Friday, February 25, 2011

Okay Wild: I'm In


I really didn't want to do this. It's not the humble pie (I said at the beginning of the season that they were not a playoff team and would be out of it early) so much as I just know better. Too many years of disappointments (with our luck as Minnesota teams' fans, the Wild will draw the Yankees in the first round), too many self-admonishments to "never let this happen to me again". "This" is getting wrapped up in a team - against all rational thought - and then getting my heart stomped on.

But, there's just something about this Wild team. I'm not saying I expect them to go anywhere (see, it's not TOTAL capitulation) if they do make the playoffs, but they're taking us on a fun ride this season.

And I've found myself watching the scoreboard, planning my week around their schedule, and - here's the kicker - not getting totally bummed out when they lose. That's how you know. I'm......dare I say, satisfied?

Oh I was all about firing Richards. And I still think the turnaround from last year is as much about Rick Wilson as anyone. But I'm nowhere near as violently opposed to Richards as coach anymore. And, I'll tell you a secret: at this point even if they don't make the playoffs (much less advance in them if they do) I won't get back on the "fire Richards" bandwagon.

That's what winning does. It buys you time. And time is something that the Wild needs. I'd bet that Fletcher would rather have a lottery pick than a playoff berth this season, as far as the long-term development of the team is concerned. But I bet he also would rather have fewer upheavals to his hockey ops and roster than more, and missing the playoffs - or not going on this run - might have indicated for firing his head coach.

So, yeah, Wild. I'm in. I'm on board with you for this playoff drive.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pens add talent to wing


I suppose I should come out of my self semi-exilement to chime in on the latest pre-deadline day big trade, Pittsburgh sending defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas for left winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

The short version: "Woooo!!!!"

The not-as-short version: Win-win for both teams.

The longer version: This trade almost made too much sense not to happen. I thought I'd written or tweeted about a potential Goligoski-Neal swap but after looking back, all I could find that I did was declare my love for maybe one day getting Neal. Still, this was a potential trade many people talked about as a possibility.

The Penguins are loaded on the blue line after signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to five-year contracts in the summer to go with Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. Most of their quality prospects are defensemen, guys like Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep and most notably, Simon Despres. Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy, though rookies, have proven to be competent NHLers.

Dallas, when healthy, boasted in my eyes some of the finest top two lines in hockey. Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro got to center players like Neal, Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson. Jamie Benn could be a younger, more affordable version of Neal.

Basically, both Goligoski and Neal were expendable to their respective teams. Pittsburgh needed a player like Neal, Dallas needed a player like Goligoski. Thus, the union. Neal immediately becomes Pittsburgh's top (healthy) goal scorer. Goligoski becomes the leading goal scorer and points producer among the Stars' defensemen.

The Stars, still with some ownership/financial issues, will save money on the deal. Each player is signed through next season, with Neal ($2.875 million) and Niskanen ($1.5 million) more expensive than Goligoski ($1.833 million.) So Dallas benefits in that regard as well. Pittsburgh, not as much, so it'll be curious to see what Ray Shero does with the rest of his team and its impending free agents.

I'm sad to see Goligoski leave, but a player like Neal is one Penguins fans have been drooling over getting for years. I think Goligoski will flourish in Dallas, being probably the most gifted offensive blue liner now with the Stars (sorry, Stephane Robidas), and throwing outlet passes to guys like Richards (if he regains his health and remains in Dallas) and Eriksson.

Goligoski's defensive game is fairly schizophrenic. He can be downright stellar at times or he can be downright brutal. He's not very physical and he doesn't get in the way of many shots. Also, for all his offensive ability, he fumbles the puck quite a bit. But when he can corral the puck, he can be lethal. He led Penguins defensemen with nine goals and had a team-high four game-winning goals.

With Neal and Chris Kunitz in the fold, part of me wonders what might happen with Eric Tangradi - still out with the concussion Trevor Gillies gave him. Neal is basically what Penguins officials hope Tangradi turns into - a physical, young winger with the hands to score and a nose for the net, able to play in the dirty areas - but rumors have been circulating that Tangradi could be moved in the right trade. As near as I can tell, all three players are left wingers, but moving one to the right side should be feasible.

Oh, I didn't talk much about Niskanen, did I? There's a reason for that; he appears to be somewhat of a throw-in. He had two decent seasons to begin his career but has very much regressed the last season and a half. He's offensive-minded but needs to rediscover his game to be a valuable contributor. With fewer responsibilities in Pittsburgh's lineup, maybe Niskanen can get back to being a good player.

That would be a bonus for the Penguins if it happens. If it doesn't, it won't be a big deal. The trade is very much Goligoski for Neal and should be a big benefit to both teams. Dallas needed a puck-moving blue liner and Pittsburgh needed a winger with actual talent.

Problem solved.

(I'm still not excited for the rest of this season. Next year is much more promising; but if Sidney Crosby comes back healthy, stays healthy, and Pittsburgh adds another piece, then maybe something good can still happen this spring and summer. OK, I'm done, back to my mountaintop where I can keep ignoring the NHL.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Just Shut Up


Michael Farber throws on the hair shirt like no one else. It ain't going to win you that Pulitzer, though, Mike. So stow the histrionics and hyperbole.

I'm just not buying all this soul searching in the face of this recent spate of violence in the NHL. If you don't like it, fine. But those of the punditry who sit there and either decry it, decry others for it, or try to assuage their aspirations of high brow acceptance of an intrinsically low brow sport are simply kidding themselves.

If nothing else, the NHL has offered zero evidence that it wants to rule those kinds of shenanigans out of the game. One need only look as far as the league's track record on supplemental discipline to see that.

If the league wanted this kind of stuff out of the game it would employ a disciplinary system that meted out meaningful justice. Instead, well instead we have what we have.

Frankly, the surprise isn't that this display of thuggery has popped up, it's that, as a reflection of the passe attitude toward individual acts of violence that the league has adopted over years and years, it doesn't pop up more often.

To my mind, complaining about this from the NHL now is like complaining that they don't take the designated hitter out of the American League. You may want that, and you may think it's better for the game. But the MLB has done nothing to give you any reason to think it wants the DH out of the American League. You may want a lot of things in baseball, but if baseball doesn't want them, you're SOL. You may as well be asking for home runs to count double or to be able to use handguns to shoot a running back if he gets past the secondary on a rush.

This is what hockey is. Always has been. It's a violent game. It's an ugly game. It's a game that rewards brutality and skullduggery as readily as it rewards skill and grace. That contradiction is one of the marvelous things about the game of hockey. And the NHL both knows that and is obviously reticent to actually do anything to try to change it. And I'm okay with that. I'm guessing the NHL is a strict adherent to the age-old marketing tenet that there is no such thing as bad advertising.

So I will not be making any apologies for the game. I certainly will not be making any apologies for the NHL. They wanted this, they got it. If they didn't want this, then they shouldn't have fostered the atmosphere that was so conducive to it, for all these many years. If someone out there decides hockey's just too violent for them, fine. Go away. Don't ever come back.

And to the Michael Farbers of the world: give it a rest. Accept hockey in general, and the NHL specifically, for what it is or just shut up already. Don't sit there and try to atone for something that hockey itself doesn't consider a sin. Because you're not seeking redemption or absolution for hockey at that point, you're seeking redemption and absolution for yourself.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Back to the stone age


I said I wouldn't blog about this but I might as well, even though I twittered most of my thoughts already.

The NHL is a disgrace. Given my current state of disgust and scorn already for the league and the idiots who run it, Friday's Pittsburgh-Islanders game was just about perfect. Total anarchy, total goonism, total cheap shots, just all out chaos and mayhem.

It might have been a little avoidable. After all, the Islanders only talked about revenge oh, pretty damn often since Brent Johnson clocked Rick DiPietro. Then they recalled their AHL leader in penalty minutes the day of the game. To join a lineup that already includes thugs like Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin and Zenon Konopka. Ahead of a game that also included Eric Godard, Deryk Engelland and Mike Rupp. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?

New York got the best start it could, lighting up Johnson early and often. Then they started to goon the game up and turn it into a circus.

I know what you're thinking. My team employs Matt Cooke, who am I to judge? Well, Cooke hasn't pulled a Todd Bertuzzi on anyone, as Matt Martin nearly did to Max Talbot. Martin dropped his gloves, from behind Talbot, and fired up a roundhouse right before Talbot saw it coming and managed to defend himself.

Then Trevor Gillies elbowed Eric Tangradi - who is the Penguins' top forward prospect - and possibly gave him a concussion, then Gillies continued to pound on Tangradi, who tried to huddle - Steve Moore-like - on the ice. To top it off, Gillies decided to be even classier by shouting at Tangradi from the runway, while Tangradi was still lying on the ice being attended to by physicians.

The Penguins did their part in escalating this now-intense rivalry. As near as I can tell, three incidents led to this. Kris Letang's shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Blake Comeau, a hit for which Letang was ejected under rule 48. The NHL rescinded the game misconduct because Letang didn't actually hit Comeau in the head as on-ice officials believed.

Comeau received another blindside, shoulder-to-shoulder hit in the teams' most recent meeting. That was delivered by Talbot. I don't believe there was a penalty, but Comeau apparently suffered a concussion from that hit and hasn't played since. Then, of course, there was Johnson breaking DiPietro's face.

Noted philanthropist and Islanders center Zenon Konopka was one of the ones mentioning the revenge word.

Instead of try to defuse it, the NHL assigned someone named David Banfield as a referee rather than two veterans. (Dan O'Halloran was the other referee.) As far as I know, there were no warnings like when Pittsburgh played Boston the first time after Cooke cheap-shotted Marc Savard.

So, naturally, in a blowout, things got out of control. But it was mainly the Islanders pulling the cheap shit. Martin, Gillies, Micheal Haley going after Johnson and leading to Eric Godard coming off the bench to go after Haley. (In a related story, see you in 10 games, Eric. At least.)

The Islanders' management, coaching staff and players should be ashamed of themselves. So should the NHL. And screw it, so should the Penguins. They instigated a few of the incidents too, it wasn't all New York.

Friday night was a disgrace. On the heels of the Montreal-Boston bloodbath, the NHL is regressing. Given the Sidney Crosby concussion is a continuing - if not growing - story (even ESPN's Pardon the Interruption has been talking about this stuff), the NHL's PR must be pulling out its collective hair.

Maybe because I'm on the losing end, but Friday's game was not fun. I worked during the Boston-Montreal brawl but I didn't look for any YouTube clips of that. I wasn't interested. This crap isn't good.

I'm not calling for the banning of fighting or anything like that, but there's something in the culture of the game that has to change. Unless the NHL is happy with just being a niche sport. In which case, whatever.

It's hard for me to care about at this point.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ban 'em all


I know I won't get any sympathy for Matt Cooke's most recent screwup, a four-game suspension, nor am I asking for any. It was a bad hit and he's been out of control a bit lately, so it was about time for a sit-down.

My problem isn't with Cooke's suspension but the lack of discipline for Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman, who hit Sidney Crosby from behind but not with as much force as Cooke's hit on Fedor Tyutin and left Crosby with a concussion. Or the inadvertent hit by David Steckel that also contributed if not caused Crosby's concussion.

Tyutin popped up right away and played a regular shift. Crosby missed the rest of the game and has been out ever since.

The message I'm taking from this is the league is more interested about protecting Tyutin than the face of the league.

So it's about time to get rid of any and all headshots, inadvertent or not, plus any and all checks from behind, especially innocent-looking ones that happen away from the play like Hedman's hit on Crosby.

Before anyone jumps down my throat about "Where was this when Cooke cheap-shotted Savard?" I called for a lengthy Cooke suspension at the time. The NHL screwed themselves when they didn't suspend Mike Richards for just as bad a hit on David Booth. The league set the precedent of "This is legal."

There's plenty of hitting to be done in hockey. Banning any contact to the head or hits from behind isn't going to change the sport except - gasp! - for maybe keeping the players safe.

The league had time to learn that Crosby suffered a head injury after the Hedman hit and well before Hedman's next game yet didn't bother doing anything to protect him. Yet a hit that Bob McKenzie says probably wouldn't have been a suspension if it wasn't Matt Cooke delivering it merits a swift discipline.

So in the hierarchy of the NHL, Fedor Tyutin > Sidney Crosby.

If I was a player in the NHL these days, especially a grinder type, I'd start pulling Hedman jobs. Stand next to a star, gently nudge him into the boards, then ram his head into the glass a few times. No discipline!

Four games might not serve as much of a deterrent for a guy like Cooke to stop pulling his cheap shit again, but the nothing that other players received for causing significant injuries is even less of one. Players aren't respecting each other - led by Cooke, who despite Tyutin's possible turning-his-back-to-him, could've easily avoided hitting Tyutin - and if "accidents" are causing concussions, then guys need to start being more aware of where the fuck they are so they don't either inadvertently cause or receive a concussion, especially if they're 6-fucking-5.

I'm angry right now.

(And for what it's worth, I don't think I want Cooke on my team any more.)

Tampa's "fixed" goaltending; West still interesting

Roloson blown the eff out in loss to Buffalo
Incoming rants.

OK, so remember when everyone was talking about how Dwayne Roloson was the hottest goalie in the league and Tampa Bay solved its goaltending issues because of Roloson? Yeah, about that.

Inconsistency is not great. Inconsistency doesn't solve anything. And Roloson is either spectacular or spectacularly awful. The latest example came Tuesday, when he let in seven goals on 28 shots as Buffalo routed Tampa Bay, 7-4. Once again, as I've discussed before, the Lightning are prone to giving up a ton of goals.

Yes, Roloson has four shutouts in 13 starts with Tampa Bay and had given up only five goals in the last two weeks. His goals against average in eight wins is a stunning 0.73, if my math is right (six goals allowed.) Yet when he's bad, he's just as bad as he is good. In five losses, Roloson has given up 25 goals. He's given up at least four in each of those losses.

Is that really solving Tampa Bay's goaltending problem? Sure, if you catch him when he's on fire. What if he turns into a sieve right around playoff time? Then what?

Anyway, Drew Stafford had a hat trick and Thomas Vanek chipped in two goals and an assist for Buffalo. Which brings me to my next rant.

I turned the end of the game on XM radio with the score 5-3. The Lightning radio guys were bitching about a controversial goal by Jordan Leopold (three points) when Stafford lost his balance and tripped Roloson. Whoever does play by play said Buffalo grabbed momentum from that play, which tied the score at 3-3.

You know what? The Lightning gave up SIX STRAIGHT GOALS after leading 3-1. They gave up five goals in the third period. This is not the first time they've been blown out of the water (and by a non-playoff team to boot) as I illustrated in the above link. A team with defensive lapses played Marc-Andre Bergeron, infamous for being a major defensive liability, 17 minutes. He was a minus-4. So don't give me any BS about that one play. It took six minutes from the time it was 3-3 for the Sabres to go ahead 4-3, but it only took 1:46 for the lead to become 6-3.

If you want to be taken seriously, you can't be giving up so many goals so many different times.

By the way, I hereby name the Lightning radio duo as the worst set of commentators in sports. They are just horrid. Absolutely horrid. I had to turn the game off after the three minutes my friend and I were listening to it.

On the bright side for the Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier had two goals and an assist and Sean Bergenheim scored twice.

St. Louis, Columbus get key road wins
Two teams in the West needing two important points got them, meaning we still have just one dead team in that conference.
--Steve Mason made 32 saves and Rick Nash and Jakub Voracek each had a goal and assist to lead Columbus over Pittsburgh, 4-1. The Penguins have scored one goal in 120 minutes since learning of Evgeni Malkin's season-ending fate and did not play with its healthy leading goal scorer, Chris Kunitz, who was a late scratch. Tyler Kennedy became the team's seventh player with 10 goals but he's one of only three who suited up Tuesday. Three others are out for quite a while still.

--Matt D'Agostini scored with four minutes left in regulation and St. Louis edged Florida, 2-1. Jaroslav Halak made 30 saves. The Blues and Blue Jackets remain in striking distance of eighth place.

Goalie du jour
Let's start up the new "hottest goalie in the league" talk for Antti Niemi, who posted his second straight shutout with 25 saves in San Jose's 2-0 win over Washington. Logan Couture and Dan Boyle scored in the final 8:05 of the third period.

The bottom-feeders
--Toronto, playing its fifth game in eight nights, got a break when Islanders starter Kevin Poulin suffered an injury in warmups and New York had to go with Mikko Koskinen, who made his NHL debut. The Maple Leafs scored on their first two shots and went on to earn a 5-3 win. Colby Armstrong had a goal and two assists to lead the attack and James Reimer made 31 saves.
--After fellow rookie Nick Palmieri forced overtime with a late goal in regulation, Mattias Tedenby scored his second goal of the game to give New Jersey a 3-2 win over Carolina. Johan Hedberg made 20 saves for the red-hot Devils. In typical Jacques Lemaire fashion, he wasn't happy about anything with his team's play.

--I wonder if Ray Shero makes some kind of panic trade to induce offense into the Pittsburgh lineup, which has pretty much zero playmaking ability right now. It's like the 2003-04 season all over again. Grinders can carry a team only so far. You need two or three guys with actual talent to produce offense on most nights and right now, the Penguins don't even have one player like that. They might go out and score five on Los Angeles Thursday but when the current team needs one goal "right now", I don't know who steps onto the ice.

--Important point for the Hurricanes but an even more important point they gave up. Big two points for Buffalo too.

--We're not really going to start talking about playoffs with Toronto and New Jersey, are we?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Calgary returns, as does "Lost 10"

Trouble in Chi-town but not Cal-town
One left-for-dead team is back in business, while another team is gasping for air.

Curtis Glencross scored midway through the third period and Calgary fended off Chicago, 3-1, to move back into the top eight in the West for the first time since the '80s. OK, not that long ago, it just feels like it.

The Flames, who got the opening goal from Mikael Backlund and an empty netter from Rene Bourque, sit in the eighth playoff position but have played more games than anyone else in the West except for Phoenix. Olli Jokinen had two assists and Miikka Kiprusoff made 22 saves.

Patrick Kane scored for the Blackhawks, who are currently 11th.

Good Western teams win again
--Jimmy Howard made 45 saves and Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler each had a goal and assist to lead Detroit over the Rangers, 3-2. New York has lost five in a row.
--Mikael Samuelsson scored twice and added an assist and Ryan Kesler had one of each in Vancouver's 4-2 win over Ottawa, the Senators' 10th straight loss. Roberto Luongo made 31 saves. Jason Spezza led Ottawa with a goal and a helper.

Clean sheets
--Devan Dubnyk made 37 saves for his first career shutout as Edmonton blanked Nashville, 4-0. Andrew Cogliano and Jordan Eberle had a goal and assist each.
--Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 26 shots and Radim Vrbata scored twice in a 3-0 Phoenix victory over Colorado. Maybe the Avalanche need Peter Forsberg after all.

And finally
Third-period goals by Nikolai Kulemin and Tim Brent helped Toronto edge Atlanta, 5-4, handing the Thrashers their fourth straight loss. Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski each had a goal and two points. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 30 saves.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

'Canes leapfrog Thrashers; Goalies in charge

I skated today for the first time in a number of years. I'm so effing tired. It'll be reflected in the following recap.

Carolina skirts by Atlanta, takes over eighth
The Atlanta Thrashers forgot this NHL season extended into 2011.

Erik Cole's sneaky wrister caught Ondrej Pavelec leaning in overtime and Carolina knocked off Atlanta, 4-3, to move into the eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 58 points but the Hurricanes have played fewer games and have more wins.

Jiri Tlusty had a goal and assist and Joni Pitkanen notched two assists for the Hurricanes. Cam Ward made 34 saves.

Atlanta, which lost its 10th game (out of 14) in the calendar year, forced overtime with 1:24 left in regulation on a Zach Bogosian goal. Bryan Little had two assists.

Buffalo adds to Atlanta's pressure
For the second straight night, Buffalo quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead. This time, the Sabres didn't let it disappear.

Drew Stafford (two goals) and Thomas Vanek (one) each had three points as Buffalo routed Toronto, 6-2. The Sabres are five points back of Carolina and Atlanta. They have four games in hand on the Thrashers but just two on the Hurricanes. Ryan Miller made 23 saves.

Title passed on?
With New Jersey surging and the Islanders proving feisty again, has Ottawa taken the crown for worst in the East? I say yes.

Rob Schremp scored twice and Michael Grabner had a goal and assist as New York handed Ottawa its ninth straight loss, 5-3. Frans Nielsen also had a goal and assist. Kevin Poulin made 20 saves.

Clean sheets
Good lord there were a lot of these.

--Logan Couture's power play goal stood up as the winner in San Jose's 2-0 victory over Boston. Antti Niemi made 26 saves. Ryane Clowe had two assists.
--Montreal's Carey Price made 19 third-period saves and 35 total in blanking the Rangers, 2-0. Scott Gomez and Tomas Plekanec (empty net) scored.
--Corey Perry netted a hat trick and Anaheim didn't miss a beat without Jonas Hiller as backup Curtis McElhinney stopped all 25 Colorado shots in a 3-0 victory.
--Phoenix fired 41 shots on Niklas Backstrom and only one by Taylor Pyatt got through but it was enough as the Coyotes defeated Minnesota, 1-0. Ilya Bryzgalov had 25 saves.
--Remember when Johan Franzen scored five goals in one game? Well, Detroit has been blanked in the two games since then after Pekka Rinne made 35 saves in a 3-0 Nashville win. Sergei Kostitsyn scored twice and Ryan Suter had two assists.

Here's what else happened
--Brian Boucher made 30 saves and Philadelphia downed Dallas, 3-1. Darrell Powe's shorthanded goal was the winner.
--R.J. Umberger had two goals and four points to lead Columbus over Edmonton, 4-3. Steve Mason stopped 23 shots.
--Justin Williams had a goal, two assists and the shootout winner in round seven to lead Los Angeles over Calgary, 4-3. Jonathan Quick made 32 saves. Alex Tanguay had two goals and an assist for the Flames.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Well F---, now what?


Pittsburgh has done one heck of a job the last few weeks in the absences of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. One reason why that might be is because the other players knew that eventually, at least one and probably both those guys would return at some point.

On the heels of head coach Dan Byslma's announcement Saturday that Malkin suffered a torn ACL and MCL in an innocent and almost freak collision with Tyler Myers in Friday's game, the sentiment might now be: "Well f---, now what?"

Malkin is likely out for the season and apart from the big blow to the on-ice product - despite the Penguins' recent successes, they need Malkin - there's also likely to be a significant hit to morale. Now the other players know Malkin won't be back. They can't just "hold the fort" while he's out.

Now they're the ones who have to storm the trenches. And I'm not sure if they'll have the firepower to do it, especially with Crosby still on the casualty list and not likely to provide an imminent rescue any time soon.

(OK, how many other war metaphors can I fit in here?)

Maybe Pittsburgh will survive until reinforcements arrive. (There's another one! Two if you want to include "survive" but that's a stretch.) The team has adjusted to something akin to New Jersey's trap system, looking to play low-scoring games with opponents. It's proven moderately effective with a five-game winning streak and eight wins in the last nine games.

In the playoffs, defense and strong goaltending tend to win out. Ask Montreal, ask Washington. Marc-Andre Fleury has been arguably the best - OK, second best to Tim Thomas - goalie in the last three months. Fleury was one reason why last season ended prematurely for the Penguins and he'll need to continue his excellent run of play.

Still, on a team that's already top-heavy in pure offensive talent, losing Malkin will not be easy to cope with long-term.

The mood of the locker room will be interesting to see over the next few days as the team continues to get injured down the middle. One possible benefit: the almost-great Dustin Jeffrey will continue to get prime ice time.

With Crosby, Malkin (three ailments), Jordan Staal, Mark Letestu and Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers, it's tough being a center in Pittsburgh these days. I fear for Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

Let's go Bucs.

Caps cool off Roloson; Pens lose Malkin again

No threepeat for Roloson against Washington
All the hockey writers were abuzz with how hot Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson has been lately. OK, I suppose it was deserved. He'd allowed just five goals in five games - which includes two straight shutouts - in the last two weeks.

Elephant in the room: Only one of those wins came against a decent team. Roloson beat Columbus, a fading Atlanta team twice and Toronto. The stunner was blanking Philadelphia. The pundits also kind of ignored the nine goals in 73 minutes Roloson had allowed in the two starts prior to that, so I'm not entirely sure it was fair to say Tampa has its goaltending figured out.

Anyway, with all this momentum on his side, surely Roloson would continue against Washington, a team he shut out twice already. Right?


Washington's offense came alive for its highest goal output since before Christmas, torching Roloson for four goals in a crucial 5-2 victory over the Lightning. Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and set up two others and Alex Ovechkin also recorded four points, including his 20th goal. Semyon Varlamov made 23 saves.

Teddy Purcell had a goal and assist for Tampa Bay.

The win puts the Capitals just three points back of the Lightning now in the Southeast Division. A regulation loss would've set Washington back seven.

Penguins lose Malkin, not game
I think it's fair to say it: Pittsburgh doesn't need Evgeni Malkin.

(Note: That's not actually true.)

Returning from a knee injury and sinus infection, Malkin was on the ice for both Buffalo goals in the first period. Behemoth Tyler Myers fell on Malkin early in the second period, knocking the center out of the game, and Pittsburgh quickly scored three times in the next seven minutes in a 3-2 victory.

Dustin Jeffrey - who is a couple more goals away from earning "the great" status - Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke scored in a span of 3:14. Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves.

Cooke's goal actually shouldn't have happened as he was offside, unnoticed, and then scored a handful of seconds later. He wouldn't be the only player to benefit from that kind of non-call.

Paul Gaustad had a goal and assist for the Sabres.

Coincidence or not?
Pretty sure I've seen rumblings, rumors, "talk" - call it what you will - of Columbus perhaps entertaining trade talk concerning goalie Steve Mason.

Mason might have heard them and decided to do something about it. Playing a rare good game, Mason stopped all 34 shots he saw to lead Columbus over Detroit, 3-0, for his second shutout this season. Antoine Vermette and Andrew Murray both had a goal and assist.

The tide has turned
Chicago used to own Roberto Luongo. Not any more.

The last time Luongo faced the Blackhawks, he shut them out. This time he made 42 saves and Vancouver scored two third-period goals to edge Chicago, 4-3. Henrik Sedin had a goal and two assists and Daniel Sedin scored the game-winner. He also had an assist. Mikael Samuelsson matched the two-point outing.

Christian Ehrhoff scored late in the first period for the Canucks but like Cooke's, the goal shouldn't have counted as the puck exited the zone before Ehrhoff's one-timer got past Marty Turco.

Jonathan Toews had a goal and assist for Chicago.

Let's wrap this up
--Ty Conklin made 29 saves and five different Blues scored in a 5-3 St. Louis victory over Edmonton. Brad Boyes had a goal and assist for St. Louis.
--Florida's Mike Santorelli forced overtime with a late shorthanded goal and then teammate Rostislav Olesz won the game in the extra session, 4-3 over New Jersey. Tomas Vokoun made 28 saves for the Panthers, who have handed the Devils two of their three losses (both in OT) in New Jersey's last 11 games.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dallas and Boston fight to the finish

Bad blood between Bruins, Stars
If you arrived late to the start of Dallas-Boston, shame on you for six weeks, as Penguins announcer Mike Lange would say.

Three fights in four seconds - which honestly leads to the question of what was that third pair waiting for? Why wasn't it three fights in three seconds? - preceded goals 45 seconds apart in the first 1:20 of Boston's 6-3 victory.

Then there was a fourth fight a few minutes later. In the second period, Steve Ott and Zdeno Chara received 10-minute misconducts. Then Daniel Paille made an appointment with Colin Campbell after head-shotting a player and getting tossed.

By the way, these teams are in different conferences. Does anyone know why the hatred? I'm understanding there's some bitterness between Ott and Gregory Campbell, so I get those two fighting. But everyone else? Good lord.

Anyway, Patrice Bergeron (two goals), Brad Marchand (one) and Mark Recchi (none) all had three points for Boston. Tuukka Rask made 30 saves, receiving more goal support than in his previous 16 appearances combined. (That's true, you can look it up.)

(You didn't look it up, did you? I hope not, because it's obviously not true. As far as you know.)

Trifecta of treys
--New Jersey chased Henrik Lundqvist by scoring the first three goals then had to hang on for a 3-2 win over the Rangers. Dainius Zubrus had a goal and assist and Martin Brodeur made 25 saves.
--Jeff Carter had a goal and two assists and Ville Leino scored two third-period goals in Philadelphia's 3-2 win over Nashville. Sergei Bobrovsky made 26 saves and Claude Giroux had two assists.
--Tim Brent was a beast apparently blocking shots to help James Reimer's 27-save shutout for Toronto in a 3-0 win over Carolina. Clarke MacArthur and Kris Versteeg scored.

Fabulous fours
--Mikael Backlund's late unassisted goal helped Calgary to a 4-2 win over Atlanta. The Flames, getting a goal and assist from Mark Giordano and 22 Miikka Kiprusoff saves, have won six in a row.
--Jose Theodore made 38 saves, including 17 in the third period when Minnesota was out-shot 19-3, to guide the Wild over Colorado, 4-3. Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored on one of those three shots for the winner. Bouchard also had an assist and Andrew Brunette scored twice. Milan Hejduk had a pair for the Avalanche.

--Seriously, every Devils fan (all four of them) is asking himself why Jacques Lemaire had to go and retire. New Jersey is 8-1-1 in its last 10 and looks more and more like last year's team with each game.

--If the Devils keep winning 80 percent of their games like they have been, they'd finish with 88 points, roughly. That's what it took for Philadelphia and Montreal to qualify for the Eastern playoffs last season. That's not factoring in loser points either, by the way.

--Uh, that can't really happen, can it?

--Sure it can't. Just like Boston can't blow a 3-0 series lead, or a 3-0 lead in Game 7 at home.

--Remember when Atlanta was good? Me neither.

--Minnesota's 7th now! WITH GAMES IN HAND. Believe!

--Geezus. Seriously, the Wild could end up fifth soon. Or even fourth. I guess Pittsburgh won't be trading for Andrew Brunette this season.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brent Johnson > Rick DiPietro; A Franzen fiver

Johnson, Penguins beat down DiPietro, Islanders
We can talk if we want about "Sidney who? Evgeni who?" after the Penguins won their fourth straight game and seventh in eight, shutting out the Islanders 3-0 for the second time in nine days. How the team defense in the absence of offensive skill is rivaling anything the Steelers have ever put on the field.

But we all know what we want to see. This:


Twitter was abuzz - ABUZZ I tell you - afterward about Brent Johnson. It was fun.

There's also a video from the Islanders' broadcast in which the announcers suggest Rick DiPietro initiated the fight, which I doubt. The announcers also cited Matt Cooke as the instigator of the scrum - which is understandable, and we can all get behind DiPietro giving Cooke a shot - but then they later backtracked a bit after seeing another replay. They were right when they said Cooke didn't need to go anywhere near DiPietro though.

As for the game, oh yeah! There was a game, wasn't there? Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz scored in the first period and Max Talbot broke a 25-game goalless streak with an empty netter that gave him 50 career goals and 100 career points. Paul Martin had two assists.

Johnson made 20 saves but does not technically get credit for a shutout since he was ejected and Marc-Andre Fleury finished the game. So if you have him on your fantasy team - in which case, WTF's wrong with you? - you lose out.

Five...five dollar...five dollar Franzen
Is that song stuck in your heads now? I hope so. Boom.

Even though the last one was into an empty net, mad props to Johan Franzen for going off for five goals in a crazy 7-5 Detroit victory over Ottawa. Three of Franzen's goals came in the third period. The first two came 48 seconds apart in the first.

Some other zaniness: One minute after Franzen's second goal, Peter Regin scored for Ottawa. In the second period, Detroit scored twice in 13 seconds (Kris Draper, Niklas Kronwall) for a 4-3 lead, then Milan Michalek struck for Ottawa 29 seconds later.

Michalek did it again, scoring 29 seconds after Franzen's third goal put Detroit ahead 5-4. Then Franzen scored his last two.

Henrik Zetterberg had three assists and Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom two each. Jimmy Howard made 29 saves. Peter Regin, Alexei Kovalev and Chris Campoli each had a goal and two assists for the Senators, who have lost eight straight.

Scared yet?
Are teams in the West as scared of Vancouver as teams in the East are of Philadelphia? If not, the time can't be too far off. (OK, unless you want to think of their - and Bob Luongo's specifically - past playoff failures. That might take some fear away.)

Anyway, five different players scored and Luongo needed to stop just 23 shots as Vancouver ran over Phoenix (get it? Coyotes, road runner? OK yeah, that was a bad one) by a 6-0 score. Ryan Kesler scored twice, Mason Raymond had a goal and assist and Mikael Samuelsson had two assists. No one else had multiple points.

Screening the Oilers
Ryan Smyth got a piece of two shots from the point by Drew Doughty for a pair of power play goals in Los Angeles' 3-1 win over Edmonton. Jack Johnson had a goal and two assists and Jonathan Quick made 32 saves.

Hanging on
--Brian Gionta's goal midway through the third period stood up as the winner as Montreal hung on to defeat Florida, 3-2. The Panthers scored late to cut the gap to one. Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban each had two assists and Alex Auld made 33 saves for the Canadiens.
--San Jose opened up a quick 3-0 lead, chasing all-star Jonas Hiller, then narrowly avoided a collapse in a 4-3 win over Anaheim. The Ducks trailed 4-1 before two goals narrowed the lead to one. Ryane Clowe had a goal and assist and Antti Niemi made 27 saves for the Sharks.

--The guess here is Brent Johnson was the #1 star just for the knockout.

--The Islanders are not fans of Consol Energy Center. They were the first road team (in four tries) to lose there and then they were shut out there in two straight games. Also, they had a goalie knocked the eff out.

--The Sharks, who smell blood (5th in the West) are circling.

...OK, sorry. Good night everybody! I'll be here all week, don't forget to tip your waitress.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tampa knocks off Philly; Canucks benefit

Roloson shuts down Philadelphia
Tampa Bay's a good team and all, alright? But honestly, who saw this coming?

Dwayne Roloson stopped all 38 shots he saw and two goals in the first 81 seconds by Teddy Purcell catapulted Tampa Bay to a stunning 4-0 victory over Philadelphia. Purcell scored just 19 seconds into the game and again 1:02 later against Sergei Bobrovsky, who was pulled with eight seconds left in the first period. Which was weird, since the last goal he gave up came over five minutes earlier. I didn't watch the game, maybe he was pulled for an extra attacker.

Steve Downie and Steven Stamkos also scored for the Lightning, who got two assists each from Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis. Tampa Bay, which has won six straight, mustered just 22 shots on goal but that proved to be plenty.

The loss, coupled with Vancouver's win later, knocked the Flyers from the top overall spot in the league. The Lightning now lead the Southeast Division by five points over Washington.

Special victory for Canucks
They might as well rename American Airlines Center in Dallas to Vancouver Airlines Center, because the Canucks own the Stars.

For the third time this season, Vancouver held Dallas to one goal and downed the Stars, 4-1, for its third victory over Dallas. The Canucks have out-scored the Stars by a 15-3 margin in three games.

Vancouver killed off all five disadvantages it faced, including three in the first period, then got a power play goal and assist each from Mikael Samuelsson and Christian Ehrhoff early in the second period. Daniel Sedin assisted on both man-advantage goals then Ryan Kesler scored while down a man to cancel out a Loui Eriksson strike. Alex Burrows put the final nail in the coffin with five minutes left in the third period.

Cory Schneider made 25 saves for the Canucks.

Double shutout, what does it mean?
Is that joke still funny? If not, I don't care, I'm still using it.

Sixty five minutes of hockey and five shootout attempts still resulted in just one goal and Minnesota earned a crucial 1-0 victory over Los Angeles. Niklas Backstrom foiled all 27 attempts fired on him by the Kings and three players in the shootout, including a nifty skate save that had whoever the Minnesota color guy is experiencing an orgasm on-air. Pierre-Marc Bouchard had the only shootout goal.

Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves in defeat.

Other shootouts
--Toronto conceded a late tying goal but rebounded to earn a 4-3 victory over Florida on Colby Armstrong's shootout goal. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin each had a goal and assist and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 30 saves. Stephen Weiss and Cory Stillman both had one and one for the Panthers.
--Brian Gionta scored twice in the second period and had the only shootout goal as Montreal erased a two-goal deficit to knock off Washington, 3-2. Carey Price made 27 saves. Mathieu Perreault led the Capitals with a goal and assist.
--Dustin Jeffrey had a power play goal and was the only one of 14 shooters to score in Pittsburgh's 4-3 win over the Rangers. Chris Kunitz had a goal and assist and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 26 shots. The Penguins lost Arron Asham to injury and Jordan Staal to an ejection after one of the dumber reactions you'll see a player have.
--Miikka Kiprusoff made 25 saves plus three in the tiebreaker and Rene Bourque scored to give Calgary a 3-2 win over Nashville.

Other action
--Seven different players scored and Jonathan Toews had three points to lead Chicago over Columbus, 7-4. Steve Mason gave up five goals in two periods.
--Tim Thomas made 24 saves in Boston's 3-2 win over Carolina.
--Ottawa lost its seventh straight game, managing just 16 shots on Martin Brodeur in losing 2-1 to New Jersey.
--Kyle Okposo, who has missed much of the season with an injury, scored his first two goals and set up another as the Islanders knocked off a fading Atlanta team, 4-1. The Thrashers have won just two of their last 10 games.
--Paul Bissonnette scored and frankly, nothing else mattered in San Jose's 5-3 win over Phoenix. (OK, Joe Pavelski scored twice and Patrick Marleau had a shorthanded game-winning goal as the Sharks scored five unanswered goals after being down 3-0. Alex Stalock made his NHL debut in relief of Antti Niemi and stopped all nine shots he saw in 30 minutes.)

--I won't toot my own horn, but funny how that works out, huh? I blog about Jeffrey needing more playing time and he responds with a goal and the shootout winner. He also cleanly won a faceoff that led to another goal.

--I think the Penguins played for a shootout the minute Ryan Callahan scored his power play goal with 12.5 seconds left in the second period to tie the game at 3-3. They'd already lost Asham and Staal - who deserved a major penalty but hopefully won't be suspended - and were without three other centers.

--I still say the Penguins need more overall offensive talent but they've been able to adjust their style of play and find ways to win without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They've won six of their last seven. It's not against scrub teams either. Four of the wins were against playoff teams and a fifth was against a feisty Carolina team that could end up knocking Atlanta out.

--So, the Wild. They're knocking on the playoff door. How about that?

--I was all set to essentially write off the Sharks after their horrid effort through two periods, then they made a stunning comeback in the third period.

--If you're Columbus, what the hell's going through your mind in regards to Steve Mason? Yuck.

--How great would it have been if Bissonnette had Tweeted from the bench after scoring?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The time to hesitate is through


Arguing with the results of Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma opens one up to at least some form of ridicule. Bylsma won the Stanley Cup in his first half-season and coached the Penguins to a 100-point year in his first full season despite a subpar year from both goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Conn Smythe winner Evgeni Malkin.

That hardly means Bylsma is perfect or that all his decisions are correct.

One of his MOs is any time he calls a player up from the AHL, said player will spend time on the fourth line, with spot time - occasionally, maybe - on the third line. This is essentially regardless of what the player has done at the minor league level.

Granted, it's quite a different beast going from the AHL to the NHL. Still, Bylsma at times seems reluctant to experiment and see if a recent call-up can cut it in the big leagues.

The most recent example is Dustin Jeffrey. A prospect once removed from the team's long-term plans, Jeffrey proceeded to string together quality performances in recent training camps, preseasons and with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and suddenly reemerged as "one to watch."

A 71-point season at the age of 21-22 will do that. That's the number Jeffrey put up in 2009-10 (24 goals) to lead the Baby Penguins in scoring. Despite being called up to Pittsburgh on several occasions this season (I think the number is up to five), Jeffrey still leads W-B/S with 45 points and is only one goal off the team lead despite the time he's missed.

Jeffrey, once a center, has been turned into a winger. Could he fill the glaring void in Pittsburgh's depth chart? Will the 42 goals in the past 117 AHL games translate to the NHL?

For a while, that was an answer we'd never find out. Despite his minor league numbers, Jeffrey, in seven NHL games this year, has been relegated to playing the fourth line with noted superstars Mike Rupp and Arron Asham or Craig Adams. In 15 previous NHL games, Jeffrey posted just three points, all in 2008-09 when he appeared in 14 contests.

This year, he has four points including a pair of goals. In his first game, Jeffrey scored the opening goal and set up a late insurance goal by Rupp in a 5-2 win over Buffalo. Jeffrey's contributions were particularly important since Evgeni Malkin did not play and someone needed to step up somewhere to provide offense.

His reward? Less than nine minutes of ice time in his next three games.

When a team like the Penguins is employing Matt Cooke, or Max Talbot, or Asham, guys like that, in a top-six role, talent like what Jeffrey might possess can't be wasted. I'd rather Jeffrey play big minutes and fail than to see those guys getting prime ice time. He can't do much worse than some other players right now. At least we'd find out whether or not Jeffrey can handle playing in the NHL.

Penguins fans will finally get that chance. With Sidney Crosby and Malkin still out, an injury this morning to center Mark Letestu has cut into Pittsburgh's depth. The plan, for now at least, is for Jeffrey to see time back at center between Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, Crosby's regular linemates.

Bylsma's hand is forced into this move. Jeffrey has logged more ice time lately and is on a very modest two-game points streak but now, finally, gets a chance to play with guys who have, you know, talent. Or, at least as much talent as Dupuis can provide.

Perhaps one line of Bylsma's thinking is he didn't want to push too much on Jeffrey too soon. He is still young (turning 23 in a few weeks) and the aforementioned lack of wingers in the system suggests many eyes will be on Jeffrey to perform well. But there comes a time when you need to know what a guy can bring, whether he merits a spot in the team's long-term plans.

Playing on the fourth line, receiving no or little power play time, won't do it.

It was Letestu, not Jeffrey, who centered the "top-line" wingers the last few games when Pittsburgh's top two centers were out of the lineup.

Keeping Jeffrey's minutes so low has been one of the head-scratching moves Bylsma continues to make. Maybe Jeffrey won't do anything with the time given him. Or maybe he will. Regardless, Jeffrey is one of the few players in the organization who might actually have talent and it makes no sense to play him nine minutes a night when Max Talbot hasn't scored a goal in 24 games, or when Tyler Kennedy has two goals since Dec. 4.

It's time to stop jerking Jeffrey around and give him an extended look and see if he is any good or not. Then maybe, just maybe, Pittsburgh will have finally found a player capable of scoring goals on a regular basis that isn't named Sidney or Evgeni.