Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Kovalchuk finding net, Sharks, Ducks are not
By Barry Melrose
Special to ESPN.com
With the new NHL rules in place, some teams needed more time to get into the swing of things.
Teams like Calgary, for example, that are now starting to pick up some steam. How long will it last? It's still a long season, so we'll have to see, but here are some other teams and players teams who have caught my eye this week.
After a terrible start, the Atlanta Thrashers are starting to show some life, and that's good to see.
A big reason is that Ilya Kovalchuk is finding the net. He has six goals and two assists in his last three games, all wins for Atlanta. Kovalchuk is similar to Capitals rookie Alexander Ovechkin -- they're both big, streaky scorers who create plays and make things happen.
During that three-game winning streak, the Thrashers also got solid goaltending, as Mike Dunham and Adam Berkhoel combined for two shutouts. Strong performances from goaltenders give their teams confidence.
But with Dunham on injured reserve yet again, the Thrashers have another uphill battle. Their starter is Berkhoel, Steve Shields is on the active roster but recovering from a knee injury, and preseason starter Kari Lehtonen is not expected back this month after injuring his groin in the opener. We're hoping they can prevail.
Just like the Philadelphia Flyers, the Dallas Stars are out to a strong -- and quiet -- start. Remember that confidence in net spilling over to the rest of the team? Well, Marty Turco has given that to the Stars, who are just two points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the Pacific lead. When Turco struggled during the first few games, so did Dallas.
Also, players like Mike Modano and Jason Arnott are starting to adapt. I think the Stars were one of the teams to adapt the slowest to the new rules. If you watched them early on, you didn't see a lot of skaters breaking away or busting around the defense like the Montreal Canadiens. While the Stars will always be a defense-first kind of team, you are starting to see some offense, as well.
Last, another shout out to the Senators and Kings. Ottawa's top line (Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson) is unstoppable, and the Kings are one of the West's best teams. Catch both of them when you can, they are fun to watch.
I have been disappointed with the play of the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. I thought they would be better. Instead, they are struggling to stay at or above .500.
On paper, the Sharks and Ducks should be better than this. They are both in a funk, like Calgary was earlier in the season. San Jose has a young team, so a lack of veteran leadership might be an issue. Another is a lack of good goaltending -- Evgeni Nabokov has been shaky at best. Anaheim has world-class skaters like the Niedermayer brothers and Teemu Selanne, but the team hasn't jelled together like I thought they would have at this point.
I am surprised that the Phoenix Coyotes are doing slightly better than the Sharks and Ducks. I guess that's a tribute to Wayne Gretzky and his staff, and the heroics of Curtis Joseph. Either way, San Jose and Anaheim should be better than this.
This week, we'd like to substitute "ugly" for "stupid."
Sean Avery's recent comments on how he thought he was a target because of a recent NHL fine for diving were, well, stupid.
Diving has to be addressed -- the NHL knows it and it is doing something about it. I am glad it is. And to criticize Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations, is foolish. He played the game, he's coached the game, he knows the game. He has the experience to know a dive, whether he is at the game or in an office.
Ripping the game or the opponent in that way is never good for anyone, including Avery.
There is a time and a place for things. There are players who say funny things and joke around with the media, and that's good for the game. NHL players are known, overall, for saying the right things and for carrying themselves in a proper way.
Avery has gotten away from that. He is a tough, courageous and talented player. If he would just let his actions speak for him, he'd be better off.
Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.