Posted on: November 12, 2011 10:01 am
Edited on: November 16, 2011 6:22 pm
By: Adam Gretz
We take you to the Ontario Hockey League for what is perhaps the ugliest incident we've seen in hockey this season, and perhaps will see all year.
At the conclusion of Friday's game between the London Knights and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, a game the Greyhounds won by a 4-3 margin, Greyhounds player Nick Cousins fired a puck at the empty net at the opposite end of the ice after time had expired. His celebration then took him into the path of Knights player Ryan Rupert. After Cousins bumped into him, and appeared to say something, Rupert turned around and delivered a vicious two-hand baseball bat style slash right to Cousins' stomach.
And then he dropped his gloves and started to throw punches as Cousins dropped to the ice, resulting in the emptying of both benches.
It goes without saying that a lengthy suspension is coming, and it's worth asking if Rupert will suit up in a game again this season.
Just last week the OHL handed out a 20-game suspension to Niagara Ice Dogs forward Tom Kuhnhackl for his hit to the head on Ryan Murphy.
Cousins, a Flyers draft pick back in the June draft, has a reputation for being a bit of an agitator on the ice, and he definitely demonstrated some of that at the end of the game. But that's still no excuse for Rupert's actions. It was ugly, and earned him whatever punishment the OHL hands out.
Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 5:36 pm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Bobby Ryan, Boston Bruins, Brian Campbell, Brian Stubits, Buffalo Sabres, Corey Perry, Dale Tallon, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Drew Doughty, Florida Panthers, Guy Boucher, James Neal, Jason Garrison, Jhonas Enroth, Jonathan Quick, Jose Theodore, Justin Williams, Ken Hitchcock, Kris Versteeg, Los Angeles Kings, Lubomiv Visnovsky, Mike Richards, Minnesota Wild, Movember, Nicklas Lidstrom, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Randy Carlyle, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Teemu Selanne, Terry Murray, Tyler Seguin, Vancouver Canucks, Weekend Preview
Posted on: November 10, 2011 6:05 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 6:13 pm
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.
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.
Posted on: November 10, 2011 1:28 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 2:59 pm
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.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
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 8:35 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 9:30 pm
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.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 12:01 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 2:22 pm
The Philadelphia Flyers have signed another one of their young players to an extension, reportedly agreeing with Braydon Coburn to a new four-year deal worth $18 million. This according to Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia.
So if those figures are facts, that would be $4.5 million annually to Coburn, a solid young defenseman. He logs a lot of minutes and really has potential to be a shutdown defenseman for many years.
Offensively speaking, he does not produce much in the way of points at all. Now in his seventh season in the league, the 26-year-old has 26 career goals. This season his only points to speak of are three assists.
It sort of makes you recoil at first, doesn't it? It seems to be along the lines of GM Paul Holmgren's contract with James van Riemsdyk he signed a short while ago, giving the up-and-comer a six-year contract for $25.5 million. It seemed -- and still does -- like an awfully generous contract from Holmgren to his player. Compared to similar players in age like Logan Couture, whose most recent deal pays him $2.875 million per season.
But considering that Coburn was making $3.2 million annually on his existing deal and was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, you see perhaps where Holmgren was coming from. Obviously he had to up the ante a touch if he wanted to lock Coburn in and take away the player's ability to test the open market.
Then you realize when you start to play the contemporary game with Coburn that a guy like Keith Ballard is making $4.2 million with the Canucks and Mike Komisarek $4.5 million with the Maple Leafs. It makes the matter just that much easier to digest.
Really, the rate for shutdown defensemen is going up by the year. Of course, you could probably say that about every position except the enforcer, but the point stands. Guys who are strong in their own end are valued players, Coburn would have likely received a contract similar to this in salary as a free agent.
Of course it means that Philly will again be working under a cap crunch this offseason, especially if the cap comes down in the next CBA.For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 4:25 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:34 pm
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the defensive improvement teams and goaltenders have seen under the coaching of new St. Louis Blues bench boss Ken Hitchcock.
By: Adam Gretz
Ken Hitchcock was recently named head coach of the St. Louis Blues, taking over for Davis Payne in what was the NHL's first coaching change of the 2011-12 season.
Throughout his coaching career Hitchcock has developed a reputation for being one of the best defensive coaches at the NHL level. It's a reputation he's earned during three different stops with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, a tenure that's seen him win over 530 games, reach the Stanley Cup Finals twice (winning one) and coach in the Conference Finals four times.
In the 10 full seasons he's coached in the NHL, his teams have finished in the top six in goals allowed seven times, including two seasons at the top of the NHL -- once with the Dallas Stars during the 1998-99 season, and once with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002-03. It also helps that Hitchcock's teams are typically among the best in the NHL at not allowing shots on goal. Since 1997-98, every team he's coached for a full season, including those in Columbus, has finished in the top-nine in terms of allowing the fewest shots on goal in the NHL, with seven of them finishing in the top-six.
Of course, some of that defensive success comes from the fact that some of those teams, particularly the ones in Dallas, were loaded with defensemen like Richard Matvichuk, Derian Hatcher, Daryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov, as well as a three-time Selke winner in Jere Lehtinen. But every team he's coached, whether it's been in Dallas, Philadelphia or Columbus, has been a difficult team to score against, no matter what players have made up his defense or filled the net. And goalies seem to play better for his teams than at any other point in their careers.
Just looking at the season's that he coached a full season, here's a look at each team's overall save percentage (compared to the league average) and where they've ranked in total goals allowed:
In eight of Hitchcock's 10 full seasons, his team has posted a save percentage above the league average, and in some cases significantly above the league average. And while it's true he's had some strong goaltenders over the years, he also had the best defensive team in the NHL in 2002-03 with a Flyers team that used Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche as its two primary goaltenders.
But what about the individual goalies? How much of a boost do they see while playing in what has traditionally been a tight-checking, defense-first style of play?
When looking at Steve Mason's recent struggles in Columbus I made mention of how much better he performed during his rookie season, when Hitchcock was in charge, and how his play rapidly dropped following Hitchcock's exit from central Ohio. Let's look at seven goalies that spent significant time playing under Hitchcock's systems and saw an improvement in how they performed within them, compared to how they performed under other coaches throughout their careers.
Good news for Jaroslav Halak, perhaps?The Blues' goalie has been off to a dreadful start to the 2011-12 season (and has been outplayed by backup Brian Elliott) and if there's a goaltender in the league that could use any sort of a positive boost right now, it's definitely Halak, who gets the start on Tuesday night in Hitchcock's debut against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: November 8, 2011 1:14 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 1:54 pm
The Flyers are getting their captain back right on schedule.
Chris Pronger joined the rest of his team in Tuesday's morning skate and afterward Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia concluded that it looks like Pronger is a go for Wednesday's game against the Lightning.Well the team confimed as much on Wednesday, announcing Pronger will be in the lineup for the game in Tampa Bay.
Pronger has been out of the lineup since taking a stick to the eye Oct. 24 vs. the Maple Leafs. The original call was for Pronger to be out of the lineup for 2-3 weeks, a pretty accurate timetable it would appear.
When he returns to the ice Wednesday night, we'll have an unusual sight: Pronger with a visor. You might remember that he wasn't the first player to take a puck or stick to the face, but his was the one that reignited the debate about mandatory shields in hockey. They still aren't required by the NHL but for Pronger, it is being required by his GM Paul Holmgren, at least for the time being.
In their captain's absence, the Flyers have held their own pretty well, picking up seven of the eight possible points. Minus the first two games sans Pronger -- including a 9-8 loss to the Jets -- the Flyers have been able to stabilize themselves, largely through the offense. And here I thought they were going to rely more on defense this season after trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards this summer.
Photo: Getty Images