Spezza's last 13 games, he's scored 12 goals, failing to score just twice, with four power play goals and three game-winners. He'd suffered an injury that kept him out from Dec. 16 to Jan. 21, but since his return, Ottawa is 9-2.

Alexei Kovalev has woken up. After formerly being in the running for worst free agent signing after registering just seven goals and 22 points in 38 games, Kovalev is on a torrid pace in 2010. In 22 games since the calendar turned, Kovalev has 25 points, including 10 goals.

At age 37, Daniel Alfredsson continues to get it done, with 49 points in 52 games. Mike Fisher has bounced back from a down season and is on pace for a career year. He's tied with Michalek for 20 goals, three away from a personal best, and has 44 points, four off his peak achieved in 2006-07. Fisher has been one of the most consistent Senators, apart from a brief slump after he became engaged to Carrie Underwood.

The stars have gotten hot at the same time, but Ottawa is also getting valuable contributions from role players. Guys like Peter Regin, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu. One more goal from Regin gives each of those three players 10 goals.

Defensemen Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov continue to make life miserable on opposing forwards. Just ask Washington, after Volchenkov blocked an incredible 11 shots. He's fifth in the league in that category.

About the only thing not working for Ottawa is its power play, which ranks just 27th in the league. The penalty killing is ninth-best. If that power play gets on track, Ottawa will be even more deadly.

The scary thing is, with the possible exception of Elliott, I don't think anyone on the Senators is playing over his head. I think this is more the norm and what fans and management expected out of their team. They struggled when Spezza and Alfredsson were injured at the same time, but they're making up for lost time.

One other weakness is scoring from the blue line. It's Filip Kuba and that's about it, despite some surprising contributions from Phillips.

Still, the Senators are a really dangerous team, and while they probably can't continue this pace, they're not a team someone will want to deal with in a seven-game series.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

NHL Recap 2-14-10: Roberto Goalongo; Getzlaf just fine

Scoring for Minnesota
After a couple lackluster performances at home, Minnesota took full advantage of a team playing its eighth straight road game. Literally.

The Wild survived an initial surge by Vancouver then made the Canucks pay a harsh price for a series of undisciplined plays in stomping their division rival, 6-2, and chasing Bob Luongo.

Kyle Brodziak had a goal and two assists, was one of six different goal scorers and 10 different players who registered points for the Wild, who went a nifty 4-for-7 on the power play. Brodziak's goal was sandwiched in between power play tallies by Guillaume "Thank God I'm out of Canada" Latendresse and Marek Zidlicky. Minnesota out-shot the visitors 17-2 in the second period.

Mason Raymond spoiled Niklas Backstrom's bid for a shutout early in the third, but the drama was wiped away quickly when Andrew Brunette and Cal Clutterbuck struck less than a minute apart. Late in the game, new acquisition Cam Barker scored on, guess what, the man-advantage after Mikael Samuelsson had scored for the Canucks.

Backstrom finished with 27 saves. Brunette, Clutterbuck and Zidlicky each added an assist and Mikko Koivu tallied two helpers.

Danrik Sedin did play in the game, contrary to reports. In fact, Henry was busy losing 19 out of 21 faceoffs. Holy crap.

We won't be needing you, Jeff, but thanks
I don't know if Philadelphia center Jeff Carter made it out to Vancouver by the time this gets posted, but I think he'll be on his way back east. 'Cause, well, Ryan Getzlaf seems just fine for the Olympics.

Getzlaf potted a pair of goals and set up two others as Anaheim destroyed Edmonton, 7-3, out-shooting the hosts 46-29 and earning eleven - that's 11 - power plays.

Oilers goalie Jeff Deslauriers did his best to hold the fort in the first period, making 17 saves, but the Ducks still led 2-1. Anaheim was up by only a goal after two periods at 3-2 before Edmonton's wheels came off in the third. Both of Getzlaf's goals, each on the power play, and a goal off the skate of Lubomir Visnovsky credited to George Parros pushed the lead to three. Visnovsky had scored before the second Getzlaf marker.

Bobby Ryan closed the scoring with a power play goal late in the contest. Saku Koivu, Corey Perry and Scott Niedermayer also scored for the Ducks. Jonas Hiller made 26 saves.

In other action
--Erik Christensen scored a pair of goals and added an assist to lead the Rangers past Tampa Bay, 5-2. During the game, someone proposed to his girlfriend on the scoreboard screen, only to have her not just reject him but also flee the scene of the crime. That's the highlight of the game if you ask me.

Some questions before we continue though: Does the proposer call the team/arena and set up the on-camera question? Are they willing participants in this garbage? If so, why? What does the rejected guy do the rest of the game, just sit there crying into his beer(s) or does he leave? How awkward is the next meeting between guy and girl? Should you feel sorry for him or call him a dope for doing such a dumb thing? And how did this crap start with proposals on the Jumbotron? Can we stop it? Anyway, back to the recap.

--Martin Erat's first goal in two weeks and shootout clincher helped Nashville down Pittsburgh, 4-3. Sidney Crosby scored his 42nd goal. Two highlights from this one. First, national and local writers tried to start a scare in Canada by saying Crosby was hurt blocking a shot, even though he didn't miss a shift. Second was the crowd reaction when Team USA defenseman Brooks Orpik scored his first goal in 112 games. The fans started a "U-S-A, U-S-A!" chant. Frickin' awesome.

--Alexei Kovalev had a goal and two assists in the third period and Ottawa roared back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Islanders, 4-3.
--Patrick Sharp had a goal and assist and Troy Brouwer scored in round four of the shootout to lead Chicago past Columbus, 5-4.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
None, because the AP didn't bother talking to him. If I feel like it (I won't), I'll check Edmonton papers later. I'll assume they'll talk to the Oilers head coach.

Stat of the night
31 - Assists for Zidlicky, a Wild franchise record for defensemen. Feel free to leave "But look at how he plays defense!" comments.

Quote of the night
"I thought it was huge to get this win -- especially against a powerhouse like Pittsburgh."
Predators defenseman Shea Weber, who scored his team's third goal of the game. I'm glad someone thinks the Penguins are a powerhouse, because I sure as hell don't.

So that's it. No NHL action until March. Not sure yet what the content of this blog will be during that time, though I'm sure we'll be touching on the Olympic hockey in some form. Might do some on other events too. I'm frickin pumped for the curling, I dunno about any of you.

That is if NBC actually shows other events and not just fluff pieces on the 87th best skier from Kenya.

NHL Recap 2-13-10: Sabres rebound; Briere powers Flyers to sweep

Miller, Sabres down Nabokov, Sharks
Buffalo and goaltender Ryan Miller needed a pick-me-up before the Olympic break. A six-game losing streak will do that to a team. The Sabres got what they needed against a top-notch opponent.

Miller stopped 27 shots and Buffalo enjoyed a three-goal second period en route to a 3-1 win over San Jose in the last game for both teams before the two-week holiday.

Paul Gaustad broke the scoreless deadlock for Buffalo, which then killed off two penalties in quick succession. Not long after the second one, Thomas Vanek provided an insurance goal. Late in the second period, Jason Pominville staked the Sabres to a 3-0 lead.

Miller, serenaded with "USA, USA" chants as time expired, allowed only Kent Huskins goal in the third period. Evgeni Nabokov made 25 saves but saw his NHL record 11-game road winning streak end.

Three from Briere helps Flyers sweep home-and-home
Philadelphia shouldn't get too comfortable in its playoff positioning just yet, but taking two games on back-to-back nights against another team on the bubble certainly feels good.

Daniel Briere broke a six-game goal scoring slump by netting a hat trick, Jeff Carter scored in his fourth straight game, and Philadelphia rolled over Montreal, 6-2.

For the second straight night, the Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the Canadiens. This time after Montreal scored its first goal, by Brian Gionta, Philadelphia countered by netting the next two. Both were backbreakers. The first was a shorthanded goal by Blair Betts, followed by Briere's second of the game with six seconds left in the second period.

Scott Gomez got one back for Montreal but Briere iced the game with nine minutes left by converting a penalty shot for his hat trick. Mike Richards also scored for Philadelphia, which got 26 saves from Michael Leighton.

In other action
--Richard Park scored two goals, including the winner late in regulation, and the Islanders edged Tampa Bay, 5-4.
--Jimmy Howard made 29 saves and Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and assist as Detroit earned a crucial win, 4-1 over the red-hot Senators.
--Ray Whitney and Jussi Jokinen each had a pair of goals and an assist and Carolina smoked New Jersey, 5-2, for its fifth straight win. The Devils are 2-3-1 since acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk.
--Jarome Iginla's two goals led Calgary to a 3-1 victory over Anaheim.

In the shootout
--Boston's Mark Recchi tied the game in the third period then won it in the eighth round as the Bruins earned their fourth straight win, 3-2 over Florida. Tuukka Rask, making his sixth straight start, stopped 26 shots.
--Chris Mason fended off 31 shots and made some nice saves in the tiebreaker and St. Louis upset Washington, 4-3. David Perron scored the winner in the fourth round. The Capitals have lost three straight since winning 14 in a row.
--Patrick Sharp had a goal and two assists and Jonathan Toews scored the only shootout goal necessary for Chicago to outlast Atlanta, 5-4. In his debut with Chicago, Kim Johnsson scored a goal on five shots, logged 19:24 of ice time and was named the game's Third Star.

Clean sheets
--What, me worry? Marty Turco made 40 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and Brandon Segal scored a goal and assist for Dallas in a 3-0 victory over Phoenix.
--Jonathan Quick made 22 saves to out-duel Craig Anderson and Los Angeles blanked Colorado, 3-0. Jack Johnson had two assists after traveling back from Vancouver for the Olympics opening ceremonies. He flew to Bellingham, Wash., then drove the rest of the way to LA. He's the first American-born NHLer to march in the opening ceremony.

Stat of the night
35 - Quick tied a franchise-record, and leads the NHL, with 35 wins. Mario Lessard won 35 in the 1980-81 season.

Quote of the night
"We are very disappointed. We gave Richard Park three shots in a 4-4 game and he doesn't get touched. Three shots. It's tough to take."
Lightning forward Martin St. Louis. Sounds harsh against Park, but true. Park had three cracks after a wrap-around attempt on his game-winner. The third snuck in the far post and had to be reviewed before it was determined it went in the net.

Notable games
Sunday, Feb. 14 (6 games)
Last day before the Olympic break gives us Nashville (32-23-5) at Pittsburgh (36-22-3), 1 p.m. ET, two teams who aren't doing too well right now, and a grudge match in Vancouver (37-21-2) at Minnesota (29-27-4), 3 p.m., where the Canucks had some recent problems on the road but seem to have fixed them, and the Wild who surprisingly struggled at home the last couple of games.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fletcher Delivering

When he came to Minnesota, new GM Chuck Fletcher started talking about building the team for the future pretty much immediately. You would have had to excuse Wild fans if they rolled their eyes and said a big, collective "Yeah, right. I'll believe it when I see it." Wild fans, you see, had been burned by that promise by their previous GM time and time again.

Pavlov's dogs, and all that.

Since then, however, Mr. Fletcher has done nothing but deliver on his own mandate. Not only that, but we're not talking about Chris Simon here. Getting Havlat was a loud and immediate shot across Wild fans' bow that a new boss was in charge. Okay, so Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ebbett and Guillaume Latendresse aren't going to make anyone forget about the KLM line any time soon.

But the point is that Fletcher A) did something with an eye on improving the team and B) did something when most GMs were unable to get a deal done.

And he's done so while protecting what precious few assets he has in the cupboard.

But, when you build a house, sometimes you have to make a little mess. And Nick Leddy is that mess, for now. You never like to give up a 1st round pick, but it really couldn't have been any other way. Johnsson is a UFA after this season. Pretty much no way Chicago can re-sign him in their current economics. So of course they wanted a prospect back. First, prospects don't have cap hits. And second, then they can still net out with some kind of asset if/when they let Johnsson walk on July 1st.

In Barker, the Wild gets younger and out from under the yoke of Johnsson's UFA status. They also get a little lighter, cap-wise, in general (assuming Johnsson wouldn't have re-signed for materially less money than he's making now.) They replace a 1st rounder (Leddy) with a former 1st rounder (Barker) and one that can help them right now, but is still a few years from his prime.


Whether or not this is the end of Fletcher's dealing in advance of the trade deadline on March 3rd remains to be seen.

But this was a good, sound move - for now and the future - in which Fletcher had to make a hard decision about giving up a guy he drafted, and did. Risebrough's reticence to part ways with one of "his" guys (read Sheppard) was well-known and (deservedly) much maligned among Wild fans.

Nice to see that Fletcher is delivering on his word, and doing so with the audacity and cunning that Wild fans have been longing for from their GM for years.


NHL Recap 2-12-10: Ilya's first; Duchene's brace

Kovalchuk's first spurs curious celebration
So we get Capitals fans showering the ice after a shootout goal is someone's "third" of the game. Now we get Devils fans littering the ice for someone's first goal, period. I know it's exciting to have someone like Ilya Kovalchuk, but really...

Kovalchuk scored his first goal in five games as a Devil, prompting the New Jersey fans to toss hats onto the ice, to snap a 2-2 tie and New Jersey downed Nashville, 5-2. Kovalchuk also had an assist.

Jamie Langenbrunner scored into an empty net and posted two assists, and Patrik Elias, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac each had a goal and one assist. Martin Brodeur made 19 saves.

Rookie lifts Avs past Coyotes
Unlike John Tavares, Matt Duchene appears to have hurdled his rookie wall.

The 2009 third overall pick scored two goals, including the go-ahead tally with 4:16 to play, and Colorado edged Phoenix, 2-1, in a matchup of two of the better teams in the Western Conference.

In an 11-game stretch in late October through mid-November, Duchene tallied just one point, a goal, and had Avalanche fans labeling him a bust. Now he leads NHL rookies with 20 goals and has 15 points in his last 15 games. Overall, he has 42 points, which also leads all first-year players (by nine over Tavares.)

Craig Anderson made 33 saves for the Avs.

In other action
--Jeff Carter scored two goals and Philadelphia edged Montreal, 3-2.
--Andrew Raycroft made 32 saves in relief of Bob Luongo and Vancouver got by Columbus, 4-3. Steve Mason did not sell me on reacquiring him in a fantasy league.
--Olli Jokinen's overtime goal and assist in regulation got the Rangers past Pittsburgh, 3-2. Sidney Crosby had both Penguins goals to give him 41, a career high.
--Chris Mason's 30 stops gave St. Louis a 4-0 blanking of Toronto.
--Johan Hedberg made 36 saves and Niclas Bergfors broke a 2-2 tie to give Atlanta a 3-2 win over Minnesota.

Stat of the night
2:38 - Time it took from the start of the Vancouver-Columbus game for three goals to be scored. Rick Nash scored 22 seconds in for CBJ, Nolan Baumgartner countered for the Canucks at 2:08 with his first goal in four years, then Jared Boll put the Blue Jackets back ahead 30 seconds later.

Quote of the night
"That isn't the hat trick for him? Am I missing something?"
One of the linesmen in the New Jersey game, as said to Langenbrunner, when the hats came down for Kovalchuk; I don't know which one.

Notable games
Saturday, Feb. 13 (11 games)
-San Jose (40-12-9) at Buffalo (32-18-9), 7 p.m. ET. This would've been an even better game two weeks ago, but the Sabres have lost six straight games. How funny would it be if they snap that streak against the No. 1 team in the West?

-Philadelphia (31-25-3) at Montreal (29-27-6), 7 p.m. So nice, they're playing it twice. Still a critical standings game.

-Anaheim (29-24-7) at Calgary (29-23-9), 10 p.m. Also a big game in the standings.

-Colorado (35-19-6) at Los Angeles (36-20-4), 10:30 p.m. The winner creeps closer to overtaking Phoenix for fourth in the West.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wild acquire Barker, ship Johnsson

Minnesota made a splash on mini-deadline day when GM Chuck Fletcher shipped defenseman Kim Johnsson and 2009 first round draft pick Nick Leddy to Chicago in exchange for defenseman Cam Barker.

Johnsson, 33, was set to become an unrestricted free agent, while Leddy is a freshman at the University of Minnesota. According to Michael Russo, Wild sources were concerned about Leddy's lack of development so far at the college level.

Barker, 23, was made expendable in Chicago with the emergence of Niklas Hjalmarsson. After a breakout 2008-09 season in which Barker recorded six goals and 34 assists and showed an ability to run the power play, he's seen his ice time dwindle to fifth among Blackhawks defensemen, at just 13:05 per game.

Conversely, Johnsson averages over 10 minutes more per game, at 23:46. He's on the ice for 31 shifts per game, whereas Barker averaged just under 19 shifts. Their point totals are the same, with 14 each. Johnsson has more goals (six to four.)

Presumably, Barker steps into Johnsson's role in Minnesota. I'd expect him to be on the second power play unit and play much more than he did in Chicago as they try to jumpstart him to return to the player he was becoming last season. He certainly showed the capability of being a top-four D-man.

From Chicago's perspective, it'll be interesting to see how they use Johnsson. As alluded to above, Barker was essentially Joel Quenneville's No. 5 defenseman, behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Hjalmarsson. The Blackhawks may put Johnsson on their third pairing to help Brent Sopel and get more experience throughout their defense corps. Or maybe they exchange Johnsson and Hjalmarsson on the second pairing so as to not give the youngster too much to do as he learns the trade. At the least, this frees up some desperately needed cap space for future seasons, but the Hawks need more to do on that front.

As for Leddy, well, a prospect is a prospect. Flip a coin and that's probably just as accurate a way to determine his future as anything.

Barker is signed for the next two seasons with a cap hit of $3.083 million.

I'd say this is a win-win. Minnesota gets younger, cheaper, plus a player with more upside, and Chicago gets a veteran for the playoffs and a contract off its books.

NHL Recap 2-11-10: Change at the top; Nabokov stymies Wings

Ottawa survives another Caps trick
Until Sunday, the league's highest scoring offense didn't have a player with a hat trick. Now, Washington can't win when one player does get three goals.

Alexander Semin became the third Capital in as many games to record a hat trick, but it wasn't enough as Ottawa held on for a 6-5 victory over Washington. Coupled with Buffalo's overtime loss to Carolina, the Senators took possession of first place in the Northeast Division and third in the East. They have won 13 of their last 14 games.

Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek had a goal and two assists each, Filip Kuba posted three assists, and Anton Volchenkov deserved his No. 1 star after he was credited with an astounding 11 blocked shots. Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Neil, Chris Phillips and Alexei Kovalev also scored for the Senators, who got 19 saves from Brian Elliott.

Tomas Fleischmann and Jeff Schultz scored for the Capitals, who got hat tricks from Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich in their previous two games. Semin also had an assist and Mike Green notched two assists.

Sharks manage to beat Wings
Offense has been hard to come by all season for Detroit. On Thursday, it wasn't because the Red Wings didn't try.

Evgeni Nabokov made a career-high 50 saves, plus three in the shootout, and San Jose earned its first win in four tries this season over Detroit, 3-2. Patrick Marleau, in the bottom of the third round, recorded the only shootout goal.

Jason Williams earned a point for the Red Wings when he scored with seven minutes left in the third period to tie the score at 2-2. Earlier, Johan Franzen gave Detroit a 1-0 lead with his first goal since returning from an injury, only to see it canceled out 25 seconds later by Joe Thornton's goal. Dwight Helminen also scored for the Sharks.

--Michael Ryder had two goals and an assist, Milan Lucic scored twice and Boston hung on for a 5-4 win over Tampa Bay. The Bruins led 5-0 before two goals by Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie made things interesting.
--Bob Luongo's 31 saves led Vancouver to a 3-0 win over Florida, which is really reeling right now. In the Panthers' current five-game losing streak, they have scored four goals (two shutouts). They haven't scored more than two goals in a game since Jan. 16 and have 13 goals over their last 12 games. They hit six posts against Vancouver. Florida also managed to get a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty when it had a 5-on-3 power play.
--Mike Ribeiro had two nifty goals and an assist (but not a Three Stars selection) and Marty Turco made 33 saves for Dallas, which earned a key 3-1 win at Calgary.

Working late
--Brandon Sutter picked up a loose puck after Buffalo defenseman Steve Montador fell behind his own net, backhanded a no-look pass to the slot, and Sergei Samsonov fired home a one-timer to give Carolina a 4-3 overtime win over the Sabres. The assist capped off a three-point (one goal) night for Sutter.

--Jeff Deslauriers fought off 41 shots in regulation and overtime and stopped six shooters, many with poke checks, and Edmonton bounced back from blowing a 2-0 lead to defeat Los Angeles, 3-2 in a shootout, to snap an 11-game road losing streak. The Kings led three times in the shootout. Deslauriers did not get a star though. Dustin Brown had a goal and assist for LA.

Rant of the night
(Special feature tonight, because this is good from Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.)

"It was an ugly display. I thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible. You're not going to win when you give up six goals and maybe five of them are bad ones and our 'D' can't make a play. It's awful.

I don't think (Semyon Varlamov) was ready to play. He knew he was going to play. He's had 12 days of practice and a game under his belt. It's his responsibility to be ready. When you say, he's rusty, it's an excuse. And excuses aren't tolerated. The puck's going through his legs? He's been making that save since he was seven years old. Unless his memory banks have lost it.

He should have made the saves. But the giveaways by our defensemen were more horrible than the goaltending, and I didn't think the goaltending was good."

(Varlamov made his first start in a while, and gave up some shaky goals, including Kovalev's winner. I especially liked that "memory banks" quote.)

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"Wins have been hard to come by this year so it was nice to happen."

Stat of the night
11 - Spezza has 11 goals in 11 games. ... Lightning forward Steven Stamkos has an 11-game points streak. He has 11 assists in that time. (And eight goals.)

Quote of the night
"We had some good chemistry, but just a week too early."
Stars forward Brenden Morrow, who inadvertently knocked a loose puck off the stick of Jarome Iginla into his own net for Calgary's only goal. The two will be teammates for Canada at the Olympics.

Notable games
Friday, Feb. 12 (7 games)
-Montreal (29-26-6) at Philadelphia (30-25-3), 6 p.m. ET. Six? This game starts at six? WTF? Anyway, these teams are six and seven in the East and need points.

-Phoenix (37-19-5) at Colorado (34-19-6), 9 p.m. The Avalanche are back in sixth after Vancouver's win. The Coyotes are feeling a little heat from the Kings in fourth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

NHL Recap 2-10-10: Steve Mason is such a tease; Habs end Caps' streak

Sophomore Steve shuts out San Jose
I hung with Steve Mason on my fantasy team for a long time before finally pulling the plug. Then he got a shutout but I wasn't buying it. He went back to sucking. Now he gets another shutout. I'm still not buying it. He's burned me too often. I'm sorry, Steve. It's not you, it's me. Actually no, it's you. Maybe next year you'll have changed enough.

Anyway, Mason stopped 40 freaking shots and Columbus blanked the West's best team, San Jose, 3-0. It's actually Steve-o's second straight shutout. (So OK, one more and maybe I'm back on board.)

Antoine Vermette scored an empty net goal and had an assist, Kristian Huselius made a nice pass to set up a nifty Rick Nash goal, and Jakub Voracek also scored for the Blue Jackets, who are eight points out of a playoff spot and with a lot of teams between them and No. 8 Calgary.

Maybe they should have waited?
So there was a column in a Washington newspaper today. ESPN's Pardon The Interruption, which rarely talks about hockey, had the Capitals as the lead. The topic was the same: Will the Olympic break ruin Washington's record winning streak?

The answer: No. Montreal will ruin Washington's record winning streak before we even get to the Olympics.

Despite blowing a 5-2 lead going into the third period, the Canadiens knocked off the Capitals on Tomas Plekanec's second goal of the game with eight seconds left in overtime for a 6-5 win. Washington's win streak ends at 14.

Mike Green's power play goal three seconds into a power play started the comeback at 5-3, then Brooks Laich scored his second and third goals of the game to tie the score at 5-5. His hat trick goal came with 18 seconds remaining with Jose Theodore pulled for an extra attacker. Nicklas Backstrom also scored.

Tom Pyatt and Scott Gomez had a goal and assist each - Pyatt's first of his career - and Sergei Kostitsyn posted three helpers. Glen Metropolit and Maxim Lapierre also scored for Montreal, which got 33 saves from Carey Price.

In other action
--Dan Ellis stopped 37 shots and Nashville edged the Rangers, 2-1.
--Chris Kunitz scored a pair of goals and Pittsburgh outlasted the Islanders, 3-1.
--Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata posted a goal and assist each and Phoenix held off Minnesota, 3-2.
--Bobby Ryan scored twice and Todd Marchant's deflection gave Anaheim a 3-2 win over Edmonton. Ethan Moreau scored a shorthanded goal and set up another for the Oilers.

Working late
--In a thoroughly exciting game that had a combined 38 shots on goal, the 38th shot ended it as Simon Gagne scored in overtime to give Philadelphia a 3-2 win over New Jersey. It was the Flyers' second-straight win by that score over the Devils after trailing 2-0. The goal was Gagne's first since Jan. 12 and just his second of 2010. Which is weird because he had a hat trick on Dec. 30 to close 2009.
--Kyle Cumiskey needed all of nine seconds to give Colorado a 4-3 overtime win over Atlanta. The Avalanche trailed 3-1 early in the third but roared back for the victory and reclaiming first place in the Northwest Division. Paul Stastny had three assists for the Avs. Niclas Bergfors scored a goal and assist for the Thrashers.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"It sure looks like we've made some steps. But back in November and December, we were saying the same things. If we keep getting the chances, maybe we'll get the confidence to start putting some in."

Stat of the night
29 of 32 - Either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby has figured in on 29 of the Penguins' last 32 goals. Malkin had a goal and assist Wednesday.

Quote of the night
"Gags had a heck of a shift and scored a really big goal for us."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette talking about Gagne. Um, is it really a good idea to nickname a player "Gags"? All kinds of badness associated with that. Maybe the second G is silent like in his normal name and it's Gas? Wait, that's still bad.

Notable games
Thursday, Feb. 11 (7 games)
-Washington (41-12-7) at Ottawa (34-22-4), 7 p.m. ET. The Capitals try to start a new streak against the Senators, the second-hottest team in the NHL.

-San Jose (39-12-9) at Detroit (27-21-11), 7:30 p.m. The Sharks also look to rebound after a disappointing road loss, while desperation has to start sinking in soon for the Red Wings, who are still outside of the playoff picture looking in.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NHL Recap 2-9-10: Awards night

We're back, baby! With a special recap.

The "BOSTON HAS WON TWO IN A ROW" of the night
Jack Edwards didn't say anything particularly special, he was just really loud and excited over Boston's new two-game winning streak. Congrats, Bruins. You guys rock. (I know, after losing 10 straight, winning two in a row is a nice change.)

Anyway, Tukkka Rask made 43 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in a shootout and Boston knocked off Buffalo, 3-2. David Krejci scored in round four for the winner and former Sabre Daniel Paille scored twice, or as Edwards said, put the dagger in the cadaver that is Buffalo right now. The Sabres are 0-4-1 in their last five, falling into a tie for first place in the Northeast Division with Ottawa.

The "Dammit, where was this three months ago?" of the night
I suppose Carolina's out of the playoff picture realistically, but the Hurricanes probably aren't a team you want to play right now.

Or maybe their recent opponents just suck. Anyway, Matt Cullen had a goal and two assists and Carolina defeated Florida, 4-1, for its third straight win and seventh in the last nine games. The team most excited for Carolina's winning ways is Boston, because Toronto has dipped back to the second-fewest points in the league. The Bruins are closer to getting a lottery pick they'll trade in a few years because they won't want to pay him.

Joni Pitkanen had a goal and assist and Manny Legace stopped all of 19 shots for the win.

The "Good things come to those who wait" of the night
I doubt even Islanders third-string goaltender Martin Biron remembers the last time he played a game. For the record, it was Dec. 27. But who's counting? By the way, I just quadruple-checked that to make sure it was right. It is.

Biron stopped 24 shots and three in the four-round shootout, and the Islanders stormed back to stun the Predators, 4-3. New York scored a power play goal by Mark Streit with 12 seconds remaining to tie the score at 3-3. All New York's goals were scored by defensemen; the others were Freddy Meyer and Bruno Gervais, their second goal each of the season. John Tavares had the shootout winner.

The "How's that signing working out for ya?" of the night
Yeah, Jay Bouwmeester? Not doing so well.

Ottawa's second goal against Calgary came off a Bouwmeester turnover. Then Bouwmeester took a holding penalty in the final two minutes with Calgary losing by one, and the Flames ended up losing by that one, 3-2 to Ottawa. Yes, this is a disgruntled Bouwmeester fantasy owner speaking.

Jason Spezza scored the winning goal and also had an assist. Brian Elliott made 27 saves. Calgary's top line at least seems to be building chemistry. Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman each had a goal and assist and Jarome Iginla posted two helpers.

The "Life is different on the road, isn't it?" of the night
So, Vancouver. They were pretty good, right? Leading the division, scoring bunches of goals... now the Canucks are on the road.

Antero Niittymaki made 39 saves, Martin St. Louis had two goals and an assist and Tampa Bay knocked off Vancouver, 3-1, handing the Canucks their third loss in their last four games, all away from British Columbia. Vancouver has scored just six goals in that time. In their defense, the Canucks did score five against the powerful Maple Leafs in Toronto.

Steven Stamkos had a goal and assist for the Lightning. Danrik Sedin has no points in three straight games and has just one assist in the last four. So much for that scoring title for Henry.

The "Defense? Pfft, who needs defense?" of the night
It's not an NHL season high but it's not far off.

Detroit and St. Louis combined for 87 shots on goal, yet not a greater number for either team went into the net through overtime. In the end, Chris Mason and his 39 saves helped guide the Blues to a 4-3 shootout win over Detroit, which overcame a 3-1 deficit in the final six minutes.

Paul Kariya scored twice, David Backes posted two helpers, and Brad Boyes scored the deciding shootout goal. David Perron and Andy McDonald also scored for St. Louis.

The "Holy crap, how many shootouts were there?" of the night
The answer is four of the seven games played. Three of them featured teams around the Wild in the standings.

The last one of the night was the longest. It ended when Chicago's Kris Versteeg was the only player for either team to score, in round five, and the Blackhawks defeated Dallas, 4-3.

Patrick Kane had two goals, Patrick Sharp two assists and Troy Brouwer also scored for Chicago. Antti freaking Niemi made 24 saves.

James Neal scored one goal with two assists, Mike Ribeiro scored a goal in his first game back from a scary throat injury, and Loui Eriksson also scored for Dallas. Marty Turco, whose future with the team was sealed when the Stars traded for Kari Lehtonen, made 37 saves.

Stat of the night
7 - Points (two goals) for No. 1 pick John Tavares in his last 28 games

Quote of the night
"He's definitely earning his keep."
Tampa coach Rick Tocchet, talking about Niittymaki, who is 7-0-1 in his last eight starts. He's given up just nine goals in that time. That's pretty good.

Notable games
Wednesday, Feb. 9 (8 games)
-Philadelphia (29-25-3) at New Jersey (36-20-2), 7 p.m. ET. I think these guys just played. But now they're in Jersey, baby. The first time these teams played in Newark this season, this happened. (Click the link; it's really worth reading, I guarantee it. If you're not satisfied with it, we'll provide a full refund.)

-Washington (41-12-6) at Montreal (28-26-6), 7:30 p.m. If the Canadiens start Carey Price, the Caps will score 12 goals. If Montreal goes with Jaroslav Halak, Washington will score nine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

NHL Recap 2-8-10: Stuff happened

Yeah. Toothaches suck. Pain meds rock. To the games.

--Chris Pronger had two assists and Philadelphia edged New Jersey, 3-2.
--The honeymoon is over as J-S Giguere gave up a goal, three in fact, and San Jose downed Toronto, 3-2, behind 32 saves by Evgeni Nabokov and two Devin Setoguchi assists.
--Chris Stewart had a goal and two assists and Brandon Yip tallied a pair for Colorado in a 5-2 romp of St. Louis.
--Matthew Lombardi enjoyed his first career five-point night, scoring a pair of goals, as Phoenix routed woeful Edmonton.
--Corey Perry scored once and set up two others and Jonas Hiller made 35 saves as Anaheim doubled up Los Angeles, 4-2.

That's all you get. I didn't even see a good Pat Quinn quote. I think the losses are starting to wear on him. There's no good games Tuesday either. I'm gonna go rest up now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oh, The Whomanity!

Okay, so it's only barely related to hockey, but about the only thing I've dedicated more man hours to than hockey is music. This does not make me an expert or anything (I mean, how much is an undergraduate degree in music worth in "expert" currency, anyway?) but let's just say I've tried to keep at least one eye on the industry through the years.

But it's time to ask: who the hell comes up with the bands they sign for the Super Bowl halftime show?

The roster is a motley crew (crue?) of odd, to be sure.

From the University of Arizona and Grambling State University Bands, ole Sugar Lips himself and the Anaheim High School Drill Team (1st) we've traipsed through the Carol Channings (yeah, you heard me), Ella Fitzgeralds (with the dulcet stylings of both Ms. Channing AND Sugar Lips, both in redux), Up With Peoples (twice), George Burnses, Mickey Rooneys, Chubby Checkers, something called Elvis Prestos (in 3-D, no less!), the Mighty CSUN Matador Walls of Sound, Olympic Figure Skaters Brian Boitanos and Dorothy Hamills (same year as "Go frosty, go frosty go! Yo frosty, yo frosty yo!" seriously, WTF?!), Michael Jacksons, Indiana Joneses (complete with Marion Ravenwoodses), Blues Brotherses, Chaka Khans, Savion Glovers (bring in da noise, bring in da football?), Phil Collinses, NKOTBs, Warren Moons, Edward James Olmoses, Ben Stillers, Adam Sandlers, Chris Rocks, 'N Syncs, R Kellys (good call, NFL), Nellys, Stings, JJs & JTs (oops?), Paul McCartneys (too late), Rolling Stoneses (too late), Princes (2 late), Tom Pettys (too late), Springsteens (baby we were born to run...or pass)....and, most recently, The Who.

Yeah, that's a long list of bizarre.

Now, I should get it out there that I think The Who has some of the most iconic RnR songs of all time. Certainly among the British Invasion set - the seminal importance to the current "popular" music genre of which really can't be debated.

Innovators, pioneers or just plain bad ass rockers, The Who could bring it like few other bands in history.

Past tense.

Waaaaaaaay past tense.

Regardless of whether or not it was live or previously recorded, that was one of the worst musical performances since, well since the Hope For Haiti disaster.*

If it was live then Daltrey's vocal, um, adventures might be explained away by illness or a staph infection, or vocal herpes or something. If it was previously recorded then there's no such excuse. I'm going with: His Voice Is Just Shot. And if your front man can't sing the high notes in your Who set, you've got problems. Now, on the other hand, if your front man can't sing the high notes - why not just change the key in which you're playing the damn song?! Surely a musical genius the likes of a Pete Townshend can figure out how to play down a couple keys.

Well, I suppose that assumes Pete's actually playing. By the end of their set, Pete wasn't even trying to pretend he needed to actually hit the strings when he was doing his patented arm windmill thing. Thankfully all of us at home were treated to an "up the shirt" shot of Pete's geriatric belly which may have either distracted people from that fact or caused them to avert their eyes lest their gag reflex completely kick in.

Perhaps the best explanation for Pete allowing himself to be on stage with Daltrey sounding like a dying goat is that Townshend's hearing loss has progressed to the point of oblivion (bliss?) - I mean, the man is both very intelligent and not necessarily a card carrying member of the Roger Daltrey Fan Club.

The connection between sports and music is pretty strong. And The Who has some of the best, most indentifiable rock songs of all time. But they looked like the winners of Retirement Home Idol, not an iconic rock band.

The stage was awesome. The band/music....not so much.


*The music in the Hope For Haiti show, with precious few exceptions, was atrocious. Between that, the SB halftime show and the upcoming We Are The World redux, are we seeing the supernova of musical talent in the music industry? Instead of artists we're going to get musicians who can be produced to sound "good" and dressed up to look the part on stage? Sure looks that way. Where have you gone, Paul Simon?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

NHL Recap 2-7-10: Ovie one-ups Sid; Bs end skid

NBC execs high-five each other
I guess people were entertained by the Pittsburgh-Washington game on NBC. I missed it. Was working. Glad I missed it.

Alex Ovechkin's hat trick and assist on the game-winner propelled Washington past Pittsburgh, 5-4 in overtime, for the Capitals' 14th straight win. Mike Knuble poked home an Ovechkin rebound on a power play for the winning margin. Eric Fehr also scored for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom posted two helpers.

Sidney Crosby's two goals tied a career-high with 39 and Jordan Staal also scored twice. Evgeni Malkin had two assists.

Backup ends Boston's streak
Maybe Boston caught Montreal at the right time. Maybe it was just time for the Bruins.

Either way, Tuukka Rask made 36 saves and the Bruins ended an 0-6-4 streak by blanking Montreal, 3-0. Marco Sturm scored twice and Patrice Bergeron assisted on both of the goals. Adam McQuaid netted his first career goal.

The Canadiens had won three straight, including wins over Vancouver and Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Stats of the night
0 - Clutch power play goals for Pittsburgh this season.
25 - Points lost by Pittsburgh because its power play can't score.

(Note: Stats may be inaccurate. The writer is not a happy hockey fan right now.)

Quote of the night
"If I sleep, it's going to be on the scoreboard right away so you try be as sharp as possible."
Rask. I have no idea what he's talking about. Maybe something like he has to always pay attention to the game or else risk giving up a goal?

Notable games
Monday, Feb. 8 (5 games)
-San Jose (38-11-9) at Toronto (19-29-11), 7 p.m. ET. Can Jean-Sebastien Giguere make it three straight shutouts?

-New Jersey (36-19-2) at Philadelphia (28-25-3), 7 p.m. Here's one battle.

-Los Angeles (36-19-3) at Anaheim (27-24-7), 10 p.m. Here's another.

Back to the Super Bowl.

NHL Recap 2-6-10: Ilya who?; Sens not Giggy with it

Who needs him?
With Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey is 1-1. Without Kovalchuk, Atlanta is 1-1. And Kovalchuk affected the end-game of both teams' recent contests.

Niclas Bergfors, one of the players traded for Kovalchuk, scored his first goal as a Thrasher with 4:26 left in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie in Atlanta's 4-2 win over Florida. Nik Antropov had three assists.

Heading up the coast to New York, Kovalchuk got tangled up with Sean Avery and both players received double minors for roughing. The Devils trailed by two at the time and there was just 2:15 left in regulation, so Kovalchuk wasn't on the ice for New Jersey's failed comeback attempt, and the Rangers knocked off the Devils, 3-1.

Henrik Lundqvist made 41 saves and Ryan Callahan had a goal and an assist.

Streaking Sens stopped hardcore
Ottawa's 11-game win streak had to end sometime. And it ended in historic fashion.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere became the first Toronto goalie to post shutouts in his first two games as a Maple Leaf, making 30 saves as Toronto stomped all over its Canadian friends, 5-0. Phil Kessel and Luke Schenn each picked up two goals and an assist.

Clean sheets
--Marty Turco made 34 saves, Jamie Benn scored twice and Dallas blanked Phoenix, 4-0. James Neal and Loui Eriksson each had a goal and assist.
--Buffalo's slide continues after Steve Mason's 28 saves led Columbus to a 4-0 win over the Sabres, who have lost four straight games in regulation. Jakub Voracek had three assists and Anton Stralman scored a goal and assist.
--Craig Anderson had little to do, needing to make just 20 saves in Colorado's 3-0 whitewash of Edmonton.

Working late
--Bob Luongo made 41 saves and Vancouver erased a 2-0 deficit to defeat Boston, 3-2 in a shootout, handing the Bruins their 10th straight loss. Pavol Demitra's first goal of the season tied the game late in regulation and he had the only goal in the tiebreaker.
--Andrej Meszaros snuck a shot through Miikka Kiprusoff early in overtime and Tampa defeated Calgary, 2-1.

In other action
--Brian Gionta's two goals and one assist powered Montreal past Pittsburgh, 5-3.
--Michal Handzus scored the game-winning goal with 2:21 left in the third, finishing with two goals and an assist, and Los Angeles erased a 3-0 first period deficit to stun Detroit, 4-3, for a club-record ninth straight win.
--Carolina goalie Justin Peters made 34 saves in his NHL debut and the Hurricanes downed the Islanders, 3-1.
--Antti freaking Niemi stopped 34 shots, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp had a goal and assist each and Chicago hung on to defeat St. Louis, 2-1.
--Dany Heatley's two goals and an assist helped San Jose edge Nashville, 4-3.
--Anton Khudobin stopped 38 shots in his first NHL start to earn his second win for Minnesota, who held off Philadelphia, 2-1.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"We compete well with some teams for a while then we disappear. As a coach you start thinking we should have 15, 16 more wins based on how we've played some nights, but we don't. That margin between winning and losing is eluding us right now. We find ways to lose, not ways to win."

That's all tonight. Internet's been flaky so signing off now.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

NHL Recap 2-5-10: Devils revenge, sorta; Dogs fend off Hawks

How do you like it?
Last time Toronto played New Jersey in Newark, the Maple Leafs scored twice in the final five minutes and forced overtime. Now, they ended up losing in the extra frame anyway, but they made the Devils work harder. This time it was Toronto who collapsed.

New Jersey scored three times in the final 3:04, including twice in the final 45 seconds, and stunned Toronto, 4-3 in regulation, in Ilya Kovalchuk's first game with his new team.

Kovalchuk played a factor. He had two assists, including helping set up Travis Zajac's goal with 44 seconds remaining to tie the score at 3-3. Just 25 seconds later, Jay Pandolfo slammed home a rebound to put New Jersey ahead. Toronto couldn't muster an attack after that.

Dean McAmmond and Dainius Zubrus also scored for the Devils, and Jamie Langenbrunner and Mike Mottau had two assists each. Martin Brodeur made 17 saves.

Tomas Kaberle, Lee Stempniak and Rickard Wallin scored for the Maple Leafs, who got two assists from Phil Kessel.

Can't spell "slump" without...OK, you can spell it without "LaBarbera"
The Blackhawks are slumping. How bad? When Jason LaBarbera beats them.

The Phoenix backup goalie made 28 saves in regulation and overtime, plus two more in the shootout, and the Coyotes upended the Blackhawks in Chicago, 2-1. Adrian Aucoin scored in the top of the third round and LaBarbera fended off Marian Hossa. Earlier, Robert Lang and Jonathan Toews exchanged goals in the first round.

Colin Fraser was the only other member for Chicago to beat LaBarbera, doing so early in the game. It was just his second goal of the season. Radim Vrbata scored his 18th on the power play in the second period to tie the score for Phoenix.

Chicago has lost three straight games to lower-caliber opponents and scored just five goals in that time.

--Michael Neuvirth's 43 saves and a goal and assist each from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom led Washington to a 5-2 win over Atlanta.
--Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal scored a goal and assist each in the third period and Carolina knocked off Buffalo, 4-3.
--Ales Kotalik scored his first goal as a Flame and Mark Giordano also scored in Calgary's 2-1 win over Florida. Miikka Kiprusoff needed to make just 12 saves but counterpart Tomas Vokoun made 38.

Stat of the night
115 - Career goals, 56 on the power play, for Adrian Aucoin, who was labeled a "stay-at-home" defenseman in the Associated Press recap. I'm as much a stay-at-home defenseman as Aucoin is. Dude scored 23 goals in one season once. I bet the Chicago writer is just venting some demons because Aucoin sucked in two partial seasons as a Blackhawk (minus-35 with 22 points in 92 games.)

Quote of the night
"It wasn't the third period, we just got manhandled. We had 13 shots, and I think six were by defensemen. We didn't win any puck battles. You'd think that when you've got some forwards that haven't scored in 14, 15, 16 games they might want to get their noses dirty and try and get one. We weren't interested in that tonight."
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer

Notable games
Saturday, Feb. 6 (14 games)
With 14 games, you'd think one would seem to be a good matchup. I guess Detroit (27-20-10) at Los Angeles (35-19-3), 4 p.m. ET, or Philadelphia (28-24-3) at Minnesota (28-25-4), 8 p.m.

Friday, February 5, 2010

NHL Recap 2-4-10: Kovalchuk traded, plus other stuff

Long day plus long night plus sicky body equals short recap.

First, as I broke on Twitter under the pseudonym Kevin Allen of USA Today (note: I am not actually Kevin Allen; he's the one who broke the news. I'm Kevin Inpa) Ilya Kovalchuk was traded from Atlanta along with Anssi Salmela to New Jersey for winger Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect/sucker punch elbow artist Patrice Cormier and a first round pick. Second round picks in 2010 swapped hands.

Bergfors made a splash on the NHL scene in the early going but has struggled mightily since then. He's still a bit of a mystery but potentially he's a top-six forward. Oduya is a steady defenseman who can chip in on offense now and then, but we'll see how he does going from Lou Lamiorello's trap to the trap of Atlanta. Cormier... well, I personally wouldn't have wanted to bring him into my organization, but we'll see down the road if he can return to playing hockey.

It's not a great return but it could've been worse. Like Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and Angelo Esposito...

On the ice
--Jaroslav Halak made 45 saves and three more in a shootout and Montreal beat Boston, 3-2.
--Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and four assists and Washington won a barn-burner, 6-5 over the Rangers.
--Steve Mason's 22 saves were enough to lead Columbus over Dallas, 2-1.
--Brian Elliott made 29 saves, Daniel Alfredsson had three assists and Ottawa beat Vancouver, 3-1.
--Steven Stamkos scored twice and added an assist to lead Tampa Bay past the Islanders, 5-2.
--Thomas Greiss made 35 saves as San Jose doubled up St. Louis, 4-2.
--Nashville got two goals and an assist from Patric Hornqvist plus four points (one goal) from Jason Arnott to down Colorado, 5-3.
--Martin Havlat's two goals powered Minnesota past Edmonton, 4-2.
--Anze Kopitar's two goals and two assists plus Jack Johnson's goal and three assists helped Los Angeles knock off Anaheim in a wild one, 6-4.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"That's been the story of a lot of our games. We just don't do it, and they do. We waste a good effort. I suppose it's not a waste if we learn something."

Notable games
Friday, Feb. 5 (5 games)
-Atlanta at Washington to see Russian stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin duel. Toronto (18-28-11) at New Jersey (35-18-2), 7 p.m. ET to see Ilya Kovalchuk on his new team.

-Phoenix (34-18-5) at Chicago (37-15-4), 8:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

NHL Recap 2-3-10: Sens move into Caps' neighborhood; Backes braces Blues

Move over, Washington
There's a new team in town with the mystical "10-0-0" in the "Last 10" category of your NHL standings.

Daniel Alfredsson scored two goals in the final minute of regulation to snap a 2-2 tie and Ottawa extended its franchise record with its 10th straight win, 4-2 over Buffalo, in a matchup of the top two teams in the Northeast Division.

The Senators are three points behind both Buffalo and Pittsburgh, who are in third and fourth place in the Eastern Conference respectively. Jason Spezza had a three-point night, including the game's first two goals. His second goal came with 14:01 remaining in the third period.

Buffalo rebounded by scoring two goals in 27 seconds, the first coming 1:18 after Spezza's second goal. Andrej Sekera and Tim Connolly got the Sabres even. Connolly also had an assist. But Alfredsson received a slap-pass from Erik Karlsson at the Buffalo doorstep, behind Ryan Miller, for an easy tap-in goal with one minute remaining. He added an empty netter shortly after.

Brian Elliott made 34 saves for Ottawa, tying a team record of eight straight wins.

Blackhawks singing the Blues
St. Louis is such a weird team this season. So bad at home but so good on the road.

David Backes scored two goals seven minutes apart and St. Louis knocked off Chicago in the United Center, 3-2. Chris Mason stopped 32 shots, including 13 in the third period.

Patrick Kane opened the scoring in the first period before the Blues struck three times in the second. Backes tied the score before putting St. Louis ahead with 1:31 to play in the second. Just 69 seconds later, Roman Polak picked off a Chicago pass and his shot was deflected home by teammate Jay McClement.

A real pretty play by Jonathan Toews shorthanded set up a slam dunk goal for Marian Hossa early in the third, but Mason held off the Blackhawks from there. The Blues are now 16-8-4 on the road but just 9-14-5 at home.

In other action
--Curtis Glencross netted his first career hat trick and Calgary defeated Carolina, 4-1. Matt Stajan scored his first goal in a Flames uniform and Miikka Kiprusoff made 27 saves.
--Jeff Deslauriers made 33 saves and Ryan Potulny's power play goal with 16.1 seconds left gave Edmonton a 1-0 win over Philadelphia.
--Anaheim is spending wisely. Jonas Hiller made 46 saves and the Ducks downed Detroit, 3-1. Bobby Ryan had a goal and assist, Ryan Getzlaf two helpers and Ryan Whitney a goal for Anaheim.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"I hate that call. We should be able to determine a deliberate move on that, but not an automatic. But our guys rallied and did a pretty good job there."

Oilers defenseman Alex Plante took a delay-of-game penalty when he shot the puck over the glass from his own end with five minutes remaining.

Stat of the night
.982 - Hiller's save percentage in his last three games, all wins (109 saves on 111 shots)

Quote of the night
"I was surprised, I didn't even know the goalie was out. I thought I just had a breakaway."
Glencross, on his hat trick goal, into an empty net

Notable games
Thursday, Feb. 4 (9 games)
-Vancouver (34-19-2) at Ottawa (32-21-4), 7:30 p.m. ET. Two good Canadian teams on hot streaks.

-Edmonton (18-31-6) at Minnesota (27-25-4), 8 p.m. The Wild may be down to their third- or fourth-string goalie, but the Oilers come to town. Can't get a much better opponent than that for the situation. Sure, they've won two straight. That just means they're due for another L.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NHL Recap 2-2-10: Welcome to town, boys; Wings bounce back

Anticipating success
I would've said plan the parade, but Down Goes Brown threatened to gouge out the eyes of whoever said that first. I'm willing to bet a number of other people have said that already though, so I'm probably safe. Best not to chance these things. I like my eyes.

Anyway. Unlike Calgary, Toronto's newcomers all played valuable roles as the Maple Leafs blanked the Devils, 3-0. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 30 saves, Dion Phaneuf had six hits, three blocked shots and an early fight, and Fredrik Sjostrom assisted on the first goal of the game by Nikolai Kulemin.

Brian Burke is a frickin' genius.

Phil Kessel and Francois Beauchemin also scored for Toronto. Martin Brodeur got a rare and complete night off for New Jersey.

Early hole no problem for Detroit
The Red Wings had conceded 48 and 47 shots in its previous two games. Before 10 minutes were gone, they trailed San Jose 2-0 and on their way to giving up another 40. Then they flipped a switch and all was right in Motown.

Detroit fixed its defense, clamping down on the Sharks the rest of the game, and four unanswered goals turned that early deficit into a 4-2 Red Wings victory, their third in three games over San Jose this season.

Joe Thornton scored both Sharks goals before late first-period goals by Dan Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg equalized the score. In the third period, Derek Meech banked a shot in off Evgeni Nabokov and Patrick Eaves tipped Brian Rafalski's slap-pass to give Detroit a 4-2 lead.

Valtteri Filppula and Tomas Holmstrom had two assists for Detroit, as did Dany Heatley for San Jose. Jimmy Howard made 32 saves.

When domination doesn't equal wins, or even points
--Boston held Washington's potent offense in check for so much of the game and held a nifty 42-26 shot advantage. But Jose Theodore made 41 saves and the Capitals got third-period goals from Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon to come away a 4-1 winner for a franchise-record 11th straight victory. Alex Ovechkin padded his stats with an unassisted empty netter with 32 seconds to play for his 36th goal.

--North of the border, Vancouver out-shot Montreal 47-28. Only two shots slipped past Jaroslav Halak, who made 45 saves, and the Canadiens earned a 3-2 win. Tomas Plekanec had the game-winner, Sergei Kostitsyn had a goal and assist and Benoit Pouliot had two helpers.

--South of the Mason-Dixon Line, Marty Turco's 40 saves and two quick strikes after Minnesota goals allowed Dallas to double up the Wild, 4-2. Jamie Benn and Mike Modano had the backbreaker goals and also had an assist each.

In other action
--Antero Niittymaki made 26 saves and Tampa Bay edged Atlanta, 2-1. One wonders if the contract/trade talks are getting to Ilya Kovalchuk, who has just two points in his last six games. And I typed that before reading that he broke his stick in anger at the end of the game. Prior to his current slump, he had five goals and nine points in five games.
--Ilya Bryzgalov and Pekka Rinne had dueling shutouts, but Bryzgalov was better in the shootout and Phoenix won, 1-0. Adrian Aucoin scored in the 10th round, just the second Coyote to beat Rinne, who made 26 saves. Bryzgalov had 25.
--T.J. Galiardi's four assists, two goals by Brandon Yip and two shorthanded tallies by Ryan O'Reilly fueled Colorado's 5-1 rout of Columbus.
--Jonathan Quick made 20 saves, including one from point-blank range right before the final horn sounded, and Los Angeles held off the Rangers, 2-1, for its seventh straight win.

Stat of the night
0-6-1 - Boston's record in its seven home games since winning the Winter Classic in Fenway Park. The Bruins have lost eight straight (0-6-2) overall.

Quote of the night
"That was as mucky as it gets. A break was going to win it. We didn't get the break in either regulation or overtime, and so it went to a shootout and anything can happen there."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett

Notable games
Wednesday, Feb. 3 (5 games)
-Ottawa (31-21-4) at Buffalo (32-15-7), 7 p.m. ET. If the Sabres aren't careful, the red-hot Senators could soon leap them in the Northeast Division.

-Detroit (27-19-10) at Anaheim (26-23-7), 10 p.m., NHL Network. Playoff rematch and a game between playoff-fringe teams.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

NHL Recap 2-1-10: Sid tricks Sabres; Canada's long national nightmare ends

TV executives happy
Well, if anyone in the United States watched hockey, the schedule-makers couldn't have been much happier than with their two most recent choices. First, Sidney Crosby's goal-shootout goal performance helps decide a tightly-contested affair between the Stanley Cup finalists, then Crosby one-upped himself in a back-and-forth game with lots of goals.

Crosby's third hat trick of the season in the second period, tying him once again with Patrick Marleau for the most goals in the league (37), propelled Pittsburgh to its second straight win, 5-4 over Buffalo.

Pittsburgh's Mark Letestu got the party started with his first career goal just 47 seconds into the contest, beating Ryan Miller on a 2-on-1. Then the Sabres got the memo to make it an exciting game and scored the next three goals.

Derek Roy broke an eight-game goalless drought by converting a power play just before it ended, then Thomas Vanek slipped past the Pittsburgh defense and wristed a shot over Fleury's shoulder for a 2-1 lead less than a minute later.

Tim Kennedy buried a shot off a sweet passing play for a 3-1 Buffalo advantage in the second period. Three minutes later, Crosby converted a power play from a bad angle for his first of the game, followed shortly by Jordan Staal tying the game. Then Crosby struck twice in a 4-on-4 situation.

The first was gifted to him by Miller, who attempted a pass from behind his net that bounced off Tyler Myers' skate and to Crosby, who fired a one-timer that Miller knocked down with his stick as he dove back into the crease, but the shot had enough force to slip over the goal line. Crosby finished the hat trick 85 seconds later on a 2-on-1 and the Penguins led, 5-3. His hat trick took a span of 8:02 in the period.

Jason Pominville's power play goal with 3:00 to play made things interesting, and they were more so after the Sabres got another man advantage with 2:04 left. But Fleury (30 saves) held the fort, making some key saves.

Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang had two assists each for the Penguins. Vanek and Roy each had an assist for two-point nights.

They were doing so well...
I know they're still not good, but the Carolina Hurricanes were on a four-game winning streak that included a win over Chicago. So much for that.

Jeff Deslauriers made 33 saves and Edmonton's third line dominated for a 4-2 victory, the Oilers' first since Dec. 30, snapping a 13-game losing streak. The franchise record for a non-winning streak was 14.

Marc Pouliot scored his first goal in seven games this season late in the second period to break a 2-2 tie. Earlier in the game, Pouliot assisted on Jean-Francois Jacques' fourth goal of the season. Sam Gagner's goal gave the Oilers a 4-2 lead.

Gilbert Brule also scored and Patrick O'Sullivan had two assists for Edmonton. Andrew Alberts and Jussi Jokinen had the goals for the Hurricanes, who out-shot the hosts 15-3 in the third.

Worth the money
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is gone. A new $18 million contract is in. Life is good for Jonas Hiller.

It got even better after he made 33 saves and Anaheim blanked Florida, 3-0, creeping a little closer to playoff positioning. Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and assist and Teemu Selanne scored a power play goal in his first game back from a broken jaw.

The Ducks tried giving the game away, taking three penalties in rapid succession in the third period when up 2-0, but the penalty killers did their job, and Corey Perry's goal with 2:42 to play sealed the deal.

Apparently the best way to douse one's offense is to bring in new players.

Calgary mustered just 18 shots on goal in its first game after trading Dion Phaneuf for forwards Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman (and Ian White and Jamal Mayers) with the goal of improving the scoring, and Philadelphia shut out the Flames, 3-0.

Ray Emery's third shutout of the season was supported by a pair of goals from Mike Richards and one from Claude Giroux. Simon Gagne had two assists.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"After all this, Edmonton fans are really something. The reception that the players got after a month of frustration was just awesome. That is one of the good feelings."

Not that good a quote. Sigh. Those come after losses.

Stat of the night
8 - Goals allowed by Miller in 81 minutes of hockey against Pittsburgh this season. He carried a 2.03 goals against average entering Monday's game.

Quote of the night
"I don't think it's right to judge them on their performance tonight but the reality is we can't have players, new and old, take too long getting used to each other because we have no time for that, we have to win hockey games."
Calgary coach Brent Sutter

Notable games
Tuesday, Feb. 2 (9 games)
-Minnesota (27-24-4) at Dallas (24-20-11), 8 p.m. ET, Versus. Separated by a point in the standings and three back of No. 8.

-Detroit (26-19-10) at San Jose (36-10-9), 10:30 p.m. And here's No. 8, with a tough task to stay there.

Monday, February 1, 2010

NHL Recap 1-31-10: Rematch needs extra time; Kings stun Devils late

Crosby, Penguins eventually best Howard, Wings
I think the Red Wings are in good hands with Jimmy Howard.

Howard made 46 saves but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin slipped pucks past him in the shootout and Pittsburgh downed Detroit, 2-1, in the teams' first meeting since the Penguins won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Crosby scored the lone Pittsburgh goal in regulation before Daniel Cleary equalized by tipping Brad Stuart's uncontested point shot in the third period. Pittsburgh held a 47-24 shots advantage but Howard stood tall other than on Crosby's slick move to his backhand in the second period. In particular, Howard made a number of key saves late in the third period.

Pittsburgh's penalty killing neutralized all five Detroit power plays, including one in overtime with 1:21 remaining. Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 saves.

Late strikes shock New Jersey
For the second game in a row, New Jersey blew a late third-period lead. This time, the Devils didn't have time to rebound.

Wayne Simmonds flipped a backhander past a screened Martin Brodeur with 1:46 to play and then Drew Doughty slammed home a power play goal 78 seconds later and Los Angeles shocked New Jersey, 3-2.

The Devils led 2-0 on goals by Johnny Oduya and Travis Zajac but Michal Handzus scored in the final 30 seconds of the second period for the Kings. That set the stage for the late-game performances by Simmonds and Doughty.

Zach Parise had two assists for New Jersey. Jonathan Quick made 26 saves. Brodeur finished with 19.

In other action
--Alex Ovechkin's 35th goal snapped a 2-2 tie and Washington overcame blowing a 2-0 lead to win its 10th straight game to tie the franchise record, 3-2 over Tampa Bay. Ovechkin also had an assist.
--Tomas Vokoun made 33 saves for his seventh shutout, tied with Brodeur for the league lead, and David Booth returned to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 24 for Florida in its 2-0 win over the Islanders. Booth assisted on Jordan Leopold's power play goal.
--Shane Doan and Peter Mueller each had a goal and two assists and Ilya Bryzgalov made 38 saves to lead Phoenix past Dallas, 4-2.
--Marian Gaborik scored a hat trick and Chad Johnson made 34 saves for his first NHL win as the Rangers knocked off Colorado, 3-1, to snap a five-game losing streak.

Stat of the night
15 - Points for Doan in his last eight games (six goals.) He had 28 points in his first 48 games.

Quote of the night
"I wonder why? They got Malkin and Crosby. I mean, Crosby knocked the water bottle out of the sleeve [on top of the net], it was such a backhand. Malkin, he just came in and just started stickhandling. There's not much you can do there."
Howard, talking about Pittsburgh's success in shootouts (7-0.) Crosby is 6-of-7 on shootouts though Malkin is just 5-of-25 in his career.

Notable games
Monday, Feb. 1 (4 games)
-Buffalo (32-14-7) at Pittsburgh (34-21-1), 7 p.m. ET. Two teams in the top four in the East separated by two points. Last time they played, the Penguins chased Ryan Miller with three goals in just over 20 minutes, then couldn't score again and lost 4-3.

-Philadelphia (27-23-3) at Calgary (27-20-8), 9:30 p.m. The Flames have to be getting desperate, and trading Dion Phaneuf and Olli Jokinen (if the reports are accurate) suggests they are. How will the new-look Flames fare?