Cross Checks: New York Islanders
1. The age-old Calder debate
My colleague and good friend Pierre LeBrun and I have often debated last season's Calder Trophy race, which was won by Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers. I have no problem with Myers' selection (he won by a veritable landslide, collecting 94 of 133 first-place votes). Myers was terrific as a 19-year-old blueliner.
But where Mr. LeBrun and I often disagree is that part of Myers' appeal was he was a teenager, compared to Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who was 25 going on 26 during his rookie season. Howard was second to Myers in voting. I voted for Howard because I believed his performance for the injury-riddled Red Wings (especially in the second half of the season) was exemplary, regardless of whether he was an "old" rookie.
This season, the age issue has again crept into the Calder discussion.
Jeff Skinner, who won't turn 19 until May, is in a dogfight with San Jose's Logan Couture. Couture, who turned 22 at the end of March, has done it all for a Sharks team that is likely the second-best team in the NHL behind Vancouver. At the time of this writing, Skinner had opened up a four-point lead on Couture, although Couture was tied with the Isles' Michael Grabner for the rookie goal-scoring lead (31), two more than Skinner.
Both are centers, and there is no doubt Skinner's performance is wildly impressive. But I have seen others refer to Skinner's performance as it relates to being a "young" rookie and, presumably, his worthiness as a Calder candidate. There's a reason the award's parameters are in place. It seems unjust to penalize Couture, who is marginally more deserving of the award given his overall impact with the Sharks, just because of the calendar.
2. A not-so-grand finale
Check out the last Saturday of the regular season: 11 contests, 22 teams, each tilt a divisional matchup ... all but one.
Yes, Buffalo fans will be storming down the highway to Ohio to get tickets to the Sabres' final regular-season matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Huh? So, play 81 games and the best the schedule-makers can come up with is a meaningless, emotionless contest against a sad-sack team from the other conference?
Hey, we understand the schedule is a monster to manipulate with six divisional games and 15 teams in each conference. But how on earth the Sabres could end up playing their finale against a team that isn't even in their own conference is incomprehensible.
You can bet Toronto, Carolina, the New York Rangers and Montreal -- teams whose own playoff standing could be affected by the Sabres' final game -- were wishing the game had a little more meaning or at least have it be against an Eastern Conference foe.
3. Enough already, Georges
Has there been a player in recent memory who accomplished so little on the ice but talked so much off it than Georges Laraque?
It created hardly a ripple when the Canadiens bought out Laraque's contract, which then-GM Bob Gainey foolishly bestowed given Laraque's negligible on-ice impact; but disappearing gracefully has hardly been Laraque's style.
The ubiquitous "expert" has weighed in on various topics in recent days and months, including the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty and whether Montreal coach Jacques Martin has lost the Habs' room. We had to snicker when Laraque suggested that had he been on the ice, Pacioretty would not have been ridden into the stanchion at the Bell Centre. Were that true, hundreds of players who played alongside Laraque (well, that's a stretch since Laraque spent many nights stapled to the bench in many NHL cities) owe him a debt of gratitude for having saved them from similar injury. If they only knew how lucky they were.
Then, to suggest in recent days that Martin has lost touch with his players is just more waste material. The coach guided the underdog Habs to a shocking Eastern Conference finals appearance last season and has them pointed toward the playoffs again this spring despite injuries.
Not sure what's more shocking, that Laraque continues to offer up such misguided opinions or that he finds a forum for them.
4. The access debate
What a schmozzle the annual awards voting process has become, thanks to the smallness of the New York Islanders and the failure of the NHL to do the right thing.
You may recall when Islanders GM Garth Snow revoked the credential of writer and Professional Hockey Writers' Association member Chris Botta earlier this season. Botta was a former Islanders PR man who had gone on to write his own blog, first sponsored by the Isles, then independent of the team. The NHL tried through various means to get Snow to back off, but the Isles insisted they had the right to control access by bloggers. Botta now writes a blog for The New York Times, but is still banned from the Islanders' locker room.
What should have been clear-cut from the league's perspective is that Botta is a member of the PHWA, the group that votes on many of the league's top awards, All-Star and All-Rookie teams, and should have been protected by the league.
Instead of telling the Isles the PHWA trumps individual teams' arbitration on access, the NHL allowed the Isles' decision to stand. As small as Snow's decision was, the NHL's response was sadly weak-kneed.
Fast-forward to this past week. This year's awards ballots were issued to members of the PHWA and the three New York-area chapters decided to boycott the voting process this year in protest. The majority of PHWA members will continue to vote on the awards in the next week or so, but those New York-area writers should never have been put in this position to begin with.
It was illuminating to see Snow's response to the boycott, as he suggested it would only hurt the chances of Islanders or Rangers players of being honored. As if local writers would only vote for local players.
5. Scouting ahead of the game
In the days leading up to Ottawa's signing of top college free agent Stephane Da Costa, we were talking to agent Wade Arnott about the pressure on NHL teams to turn over every stone to find talent.
Since the lockout, ferreting out those collegiate or European free agents who fall through the cracks or mature later has been crucial to teams managing the salary cap. Finding these players can save money and help preserve other assets, as they aren't as expensive as traditional free agents and don't use up a draft pick. Consequently, adding these pieces to a roster gives teams more flexibility when it comes to making other roster moves.
"It's a burgeoning part of our industry," Arnott said.
Take the Anaheim Ducks, who turned the good work of assistant GM David McNab into a number of undrafted collegiate players like Dustin Penner, Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz en route to a Cup win in 2007. Would the Ducks have been able to sign and/or acquire Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger without those players in the lineup? Not likely.
Arnott said more than half the teams in the NHL inquired about Da Costa, but he was weighing a number of factors in making his decision.
The time put in by Senators scout Lew Mongelluzzo likely had something to do with the decision and the potential for Da Costa to step into a full-time role next season.
"They all feel that he can play," Arnott said. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."
Our good friends at the Elias Sports Bureau tell us that so far this year 134 undrafted players have appeared in NHL lineups, down slightly from 144 last season and 149 in 2008-09. But the really telling numbers: There were just 110 in 2003-04, the season before the lockout, and 102 in 2000-01.
Stock UpAles Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers: Is the talented Hemsky heating up at just the right time for the Oil to cash him in for some more assets moving forward? Hemsky, who has skill to burn but has had trouble staying healthy, has four goals and six assists in his last seven games. Hmmm. Think L.A. GM Dean Lombardi has noticed? What about Pierre Gauthier in Montreal?
Matt Moulson, New York Islanders: We spend a lot of time hammering the Islanders for their various faux pas, but there are lots of interesting things happening on Long Island, including the high-end work of big forward Moulson. Kudos to GM Garth Snow for getting Moulson under contract as opposed to trading him -- something that had been rumored earlier in the season. Moulson has rewarded the Isles' faith in the form of a three-year contract extension with eight goals and three assists in his last eight games.
Stock DownBrian Boyle, New York Rangers: Boyle has been one of the surprising bright lights for the Rangers this season, chipping in 19 goals from the center position, a thin spot for the boys from Gotham. But Boyle's production has slowed of late with just one goal in his last 10 games. No coincidence that the Rangers have also found points hard to come by in the standings.
Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens: Plekanec remains the Habs' leading scorer by a wide margin but will need to get back on track to keep the Canadiens pointed in the right direction. Plekanec has just one goal and three assists in his last nine games. Lack of production from him and the team's top line puts additional pressure on a banged-up defense and netminder Carey Price.
It appeared as though the Islanders goaltender was enjoying his little skirmish with his counterpart, like it was all a big joke.
Or maybe it was a wry kind of grin, like, "OK, what can possibly happen next?"
Johnson dropped DiPietro with one devastating left after DiPietro had gone after Matt Cooke in the final seconds of yet another Islanders loss Wednesday night. On Friday, the team announced DiPietro is gone for 4-6 weeks with facial fractures and swelling in his knees. The facial fractures were the direct result of Johnson's punch; the knee issues are just part of DiPietro's history.
"You don't really ever want a broken face to get extra rest," DiPietro told reporters Friday. "But you keep telling yourself everything happens for a reason. I'm not sure what that reason is yet, but hopefully, at some point, it'll come to the surface and make when we win the Stanley Cup that much sweeter."
Did he actually say "when we win the Stanley Cup?" Yes.
We admit the whole DiPietro drama has been more than a little hard to swallow, but you've got to love the man's chutzpah.
From the moment franchise-killer Mike Milbury traded away Roberto Luongo in order to draft the brash collegiate star with the first overall pick in 2000, to the moment DiPietro was awarded his peculiar 15-year contract by bizzaro owner Charles Wang before the start of the 2006-07 season, to his litany of injuries and uneven play, there have been plenty of moments to revel in the absurdity of it all.
But now this?
Despite the myriad jokes at DiPietro's expense that exploded around the hockey world and beyond (Friday's injury news was trending on Twitter.com), we can't even find it within ourselves to even chuckle as the stars again align to humiliate DiPietro and the Islanders.
In the same way we always wished Charlie Brown would just once make good on a kick without Lucy pulling the ball away, or that Wile E. Coyote would just once make a snack out of Road Runner, we wonder if we will ever see DiPietro do anything other than explain some sort of misfortune and the Islanders do anything but become the butt of cruel jokes?
"At this point, whatever bad just seems to happen, not just to myself, to the entire team," the 29-year-old said.
Yes, DiPietro will be well paid as he again heads to the disabled list, and goodness knows there are a lot of people who have it far worse than him. Still, this is a man who has played in just 34 NHL games since the end of the 2008 season. He's played 10 NHL playoff games in total (none since 2007) and has won just twice in the postseason.
Maybe he returns this season, maybe not; maybe the Islanders turn it around next season, but their history suggests they are unlikely to.
Instead, the legacy of a former No. 1 draft pick becomes a foolish grin followed by the big left coming out of nowhere to put out the lights.
Surely, even DiPietro and the Islanders deserve more than that, don't they?
DiPietro and Penguins goalie Brent Johnson engaged in a fight with 16.5 seconds left in Pittsburgh's 3-0 win against the Islanders Wednesday. Johnson knocked DiPietro to the ice with a clean left just about the right eye. DiPietro's face was visibly swollen with a welt after the game.
"It's frustrating, it's unfortunate and every other emotion you can throw in there," DiPietro told reporters. "I'm sick of losing, our team's sick of losing. You never go into a fight expecting you're going to get smashed in the face that hard, or with these kind of consequences, but it happens and you move on."
Despite the fact that postgame X-rays in Pittsburgh came back negative on Wednesday, a CT scan reportedly revealed the damage.
There is no indication the knee swelling was related to the fight, but DiPietro has had a history of injuries, including a torn labrum and a meniscus injury in a knee. Knee swelling kept him out for a week this past December.
DiPietro has a 7-10-4 record with a 3.36 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in 21 games this season.
The voice at the other end of the phone is familiar, even four years removed from the NHL.
Alexei Yashin is in a good mood. It's All-Star weekend in the KHL (you can watch the KHL All-Star Game on ESPN3 on Saturday), and the former New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators center feels a tinge of pride in the fledging league's evolution.
"It's going to be a big hockey celebration in Russia this weekend," Yashin told ESPN.com on Friday.
The 37-year-old player is in a happy place, which you could argue he hardly ever found in Long Island or Ottawa despite making a healthy living in the NHL. In fact, as part of the Islanders' buyout four years ago, they continue to pay him ($4.75 million this season and $2.2 million annually through the 2014-15 season).
Unwanted in the NHL, or at least at his price, Yashin took his game back home. It's a decision that should have surprised no one. Having had the chance to cover six IIHF World Championships from 2000-05, I witnessed Yashin as a constant for Russia, proudly wearing his country's colors at a spring tournament shunned by many NHL stars.
So, it only stands to reason Yashin was there ready to help his country's start-up league; and to understand his legacy at home, look no further than "Team Yashin," one of the two All-Star teams that will be on the ice Saturday.
"The most important part for me has been the fans' reaction since I came back," said Yashin. "It's been tremendous. The fan support has been great. I appreciate that a lot, because without them, it would be difficult."
And the KHL as a product?
"The league is doing very good, it has developed from year to year," said Yashin. "Some stars have come back. The level of hockey is very good."
We'll have to agree to disagree on that one. If the level of hockey was that great, Chris Simon would not be in your All-Star Game, even if he does lead his Vityaz Chekhov club in scoring with 28 points (16-12) in 43 games.
Yashin has 31 points (14-17) in 49 games for SKA St. Petersburg, a club that also features the likes of Maxim Afinogenov, Danny Markov and Denis Grebeshkov. It also began the season with star goalie Evgeni Nabokov in net before he left the club and returned to North America after appearing in 22 games.
Given that Yashin's former team in Long Island suspended Nabokov for failing to report after being claimed on NHL waivers from Detroit, Yashin revealed an interesting tidbit when asked about the goalie.
"What actually happened is that the Islanders called me before they took him on waivers," said Yashin, who left the Islanders on good terms with owner Charles Wang and GM Garth Snow. "I spoke with Garth and I expressed my opinion about how good Evgeni is as a person and as a goalie. What happened after, why he chose not to come to Islanders, I can't really say anything because it wasn't my decision."
Yashin is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Would he consider a return to the NHL?
"Every year is a different situation, a new situation, you never know what's going to happen," said Yashin. "My contract is expiring. I will look around at what the best situation is for me next year."
The better question is, at age 37, will he continue playing?
"I go year by year," said Yashin. "People are asking me when I'm going to retire, but I still enjoy playing hockey. I want to play as long as I'm having fun, and right now, I'm having fun and I hope it will continue."
Brent Johnson vs. Rick DiPietro
Felix Potvin vs. Ron Hextall(courtesy: hockeyfights.com)
Patrick Roy vs. Chris Osgood(courtesy: hockeyfights.com -- oh the glory days of ESPN2!)
Patrick Roy vs. Mike Vernon(courtesy: hockeyfights.com)
Toews_me19: Pierre, First of all let me say that I love the Blackhawks and I am very proud of their accomplishments last year. That being said...WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP COMPARING THIS TEAM TO LAST YEAR'S TEAM? And why doesn't this team have any heart? When will this team quit playing on its collective heels and play with some flippin' urgency?? When will some of these guys quit waiting for someone else to make a play and do it themselves??? P.S -- did the Hawks forget that hockey games are 60 minutes in length, not 40 or 20. Come on, UGH.
Last year is long gone, as is a great deal of depth, options, players, whatever you want to say that made this team, oh wait...that team, so awesome. Whenever someone says something like "So-and-so defeat the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks", I want to punch them. This team is not that team so they can't be compared only contrasted -- same core, very different dynamic. And comparing them only causes the pain in my heart to flare into life...pain caused by the necessary roster changes that every team faces every year because of the draconian salary cap.
That being said...the Blackhawks have done a decent job but it's not December anymore. It's time to skate and play to win boys. You are running out of time to get things together and the Western Conference is too tight to let points slip away. If it takes another three years for this team to become lethal again, I may jump in the Chicago River...j/k, but seriously you guys. Go Hawks, sorry for yelling.
My take: Can't say there's a terrible amount of sympathy coming your way since your team was able to enjoy a Stanley Cup last June, something many of our regular readers on this site have never had to experience. So let's not get too carried away with the Chicago pity party. Still, I don't think anyone thought that despite losing half the regulars from the Cup champion squad that the team would be entering the post All-Star break hanging on for their playoff lives. Not with a core still featuring Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. I still think this team will figure it out here over the last stretch of the regular season. One particular statistic points me in this direction: Five-on-five goals/for against ratio. The Hawks ranked fifth overall in the 30-team league with a 1.16 ratio and that’s indicative of a team that at its base, special teams aside, knows what it’s doing most of the time. Barring Kane missing any team flights over the last 30-odd games, I think the Hawks are fine.
bio8r: Why has Keith Yandle not gotten more love from his outstanding play this season. He is the Coyotes most consistent player, plays big minutes every night, and can only barely sneak into the All-Star Game though leading all defensemen in points? I hope people can look past big names like Lidstrom, Letang, and Chara and give this guy some recognition.
My take: Bio8r, you're dead on about Keith Yandle, but to answer your first question: maybe because the Coyotes rank 29th in NHL attendance? If almost no one in his own backyard is noticing, how do you expect the rest of the fans around the NHL to notice? Just a thought. Having said that, Yandle does deserve the recognition, having taken a giant step this season and helping fill the minutes void left by Zbynek Michalek. Shane Doan told me before the season when I stopped through Phoenix during my camp tour that Yandle, before the end of this season, would be among the league’s very top defensemen. He was bang on.
Beastly Backes: The Blues are flat out a bad hockey team. They've won 2 of 12, and the 2 wins are against the sloppy kings. Jaroslav Halak has been inconsistent. One moment he'll make a great save, and the next shot, he lets in an easy goal. He needs to step up. Also, the Blues come out and look sloppy and lack motivation at the start of every game. They go out knowing they're gonna lose. It's great that they have Winchesters and Sobotkas trying to go above and beyond their potential, but the fact is, the coaching staff is extracting every ounce of effort from a lot of average players. Grit is great, but the Blues lack pure talent w/o Perron and McDonald. Even at the beginning of the year, when they won seven straight -- they won every games 2-1, 2-0, 3-1, 1-0 -- they couldn’t score goals!!! Oshie's return is nice and all, but the Blues need more weapons, BESIDES Perron and Andy-Mac. If the Blues don't trade some of their so called "depth" at defense, they will go nowhere. Pietrangelo however is one of the only bright spots on this team. Erik Johnson has played his worst hockey ever this year, Eric the gutless wonder Brewer happens to be playing his best, and Jackman and Polak are still grinding it out. They won't trade youth, which eliminates E.J. and Petro, but Jackman, Brewer and Polak could be trade bait. I personally think that Brewer may actually be worth something this year. TRADE HIM FOR A SCORER!!! GIVE THE "C" TO THE REAL CAPTAIN: David Backes.
BluesFanAlex74: WHY??? WHY DO MY BLUES FAIL? Night in and night out we fail to skate for 60 minutes, defend the net, or dish out hits that make the opposition fly the other way. In a town where hockey is loved, we have players who are young, energized, and have a great hockey sense, but there are also guys who are older and used to be 40 goal scorers (BRAD BOYES) and guys who think standing around and throwing pucks the wrong way are good (ERIK JOHNSON and ALEX PIETRANGELO) these guy would be greater if they knew what to do when the opposition runs around the D-men and behind the net, setting up shop, then scoring because we let the enemy fly in and shoot from the slot. Things were great 10 games into the season, but since Perron and McDonald are gone and we have no inspiration, we are going to lose half our money from season ticket sales because we are not going to win a playoff spot. Great Marketing idea, right? I had hope for this year with a great goalie and young stars, but we have been shot down and self destructive. I hope they find their pace for next year because I don’t think I can take another year of disappointment. From, THE ONLY SMART ONE IN CHESTERFIELD, MO. (JK)
My take: A double dose of Blues' blues. Tough year, indeed. It started with so much promise, St. Louis even leading the ESPN Power Rankings in early November. After improving to 9-1-2 with a win on Nov. 7, the Blues have won only 13 of their next 39 games (13-19-7). Ouch. They actually rallied with an 8-4-2 record in December but went only 2-8-2 in January. Double ouch. But let’s be honest, when you lose two thirds of your top line in T.J. Oshie and David Perron for such a long stretch, plus Andy McDonald, few teams in the NHL can recover from that. And as it was, the Blues actually weren't scoring that many goals even before those injuries. It's going to be a difficult assessment of the season for GM Doug Armstrong should the club not rally back, because he will have almost never had his full lineup in front of him to dissect. If I were the Blues, I would look to add a top-six forward in the offseason if possible -- that would be my priority.
ddiggler08: So, yeah, Patrick Sharp for MVP? What the ####.
My take: Well, Shea Weber, Nick Lidstrom, Anze Kopitar, Loui Ericksson and Danny Briere all had legitimate cases. The consensus press box pick was Weber, who was plus-6 with four assists. Part of the problem is that the 12-member media voting committee (I didn't vote this year, which is only right given my thoughts on the All-Star game) had to select a name midway through the third period. Hopefully next season, the NHL can circle back to USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen, the president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and check with him at the buzzer to make sure the MVP pick still stands. Still, I have no issue with Sharp winning because he's such a good story, a blue-collar guy who's worked his way up to this level. Plus, he's from Northern Ontario, so you know he's a good guy.
CapitalsFan74: LeBrun, I have been a Caps fan since 1985. I have seen good and bad Capitals teams over the years (yes, mostly bad). But can anyone explain what is wrong with this team this year? After last year I was expecting a Cup run, but this team is painful to watch. All the "experts" have said over the years that we were not built (defensively) to win in the playoffs. Now we seem to have THAT but are in jeopardy of not making the playoffs at all. How can we be so much better for the playoffs if we cannot win in the regular season?
My take: Indeed the Caps have tightened up defensively, sitting seventh in the NHL in goals against per game as of Tuesday morning, up from 16th where they finished last season. That's an important evolution for their playoff chances in my opinion. But it's about balance. After leading the league in goals last season, they're only 17th as of Tuesday morning, down more than a full goal per game. Alex Ovechkin has two power-play goals on the season. I repeat, Alex Ovechkin has two power-play goals on the season. Unacceptable. Bruce Boudreau's task over the final stretch of the regular season is to better balance his team's new-found defensive play without forgetting how the team was built: with offensive stars. I think he's up to it.
SRDetroitfan: I'm from Detroit and a Wings fan and want to apologize to everyone who has to read people complain about why the Red Wings do not get any Love. I am not going to lie, I love when I see something about the Wings come up in one of these chats or in an article, but Detroit fans PLEASE stop complaining about how much love Detroit DOES not get and how no one pays attention to us. We don't need attention! The way we have played for the past 20 years should be attention enough! And lets be honest...is there really anyone happy with the amount of "love" their team gets from the media?
My take: My man, thank you so much for this post. I can't tell you how many Wings stories both myself and Scott Burnside have written for this website over the last three years. A 2,500-word Nick Lidstrom story, anyone? Wings fans are incredibly sensitive for a market that's done so much winning. Ken Holland is routinely labeled by us as the best GM in hockey. Mike Babcock is often called the best coach by most of the media covering the game. What else can we do????
egotonusf: OK, how do the Lightning win a blowout and then shut out the Leafs, BUT FALL 2 SPOTS IN THE POWER RANKINGS? I guess its just hatred for south hockey, we will see come playoffs...
My take: No hatred my friend, it's because Burnside and I alternate weeks and have different views on where the teams should rank. So a team's performance alone isn't the only factor in influencing the ranking, fixing Burnside's mistakes is also another. Or as Scotty would view it, fixing mine, ha ha.
Dubsg123: Pierre. What really bothers me is how little attention some of the outstanding young players of the NHL get league wide. One of these such players is Anze Kopitar. As a Kings fan, I know that he is one of the best two way centermen in the league, but when you have national hockey broadcasters that announce his name Annzee Kahpiter you really can see how he doesn't get much recognition. In the All-Star Game, he was the first player to score two goals, and he looked like he was having fun doing it. This year on the Kings, the players that have really been getting the attention (at least with the media, thankfully the fans got it right with voting him to the All-Star Game) overshadow his success: Drew Doughty, Jon Quick, Justin Williams, Ryan Smyth, etc. I know that Crosby has a concussion. I know that Ovechkin isn't scoring like he used to. I know that Steven Stamkos is too good to play in the NHL. I just don't want to be hearing their names in a headline article every morning. Let's give Kopitar the love he truly deserves!
My take: Kopitar is 12th in NHL scoring with 49 points in 50 games, having himself another terrific season. While I agree he doesn't get as much attention as some of the other young snipers in that top 15 group, it's ironic that Loui Ericksson is tied with him at 49 points and there's a guy who actually gets zero national attention. I mean, way less than even Kopitar. Here's what I really like about Kopitar -- he's sporting a plus-16 rating as of Tuesday morning. He was a double-digit minus player the first three years of his career. Last season, he finished plus-6. So his progression in his two-way play has been impressive. And when you consider he doesn’t really have a high-end, superstar winger to play with like other centers in this league, you understand that he is indeed full value for his production.
neufeld85: I am a Colorado Avalanche fan and they might be the most frustrating team to watch in the NHL. Whenever they get a lead, I never expect them to hold it. Their defense is pathetic and what happened to Craig Anderson this year? I love Adam Foote but the guy needs to retire, he constantly gets burned by speedier forwards. If it wasn't for all the miraculous comeback wins, the Avs would near the bottom of the West. They have given up the second most goals in the conference this season. Do you think the Avalanche will be able to squeak into the playoffs?
My take: Scott Burnside actually has a nice Avalanche feature story that's going to be posted this week after he spent some time there last week. So make sure to check that out. At this point, this team is not going to make the playoffs unless they can tighten up. Ranked 30th -- dead last -- in the NHL in goals against per game doesn't get you anywhere. Some of it, yes, is Anderson having an off-year, but I rest most of the blame on a blue-line corps that, as predicted by some of us last September, has been dreadful defensively.
benjies77: As a delusional Leafs fan, I, along with the rest of Leafs Nation, thought the Leafs might make the playoffs. Now, rather than rooting for the eighth spot, I'm biting my nails just to see them stay out of the cellar. It pains me to think we will give another lottery to Boston. I love Kessel and hope he will eventually come into his own when he learns to deal with the pressure of playing in Toronto. But, shoot me straight. With the Leafs sitting in the fifth spot of the bottom five, is there ANY hope of them climbing out of the bottom? I feel like that is the only thing left that can "save" another sad season.
My take: As most people know, I live in Toronto, so I see the pain and suffering that Leaf fans go through. My brother-in-law, Mitch, is a die-heard Leafs fan, watches every single game and allows the knife to twist in his gut. I actually sat beside Leafs GM Brian Burke on the flight down to Raleigh last Friday. Believe me when I say no one is taking this harder than him. He wants to turn this around badly. The work will continue over the next few weeks with the trade deadline approaching. Kris Versteeg, Francois Beachemin and maybe Jean-Sebastien Giguere (depending on his health) could get moved, while Tomas Kaberle will be dealt only if he chooses to waive his no-trade clause and the Leafs can accommodate the small list of teams he would hand over. Changes are coming, Leaf fans, hang tight.
curley214: I am so angry that John Tavares was not in the ASG. Yeah, we have it tough right now on LI, but the kid is damn good and earned a spot. I guarantee you if you asked 29 other GM's in the league would they rather have Patrik Elias or JT, 28 would go with JT (Brian Burke would trade his rights back to the Isles for Blake Kessel and the next 11 Leafs first round picks). The Isles get a bad rap and are rebuilding the right way. Kevin Poulin looks promising for the next couple years to get some regular NHL time. DP has been playing and has a .914 save percentage in the past couple weeks. Things are slowly looking better. My question Pierre, when do the Isles unload some assets for some proven help? THANKS!
My take: I don't agree every team should be represented in the All-Star Game, but I do think Tavares should have been at the game anyway. You are right to be angry.
Florida Panthers (22-21-5) at Boston Bruins (27-15-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 3-0 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Scott Clemmensen 5-5-2, 2.43 GAA) vs. Tim Thomas (23-5-6, 1.84 GAA)
Preview: Tim Thomas has dominated the Southeast Division, going 10-1-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .949 save percentage in 13 starts against the Southeast this season. The Bruins are looking to complete a sweep of the Panthers after being shut out by the Kings on Monday.
Carolina Hurricanes (24-19-6) at New York Islanders (15-26-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Carolina
Starting goaltenders: Cam Ward (21-15-5, 2.71 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-8-4, 3.39 GAA)
Preview: The Hurricanes are hoping for another happy trip to Long Island. Over the last five seasons, Carolina has the second-best record of any team on the road against the Islanders of teams that have played at least five games there. Look for Jeff Skinner to lead the Canes as the rookie has more goals in January than any other NHL player.
Washington Capitals (27-14-9) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-19-9), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 3-2 Atlanta
Starting goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov (8-6-3, 2.22 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-12-7, 2.51 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have scored more than three goals in a game just once since Dec. 22. And, the Thrashers have allowed more than three goals in a game seven times over that stretch, so a trip to Atlanta could be just what heals Washington's power play ails. Alex Ovechkin has scored 30 career goals against the Thrashers, tied for the most by any player against Atlanta.
New Jersey Devils (16-29-3) at Detroit Red Wings (29-13-6), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Martin Brodeur (10-18-2, 2.84 GAA) vs. Jimmy Howard (23-8-3, 2.86 GAA)
Preview: The Devils may have the worst record in the NHL, but they are playing their best hockey of late. They have won four straight and have earned a point in seven straight (6-0-1), giving them the NHL’s best points percentage since Jan. 9. Unfortunately, they have not enjoyed much success at Joe Louis Arena recently. Since they swept the Wings in the 1995 Cup finals, the Devils are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games at Detroit.
Nashville Predators (27-16-6) at Vancouver Canucks (30-10-9), 10 p.m. ETStarting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-12-4, 2.11 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (22-8-7, 2.31 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks lead the Western Conference thanks to a strong home record. They will be looking to earn at least one point in a 13th consecutive home game when they face the Predators for the first time this season. Nashville ended its three-game winning streak when it went 0 for 5 on the power play in a loss at Calgary on Monday night.
San Jose Sharks (25-19-5) at Los Angeles Kings (26-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (13-13-2, 2.72 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (21-14-1, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Sharks attempt to win five in a row for the first time in more than a year, but the last time they won four straight, they followed it with a 4-0 loss to the Kings. The Kings will be playing their last game at home before beginning a 10-game road trip after the All-Star break.
VANCOUVER -- Greetings from the Left Coast. I see there's plenty of angry puck heads this week. Love it. Let's get at 'er:
gatorsandtitansfan44: The Nashville Predators are not getting enough notice. They have won 10 of 12, getting some of the best goaltending in the league from Pekka Rinne and look at their injury list! Two of their top scorers are on IR, their big offseason signing has played 1 1/2 games, a top four D-man (Boullion) and a filler they picked up to help with scoring since two of their top point guys are out (Svatos). Guess what, not only are the Predators quite arguably the hottest team in the league, but they are doing it while dealing with tons of injuries. Not to mention that they had to go nearly a month without starting goalie Pekka Rinne. The fact of the matter is the NHL season is a little over halfway done and the Nashville Predators with a rag tag group of guys and several key injuries are on fire and now sit just four points out of first in the division (second in the West) behind Detroit, four points ahead of the defending SC champion Blackhawks (who they have beaten in three out of five this year), and they are two points ahead of the Ducks (fifth in the West), who have played three more games than Nashville so far. Why can’t the fact that they have no "superstar scorer" be set aside and the fact that this is a good young hockey team with a solid foundation be brought out? The bottom line is this team has very good potential, and if they can keep playing the way they are this season who knows? Maybe a trip to the conference semis is finally within their grasp.
My take: Hey, I've done my best, writing a Preds story two weeks ago. But generally, you are indeed correct that this team just doesn't get the kind of national attention it deserves. Playing in a small and non-traditional market obviously doesn't help. What would also help is a deep playoff run, which they've never had. That would cultivate more of a respect factor around the league. Is this the year?
Kavashaforlife: Dear Mr. Nabokov:
Hey, it is me, Logic; I think we need to have a talk. I understand, the Islanders are not the ideal place to resume your NHL career, but are you not tired of the cold nights in Russia? Report to the Islanders, take the next week (including workouts over the All-Star break) to earn the starting goaltending job on despondent Long Island; play a week or so on the Island, show the rest of the NHL that you still have it (I see the headlines now: "Nabokov's 40 save night (again) sparks the resurgent Isles") and eventually get traded to Detroit (or another playoff contender) for a draft pick and mid-level player. Unlike at Burger King, you cannot always "have it your way;" take what the Islanders are offering you, it has to be better than what Russia's offering you.
Logic (Hopeful Islanders Fan)
My take: Problem is, my friend, the Isles can't trade him unless they put him on waivers first and it's unlikely he would clear. Hence, a trade is not a realistic option. By now, most hockey fans know I interviewed Nabokov on Sunday. He sounded genuinely surprised over the phone that the Islanders would claim him. And quite frankly, I'm with him on that. I mean, why aren't the Isles just focusing on losing games and getting another high lottery pick to join John Tavares and company on a young club that will be better over the next few years? Having said that, I also think Nabokov should report to Long Island. He needs to show the other 29 GMs that he can still stop pucks so that once July 1 rolls around, he'll get some interest.
phillyisbetterthanpitt: Stop protecting the players from headshots. This is a joke, they get paid all this money to play the sport the same way they have been playing it their entire lives. The NHL is getting more and more soft with each passing year Bettman remains the head. Stop letting GMs protect their money interests and let the players play the game the way it was intended to be played.
My take: Marc Savard has another concussion. David Perron hasn't played since his November hit to the head. Matthew Lombardi has played two games this season, still out with a concussion. The best player on the planet won't be showcased in the All-Star Game as he continues to recover from a concussion. Yup, you're right. No issue here whatsoever. All is well. I have no idea why we're even talking about it.
StLbluesfan314: I am so frustrated about the Blues this season! I feel like we are the Chicago Cubs of hockey. Every time the season begins, we all have the hopes of a Cup in STL. But year after year no such luck. DON'T GET ME WRONG, I enjoy getting to the playoffs but yet we can't make anything happen! Is it time to talk of trading some of those "cornerstone" pieces to get some real talent in here to make a playoff run? Any news on the talk of getting a sniper who can put pucks into the net with consistency? The addition of Oshie back from injury is nice but we still can't put up points. Is it inconsistency that is killing this team? GET US SOME HELP J.D.!
My take: Um, the Cubs of hockey are a team you may have heard of in Toronto. The Maple Leafs and Cubs have brought suffering to a new level for their fans.
LynchBages: Kings vs. Mike Murphy. Unfortunately Murphy has all of the leverage. However, the goal that was allowed to stand against Phoenix the other night from the high stick up around the head (never mind that Hanzal is 6'5"!) was ridiculous, especially when the feeds in the arena even showed it was almost two feet over the crossbar. The explanation from the "war room" was feeble, at best, and even though Lombardi's comment was out of line, the league should be embarrassed to ask him to pay that fine. With all of that in mind, it's painfully obvious that the Kings are frustrated because their plan to have the kids grow up fast makes them too thin -- they do have steaks where their talent is evident, but no consistency. REALISTICALLY, do you see any movement coming this season via trade? I'm thinking they're going have to look to the Eastern Conference ... more consistent scoring and a top-four D-man, but who??
My take: Hanzal's goal should not have stood. Bad call from the war room in Toronto. But Lombardi was out of line to say that publicly. Totally out of line. And when I spoke with the Kings GM on Friday, he felt brutal about it. Good on Lombardi to call Murphy on Friday morning and apologize. Classy move by Lombardi.
mrcheesenacho7: I'm tired of hearing everyone call out Sidney as a baby and a poor leader because he isn't able to play or participate in the All-Star Game. You have to realize that the guy would be on the ice in a second if he could help out his team, yet he hasn't skated in almost three weeks and does nothing but catch hell from haters for something he can't even help. The Sid haters have reached a new low.
My take: Anyone who thinks Crosby is not injured and skipping the All-Star Game on purpose it a moron. He's injured. He's got a concussion. He's doing the right thing by taking the week off to recover. Enough said.
cbjgatorhead: I'm not going to bash Scott Howson/Scott Arniel at all ... but I'm beginning to question some of their tactics lately. I don't understand why we sent down Kyle Wilson when we have Huselius floating around like a worthless bag of garbage. Also additional garbage, Anton Stralman, but thankfully we have Grant Clitsome! And obviously it's not because of money. We just sent our highest paid D-man down to the AHL. Why do we continue to keep Huselius around?!
My take: I feel terrible for Jackets fans. I love the city of Columbus, I've always thought it was an excellent choice for an NHL franchise. But it's been nothing but heartache and frustration for a decade plus. There are no easy solutions moving forward. The Predators model is the one to try to copy: patient drafting and developing and no quick fixes.
colt135: I will rant about Nabokov. I hope Islanders fans like what Snow did. The idea is to make your team better, and for them Nabokov is an upgrade. With over 30 games left in the season, if he caught lightning in a bottle and went 20-10 (he won 44 last year), they could grab the eight spot.
My take: Whatever you're taking, I want some of that.
raquelm5: Hi, I am a hockey fan, I love hockey, I play hockey and I live in Miami so I have Panthers season tickets. My hubby HATES hockey so I am always trying to find someone to go to the games with me and no one wants to go and the ticket is free. Their reasons are either: a) they don't care about hockey, or b) the Panthers are so bad. I play in a women's rec league and it seems that the Panthers make the same mistakes we do. It is sad to watch and when they seem to be winning for once, they manage to loose. We always say that they "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" like the game vs. the Hurricanes when they were up 3-0 and lost 5-3. Should I bother renewing my season tickets so I go through the trouble of finding who to go with or fighting with my hubby to go with me? Oh, BTW, Bank Atlantic Center is 50 miles from where we live.
My take: Raquel, don't give up on them yet. Dale Tallon showed in Chicago that he knows how to rebuild a team. It's just going to take time, which I know is tough to take given the long drought of non-playoff years in South Florida. But give Tallon a chance. He knows what he's doing.
fbullock: Pierre, We find ourselves with another annual useless hockey game this Saturday night. No it's not an Isles vs. Devils game. Although it would be a lot better if it was. But sadly it's the NHL All-Star Game. It's just plan useless not just for the fans but for those having to cover it. I feel for you having to trek down there to RBC but make sure you shake enough corporate hands to make it worth it. Only person that will be happy this weekend will be the wife since I will have no pucks on this weekend. I wish the hockey gods could help me with the work I will have to do in the garage. Anyway, I feel there is no need in bashing this hand-holding corporate event unless I have a solution and I do. Why can't we take the weekend and have an awesome round-robin tourney? How about the All-Stars from: NHL vs. KHL vs. SEL vs. EHL. After three days the top two points teams play for a stack of cash. I don't believe any of the above leagues lose because of the monster TV deal it would bring as well as international sponsors. It’s a no brainer. Not to mention the side games of the above leagues. They could include an all-amateur game as well as high stakes skills comp. Oh what a weekend. Puck heads would be on full puck tilt for three or four days. As well, I believe the media would have a much better time with the storylines. Well, just throwing out one fan's dream, instead me and my dog Hosehead are going to grab us some Elsinore and clean the garage.
My take: Well, the game is actually on Sunday, but yes, I'm with you. I've wanted the All-Star Game canceled for years. The addition of the Friday fantasy draft is a neat touch. But I suspect Sunday's game will be a dud once again. Solution? Just blow it up. The NHL schedule is brutal on the players. Adding back those three days from the break wouldn't hurt.
1. Nabokov not reporting
Nabokov told our good friend and colleague Pierre LeBrun that at this stage in his career he didn't think there was any point in playing for the Islanders, who aren't going to be anywhere near the playoffs come April.
We suppose that's Nabokov's right, even though his snubbing of the Islanders rankles.
This, of course, is the same Nabokov who couldn't find work last summer when he was an unrestricted free agent and then bailed on his team in the KHL midway through the season. Not sure how refusing to play for the Islanders will help Nabokov's market value this summer if he ends up being a UFA again.
Wouldn't Nabokov want to show that he's a team player, a guy who can help even the hapless Islanders? Wouldn't he want to show other GMs that he still has NHL stuff and that he's not just a guy who piled up good regular-season numbers with a good San Jose team and then imploded every spring?
You would think.
Of course, Nabokov's future remains more than a little murky right now.
The Islanders could appeal to the league to force Nabokov to make good on the contract he signed for the balance of the year, which would make him Islanders property again next year. It would serve him right if that's how it unfolds.
2. Glencross hurts Canucks
Curtis Glencross scored a goal in Saturday's 4-3 win over Vancouver.
Maybe the Flames make the playoffs, maybe they don't, although they begin the week just five points out of the final playoff spot.
Maybe that loss costs Vancouver the top seed in the playoffs, maybe it doesn't.
Bottom line is that Glencross shouldn't have been playing. He should have been suspended for his careless hit from behind on Minnesota defenseman Clayton Stoner. That Glencross wasn't suspended is just another mysterious offering from the NHL's dark den of discipline, and it's not like we haven't been beating this drum every month or so for years.
But seeing him score reinforced that the league's inability to get a handle on issues of discipline has far-reaching repercussions.
It didn't take long for the league to hammer Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi with a $50,000 fine for his ill-advised comments about hockey ops executive Mike Murphy. And rightly so. But the on-ice stuff, granted more complex, seems to leave the league fumbling in the dark.
First, it's not even clear whether Glencross was even fined for drilling a vulnerable Stoner headfirst into the boards in a game last week.
There was no official press release announcing the fine, which suggests there was no punishment whatsoever, although there were some reports that Glencross was fined $2,500.
Even if he was subject to a $2,500 fine, the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement, what message does that send to the rest of the league if indeed punishment is at least in part about sending a message and modifying behavior?
The message, of course, is that the league has no handle on how to keep players safe, but that's not new.
But ask the Canucks how they feel about the non-action by the league. Or any of the teams the Flames may yet overhaul.
We'll never know what kind of impact the non-suspension will ultimately have, but it wouldn't have been an issue had the league acted properly.
3. Forsberg survives tough practice
There were probably 200 fans in the stands to watch Peter Forsberg in his first full practice with the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. Lots of Forsberg jerseys, as well. The one-time Hart Trophy winner got a nice round of applause when he appeared on the ice, although he must be wondering about his timing.
With the Avs coming off two ugly losses at home to Nashville and Boston, head coach Joe Sacco put them through their paces.
"That was a tough practice," Forsberg said with a grin after the workout at the team's practice facility.
As Forsberg noted after the skate, the pace was a lot quicker than what he'd been used to skating with a junior team back in Sweden.
"Struggled the first couple of drills but I was just excited to be out there and see how it goes," he said.
"I was very nervous before the practice, how fast it was going to be, and I felt great in the first 10 minutes and then legs got a little heavy after that."
Forsberg is hoping the Avs can get a win under their belt Monday night against visiting St. Louis.
"Hopefully the guys can get a win so maybe a little easier practice on Tuesday," he said.
Asked about the foot that has given him so much trouble the past seven years and indeed looked to end his career, Forsberg was noncommittal.
"Can't complain. It's been worse. Not going to go and talk about it exactly but it felt OK," he said.
This will be an interesting week for Forsberg as he hopes to get back to NHL game shape. The Avs play Monday and Wednesday and then break for the All-Star festivities. Presumably by the time the teams reconvene after the Raleigh event, Forsberg will have a pretty good handle on his foot and his conditioning, and the Avs will have to make a decision about whether to offer Forsberg a contract.
One thing would seem to be certain, though, barring a complete relapse in the foot department (or many more gassers like Sunday): no one, not Forsberg or the Avs, will know where he's at until he plays in an actual NHL game.
4. Neely votes Bergeron for Selke
I had a chance to chat with Boston Bruins president and Hockey Hall of Famer Cam Neely while in Denver, and Neely had some interesting thoughts on the Frank J. Selke Award and specifically how he feels Patrice Bergeron should be part of the discussion.
I must admit that of all the major trophies that the hockey writers vote on, the Selke is the one that gives me the most trouble.
The wording of the award reads that the Selke should awarded "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
But over time, the award has generally morphed from an acknowledgment of Bob Gainey-type play to overall two-way play with the winner almost always producing significant offensive numbers along with good defensive play.
Not suggesting Pavel Datsyuk, winner the past three years, isn't a worthy recipient. He was and he may yet factor in this year, pending how he rebounds from injury.
But Neely's point about Bergeron is a good one. The Bruins are the best defensive team in the NHL and Bergeron plays every night against opposing teams' top lines. He kills penalties, he takes key draws.
"Just the pride he takes in shutting down top guys," Neely said.
"His whole career he's done that," he said. "I just hope people look at him and give him strong consideration."
5. Understanding the stat sheet
And finally a few stats that continue to confound and confuse. The Nashville Predators are the hottest team in the NHL right now. Still, what’s up with the power play? The Preds are 27th in the league with the man advantage. It’s not like this is a new thing for the Preds, who finished with the 24th-ranked power play last year. On the other side of the coin, though, the Preds are third on the penalty kill.
Speaking of which, how about this? The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks rank 27th in penalty killing. A year ago, with defensive specialist Andrew Ladd and veteran defenseman Brent Sopel in the lineup, they were fourth overall. Not that Ladd and Sopel have been much help to the Atlanta Thrashers when the Thrash have been down a man. Atlanta is 29th on the PK, which may explain why it has fallen into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
VANCOUVER -- There are three current All-Star players sidelined by injury and the clock is ticking with the game less than a week away in Raleigh.
What to do if you're the NHL?
Instead of pressuring Ales Hemsky (concussion), Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (lower body) into a decision any day now, I'm told the NHL has decided to allow those three players all the time they need right up to All-Star weekend.
Why? Because the league will replace any injured All-Star from the pool of rookies already attending the skills event. I think this is an absolutely brilliant solution.
In previous years, it was a nightmare for the league to try to find a replacement so close to the event because players had already made plans with their families or friends for the break. Choosing from rookies already making the trip to Raleigh makes total sense.
As of Saturday, the league was kicking around how the rookies would be chosen for the game. Would they be part of Friday's fantasy draft, or would the rookies win their way into the game by excelling in Saturday night's skills event? Both are interesting ideas.
I know, I know ... I'm on record as hating the All-Star Game. But I give the league credit for being creative this year.
So, what are the Islanders' options if Nabokov doesn't report? Here we go:
• They can suspend Nabokov for not reporting to the team.
• They can go to the NHL and say they want to trade Nabokov, but two things have to happen for any trade to happen: Nabokov would have to waive his no-movement clause and the Isles would have to put him back on the waiver wires, as stated in section 13.23 of the CBA. Only teams that put in an initial waiver claim for Nabokov this past Friday/Saturday would have access to the goalie during this waiver period.
• If he clears waivers again, all 29 teams would get to participate in a second waiver-wire process. The team that sits lowest in the standings has first priority here if multiple teams put in claims.
• If he were to clear waivers a third time (this is highly, highly unlikely), the Islanders would then be able to trade the netminder.
TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Saturday that another possiblity is the Isles could suspend Nabokov for rest of season and then argue to NHL that the goalie owes them the full one-year, $570,000 contract next season, citing the Alexei Yashin precedent in Ottawa.
The waiver rule
With Nabokov joining Marek Svatos and Kyle Wellwood as players claimed away from teams who did the work to sign them, some clubs are wondering whether Section 13.23 of the CBA needs revisiting. Blues GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com on Saturday he's going to table a discussion at the GMs meeting in March to ask that very question. The purpose of the rule is to prevent teams from adding "ringers" late in the season and gaining an unfair advantage.
Hits to the head
With Crosby's concussion reigniting the hits-to-the-head discussion, the issue will again headline/dominate the GMs meetings, league sources confirmed Saturday. The question they will ask is whether Rule 48 is doing its job or whether it needs to ban more types of hits. Should be quite the discussion.
I interviewed Wayne Gretzky earlier this week for a story that will run on his 50th birthday Wednesday, but wanted to pass on what he said about the hits debate.
"The good thing is, 30 years ago when we got hit like that, you came in and you said you were feeling kind of woozy and they would tell you, 'Get on the ice and skate through it,'" Gretzky said half-jokingly. "Then, if you had a couple of bad games, they would haul in the office and ask you, 'What's wrong?' So you know, we've come a long way.
"I think in today's game, people are on top of it," added Gretzky. "If there is an issue, they're not making knee-jerk decisions. They study it, they check into it. They really look into how they can help these players. It's hard, it's a fine line. It's just a bigger game now. I don't know how we can continuously look to protect the player without taking the physical aspect out of the game.
"I watch football games and I don't know how some of these guys survive because it's so physical. ... I think both hockey and football are always analyzing this and trying to figure out a way to keep the players from concussions. The good news is the NHL really is on top of it. But it's probably going to continue to be an even bigger issue because the players are going to get bigger and stronger."
This and that
• Kings GM Dean Lombardi told me Friday he's solidly behind Terry Murray as coach. Won't be a change there, he said.
• Peter Forsberg would not have to clear waivers if/when he signs with the Avs because he didn't play a game overseas this season.
• Spoke with injured Canucks blueliner Sami Salo on Friday. He says his Achilles' heel is healed, but it's building up muscle in the same leg that's the issue. It's taking a while to do that. He hasn't had any setbacks since he began skating, but he said he really doesn't know when he'll be ready to return. Once he's cleared, the Canucks will have a cap crunch and will need to move a player.
• A "Happy Birthday" note to big-time agent Pat Brisson, who turned 46 on Saturday. Not sure if it's because of his vegan diet, but he doesn't look a day over 36.
Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-4) at New Jersey Devils (13-29-3), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Pittsburgh
Starting goaltenders: Brent Johnson (8-3-2, 2.04 GAA) vs. Martin Brodeur (8-18-2, 2.97 GAA)
Preview: The Penguins take the ice without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the first time since Malkin came into the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate Malkin is day to day with a sore knee, while Crosby is still recovering from a concussion. Pens coach Dan Bylsma will put Dustin Jeffrey on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. With a win tonight, Bylsma will tie Scotty Bowman for third place on the Penguins' all-time coaching wins list with 95.
Anaheim Ducks (26-19-4) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-5), 7 p.m. ETStarting goaltenders: Jonas Hiller (23-15-3, 2.45 GAA) vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (8-7-3, 2.73 GAA)
Preview: Jean-Sebastien Giguere will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Toronto. Giguere helped the Ducks to two Stanley Cup finals appearances, winning it all in 2007. Giguere is also the Ducks franchise leader among goalies for games played (447) and wins (206). The struggling Leafs are coming off a 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. Giguere said Wednesday morning that he would consider waiving his no-trade clause if the team asked.
New York Rangers (27-18-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (22-18-6), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist (20-14-3, 2.21 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (19-14-5, 2.72 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers are coming off a 7-0 win on Wednesday night, but they are an impressive 10-2-0 this season when playing the second game of back-to-back games and haven't allowed more than three goals in the second games. The Hurricanes are sitting in ninth place in the East and trying to fight into the playoff picture, but have lost three of their past four.
Washington Capitals (25-14-8) at New York Islanders (14-23-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Braden Holtby (2-2-1, 3.84 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-6-4, 3.43 GAA)
Preview: Looking the beat the Islanders for the ninth time in their past 10 meetings, the Capitals turn to Braden Holtby in net. Recalled from the Hershey Bears on Wednesday with both of Washington's two top goalies injured, Holtby will be making his fifth NHL start of the season. The Capitals have been held to three goals or fewer in 11 straight games and have one win in their past five games.
Ottawa Senators (17-23-7) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-11-5), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Philadelphia
Starting goaltenders: Brian Elliott (12-16-6, 2.01 GAA) vs. Sergei Bobrovsky (18-6-3, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: Already leading the Eastern Conference, the Flyers now get to add top defenseman Chris Pronger back to the lineup. Pronger missed 13 games with a broken foot, but the Flyers went 9-4-0 in his absence and had the highest offensive production in the NHL at 3.46 goals per game. While Philadelphia is vying for the best record in the league, the Senators are tied with the Maple Leafs at the bottom of the Northeast due to a 1-6-3 stretch.
Tampa Bay Lightning (27-15-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-18-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 4-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Dwayne Roloson (4-3-0, 2.92 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-11-5, 2.49 GAA)
Preview: With the Capitals struggling this season, the Southeast Division is wide open and the Lightning are taking advantage. Steven Stamkos has reclaimed the league goal-scoring lead with 35 goals after scoring in his past three games. Also, Stamkos has a point in seven of eight career games against the Thrashers with six goals and six assists.
Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) at St. Louis Blues (22-17-6), 8 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Jimmy Howard (22-7-4, 2.83 GAA) vs. Jaroslav Halak (17-14-4, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: The injury-riddled Red Wings will welcome back Jimmy Howard as they try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive road loss. Howard missed two games after bruising his right knee. And with Chris Osgood sidelined by a hernia, the Wings are in talks to sign goalie Evgeni Nabokov, a source confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Thursday.
San Jose Sharks (23-19-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-7), 10 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (11-13-2, 2.79 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-5, 2.38 GAA)
Preview: After earning at least one point in a 17 straight games, the Canucks are just 1-2-1 in their past four games. The Canucks now return home from a five-game road trip with a three-point advantage for the Western Conference lead. Vancouver has outscored San Jose 10-4 in two meetings this season, but the Sharks come into the game on a two-game winning streak.
1. Roloson an attractive option
Because most of the news from Long Island this season has been miserable, it's been easy to overlook what could be a compelling storyline as the weeks tick toward the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Although many have assumed that Florida netminder Tomas Vokoun will attract most of the attention from teams looking to shore up their goaltending down the stretch, we give you the indestructible Dwayne Roloson.
If Chris Chelios had been a goaltender, he'd have been Roloson. At age 41, Roloson has quietly turned in one of the most compelling netminding performances in recent memory. He is 5-13 (one of his losses was in a shootout) yet has managed to turn in a save percentage of .920, ranking 10th among goalies who have played at least 1,000 minutes, and a more-than-respectable 2.38 goals against average. The native of Simcoe, Ontario, has won three straight, allowing just one goal in each of those games and facing 109 shots total in the three wins for the lowly Isles. He was also named one of the NHL's three stars for the week ending Dec. 26.
No doubt NHL GMs are taking note of Roloson's renaissance campaign on Long Island.
Roloson makes $3 million this season, but his cap hit is just $2.5 million. Compare that to Vokoun, who, like Roloson, can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Vokoun makes $6.3 million this season with a cap hit of $5.7 million and is playing for a significantly better defensive team than the Islanders.
So, if you're Washington GM George McPhee and you're secretly wondering about bringing in a nice veteran presence for the playoffs, Roloson has to look pretty darned attractive. Stay tuned.
2. Spezza out after hit
We often talk about the NHL's "justice" as if there is such a thing. In the end, maybe it's a simple acknowledgment that sometimes there just isn't any justice. Take the grim case of Jason Spezza and the Ottawa Senators. Spezza chipped in two assists for the Senators as they beat the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on Sunday. But early in the second period, Spezza was drilled from behind by Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang. Spezza got up clutching his shoulder, and the team announced Monday that he is out indefinitely.
Letang, who has no history as a dirty or reckless player, got a two-minute boarding penalty while the Senators saw their modest playoff hopes take a swift kick in the shins.
Letang did not run at Spezza. He didn't leap into the air to check the Ottawa center. But he did give him a good, hard shot from behind, sending Spezza head-/shoulder-first into the boards. It is a play the NHL has been trying to weed out of the game.
Yes, Letang was penalized.
But did the penalty fit the crime? Until the NHL comes to grips with marrying the results of dangerous plays with the plays themselves, that question will never be fully answered.
As for justice, what happened on the ice in Ottawa on Sunday seems a long way from justice if you're a Senators fan.
3. Thrashers finally get stability
Good news, at least in theory, for the Atlanta Thrashers, as the never-ending legal infighting between members of the ownership group finally ended.
Not surprisingly, Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon were announced as the two who will remain at the top of the group that owns the Thrashers, the NBA's Hawks and Philips Arena, with Steve Belkin gone from the scene for good. Sources close to the team believe this newfound stability should be attractive to potential investors and/or potential owners who would be interested in buying the hockey team and working with current ownership to keep the team in Atlanta.
The Thrashers continue to struggle with their attendance, ranking 28th in the league in spite of the team's on-ice success (it began the week in sixth in the Eastern Conference and was three points out of first place in the Southeast Division), so any ray of sunshine would be welcome at this stage.
It was interesting to see that Levenson told the team's broadcast partner after the lawsuit was settled that the ownership bickering had "zero impact" on the team and that it wasn't a distraction. If that's true, then ownership was even more incompetent than we had previously believed. But the fact of the matter is that the ownership squabbles did have ramifications on the team whether it was in terms of attracting quality free agents, hiring competent coaches (or being willing to pay competent coaches) or trying to properly market the franchise in a market rich in corporate potential.
The question now is whether someone will see value in this exciting young team and try to keep it in a market that has never been fully cultivated in part because of ownership's failures. Or, will the team continue to struggle and force NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to reward the patience of the good folks in Winnipeg by allowing the team to be sold and moved?
4. U.S.-Canada rivalry brewing in WJC?
We've never been huge fans of the world junior championships given that the odds are generally stacked heavily in favor of the Canadians, the only nation that really cares about the annual showcase of under-20 hockey players. In general, teams would have had better luck selling their equipment and taking on the house odds in Vegas than in trying to unseat Canada's entry because the tournament is held either in Canada or in border communities most of the time.
Hey, we get it. Television ratings are through the roof in Canada regardless of where the tournament is played. And tickets sell like hotcakes when it's in Saskatoon (as it was last year) or Ottawa (two years ago) or Buffalo (this year's host). But every game is a home game for the Canadian side, and that has, at least in part, contributed to Canada's perennial success at the WJC.
But a funny thing happened to the dynamics of this tournament a year ago when the brash Americans came into the Canadians' house (so to speak) and stole the gold medal in overtime to end a five-year run of championships for the Canucks.
If tournament organizers, even those in Canada, were being honest with themselves, they'd be rooting for a repeat for the host Americans this year. First, an American win would establish a perfect storm of a rivalry between the neighboring hockey nations and would suggest to other nations that it's not all Canada all the time when it comes to the WJC.
With the games being broadcast in the U.S. on the NHL Network (it was a pleasure to hear Gary Thorne's voice above the slash of skates on ice and the thwack of sticks on pucks again), it will be interesting to see whether the tournament generates a following south of the border, especially if it looks like a rematch of last year's gold-medal contest. The Americans eked out a 3-2 win in overtime over Finland on Sunday, while the Canadians beat Russia 6-3 to start this year's proceedings.
5. Injuries add up for Wings -- again
Can't help but feel a certain sense of déjà vu all over again watching the Detroit Red Wings lose piece after piece of their stellar squad. Pavel Datsyuk is already out for a month or so with a hand injury, and the Wings lost their top goal producer in Daniel Cleary when he suffered a fractured ankle courtesy of teammate Brad Stuart during Sunday's 4-1 win over Minnesota. The loss is disappointing for the team and for Cleary, who battled through injury last season to become one of the team's most complete players this season. He had scored his 16th goal of the season earlier in the game.
Last season, the Wings struggled without Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall, among others, and had little gas left when the playoffs began. They were beaten in the second round by San Jose after narrowly defeating Phoenix in seven games in the first round.
This season, head coach Mike Babcock was hoping to use a healthy, balanced lineup to keep his team fresh and ready for another long playoff run. Now, he'll be looking to some youngsters up front to try and keep the team afloat while Cleary and Datsyuk heal. With San Jose, Chicago and Vancouver building up steam, the Wings are going to be under fire while that happens.
Phoenix Coyotes at New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ETThe Rangers face the Coyotes after beating the Penguins 4-1 on Wednesday night. The Rangers are 8-0-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, having outscored their opponents 27-6.
Anaheim Ducks at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ETThe Islanders have one win in their last 21 games (1-17-3). The Buffalo Bills (3) and Detroit Lions (2) have more wins than the Islanders since this disastrous streak began on Oct. 23.
Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ETTim Thomas looks to continue his run of 10 road games without a regulation loss this season. He is 9-0-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (12 games in 2006-07), Chris Osgood (11 games in 2008-09) and Dwayne Roloson (10 games in 2002-03) are the only other goalies in the last 10 seasons to get at least one point in each of their first 10 road games of the season, according the Elias.
Los Angeles Kings at St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ETThe Kings, at 4-0-1 in December, are one of two teams without a regulation loss this month. The Predators are 6-0-1 in December.
-- ESPN Stats & Information