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Tag:Washington Capitals
Posted on: November 17, 2011 2:30 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 4:14 pm
 

Jets' Noel recounts his real 'Slap Shot' memories

By Brian Stubits

Grab your favorite beer -- or non-alcoholic beverage for the underage readers out there -- and gather 'round. Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel has a tale to tell.

On Thursday night, his Jets host the Washington Capitals. It's the first time they have met since the Jets moved to Winnipeg and Noel became the head coach. Considering Noel and Caps coach Bruce Boudreau go way, way back, a reporter asked Noel about his relationship with Boudreau.

The answer he gave twisted into a great retelling of some of Noel's experiences in minor-league hockey, specifically playing against the Johnstown Jets. That's the team better known as the real-life Charlestown Chiefs.

So if you're a fan of Slap Shot -- and chances are if you are reading this, you consider that movie to be the basis of the real Hanson brothers, not some bad band or even dressed as the Hanson brothers for Halloween -- you will love this interview. It is a little long -- six minutes -- but it's a great tale of days gone by and worth listening to.

So Noel didn't have to even go see the movie, he lived it.

Noel also mentions that he has a lot of these types of stories he could tell. Must be great to be one of his grandkids.

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

Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 3:56 pm
 

Avs goaltending, defense still struggling

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By: Adam Gretz


PITTSBURGH -- Milan Hejduk has spent his entire career with the Colorado Avalanche organization, playing over 920 games (and still counting). He's scored over 360 goals and been a member of a Stanley Cup winning team, and on Tuesday night he played his first game as the team's captain, just the third different one the franchise has had since 1992-93, when it was still based in Quebec.

After a strong first period that included Hejduk registering an assist on Matt Duchene's highlight reel goal, everything unraveled over the final 30 minutes of regulation as the Avs dropped a 6-3 decision to the Penguins, spoiling what should have been an exciting night for the 13-year veteran.

"It's a great honor," said Hejduk after the game. "I'm very proud to have the 'C' on my jersey, but I wish tonight could have been a different result."

The result, unfortunately, has been a common one for the Avs over the past month, as the loss is their ninth in their past 12 games, and follows what had been a promising start that saw the team win six of its first eight games, with all of the wins coming on the road. Whether it's been at home or on the road, finding the win column has been an issue lately for a team that has won just three games in regulation all season, and only one since Oct. 13.

Still, for all of their struggles lately you have to say this for the Avalanche: their games are definitely not boring.

Their forwards are young, fast and exciting, especially Duchene, who was one of the best players on the ice for either team on Tuesday night. When that all meets at the confluence of poor defense and goaltending, well, you're going to see a lot of goals. Last season Avalanche games were the highest scoring games in the league, and they're not far off that pace this season averaging over six goals per game. The NHL average is just 5.56.

Though, a lot of that has been -- and still is being -- driven by the aforementioned issues on the blue line and in the crease. That has to be a concern given the emphasis that was placed on both areas over the summer to improve a team that allowed the ninth most shots in the NHL and owned, by a pretty large margin, the worst save percentage.

In an effort to fix those weaknesses the Avalanche assembled one of the biggest defenses in the NHL (seriously, these guys are huge ... four of their regulars are each listed over 6-feet-3, 230-pounds) by signing Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien to go with Erik Johnson and Ryan O'Byrne, two players that were acquired in mid-season trades during the 2010-11 season. Those additions on the blue line were accompanied by what was perhaps the most controversial move of the summer, by any team, when the club sent its 2012 first-round pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for goaltender Semyon Varlamov. At the time of the trade it was thought that pick could turn out to be a lottery pick, and it still very well could be.

Varlamov did his part to silence the critics of the move early in the season, basically standing on his head during his first three starts. But to say he's struggled since would be an understatement. While the Avs have managed to cut down the number of shots they allow, the goaltending has still been an issue with Varlamov posting a save percentage below .900 in eight of his past 11 apperances, including Tuesday, while their team mark is still in the bottom-three of the NHL.

"When you're going through a stretch like this, you rely on your goaltender," said coach Joe Sacco following Tuesday's game, which saw Varlamov allow six goals on 33 shots. "He (Varlamov) made some big saves, but I'm sure there's a few he'd like to have back. Everybody has to be better including him."

Of course, there are still plenty of question marks as to whether or not they will -- or can -- be much better.

Their defense is massive, but how well does that size translate to success in the current NHL? And outside of Johnson, a former No. 1 overall pick by the St. Louis Blues, how much long-term upside is there with the current group? In the crease, Varlamov is still a major Wild card. He's definitely a gifted athlete with impressive quickness, but his career has been plagued by injuries and bouts of inconsistent play.

If their play on the back side doesn't improve it could be another long season in Denver, and this time there will not even be the prospect of a top draft pick there to help salvage it.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz 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 6, 2011 5:21 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2011 6:06 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Sabres goalies; Jackets bottom out

By Brian Stubits

If you happened to have a family vacation or weekend-long wedding to attend -- anything to cause you to miss the weekend in the NHL -- here is what you missed.

The Columbus Blue Jackets seem on the verge of upheaval. There might be a goalie controversy in Buffalo. Georges Laraque is talking steroid use and, well, at least John Tortorella was the same as usual, so that's comforting.

Yes, just a ho-hum weekend.

Let's start in Buffalo, shall we?

The Sabres had a double dip over the weekend, playing Friday at home against Calgary then Saturday in Ottawa. It wasn't a surprise that coach Lindy Ruff went with Jhonas Enroth over Ryan Miller in Friday's game. Enroth has played well of late while Miller hasn't. It was surprising, however, when Enroth got the nod again on Saturday. Usually back-to-backers are split among goalies, especially when there is a quality backup in play.

At first glance, you think little of it. Miller is struggling and Ruff is just going with the better option at this point. Especially in early November, that's nothing to write home about. That's until you see things like this, from Sabres beat writer John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

"One of the Sabres admitted to me after last night's game: The team has just been playing harder in front of Enroth than they have for Miller."

That doesn't sound good. It could mean that Miller has been so good in the past that the team has become somewhat complacent when he is in the game. Not exactly what you would want to hear. You want your team to play hard all the time for any goalie. But it beats the alternative explanation of the team not playing for Miller for the other reasons. The reasons that bring about the use of words like Schism.

The Sabres are high on Enroth. That's no secret. If nothing else, he has earned himself more playing time with his 4-0-0 start this season. His GAA is 1.41 and he has a save percentage of .952. He hasn't surrendered more than two goals in a game this season.

But it's not as if Miller suddenly became bad. He has hit a rut. Every goalie does. He was solid to start the season when he was 4-1 with a 1.61 GAA. Since then he's 0-4 and has a GAA at 3.91. It happens.

I don't think many believe Miller will continue to struggle and Enroth will get the lion's share of the work. No, Miller is not likely to repeat his 2009-10 Vezina-winning season. There's a reason why seasons like that are called career years, but he's still only 31 and has been considered one of the game's best netminders for the past few years. That's why it's kind of a big deal when there appears to be a controversy.

But the good news for Buffalo out of all of this is that we know there are two good keepers in town.

Just when you think they can't get any lower ...

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a world of hurt. They were obliterated by the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday 9-2. Perhaps making matters worse, they had to see Jakub Voracek have his best game as a Flyer since being acquired from the Blue Jackets and the draft pick Philly also picked up in the trade, Sean Couturier, abused them.

In all, it was the 12th straight road loss for the Blue Jackets. From the Other Unbelievable Stats Department, it was the 10th time in 13 games that Columbus goalie Steve Mason has given up a goal on one of the first four shots he faced. To see even more on how rough it has been for Mason this season, check out Eye On Hockey's Adam Gretz's post on Mason. Bru-tal!

“We’ve hit a lot of bottoms this year,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said, “and this is another big one.”

Rumors were circling last week that the end was nigh for Arniel and maybe GM Scott Howson. They each made it through the week. But this? This might be too tough for them to survive.

Last week the word was that Ken Hitchcock and Craig Button were the names being mentioned to replace Arniel and Howson in the case of a dismissal. Now the name being tossed out, at least for the GM role, is Kings executive Ron Hextall. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said he hasn't been contacted by anybody about Hextall's availability.

Here is the problem I see in Columbus. I feel bad for Arniel, he just doesn't have a team that can compete. While most feel that it's a roster that could stand to be blown up and a fresh start be undertaken, that won't be easy. There are a lot of big contracts on the roster. It still amazes me, but the Blue Jackets are pushing the salary cap.

Obviously things need to be fixed, but I'm not sure there is a quick fix to be found. Maybe the best thing that could happen to them at this point is to get the top pick in the draft and get a potential superstar in Nail Yakupov, the consensus top prospect right now.

Talk about Staaled

Eric Staal is off to one tough start.

The Hurricanes captain still hasn't scored even strength this season. All three of his goals came with the man up. At least he had two assists in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Stars, but his league-worst minus-14 dropped even further to minus-16.

Is it the absence of Erik Cole on his line? The captain clearly hasn't been the same this season without Cole, who signed with the Canadiens in the offseason.

We're at the point where slow starts are no longer categorized as just slow starts. They are starting to be cause for concern. Staal is supposed to be the big gun. He has led the 'Canes in scoring three out of the last four seasons. But right now he just looks off. Against the Stars, he drew a two-minute minor that seemed to be out of frustration.

At the same time, his Hurricanes also ran into the red-hot Stars, who became the first team to 10 wins this season. If anybody doesn’t believe in Dallas yet, I suggest you watch them for a game or two. Loui Eriksson is for real and he and Jamie Benn make one heck of a duo.

Torts at it again

John Tortorella actually has the Rangers rolling along at the moment. His team has won three in a row, Saturday's 5-3 win over Montreal giving him the 100th victory of his career. So you would think that might make the often salty coach a little happier and forthcoming these days?

Come on. This is Tortorella we're talking about.

His pregame media availability lasted 43 seconds before the Habs game. All questions were met with either a nope, a shake of the head or just "no idea." That brought about a softball question to soften the mood. "What's your mom's birthday?" At least it yielded a smile, but it was another "I have no idea."

Oh Torts, don't ever change. Especially before the 24/7 series is done.

As for things on the ice, Torts seems to have found a nice little recipe by putting Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards on separate lines. It has keyed the Rangers' recent streak and has them looking more like the team a lot of people expected after this summer's moves.

Visor vision

Saturday night the Kings and Penguins played a doozie on the West Coast. Pittsburgh eventually won a great game that was decided in a shootout (collective groan now).

But during the game, the mandatory visor crowd got some more ammunition when Drew Doughty took a puck to the face.

Video courtesy of The Score.

It didn't save Doughty from being cut above the eye, but it might have saved his eye. It was a scary moment, but it's even scarier to think about what would have happened if he didn't wear the shield.

Of course, as you'd expect from any hockey player, Doughty wasn't removed from the game and helped the Kings pick up one point on the night.

Welcome back Bruins

Is this what wakes up the defending champs?

How good must it have felt for Boston to go into Toronto and rout the division-leading Maple Leafs 7-0? Really good I imagine.

Tyler Seguin recorded his first career hat trick. With the way he has been playing this season, that only seemed like a matter of time. He has clearly been their best player in the early going this year.

Sometimes it can be games like this that flip the switch. It was getting close to desperation time for Boston, it couldn't afford to fall any further behind. Now we wait and see if it rubs off and they show the form that made them so good a season ago.

Caps stop playing

At least that's what Alex Ovechkin thinks.

The Capitals ran into the stone-cold Islanders, losers of six in a row before Saturday, and fell 5-3. Despite the loss, it might have been Ovechkin's best game of the season. He only had a goal on the night, but it was a solid performance.

He couldn't say the same about his team, however.

“I think we have pretty good start. We score two goals. After that, we just stopped playing and give them opportunities to score goals,” Ovechkin said. “They’re young, they’re fresh and they want to win. After first period, we just stopped playing.”

Maybe they were still stunned from that ceremonial faceoff. (We just wanted to show off this photo of an Air National Guardsman dropping the ceremonial puck. Awesome.)

Quote of the weekend

Arniel when asked about his job security after the 5-2 loss:

"Nice question, all right. Nice question. I’m not in charge of that. I’m worried about what I have to do tomorrow with this hockey team."

Photos: Getty Images/Deadspin

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

Posted on: November 2, 2011 10:38 am
Edited on: November 2, 2011 12:59 pm
 

Ovechkin benched in crunch time; big deal or not?

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- When it came crunch time on Tuesday night for the Washington Capitals, trailing by one with less than a minute to go, Bruce Boudreau put his best line on the ice. That did not include putting Alexander Ovechkin in the game. And wouldn't you know it, Nicklas Backstrom scored on a big rebound to send the game to overtime.

The Caps eventually prevailed over the Ducks when Backstrom again beat Jonas Hiller. Ovechkin was on the ice for that goal, getting an assist as the pass to Backstrom went off Ovie's skate.

But back to that end of regulation. Coming out of a timeout, Boudreau had just diagrammed a play and pulled his goalie Tomas Vokoun. That's when Ovechkin was ready to jump on the ice, only to be told to take a seat.

As you can see from the video, Ovechkin was saying the right things afterward. But at the time? Well he didn't seem too pleased with the benching, now did he?

The obvious answer is why wouldn't he? Of course he wanted to play and be on the ice in the final minute. If he weren't angry and wanting to play, just taking a benching with disinterest, wouldn't THAT be cause for concern? So he muttered something to himself. Big deal.

Boudreau explained -- quite well, if you ask me -- why Ovechkin wasn't on the ice. Was it due to poor performance?

"You tell me," Boudreau responded. "I got to put out the guys that I think are going to score the goal. Ninety-nine percent of the time Alex is the guy I think is going to score the goal. I just didn't think he was going to score the goal at that time tonight."

Ovechkin responded on Wednesday, explaining he was, indeed frustrated, but supports Boudreau's system of accountability. (Quotes from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post.)

"I was pissed off. Of course I want to be in that situation on the ice. It was just a little bit frustrating because I’m a leader in the team and I want that kind of responsibility."

As to what he said that was caught on TV?

"It doesn’t matter who I said it, and what I said. It looked funny on TV."

The funny thing is that Boudreau is making a heck of a lot of calls this year, brave ones. He started Michal Neuvirth over Vokoun on opening night. He specifically said Ovechkin needed to be better ... after Game 2 of the season. He split up his stud defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson so they could extend their versatility. Mike Knuble? He's been pushed down to the fourth line. Ol' Bruce has been pushing a lot of buttons, and a lot of them have been the right ones. After all, the Caps are 8-2-0.

Is there big trouble in little China Town, aka Washington (see, Verizon Center is located in D.C.'s China To ... ah forget it)?

Not at all. Feelings might be a little hurt, but that's about it. Boudreau was right, the third line of Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Brooks Laich was excellent not only on Tuesday, but all season long. Oh, and Washington scored the goal. Doesn't that vindicate Boudreau a little bit?

Fact of the matter is that Ovechkin isn't playing the same way that we're used to seeing. Check that. He IS playing the same way we're used to seeing and everybody in the league seems to know what he's going to do before he does. But we aren't seeing him produce the same way. He isn't producing the goals that make you say "wow." He has scored five goals and has five more assists in 10 games, but you can see it isn't coming as easily. The up-ice rushes are shut down nearly every time now with defenders expecting that cutback to center ice and then the shot flying.

That's why this is being blown a bit out of proportion.

If it happens in the next game, then there might be some more there. As of now, Boudreau had a hunch, and his hunch was right.

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

Posted on: November 1, 2011 9:50 am
 

Pens, Flyers agree in opposing realignment idea

By Brian Stubits

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers actually agree on something. What's going to happen next, Don Cherry joining the anti-fighting crowd?

The two teams are united in their opposition of the realignment plan of the moment, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Why are they against the proposed idea? It currently has the Keystone State rivals in separate divisions. They hate each other so much they just can't quit each other. Or something like that.

The Penguins declined comment, but team sources confirmed Monday a report Saturday by the Canadian Broadcast Corp. that the franchise is not happy with a realignment plan that would divide the NHL into four unbalanced divisions and thus separate Pennsylvania's two clubs.

The Flyers told the Delaware County Times that they support the Penguins' stance.

"We are in 100 percent agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins," said Flyers president Peter Luukko. "We are in close communication with them on this subject. This is a big rivalry that means a lot, not only to us as a franchise, but to our fans, their fans, and the entire state of Pennsylvania."

The realignment plan that appears to be gaining a lot of traction at the moment is commissioner Gary Bettman's idea for four divisions, two with eight, two with seven. Obviously the Jets will rightfully be moved to the West and then it becomes just a matter of either the Red Wings or the Blue Jackets going East.

Because part of that proposal calls for a home-and-home series against every team in the NHL with the rest of the games to be played within your division. So it's easy to see how the Flyers and Penguins would try to shoot this idea down now; playing each other only twice in a season? Wouldn’t be right.

Ironically enough, this same balanced schedule could be what sends the Blue Jackets to the East instead of Detroit. Wings owner Mike Ilitch has been very vocal about his desire for the Wings to fly East, but he has softened his stance a bit lately if he could get a guarantee for a home-and-home against every team. I think even Ilitch can see Columbus needs the move more. Detroit can stay in the West and nothing will change, it will continue to have one of the biggest fan bases in the game.

If this becomes the biggest point of contention against this plan getting approved. I wonder how willing they would be to alter a team or two in the divisional lineup. If it ends up being Detroit who goes East, it would seem to be simple enough to swap Detroit and Philadelphia in the lineups. It keeps the competitive balance nearly the same and the only drawback is Detroit gets stuck with teams further to the south and in a division opposite Toronto. But at this point, beggars can't really be choosers.

If Columbus is the lucky winner, it's a bit tougher to make things line up right. You have to keep traditional balance in line, among other things. Yes, organizations go through ups and downs and you can't guarantee who will be good and who won't, but you have a good idea what teams will be competitive more often than not, which markets traditionally yield a winner.

So my simple enough suggestion -- if this is the plan they truly want to use -- is to flip Washington and Pittsburgh. The downside for the Capitals is that they won't be in a division with Philadelphia or Pittsburgh (or New York). But really, the Caps haven't had a real rival since moving into the Southeast Division and while the Flyers, Penguins and Rangers are probably the best they have in the rivalry department.

Those are about the only ways I think they could appease the Pennsylvania teams and stay within the four-division format while keeping equal and roughly geographically responsible groupings. So have fun with that, commish.

In the meantime, I'll be waiting for that change of heart from Cherry.

Photo: CBC

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

Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 10:33 pm
 

Weekend wrap: Bruins' slow start staggers on

By Brian Stubits

Before the season, there was a lot of lip service given to the Stanley Cup hangover. While I could see the thinking behind it, I wasn't sure I believed it would really have a negligible effect.

While it could be pure coincidence, I'm beginning to believe in the power -- or more appropriately pain -- of the hangover. That's because the Boston Bruins are 3-7 to start the season after being swept in a home-and-home by the not-long-ago struggling Canadiens (by the way, that's three straight wins since the Habs axed assistant Perry Pearn). For those keeping track at home, that's good enough to be last in not only the Northeast Division, but the Eastern Conference.

“Honestly, this is so frustrating,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after Saturday's 4-2 loss in Montreal. “I don’t know. It’s like we can’t buy a break right now and we just keep getting deeper. We need to turn this around.”

Maybe this is a team that used up all of its breaks last season.

But I didn't see this hangover coming this harsh to start the season. I mean, this is the kind I'd get in college when I'd sleep through breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I was a believer in Boston last season, picking them to win the Cup before the playoffs began. I'm a sucker for plus/minus stats for teams, and nobody was better than Boston in that category a season ago. I took that as a sign of quality balance and partly the product of Tim Thomas' career year.

Thomas hasn't been the problem this year, even if he's not living up to the standard of a year ago. But nobody, and I repeat nobody, expected that season again. It was record-setting as far as save percentage goes, the best in NHL history. That's tough to repeat.

No, instead it's been the offense. It's a group that doesn't seem to possess any elite scorers, but as the playoffs showed, there are numerous guys who are good enough. They have just 22 goals in 10 games. Defensively, there 25 goals allowed is the second lowest total in the East behind only Buffalo.

Claude Julien has tried to fix the issue. There has been line mixing. The team's best player has been sophomore Tyler Seguin, who has four goals and six points. Only five players have at least five points through 10 games.

For his part, GM Peter Chiarelli is not panicking yet. Why would he? This current roster is almost exactly the same as the one that won the championship a few months ago. Obviously it is good enough. But Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reported that Chiarelli might be working the phones already, trying to perhaps find a player to come in and inject some life into Boston.

“I’m always working the phones, but I am a little more diligent these days," Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Thursday.

This is the part where we normally remind you that we're only 10 games into the season. There is still a lot of time for the B's to wake up and defend their Cup in earnest. But it's also worth noting that the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference are looking better this season.

They can't afford to sleep in too long until the headache goes away.

Any be-Leafers now?

When do you start believing in what the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing? Ron Wilson's crew is 7-3-1 begin the year. The last three games, including Saturday's OT win over the Penguins, have been with starting goaltender James Reimer injured. They did get tripped up by the Sens on Sunday night in a great game.

We chuckled at the uber optimism Leafs fans were feeling with the quick start and statements such as Phil Kessel is headed for Wayne Gretzky numbers. Now there is a bigger sample size of 10 games and Kessel has 10 goals with eight assists. It's still a small sample size, however it's easier to take big projections. Don't expect Gretzky numbers, but it could be a monster season nonetheless.

Speaking of monsters, Jonas Gustavsson has fared certainly well enough in Reimer's absence. With Reimer sidelined for a little bit, this was Gustavsson's chance to show he could handle the backup duties himself. So far so good. He was good enough on Saturday for Ron Wilson -- one of the few coaches on Twitter -- to pronoune him the starter for Sunday night's game against Ottawa, a loss.

"Great win. Monster was huge and gets start tomorrow. Komo keeps getting better. Dion and Phil are the best at their positions in NHL!"

If nothing else, let's just say it's time to take Toronto a little more seriously.

Streaking Senators

Raise your hand if you saw the Senators winning six games by Thanksgiving before the season began.

Forget Thanksgiving, the Sens have won six games in their last six outings after a great comeback win over the Rangers on Saturday and then a solid win over the Maple Leafs on Sunday. Things seem to be coming together quickly.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but Jason Spezza has been his usual spectacular self. He has 15 points through 12 games (7-8=15). But also joining him in the better-than-a-point-per-game pace are Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson, who has an NHL-high 12 assists.

Before the season, a lot of folks had the Senators as the preseason favorites for the Nail Yakupov (top draft prospect) sweepstakes. While they still could be, they are at least giving the fans some fun along the way.

A Star is born

Has anybody noticed what Kari Lehtonen is doing in Dallas? Judging by the attendance, the majority of the Metroplex hasn't.

The Stars are 8-3-0 after Saturday's 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. In those 11 games, Lehtonen is 8-1. He carries a goals against average of 1.75. He has been simply stellar for a team now being led not by Brad Richards, but instead by a bevy of young guns and veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray.

Lehtonen is at that magical age in sports when they are supposedly at their peak, 27. After playing in 69 games a season ago, he looks ready to carry the load again this season.

Just another quality goalie from Finland. Ho hum.

As for the attendance? Well Saturday night only 11.740 were announced to be in the stands to witness the win. I understood the reasons for low attendance numbers earlier this season, baseball's Rangers were fighting for the World Series and, well, the Stars lost their big star in the offseason. But with this kind of start and the Rangers now done, I hoped to see more than 11,740 in the crowd. Baby steps, I guess. Baby steps. If the Stars keep winning, they will come.

Night Caps

The Washington Capitals took on the Vancouver Canucks in the Saturday night cap and it didn't last long for Tomas Vokoun. The Capitals goalie gave up three first-period goals, two of them being on Canucks power plays, and was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau to start the second.

The reason? Boudreau wanted to give the team a spark. Well, his Caps did come back to the tie game, but it all got away from them again in a 7-4 loss. (On a side note, a four-goal performance won't do much to change the Canucks fans' feelings about Roberto Luongo either.)

Some are seeing it as a deal. Boudreau said Vokoun wasn't particularly sharp. Vokoun said he felt fine.

But I'd like to point out that Vokoun had played every game since Michal Neuvirth was given the opening-night start. If nothing else, Vokoun deserved a break.

We're going streaking!

As already mentioned, the Ottawa Senators now have a six-game winning streak going. But they're not alone.

The San Jose Sharks have also won five in a row. More impressively, all five of those games were on the road, including Saturday's shootout win over the Islanders and a win on Friday over the Red Wings.

Speaking of Detroit, it has lost four games in row since beginning the year 5-0. Maybe that 7-1 beatdown at the hands of the Capitals sent them into a funk?

The Islanders are also in an early tailspin. Make that five losses in a row for them after Saturday's loss to San Jose.

Last but certainly not least, the Edmonton Oilers are very quietly in first place in the Northwest Division, surpassing the Colorado Avalanche. That's because the Oilers have won five games in a row after weekend wins over the Avalanche on Friday and Blues on Sunday. The Kids in the Hall are getting a lot of attention for that, but Nikolai Khabibuln has been spectacular.

Quote of the weekend

Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was very happy with his team's 3-2 comeback win over the Sabres on Saturday night. He took it as a chance to talk a little, umm, anatomy.

Let's just say he appreciated the marbles his team showed by scoring twice in the final four minutes for the win.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 29, 2011 10:22 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 10:25 pm
 

Pronger talks eye injury as visor debate rolls on

prongereyeBy: Adam Gretz

Chris Pronger addressed the media on Saturday night for the first time since suffering an eye injury last week that will sideline him for the next couple of weeks. His right eye looked every bit as mangled as one would expect after taking a stick to the face during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the defenseman said he has no idea on a timetable for his return to the lineup.

He also said that he's experiencing some blurred vision, and when asked if he feels lucky that the injury wasn't worse, he admitted it could have easily been a lot worse but also added that you never feel lucky after getting hit. Flyers beat writer Anthony SanFilippo has the video of the entire media scrum which lasts about three-and-a-half minutes.

It's been reported that Pronger will not be cleared to return to the Flyers' lineup without wearing a visor, and when asked if the injury has changed his opinion on wearing one he simply said "You don't want to know my stance, that's for another day."

And with that, the debate rolls on. While Pronger was addressing the Philadelphia media, the folks on CBC Hotstove were debating whether or not the NHL should make visors mandatory and, predictably, former NHL player and New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury was completely against the idea and the very suggestion of it, arguing that it would change the game and be a major step toward the elimination of fighting, while also claiming that he likes seeing players bloodied because it's a badge or honor and courage.

Leaving aside the argument as to whether or not fighting should or should not be eliminated (which is another, more difficult discussion for another day) the flaw in that argument, of course (the fighting part, anyway), as pointed out by TSN's Bob McKenzie via Twitter, is that the American Hockey League has made visors mandatory and fighting still takes place.

As I pointed out last week there are still are a good number of NHL players that view wearing a visor as their own personal choice because it's only putting themselves at risk for injury. And while that's true, that they're the only person that has to deal with the pain and injury that could come from not wearing a visor, they are putting their teams at risk -- as well as the large financial investments of their front office -- by potentially missing games due to what could be an easily preventable injury. And as far as increasing player safety is concerned, this is one change that would not, contary to Milbury's howls for blood, have a major impact on the game, unlike some other potential changes (like, for example, no-touch icing).

You're not going to completely eliminate injuries no matter what changes you make to the way the game is played or the equipment players are forced to wear. Playing the game will always carry a certain amount of risk. But the issue isn't whether or not visors can completely eliminate the potential for injury, it's about whether or not (and how much) it can reduce the risk of preventable ones.

Meanwhile, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich addressed the subject on Saturday, and according to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, he feels the NHL is within five to 10 years of making visors mandatory.

Said Laich, via the Post:
“I think eventually visors will be mandatory for players coming into the league,” said Laich, who is Washington’s NHLPA representative. “If they do institute that rule I’d like to be grandfathered where [those already in the NHL] have a choice. I almost wish I wore a visor because incidents that can happen. Last night, you take the ear and maybe that’s two inches and it’s in your eye.”
My only question: five to 10 years? Why so long?

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