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Tag:Tampa Bay Lightning
Posted on: November 23, 2011 2:28 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 2:37 pm
 

How will Sabres respond to Lucic, Bruins?

Lucic1By: Adam Gretz

The last time the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins met we watched as Milan Lucic plowed through Ryan Miller, sparking a debate as to whether or not goalies should be "fair game" when they venture out of their crease to play the puck (according to the current NHL rules, they're not). The play even resulted in the topic of goalie protection being a last-minute addition to the agenda of the general managers meetings that were taking place later that week.

When the NHL decided not to suspend Lucic there was a concern that it meant it would now be "open season" on goalies, a fire that the NHL quickly tried to extinguish. It also left us wondering how the Sabres would respond when the two teams faced off again (as they will on Wednesday night), and whether or not they would attempt to dish out their own brand of vigilante justice. In the initial meeting, immediately after Miller was hit, the Sabres did not respond the way one would expect a team to respond after watching their starting goaltender, and arguably their best player, get run over by a member of the opposing team.

Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff has said repeatedly that the team wasn't happy with their response and that it won't happen again.

As expected, the NHL has warned both teams about any shenanigans that may take place when the two teams meet on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean something won't go down after the puck drops.

Miller suffered a concussion as a result of the play and has not been back in the lineup since, and had some strong words for Lucic in his post-game interviews saying, "I just stuck around because I wanted to say what a gutless piece of [feces] I think Lucic is."

Lucic is already expecting somebody from Buffalo to take a run at him, and that's probably a safe bet. In recent years the Sabres haven't been a huge fighting team, finishing 23rd, 27th and 25th over the past three years in fighting majors. Through the early part of this season they're eighth, one spot behind Boston, with 10 fighting majors. The leader in the clubhouse at this point is Cody McCormick with four. Patrick Kaleta and Paul Gaustad each have two, while Robyn Regehr and Mike Weber have each dropped the gloves once.

More On Sabres-Bruins
It's hard to say how it will all play out, but if I had to guess right now I'd say that somebody, and this would probably be McCormick if he plays (he's missed the past three games), given his size and experience as a fighter, challenges Lucic early in the game and the gloves come off. Hopefully that's the end of it and everybody can move on, but there's a chance, if the referees allow it and can't take control of the situation, that things could quickly get out of hand. The Bruins aren't a team that takes kindly to being challenged physically, regardless of the circumstances, and they've had their share of donnybrooks over the past couple of years.

It's also worth asking if the Sabres might try to return the favor and make their presence felt around the Boston net.

As I mentioned above, there was a concern in the immediate aftermath of the NHL's decision to not punish Lucic that it is now open season on goaltenders, and we've already seen a taste of that in the week-and-a-half since Miller was sidelined. In Buffalo's very next game Jhonas Enroth was hit by Montreal's Erik Cole skating through the crease.

On Tuesday night we watched as Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson left his crease to play a puck behind the net, and was then hit from behind by Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone, resulting in no penalty (click here to watch). When Gustavsson pleaded his case to the official that watched the play unfold right in front of him, the referee simply pointed at the spot on the ice where the Leafs goalie was hit.

Whatever happens, this is probably the most anticipated game on Wednesday's schedule.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 16, 2011 10:07 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 10:21 pm
 

Checking in on Matt Cooke and his new style

cooke1By: Adam Gretz

Throughout his career Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke has usually been used as an example of what not to do on the ice when it comes to physical play. He's been suspended five times, including the final 10 games of the regular season, and all seven of Pittsburgh's playoff games last year, and is perhaps known most for the hit on Boston's Marc Savard that started his still on-going battle with concussions, and also helped spark the NHL's rule changes regarding hits to the head (rule 48).

Following his most recent suspension, one that hurt the Penguins in their opening round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Cooke vowed to change his ways and clean up the way he plays hockey. His claim was greeted -- and rightfully so -- with a sense of, show us, don't tell us, and actions speak louder than words.

A month-and-a-half into the season and he is now actually being used as a positive example of what to do on the ice. At least in the eyes of the Penguins. 

In an article penned by the Canadian Press on Wednesday, Penguins general manager Ray Shero cited Cooke's early season play as an example the NHL can use for what Brendan Shanahan is trying to accomplish with player safety.

From Shero, via the CP:
"For Brendan Shanahan and player safety, here's a guy that they can show on some highlights and the videos, where he's not taking the hit or he is pulling up (in dangerous situations)," said Shero. "He's still got a ways to go. But in the first portion of the season here and exhibition as well, he has changed the way he's played and he's still a really good effective player for us in his role.

"That's good news for us and it's good news for Brendan Shanahan in terms of what he's trying to do."
Through 18 games this season Cooke has not done anything remotely dirty, and has been sent to the penalty box just two times -- once for interference and once for unsportsmanlike conduct for diving -- for a grand total of four penalty minutes. Over the past four seasons through the same number of games he registered 23, 22, 25 and 24 penalty minutes.  Along with that, he also has a positive differential in the number of penalties he's drawn compared to the number of penalties he's taken for the first time in four years.

(Penalty numbers via BehindTheNet)

Matt Cooke Penalties Drawn vs. Penalties Taken: Past Four Years
Year Penalties Taken per 60 Min. Penalties Drawn per 60 Min. Difference
2011-12 (18 Games) 0.3 1.4 +1.1
2010-11 1.8 1.2 -0.6
2009-10 1.4 1.1 -0.3
2008-09 1.6 1.3 -0.3
2007-08 1.4 1.2 -0.2

This is definitely a positive development and a good start for the Penguins, as well as Cooke, because he's always been a valuable player when he isn't sidelined with a suspension or sitting in the penalty box following an ill-timed penalty (he can score, and he's one of the top penalty killers on the best penalty killing team in the league).

But it's going to take a lot more than 18 games for fans -- if not opposing players as well -- around the NHL to believe that he really has turned the page and become a different player.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 15, 2011 3:47 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 3:55 pm
 

Protection of goalies hot topic at GM meetings

By Brian Stubits

What better time than after the Hall of Fame ceremony for the GMs to gather and discuss the issues of the day? After all, most of them are already in town for the festivities anyway.

The item on the morning agenda of the meetings? It truly was the top issue of the day: goaltender safety. Spurred by the Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller, the rules regarding goaltenders outside the crease have been a hot topic. While the rulebook clearly states a goalie is not fair game anywhere on the ice, it has been a muddy conversation.

From the sounds of Blues GM Doug Armstrong, it was more a matter of clarification than anything else for the GMs.

“Just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page, that when they’re out on the open ice, that they’re going to be protected,” Armstrong said. “We do want continued play in front of the net, but we want to make sure that when they’re outside the [blue] ice, that they’re protected.”

The best way that people are describing the protection of goaltenders is to draw the parallel to football and the quarterback. In football, the QB has become like an endangered species, seemingly any affront to his safety has been squashed. Drives a QB into the ground after a pass? Personal foul. Same goes for when a scrambling QB slides to the ground.

“In my opinion, I think we have to [protect goalies like QBs],” Penguins GM Ray Shero said. “I’m not talking about plays around the crease, because there will be incidental contact ... We’re talking about a regular season game, we’re talking about the incident with Lucic and Ryan Miller. You get into a playoff series and if these guys are going to be coming out to play pucks, and you can run them over and get a two-minute penalty, then I think you’re going to open up a pretty dangerous set of circumstances.

“Several of the general managers just brought up the fact there’s only 60 goaltenders in the league, and we have to be pretty careful in terms of, if they’re going to play puck outside the crease, what should be fair,” Shero said. “We’ll continue to look at it, and probably talk about it much more at the March meeting, as well.”

Is it a bit reactionary? Of course. The Lucic/Miller incident is fresh and was pretty uncommon. But the reactions after the hit proved the need for some clarification on the matter, even if it was as simple as getting rule 69.4 spread around for everybody to see.

This is where Brendan Shanahan's decision not to suspend Lucic, for the hit comes into play a bit. Many, myself included, believed that if nothing else a token suspension was called for against Lucic, something to make it clear that goalies can't be run over. But Shanahan believed Lucic did not intend to hit Miller and that it was more of an unfortunate collision. He reiterated the point to the GMs that goalies will be protected and offenders could still be suspended. From Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com:

"Shanahan told GMs that players should NOT read into Lucic ruling that goalies are fair game. Quite the opposite, Shanahan warned GMs."

The GMs don't want to see more incidents like it and want to nip it in the bud now before frontier justice like that alluded by Sabres coach Lindy Ruff knocks another goaltender out for a period of time. I believe for most GMs it's a matter of self-preservation if anything else (in this case self being their team's interests).

“That’s going to be the message to our team -- the goalies are not fair game,” Shero said. “If the guy’s going to play it outside the crease, you have to be pretty careful.”

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but I believe the root of that statement from Shero comes out of the fear of losing Marc-Andre Fleury for some time.

As for rest of the meetings, also on the schedule was the 1-3-1 trap that caused such a stir last week after the bizarre scene between the Flyers and Lightning which led to a stalemate. To that, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman gave a reasonable response, saying they don't want to overreact to something that has only happened once. Perhaps Flyers GM Paul Holmgren put it best: "I'd like to see us attack the situation a little bit differently than we did last game."

The other big item on the docket was realignment, something Flyers chairman Ed Snider brought up again in Toronto. But right now that's all just chatter among the GMs. The decision on realignment will made at the Board of Governors meeting in December.

All of these conversations and more will get hashed out again in March the next time the GMs gather.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 13, 2011 3:21 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2011 9:31 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Where was the Sabres' response?

By Brian Stubits

Results: Friday | Saturday

Let's start with the shot heard 'round the world from Saturday night.

Early in the Bruins' 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres (their fifth straight win for those keeping track at home) Milan Lucic found himself chasing down a puck on a breakaway. Ryan Miller found himself in the tough position of playing the puck before Lucic or waiting for the breakaway attempt. Miller chose option A and the following was the result.

The play had Miller peeved. He gave the hockey world a contender for quote of the year after the game when he was asked about any injury he might have sustained on the play.

"I'm not really going to get into that," Miller said. "I just stuck around because I wanted to say what a piece of [feces] I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that? It's unbelievable. Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he plays. That was gutless. Gutless. Piece of [feces]."

Of course seeing their goalie get trucked by Lucic was tough for the Sabres to see. But maybe the biggest problem of the day for them is why didn't it look like it bothered them? Lucic was given maybe a nudge or two. That's why he skated to the penalty box with a smirk on his face that would have made the Grinch proud.

His comment after the game must have been equally as cutting.

"You know, we wouldn't accept anything like that," Lucic said. "We would have [taken] care of business. But we're a different team than they are."

Ouch. That's pouring salt squarely onto the wound.

The worst part, though, was the Sabres knew they didn't respond in the right away. Paul Gaustad was embarrassed with how his team reacted immediately after the play. And he was on the ice.

"I can do more. I'm embarrassed that we didn't respond the way we should have," Gaustad said. "It falls on myself. I look at myself first, and I wasn't good enough.

More on Bruins-Sabres

"We didn't push back. There's no reason to be scared. We had to go after it, and we didn't."

The only player who seemed genuinely intent on getting back at Lucic was Miller himself. He took a swing with his stick as Lucic went by after the hit and then was restrained by a linesman and was left to shout -- presumably -- some obscenities at Lucic when he was escorted to the box.

I can't help but think back to a quote from last week from John Vogl of the Buffalo News. He said a player on the team told him the Sabres weren't playing as hard in front of Miller as they are for Jhonas Enroth. The general consensus on that was that it was because Miller is so good and the team has grown a bit complacent in front of him. This lack of response and that quote from Vogl could still not be linked, but it makes you wonder.

What I do know is that coach Lindy Ruff wasn't too pleased with his team's response either. He was reportedly hot in the team meeting on Sunday and left the building without speaking to the media, instead responding "[Bleep] the media" when informed reporters were waiting to talk to him.

I can't agree more with the crowd saying the Sabres showed no spine in response to the play. It was no coincidence that the game got away from the Sabres in a hurry after that and the Bruins went on to the 6-2 rout. You have to stand up for your goalie when he gets trucked like this. It's standard procedure to get in a guy's face when a goalie gets a snow shower, let alone a big hit like this.

Should Miller have made this play? Probably not. If you venture into the jungle, expect you might get bit. Either way, he certainly wasn't expecting a hit like that. Lucic saw a golden opportunity to hit a goalie and took advantage of it. It's like anytime a quarterback throws an interception, all the defenders are looking for a chance to lay the quarterback out with a big shot in the name of blocking.

But that doesn't mean that it was a legal play by Lucic. Here is what Rule 69.4 states specifically:

69.4 Contact Outside the Goal Crease - If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.

When a goalkeeper has played the puck outside of his crease and is then prevented from returning to his crease area due to the deliberate actions of an attacking player, such player may be penalized for goalkeeper interference. Similarly, the goalkeeper may be penalized, if by his actions outside of his crease he deliberately interferes with an attacking player who is attempting to play the puck or an opponent.

When the Bruins meet the Sabres again, we could be looking at a slugfest. Buffalo will look at that game as a chance for retribution. Hey, better late than never, I suppose.

Russian rut

Alexander Semin is one of the more talented players in the NHL, speaking strictly on a matter of offensive skill. It was only two seasons ago that he had 40 goals and 44 assists in 73 games for the Capitals.

But he's also a player that's been singled out for not caring. That was an offseason storyline after former teammate Matt Bradley basically said as much. Funny how there weren't many Caps fans and media rushing to defend Semin for the slight. I think many actually agreed with Bradley.

But that was the offseason. This season isn't going much better for the 27-year-old Russian. He's off to a very slow start by his standards with three goals and five assists in 15 games. He's also a minus-1 and has a team-high 11 minor penalties this season. It seems they have all been some sort of stick penalty (mostly tripping) in the offensive zone.

With coach Bruce Boudreau on an accountability kick this year, it has led to some reduced time for Semin. So much so that he was benched in Washington's 2-1 win on Friday night against the Devils. He only logged 8:25 of ice time according to the official stats.

He did see a return to some normal ice time in Saturday's 3-2 loss to New Jersey as Boudreau doesn't seem to want to bury his star's confidence.

“I thought he tried really hard. You're not going to keep benching him and benching him and benching him,” Boudreau said after Saturday's game. “He got a penalty early -- he went for the puck. That wasn't a lazy penalty.

“You guys are getting the wrong impression: The penalties are part of why he didn't play [Friday], but it wasn't the whole reason. He just wasn't playing very well, and we wanted to win the game. So we went with what we thought were the nine best players at the time. Everybody assumes it's because he took two penalties. He was still playing after he took the two penalties.”

Semin declined to talk to reporters after the game on Saturday, both the English-speaking media and the Russian-speaking crowd.

This is getting to be an interesting situation in Washington. Semin is obviously gifted, that is not in dispute. He is a free agent after this season. If things don't improve not only on the ice but off of it, it will be interesting to see how interested the Caps will be in bringing him back, particularly with the money he will likely command. He is making $6.7 million this season.

Rangers rolling

It was such a pedestrian start for the Rangers this season. They were 3-3-3, were still having troubles scoring and the addition of Brad Richards didn't seem to make a difference.

Then coach John Tortorella got this crazy idea to switch up the lines and split the tandem of Richards and Marian Gaborik that had New York fans dreaming big before the season began. Wouldn't you know it's worked. The Rangers are on fire these days, dumping the Hurricanes 5-2 on Friday night for their sixth straight win.

I'm starting to think the Rangers like their plush new (or renovated) digs at Madison Square Garden. They are now 5-1-1 at home this season. That's their best start since 1992-93..

Oh, and the Rangers are 4-0-0 with Sean Avery back in the lineup, outscoring their opponents 16-6 in those games. He scored his first goal of the season Friday. Just sayin'.

It's all in the Hitch

The Ken Hitchcock era is off to a nice and somewhat predictable start in St. Louis.

In the three games the Blues have played under their new coach, they have two shutouts, including Saturday's 3-0 blanking of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In those three games, they have earned five of the six possible points.

We all had an idea that the Blues would get better defensively and thus would have better goaltending under Hitchcock, but this quickly? I'd like to credit it more to the wakeup call of a coach being fired and a new one leading them than anything tangible at this point.

Either way, victorious goaltender Brian Elliott was pleased.

"That was the complete game we've been wanting," Elliott said. "Everybody was hustling. Everybody was working hard. No one took a shift off."

Veteran's Day surprise

We return to Boston for maybe the best moment of the weekend.

Before the game at TD Garden on Saturday night, the Bruins, honoring a family of an active soldier in Afghanistan, helped offer a special surprise. When the parents of the soldier came out to drop the ceremonial first puck, the Bruins announced there was a surprise and they were soon reunited with their son, on leave from Afghanistan.

It's hard not to get a little choked up watching that, it's a great moment brought to us by the Bruins.

I'm a sucker for these reunion videos. I got lost one day going through all the videos at the Welcome Home blog. It's chicken soup for the soul type of stuff, especially on Veteran's Day. I'd just like to say thank you once again to any vets out there reading.

Not Flame retardant

Nature isn't the only place where a flame will conquer snow any day of the week. It appears to be a law of hockey too.

The Colorado Avalanche just can't beat the Calgary Flames, no matter where the game is played. On Saturday the Avs failed for the eighth straight time trying to beat their division rivals, and that was with one spirited comeback.

Miikka Kiprusoff is as composed as any goalie in the league when he's under pressure. Just see the final minute of the 4-3 on Saturday as an example. The final minute was incredibly intense and Kiprusoff didn't look like he was trying to hang on to the tenuous lead; he had the poise of a goalie with an 8-1 edge.

Meanwhile the Avalanche, after that 5-1-0 start have now fallen back to 8-8-1 with their seventh loss in nine games.

Quote of the week

First of all, we all know it's Miller's quote referenced above. But consider this the Miller-less category.

It's hard to pick just one, but all my choices are coming from Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo. To say the he has been unimpressed with his team the last few outings would be pretty accurate. This quote came on the heels of the 5-2 loss to the Kings on Saturday.

"Like, we think we’re there. We’re not even close," Yeo said (courtesy of Michael Russo at the Minneapolis Star Tribune). "Like, we think we’re good enough yet, that because we won five games in a row that we’re there. It’s not even close. We said this when we were winning these games. We’re not there. We along the way forgot what we have to put in to winning hockey games.”

It sounds to me like a coach who is trying to bring his team back down to Earth after a great stretch of games, that Yeo sensed his team needed a little humbling.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 5:36 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Ducks searching for wakeup call

By Brian Stubits

Weekend schedule: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

You know it's bad when we're still early in November and the Anaheim Ducks call a closed-doors meeting. It stinks almost as much as the Avalanche calling Thursday's tilt against the Islanders a "must-win game." They did, barely (4-3 in OT).

But desperate times call for desperate measures. And right now, things are getting close to desperate in Orange County. The Ducks are the coldest team in hockey having lost six in a row. In a world without the overtime loser point, Anaheim is 5-10. That is not good.

"You have to eliminate any confusion, any doubt before you can take the next step forward," Carlyle said about the meeting.

"A lot of times coaches are talking and nobody says a word and you go to the ice and say, 'Well, I don't think that's work[ing]," Teemu Selanne offered. "It's important that the players can give their input also about the situation. It was really good. It was really honest conversations. I think it was a huge step forward."

They better get things figured out quickly. With Dallas playing as well as it is and San Jose in the division, the Ducks could dig themselves a hole too tough to get out of. They have the fewest goals scored and the most goals surrendered in the Pacific Division. In 15 games they have 29 goals, that's less than two goals per game.

How can a team with Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Selanne be struggling to score this much? Well presumably that's what the closed-door meeting was for.

I can't help but think it's the lack of power of the mustache. Since the month of Movember came around and the Ducks all began growing out their best 'staches, the team hasn't won a game. This is making me rethink my entire stance on the world. Here I was holding the mustache in such high esteem.

Or maybe it could be more rationally explained by figuring out where Lubomir Visnovsky has gone? The defenseman who had 18 goals and 50 assists last season has just four points (1-3=4) in 15 games and is a minus-9. Him finding his game would go a long way in helping the Ducks remove the ugly from their game.

So who do they get to try their presumably new tactics against first? How about the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night? Just the team for a struggling squad to face (the still-not-invented sarcasm font was on there).

But that's not all for the weekend. On Sunday the Ducks welcome the last team they beat, the Minnesota Wild. Of course since that win, these two teams have flipped their fortunes. The Ducks have become the coldest team this side of Columbus while Minnesota has been red hot.

SoCal struggles, Part II: This was supposed to be the season the Los Angeles Kings stepped forward, made a run for the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. It obviously still could be, the season is only a short way in. But right now they could use a swift kick in the rear to get in gear.

Los Angeles has followed a 5-1-1 start with a 2-5-2 stretch, including a five-game losing streak that has people wondering if the boot isn't being polished up before delivering the kick. After all, the Kings have not scored more than three goals in 13 of their 16 games. For a team that acquired an offensive talent like Mike Richards to go with a solid group already, that's not going to cut it.

"The offense, certainly myself at the top of the list, should be scoring more, getting to the net," Justin Williams said following Thursday's loss.

So do you put the blame for the struggling stretch on coach Terry Murray? After all, head coaches are always the first scapegoat. I find it hard to blame Murray. He's trying all that he can, mixing and matching the lines to try and create a spark. But as they always say, you can't really fire the players. I mean you can, but it's a lot more difficult.

One of the issues right now is the play of Jonathan Quick. Remember that shutout streak back in October? That's a thing of the past. In his last six starts, Quick has zero wins. He is giving up nearly three goals per game in that stretch.

About the only thing going well right now for L.A. is the play of Drew Doughty. His game has been on point recently with five points in the last three games.

Like their SoCal neighbors in the O.C., the chance to get on the right track will come against the Wild, Saturday night at Staples Center. Oh, Minnesota enters the game having won five of the last six.

What the ....? You know who's not struggling? The first-place Florida Panthers. Yes, you read that right, first-place Panthers.

Dale Tallon threw together a team that everybody anticipated would struggle to jell, but it came together like jell-o. The Panthers have tallied a point in six consecutive games, including back-to-back wins on the road in Toronto and Winnipeg.

If they want to make it seven straight, they will have to get through the Flyers, who are in Sunrise on Sunday.

This is where I'd like to spread a little love on Kris Versteeg, the forward who is on his fourth team in a two-year span -- the one before the Panthers being the Flyers. He has apparently found the right fit and is scoring at a pace of better than a point per game, leading the Cats with 17 points in 15 games. Brian Campbell hasn't been too shabby either with 15 points in 15 games.

The surprises are all around on one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season. Jason Garrison is a sniper from the blue line? Who knew? But he's tied with Nicklas Lidstrom in the NHL lead for goals among defensemen with six. Jose Theodore can still be effective as a No. 1 goalie? Just talk to the folks in the Washington press box to see how hard that is to believe.

There's no telling how long this will last. First place in a division with the Capitals is asking a lot. But with a start like this, they can at least dream of ending that 10-year playoff drought in Florida.

Texas two-step: Want to know if the Dallas Stars are really as good as their 11-3-0 record indicates? Other than the fact that you are what your record says you are, as Bill Parcells would say, the Stars are in the midst of about as tough a three-game road stretch you can conjure up in the NHL.

They already went through the Capitals, handing them their first loss in D.C. this season. Now they have back-to-back games starting Friday in Pittsburgh. The game was viewed as a potential return date for Sidney Crosby, but that's not happening now. However it is still the top two teams in each conference and James Neal vs. the team that traded him.

If that's not enough, Dallas will take the trip to Detroit where the Red Wings await on Saturday.

I'm not sure how many more tests the Stars have to pass before this start and this team is believed to be for real by the masses. It might be already. I know I'm a believer. But just to be safe, a few more points in this weekend double-dip couldn't hurt.

The Bruins got their groove back: It only took a month, but now the Boston Bruins are showing the form the hockey world expected. After all, ask Boston fans and they will tell you last season was just a whole heaping of bonus -- this was the season when they were expected to be legitimate Cup contenders.

The team that in the early going couldn't score now can't stop scoring. Especially in bunches. Five times in the month of November the Bruins scored two goals within 49 seconds of one another. Five times!

Without a doubt, the most impressive player has been Tyler Seguin. The sophomore is showing why there was such a debate between himself and Taylor Hall before the 2010 draft. He is so quick and always seem to get his stick on the puck near the net.

The above items considered, it should come then as no surprise that the Bruins have won four games in a row and are streaking into their game against Northeast Division foe Buffalo.

The question there is which Sabres goalie will be entrusted with slowing down this now potent Bruins attack? That’s the question every day now in Buffalo where at the moment -- and I stress at the moment -- the goaltending job is a 50/50 proposition between Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. If Miller gets the call, it could be a tough situation to find a slump-busting performance.

Defense rules

The Tampa Bay defense, specifically the 1-3-1 trap that coach Guy Boucher loves to use, is the topic of the week in the NHL. The crux of the issue: people want to see more scoring, less stalling.

If that describes you, maybe you should find something else to do on Saturday night when the Lightning and St. Louis Blues meet. Offense might not be too plentiful.

With Ken Hitchcock now on the St. Louis bench and his preference to play a defensive-minded game, it could be a pretty slow and plodding game. Nothing as bad as the scene on Wednesday night, but still not offense friendly. In the two games under Hitchcock, the Blues have given up two goals.

Of course after all this you can now expect for the teams to hit the over.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 10, 2011 6:05 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 6:13 pm
 

Lemaire joins trap debate, zings Milbury



By: Adam Gretz


You might know Jacques Lemaire as a Hall of Fame player with the Montreal Canadiens throughout the 1970s and a Stanley Cup winning coach in the 1990s. He's also the man that coaches the New Jersey Devils on a seemingly revolving door basis, or whenever general manager Lou Lamoriello wants somebody to rattle a few cages and shake things up.

He's also one of the masters of the neutral zone trap, and he is perhaps synonymous with the defensive system that he implemented during his various head coaching stops with the Devils, as well as his tenure with the Minnesota Wild.

The Trap Debate
With the NHL world taking sides and dishing out criticism for what transpired on the ice in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times decided to have a chat with Lemaire on Thursday to get his opinion on the criticism the Lightning have faced, as well as the Flyers' decision to counter the system by doing nothing (a point I can't make enough). And he even managed to work in a playful jab at analyst Mike Milbury, perhaps one of Tampa Bay's most vocal critics on Wednesday night.

Said Lemaire, via Lightning Strikes, "Myself, I laugh at this. I laugh at it this because are we supposed to coach as we please the people who are announcing the games or make comments on the games? Is that a new style or what? Do we have to please Milbury when we coach? It's the first time I hear of this."

Milbury was livid between periods on Wednesday night, as you can see in the video posted above.

Lemaire also appeared on XM Home ice and added a few more thoughts.

"As a coach I wouldn't have done that," said Lemaire of the Flyers strategy. "I think you're showing your players that we don't have a way of beating the team. I think every team has their own way of playing and you have to find a way to win, that's the bottom line."

It's a strong point. And I'll once again point out that Philadelphia entered Wednesday's game as the highest scoring team in the NHL, and it refused to go after a team that has allowed more 5-on-5 goals than all but three teams in the NHL this season.

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Posted on: November 10, 2011 1:28 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 2:59 pm
 

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

Boucher1

By: Adam Gretz

The highest scoring team in the NHL (the Philadelphia Flyers) played a Tampa Bay Lightning team on Wednesday night that featured the most prolific goal-scorer in the league over the past two seasons (Steven Stamkos) and a former MVP (Martin St. Louis). That should result in an exciting game with a lot of goals, scoring chances and back-and-forth play, right? Wrong.

The highlight (or lowlight) of the night, as well as the biggest talking point in the NHL on Thursday morning, is how the game, which Tampa Bay won in overtime, 2-1, had all the excitement of paint drying due to the Lightning's commitment to its 1-3-1 system, and the Flyers' unwillingness to attack it.

If you haven't already seen it, multiple times throughout the game, especially during the first period, the Flyers' defensemen, including Chris Pronger and Braydon Coburn, refused to skate the puck out of their own zone and waited for the Lightning's forecheckers to make the first move.

When that didn't happen, the result was a stalemate unlike any other

And this was a game that was played on national television. That can not be what the NHL wants, and most of the negative reaction has been directed at the Lightning and coach Guy Boucher for playing such a style of hockey.

Versus analyst Mike Milbury, for example, left the set during the second intermission of Wednesday's game in "protest" (though, his night was probably over at that point anyway), while the discussion of whether or not the NHL needs to implement some form of "shot clock" to prevent a team from not advancing the puck the way Philadelphia did has been kicked off.


Depending on your rooting interest you probably have a different idea as to who the winners and losers were in this game. If you're a Lightning fan you're probably happy (and rightfully so) because your team won the game. Flyers fans -- and the Flyers themselves -- seem to be taking great pride in the fact that they embarrassed the Lightning by essentially calling out their style of play and shining some light on how boring the neutral zone trap is (though, we didn't need the Flyers to prove that to us -- we knew that based on watching hockey between 1995 and 2005).

Take, for example, the words of Pronger, via Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly:
“Would you pay money to see that? I wouldn’t either and that was a [VERSUS] TV game, too. Way to showcase the product. Look at the players they got over there.
 
“That’s not my job. Maybe Shanny [Brendan Shanahan] should take charge of that, too. I don’t know.
 
“That is the way they play there all the time, whether it’s us or anybody. If they get down, they go into a two-man forecheck. We were just waiting for them to come in. Force them out of their forecheck or whatever that was. They weren’t forchecking. Their stance, I guess.
 
“That was their game right there. We were making them look bad. That’s not hockey in my book, but whatever. The league is letting them do it.”
Of course the league is "letting them do it," because there's nothing in the rule book that says a team can't play a certain type of defensive system. And as far as the "making them look bad" is concerned, it should again be pointed out that Tampa Bay did, in fact, win the hockey game, which is still the ultimate goal.

Tampa Bay doesn't pride itself on winning games in style, because if it did, it wouldn't be playing the 1-3-1 to begin with. So it's doubtful the Lightning are going to apologize for the boring manner in which they win games. And they aren't.

"We're sticking to the game plan," said Boucher, via the St. Pete Times. "When we have the puck we're aggressive with it, and when we don't have the puck we dedicate ourselves to being above the puck instead of chasing from behind. It tells me guys are buying in."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff chimed in on Thursday and according to John Vogl condoned Tampa Bay's style of play, but did add that there has to be an obligation to try and get the puck if the other team has it.

There also has to be an obligation for the team with the puck to move it.

As a hockey fan, of course I would prefer to see a more offensive game that highlights the skill of the players on the ice, so I can't say that I love the way Tampa Bay plays. I certainly respect it, and I respect the way players have obviously bought into Boucher's system, but it is boring. But I also don't want to see anything that would limit their ability to play that style of hockey or restrict a players' on-ice movements, such as the type of "illegal defense" rules the NBA has attempted over the years, mainly because I'm not sure how you enforce it, and also because the referees have enough to worry about without trying to identify what system a team is playing.

I don't blame the Lightning for what took place Wednesday night, and focussing on Tampa Bay seems to overlook the fact that just about every team in the NHL plays some variation of the trap -- it's just that the Lightning's is different from all the others. Still, when the Flyers have the puck the onus is on them to advance it, play the game, and figure out a way to exit their own zone, navigate through the neutral zone and enter the offensive zone. They chose not to do that.

And let's not act like the Lightning and their system, no matter how committed they are to it, are impossible to score against. Last season they allowed 155 goals during 5-on-5 play (when they would have been playing their system). Only 12 teams in the NHL allowed more. So far this season they've allowed 33 goals during 5-on-5 play, which is the fourth most in the NHL (only Ottawa, Carolina and Philadelphia have allowed more).

You can score against them. The only way you're guaranteed to not score against them is if you make no effort.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 9, 2011 8:35 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 9:30 pm
 

Flyers boring strategy for 'beating' 1-3-1 trap

By: Adam Gretz

When Guy Boucher took over as the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach last season and had the team within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Final, his defense-first, 1-3-1 neutral zone trap was a big part of the team's success. Of course, like any system, it only works as long as the players buy into it. And based on the first period of Wednesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers, they're committed. Very committed. Incredibly committed.

The Flyers strategy for defeating it? Do absolutely, positively nothing.

It was a bold move that was countered by the Lightning ... doing absolutely, positively nothing.

On a number of occassions in the first period on Wednesday, the Flyers simply refused to advance the puck out of their own zone, while the Lightning refused to apply any pressure on the forecheck. The result is perhaps the most boring highlight in the history of the NHL. This makes the the mid-late 90s clutch-and-grab, dead puck era look like the high-scoring 1980s.



And this happened on multiple occassions. If I had to guess, I would say that at least four-five minutes of the opening period was spent with the Flyers standing around in their own zone, with the Lightning standing around in the neutral zone, all while the paying fans in the stands let loose with a chorus of boos. It should also be pointed out that the Flyers entered the game as the highest scoring team in the NHL on a goals-per-game basis.

Pierre McGuire, who is analyzing the game from between the benches for the Versus Network, said the Flyers bench was standing up and openly mocking the Lightning players for refusing to apply a forecheck.

During a stoppage, McGuire interviewed Boucher and asked him what he told his players, and Boucher's response was simple: "Stick with our plan, not their plan."

Back in March, the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL tried a similar strategy against the Montreal Juniors (video via Twitter).

Brilliant strategy, or an admission that you have no idea how to beat the system? Or do you blame the Lightning for playing such a passive brand of hockey? Either way, if a team is going to try it over the course of an entire game, scoring first would appear to be an absolute must.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com