Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shutout Saturday: Revenge of the Goalie

If you were a goalie in the NHL Saturday, chances are you had a stellar evening. Just a load of excellent performances.

Jack knows best
No less a worthy authority than unbiased, straight-shooting Jack Edwards of NESN fame says Tim Thomas absolutely has to be the NHL's player of the month for October. It's hard to argue. Thomas posted his third shutout of the season in six starts, dropping his GAA to 0.50 and raising his save percentage to .984 after 29 saves in Boston's 4-0 victory over Ottawa. David Krejci had a goal and assist and Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and Jordan Caron also scored.

Thomas has given up three goals all season and as Edwards pointed out, one was when Thomas effed up and pretty much handed the puck to Washington's Jason Chimera for an open net goal.

No, seriously, there's no controversy here
I still believe Marc-Andre Fleury is Pittsburgh's franchise, long-term goalie. But damn, at some point, Dan Bylsma has to keep putting Brent Johnson in the cage. Johnson made 33 saves, singlehandedly keeping Carolina off the scoreboard in Pittsburgh's 3-0 victory. Pascal Dupuis scored twice and Max Talbot also had a goal. Sidney Crosby posted two assists. The shutout was Johnson's first since April 1, 2006.

Bouncing back
One night after allowing four goals, Henrik Lundqvist was back between the pipes for New York. He fared a little better. Lundqvist stopped all 36 shots he saw and goals by Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan (on a penalty shot) gave New York a 2-0 win over Toronto, which has lost five of its last six games.

Buffalo hunting
The poor start by the Sabres I'm sure will come to a surprise to many but not to me, to be honest. Buffalo's season continues to get worse after Dallas backup Andrew Raycroft blanked the Sabres, 4-0, making 34 saves. James Neal, Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Trevor Daley scored and Brad Richards had two assists.

Seriously, another shutout
Dan Ellis wasn't busy but stopped all 23 shots he saw in Tampa Bay's 3-0 victory over Phoenix. Mattias Ritola, Adam Hall and Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning.

Two and counting
What seemed like a near-certainty in September 2009 has now become a long, laborious task, worse than anything Hercules went through. Chris Osgood moved two wins shy of 400 for his career by stopping 23 shots in Detroit's 5-2 win over Nashville. Pavel Datsyuk scored twice and added an assist. Patrick Eaves, Tomas Holmstrom and Brad Stuart had goals and Nicklas Lidstrom and Ruslan Salei each had two assists. Osgood entered last season with 389 career victories but has just nine over last season and this one.

More good goaltending
--Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 31 shots and Jeff Carter tallied three points (two goals) for Philadelphia in a 6-1 rout of the Islanders. The Flyers are finding their game. Chris Pronger had a pair of power play goals and Kimmo Timonen had three points (one goal). Frans Nielsen scored on a penalty shot for New York.
--Florida's Tomas Vokoun fended off 40 shots and David Booth scored on yet another penalty shot as the Panthers downed Montreal, 3-1. Shawn Matthias had a goal and an assist.
--Marty Turco's 25 saves and two-point efforts from Duncan Keith, Troy Brouwer and Patrick Kane led Chicago to a 3-1 win over Minnesota. Keith and Brouwer each had a goal and assist and Kane notched two assists.
--Peter Budaj backstopped Colorado to a 5-1 victory over Columbus, making 33 saves as the bad version of Steve Mason showed up for the Blue Jackets. David Jones, Chris Stewart, David Liffiton and Paul Stastny scored to chase Mason and Cody McLeod scored later against Mathieu Garon.
--Jonathan Quick was spectacular in making 39 saves, including 20 in the third period, and Los Angeles edged New Jersey, 3-1. Jarret Stoll had three points including a goal. Justin Williams had a goal and assist and Michal Handzus also scored. Things get worse for the Devils, who played the third period without Zach Parise.

Feeling good...almost
Ondrej Pavelec made his return to Atlanta's lineup, but allowed a 3-1 lead slip away and St. Louis defeated Atlanta, 4-3 in a shootout. Jay McClement had a hat trick, including two in the third period, for the Blues. Jaroslav Halak saw his shutout streak end, having blanked his previous two opponents, but made 25 saves and two in the shootout. Pavelec finished with 32 saves.

You knew it was coming eventually. Washington's power play hadn't scored in an astounding five straight games. Problem fixed. The Capitals scored three power play goals on their first four chances, Alex Ovechkin snapped out of his slump with two of them in 12 seconds, and the Flames scored an own-goal in Washington's 7-2 demolition of Calgary, which scored the first two goals of the game. The Capitals trumped that with six second-period goals.

Ovechkin finished with three points, Nicklas Backstrom had four (one goal), Mike Green and Alexander Semin had three each (both one goal) and Dave Steckel scored on the night's fourth penalty shot. Michal Neuvirth made 27 saves.

Getting into a rhythm
San Jose's top line is rounding into form. Dany Heatley scored twice and added an assist, Joe Thornton notched three helpers and Patrick Marleau scored for San Jose in a 5-2 romp over Anaheim. Logan Couture and Niclas Wallin also scored and Antero Niittymaki made 22 saves. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne each had two points for the Ducks, with Getzlaf and Perry scoring.

Lastly, no hockey on Sunday. Thank god. I need a break.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday's results; Saturday's games

Combining the recap and preview, so it'll be brief. I swear this time. Going to be predictions with a one-sentence thought.

Rookie magic
--Jeff Skinner scored twice and added an assist in support of Cam Ward's 40 saves to lead Carolina over the Rangers, 4-3.
--In the shocker of the night, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle had a goal and assist each and Magnus Paajarvi posted two helpers as Edmonton shocked Chicago, 7-4. Patrick Sharp became the first NHLer to reach 10 goals (netting one) and had two assists.
--Sergei Bobrovsky made 26 saves and Claude Giroux scored twice for Philadelphia in a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh. Also, numbers are bullshit. The Penguins do not have the 22nd ranked power play in the league. It's the worst. A bad high school's power play is better.

No rust
Making his first appearance, be it start or relief outing, Alex Auld made 30 saves and Montreal defeated the Islanders, 3-1. Tomas Plekanec, Benoit Pouliot and Travis Moen scored for the Habs.

Late strikes
Derek Roy scored with eight seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime but Dustin Byfuglien struck in the final half-minute to lift Atlanta over Buffalo, 4-3.

Night of firsts
Jamie Langenbrunner scored his first goal of the season and New Jersey earned its first win when allowing a goal, knocking off Anaheim, 2-1. This must be rock bottom for the Ducks. Patrik Elias broke a 1-1 tie in the third period and Martin Brodeur made 27 saves.

Saturday's games

Nearly every team is in action.

Detroit 4, Nashville 2 - I reserve the right to reverse this result if Chris Osgood starts instead of Jimmy Howard.

Carolina 3, Pittsburgh 1 - The Hurricanes owned the Penguins last year, and Pittsburgh sucks.

Montreal 3, Florida 1 - The Panthers can't score and Carey Price doesn't allow goals.

Ottawa 5, Boston 2* - *If Tuukka Rask starts. Boston 3, Ottawa 1 if Tim Thomas starts.

Islanders 4, Philadelphia 2 - Just seems like a letdown game for Philadelphia after Friday's win.

Toronto 4, Rangers 1 - The Maple Leafs have to score goals again sometime, don't they?

Buffalo 5, Dallas 2 - Just to further ruin my decision to add Kari Lehtonen.

St. Louis 3, Atlanta 0 - There's little stopping Jaroslav Halak these days. Or is that, there's little scoring on Jaroslav Halak?

Chicago 6, Minnesota 2 - Sorry, I sense an angry Blackhawks team on the horizon.

Colorado 3, Columbus 2 - Peter Budaj can stop the Blue Jackets.

Tampa Bay 5, Phoenix 2 - Ilya Bryzgalov can't stop Steven Stamkos.

Washington 4, Calgary 1 - Miikka Kiprusoff can't stop the Capitals.

Los Angeles 3, New Jersey 1 - Jonathan Quick against the Devils doesn't seem very fair right now.

Anaheim 5, San Jose 4 - The Ducks respond after Friday's bad outing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday's games

Philadelphia (4-4-1) at Pittsburgh (5-4-1), 7 p.m. EDT, NHL Network

Last time these teams met, the Penguins romped to a 5-1 win. Last time they met in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia stole the first regular-season game in Consol Energy Center. OK, that's not accurate. The Penguins gift-wrapped the opener and the Flyers gleefully accepted.

Pittsburgh has dropped two straight games, with the offense severely lacking. If it's possible to have a goaltending controversy without an actual controversy, the Penguins have it. Marc-Andre Fleury is the franchise's goalie but he's not playing like it right now. Therefore, Brent Johnson has played more than he should've at this point, and has been fantastic. Fleury gets his second straight start tonight as coach Dan Bylsma hopes to get Fleury back on track.

The Flyers are coming off one of their better games of the season, torching Ryan Miller for five goals, three with the man-advantage. Philadelphia has won two of three but must start putting more consistent efforts together. Nikolay Zherdev has been demoted to the fourth line. Sergei Bobrovsky won the last game so he's once again the favored horse but that could change in a heartbeat.

Philadelphia 4, Pittsburgh 2

Montreal (6-2-1) at Islanders (4-3-2), 7 p.m., RDS

Carey Price for the Hart Trophy? Why not? He has a 2.32 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Maybe he's more a product of a team in front of him that's allowing the fourth fewest shots per game (26.8) but he's not letting in soft goals that costs his team a game.

The bigger story with the Canadiens is the imminent return of Andrei Markov either tonight or Saturday, reportedly. That should immediately put a spark into a lifeless power play and help Montreal start scoring more goals. The Habs definitely need an injection; Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Michael Cammalleri are not getting it done.

New York is a streaky team. After splitting their first two games, the Islanders lost two straight, won three in a row and have now dropped the last two, including Wednesday's game to Montreal. Considering New York is playing without its top defenseman, Mark Streit, the Islanders are off to a nice start.

New York 3, Montreal 1

Carolina (4-4-0) at Rangers (4-3-1), 7 p.m.

I have no idea what to make of the Hurricanes. I really don't. There have been a lot of inconsistent teams in the league this season and Carolina is right up there. Cam Ward played well enough to beat the Capitals, holding them to two goals, but offense continues to be a problem. Considering the numbers, the Hurricanes should be thrilled to have a 4-4 record.

This has to be some kind of fluke, but New York is third in the league in goals per game. This is despite a four-game stretch where the Rangers scored nine goals total. Plus they haven't had Marian Gaborik for the last five games.

New York gives up goals at the same pace - 3.25 per game. That pretty much defines ordinary, or average. Henrik Lundqvist has been much better in his last two games, however.

New York 3, Carolina 2

Buffalo (3-6-1) at Atlanta (4-4-1), 7:30 p.m.

I don't really think Lindy Ruff will be fired, at least not yet, but there aren't many teams as disappointing as Buffalo. We can't even call the Sabres inconsistent (despite a 6-1 win followed by a 6-3 loss), just bad. The great Derek Roy is producing points but has gone five games without a goal. Thomas Vanek is starting to carry his weight (four goals in four games) and Tyler Ennis is putting together a nice rookie campaign with seven points.

The Thrashers enjoyed seeing Martin Biron in goal for the Rangers and torched New York's backup for five goals to snap a three-game losing streak. Andrew Ladd has been fabulous for Atlanta, with 10 points, including one in every game but one. Tobias Enstrom is continuing his emergence as a cornerstone defenseman.

Atlanta 4, Buffalo 3

Edmonton (2-4-2) at Chicago (6-4-1), 8:30 p.m.

It took eight games but top pick Taylor Hall finally scored his first NHL goal. Considering the Oilers are going through this major youth movement, I'm not sure what makes more sense, to send Hall back to his junior team and dominate there, saving a year on his entry level contract, or let him take his lumps and then some in the NHL. I guess they have to sell the fan base on something. The Oilers have lost six straight games.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane need to start stepping up their game, especially now that Marian Hossa will be out of the lineup for a couple weeks. Kane has a six-game goalless streak and Toews has just one in his last seven. Toews has points in just five of 11 games. Thank goodness for Patrick Sharp.

Marty Turco is playing just fine in net for Chicago, but I'm not willing to say he's proving his doubters wrong. The true test will come in the playoffs.

Chicago 5, Edmonton 1

New Jersey (2-7-1) at Anaheim (4-5-1), 10 p.m.

Considering Montreal's strong start, one really has to wonder how New Jersey beat the Canadiens. I guess the answer is Martin Brodeur. New Jersey's only wins this season have been Brodeur shutouts.

As I alluded to down below, the Ducks are playing better. Rather than losing many games in a row, they're alternating losses with wins. Jonas Hiller has been better, holding opponents to two goals in each of his last three games. Ryan Getzlaf has been very good lately. Teemu Selanne has been consistent but the rest of Anaheim's offense has been hit-or-miss.

Anaheim 4, New Jersey 2

Whose seat is getting warm?


It’s Halloween season, so which coaches are scared they might not see Thanksgiving? Less than a month into a six-month long campaign is plenty soon to reach some hasty conclusions.

John MacLean, New Jersey

If the season were to end today, the Devils would have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft. This team won the Atlantic Division as recently as oh, last year. MacLean is in his first season as a head coach and the results have been, well, less than promising. New Jersey can’t score, even with the re-signing of Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils can’t defend. The rapidly-aging Martin Brodeur can’t stop a puck.

Worst of all, general manager Lou Lamoriello came out with the dreaded vote of confidence recently. MacLean, himself a former Devil, went so far as to bench Kovalchuk for a game. The move hasn’t paid off. If MacLean doesn’t turn things around soon, the country’s unemployment will rise up a notch.

Verdict: Lou says MacLean is safe, but how much losing can they take?

Randy Carlyle, Anaheim

The Ducks have a rebuilt defense. Well, in theory. They’re in the process of rebuilding that defense. Anaheim signed defensive stalwart Toni Lydman and Andy Sutton, but injuries to both cost each several games. That all but forced Anaheim to play 2010 first-round pick Cam Fowler significant minutes and Fowler, himself injured, has shown he belongs.

Still, it’s been a work in progress for Carlyle, whose team has been atrocious at times this season. The Ducks couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start but are slowly turning it around. Still, their goal differential is minus-9. Only the Devils have a worse number. Not only has Anaheim gotten embarrassed in several games, the Ducks have resorted to goonism at times.

Verdict: Cooling off but still warm to the touch. The team needs to start stringing together some wins and soon. The Ducks have yet to win two straight games.

Mike Babcock, Detroit

Just kidding. It's true that the Red Wings are last in their division but it's looking like the Central is the toughest this season. Detroit still has a 5-2-1 record.

Lindy Ruff, Buffalo

Here's an intriguing situation. Ruff is currently the longest tenured coach in the National Hockey League (this is his 13th season.) He's been as much a mainstay with the Sabres as has an internal budget. This is also a team, with this coach, who won the Northeast Division last season. They consistently lose quality players and rarely can afford to bring in replacements.

But the Sabres are winless at home. Last in their division, third worst in the Eastern Conference. Not known as a player's coach (just ask Maxim Afinogenov), at some point, you have to wonder if his voice becomes a mindless drone to the players. Last year was their first playoff trip in three years and just the third in the last seven. It's probably not his fault that Ryan Miller has regressed a tad, that management/ownership couldn't find adequate replacements on the blue line or up front, but this team needs a spark of some kind.

Verdict: Has probably earned enough respect to try to right the ship, especially given the restraints in place regarding personnel, but if you can't change the players, you change the coach, right?

Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia

It's pretty much time I think to start the annual question about the Flyers coach, if no one else has done it. Laviolette's done a fine enough job since taking over, including coaching the team to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. But Philadelphia isn't very good this season, with as-usual shaky goaltending and a lack of firepower from a lot of big-name, high-priced talent.

It's possible the Flyers have shaken that mantle of being unable to score. They've won two of their last three games, scoring 11 goals in the two wins. It's also possible those games were fluke efforts. They have 14 goals in their other seven games. Not surprisingly, Nikolay Zherdev isn't working out - at least so far - in Philadelphia, and James van Riemsdyk isn't living up to last year's promising rookie season.

Verdict: Fire a coach the season after he got you to the final? Hey, it worked for Pittsburgh.

Cory Clouston, Ottawa; Todd McLellan, San Jose

McLellan is probably a reach at this point. Still, the Sharks came in with pretty high expectations, as usual, and have faltered this season. McLellan did finally get the team out of the first round, however. San Jose also is playing better hockey over the last week. (To play devil's advocate, two of their wins in that time came against Edmonton and New Jersey.) It's unlikely San Jose will stay down for long.

Clouston's had some adversity this season, with injuries to presumptive No. 1 goaltender Pascal Leclaire and top center Jason Spezza. Top offseason acquisition Sergei Gonchar doesn't have a goal, is a minus-6 and playing over 26 minutes a night. Alexei Kovalev is becoming less of an enigma and more of a nuisance. Mike Fisher seems to be in too much marital bliss. Milan Michalek is not making Ottawa fans forget Dany Heatley. At this point, the Senators should blow up and start over. That could start with the coach.

Obviously I had tongue firmly planted in cheek when I said it was time to make some conclusions. All these teams have time to turn the season around and perhaps none of them will be fired. There could be others (Paul Maurice in Carolina, John Tortorella in New York, perhaps even Vancouver's Alain Vigneault or Minnesota's Todd Richards) who take over the list.

(Personally? I doubt Richards gets fired. At least this season.)

It's a long season. But some teams need to make rapid changes or they won't be going anywhere. (Just like Rizzo.)

Wild Gm 9 Thoughts (vs. Caps)


What is it with the Caps? The only team yet to win at the X. They’re good, no doubt about it. Considerably better and more upper-end talent than the Wild. No one in their right mind would challenge that. They just…can’t win in St. Paul.

Tonight’s game had several smaller storylines that were interesting to me, but the one big one was the play of Niklas Backstrom. Er, the Wild’s Niklas Backstrom. The Finnish one. The one in the big leg pads with the trapper on his left hand. Speaking of that trapper, it was but one manifestation of his complete unconsciousness last night. A couple ridiculous side-to-side saves on good shots, a couple filthy glove saves. Good rebound control all night. Made all the easy saves, and all-but-one of the rest of ‘em too (Ovie’s goal was from the top of the circles, but dude shoots so hard I’m not willing to say any of his shots are “easy” saves.) Bax has been carrying the Wild since they got back from Finland (I thought he let in a couple softies over there – pressure of playing on “home” turf perhaps?) and has deserved a better fate overall – including last night when he certainly played well enough to earn the goose egg.

Know who else had a good game? Mikko. Huh.....let’s see, what was different last night that…..Mittens wasn’t in the lineup/glued to Mikko’s side! No, multiple Art Ross finalist Chuck Kobasew made a re-appearance with Mikko and Bruno and got right back to his goal-scoring ways with those two. Funny.

Look, I’m sure Mittens is a great guy, sure is a snappy dresser and all. But he has no business being on any NHL #1 line. Well, as a Wild fan, I wouldn't mind if he was on, say, the Avs #1 line. Or the Flames? But they only sign guys they've signed at least once before, so that wouldn't happen. So, yeah, the Avs.

Mittens simply isn’t offensive enough. Well, I mean, he’s offensive. His lack of offense is offensive. I understand he and Mikko are BFFs (how do you say “bosom buddies” in Finnish?) but Mikko, as the captain, has to look out for the best interests of the team. If he and Mittens have all this chemistry, it sure ain’t amounting to much right now. So it’s time for Mikko to let his friend go – even if it means Mittens falls to the 2nd, 3rd or 4th line….in Houston. Or in Finland, I don’t care. Eventually Rose had to let go of Jack’s hand, and it hurt, you know? To watch him sink down into his icy grave? You just don' t forget pain like that, you guys. So maybe Mikko can go out and buy Mittens a really, really, nice necklace and then nod at Richards and wipe a tear from his cheek as he watches his friend – his brother, really – slide on down, down, down into the briny deep. To his destiny. [cue the French-Canadian chanteuse. "Near….faarrrrrrr….."] When Kobasew actually finished one of Bruno’s golden opportunities, Bruno had to have been thinking “finally.”

And Wellman. I just went off on this over at GTRCMBSHP. I like Wellman. I really do. But I think Wild fans are letting their overwhelming need for something, anything to come along and engage them with this team again over-state Wellman’s actual abilities at this point. He’s basically a mirror image of Havlat out there right now. (Hint: that’s somewhat less than the end-all, be-all.) If he can be put into situations where he can develop (his shot, for one thing) with the big club, great. Keep him, play him and we’ll all deal with the growing pains because he’s a fun player to watch and he seems like a good kid with his head screwed on straight. But, if Richards can’t get him enough TOI – and in the “right” situations – then send him back to Houston where he has a better chance of that. If the Wild’s going to be a mediocre team with or without him, and he CAN’T get the experience he would need to develop like we want with the big club, then, when everyone's healthy again, send him down.

Zanon. Man do I respect that dude. He’s earned it during his tenure with the Wild. But…..he has really struggled on balance this season. He’s flubbing clearing attempts, he’s taking or leading to penalties. He’s just….not on top of his game. He nailed OV and Mike Green last night, so I was hopeful he was finally back. But then there was that brutal shift in the third (IIRC) where he blew not-one-but-two clearing attempts that kept the Wild pinned in its own zone for a loooooong time. We need him to get back to his awesome, dominating, block-a-shot-with-his-last-tooth ways.

Finally, Martin Havlat was still a non-factor.

Another one of those non-hockey watching nights

Nope, not for me. I was covering a soccer playoff game. Crazy stuff in that one. Anyway, to the NHL results!

Bad backups! To your rooms!
--A late injury to Jimmy Howard forced Chris Osgood into Detroit's net, and Phoenix promptly scored three times in the first period and held on for a 4-2 victory. Lauri Korpikoski scored twice, once shorthanded and once into an empty net, and Radim Vrbata recorded his first point since the opener after being called out on this blog.
--Chris Stewart recorded a hat trick and Colorado scored three times in the third period against Calgary backup Henrik Karlsson to earn a crazy 6-5 victory. Olli Jokinen, also called out, scored his first goal of the season.

Clean sheets
--Tim Thomas rocks. He made 20 more saves and goals by Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin lifted Boston over Toronto, 2-0. As I understand it, there were chants of "Thank you Kessel" after Seguin scored. Uh, woo, I guess. It was Seguin's second goal of the season.
--Jaroslav Halak made 24 saves and St. Louis became the first team to defeat Nashville in regulation, 3-0. Alexander Steen, Patrik Berlund and Matt D'Agostini scored.

So they DID hire Lemaire for one game
Wild fans let me know, but this sounded like a boring game. Minnesota held Washington to a season-low 22 shots on goal, while registering just 17 of its own, and came away a 2-1 winner. Chuck Kobasew and Mikko Koivu's goals were enough to cancel out Alex Ovechkin's late strike. Niklas Backstrom made 21 saves. (P.S. Don't get me wrong if it was boring; it's still two points.)

Good boy, you get a cookie
The good Steve Mason showed up, stopping 25 saves and earning First Star honors in Columbus' 3-2 shootout win over Edmonton. Taylor Hall finally scored the first goal of his NHL career midway through the third period to force overtime.

Trifecta of talent
Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and Mike Fisher each had a goal and assist in Ottawa's 5-3 victory over Florida. Brian Elliott stopped 28 shots.

The Kipa fantasy curse continues
Kari Lehtonen had his second straight horrid outing, allowing four goals and being pulled in the third period, and Los Angeles handled Dallas, 5-2. Jonathan Quick, on the other hand, made 30 saves. Jack Johnson posted three assists.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday's preview: The Jeopardy edition

This week is too hectic for me so we're doing a Jeopardy-like quick version of the preview.

Toronto (5-2-1) at Boston (4-2-0), 7 p.m. EDT

Will Tim Thomas' torrid start to the season continue? Will the hockey gods strike back at the Maple Leafs for their tarnished win last game?

Edmonton (2-4-1) at Columbus (5-3-0), 7 p.m.

Which Steve Mason shows up, the good one or the bad one? Is Ryan Whitney actually good for Edmonton?

Florida (3-4-0) at Ottawa (3-5-1), 7 p.m.

How disinterested in this game are you?

Phoenix (2-3-3) at Detroit (5-1-1), 7:30 p.m.

Has anyone seen Radim Vrbata? What about Mike Modano?

St. Louis (4-1-2) at Nashville (5-0-3), 8 p.m.

Will there be any goals in this game? Will the Predators ever lose (in regulation)? Can the Blues ever score?

Washington (6-3-0) at Minnesota (3-3-2), 8 p.m., NHL Network

OMG what is wrong with Alex Ovechkin?!?!11?!?! Can the Wild hire Jacques Lemaire just for this one game?

Los Angeles (6-3-0) at Dallas (5-3-0), 8:30 p.m.

Will Jonathan Quick win the Vezina Trophy? Will the Stars (two straight L's, three in four) get back on track?

Colorado (4-4-1) at Calgary (6-3-0), 9:30 p.m., TSN

Can Peter Budaj carry the load in Craig Anderson's absence? How bad is Olli Jokinen?

What went on Wednesday

Sometimes you can tell when I didn't watch any hockey on a given night.

--Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern each had a goal and assist and Carey Price made 18 saves as Montreal defeated the Islanders, 5-3.
--I lied earlier. Martin St. Louis does in fact kill penguins in his spare time. Get PETA on this and let's nullify and void all goals St. Louis has ever scored against penguins. (Note: I'm kidding, St. Louis does not in fact kill penguins. As far as we know.) St. Louis scored twice in the third period and Dan Ellis made 24 saves in relief of Mike Smith to lead Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh, 5-3. Steven Stamkos had three assists. Craig Adams somehow had a goal and two assists for the Penguins.
--San Jose's top line owned New Jersey in a 5-2 romp. Joe Thornton scored a hat trick and had two assists and Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau each had a goal and three helpers. Antero Niittymaki made 27 saves.

Um, other stuff
--Michal Neuvirth made 29 saves and Nicklas Backstrom scored twice for Washington in a 3-0 win over Carolina.
--Six different players scored goals for Atlanta, which held on to defeat the Rangers, 6-4. Andrew Ladd and Niclas Bergfors had a goal and assist each and Chris Mason made 24 saves.
--Marty Turco made 33 saves in Chicago's 3-1 win over Los Angeles.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday's games

Washington (5-3-0) at Carolina (4-3-0), 7 p.m. EDT

The good news for the Hurricanes is they've yet to lose a game at home. The bad news is we're just days from Halloween and this is Carolina's first game at RBC Center.

Actually, more good news for Carolina is it earned more points from its extended road trip than it lost. One old sports adage I've heard is go .500 on the road and win most of the home games and you're good to go. So the Hurricanes have that going for them. Which, you know, is nice.

The worst news of all for the Hurricanes is Alex Ovechkin doesn't have a point in three straight games, not that he's not trying (19 shots and well over 23 minutes per game in those last three.) So you know it won't be long before he rips off a two-goal, five-point outing (minimum.) Nicklas Backstrom, not surprisingly, has also struggled at the same time as Ovechkin. Alexander Semin is coming off a hat trick but those were his first points in three games.

Still, going to sleep on this offense is asking for trouble, and Cam Ward will have to channel his inner Tim Thomas, who shut down Washington twice last week. Can he do it? Sure. Will he? Probably not. He's allowed fewer than three goals in a game just twice this season in six starts.

Eric Staal, meanwhile, either gets two points in a game or none. In seven games, he's been held scoreless in four while netting two each in the other three. Carolina needs more consistency from its captain.

Washington 5, Carolina 2

Atlanta (3-4-1) at Rangers (4-2-1), 7 p.m.

Defense and goaltending have allowed New York to win three straight games, conceding just four goals in that time, and helping the Rangers tread water until Marian Gaborik returns to spark New York's still-listless offense. Henrik Lundqvist has strung together two straight excellent outings, perhaps finally shaking off a rusty start.

The Thrashers? They're bummin'. Atlanta has lost three straight games after a good beginning to the season. The penalty killing is poor and the goaltending has regressed. And the offense? Ugh. We all knew Chris Thorburn couldn't be counted on, and we suspected the same for Anthony Stewart (no goals for Thorburn in four straight, none in three for Stewart) and Niclas Bergfors isn't living up to last season's promise. Nik Antropov has just one assist in seven games.

Pretty much the only thing going right for Atlanta right now is Ondrej Pavelec is back on the ice and will go on a conditioning assignment in the minor leagues.

New York 3, Atlanta 1

Pittsburgh (5-3-1) at Tampa Bay (5-2-1), 7:30 p.m.

This is one of the marquee games of the night, certainly in the East. It pits last season's co-Richard Trophy winners against each other, and it helps that both teams are playing well.

And we could see a lot of goals. The Penguins start Marc-Andre Fleury, who finally got a win, and so far it hasn't mattered who the Lightning have had between the pipes. Steven Stamkos is having a better start to the season than Sidney Crosby, with eight goals and 14 points to Crosby's six and 11.

The Penguins had a four-game winning streak snapped at St. Louis. Three of Pittsburgh's top six point producers are defensemen.

The Lightning have been up-and-down over the past two weeks, losing one, winning one, losing one, etc. If that trend continues, they'll win tonight as they lost to Nashville on Sunday. Tampa Bay is banged up, however, and could be missing several key regulars. Martin St. Louis is a Penguins killer (not literally, because that would be cruel, but he does well against Pittsburgh.)

Pittsburgh 5, Tampa Bay 4

Islanders (4-2-2) at Montreal (5-2-1), 7:30 p.m.

Did anyone have this game pegged before the season as one to watch? Both teams are off to excellent starts. One's doing it with offense primarily and the other with goaltending.

New York has a bunch of players scoring goals, from John Tavares to Matt Moulson to P.A. Parenteau. The goaltending has been a mixed bag. Dwayne Roloson has been stellar (1.65 GAA, .942%) but Rick DiPietro has gotten the bulk of the action and he's been less great, winning just two of his five starts. Obviously the Islanders want DiPietro to get back to form, but in a situation similar to Pittsburgh's, shouldn't they rely on their backup a little bit more since he's playing significantly better?

The Canadiens' story basically begins and ends with Carey Price. He's still started every game and he's the key reason Montreal ranks sixth in goals against per game. Montreal certainly isn't getting any production from its power play, which now ranks last after Florida scored once on Tuesday. Andrei Markov's return appears imminent, which should immediately boost that by about 10 percent. Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec have been very good, Brian Gionta has been very bad.

Montreal 3, New York 2

Los Angeles (6-2-0) at Chicago (5-4-1), 8:30 p.m.

This is the game that rivals Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay for star power. You'll notice the Blackhawks have won only half their games so far, which includes two straight defeats.

Something happened to Chicago. I don't know if it's the loss of Brian Campbell (injury), the trade of defenseman Brent Sopel, or the massive turnover among the bottom two forward lines. But a season ago, the Blackhawks allowed the fewest shots per game. Now they're ranked 25th. The goaltending has been competent - not stellar, not horrible - but Chicago is spending much more time in its own zone this season.

Marian Hossa's torrid start to the season has turned into three straight pointsless outings. Patrick Sharp continues to be the player mainly carrying the offense at this point. Those two are the only Blackhawks with more than two goals.

The Kings are many people's darlings to dethrone Chicago. Hard to argue, since LA has won five of its last six games. They've been doing some of that without Drew Doughty, a consensus Norris Trophy favorite, who remains out with a concussion. We're starting to see more of Anze Kopitar (three goals, five points in last four) and Jonathan Quick would be an early favorite for the Vezina Trophy. Jonathan Bernier, however, will be in the net tonight for his third start. He's been OK in the first two, but Quick has responded to the challenge and Bernier will have to start being sensational to steal more playing time.

Los Angeles 4, Chicago 2

New Jersey (2-6-1) at San Jose (3-3-1), 10:30 p.m., NHL Network

I used the following line once before but it bears repeating. Who would have thought these two teams would have only 12 points in 16 games between them?

Shall I just let the numbers speak? The Devils are last in goals per game. The power play is 29th. They're 25th in goals against per game. Dainius Zubrus is a fine hockey player but it's a problem when he's your leading scorer (tied with Ilya Kovalchuk with six points.) New Jersey has scored exactly one goal in a game an astounding five times in nine contests. Two goals twice. All but one of those games was a loss.

Are the Sharks any better? Well, a little, but San Jose is looking for its first win at HP Pavilion. A great road trip (two wins, 10 goals) ended on a sour note with a shutout in Calgary. Antero Niittymaki has out-played Antti Niemi by a mile so far. Many of San Jose's stars are playing OK but not great.

I don't think anyone in the Bay Area will be watching this game anyway, not with the Giants hosting Game 1 of the World Series against Texas. (Greatest. World Series. Ever. By the way.)

Texas 4, San Francisco 2 San Jose 3, New Jersey 1 (Changed my WS pick at 6:30 pm EDT.)

No Such Thing as "Cheap Seats" At Wild Games


Saw this over on Puck Daddy, and I've been waiting for it. The Team Marketing Report hockey Fan Cost Index. It's one of my favorite reports of the hockey season.

And, what does it tell Wild fans? That you're paying too damn much!

The league average Fan Cost Index for this season is $313.68 for 4 average-price (weighted average of season non-premium ticket prices for general seating categories) tickets, 2 small draft beers, 4 small sodas, 4 regular hot dogs, parking for 1 car, 2 programs and 2 least-expensive adult-size caps.

The Wild is ranked 8th-highest in the NHL with a FCI of $346.01.

The top 10 are:
TOR $572.32
MTL $474.44
CGY $366.29
NYR $364.49
VAN $357.02
CHI $350.58
EDM $346.46
MIN $346.01
BOS $336.27
PHI $329.59

But, and here's the interesting thing, the Wild is pretty inexpensive in the Average Premium Ticket price range. The study defines this as "tickets that come with at least one added amenity." The average premium ticket price across the league is $121.02. The Wild's average premium ticket price is $99.38 (21st-highest in the league).

Does that mean the Wild is pinching the common fan? Well, the average non-premium ticket price across the league is $54.25, but it's $62.63 at a Wild game (6th-highest). However, the Wild's non-premium ticket prices went up less than the average for the league from last year to this year. The $62.63 average represents a 2.6% increase from last season. The league average percent increase for non-premium tickets is 4.4%.

Although, of the 5 teams with higher average non-premium ticket prices than the Wild, three of them (TOR 0.0%, MTL 0.0% and VAN 0.0%) increased less than the Wild's did. CGY went up 2.9% and Edmonton went up 4.2% (cashing in on the Taylor Hall cache?)

A summary of the rest of the stats:
item Wild price, league average

  • Beer $6.75, $6.71 *league average based on average 16-oz beer. Wild's price based on 20-oz beer. Per ounce, Wild is $0.3375 and league average is $0.419
  • Soda $3.75, $3.90 *League average based on 18-oz, Wild based on 20-oz. Per ounce, Wild is $0.1845, league average is $0.2166.
  • Hot dog $3.75, $4.14
  • Parking $10, $14.19
  • Program $3/$2.61
  • Cap $18/$15.86
Overall, the average FCI went up 4.4% from last year. The Wild's increased 1.6%.

Just because I'm a stat nerd, I ran the FCI numbers through last season's points totals for each team. Here's what each team's fan pays to go to a game, per point in the standings, from least to most:

1. PHX $2.14
2. BUF $2.29
3. DAL $2.53
4. SJ $2.55
5. COL $2.56
6. WAS $2.70
7. STL $2.73
8. TB $2.84
9. NAS $2.89
T10. NJ $2.94
T10. DET $2.94
T10. LA $2.94
13. CHI $3.13
14. CAR $3.15
15. ATL $3.17
16. ANH $3.20
17. PIT $3.23
18. CBJ $3.41
19. VAN $3.47
20. OTT $3.50
21. BOS $3.70
22. PHI $3.75
23. FLA $3.95
24. CGY $4.07
25. MIN $4.12
26. NYI $4.13
27. NYR $4.19
28. MTL $5.39
29. EDM $5.59
30. TOR $7.73

So, remember that this is THIS year's FCI divided by LAST year's points. So, the Isles, for example, had the 3rd-highest FCI increase (13.3%) after a pretty bad season. That seems harder to justify than the Oilers who also look expensive given their performance last season, although they do have a shiny new #1 overall pick to show off/entice the good people of Edmonton to shell out some more of their hard-earned shekels. And Toronto? Well, no excuse for that kind of discrepancy. But, what's a rancher to do if the sheep just keep walking into the slaughter house on their own like that?

Panthers hosed; Vezina torched

Non-calls benefit Toronto in win over Florida
As Down Goes Brown said, apparently the NHL did away with goalie interference.

Colton Orr blatantly ran over Florida netminder Scott Clemmensen, allowing Tim Brent's shot to sneak through to break a 1-1 tie in Toronto's eventual 3-1 victory. Making things worse, the puck hit some part of Orr's body, giving him credit for the goal that in no way should have counted.

To be fair, the Panthers had nine minutes remaining to tie the score and couldn't do it. Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere appeared to get away with a trip or interference penalty after Orr's goal, which didn't help Florida. Also not helping Florida was a bad giveaway inside the attacking end that turned into a Phil Kessel breakaway and goal for a 3-1 score.

The Panthers mustered just 22 shots on goal, so despite the egregious non-call, the Panthers can blame themselves too.

Tyler Bozak (Toronto) and Dennis Wideman (Florida) exchanged power play goals through the first two periods. Giguere finished with 21 saves. The Maple Leafs blocked 27 shots.

If they re-played the Games, the U.S. would finish seventh
Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are the kinds of defensemen few people talk about or notice unless they're screwing up. They're positionally sound, stalwart blue liners who limit opposition's scoring chances.

Now that they're out of Buffalo's lineup, Ryan Miller is struggle-ling. Philadelphia scored three second-period goals en route to a 6-3 victory over the Sabres, holding off a late Buffalo charge. The Flyers led 5-1 at one point.

Thomas Vanek's power play goal that bounced over Sergei Bobrovsky actually put Buffalo ahead before Philadelphia rattled off the next five. Danny Briere, Nikolay Zherdev, Darrell Powe, Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter did the damage.

Tyler Myers and Steve Montador got two goals back for Buffalo in the third period before Andreas Nodl scored an empty net goal. Carter finished with three points, Giroux and Briere two and Bobrovsky 32 saves.

KiPA adds Lehtonen, Lehtonen gives up five
I love saying I told you so, so I told you Kari Lehtonen would suck Tuesday.

In unquestionably his worst game of the season, Lehtonen allowed five goals - at least two of which he wants back - on just 26 shots and Anaheim came out of Dallas a 5-2 winner. Bobby Ryan scored twice, George Parros scored on a breakaway from center ice, Teemu Selanne had a goal and assist and Corey Perry got a cheap goal late.

The aforementioned Toni Lydman, Ryan Getzlaf and Lubomir Visnovsky posted two helpers each for the Ducks. Jonas Hiller made 35 saves.

Loui Eriksson and Brian Sutherby scored for the Stars.

Alex the Still-Mediocre
Hey, we had an Alexei Kovalev sighting!

Kovalev scored his first two goals of the season and added an assist to lead Ottawa over Phoenix, 5-2. Daniel Alfredsson had a goal and assist, Peter Regin helped set up two goals, and Erik Karlsson and Chris Kelly also scored. Brian Elliott made 28 saves.

Blowing it...almost
--Calgary lost a 4-1 lead but rebounded to defeat Edmonton, 5-4 in a shootout. Brendan Morrison had a pair of special teams goals, one power play and one shorthanded, Jay Bouwmeester finally scored and Curtis Glencross also had a goal. Kurtis Foster, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Tom Gilbert scored for the Oilers. Miikka Kiprusoff made 28 saves on his 34th birthday.

--Vancouver allowed Colorado to get a tying goal late in regulation but Mason Raymond scored just 28 seconds into overtime to give the Canucks a 4-3 win. Raymond pressured defenseman Jonas Holos in front of the Colorado net and chipped the puck off Holos' stick and through Peter Budaj, who played when Craig Anderson suffered a knee injury in warm-ups.

Jeff Tambellini, Ryan Kesler and Peter Schaefer also scored for Vancouver. Roberto Luongo made 36 saves. David Jones, Daniel Winnik and Matt Duchene scored for Colorado.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday's preview

Buffalo (3-5-1) at Philadelphia (3-4-1), 7 p.m. EDT, Versus

I wonder what the Sabres did since their 6-1 rout over New Jersey. All they had to do was travel from Newark to Philadelphia yet they had two full days off since beating the Devils. Did they head back home to Buffalo or did they willingly spend more time in Philadelphia than they needed to? In any case, they've won two of their last three games so maybe they're starting to find themselves.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have lost four of their last five. Brian Boucher started consecutive games for the first time this season but it didn't matter since Philadelphia scored only once.

By the way, what's with all the bad power plays? Toronto had the league's worst last season at 14 percent. This year, 14 teams are below that pace, including six teams in single figures (Philadelphia being one at 8.6 percent.) I don't expect those numbers to stay the same but it's still curious, isn't it?

Philadelphia 3, Buffalo 2, shootout

Florida (3-3-0) at Toronto (4-2-1), 7 p.m.

Speaking of bad power plays, the Panthers have the worst, an eye-sore 4.4 percent on 1-for-23. The good news is David Booth is playing well, with six points. Word is Tomas Vokoun will finally get a rest, so we'll see how rusty Scott Clemmensen is.

Will the real Maple Leafs please stand up? Toronto went from scoring 16 goals in its first four games to a total of four over the last three, all losses. Of those 20 goals, 12 have come from Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur (six each.) Tim Brent of all people is next with two.

Florida 3, Toronto 1

Phoenix (2-2-3) at Ottawa (2-5-1), 7:30 p.m.

In hockey hell, this is the game they're showing. That is all. (Also, I stole that joke from Tuesday Morning Quarterback on Gotta give props where they're due.)

Phoenix 2, Ottawa 1

Edmonton (2-4-0) at Calgary (5-3-0), 9 p.m.

Yes, even this game is better, because the Flames are starting to resemble an NHL team now. Calgary has won four of its last five thanks in large part to the efforts of Miikka Kiprusoff (two shutouts in the last four) and Rene Bourque (six goals in that time.) Jarome Iginla is starting to pick up points, but even Darryl Sutter has to be asking himself, "What the hell was I thinking bringing Olli Jokinen back?"

I'd like to say something nice about the Oilers but I can't. They've conceded 19 goals over the last four games and none of their young kids are making a splash. They're all still learning the ropes in the NHL, painfully so. If you haven't heard Taylor Hall's name much it's because he has only one assist in six games.

Calgary 4, Edmonton 1

Anaheim (3-5-1) at Dallas (5-2-0), 9 p.m.

The Stars will start to suck beginning tonight because I just picked up Kari Lehtonen in a fantasy league. But the Ducks suck too.

Dallas 5, Anaheim 4

Colorado (4-4-0) at Vancouver (3-3-2), 10 p.m.

The Avalanche are looking to reverse their negative trend of two straight losses and in three of the last four. Only one of Colorado's wins is by more than one goal. Each of their losses was by at least two. Colorado has one of the few power plays that's good in the league (sixth at 23.3%) and Chris Stewart, Paul Stastny and John-Michael Liles are all playing very well. Craig Anderson has been a little more mortal lately (14 goals allowed in four games) so maybe he'll get a rest soon.

Henrik Sedin doesn't have a goal yet for the Canucks but does have 10 assists. Daniel Sedin is scoring at a pretty good pace, with seven goals and four helpers. Vancouver is very good at home.

Vancouver 4, Colorado 3

NiNY Plays Goalie Again


When I started playing beer league hockey about 6 years ago, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and switched to goalie. It was awesome. And I played a lot over the course of three-plus years. And I got....okay. Better-than-average (as compared to my beer league peers) on most nights. Stealing the odd game, even. I loved it.

Then we moved to Rochester, NY. Now, next to Westchester County (NY) I figured Rochester to be far more hockey-oriented - and it is. I figured I could find a game every night of the week if I wanted. And I did - just....not as a goalie. It's weird. There seems to be an abundance of goalies up here. So much so, and after a long time of not playing at all, that I did the previously unthinkable: I started skating out. I figured SOME hockey - even as a vulgar skater - was better than no hockey. And I grew to enjoy skating out (wing) and eventually got on a fun team and we have a blast. Additionally, I'm the rare beer league back-up goalie. Not too many teams at this level have a back-up on the roster. So there's a lot of pressure on the goalie to show up for every game because finding a sub can be a pain in the butt.

But, back-up in name only at this point. Sadly, my gear has collected far more dust than snow in the last two years. I played goal for our first game last year (September) - and sucked like nobody's business (we won in OT 8-7 - Mittens would have scored on me, I was so bad. Boogaard would have had a bloody hatty) - and I had only played once in the year proceeding that.

So, when I got the email from our captain that I was in goal last night, it quickly dawned on me that it would be my 3rd time tending goal in the last two years.

Now, interestingly, I had been getting the urge to get back in the net this season. If nothing else, I have invested a large sum of money on my gear and it had literally been hanging in my garage for over a year.

But, had I done anything about it? Gone to a drop-in? Nope. Oh, I tried to see if there was any beginner-level team looking for a goalie (there were not.) But did I actually strap on the pillows and get on the ice? Le non.

I made sure I got to the rink (10:15 game) extra early (hey, the Wild was winning 2-1 and everything was good, right? Ha.) I remembered how to put all my gear on, and in what order. Everything still fit, but man did I feel big. In a fotuitous twist of fate, the games that night were all running ahead of schedule so I was able to get out on the ice - alone - with about 25 minutes to "warm up."

Stepping out on the ice in goalie skates (as opposed to skater skates) for the first time in a long time is weird. First, the blade feels like it's two-feet long. And it's not pitched forward at all, so it's hard to lift your foot. I knew this going into it, but it was surprising just how different it was. Now, going from pitched to flat is easier. You're much more steady on your feet because your balance is more naturally distributed. But the combination of that difference plus all the gear means you're using different muscles in your feet and legs to skate, the result of which for me last night was shin-splints within about 7 seconds of stepping out on the ice. So, that was fun.

I took a couple laps, just slowly, trying not to fall on my ass. I moved the goal into position and on its pegs. And just tried to get comfortable in that get-up. A couple of my team mates came out pretty soon and were awesome about helping me with angles from different locations and some shots. The guys on my team are just good guys in general. They knew what they were in for with me last night. And they couldn't have been more supportive.

Game finally gets under way and we've got a bench of four while the other team (that beat us 6-1 in our first game this season) has a bench of about 12 - not kidding. We are so doomed. But we score before I even touch the puck. A couple moments later, they bear in on me for the first time, work it behind me to my stick (right) side and pop it out front for a bang-bang goal, five hole. Which I completely blew. I was glued to the post until it was far too late and then didn't even start going down to block the shot until it was already over. But then I made a few saves, got into the game a bit, and we finished the first 1-1.

The second period though, ouch. Back when I was playing goalie a lot, I got to be okay on breakaways. Good timing/spacing, decent patience, and enough lateral movement to stay with the shooter, wait him/her out and be able to have a reasonable chance of tracking with their move and making the save. As my team's short bench (and the other team's long bench) started to have the usual effect on the game, the other team started finding seams and springing guys. And I was huge fail. They nailed me for FIVE breakaway goals in the second period. And - most frustratingly - they were all the same move! Fake to stick-side, pull back to glove side, goal. Of course my guys were all apologetic ("Not your fault, we're just letting them dance in on you") but I'm still the one getting beaten like it's my job.

And once it starts, oh boy does it snowball. I was tripping over my feet, sliding post to post and way over-shooting it. Backing up and feeling for the post and it wasn't where I thought it would be at all. Going down too soon. Going down too late. Getting up with the wrong leg. It was a disaster.

You also forget how much work it takes to roll around in all that shit! I was tired.

So, it was 6-1 after two periods, the final was 7-1 (they took pity on us and largely mailed it in during the third, I mean it's not like the outcome was in doubt.)

You also forget how much harder it is to let go of a bad game (in particular) as a goalie than as a skater. I mean, unless you had the winning goal on your stick and you trip on your own feet and blow it, it's pretty easy to bounce back after a loss if you're on the bench. But as a goalie, the video clips of all those moments of mistakes just keeps rolling.

But, wow.

It was so much fun! I had definitely forgotten how awesome it is to play goal. To make a save (for some damn reason, my glove was on fire last night - breakaways notwithstanding) or to slide across in the right position and see the guy decide that he can't take the shot - to force him to do something else. Man, that's a great feeling.

So, I'm left with one prevailing thought: I've GOTTA get back in the cage more often.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reviewing Monday's action

I've written too much today (not all here.) My creativity, such as it is, is tapped out.

Blue Jackets hold off Flyers
Damn Mathieu Garon.

Starting in place of Steve Mason, Garon stopped 28 shots, including 11 in the third period, and Columbus squeaked out a 2-1 win over Philadelphia. Kyle Wilson and Derrick Brassard scored to give the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead halfway through the game. The Flyers didn't get on the board until 5:01 remaining when Ville Leino scored.

Columbus had just four shots in the third period.

Price, Canadiens continue strong start
Maybe Montreal made the right decision after all. Or at least, didn't make a bad one.

Carey Price made 27 saves and Andrei Kostitsyn scored in overtime to give Montreal a 3-2 win over Phoenix. Kostitsyn also had an assist. Michael Cammalleri finally showed up, with a goal and an assist and Tomas Plekanec netted his third of the season.

Derek Morris's power play goal early in the third period helped force overtime. Kyle Turris also scored for Phoenix.

Wild PP running out of juice, Kings win
The law of averages said Minnesota's power play would return to a more normal rate at some point. It's failing hardcore now.

Los Angeles killed off all four man-advantages the Wild had, including a five-minute one, and erased a two-goal deficit to knock off Minnesota, 3-2 in a shootout.

John Madden and Nick Schultz scored 1:50 apart in the game's opening seven minutes to stake the Wild to the early lead. Los Angeles slowly took control of the game and its power play proved more potent, with power play goals by Jarret Stoll and Anze Kopitar late in the first and second period, respectively, to tie the score.

Michal Handzus scored in the fifth shootout round and Jonathan Quick (20 saves) stopped Mittens to give the Kings the win. Stoll converted in the third round needing a goal to keep the shootout going.

Monday's games

Philadelphia (3-3-1) at Columbus (4-3-0), 7 p.m. EDT

The Flyers had a chance to make a statement in the Eastern Conference with a five-game homestand but a 2-3-0 record in that time put a hole in that plan. So Philadelphia takes to the road for two of the next three games. Mike Richards finally found his way onto the scoresheet, doubling his points total in one game with three. But apart from Danny Briere, most of Philadelphia's stars aren't scoring. The goaltending situation is as murky as ever. Sergei Bobrovsky has been nothing special since his debut, leading to a return of Brian Boucher in goal.

The Blue Jackets have won three of their last four games, including an impressive win over Chicago, and score either two or three goals each game. They haven't scored fewer than two or more than three in any of their seven games. Steve Mason might be the most Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde player in the league. He's either outstanding or horrible. In his three wins, he's given up five goals and has a .949 save percentage. In his three losses, he's allowed 14 goals with an .846 save percentage. R.J. Umberger has more goals (four) than Rick Nash has points (three, all goals.)

Philadelphia 4, Columbus 2

Phoenix (2-2-2) at Montreal (4-2-1), 7:30 p.m., RDS

If you're like me, you're still not accustomed to thinking the last category in a team's record is a loss. The Coyotes have dropped four of their last five games. Maybe, like Philadelphia, they need to get on the road, where tonight's game marks the start of three straight away from Arizona. Phoenix struggles to score and not only that, the Coyotes rarely get power play chances. Phoenix is last in the league with 14 power play opportunities, nine below the next lowest team.

Carey Price has played every minute so far for Montreal and finally living up to the hype. I don't even know who Montreal's backup is. He's needed to be good because the Canadiens aren't getting any offense from Brian Gionta (one goal) or Michael Cammalleri (two, both in the same game). Instead, Andrei Kostitsyn (four goals, six points) is finally rounding into the form he showed in 2007-08 when he had 26 goals and 53 points. Tomas Plekanec (six points) is showing he's worth the new contract he signed in the offseason.

Montreal 3, Phoenix 1

Los Angeles (5-2-0) at Minnesota (3-3-1), 8 p.m., Versus

The Kings aren't likely to get too many goals from Brad Richardson, let alone a hat trick, but the rest of LA's offense is starting to find the back of the net. Dustin Brown is up to four goals, Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds are up to two and Alexei Ponikarovsky finally netted his first as a King. Jonathan Quick has given up seven goals in his last two games but still has a 1.97 GAA but could give way to Jonathan Bernier tonight. Los Angeles, playing without Drew Doughty (concussion) is playing the third of five straight road games.

Minnesota begins a brutal five-game homestand that, despite it being only October, could play a large part in where the Wild finish at the end of the year. Consider the weakest opponent on the trip might be San Jose at this point and that's some rough going. The Wild are coming off unquestionably their worst game of the season in which even their vaunted power play was shut down for the first time. Matt Cullen is this year's Brad Richards, with eight of his nine points on the power play.

Minnesota 4, Los Angeles 2

Benching works, kind of; Sharks routed

Kovalchuk returns, scores, Devils still lose
Well, John MacLean returned Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey's lineup. It didn't matter.

Two second-period goals by Michal Roszival and Ryan Callahan proved to be enough for the Rangers, who defeated the Devils, 3-1, to drop New Jersey to 2-6-1. Kovalchuk scored with 5:52 remaining in the third period to cut the deficit in half but Henrik Lundqvist kept New Jersey off the scoreboard after that. Brandon Dubinsky scored an empty net goal with one second remaining.

New Jersey posted just 16 shots on goal through two periods but turned it on in the third, recording 12 to New York's five as the Rangers turned to defense to protect the lead. Lundqvist finished with 31 saves. Each of New York's goal scorers also had one assist.

Another shutout involving Calgary
That Antti Niemi signing is not working out for San Jose. The good news is it's only October.

Niemi gave up three goals on five shots in less than nine minutes and was pulled, and counterpart Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 27 San Jose shots to lead Calgary over the Sharks, 4-0. Rene Bourque might be turning into the next star, scoring two goals on the heels of his hat trick in his previous outing. Bourque's biggest obstacle on the road to greatness is injuries, having played an average of just 59 games over the last four seasons.

Jarome Iginla also found his way onto the scoresheet with his second goal of the year and Craig Conroy also scored. Alex Tanguay posted two assists.

Half of Calgary's eight games now have been shutouts: two for the Flames and two against. Calgary has won four of its last five.

Lindback holds back Lightning's storm
Get it? Light- never mind.

Nashville jumped out to a 4-1 lead over Tampa Bay, then had to prevent a late collapse in a 4-3 victory. Anders Lindback made 42 saves, including 14 in the third period. Tampa Bay scored twice in 57 seconds with under five minutes remaining but couldn't find the tying goal.

Sean Bergenheim staked the Lightning to a 1-0 lead before the Predators rattled off the next four goals, from Shea Weber, Sergei Kostitsyn, Cody Franson and Colin Wilson. Twelve different players recorded points for Nashville.

Adam Hall and Martin St. Louis also scored for the Lightning, whose goaltending woes (Dan Ellis made 22 saves) continue. Steven Stamkos was held to one assist and was also on the receiving end of a cross checking penalty into the boards that left him dazed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday's games: Will he or won't he?

Nashville (4-0-3) at Tampa Bay (5-1-1), 6 p.m. EDT

Your league leader in goals (eight) and points (14): Lightning center Steven Stamkos. Who's in the top four among goalies with at least 100 minutes played in goals against average and save percentage? Nashville's Pekka Rinne. Something's gotta give. (Unless Anders Lindback starts, but he's 16th so he's not bad either.)

It won't be surprising to see Lindback. Nashville played Saturday in Texas then had to travel to Tampa. The Predators snapped a three-game losing streak, which each defeat coming in overtime, by knocking off Dallas 1-0. Nashville continues to get solid production from just about everyone in the lineup.

The only flaw for the Lightning so far remains their defense and goaltending. They're first in goals per game, third in power play efficiency and sixth in penalty killing. But Mike Smith and Dan Ellis continue to be locked in a battle of mediocrity. Were it not for Stamkos, Tampa Bay's record probably isn't as good.

Stamkos has points in each game but one (that's the one regulation loss) and is coming off a three-goal, four-point effort.

Tampa Bay 3, Nashville 1

New Jersey (2-5-1) at Rangers (3-2-1), 7 p.m.

The big story from Saturday that could continue Sunday is whether Ilya Kovalchuk will play or not. John MacLean said after Saturday's embarrassing loss to Buffalo that he would make a decision on Sunday whether to play New Jersey's $100 million man. Based on how the Devils played without him, it seems silly to keep him in the press box.

If New Jersey's struggles continue, plus the Kovalchuk fiasco, MacLean could be out of a job soon.

The Devils won just one of their first five games before shutting out Montreal but then came crashing back to earth against the Sabres. Now they start a six-game road trip that frankly could make or break their season. Zach Parise has been held in check, Jamie Langenbrunner's been quiet, and Martin Brodeur either posts a shutout or gets lit up.

In Marian Gaborik's absence, no one has emerged as New York's go-to scorer. Rookie Derek Stepan is pulling a Fabian Brunnstrom - scoring a hat trick in his NHL debut and then doing nothing after. Stepan still has just three goals. Henrik Lundqvist hasn't had an easy time of things but won Saturday. Martin Biron could make his second start of the season.

New York 3, New Jersey 1

San Jose (3-2-1) at Calgary (4-3-0), 8 p.m.

The Sharks are one of several teams who are like the golf ball in Happy Gilmore: They're apparently too good for their home. San Jose is 0-2-1 as the home team (counting the game in Sweden when it was the home team) but 3-0 as the road team. The Sharks have out-scored opponents 10-3 in their last two games, both road wins, which spells trouble for a Calgary team that's still not all right.

The Flames have been somewhat better of late, with three wins in four games. Rene Bourque has four goals, including a hat trick, in three games since returning from a concussion. But you know who has one goal between them? Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester. Not nearly good enough.

San Jose 4, Calgary 2

Kovalchuk benched; Hat tricks, shutouts on the menu

Kovalchuk a healthy scratch, Devils routed
When you're scheduled to pay a guy $100 million over 15 years, making him a healthy scratch in Year 1, Month 1 might not be the best way to get him going.

New Jersey coach John MacLean scratched Ilya Kovalchuk from Saturday's lineup, saying it was a coach's decision, and would not commit to playing Kovalchuk in Sunday's game. The Devils responded by getting slaughtered by Buffalo, 6-1. Johan Hedberg gave up four goals before being replaced by Martin Brodeur.

Mind-boggling decision, if you ask me. Kovalchuk wasn't playing all that poorly - he leads the team with five points - but isn't performing at the all-world level he's capable of. Still, a healthy scratch? MacLean's tenure as head coach couldn't have gotten off to a worse start. New Jersey fell to 2-5-1. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner all but apologized for the team's woeful performance in front of Hedberg, who made his first start of the season.

As for the game, the Sabres scored the game's first five goals. Thomas Vanek had two. Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers and Patrick Kaleta also scored. Ryan Miller made 26 saves and Mike Grier, Rob Neidermayer and Derek Roy each had two assists.

Zach Parise scored New Jersey's lone goal.

More hat tricks
--John Tavares netted a hat trick but the Islanders fell to Florida, 4-3, on Radek Dvorak's goal late in the third period.
--Alexander Semin did most of the work, scoring three times, and Washington overcame a late tying goal by Atlanta to get an overtime winner from Tomas Fleischmann to beat the Thrashers, 4-3.
--Brad Richardson tallied his first three goals of the season and led Los Angeles over Colorado 6-4 in a wild back-and-forth affair. Richardson scored twice in the third period, once shorthanded, to break a 4-4 tie. Jonathan Quick made 28 saves. Paul Stastny had three points, including two goals, and Milan Hejduk also scored twice for the Avs. The Altitude network guys? Bummin'.

Clean sheets
--Carey Price wasn't busy, needing to make just 19 saves as Montreal blanked Ottawa, 3-0. Andrei Kostitsyn scored twice.
--From the "I'm glad he's out West" department, Jaroslav Halak showed he still owns the Penguins, fending off all 31 shots sent his way and Erik Johnson's overtime goal gave St. Louis a 1-0 win over Pittsburgh. Brent Johnson made 23 saves in defeat.
--Cal O'Reilly's goal 42 seconds from the start of the game proved to be the only tally, and Pekka Rinne's 30 saves guided Nashville over Dallas, 1-0. Kari Lehtonen made 23 saves.

Beating the clock
Pavel Datsyuk scored with 12 seconds remaining in regulation and Detroit squeaked past Anaheim, 5-4. Henrik Zetterberg had four points, including two goals. Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom also scored for Detroit. Jimmy Howard made 21 saves. Ryan Carter, Danny Syvret, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne scored for the Ducks.

Back to the bench
Tuukka Rask made his first start since the season opener for Boston but dropped a 3-2 decision to the Rangers. In his defense, one of the goals was awfully flukey, being batted into the air then deflected off a defenseman's glove and over Rask into the net. That was the second of two goals in 27 seconds for New York. Artem Anisimov, Alexander Frolov and Marc Staal scored for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 35 shots.

There were three first-period fights in this game.

That's more like it
--Philadelphia dominated Toronto, out-shooting the visitors 40-14 and earned a 5-2 victory. Mike Richards scored his first of the season and had two assists. Special props to Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who blocked eight shots.
--Six different players scored for San Jose, which routed Edmonton, 6-1. Joe Pavelski had a goal and two assists and Joe Thornton posted three helpers. Antero Niittymaki won his second straight start, making 21 saves.

I hate you, Steve Mason
So you get bombed for six goals, earning yourself a spot on my bench (although in my defense, I played Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick ahead of him) but then respond by shutting down Chicago, making 30 saves to lead Columbus to a 3-2 win. The Blue Jackets got goals from R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette in the third period to erase a 2-1 deficit. Derick Brassard also scored for the Blue Jackets, who had fallen behind 2-0 on goals by Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. Corey Crawford made 37 saves.

Not too road-weary
Carolina, on the last of its seven-game road trip that included trips to Finland, all parts of Canada, California and Arizona, allowed a 3-0 lead slip away but rebounded for a 4-3 overtime victory over Phoenix on Anton Babchuk's goal. Cam Ward stopped 36 shots. The Coyotes scored twice in 22 seconds with two minutes remaining to force overtime. Kyle Turris had two goals and one assist for Phoenix.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday's action

Thirteen games Saturday night. Big decisions for fantasy hockey lineups.

Rangers (2-2-1) at Boston (4-1-0), 7 p.m. EDT

One begins to wonder if Tuukka Rask will ever start again for the Bruins. Tim Thomas has been phenomenal and the offseason acquisition of Nathan Horton is working, as Horton leads Boston with four goals and seven points. New York snapped a three-game losing streak last time out. Boston 3, New York 1

Anaheim (3-4-1) at Detroit (4-1-1), 7 p.m.

Pop quiz: Who leads the Red Wings in scoring? Pavel Datsyuk? Henrik Zetterberg? Johan Franzen? No, it's Todd Bertuzzi, with eight points. Detroit has allowed two power play goals all season. Ryan Getzlaf has been good lately for the Ducks, but it'll be curious to see who starts. Curtis McElhinney made his first start and was fabulous in a win at Philadelphia. Detroit 4, Anaheim 2

Buffalo (2-5-1) at New Jersey (2-4-1), 7 p.m.

I'd like to say I saw Buffalo's struggles coming, and I kind of did but didn't publicize it so I won't take credit, but the Sabres were primed for a down year. They didn't improve themselves at all. Now they're looking like this year's Carolina, a playoff team that fell off the earth the following year. Some beleaguered team will get a win. These teams met 10 days ago and it was a 1-0 overtime game. I wonder if there will be that many goals this time. New Jersey 2, Buffalo 1

Montreal (3-2-1) at Ottawa (2-4-1), 7 p.m., RDS

The Canadiens have a real good penalty killing unit too, having given up only two power play goals, both in the same game. The problem is that's one more power play goal than they've scored (1-for-20.) Daniel Alfredsson is coming off a hat trick for the Senators, who snapped a two-game losing streak. Montreal 3, Ottawa 2

Toronto (4-1-1) at Philadelphia (2-3-1), 7 p.m., NHL Network

The natives are probably restless in Toronto after the Maple Leafs dropped their second straight game. Clarke MacArthur isn't contributing nearly enough (five goals, seven points.) After averaging four goals in their first four games, the Maple Leafs have just two in their last two. The Flyers sure are struggling, on a three-game losing streak with only five goals scored during that time. The power play is ineffective (2-for-27.) Someone tell Mike Richards (no goals) the season has started. Toronto 4, Philadelphia 2

Atlanta (3-4-0) at Washington (4-3-0), 7 p.m.

The Capitals are just happy to see someone other than Boston, as the Bruins held Washington to two goals in two games. It's just a matter of time until Washington breaks out offensively again, and the Thrashers are stinging after giving up nine goals in their last two games. Washington 5, Atlanta 2

Islanders (4-1-2) at Florida (2-3-0), 7 p.m.

I'm not sure at what point New York evolves from "feisty" to "intriguing" to "playoff contender" but the Islanders are on the right track. They've won three straight and are on top the Atlantic Division. At the least, they're in the "intriguing" stage. Take away a six-goal aberration against Tampa Bay and the Panthers have only seven goals scored. New York 2, Florida 0

Pittsburgh (5-3-0) at St. Louis (3-1-2), 8 p.m.

The Penguins could face their 2010 playoff nemesis for the first time since May. Jaroslav Halak has helped the Blues to three early-season wins, including one last night against Chicago. Pittsburgh has won four straight and the stars are waking up. Brent Johnson will be back in goal for the Penguins. St. Louis lost three straight until Friday's win over the Blackhawks. David Perron has four goals in his last two games. Pittsburgh 3, St. Louis 1

Nashville (3-0-3) at Dallas (5-1-0), 8 p.m.

The Predators remain the only team to earn points from each game. I still don't really know how they're doing it. The Stars are a strange team. They're first in goals scored per game despite their power play being 2-for-22 (this is a recurring theme, isn't it?) and their penalty killing is the worst in the league. They've given up a lot of goals but so far have had the offensive punch to overcome it. Dallas 4, Nashville 2

Columbus (3-3-0) at Chicago (5-3-1), 8:30 p.m.

Chicago's four-game win streak was snapped and the Blackhawks look to re-establish it against a Blue Jackets team that probably isn't very good. Rick Nash has been all but invisible as teams key on him defensively. Steve Mason is not showing signs of progression as an NHL goalie. Chicago 5, Columbus 1

Los Angeles (4-2-0) at Colorado (4-3-0), 9 p.m.

I'm not going to preview this game really just once again advise you to listen to Colorado's radio broadcast. I tuned in to the last minute of Colorado's loss to San Jose on Thursday and the play-by-play guy seriously sounded like his dog just died when he said, "That's it, the game's over, San Jose wins." He sounded like he needed a drink or two, or 10. Just pure awesomeness. Not that the Avalanche lost, just how biased he is. Anyway, both teams are good so it should be a good one. Colorado 4, Los Angeles 2, laugh-out-loud moments on the radio: 18, minimum

Carolina (3-3-0) at Phoenix (2-2-1), 9 p.m.

I have no idea what to make of the Hurricanes. They beat the Wild twice, but lost to the Senators, then beat San Jose...this is the last game of their extended road trip so I'm betting they're going to be tired. The Coyotes got a hat trick from Lee Stempniak in snapping a three-game losing streak. I'm betting plenty of seats are still available for this one. Phoenix 2, Carolina 1

San Jose (2-2-1) at Edmonton (2-3-0), 10 p.m., CBC

I also don't know how to analyze the Sharks, except to say I don't think they're very good. But I don't know why that would be. Probably that 5-on-5 scoring. San Jose's power play has scored in every game (8-for-28) but the Sharks aren't scoring elsewhere. And the goaltending and defense haven't been good (16 goals against.) But at least the good thing for them is the Oilers aren't very good either. San Jose 4, Edmonton 2

Hat tricks galore

A lot of people are going shopping Saturday for a new hat. There were three hat tricks from five games last night, and each one was completed in the final 32 seconds of the game, two into empty nets.

--Rene Bourque's hat trick - one shorthanded - and assist helped Calgary rout Columbus, 6-2. As I predicted, Steve Mason got bombed. Jarome Iginla notched three assists. Jay Bouwmeester recorded his first point of the season for Calgary. Yeah. I'd much rather have him over Dion Phaneuf.
--I correctly predicted Tampa Bay's 5-2 victory over Atlanta thanks in part to Steven Stamkos' hat trick and one assist.
--Daniel Alfredsson scored three times and Ottawa doubled up Buffalo, 4-2, unlike what I predicted. Tim Connolly made an appearance for the Sabres, netting both goals.

Behind two goals from David Perron and a late power play marker by Patrik Berglund, St. Louis snapped Chicago's four-game win streak, 4-2. The Blackhawks were limited offensively as Jaroslav Halak needed to make just 23 saves.

What goes around comes around
This one has dual meaning. First, Minnesota's grinders did much of the damage Thursday in a win over Edmonton. This time, Minnesota fell victim to another team's grinders. Plus, Vancouver avenged their embarrassing 6-2 loss at Minnesota by romping over the Wild, 5-1, behind two goals and an assist from Manny Malhotra.