Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun tackle the hot issues. Without gloves.
BURNSIDE: Greetings, my friend. It was interesting to listen to Brendan Shanahan talk at the recent GMs’ meetings in Florida about how he would deal with suspensions in the playoffs, and how the postseason represents a different scale when it comes to supplemental discipline because each season essentially represents a seven-game season.
Well, for Shane Doan and the Phoenix Coyotes, it’s already playoff time, and Shanahan didn’t spare the rod in suspending the Coyotes’ captain for three games for a blatant elbow to the head of Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn earlier this week. It was the right call for Shanahan, as the hit was reminiscent of the Rene Bourque elbow on Nicklas Backstrom that sidelined Washington’s star center indefinitely. Benn wasn’t seriously injured, but Shanahan delivered harsh justice for a potentially dangerous play.
To his credit, Doan took the punishment without flinching. In a statement produced shortly after the suspension was announced Wednesday night, Doan said he accepted the league’s decision. "I am thankful that Jamie Benn was not hurt on the play. I recognize how bad it looked but there was no intent to injure him. Jamie Benn is a class act and I appreciate how he handled everything. I apologize to the NHL, my teammates and our fans for missing the next 3 games as we continue to fight for a playoff spot.”
Now the question is whether Doan’s absence costs the Coyotes what would be a third straight trip to the postseason. They are tied for eighth in points with Los Angeles, one point behind seventh-place Colorado, and the Coyotes host the Avs on Thursday night. No doubt Doan will be watching with more than a little nervousness, hoping his squad can hang on while he serves his sentence. The margin for error among those teams looking for the final two playoff spots means that this might be the tipping point for the plucky Coyotes.
LEBRUN: I give Doan a lot of credit for that statement Wednesday night. Most players don't say anything after being suspended, which is also their right, and certainly wise when they're enraged. But for some it's because they simply don't accept their actions were unacceptable. Seeing a veteran like Doan own up to his dangerous hit should be the model for all suspended players. I traded text messages with Doan later Wednesday night and I can tell you how crushed he is at missing games with his team's season on the line. But he knows he has only himself to blame. The good thing for Phoenix is that it's a team built -- by necessity -- without relying too much on one or two players like many other teams. They're a four-line, lunch-bucket crew under Dave Tippett. Doan will be missed because he's one of their better offensive forces, a physical force and, of course, their leader. But there's a resilience in that team's DNA -- some of it borne from their constant off-ice uncertainty.
BURNSIDE: Agreed that if there's a team that can overcome this kind of setback, it's the Coyotes. But let's move on, shall we? The Predators have announced that Alexander Radulov will play Thursday night, so lots of attention will be on the Nashville Predators, especially with their visit to Pittsburgh, where they’ll tangle with the smokin’ hot Penguins (the game will now be seen on the NHL Network). Watched Pittsburgh destroy Winnipeg 8-4 the other night with Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and a guy named Sidney Crosby combining for 13 points and, assuming this Penguin squad stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the East dislodging them through a seven-game series. The question as it related to Thursday night’s tilt is whether this is a Stanley Cup finals preview.
I know some hockey writers who wouldn’t mind shuttling between Pittsburgh and Nashville in early June, if that was the case. Radulov figures mightily into that equation one way or another, though. What’s his conditioning going to be like, how does he mesh with new teammates, most of whom have come to Nashville since he scurried back to Russia after the 2008 season, even though he still had a year left on his entry-level deal with the Predators? What is the ripple effect of his arrival in terms of ice time for other players and does that rock the boat internally? Valid questions. The Preds are coming off a disappointing home loss to Edmonton and are in a dogfight with Detroit (overtime losers to New York on Wednesday) and red-hot Chicago for home ice in the first round. This one should be a dandy.
LEBRUN: Preds head coach Barry Trotz discussed with me Wednesday evening the challenge of adjusting his lineup with Radulov, not to mention all the other faces his GM, David Poile, added before the trade deadline. It's a different team than the one that broke camp in September, a better one and a deeper one, but still a different one, which poses a challenge to Trotz to make it all fit in short time. Not that he’s complaining; far from it. It’s the kind of "problem" Nashville has wished to have for a long, long time.
The initial loser with Radulov's arrival appears to be trade-deadline pickup Andrei Kostitsyn, who gets knocked off his line with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist. But the key in Nashville is that the core group -- led by captain Shea Weber -- is totally supportive of Radulov's addition, and that's the only thing that really counts. The Preds and Penguins represent a delicious matchup Thursday night, with Pittsburgh needing to keep up with the Rangers in the race for first in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. I thought the Rangers looked terrific Wednesday night in beating Detroit, to me one of their most balanced efforts in a while. Perhaps the Penguins' recent surge has lit a fire under a Rangers team that might have been lolly-gagging just a bit in March.
Before we go, we should talk about Chicago's 2-1 overtime win over rival Vancouver. Both netminders, Roberto Luongo and Corey Crawford, were outstanding. The Hawks continue to win without concussed superstar Jonathan Toews. A lot of that has to do with Crawford's turnaround, but also his teammates tightening up in front of him. Unfortunately, the only talk from that game was Duncan Keith's elbow on Daniel Sedin. The Canucks star left the game. Keith is not a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination, but that was a dangerous play. Worth at least two games, in my book. The Hawks don’t play again until Sunday, so Shanahan has time to decide what to do here.
BURNSIDE: Yes, terrific game marred by what Canucks fans are hoping won’t be any kind of significant injury to their goal-scoring machine. The Canucks have been suffering from a little of what might have been afflicting the Rangers, a little lack of motivation after a long stretch of strong play. The Canucks have settled into the second seed in the Western Conference -- a little too far back of St. Louis to make a serious run at the top seed or the Presidents’ Trophy, and so far ahead of Colorado that there’s no push for the top spot in the Northwest. But Chicago always brings out the best in the Canucks, and they’ll need to see a lot better team play if they’re going to repeat last year’s long playoff run. With the overtime loss in Chicago, they have just three wins in their last 11 games and haven’t won back-to-back games in almost a month. As for Chicago, this is an impressive stretch for the Hawks. Doesn’t seem like all that long ago fans were clamoring for a new goaltender, yet Crawford has been dynamite, and all of a sudden the Hawks look like they’re for real. Where do you see them settling in that cramped Central Division?
LEBRUN: The Blues will win the Central. Then, I'll take Nashville followed by Chicago and then Detroit -- the Preds, Hawks and Wings all separated by two points and decided on the final weekend of the season. Exciting enough for you? Until then, two and a half weeks of crazed games with playoff and seeding implications. Love this time of year.
Until tomorrow, my friend.