Sunday, January 30, 2011

On the All-Star Game


Maybe I've just done a 180 in my thinking, or perhaps maybe because my team had a goalie in the all-star game for the first time in my lifetime (at least, since I turned 1) and I wanted to tune in to see how much he'd get lit up, but I no longer understand the hatred for the all-star game.

I mean, we all know what it is, don't we? It's an exhibition, a time and place to muck around and have fun without having to care or worry about who wins. It's a time to see players NBC and Versus never show - and since Sidney Crosby is always hurt this time of year, the haters can rejoice because we never hear his name - and we can see what the "other" players in the league are capable of doing. I know, I'm as surprised as you that other players exist in the league.

If we want to drum up interest in the game, I figure there's two solutions. Make it really mean something or turn it so gimmicky that we see things we'll never ever see in a normal game.

Should we decide to make it mean something, our options are limited. Unlike baseball or the NFL, the NHL's regular season actually has significance when determining postseason home-field advantage. Baseball's decision to have the winner of the all-star game determine home field for the World Series is one of the dumber ideas so there's no way the NHL should follow suit.

What are other choices? Bonus pay for the winner? Money is always a good motivation, and even with the bloated contracts these days, a small payday of $25,000 or whatever might make players try harder, play defense, things like that in order to win. Or it might not. I'm open for other suggestions.

I would suggest if we want the game to be more like regular hockey than we need to build the teams more like a standard hockey team. We'll have to add guys like Paul Gaustad, Ryan Callahan, Brent Seabrook, Brooks Orpik - who, much to my surprise, James Mirtle had ranked as the top defensive defenseman in the league at one point - and other players known for their defensive play. Grinders, faceoff specialists, guys like that, and let them hit and shot-block like in their normal day jobs. Linesmen will have to wave guys out of the faceoff circle constantly for no reason like they do now.

And then we'll run the risk of players being injured in a meaningless game. I don't know about you, but I don't want to see Orpik laying out Crosby, or Brent Burns laying out Martin Havlat. It's the same concern as in the Olympics without the whole "playing for the country" part. I doubt Randy Carlyle wants to see Corey Perry crashing the net against Jonas Hiller, all because people want to morph the all-star game into something resembling a real game but with nothing on the line except, perhaps, pride or a handful of dollars.

As it is, some players already ask not to be selected so that they can rest up and heal any nagging injuries they currently have. If they're afraid of getting hurt or reaggravating an injury in a game without hitting, how willing will they be if there's a serious tone to the game?

So why not go all gimmicky? Let's start by suspending some rules - the stupid trapezoid, icing and even offsides. Remove one referee. We hardly need two for this game.

Alternatively, we can use the game to test some rules changes. For instance, instead of removing icing we can use no-touch icing and see how it works in some semblance of a game and get some evidence if it'd be worth making a permanent change.

Let's tweak the scoring. Add basketball/Rock-n-Jock softball type of nuances such as goals will be worth more the further out they're scored. Think of the strategy! Down three? Just keep firing from the point and hope you get something through. Try to catch goalies off-guard from center ice. Complete four passes in a row before scoring to double the goal's value.

Random penalty shots for no reason, just because the referee feels like giving one. Or is the high scoring games the problem? Do people prefer to see 1-0 or 2-1 games?

I love the fantasy draft and how it has the ability to put teammates against each other, which granted was possible during the lame North America-v-the World format. It leads to moments like Kris Letang's interview this year, when he, perhaps jokingly or perhaps not, said he made a giveaway that led to a goal to help even the score for Pittsburgh teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, who was getting shelled for the other team.

Thus, more heel turns! Let's see the Sedins playing on different teams but still going in on a 2-on-1 trying to score in the same net anyway. Then one of them can double-cross the other and head in the opposite direction without passing the puck. Or Jonas Hiller stepping aside to allow Corey Perry score.

I guess the scorn for the all-star game is it's not a real game, not real hockey, right? Did we ever pretend that it was? I always loved the game because it meant players who should hate or at least be very competitive against each other put aside their loyalties and joke around together like old buddies. Witness Alex Ovechkin and Fleury joking with each other during the skills competition, or Fleury and Carey Price, who had dueling taunting poses after games in Montreal recently. That's why I like all star games. The result, the playing style was irrelevant to me. It was nice just seeing the camaraderie.

Of course, my favorite idea for improving the all-star game is play it outside. That doesn't seem likely to happen. Frankly, I still view the Winter Classic as more of a gimmick than the all-star game, and I'll still hate the former much more than the latter. But I won't get started on that again.

Perhaps one solution is to make sure every team has someone who plays in the game itself. The NHL fixed that in one way by ensuring that at least one veteran or rookie from every team participated in at least the skills competition. Maybe the league should go one step further. My interest in MLB's all-star game is only to see how the players from my team fare. OK, the player, singular. The Pirates haven't exactly been good lately to have multiple all-stars.

The results of our hockey teams are live-or-die for many of us and it's nice having this exhibition where the results don't matter. The all-star game isn't something that should be taken seriously or take as much heat as it does. If someone chooses to be apathetic towards the event, fine, can't blame you. That's how I felt for a while.

I've always enjoyed the skills competition more than the game and probably always will. The all-star game isn't perfect, and it's not a real NHL game and likely never will be, but I fail to see why it has to be.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

ASG Draft Underwhelming; Game's Condition Grave


I was more excited for this ASG than I had been in a few years. I thought Shanny had done a good job trying to breathe life into a potentially moribund event.

The obvious question was whether his efforts were spent on an event that is, in the immortal words of Miracle Max, "mostly dead", or if the ASG - like other sports' ASGs - was all dead (at which point, we've learned, there's only one thing to do: go through it's pockets and look for loose change.)

So, I sat down with my mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich (and the mutton was nice and lean - so perky, I love that) to watch the proceedings on Vs with an element of anticipation that I had not been able to attach to anything related to the ASG for a while.

First and foremost, James Duthie. Ugh. I love me some goobers. Especially Canadian goobers. Jeff Marek is one of my favorite Canadian goober hockey personalities. He'd have been great. But Duthie fails for trying to be cooler, smarter, more-legit than he is. He tries for Bob McKenzie, The Hockey Insider; he ends up Bob McKenzie, Doug's brother. James needs to spend less time trying to be cool and more time letting the hockey players be the show. Regardless, his presence was a bad omen from the outset. Why couldn't Shanny have been the host? JR? If you're going for campy, then let a player do it. If you're going for legit, then tapping Duthie is just a joke.

The thing would have been cool if it had been on ice, letting the captains pick by making players do hockey things. "OV you and Stamkos go to the far goal line and take turns shooting at the other net. I'll pick which ever one of you doesn't miss first." "Both of you start bouncing a puck off your stick. I'll pick the one who can do it longer." Stuff like that.

But putting them in the pens and then bringing them up into those boxes gave the whole thing a weird, hockey dream, Family Feud feeling to it.

Also, have you ever seen a sweater with so much promise on the front side that was dashed so conclusively by the back side? Woof.

From Duthie, to the arm candy, to the decided lack of personality, to the drawn out nature due to the football game-like number of commercials, the whole thing failed for me. What could have been a fun exposition of the coolness of hockey players became a made-for-TV circle jerk for TSN. Boring.

And now I have to admit that I can't see how this new wrinkle is going to do anything to up the fun factor of the game itself. No one's going to be running around hitting people. It's going to continue to be an offensive practice session. Which is fine. But, we've seen that movie.

I'll watch, because it's the NHL and it's on TV and I'm a fan.

But I can't see this making the ASG any more of a "happening" than it is already; which is to say: not at all.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The break is here

This is it. The "halfway" point of the season, even though every team has played more than half its games. No more hockey this month. No more hockey for almost a WEEK. Real hockey, anyway. DEAR GOD I'M ALREADY GOING INTO WITHDRAWAL.

Ahem. I'm better now. To the results!

O Captain, my Captain
Eric Staal is going into the All-Star break in his home arena in style.

The Carolina captain scored twice and set up a third goal as the Hurricanes doubled up the Islanders, 4-2. His two goals came in a span of 1:28 and put Carolina ahead 3-1 in the second period. Erik Cole had two helpers and Zach Boychuk and Brandon Sutter also scored. Cam Ward made 23 saves.

Michael Grabner and Andrew MacDonald both had a goal and assist for New York.

Thomas gives up goal, wins anyway
I told you before, it's almost news when Tim Thomas doesn't get a shutout.

This time he let Bryan freaking Allen beat him but Thomas still made 34 saves to lead Boston over Florida, 2-1. Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic scored for the Bruins.

Changing of the times
It wasn't that long ago - uh, last season - when Washington owned the Southeast Division. That's not the case this year.

For the second time this season, Ondrej Pavelec blanked Washington, making 36 saves in a 1-0 victory. Nik Antropov scored the only goal. The Thrashers went 4-1-1 against the Capitals this season. Atlanta ended a streak of 1-4-3.

Bouncing back
One game after giving up seven goals, Kari Lehtonen stopped 34 of 35 shots and Brenden Morrow scored twice to lead Dallas over Edmonton, 3-1. Mike Ribeiro and Jamie Langenbrunner both had two assists and Adam Burish also scored for the Stars. Dustin Penner scored for the Oilers.

Getting more but not enough
Colorado registered just one shot on goal in the third period before rebounding to finish with 31. Yet Ilya Bryzgalov fended off 29 of those and two third-period goals sealed Phoenix's 5-2 victory. Eric Belanger scored twice and Keith Yandle had a goal and assist.

Been a while
For the first time in nearly three weeks, New Jersey failed to earn a point from a game. That was after a disallowed goal and two strikes by Detroit in the third period helped give the Red Wings a 3-1 win. The Devils had won four in a row and were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Jimmy Howard made 23 saves, Valtteri Filppula broke a 1-1 tie and Johan Franzen's goal in the final minute sealed the win.

A rolling Moss gathers no stone
Er, a rolling puck gathers no Moss? A rolling Moss scores two goals? I don't know. Regardless, David Moss scored a pair of power play goals plus assisted on Adam Pardy's goal and Calgary downed St. Louis, 4-1. Moss has 19 points on the strength of seven multi-point games, including three games with three points. He's scored a single point just twice with four two-point performances. Miikka Kiprusoff made 28 saves and Jarome Iginla scored into an empty net.

Shea Weber broke a scoreless tie early in the third period but two goals by Vancouver in 1:52 - by Alex Burrows and someone called Lee Sweatt - gave the Canucks a 2-1 win over Nashville. Roberto Luongo made 26 saves.

In the shootout
Jonathan Quick made 22 saves and Jarret Stoll had the only shootout goal as Los Angeles upended San Jose, 3-2.

--I'm sitting here hugging my knees to my chest, nervously biting my fingernails. What the hell am I supposed to do until next Tuesday? Talk with my family? Go outside? To hell with that.

--That was a pretty crucial win for Atlanta. The Thrashers would be out of the playoff picture if they had lost in regulation. Their footing still isn't safe as they've experienced a slide in January (4-4-3).

--Hey, remember when Tim Thomas was a washed up, overpaid has-been who Boston couldn't trade no matter what? Yeah, me neither.

--And Tuukka Rask was Boston's go-to goalie?

--How hot are the Flames now? Get it? Because... OK, I'll stop it on that note. (The answer is 10-3-3 since Dec. 23.)

May you all find suitable hockey-like substitutes to fill your needs over the next several days.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hiller takes lead; Florida makes one count

Key milestone for Blake, Ducks
This particular achievement for Jason Blake stunned me. It seemed he scored this many goals just against the Penguins.

Playing in his 800th career game, Blake netted his 200th career goal which turned out to be the winner as Anaheim edged Columbus, 3-2. Jonas Hiller made 35 saves and now leads the NHL with 25 victories.

Teemu Selanne had a goal and assist, Lubomir Visnovsky and Saku Koivu both had two assists and Cam Fowler also scored for the Ducks.

Derrick Brassard led the Blue Jackets with a goal and assist.

One is the loneliest number
Florida registered one shot on goal in the third period against the Rangers. The Panthers scored on that one shot. It proved to be the game-winner.

Mike Weaver put the Panthers ahead after New York scored two straight goals to tie the game and Florida came away a 4-3 victor despite getting only 17 shots total on Henrik Lundqvist. Mike Santorelli and Rostislav Olesz both had a goal and assist for the Panthers. Tomas Vokoun made 32 saves.

Mats Zuccarello assisted on each New York goal.

Too many penalties doom Montreal against Flyers
When you play a team as stacked as Philadelphia, it's a good idea to stay out of the penalty box.

Montreal took three penalties in 1:31 and Philadelphia scored a pair of power play goals in 63 seconds en route to a 5-2 rout. Chris Pronger tallied four assists as Philadelphia had five different goal scorers, including Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux. Danny Briere had an empty net goal and assist. Sergei Bobrovsky made 29 saves.

Mathieu Darche led the Canadiens with a goal and assist.

Late strike
Dustin Penner's goal with 21.3 seconds remaining in the third period lifted Edmonton over Phoenix, 4-3. Taylor Hall had a goal and assist and Shawn Horcoff posted two helpers as the Oilers scored three times in the third period. Devan Dubnyk made 24 saves. Scottie Upshall led the Coyotes with two goals.

Hosed but not quite
--Ottawa tied its game with Buffalo with 6:04 left in regulation despite Nick Foligno apparently bowling over Ryan Miller but the Sabres netted the winner in overtime from Shaone Morrisonn to escape, 3-2. Thomas Vanek had two assists and Miller finished with 27 saves. The Senators have lost six in a row and 12 of 13.
--Chicago will bitch about an apparent goal canceled out by a quick whistle but the Blackhawks didn't score again anyway in a 4-2 defeat to Minnesota. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Chuck Kobasew both had a goal and assist and Niklas Backstrom stopped 31 shots.

Clean sheets
--Making a rare appearance in this category, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 29 shots he saw, including quite a few good ones, and Pittsburgh won a strong goaltending duel with the Islanders, 1-0. It was just Fleury's second shutout of the season. Craig Adams had the lone goal midway through the third period. Kevin Poulin had a nice effort with 30 saves in defeat.
--Dwayne Roloson made 26 saves and Teddy Purcell's goal and assist led Tampa Bay over Toronto, 2-0.

--Ottawa shouldn't make any changes. The Senators really should just tank as much as they can and see if they can get the top pick. The scary thing is they might not have to try to tank, it might just come naturally.

--The Ducks are playing pretty nicely, though a lot of it is Hiller's doing, but they might become more dangerous when they actually get Ryan Getzlaf back.

--I think Florida and Buffalo look at the Western Conference playoff picture and decided they should make things at least a little interesting in the East. Also, that they're glad they're not in the West.

--Fleury is now fifth in the league in GAA and S%. That's remarkable considering how horrid a start he had. He once ranked 33rd or 35th, something like that, in save percentage, and his GAA was over 3.30. Two of the last three months he had a GAA under 2.00 (and the other month it was 2.01) and in each month since October, his save percentage has been over .930.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Calgary back in it?; Canuckleheads win big

Three-game surge has Flames shining bright
Get it? Because it's fire, and it's bright? Anyway.

Calgary has thrown its hat back into the Western Conference playoff race following a 3-1 win over current No. 4 Nashville. The Flames have won three in a row and are 5-1-3 in their last nine games. Calgary's positioning is hardly secure and perhaps not even optimistic - the Flames are 12th and can easily be passed by two teams in a day or two - but at just four points behind the current No. 8 team, the Flames are no longer nearly dead as they once were.

Power play goals by Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrison on a nifty tic-tac-toe play turned a 1-1 tie into the game's final margin. Matt Stajan and Alex Tanguay both had two assists and Curtis Glencross also scored. Miikka Kiprusoff made 23 saves.

Vancouver owns Dallas
When last the Canucks and Stars met, Vancouver scored three power play goals in a 4-1 victory. This time, Vancouver struck for, you guessed it, three power play goals, this time in a 7-1 rout.

Two of those power play goals came 81 seconds apart shortly after Brad Richards had canceled out Alex Burrows' opening goal. Ryan Kesler deflected home one goal and set up a great screen on Christian Ehrhoff's. Then the rout was on.

Fourteen different Canucks recorded at least one point. Feel shame, Tanner Glass, Manny Malhotra, Jannik Hansen and Kevin Bieksa. Henrik Sedin had a goal and two assists. Kesler, Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson each had one and one, and Daniel Sedin and Alexander Edler both posted two helpers. Dan Hamhuis also scored and Roberto Luongo made 25 saves.

The win was just Vancouver's second in regulation in the last nine games (one SO win, two L's and four OTLs.)

Too little, too late
Washington had only 13 shots on goal with under four minutes to play in regulation, then poured on 10 more in the final nine minutes - including overtime. Had the Capitals applied that kind of pressure the whole game, they might have gotten two points. Instead, the Rangers came away with a 2-1 shootout victory.

Marian Gaborik's fluke goal off his glove tied the score at 1-1 with 6:41 to play, then New York scored three times in four rounds in the shootout against Braden Holtby, who looked bad on each goal. Artem Anisimov had the winner and Martin Biron made 22 saves.

Washington had six shots in overtime but didn't have more than six in any regulation period.

Blink and you'll miss a goal
Carolina and Toronto combined for seven third-period goals - on 18 combined shots - in what became a crazy 6-4 Hurricanes win. Tim Brent of all people scored twice in 1:11, the second being shorthanded, to erase a 3-1 Carolina lead. The Hurricanes responded with goals by Brandon Sutter and Jeff Skinner, with Erik Cole's empty netter coming after Toronto's Mike Brown got a goal back.

Sutter scored twice and Jussi Jokinen posted two assists. Joe Corvo had a goal and assist and Cam Ward made 26 saves.

Brent finished with three points.

Quick strikes and Colorado hangs on
Goals by Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Stoa - the latter needing a video review - 44 seconds apart gave Colorado a 4-2 lead which became a 4-3 win over St. Louis. Brandon Yip scored twice for the Avs and Peter Budaj made 21 saves.

Brad Boyes assisted on all three Blues goals, including one by David Backes with 1:27 to play.

Fine, I'll do it myself
Los Angeles has struggled on offense of late and Jonathan Quick has had enough.

Quick stopped all 34 shots he saw and Ryan Smyth's power play goal held up as the winner as the Kings downed Boston, 2-0. It was Quick's fifth shutout. Andrei Loktionov scored early in the third period for a key insurance goal.

--Ha! Eat it, Boston. Not so easy coming back from down two goals with four minutes left when you're not playing the Penguins, is it? ... I just made myself sad.

--I don't like to give Bruce Boudreau any credit - in fact, the way he handles his goalies makes me angry as a fantasy owner - but the guy says some good stuff. Like how he admitted during tonight's in-game interview that the game was boring.

--Vancouver would accept Evgeni Malkin for Ryan Kesler straight up, wouldn't they?

--What do you think goes through a goalie's mind as they're getting burned? Tim Brent made such a great move for one of his goals that he had Cam Ward flailing 10 feet out of his crease with no prayer to stop Brent's shot. Do they say, "Oh (expletive)"?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Flyers earn "revenge"; Preds get lucky

One-sided rematch
Oh, how sweet revenge is. Or something like that.

Jeff Carter scored twice and assisted on another as Philadelphia earned a 4-1 victory over Chicago in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Final. Claude Giroux assisted on all four Flyers goals, the other two by Nikolay Zherdev and Scott Hartnell's empty net tally. Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves. Zherdev also had an assist.

Bad night for Patricks Sharp and Kane, whose minus-3 efforts each might have doomed a fantasy team or two that participates in leagues that still use plus/minus as a category, even though it's a stupid real-life stat.

Closer-sided rematch
Oh, how sweet reve- never mind.

Two days after losing a lackluster 5-2 decision at home to the Islanders, Buffalo scored three times in the third period to hand that same New York a 5-3 home defeat. Nathan Gerbe broke a 2-2 tie with a power play goal then set up Tyler Myers for his first goal since November, a play that had to be reviewed after no one had any idea where the puck was. Turns out, the puck was over the goal line.

Myers, Tyler Ennis and Jason Pominville each had a goal and assist, with Pominville sealing the win by scoring into an empty net. Ryan Miller made 31 saves.

Matt Moulson scored twice for the Islanders.

Why couldn't he have coached all season?
It took a couple of weeks, but the Devils have apparently relearned Jacques Lemaire's system.

Behind three points by Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey won its fourth straight game and sixth in the last seven - which includes downing Tampa Bay twice, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh - by defeating Florida, 5-2. Kovalchuk had one goal, Jason Arnott scored twice and Martin Brodeur's resurgence continued with 24 saves. Even Brian Rolston is figuring out how to become an offensive producer again with a goal and assist, giving him three goals and 10 points in the last seven games.

The foot's on the other hand
Tampa Bay decided it'd be neat to blow someone else out instead of be on the receiving end.

Five second-period goals sparked the Lightning's biggest win of the season, 7-1 over Atlanta. It also ended a string of three straight shootouts - all victories - for Tampa Bay, which has won four straight overall. Simon Gagne scored twice, Martin St. Louis had a goal and assist and Steven Stamkos scored. Teddy Purcell dished out three assists and Vincent Lecavalier two. Dwayne Roloson made 21 saves.

I don't know the rules
I thought that if a player dropped or placed a stick along the goal line and that stick ended up saving a goal, that at the least the scoring team would get a penalty shot if not a goal. Maybe that's only if deemed intentional, and Pekka Rinne's lost stick was merely a legitimate accident.

In any case, Rinne lost his stick at one point in overtime and it ended up along the goal line. Shawn Horcoff's backhander slid under Rinne, hit the stick and slid away instead of cross the line. Nashville proceeded to earn a 3-2 shootout victory over Edmonton. The save was one of 22 by Rinne. Alexander Sulzer had a goal and assist and Cody Franson netted the shootout winner for the Predators. Franson also had two assists.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bruins roll again; Conference leaders not so much

Double trouble
Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand both scored a pair of goals, with Marchand adding two assists, and Boston routed Colorado, 6-2. Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron each scored once with two helpers. Tim Thomas made 32 saves. Kevin Shattenkirk led Colorado with a goal and assist.

Fallen titans
--Patrik Elias scored twice, once into an empty net, and New Jersey handed Philadelphia a rare regulation loss, 3-1. Johan Hedberg made 26 saves and Henrik Tallinder netted a goal and assist.
--Corey Crawford made 36 saves - 20 in the third period - and Tomas Kopecky had a pair of goals to lead Chicago past Detroit, 4-1.

Empty trick
Alex Ovechkin capped a hat trick with an empty net goal in Washington's 4-1 win over Toronto. Braden Holtby made 35 saves and Nicklas Backstrom posted two helpers. True fact: That was Ovechkin's first multi-goal game since OCTOBER 30. Wow. That was 38 games ago and just his third multi-goal outing of the season.

Special play
The Penguins figured out that to score without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, four skaters must be on the ice for at least one team. Dustin Jeffrey scored four-on-four, Mark Letestu netted a power play goal and a shorthanded goal by Pascal Dupuis proved to be the winner as Pittsburgh hung on to defeat Carolina, 3-2. Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves, conceding two late goals that made things interesting.

Getting it done late
Columbus scored three times in the third period, including two late strikes in the final 3:28, to leave St. Louis with a 5-2 victory. Five different Blue Jackets scored, including Rick Nash, and Derrick Brassard and Jakub Voracek both had two assists. Steve Mason made 19 saves.

Los Angeles let a 3-0 lead vanish but Jarret Stoll's goal early in the third period allowed the Kings to grab a 4-3 win over Phoenix. Jonathan Quick made 23 saves. Lee Stempniak scored twice for the Coyotes.

One-third of Devin Setoguchi's goals this season have come against Minnesota. Setoguchi scored twice, his first points since Jan. 1 (10 games ago), upping his goal total to nine as San Jose hung on to edge the Wild, 4-3. Patrick Marleau posted two assists and Antti Niemi made 23 saves. Mikko Koivu had a pair of power play goals and Brent Burns tallied three points, including a late goal, for Minnesota.

In the shootout
--Anaheim conceded two goals in the final four minutes, including the tying goal with 13 ticks to play, but still edged Montreal, 4-3. Bobby Ryan had a regulation goal and the only shootout tally and Jonas Hiller made 37 saves. Max Pacioretty scored twice for the Habs.
--Brian Boyle scored late in regulation and Mats Zuccarello's tiebreaker goal gave the Rangers a 3-2 win over Atlanta. Henrik Lundqvist made 20 saves.
--Calgary gave up a tying shorthanded goal and two strikes to Alexander Edler but got by Vancouver, 4-3. Alex Tanguay's shootout goal looked to be stopped by Roberto Luongo but roughly 80 percent of Luongo's body slid over the goal line and video review determined it was a goal after a no-goal call on the ice. Miikka Kiprusoff made 41 saves.

--If Boston has a legitimate offense, the Bruins will be somewhat scary come playoff time.

--Kind of a curious call in the Calgary-Vancouver game. Logic says Tanguay's shootout attempt was a goal but I for one never saw the puck relative to the goal line. The linesman dug the puck out of Luongo's pad, which was fully across the line but the officials declared it no goal. So I dunno. I think the call was correct but I'm not sure how they determined that it was.

--We don't hear much about Colorado's high-scoring offense these days, but the Avs sure give up a lot of goals too, don't they? Yet they want to add Peter Forsberg, not a defenseman. I get they lost Tomas Fleischmann but you have to stop the puck too.

--Know what I think? I think there's going to be some good teams left out of the Western playoff picture. Right now, it's the Avs and Kings. In a few days, it might be the Blackhawks and Sharks.

--I don't think the same will be true of the East.

--I guess we know why Detroit wanted Evgeni Nabokov. Jimmy Howard doesn't look like he'll get it done. Not that Nabokov's track record is much more impressive.

--And by the way, what were the Islanders thinking? Did they claim Nabokov just to screw Detroit? Not like New York's going anywhere, except maybe Kansas City or Quebec.

--I think if the Islanders want a washed-up, has-been goalie, they should just sign Garth Snow to a contract.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sens lose big again; So do Stars

Tick tock, tick tock
That sound you hear is the time on Cory Clouston's coaching career grinding to a halt. But honestly, what has Bryan Murray done to save his ass? Shouldn't his head be on the chopping block too?

Tomas Plekanec scored twice and Carey Price made 33 saves as Montreal ripped Ottawa apart, 7-1. Andrei Kostitsyn had a goal and assist as did Max Pacioretty. Scott Gomez and James Wisniewski both had two helpers.

The Senators have lost five straight games - the last two by a 13-3 margin - and 11 of their last 12.

Quick hook
Ryan Miller's 24th consecutive start for Buffalo didn't last long.

Two goals three minutes apart in the opening 10 minutes prompted Lindy Ruff to give his team a swift kick in the collective ass by removing Miller from the game but the move failed to work as the Islanders cruised to a 5-2 win over Buffalo.

Neither goal was really Miller's fault but the Sabres were playing like gahbage. New York opened a 4-0 lead before Nathan Gerbe - who is so short he makes Martin St. Louis look like Zdeno Chara - scored twice in five seconds with just over three minutes left in the third period.

However, the Sabres took two penalties in the final minutes and Michael Grabner's second goal of the game was into an empty net to seal the win. Rob Schremp had two assists as 10 different Islanders recorded points. Kevin Poulin made 26 saves in relief of injured starter Nathan Lawson.

Wild West shootout
Dallas and Calgary did a rare thing: Neither team played with a goalie Friday.

The teams combined for just 40 shots yet 11 made it past the goalies as Calgary ended Dallas' eight-game road winning streak in impressive fashion, 7-4. David Moss led the charge with two goals and an assist and four Flames - Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrison, Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay - each had a goal and assist. Henrik Karlsson ended up the winning goalie, stopping all of 17 shots.

Mike Ribeiro led the Stars with three assists. Brad Richards had a goal and a helper. Andrew Raycroft, who has been very good for the Stars backing up Kari Lehtonen, had a brutal game, giving up all seven goals on just 19 shots.

Lucky roll helps Lightning to SO win
Dominic Moore: Shootout specialist.

For the second time in two nights, Moore scored the shootout winner, this time giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 win over Florida. Moore's goal was slightly controversial. His initial shot appeared to be stopped by the pad of Tomas Vokoun but the puck never quite left Moore's stick and it rolled off the stick with enough momentum to carry it into the net for the winner. The goal was reviewed and upheld as the winner.

Dan Ellis made 29 saves. Steven Stamkos assisted on Steve Downie's goal, finally tying him with Sidney Crosby for the NHL points lead. Crosby has missed seven games and is likely to miss at least two more.

--Given the current directions of New Jersey and Ottawa, will it surprise anyone if the Senators are in the NHL's cellar in a few weeks?

--The Sabres are in a bit of a tough spot. They desperately need points, so on the one hand, Lindy Ruff has to start Miller a lot. On the other, 24 in a row is going to catch up with him at some point. It didn't tonight, not really - one goal was kicked in by his own defenseman and the other was a deflection off a faceoff win - but I guess they figure with the upcoming all-star break, he can rest then.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Even Brett Favre says, "That's a little much"


In case you haven't heard, it has been announced that former NHL star Peter Forsberg will begin practicing with the Colorado Avalanche to determine the validity of another NHL comeback.

This is not a drill. This is not an April Fool's joke. This is real, people.


Not even Brett Favre has waffled on retirement as much as Forsberg, who indeed seemed to set the stage for Favre's ongoing sagas. Even the world of boxing hasn't seen as many white flags on a career. (OK, that's not true, boxers will continue to rule the world in calling it quits then returning as soon as someone waves a blank check in their face.)

If Forsberg wants to keep playing, I guess I get it. He did an honorable thing by playing for free for MoDo. But look, there comes a time when an athlete just needs to hang it up. I hate to call out an athlete and say they should walk away, partly because no one other than an athlete knows when he's done, but they don't always know, do they?

Just look at Favre's miserable season. Let's skip the sexting scandal and examine only how many painful injuries Favre endured as his body broke down, and how many shameful images we saw of him, either slumped on the sideline in despair or crushed underneath the weight of a defensive lineman.

And Favre was pretty darn healthy throughout his long and illustrious career.

Sticking with the NFL theme, quarterback Kurt Warner walked away from the game after the 2009 season, seemingly at the top of his game. His most recent team, Arizona, suffered for it as the Cardinals never found a quarterback, but maybe Warner knew it was his time. Maybe what happened to Favre would've happened to Warner had the latter stuck around another year.

Moving to the NHL, Mario Lemieux's comeback in 2000 couldn't have gone much better. He scored 76 points in 43 games, a staggering figure that would've easily led the league in scoring had he played the full season. The Penguins reached the conference final that season. Lemieux had one more good season in him - 2002-03 - when he had 91 points in 68 games.

But he kept going despite the ongoing problems and even after the lockout and played just 36 games over his final two seasons. In the end, it was a heart problem that ended his comeback for good, not his persistently bad back or a leg or knee issue.

Lemieux was not a staple of health - did you know he never once played 80 games in a regular season? Forsberg isn't one either. He's much more comparable to Lemieux than Favre in terms of health.

Does even Forsberg realize it has been EIGHT YEARS since he last played a regular season in the NHL in which he was able to play more than 60 games? He played parts of four seasons since then, peaking at 60 games in 2005-06 with Philadelphia. Sure, he registered 75 points that season, but come on.

At age 37, with constant foot problems, back injuries, groin issues, a concussion or two, hip problems, rib breakages, and a number of other injuries, is a comeback really wise? Especially in a league where players are bigger, faster and stronger, and guys seemingly drop like flies? Is Forsberg desperate for money or a glutton for punishment? His career in the NHL seemingly already once came to an inglorious end when he managed to suit up for only nine games in 2007-08. What makes him think he can be any healthier this time, three years later and older?

There's a fine line between "perseverance" and "stubbornness" and I'm fairly sure Forsberg crossed that line a couple years ago. Now he's back.

But hopefully not for long.

Flyers roll; All-Star goalies get lit up

Two-minute letdown answered with beatdown
Philadelphia was comfortably in control of its game with Ottawa, holding a 3-0 lead late in the second period. The Senators made things interesting. For about half a period.

Ottawa scored twice, once shorthanded, in the second period's final two minutes but Philadelphia responded with three third-period goals to come away with an easy 6-2 victory. Then the fights started in the last eight minutes, with surprising guys like Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux dropping the gloves for the Flyers.

There were five fights in the game.

As for the offense, Mike Richards had two goals and two assists and Danny Briere and Andrej Meszaros had one of each for the Flyers. Chris Pronger returned to the lineup with two assists. Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves.

About that genius move
Well, one night after scoring four times, Marian Gaborik was held without a point as Carolina knocked off the Rangers, 4-1. Jeff Skinner and Chad LaRose each had a goal and assist and Tuomo Ruutu set up two goals. Cam Ward made 39 saves, only two coming from the stick of Gaborik.

Roaring back
Toronto scored four unanswered goals - two by Mikhail Grabovski - lighting up Jonas Hiller to earn a 5-2 victory over Anaheim. Clarke MacArthur scored and set up two others and Tyler Bozak had a goal and assist. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 26 saves.

Goalie roulette
Who rotates goalies more, Philadelphia or Washington?

Braden Holtby made 24 saves and Alex Ovechkin assisted on both Washington goals in a 2-1 victory over the Islanders. Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera scored.

No Crosby, no Malkin, no goals, no points
In the most predictable result of the night (as I called a few days ago), Martin Brodeur shut out Pittsburgh. The Penguins, without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, mustered just 23 shots on goal - few threatening ones - in the 2-0 loss. Brent Johnson gave up two brutal goals in the first 10 minutes, though the second, by Nick Palmieri, came off a terrible turnover by former Devil Paul Martin. Brian Rolston scored 1:22 in that allowed the Devils, who had only 20 shots, to implement their trap right away.

No Thomas, no points
I don't care who earns a game's Three Stars, but I do point them out sometimes when there's something curious about them. In this case, Buffalo knocked off Boston for a key 4-2 win and three Sabres were the game's stars. None were Ryan Miller, who made 38 saves, including 18 in the third period. Thomas Vanek, who scored and assisted on Jason Pominville's goal, both strikes coming in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie, was also not one. The Sabres did the damage against Tuukka Rask, who has only four wins despite some solid numbers.

Nashville scored three third-period goals, including two in the first 4:22, to secure a 5-1 rout of Colorado. David Legwand and Cody Franson both had a goal and assist and Pekka Rinne made 32 saves.

Still bad
Los Angeles continued its struggles as Phoenix scored a controversial goal and downed the Kings, 2-0. Martin Hanzal's power play goal appeared to be hit with a high stick but no one associated with the NHL thought so, and Lee Stempniak scored 57 seconds later in support of Ilya Bryzgalov's 36 shots. Phoenix mustered just 15 attempts against Jonathan Quick. The Kings have lost three straight, scoring only two goals during that time, and 10 of 12.

Still good
Dallas won its fifth straight game, 4-2 over Edmonton, behind goal and assist efforts by Jamie Benn and Adam Burish plus Kari Lehtonen's 30 saves.

Working late
--Tampa Bay twice erased a one-goal deficit on goals by Steven Stamkos and Dominic Moore's shootout goal in round four helped the Lightning to a 3-2 shootout win over Atlanta. Dwayne Roloson made 27 saves.
--St. Louis scored twice in the third period to force overtime but Darren Helm scored on a 2-on-1 in the extra frame to give Detroit a 4-3 victory. Jiri Hudler posted three assists and Jimmy Howard made 26 saves.
--Antti Niemi made 36 saves and Joe Pavelski's shootout goal gave San Jose a 2-1 win over Vancouver. Roberto Luongo stopped 45 shots.

--I dunno, the Penguins just do not match up well against New Jersey. They can't do anything right against the Devils. They were lucky to beat them twice earlier this season. I'm not even mad at the loss, I knew it was coming. As usual, the Penguins couldn't adjust to the style New Jersey plays.

--The East playoff race won't and can't be anywhere near as tight as the West but the wins by Carolina and Buffalo (Nos. 9 and 10) and Atlanta's shootout loss have made things a touch more interesting.

--It took Stamkos long enough to reclaim the goal scoring lead from Sidney Crosby, who's been out most of the month, but Stamkos is looking unstoppable again.

--I'm sure I'm not the first to ask this, and this is probably counter to my past Chris Osgood arguments, but is Jimmy Howard good or just a product of Detroit's system? Since they've been missing some of their regulars, he's been mediocre at best.

--Actually that's not fair. He's been mediocre since the middle of November.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Best of both worlds

It's kind of funny how from just three games Wednesday, we saw a lot of great goaltending and a lot of spectacular offense. I'd love to go into more detail on each game but I was busy covering Division II women's basketball, if you know what I mean.

Bench him again!
Marian Gaborik said one of two things to himself over the last couple of days since he was benched for large parts of a one-goal loss to Philadelphia. Either, "OK, coach, I got it, I'll work harder," or, "Screw you, coach, I'll show you how you messed up."

Whatever the case might have been, John Tortorella looks like a genius.

Gaborik exploded for four goals and one assist to headline the Rangers' 7-0 rout of Toronto. Artem Anisimov assisted on each Gaborik goal and Sean Avery three. Brian Boyle, Mats Zuccarello and Ruslan Fedotenko scored, and Wojtek Wolski and Marc Staal each had two assists.

Oh, and the forgotten one, Henrik Lundqvist, made 22 saves to re-tie Tim Thomas atop the league lead in shutouts, now both with seven.

Happy returns
Anton who?

Niklas Backstrom returned to Minnesota's lineup for the first time since the Dark Ages and apparently didn't miss a beat. The time off did him good as he stopped 37 shots, including 16 in the third period, and Minnesota burned Calgary, 6-0. Get it? They burned the...moving on.

Martin Havlat scored twice and Kyle Brodziak posted three helpers. Cal Clutterbuck, Chuck Kobasew and John Cullen each had a goal and assist. Andrew Brunette tallied two assists and Mikko Koivu also scored.

Happy comeback
Antoine Vermette scored in the final minute of regulation to force overtime and teammate R.J. Umberger scored on the power play in the last minute of the extra frame to give Columbus a 3-2 comeback victory over Florida. Fedor Tyutin had a goal and assist and Grant Clitsome (teehee) had two helpers. Steve Mason made 29 saves.

Dmitry Kulikov had two assists for the Panthers but also took the overtime penalty that led to the game-winner.

--What, so are the Wild good again?

--We're getting closer to writing off the Flames.

--Huge win for the Blue Jackets, not only the circumstances of final-minute goals but because that was a critical two points. If they missed those, they'd be in the same boat as Calgary.

--Gaborik picked a really good time to go off like that, since New York will be without Brandon Dubinsky for a few weeks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

KHUDOBIN; Avs get big win

Niklas who? Jose who?
Who needs big-name goalies when you have a big name like KHUDOBIN?!

Anton Khudobin came within 3:46 of his second straight shutout, settling for 31 saves, and Brent Burns recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick to lead Minnesota past Edmonton, 4-1. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen had a goal and assist and Eric Nystrom recorded two helpers.

Minnesota's penalty killing fought off six straight disadvantages to maintain a 2-0 lead attained in the game's first 3:25.

J-P stands for Hat Trick
J.P. Dumont scored a hat trick and Patric Hornqvist netted a pair of goals to lead Nashville over Phoenix, 5-2. Matt Halischuk and Chris Mueller, guys I've never heard of, each had two assists. Pekka Rinne made 32 saves.

Fleury, Penguins take watered-down rematch
I think it's in my contract, as it is in every writer or blogger's, to inform everyone that Detroit and Pittsburgh are big rivals after meeting in consecutive Stanley Cup finals. And although quite a lot of star power was missing from Tuesday's meeting, the game was fairly exciting.

The chances of me saying that if the Penguins lost would've been about one percent.

Anyway, Marc-Andre Fleury was terrific, making 36 saves including quite a few dazzlers, and Pittsburgh took advantage of a series of Detroit mistakes to earn a 4-1 victory. Jordan Staal had a tap-in goal after Tyler Kennedy stole the puck from goalie Joey MacDonald, who played the puck on what would've been an icing call but had trouble handling it.

Chris Conner scored on a penalty shot and Chris Kunitz scored 30 seconds after Johan Franzen cut Pittsburgh's 2-0 lead in half. Kennedy later set up a Matt Cooke empty net goal.

MacDonald was pretty good in his own right. He made 25 saves and robbed several Penguins of what looked like sure goals.

Thomas fails to record shutout, wins anyway
Any time Tim Thomas does not get a shutout, a kitten dies. And America suffers.

Even when Thomas makes 43 saves to lead Boston to a 3-2 win over Carolina like he did. Milan Lucic scored a power play goal with 8:11 to play to break a 2-2 tie. Mark Recchi had two assists for the Bruins.

Kings reeling, lose again
The invitation to the ball for the darling Kings must have gotten lost in the mail.

Los Angeles dropped its ninth game in the last 11, all in regulation, 2-1 to St. Louis, when Erik Johnson scored with 6:47 left in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Jaroslav Halak made 26 saves. The Kings went on a 9-2-1 run in December but now sit 12th in the West. Remember when they once led the conference? Me neither.

Working late
--Andrej Meszaros scored 1:07 into overtime and Philadelphia downed Washington, 3-2, despite allowing two goals in 40 seconds in the third period to force overtime. Jeff Carter had a goal and assist and Sergei Bobrovsky made 23 saves.
--Tyler Ennis had a power play goal and helped set up Jason Pominville's man-advantage tally in overtime to lead Buffalo over Montreal, 2-1. Ryan Miller made 29 saves. Carey Price was strong in defeat with 37 stops.
--Jonas Hiller was spectacular in making 39 saves and Bobby Ryan scored the only shootout goal in Anaheim's 2-1 win over Ottawa.
--Steven Stamkos scored twice and Dwayne Roloson stopped 28 shots to backstop Tampa Bay to a 3-2 shootout win over Columbus. Ryan Malone in the fourth round was the only shooter to score in the tiebreaker.
--Mere moments after a big save by Craig Anderson, David Jones scored on the power play for his second goal of the game to give Colorado a 4-3 overtime win over Vancouver. Milan Hejduk had a goal and two assists, as did John-Michael Liles, and Anderson finished with 40 saves. Ryan Kesler and Alexander Edler led the Canucks with a goal and assist each.

--Detroit was missing half its team but I still thought that was an impressive Penguins win. The Wings still have quite a few highly talented individuals. The first six minutes of the third period looked like Game 7 in 2009: Detroit just dominating possession. After the first TV timeout, Pittsburgh gained some equilibrium.

--I thought Conner converting his penalty shot was the key moment. Pittsburgh already led 1-0 and looked to have another two or three goals but for big MacDonald saves. If the goalie made another on Conner, I think momentum would've shifted to Detroit big time. Of course, Kunitz's quick response to Franzen's goal was also pretty important.

--Maybe we were all wrong about the Kings and their impending future dynasty. Or, um, maybe it'll just take a little longer than we thought. The fact that all those losses in their current skid are in regulation is a real killer. If even, say, three of those losses came in OT/SO, LA would be sitting in ninth. Still bad, but better.

--I'm going to steal from Pierre LeBrun: Since winning the Stanley Cup the all-important no wait it's actually only two points Winter Classic, Washington is 2-2-3.

--The Canucks sure have come back down to earth, eh?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bruins roll, Stars power past Kings

Carolina, thy name is Annihilated
If you told Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice before Monday's game that he would have to deal with either a Tim Thomas shutout or a Zdeno Chara hat trick, he would've had a massive headache. Unfortunately for Maurice, he had to face both.

Chara netted the first hat trick of his career and Thomas reclaimed the league lead in shutouts by making 31 saves as Boston romped over Carolina, 7-0. The Bruins moved into second place in the Eastern Conference.

Two of Chara's goals came on the power play, both assisted by David Krejci. Patrice Bergeron had a goal and assist and Adam McQuaid posted two helpers. Michael Ryder, Mark Stuart and Gregory Campbell also scored.

The shutout was the seventh for Thomas, one more than New York's Henrik Lundqvist.

Not busy, but...
Kari Lehtonen didn't have a great deal of action, but that's why sometimes numbers mean absolute ... well it rhymes with "chit."

Lehtonen stopped a penalty shot by Jack Johnson with 52.4 seconds remaining in regulation as one of his 23 saves and Dallas held off Los Angeles, 2-1. The Kings were given the penalty shot when Stars defenseman Jeff Woywitka covered (or swept depending how you want to look at it) the puck from off the goal line.

Dallas received two power play goals five minutes apart in the second period to cancel out a Justin Williams goal in the first period. Loui Eriksson had one and Jamie Langenbrunner got the winner, his first goal since being traded back to the Stars and it came in his 1,000th career game. Brad Richards assisted on both Dallas goals.

Los Angeles had won four straight games in Dallas.

Here come the Devils
Watch out, NHL: Here comes New Jersey.

The Devils jumped out to a three-goal lead behind a goal and assist from Mattias Tedenby and defeated the Islanders, 5-2, for their third win in the last four games.

OK, so New Jersey won't be making a late playoff push. But now that Martin Brodeur (27 saves) seems to be back in form, the Devils might not be a cakewalk victory any more. I can already see the Penguins losing the last four games to New Jersey, since we couldn't score against them even when they sucked. In fact, guess who we get on Thursday?! I'm already penciling in a Pittsburgh loss.

Rod Pelley also had a goal and helper and Ilya Kovalchuk scored. Jason Arnott had two assists.

Niemi leads San Jose to crucial win
You know who's playing pretty well these days? Antti Niemi.

The Sharks needed Niemi, who was particularly spectacular during a four-minute penalty kill with a number of big saves, to knock off Phoenix, 4-2. Niemi finished with 34 saves and has allowed just 10 goals in his last five games. Poor offensive support means he won only two of those.

Dany Heatley, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton each had a goal and assist for the Sharks. Patrick Marleau also scored in his 1,000th game.

Working late
--Montreal tried to give away its game with Calgary, letting a 4-0 lead evaporate, but P.K. Subban's goal in overtime resulted in a 5-4 Canadiens victory. Subban had two points, as did Mike Cammalleri and Jeff Halpern, who both scored. Carey Price stopped all four shots he saw in relief of Alex Auld to get the win, pissing off anyone who's playing against Price in fantasy this week. (Note: I don't know if I am or not, I play too many leagues to know who my opponents have, so that's not a personal comment.)

Jarome Iginla led the Flames with a goal and assist.

--Atlanta roared back from a 2-0 deficit to score twice in 44 seconds in the final two minutes en route to a 3-2 shootout victory over Florida. Bryan Little had a goal and assist and Chris Thorburn's deflection tied the game. Ondrej Pavelec made 38 saves and Alexander Burmistrov's goal was the difference in the shootout.

Stephen Weiss assisted on both Panthers goals, which came on the power play. After once converting at something like a negative-4 percent with the man-advantage, the Panthers have scored seven power play goals in the last four games. But Florida's PP remains the worst in the league.

Wild stomp Canucks; Selanne gets 1,300

Wild snap ugly skid behind Khudobin
Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, Niklas Backstrom, Anton Khudobin. Seems like it really doesn't matter who plays goal when Vancouver goes to Minnesota. The result is always the same.

Playing because of injuries to the team's top two goalies, Khudobin recorded his first career shutout by making 32 saves to lead the Wild past Vancouver, 4-0. The Canucks have lost their last four games in Minnesota by a combined 21-6 margin. Minnesota entered the game having lost three in a row overall by a score of 13-2.

The Canucks have followed up a 17-game points streak by being blanked in two of their last three games.

Matt Cullen scored shorthanded and also had an assist and Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat and John Madden also had goals.

Selanne nets two, point 1,300, Ducks hang on
I thought the AP story would've made a bigger deal about this but it was left to the "Notes" section. At least it was the first note.

Teemu Selanne scored a pair of goals, giving him 1,301 points for his career, and Anaheim held off Edmonton for a 3-2 victory. The Ducks led 3-0 before the Oilers netted twice in 26 seconds shortly before the second period ended. Then Anaheim had to kill a 5-on-3 disadvantage turned into a 6-on-3 when Edmonton pulled Nikolai Khabibulin in the game's final minutes.

Lubomir Visnovsky had two assists and Curtis McElhinney made 23 saves for Anaheim. Sam Gagner led Edmonton with a goal and assist.

Washington surges past Ottawa
Kevin Allen of USA Today came out with an article of 10 things wrong with Ottawa. My question: Only 10?

Washington scored three times in just over six minutes in the third period to erase a one-goal deficit and earn a 3-1 win over the Senators. Brooks Laich got a lucky bounce for his goal, John Carlson scored on the power play just 45 seconds later after a silly penalty by Milan Michalek, and Jason Chimera capped off the scoring. Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for the win, which probably means he'll start the next three games despite how good Semyon Varlamov has been.

Late charge not enough as Rangers fall to Philadelphia
New York got a goal and assist from Wojtek Wolski and Derek Stepan - with Mats Zuccarello assisting on both goals - just over two minutes apart midway through the third period but it wasn't enough as Philadelphia hung on for a 3-2 win. Ville Leino had a goal and assist to lead the Flyers and Mike Richards' shorthanded goal was the winner. Brian Boucher made 34 saves.

Chicago roars past collapsing Nashville
The Blackhawks scored four times in the final 10 minutes to turn a 3-2 Nashville lead into a 6-3 Chicago victory. Troy Brouwer scored twice in 40 seconds and Dave Bolland also had two goals in support of Marty Turco's 20 saves. J.P. Dumont had a pair for the Predators.

--Vancouver seems to have hit a bit of a rough patch after that long streak of points, similar to what the Penguins did after their long winning streak.

--As for the Wild, it seems like every time you think they're out, they pull you right back in.

--I don't know why Philadelphia hates Sergei Bobrovsky now. He would've been the frontrunner for the Calder Trophy, now he never plays. Boucher gave up six goals his previous outing and Bobrovsky was coming off two very good outings. Oh well, it worked. Bobrovsky has played only two of Philadelphia's seven January games, and you're damn right I'm a disgruntled fantasy owner who was hoping a good Bobrovsky start would've helped me out on Sunday.

--It's only mid-January, but that Pittsburgh-Washington first-round series is looking like a big possibility.

--Anaheim and Chicago seem to be on a little steadier ground in the West.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How elite is Tampa Bay?


As I alluded to a few days ago, I was going to compare Tampa Bay with some of the other top teams in the NHL because the Lightning seems to have way more blowout losses or losses to bad teams than any other team, yet they're currently second in the East. So I went all NiNY on your asses and geeked out the numbers.

The criteria: I picked the top four teams in each conference to use for comparison. A "bad loss" is defined as a loss to what is currently a non-playoff team. A "ghastly loss" is a loss of three goals or more to a non-playoff team. Standings are as of 3 p.m. ET on Jan. 16. And frankly, this list could be a lot different in a couple days given the massive turnover potential in the West.

Philadelphia (28-11-5)
Losses by 3+ goals: 6 (5-1 Pittsburgh, 3-0 Montreal, 3-0 Boston, 5-0 Florida, 6-2 Vancouver, 5-2 Anaheim)
Bad losses: 6 (2-1 OT St. Louis, 2-1 Columbus, 3-2 SO Calgary, 2-1 SO New Jersey, 5-4 SO San Jose, 5-0 Florida)
Ghastly losses: 1 (5-0 Florida)
Total: 13

Boston (24-13-7)
Losses by 3+ goals: 4 (5-2 Phoenix, 3-0 Carolina, 4-1 Atlanta, 3-0 Anaheim)
Bad losses: 8 (2-1 SO St. Louis, 2-0 Ottawa, 4-3 SO Los Angeles, 3-0 Carolina, 3-2 SO Toronto, 3-2 Buffalo, 7-6 SO Buffalo, 3-1 Minnesota)
Ghastly losses: 1 (3-0 Carolina)
Total: 13

Pittsburgh (28-14-4)
Losses by 3+ goals: 4 (5-2 Dallas, 7-4 Boston, 4-1 Rangers, 4-0 Minnesota)
Bad losses: 5 (4-3 Toronto, 1-0 OT St. Louis, 3-1 Ottawa, 2-1 SO Islanders, 4-0 Minnesota)
Ghastly losses: 1 (4-0 Minnesota)
Total: 10

(Note: This isn't nearly as ugly as I thought it was going to be. It makes me think I made a mistake.)

Vancouver (29-9-6)
Losses by 3+ goals: 3 (4-1 Los Angeles, 6-2 Minnesota, 7-1 Chicago)
Bad losses: 5 (2-1 SO Los Angeles, 4-1 Los Angeles, 6-2 Minnesota, 4-3 OT Buffalo, 3-2 St. Louis)
Ghastly losses: 2 (4-1 Los Angeles, 6-2 Minnesota)
Total: 10

Detroit (28-11-6)
Losses by 3+ goals: 5 (4-1 Dallas, 5-1 Atlanta, 5-2 San Jose, 5-0 Los Angeles, 4-1 Chicago)
Bad losses: 7 (4-3 OT Minnesota, 3-2 OT Los Angeles, 5-2 San Jose, 5-0 Los Angeles, 4-3 St. Louis, 4-3 OT Islanders, 3-2 SO Columbus)
Ghastly losses: 2 (5-2 San Jose, 5-0 Los Angeles)
Total: 14

(Note: The 5-0 loss to the Kings was a 51-save shutout by Jonathan Quick. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a goalie.)

Dallas (27-13-5)
Losses by 3+ goals: 7 (5-2 Anaheim, 5-2 Los Angeles, 5-0 Colorado, 4-1 Toronto, 5-2 Phoenix, 7-3 Detroit, 4-1 Vancouver)
Bad losses: 6 (5-2 Los Angeles, 3-1 Los Angeles, 4-1 Toronto, 3-2 SO Columbus, 4-3 OT San Jose, 3-2 SO Calgary)
Ghastly losses: 2 (5-2 Los Angeles, 4-1 Toronto)
Total: 15

Phoenix (23-13-9)
Losses by 3+ goals: 8 (3-0 Boston, 5-2 Ottawa, 3-0 Tampa Bay, 6-3 Dallas, 3-0 Nashville, 3-0 New Jersey, 6-1 Pittsburgh, 4-1 San Jose)
Bad losses: 7 (4-3 OT Carolina, 5-2 Ottawa, 2-1 SO Florida, 3-2 Minnesota, 4-3 St. Louis, 6-5 OT Minnesota, 2-1 OT Buffalo)
Ghastly losses: 1 (5-2 Ottawa)
Total: 16

How does Tampa Bay stack up?

Tampa Bay (26-15-5)
Losses by 3+ goals: 10 (6-0 Florida, 5-2 San Jose, 6-3 Washington, 5-1 Pittsburgh, 4-1 Minnesota, 6-0 Washington, 8-1 Boston, 8-1 Pittsburgh, 6-3 New Jersey, 5-2 New Jersey)
Bad losses: 12 (6-0 Florida, 3-2 OT Islanders, 1-0 Los Angeles, 5-2 San Jose, 4-1 Minnesota, 4-3 SO Florida, 4-2 Calgary, 4-3 SO Edmonton, 2-1 OT Islanders, 6-3 New Jersey, 5-2 New Jersey, 6-4 Carolina)
Ghastly losses: 5 (6-0 Florida, 5-2 San Jose, 4-1 Minnesota, 6-3 New Jersey, 5-2 New Jersey), and that's not counting the three other losses of six goals or more
Total: 27

Now, this system was as scientific as it gets. I should submit this for like, the Nobel Prize of Math, or something.

Anyway, let's pretend this all symbolizes something. So, what conclusions can we draw from this? First off, I'm pretty sure I typed "Minnesota" a lot. So you guys have that going for you, which is nice.

Tampa Bay might have Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis but that is a team with serious flaws. I don't know if it's having a first-year coach who hasn't been able to make necessary adjustments at times, or a lack of veteran leadership, or that no-name and apparently no-talent defense, or the continuing porous goaltending (the occasional Dwayne Roloson shutout aside.)

In his three Lightning wins, Roloson gave up a total of one goal. In his other three outings, he gave up 14 goals in just 100 minutes of playing time.

It's almost a wonder that Tampa Bay has managed to be atop the Southeast Division. And no, we can't say it's because that division sucks this year. Right now, that division has three playoff teams with Carolina knocking on the door (though the Hurricanes would likely knock out Atlanta.) The Northeast and Northwest divisions are arguably worse. And I'll point out that the Atlantic Division has two of the worst teams in the league, but it also has two of the best plus a third very good team in the Rangers.

I'm not saying the Lightning are going to be a favorable draw in the playoffs for anyone. But as they stand right now, they shouldn't inspire fear either.

Around the NHL

Remember me?
Kari Lehtonen never developed into the franchise goaltender Atlanta wanted. At least not until the Thrashers shipped him off to Dallas. Atlanta got a good look at what Lehtonen has become.

Lehtonen made 29 saves and Dallas scored five unanswered goals to rout Atlanta, 6-1. James Neal and Trevor Daley both scored a pair of goals for the Stars. Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards and Stephane Robidas each had two assists.

When did this happen?
At some point during the recent past, Phoenix climbed its way back up to the fourth spot in the West. Saturday's impressive 6-2 win over Anaheim might have had something to do with it. The Coyotes have won four in a row and are 7-1-2 in their last 10.

Ray Whitney had two goals and an assist and Lee Stempniak one and two. Sami Lepisto scored and set up another. Ilya Bryzgalov made 26 saves.

Corey Perry led the Ducks with a goal and assist.

Lucky, meet Good
Sometimes - quite a lot actually - luck plays a role in any player or team's success. Witness Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins netminder was outstanding until another team collapse of sorts allowed Boston to erase a two-goal deficit in 13 seconds, the second goal (by Michael Ryder) looking stoppable that Fleury allowed. From that point, Fleury looked shaky on a number of occasions and let quite a few pucks slip through or past him, but never into the net.

That shakiness and luck is probably why Fleury wasn't one of the game's stars despite making 44 saves - 20 in the third period - in Pittsburgh's 3-2 win at Boston. Jordan Staal broke the tie early in the third period and also had an assist. Public Enemy No. 1 Matt Cooke had two assists.

Dennis Seidenberg had a goal and assist for the Bruins, who were held scoreless in the third period. They entered the game with 55 third-period goals, second most in the league, and had netted nine in the two previous third periods against Pittsburgh.

Not good enough
Henrik Lundqvist made 38 saves but the Rangers fell to Montreal, 3-2. The Canadiens converted two power play opportunities and got the winner from Andrei Kostitsyn. James Wisniewski tallied a pair of assists and Carey Price stopped 31 shots.

Bad goaltending of the night
--Eric Staal (one goal) and Jussi Jokinen (two goals) both had three points as Carolina won a run-and-gun affair with Tampa Bay, 6-4. Cam Ward made 30 saves. Simon Gagne scored twice and Steven Stamkos had a goal and assist, plus a temper tantrum that earned him 14 PIMs with 1:29 left in a one-goal game.
--John Tavares netted a natural hat trick in less than six minutes against Ryan Miller and the Islanders took down Buffalo, 5-3. Rick DiPietro made 40 saves. Matt Moulson (New York) and Jason Pominville (Buffalo) both had three assists.

Working late
--Drew Miller had a goal and two assists and Johan Franzen's goal early in overtime gave Detroit a 6-5 win over Columbus. Joey MacDonald made 25 saves for the Red Wings. Rick Nash led the Blue Jackets with a goal and two assists.
--Dmitry Kulikov's wrist shot after a nifty move beat Martin Brodeur and Florida downed New Jersey, 3-2 in overtime. The Panthers, who have won three straight, got 33 saves from Scott Clemmensen. Kulikov and Dennis Wideman both had a goal and assist.
--Calgary gave up a late power play goal but still defeated Toronto, 2-1 in a shootout. Olli Jokinen had the shootout winner and Miikka Kiprusoff made 32 saves.
--Nashville erased a 2-0 deficit with 10 minutes remaining and knocked off Chicago, 3-2 in a shootout. Pekka Rinne stopped 31 shots and Marcel Goc had the only tiebreaker goal.

Out West
--Drew Doughty had a goal and assist and Jarret Stoll scored twice to lead Los Angeles over Edmonton, 5-2. Jonathan Bernier made 24 saves.
--Two goals by Dany Heatley plus a two-point (one goal) night from Joe Thornton helped San Jose double up St. Louis, 4-2. Antti Niemi made 28 saves.

--I was starting to think it wasn't possible for the Penguins to beat Boston.

--If Atlanta isn't careful, it won't be in the playoffs in April. Carolina is just one point back with three games in hand. The Thrashers have really tailed off and need to right that ship, and soon.

--So the Lightning beat Washington twice in a span of five games, then lose twice to New Jersey and once to Carolina. I guess they don't get up for teams below them in the standings?

--I was starting to wonder if Los Angeles would ever win again.

--Ditto San Jose.

OK, my head's still pounding a little so it's night-night time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cue "Jaws" music; Wings lose Howard

Brodeur, Devils beat Tampa Bay again
It's possible that Martin Brodeur is, in fact, alive and well and ready to lead New Jersey back to the promise land.

OK, maybe not, but the aging sure-Hall of Famer is playing better.

Brodeur stopped 30 shots and Ilya Kovalchuk also rose from the brink of the dead - if for just one game - to score twice and New Jersey downed Tampa Bay for the second time in two games, 5-2. In his last two starts, both against the Lightning, Brodeur stopped 63 out of 68 shots and received a surprising amount of offensive support. He also stopped all 19 shots he saw in a 44-minute relief effort three games ago against Philadelphia.

Of course, it might be better for the Devils to just keep losing and get a better draft pick. If they win 70 percent of their remaining games (they won 28 percent of their first 43), the Devils will finish with 83 points, which a season ago was five points shy of a postseason berth.

After conceding the game's opening goal to Steven Stamkos, New Jersey netted the next four, all in the first period, to chase Dwayne Roloson, who was coming off a shutout of Washington. The backbreaker was probably Travis Zajac's shorthanded goal that gave the Devils a 4-1 lead. Zajac had two points as did Brian Rolston, who scored.

Stamkos and Martin St. Louis both had a goal and assist for Tampa Bay.

Red Wings lose Howard, game
If his recent ineffectiveness wasn't enough to clue in Detroit about potentially poor goaltending, Jimmy Howard going down with an injury might do the trick.

After conceding two goals to Columbus, Howard suffered a bruised knee and departed after 13 minutes. Detroit was already without Chris Osgood and thus had to turn to Joey MacDonald, who fared pretty well. He stopped all 21 shots he saw but Columbus got to him in a shootout and knocked off the Red Wings, 3-2. No word yet on the severity of Howard's injury.

Jakub Voracek and Grant Clitsome (teehee) gave the BJs (teeheehee) a 2-0 lead before Drew Miller and Jiri Hudler countered for the Red Wings. Antoine Vermette had the only shootout goal, in round four, and Steve Mason made 26 saves.

Rebounding well
--A night after giving up seven goals to Boston and losing despite getting five pucks behind Tim Thomas (which should result in a win), Philadelphia scored three times in the latter half of the third period to defeat Atlanta, 5-2. Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux each had a goal and assist and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves.

--One night after being blanked by the Rangers, Vancouver held Washington in check to the tune of a 4-2 victory. Daniel Sedin scored twice, once into an empty net, and defensemen Alexander Edler and Christian Ehrhoff both had a goal and assist. Roberto Luongo made 25 saves.

Holding the fort
--Henrik Karlsson made 33 saves and Calgary held off a late surge by Ottawa to earn a 3-2 win. David Moss scored twice for the Flames. Nick Foligno scored and assisted on Milan Michalek's goal in the final minute for the Senators.
--Craig Anderson made 32 saves as Colorado was out-shot by Minnesota, 33-18, and led the Avalanche to a 4-1 victory.

--I'm kind of confused why the Senators are so bad this season. They were a playoff team last year. Off the top of my head, their only key loss was defenseman Anton Volchenkov - who hasn't exactly worked wonders in New Jersey - and added Sergei Gonchar. Though Gonchar's game was dwindling his last couple years in Pittsburgh. I guess maybe it's degraded further than thought. I suppose some key guys are just regressing and underperforming for Ottawa. Not naming names. *coughMikeFishercough*

--I guess yeah, every individual pretty much on Ottawa sucks, from captain Daniel Alfredsson on down. Alfredsson has 14 goals but is on pace for his lowest point total since 1999.

--The Capitals are another interesting case-study. No one should ever sleep on their offense - I personally don't feel safe unless I'm up by three in the final minute - but they're certainly not putting the pucks in the net like they did last year. The Rangers have as many goals as Washington does. Carolina has one more, in two fewer games. Boston has more.

--I plan on doing this one day, but I want to see how many of the other top eight or so teams in the league have lost as many games by three goals or more as Tampa Bay has. Even with Stamkos and St. Louis, it's kind of hard to take that team seriously right now. Maybe the Lightning are still just a year or two away and this season will be a teaser of sorts.

Friday, January 14, 2011

King Henrik beheads Canucks; Sharks in freefall

Lundqvist, Rangers hand Vancouver rare loss
Does anyone want to take a guess the last time Vancouver failed to record a point from a game? If you give up, well, it was December 5. The Canucks were 14-0-3 since then. Yikes.

And now they are 14-1-3 since then.

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 31 shots he saw and recent newcomer Wojtek Wolski scored the game's only goal as the Rangers knocked off Vancouver, 1-0. Wolski's goal came on the power play and was his first point in his second game with New York.

Cory Schneider made 35 saves in the loss.

Sharks lose again
I think it was former Shark Jeremy Roenick who Twittered an Amber Alert for the missing general manager of San Jose. I'll second the sentiment.

Devan Dubnyk made 41 saves and Taylor Hall tallied three points as Edmonton handed San Jose its sixth straight loss, 5-2. Hall scored twice and Ales Hemsky posted four assists.

The Sharks were playing their fifth home game in a span of six home games out of seven yet have not scored more than two goals in a game for five straight. This homestand was supposed to be the time they'd make their move in the West; while they're hardly out of the picture, just three points behind, this opportunity in the schedule was one they couldn't miss.

Joe Thornton had a goal and assist for San Jose, which played without leading goal scorer Logan Couture.

Third-period masters
The Bruins are getting into a habit of making Keystone State teams wish games were only 40 minutes long.

Boston scored five times in the third period, twice erasing one-goal deficits, and stunned Philadelphia, 7-5. To be fair, the Bruins blew a couple of their own leads, but didn't have enough time to blow the last one when Steve Kampfer scored with 1:14 left in regulation of a 5-5 game.

Perhaps the best part of the game? There were 12 different goal scorers. Patrice Bergeron, Gregory Campbell, Zdeno Chara and Mark Recchi each had a goal and assist and Blake Wheeler posted two helpers. Tim Thomas struggled his way to 30 saves.

Nikolay Zherdev and Danny Briere each had a goal and assist for the Flyers.

Second period disaster
Ottawa scored four times in the second period en route to a 6-4 victory over the Islanders. The Senators had six different scorers. Chris Kelly, Milan Michalek and Jesse Winchester each had a goal and assist. Robin Lehner made 20 saves.

3-2 scores of the night
--Florida scored twice in a 2:14 span to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win over Nashville. Rostislav Olesz had a goal and assist and Scott Clemmensen stopped 27 shots.
--Ryan Miller made 27 saves and Buffalo held off Carolina, 3-2. Drew Stafford had the winner and Thomas Vanek had two assists.

Elusive 11s
That makes no sense, but "elusive" was the first word I thought of that kind of goes with "eleven" and I didn't feel like thinking any more. Anyway, Shane Doan, Taylor Pyatt and Lauri Korpikoski each scored their 11th goal of the season to turn a close game into a rout as Phoenix downed Toronto, 5-1. Keith Yandle had a goal and two assists and Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 28 shots.

Snapped, for one team at least
St. Louis stopped a five-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over Los Angeles. The Kings have now lost seven of their last eight games, all in regulation. Nine different Blues recorded a point and Jaroslav Halak needed to make just 24 saves.

--Bad times for LA and San Jose. Not sure what's wrong with the Sharks, they just can't score. That Thornton-Marleau-Heatley connection is no longer working out. Joe Pavelski has struggled and also missed some games with an injury. Like I said above, it's way too early to write them off as a playoff team but they sure don't have the look of a team that's going to make any noise.

--Maybe that's what they need to do to get to the final as opposed to being the team that everyone's picking to go far.

--Ha, yeah, I don't believe that.

--The Kings have run into a problem the Penguins have: When they lose, they don't even get a loser point. LA has lost 20 games, 19 in regulation. Its one OTL is the lowest in the league.

--Bad loss for Carolina. Buffalo's made a little bit of noise in Derek Roy's absence, but that's a game the Hurricanes needed to win.

--The latest soap opera turn for Philadelphia goalies did not go well for Brian Boucher, on the heels of a rare start, and an even rarer good start, for Sergei Bobrovsky. One assumes Bobrovsky gets the next spin.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Roloson strikes again; Flyin' Ryan

Get it? 'cause Bobby Ryan is a Duck. Ducks fly? OK, to the results.

The pwnage, it is reversed
The key to winning the Southeast Division is apparently Dwayne Roloson.

In two previous meetings with Washington, Tampa Bay was out-scored 12-3, losing by scores of 6-3 and 6-0. Embarrassing performances that cost a team a chance to win a division title and earn home-ice advantage.

Enter Roloson. For the second time in eight days, Roloson shut out Washington and wasn't even very busy, making 23 saves as the Lightning earned a huge 3-0 victory. He even had an assist!

Sean Bergenheim had a goal and assist and Dominic Moore and Simon Gagne also scored for Tampa, which bounced back from another horrid loss, a 6-3 decision to New Jersey.

Speaking of which, Tampa also had that 8-1 blunder against Pittsburgh a week ago, another 8-1 loss this season (to Boston), plus another 6-0 loss (to Florida). It's mind-boggling that a team can have that many blowout defeats yet be leading a division. That means something but I have no idea what.

Ryan tricks Blues, keys Anaheim rout
Anaheim capped off a six-game homestand in style.

Bobby Ryan scored his third career hat trick and also had an assist as the Ducks routed St. Louis, 7-4. The game was close, and then not. Anaheim led 3-0 after the first period before David Backes netted a pair in the second for the Blues. The Ducks responded by scoring four straight times in the final frame before St. Louis got a couple back in the final minutes.

Lubomir Visnovsky had a goal and two assists and Corey Perry tallied one of each. Jason Blake and Brandon McMillan scored and Cam Fowler and Teemu Selanne each posted two helpers. Jonas Hiller made 30 saves.

The Ducks have won six of seven.

What the hell got into that team?
There would be no Benoit Pouliot owning the Penguins tonight.

Pouliot took three penalties and Pittsburgh scored on two of them, somehow converting for a season-high four power play goals on six opportunities and did not blow a multi-goal lead to defeat Montreal, 5-2.

Alex Goligoski (two goals), Jordan Staal (one) and Kris Letang each recorded three points for Pittsburgh. Chris Kunitz had a goal and assist and Tyler Kennedy also scored. Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves.

Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais scored for the Canadiens.

Another shutout
Corey Crawford had as much to do as Dwayne Roloson.

Crawford fended off all 24 shots he saw and led Chicago to a 4-0 shutout of one of the league's highest-scoring teams, Colorado. Dave Bolland and Fernando Pisani had a goal and assist and Troy Brouwer and Jack Skille also scored. Brent Seabrook had two assists.

--That's the kind of game Jordan Staal needs to have for Pittsburgh to succeed, with or without Sidney Crosby. The question is can he do it consistently. Evgeni Malkin was better but needs to produce on the scoresheet.

--It shouldn't come as much surprise that Roloson is faring well in Tampa Bay. It is something of a surprise so much of his success is coming against Washington.

--It took a couple games, but Bobby Ryan is doing in Ryan Getzlaf's absence (six goals the last three games) what Malkin needs to do while Crosby is out. Ryan's kind of on fire.

--Seriously, can't Pittsburgh swap Paul Martin for Ryan? Penguins need wingers, Ducks need defensemen, the contracts are virtually the same. Why doesn't this deal make sense? Except for the fact that Pittsburgh would be getting a far better player...

--Marty Turco to Washington. I'm calling it now. OK, maybe not Washington, but at what point does Chicago trade Turco? That experiment did not work out, did it?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Better late than never

So I kind of forgot to finish this once the NHL games ended last night.

We can talk about who was snubbed from All Star selection all we want, but I don't really care. However, two names stuck out to me and both responded with nice nights on Tuesday.

--Danny Briere had a goal and three assists as Philadelphia scored five unanswered goals to earn a 5-2 victory over Buffalo. Scott Hartnell scored twice with an assist and Sergei Bobrovsky made 38 saves in his first start since Labor Day.
--Pekka Rinne made 25 saves and someone called Nick Spaling scored two third-period goals to open up a close game and Nashville downed Minnesota, 5-1.

OK, so the Penguins aren't the only Atlantic Division team to get owned by Benoit Pouliot.

Pouliot's goal early in the third period proved to be the winner as Montreal edged the Rangers, 2-1. Alex Auld made 25 saves for the Canadiens. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 shots and also had an assist for the third straight game.

OK, so the Penguins aren't the only team in the Pennsylvania-Ohio area whose power play sucks.

Columbus allowed a shorthanded goal and failed on four third-period power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 50 seconds, and dropped a 4-3 decision to Phoenix. Ilya Bryzgalov shook off a rough start - two goals against in the game's first six minutes - to make 37 saves.

The Coyotes had four different goal scorers and 10 players who registered a point. Only Martin Hanzal (two assists) had a multipoint game.

Distant neighbors-in-arms
OK, so the Penguins aren't the only, um, team that has won a Presidents Trophy in the past who sucks at home.

San Jose gave up four third-period goals and dropped its fifth straight game, four of which were at home, 4-2 to Toronto. Carl Gunnarson got a piece of Dion Phaneuf's shot from the point for the eventual winner after Patrick Marleau's second goal of the game tied the score at 2-2, after Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur put the Maple Leafs ahead. MacArthur added an empty netter and James Reimer made 40 saves.

Dink, dink, dink
James Neal's wrist shot hit one post, caromed off the back bar inside the net, clanked off the other post and rebounded out to center ice and was later determined by video review to be a goal, and Dallas survived Edmonton, 3-2. The Stars comfortably led 2-0 before two quick goals by the Oilers less than two minutes apart, than Neal scored 1:13 later. Kari Lehtonen made 39 saves, including 16 in the third period when Edmonton out-shot the hosts, 18-4.

"Guess I have to play well again"
The thinking here is Tim Thomas realized, with Tuukka Rask earning more and more playing time, that Thomas was going to have to start playing better.

Thomas made 31 saves to help Boston over Ottawa, 6-0, for his first win since Dec. 28. Oh, and Patrice Bergeron had a hat trick to lead the offense. Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin each had a goal and assist.

Working late
--Carolina allowed a 5-2 lead disappear but still earned a 6-5 shootout win over Calgary. Jussi Jokinen had two goals and an assist and Cam Ward stopped 27 shots.
--Kevin Bieksa canceled a go-ahead goal 34 seconds after it happened and Vancouver went on to defeat the Islanders, 4-3 in a shootout. Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler (regulation goal) converted shootout attempts and Roberto Luongo made 38 saves.
--All-Star defensive stalwart Mike Green made a horrid turnover in the defensive zone, took a penalty two seconds later and Florida's Dennis Wideman converted the power play for a 4-3 overtime win over Washington. Wideman had two points, Stephen Weiss dished out three assists and Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves. Marcus Johansson led the Capitals with two goals.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Penguins choke again

Stunning collapse: The Sequel
The last time Boston traveled to Consol Energy Center, the Bruins scored five times in the third period to turn a 4-2 deficit into a stunning 7-4 victory. Obviously, the Bruins as a whole are not as good as they were that first game.

Because this time, they scored only four times in the third period to turn a two-goal deficit into a stunning victory. Then again, they did it in about five seconds rather than the whole 20 minutes.

After only occasionally threatening Marc-Andre Fleury's goal, Boston scored four times in the last 3:23, twice on the power play and once into an empty net, to embarrass Pittsburgh again, 4-2. Zdeno Chara got it going with a power play goal, then the Penguins' defense decided to take the rest of the night off, giving Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi acres of time and space in front of Fleury to score the goals that put Boston ahead.

Boston hadn't gotten a power play goal in five games. It got two against the supposed No. 1-ranked penalty killing unit. Well done, Penguins, who have now lost three straight games and five of the last six, and another in regulation. They couldn't even get a loser point out of this collapse with three minutes left.

A lesson in Three Stars selections: They probably would've been Mike Rupp, Kris Letang and Fleury (28 saves) 3-2-1 until that last three minutes. No Bruin did much of note at all, then the collapse happened, and Recchi ended up the game's top star even though he spent six minutes in the penalty box, including when Letang scored. Hey, the Bs won, so they deserved more of the stars. Certainly no one besides Fleury really showed up for Pittsburgh.

Oh, Tuukka Rask made 23 saves, including a whopping two in the third period as Pittsburgh really did all it could to choke away the lead by not bothering to possess the puck at all. Gregory Campbell's empty net goal ended up giving him three points.

Other hockey
Yeah, I feel like discussing more hockey.

--St. Louis had a lesser collapse. Kyle Turris and Taylor Pyatt had a goal and assist in the last 10 minutes and Phoenix turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 victory. Lauri Korpikoski also had a goal and assist and Jason LaBarbera made 33 saves. Matt D'Agostini had a goal and assist for the Blues.
--Jimmy Howard had his own epic fail, allowing four goals on 10 shots in 14 minutes and was yanked in Detroit's 5-4 loss to Colorado. Matt Duchene had two goals and an assist, David Jones scored once with two helpers and Peter Budaj made 26 saves. Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom had two points each for the Red Wings.
--Nikolai Kulemin's third-period goal snapped a tie and Toronto knocked off Los Angeles, 3-2. James Reimer made 28 saves.

--Christ, where should I start after that abomination?

--Fleury deserved so much better. He made at least a half-dozen fabulous saves when his defense hung him out to dry. This loss was not his fault. His defense abandoned him a few times too many.

--I really don't know how you leave a 500-goal scorer alone right on top the crease.

--Which also brings up again how undisciplined the Penguins are. Hey, coaches, try instructing your players how to not take penalties.

--I wonder how many games Pittsburgh's power play has to blow (either win a game outright or seal a win) before GM Ray Shero realizes the current personnel isn't getting the job done. We're up to at least 12 and counting with tonight. The Penguins had a power play midway through the third period that could've taken the life out of Boston by making the score 3-0 and failed epically.

--Of course, he doesn't believe he needs to make a move. He feels he just needs to get everyone healthy and the Penguins will be fine. Yeah, sure. Of course, he also doesn't have the cap space to make a move, but he also doesn't have the balls either.

--Yeah, the power play scored in the game, but look. It's one thing to have a power play that at least is a consistent threat. The Penguins barely threaten to get across the red line, let alone set up in the attacking zone and actually score. When they do score, the penalty killers should feel shame. Lo and behold, that third period power play was the worst of the night.

--I have some friends who I consider morons for believing Fleury's Stanley Cup win in 2009 was a fluke. I sure don't hear them say the same about Evgeni Malkin, who has been invisible the last two seasons. It'd be nice if he shows up at some point during this season. Maybe he's saving it for the playoffs.

--Cue Jim Mora's "Playoffs?!" rant.

--Here you go.

--I called him out on Twitter but here's a special "Eff you" and a "Please get the hell out of Pittsburgh" to the insensitive douchebag who screamed "You suck, Chara!" during a moment of silence tonight for the shooting victims in Arizona. Way to put a blackmark on the city and fan base, you fuckwad. What part of you thought that was going to be funny?

I don't feel like talking any more.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Backyard Rink Chronicles Pt. 4


A review of the 2nd full day of skating.

It was considerably colder Sunday than it had been on Saturday. Particularly when the wind got cranked up.

You'll recall that I was too beat to do anything Saturday night.

So, the couple inches of snow that fell on the ice really didn't do anything for better or for worse and the ice was basically the same condition it had been when I went to bed Saturday. The first thing I did was sweep off and flood. I was using a hose (instead of a bucket) and about halfway between mist and full flow.

My intent was to get rid of some of the bumps from the first day, particularly around the edges where the water had come up, then frozen into irregular lumps.

I also packed some snow into the corners at the shallow end and poured water on it, hoping to just get an ice base down, even if it was all lumpy and unskateable.

It was cold enough that both goals were met within an hour.

Other events conspired to keep us off the ice until about 3:30 in the afternoon. I don't know if that helped or not, but when we finally got out there, the ice was very good. Harder than Saturday and less overall leaking around the edges. The snow that we were cutting with our skates was finer and less fluffy than before - and I'm sure there's all kinds of scientific reasons why, but, to this layperson, it just meant better ice.

We put in about an hour on the ice, then I swept it clean and did a big flood. I also packed more snow in on the corners of the shallow end and really dumped water on them too. I was really going for smooth.

I went out a couple hours later and the corners were definitely icing up. I added more water just to them to try to build up the thickness of the ice.

The rest of it was nice and smooth, the big flooding having frozen nicely.

We got a dusting of snow last night, but the ice was well frozen by the time it started coming down so it froze nice and even.

I'm not sure how much use we'll get on it during the week. We're going to try to rig some more christmas lights over it so we'll likely be able to get some light back there.

The biggest things I've learned so far is the value of letting it freeze in layers. As far as the pitch of the yard making it uneven, I might put down one or two sheets of plywood in the "deep" end before I lay the tarp next year to try to level it off. I'm not sure if the weight of the water would warp/break the plywood, though.

I haven't used too much warm water yet, it's been mostly cold water. But it has frozen nicely for me so far.

That, and it's been totally worth it. Even my wife was saying that, next year, she'd like me to do a bigger one. While 15 x 25 is just fine for the kids just learning to skate, you really can't do too much on that size.

I've invested about $400 so far.

*The tarp was about $60
*The wood about $100
*The hose, nozzle, nails, rubber gloves, brackets and tamper were about $85 total
*The regulation (6 x 4) goal was $100
*The pucks were $15
*The kid sticks were about $40 (2 x $20)

I'm not sure what the water is going to cost because I don't know how much I've used.

I'm in for less-than 10 hours of work I'd say, not including research time which would only add a couple more hours total.

That's more than a kit for a rink of that size would have cost, but obviously I'm hoping that some of those costs are one-time. I'm hoping to use the wood again next year, although I will probably buy more to make a bigger rink. I would obviously have to get a new tarp, and the cost of the current tarp is sunk at this point (unless you want to buy a used 20 x 30 tarp). So, on-going costs after this initial rink are going to be much smaller next year, and then when I settle on dimensions and tarp to fit, the annual costs are going to be very small - even accounting for replacing boards, etc.

Would the kit have been re-usable? Probably. So I guess I can't say DIYing this was definitively better or even cheaper at this point.

Shutout Sunday

Only five NHL games Sunday but three of them ended in shutouts. First, however, we check in on the career shutout leader.

Making progress
He wasn't flawless, but Martin Brodeur found himself back in the win column for the first time in nearly a month.

Brodeur made 33 saves, keeping Steven Stamkos off the scoresheet, and David Clarkson scored twice as New Jersey tallied a pair of empty net goals en route to a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay. Brodeur even took a stab at an empty net himself but didn't get enough on the shot; he ended up with the secondary assist on Nick Palmieri's first NHL goal.

Patrik Elias had a goal and two assists for the Devils. Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston each had two assists as the Devils scored five times in the third period for their second win in 27 tries when trailing after two. The win was Brodeur's first since Dec. 15, a string of seven starts and one relief appearance.

Clean sheets
--One night after blanking Pittsburgh 4-0 on the road, Minnesota fell victim to its own 4-0 home shutout, this coming at the hands of Andrew Raycroft and Dallas. Raycroft made 26 saves and Jamie Benn scored twice for the Stars.
--Corey Crawford got plenty of support in making 29 saves as Chicago routed the Islanders, 5-0. Marian Hossa had a goal and two assists and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane each had a goal and assist.
--Jonas Hiller was spectacular in stopping 37 shots and Bobby Ryan's late second period goal was the only one in Anaheim's 1-0 win over San Jose.

In overtime
Erik Cole would not be denied as a strong second effort resulted in the overtime winner in Carolina's 4-3 victory over Atlanta. Justin Peters made 25 saves and Tuomo Ruutu had two points, including a goal, for the Hurricanes. Bryan Little led the Thrashers with two goals.

--Seems to me like the Sharks are going through a bit of a shift right now. Not only are they not elite, it's hard to say they're even good. They're pretty average, and in their current four-game losing streak, they've been shut out twice and held to one goal in another game.

--Atlanta has kind of fallen back to earth a bit. The Thrashers could still challenge for the division title but that's looking like it'll be just a two-horse race.

--For all the parity in the West, it's kind of funny that no division is all that close. Dallas has the smallest lead at five points but with two games in hand over second-place Anaheim. If the Stars win both those games, their lead will be nine.

--Conversely, each Eastern division will go down to the final days most likely. Except the Atlantic, unless the Rangers go on a tear.

--Prior to Sunday's loss, the Islanders had won seven of nine games, yet remain mired in 14th place in the East and 29th overall.