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Tag:Washington Capitals
Posted on: October 19, 2011 6:25 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 7:56 pm
 

Brayden Schenn is back with the Flyers

BSchenn1By: Adam Gretz

When the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Washington Capitals Thursday night they're going to get their first regular season look at Brayden Schenn, one of the key players acquired in the Mike Richards trade over the summer. He was recalled from the American Hockey League on Wednesday, after spending four games playing for the Adirondack Phantoms. He started the season in the minors for two main reasons. For one, he was recovering from a shoulder injury, and perhaps more importantly, his salary cap hit wasn't going to fit on the Flyers roster at the start of the year.

Because of his contract structure his cap hit for this season goes from $3.1 million all the way down to $1.69 million because he played at least one game in the minor leagues. He ended up playing four, scoring four goals to go with four assists. For a team that is crammed to the top of the NHL's salary cap that extra $1.41 million in cap space is a huge deal.

In a related move, the Flyers also sent Zac Rinaldo and Harry Zolnierczyk back to the minor leagues.

Tim Panaccio of CSNPhiladelphia speculates Schenn could make his debut on a line with fellow rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier, Philadelphia's first-round pick from this past June, which was acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Jeff Carter. It would certainly be an interesting line, and a nice glimpse of what the future might hold for the Flyers as all three are highly touted, and in the case of Read and Couturier, already playing quite well at the NHL level.

As an 18-year-old rookie, Couturier is already logging a ton of minutes on the penalty kill, averaging 4:27 per game, a number that is fourth among all NHL forwards, trailing only Max Talbot, Lauri Korpikoski and Adam Hall. Read, meanwhile, has emerged as an early-season Calder Trophy favorite with two goals and four assists in five games. He's second on the team in scoring behind only Claude Giroux.

The Flyers, one of just four teams in the NHL that has yet to lose a game in regulation, are off to a 4-0-1 start and were the most recent team to systematically dismantle the Ottawa Senators, 7-2, on Tuesday night.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 19, 2011 6:14 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 6:51 pm
 

Hit reactions pour in, including Michael Buble

BubleBy Brian Stubits

You know how the new rules and Brendan Shanahan's regime keeps being referred to as a "work in progress?" Well there are a few people who think it needs a lot more work before they can progress.

One of the biggest criticisms that I've seen fans and commentators expressing about the strong new emphasis on hitting from behind is the accusation that players will turn their backs on a player hoping to draw a penalty. How a two-minute minor to an opponent is worth risking severe physical damage such as a concussion or worse is beyond me, but that's hockey players for you, I guess.

But now that there has been time to digest the new rules and for players to get a feel for them, the constructive criticism is becoming to come in from those who just so happen to be known for their hitting. (And then from one crooning minor-league owner, we'll get to that further down so stay tuned!)

Ben Meyer-Abbott of the Chicago Sun Times gathered some opinions from around the league. Let's just have a look.

“Guys are abusing the rule in the wrong kind of way and purposely putting themselves in vulnerable positions. You should never turn your back when you know someone’s coming to hit you. It’s the stupidest thing you could ever do. The league’s got to look at this.”

-- Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“I’ve felt for years a lot of guys turn their back when they’re going to be hit to draw a penalty. They know you can’t hit them when they turn their back.”

-- Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers.

“I’m not naïve, I have seen it and it is happening. At the same time. ... I’ve seen an awareness [about boarding and head shots] where you’ve seen guys, I don’t want to say necessarily pass up a hit, but not go for the big hit when a guy is vulnerable.”

-- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

“Yeah, it was [my] game of the year actually [against the Winnipeg Jets]. [Johnny] Oduya did that. [He] had the puck on the boards and I had him lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and he rimmed [the puck away] and then as soon as I got there he turned his back and I had to come to a complete stop and I couldn’t finish him.

“It’s really difficult. The game’s so fast, once you start thinking about, 'Oh man should I make this hit, maybe I shouldn’t make that hit,' it’s not good -- especially for a guy like me who needs to make those hits to be an effective player."

-- Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo.

There were more than a few people who felt Alex Burmistrov might have turned away from Kris Letang Monday night in Winnipeg which drew a two-game ban for Letang. I don't think he did, but as long as the doubt exists, it will be an issue -- not in his case specifically, but league wide.

Herein lies the essence of all the naysayers to the systematic changes. You are threatening to take away an integral part of the sport. Again, nobody that I have seen has said they don't want to remove hits to the head, etc. They are unnessary, let alone very dangerous. 

The more timid players get for fear of a suspension, the less hitting you'll see in the game, obviously. That's the fine line.

But the integrity of players is being comprimised. Intentionally turning your back to either avoid a hit or draw a penalty? It's in the same vain as flopping, but worse, in my opinion. These are changes that are needed to the game, however the effort could be undercut by those looking to gain an advantage. It's a dicey situation, to be sure.

That brings us to Michael Buble. You know him, he's the guy who just hasn't met you yet. Where does he fit in the picture? Well he just happens to be a co-owner of the Vancouver Giants and considering he's Canadian, he knows some hockey.

Here's what Bublé told AOL Music.

"I find it hypocritical that men who made their money fighting or playing the tough guy are now telling people it shouldn't be part of the game. I think it's part of hockey -- no one's ever got killed fighting. I think there's got to be atonement on the ice. You take a shot at a team's best player, then you need to pay the price,"

"I honestly can't stand what's happening in hockey right now. I don't think the players know what they can and can't get away with. I obviously think the players should have more respect for each other when they hit each other, but I saw [NHL head of player safety Brendan] Shanahan suspend a guy two games for high sticking. That's just crazy. It can't go on like this."

He sounds very Don Cherry-esque there. Really. When I first saw what he said, I just thought the story was quoting Cherry's season-opening rant on Coach's Corner that got him in so much hot water. It's basically the same argument, except it comes from a guy who doesn't have a history of being a polarizing figure (or a history of awesome outfits).

Buble continued, though, by offering up his solution to the problem.

"They need a third party. You cannot have someone who works for [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman making disciplinary decisions. Nor can you have someone who is part of the players' association. You have to have a third party who has nothing to do with either. So it's fair and balanced," he says.

"The game has never been as good -- its fast, it's exciting. But hockey has also never gone through a time as tough as this with these young guys who were fighters who have taken their own lives," he adds, acknowledging the subtext of the uproar."

This isn't the first time that the idea of a third, neutral party as judge has been thrown out there. It won't be the last, either. If the controversy surrounding the suspensions keeps up, it will be another point of contention in the growing list of them for the CBA negotiations that are set to start in earnest around the All-Star Game.

I like the idea of a mediator, if you will, but it wouldn't be without its questions, too. How well does the person really understand hockey? Are they really neutral? You have to think that even if said mediator does enter the picture as a truly neutral party, it won't stay that way. It is only natural to begin forming opinions that shape your thoughts, no?

Of course, not all players see this change as being so difficult. For somebody like Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman, it's a matter of respect for your opponent. I caught up with him earlier this season and here's what he told me regarding the new rules.

"For me I don't think it changes anything. I think the rules, the way they tweaked the rules and the way they changed it, that's the way it should be played," Wideman said. "I think when some one has got their back to you and they are in a vulnerable situation, you should lay off.

"We shouldn't have to change the rules. We shouldn't have all these suspensions. There has got to be that respect. I like what [Shanahan] has done and as long as he hopefully keeps it going and hopefully the guys start protecting each other a little more."

I was always told you can wish in one hand and, well ... do something in the other and see which comes true first. The fact is that it's not an easy transition, neither for the players nor for the sport. If it were as simple as saying "no more dangerous hits" it would have been eliminated years ago.

But as you can clearly see, the integrity of the game remains an issue. Hitting is such a fabric of the game that an official stat is kept just for it at every game you go to. It's a physical sport and hockey players are a typically tough breed. They and their fans by in large take a lot of pride in the physicality of the game. Scars are often badges of honor.

Fact of the matter is this is and will remain a very divisive issue. Players bating others into hitting them illegaly only compounds it. Players will always find ways to circumvent the rules, look for their shortcuts. The same applies here.

You work on one thing, that brings up a whole new second thing to work on, yada, yada, yada, the beat goes on. It makes progress pretty difficult at that point.

More NHL Discpline News Here

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:29 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 10:57 am
 

Early season surprises: Avalanche take the cake

By Brian Stubits

The Colorado Avalanche have shown a little pattern in recet years, so maybe we should have seen this start coming.

Three seasons ago they came off a conference semifinal loss by finishing with 69 points, bad enough to get the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, which they used to select Matt Duchene (good call). The following season they were in the playoffs behind Craig Anderson in goal. That was followed by another miserable season to give the Avs the No. 2 pick, which is where they grabbed Gabriel Landeskog.

It is still incredibly early, but if there were a surprise from the first two weeks of the season, it is without a doubt the Avalanche. Colorado lost its home opener before embarking on a five-game road trip to the East, including the Eastern Canada swing, and lo and behold, the Avs took all 10 available points. It was the first time in franchise history they won five consecutive road games. Not bad for a team with only three players over the age of 30 -- Jean Sebastien-Giguere, Milan Hejduk and Jan Hejda.

"Now what we have to do is take this kind of game we played on the road -- keeping it simple, doing little things -- and translating it to our home ice," Giguere said Monday night after beating his former Maple Leafs team. "This was obviously a great trip for us. It should give us confidence going forward."

Obviously winning at this rate won't last. That goes without saying. Considering their youth and inexperience, they are more susceptible than most to higher highs and lower lows. But the prospects of not finishing near or at the bottom of the Western Conference like many foresaw? Those seem pretty good right now.

A good chunk of the team's success has come from the goaltending duo of Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. Desperate to get a goaltender to take the reins this offseason, the Avs signed the veteran Giguere, but it was their move for Varlamov that took the attention.

Colorado was the heavy favorite to court and then sign free agent Tomas Vokoun. It seemed to be a perfect match. But a funny thing happened; the Avs didn't seem to want to go down that road. Instead, they spoke with the Capitals -- Vokoun's eventual landing spot, oddly enough -- and worked out a trade to acquire Varlamov, who said he was done playing in Washington. The price of a first-round pick in return seemed like a quality deal for the Capitals. After all, Colorado was the second worst team in the league a season ago. Talk to people around Washington and they are all aware of how talented Varlamov is. That was never the issue. If he can stay healthy -- now we have our issue -- it could be a coup for the Avalanche

However they are more than the goaltending, obviously. What really jumped out of the screen watching them play the Leafs on Monday -- and again, this was the fifth of five games on the road in another time zone, so the excuses to be sluggish where there -- was their speed and energy. I guess you can call that youthful exuberance. Whatever words you use to describe it, I call it impressive.

A lot of people might have been sleeping on the Avs before this season began, but Joe Sacco's crew has opened some eyes in a hurry.

Surprises

Toronto Maple Leafs: Despite losing to the Avalanche in overtime on Monday -- their first missed point of the season -- Toronto is out of the gate strong. Now this isn't something entirely new this time of year. Remember the Maple Leafs started 4-0-0 last season, then they won only one of the next 12 games.

One difference this time around, however, is James Reimer -- or his Twitter world nickname Optimus Reim, if you prefer. The young goalie is giving fans hope that they have finally solved the riddle in the cage. That and the so-far spectacular play of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf gives you reason to believe the Maple Leafs just could end their six-year playoff drought this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: They are surprising, but not in a good way. The Eastern Conference runnerups from a season ago have looked, well, awful. They have picked up only four points from their first six games and given up four goals or more four different times already. Dwayne Roloson looks his age, which is now 42.

"Obviously, we're not happy," Steven Stamkos said Monday. "I wouldn't say we're in a panic mode, but we're worried. This isn't the start we wanted. We're taking way too many penalties."

They better figure it out soon because with some improved teams in the East this year, they don't want to fall too far behind.

Dallas Stars: So Brad Richards is winless with his new team while his old team, the Stars, are 4-1? That qualifies as a surprise to many.

Everybody wondered how Dallas would replace the loss of Richards. Signing Michael Ryder in the offseason didn't seem to be a void-filler. Maybe all they needed was another year for Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Brendan Morrow, Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson together. Oh, and a healthy Kari Lehtonen. Dallas is 4-0 when Lehtonen starts this season.

Then there is Sheldon Souray, who Edmonton couldn't get out of town fast enough. Dallas took a shot on the bought-out Oilers defenseman and so far it's looking like a good gamble. He has a goal and three assists as well as a plus-4 rating while averaging more than 20 minutes on ice per game.

Florida Panthers power play: Is this real life or is this just fantasy?

The Panthers had 35 power-play goals in 82 games last season. Let that sink in for a minute. As you would probably guess, that was the lowest in the NHL. Maybe it's the addition of Kevin Dineen and assistant Craig Ramsey, maybe it's the influx of new forwards, or, perhaps most likely, it's the arrival of Brian Campbell to run the show. Whatever the result, the Panthers have scored on eight of their 25 power-play attempts this season, including five in one game against the Lightning on Monday.

Heck, they even have a short-handed goal already, making them an even squad on the penalty kill.

No suspensions for hits: With how busy Brendan Shanahan was during the preseason, I was getting ready to request Shanny TV 24/7. It was like Hannukah, waking up every day for eight straight days to see the newest gift, or in this case video. But since the first puck was dropped in Toronto, the only suspension handed down was for the Wild's Marc-Pierre Bouchard and his high stick on the Blue Jackets' Matt Calvert.

But a funny thing happened when the season began, the suspensions stopped coming. That's because the head hits have stopped coming, which is exactly what everybody hoped to see in the first place, even the anti-Shanny crowd. I view it like Republicans and Democrats; everybody wants to get to the same prosperous place, they just don't agree on how to get there. This is the same. I have yet to hear one person say they want head shots to remain in hockey, just that they feel like Shanahan was going too far, or as Don Cherry and Mike Milbury put it, setting the bar too high.

The preseason over/under on the number of suspensions laid down by Shanahan was 40.5. That under is starting to look awfully tasty now.

But this could change later Tuesday after Kris Letang of the Penguins has his meeting with Shanahan.

Not surprising but still noteworthy

The Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings both remain perfect. But we wouldn't expect anything else from those two franchises these days. To the other hot starters like the Flyers and Ducks, consider it a compliment that your team isn't on here. They have rosters people thought were capable of doing just this.

Photos: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 17, 2011 3:17 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 3:46 pm
 

Bradley is sorry for criticizing Alexander Semin

MB1By: Adam Gretz

After signing a two-year contract with the Florida Panthers this summer, veteran forward Matt Bradley made an appearance on an Ottawa radio station and used that opportunity to call out some of his former teammates with the Washington Capitals. During the slow dog days of the NHL's offseason, it turned out to be a pretty big deal, at least for a couple of days.

Now that we've all forgotten about it, Bradley has taken the time to apologize for his remarks.

Bradley, who spent the previous six years with the Capitals, said in the Aug. 17 interviews that there were a few players in Washington that didn't step up in the playoffs, while there were also problems with discipline and coach Bruce Boudreau sticking with players in the lineup perhaps longer than he should have. And while Bradley didn't mention many names, he did take time to single out Alexander Semin for not caring enough to be one of the best players in the league despite having all of the talent to do so.

In advance of the two teams meeting for the first time on Tuesday night, Bradley spoke with Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel and issued an apology to Semin. He also added that he has yet to speak with Semin since his radio appearance, but said that if he did see him on Tuesday he would apologize in person.

Said Bradley, via the Sentinel, “I wish I could take it back. I apologize for saying it. He’s a great player. It’s one of those things you wish you could take back, but you can’t, so all I could do is apologize and move forward." Along with that he also said, multiple times, that Semin is one of the top players in the league, and also added that it wasn't his place to say anything.

Whether it was his place or not, it was still an interesting take to hear from a player that had a first-hand look at the recent postseason struggles of what has been one of the NHL's best regular season teams.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 16, 2011 2:24 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 11:30 am
 

Saturday Story: Tavares, the Nuge are pretty good

By Brian Stubits

I wonder how Taylor Hall feels this morning? Saturday was a banner night for two of the past three No. 1 overall draft picks. But at least Hall had a good view for half of it.

First, it was John Tavares. the No. 1 selection in the 2009 draft is scorching hot at the moment for the Islanders. Tavares had a hat trick as the Isles took down the Rangers in a New York showdown. For J.T., it marked his second consecutive four-point game that included five goals.

At this rate, maybe Tavares should do the negotiating for a new arena on Long Island. Right now, he can't miss.

Now step over here for the latest showing in Premature Theater: are the Islanders the best of the New York-area teams? Since losing on opening night to the Florida Panthers 2-0 with some boo birds in attendance, it's been mostly smooth sailing for the young bunch.

They have won three in a row, beating the Wild, Lightning and Rangers. They're goaltending has been surprisingly solid with Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. We saw surprising simply because this team was carrying three goalies on the active roster as of a few days ago and not many foresaw Montoya being the No. 1. The offense is showing the promise many people see; largely Tavares can be a superstar and he has some good players around him.

This is the point where we remind ourselves it's only the second weekend of the year. Of course Tavares won't score four points every night. But the Islanders have been taking steps the last two seasons and the signs were there for a breakout, just nobody could see how it happened in a division with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers and Devils. So far so good.

Not to be outdone

On to the other star of the night. That would be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Oilers. I'm starting to think maybe the scouting reports had him all wrong. I'm not talking about the knocks on his size, either, but the fact that he is a play-maker. I'd say he's making plays right now, goal-scoring plays.

The Nuge as some have already come to call him, netted his first hat trick of his career in the Oilers' 4-3 loss to the Canucks. So yea, in only his third career game, Nugent-Hopkins wrangled up a hat trick against Roberto Luongo and the defending Western Conference champions. This comes after his game-tying goal in the final minutes against the Penguins in his NHL debut helped Edmonton to a season-opening two points.

But Hall isn't feeling too bad. After all, he had a solid rookie campaign himself last season and he's enjoying the spoils of Nugent-Hopkins' great start by playing on the same line. He has assisted on three of Nugent-Hopkins' four goals this season.

That giddy giggling you hear is coming out of Edmonton, where visions of sugarplums dance in their heads at the idea of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins playing on the same line for years to come. Throw in a healthy Ales Hemsky and you have as exciting and talented a young line as you'll find in hockey.

It's still going to take some time, but this might be the season where the Oilers begin to show that improvement. Of course if they don't, I can't imagine Edmonton would feel too bad with a shot at top draft prospect Nail Yakupov.

Phillin' it

Oh, and this Phil Kessel fella is pretty good too. The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the NHL with a 3-0-0 record (the Capitals and Red Wings the others) and Phil Kessel has been a monster in that start.

Kessel is tied with Tavares and Pittsburgh's James Neal for the league lead in goals (five) and tied with Tavares and David Legwand in points (eight) despite playing in only three games.

Maybe that trade isn't looking that awful anymore.

What's that feeling in Toronto? Optimism? Nice to meet you again.

If a tree falls in the woods ...

The Dallas Stars are 4-1, but not many people in the Metroplex have been around to see it. In their home win on Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the announced attendance was 8,305. That followed up attendance numbers of 6,306 vs. the Coyotes and 7,949 against the Blues.

Now I understand full well that there is a certain other team that is stealing the spotlight in Dallas right now in the Texas Rangers. A World Series run is not easy to compete against. But those numbers are still awfully low, especially this early in the season with a team playing so well.

I'll give Dallas a pass for another week or so until the Rangers' run is done, but with young stars like Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro, I have no doubt the Stars can surprise a lot of people this year and keep that up.

Jetting back

It was like an awkward family reunion when the Coyotes hosted the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night. And it was only fitting that Shane Doan did damage against his "old team" with two assists on the night.

But the intriguing part was the dynamic in the stands. Among the crowd were plenty of Jets fans to see the long-lost brothers battle on the ice. However, Phoenix did a pretty darn good job of keeping them quiet.

"Everybody always talks about we have games when there's a lot of visiting fans in there," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "But what it does is really feed on the emotion of the building because you get some visiting fans in there cheering that really puts a burr in your fans' butt. I thought our fans did a great job tonight. Believe me, I had visions of hearing 'Let's go Jets' a lot more than we heard tonight."

As for Winnipeg, you start to wonder what it will take to win a game. Maybe it's adjusting to life in Winnipeg now, a sense of entitlement as coach Claude Noel hinted at ("It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail."), or none of the above. Either way, there is lots of work to be done.

Hangover Part II

The last two Stanley Cup champions danced in Chicago on Saturday night, and it was the defending champs getting the best of the battle.

The Bruins needed a shootout to get by the Blackhawks in the the preseason Finals pick of your's truly. It was a goal from Nathan Horton that got them there.

Maybe this can be the smelling salts that wakes Horton and the Bruins from their slow start to the season.

Dirty or not?

We could make this a daily feature with the microscope that is being put on his in the NHL these days.

Here's a clip of a hit from the Capitals' Matt Hendricks on the Senators' Colin Greening. This one drew a good amount of attention on Saturday as people were wondering if this would lead to Brendan Shanahan's first in-season suspesion for a hit to the heads that didn't include a stick.

To me it seems Hendricks comes at the hit high, but doesn't specifically target the head. However the high follow through with the elbow going sky high doesn't help make the hit look good. In the end, I would think this doesn't get any more attention and is instead categorized a good hit.

Have a look for yourself (from Washington Times, Japer's Rink)

Photos: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 14, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 5:29 pm
 

Jumping to conclusions and the early NHL season

CBJ1

By: Adam Gretz

We're a little over a week into the regular season which means it's only natural to start jumping to conclusions based on a small sampling of games or head coaching decisions, and we're all guilty of it. Sometimes your initial knee-jerk reaction is accurate, and teams or players are as good or bad as they appear this early in the season, and other times it proves to be way too soon for such a judgement.

What about the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the three teams in the NHL that has yet to win a game this season as of Friday afternoon. After an exciting summer of big-name acquisitions (Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski) is it still more of the same for an organization that has known nothing but losing since entering the NHL a decade ago? Or is it just a slow start hindered by the fact that one of those players (Wisniewski) has yet to appear in a game?

Is there really a goaltending controversy in Washington because Michal Neuvirth started the first game of the season instead of Tomas Vokoun? And is Vokoun really thee guy the Capitals can trust after struggling through his first start? Is Brendan Shanhan's early season run of suspensions going to be overkill?

In the spirit of Tom Symkowski and his Jump To Conclusions Mat in Office Space, we're going to jump to our own conclusions on those -- and more -- early season storylines .

1) New Look, Same Old Blue Jackets

Our Conclusion: Too soon

A lot of the Blue Jackets success (or lack of success) this season will depend on how well goaltender Steve Mason plays, and so far, it's been a less-than-inspiring start for Columbus and its young goaltender.

But it's too soon to think these are the same old Blue Jackets.

For one, Wisniewski is still serving his suspension that runs through the first eight games of the regular season, and that has definitely been a big blow to the Jackets' lineup. Wisniewski is expected to be -- and will be -- one of Columbus' top-defensemen and anytime you're playing without that sort of presence in your lineup it's going to have a negative impact. The biggest issue for Columbus so far, and an area Wisniewski should certainly help improve once he returns to the lineup, has been its  dreadful power play, which is currently off to an 0-for-20 start. This should get better when Wisniewski returns, and while the playoffs still aren't a given this season, the Blue Jackets are going to improve and take a step forward.

2) Tomas Vokoun Isn't The Answer For Washington/Capitals Goaltending Controversy

Our Conclusion: Crazy talk. And Way Too Soon

When Michal Neuvirth received the opening night start over free agent acquisition Tomas Vokoun it started the discussion as to whether or not the Washington Capitals had a goaltender controversy on their hands. When Vokoun earned his first start of the season in game No. 2 and struggled during a shootout win against Tampa Bay, allowing five goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were concerns that he's not the answer in goal for Washington.

Traditionally Vokoun has been a slow starter throughout his career. Tim Greenberg of the Washington Post, for example, recently pointed out that October has been the worst month of Vokoun's career from a save percentage perspective, and generally plays better as the season progresses. He already rebounded on Thursday during the Capitals' 3-2 win in Pittsburgh with a strong performance that saw him make 39 saves, giving his team a chance to pick up two points in the standings.

Vokoun has been one of the best goalies in the NHL in recent years, and even at 35, should have enough left in the tank to help form one of the better goaltending duos in the NHL with Neuvirth. And both will get the fair share of starts throughout the season.

3) Buffalo is a Stanley Cup contender

Our Conclusion: Probably Accurate

The Sabres were already a playoff caliber team with plenty of excitement around them heading into the regular season, and a pair of impressive wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the season in Europe did nothing to hurt that. The Sabres have one of the NHL's best goalies in Ryan Miller and boosted their defense over the summer with Christian Ehrhoff and, perhaps their best offseason addition, Robyn Regehr, to go along with Tyler Myers.

They were already a top-10 team a year ago offensively -- even with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford missing extended time due to injury -- and only added to that firepower up front by signing Ville Leino to help complement their already impressive group of forwards.

With that type of scoring depth, a trio of defensemen like Myers, Regehr and Ehrhoff, and a goaltender like Miller the Sabres should be one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

4) Ilya Bryzgalov Will Be Philadelphia's Savior

Our Conclusion: Too Soon

The Philadelphia Flyers finally have their No. 1 goalie and in his first two starts managed to allow just one goal. Problem solved, right? Maybe.

I'm still not sure he's going to be enough to get Philadelphia it's long-awaited Stanley Cup, and for as much as the Flyers revolving door of goaltenders was criticized last season, they were still in the top-half of the league in save percentage and not that far below what Bryzgalov put up in Phoenix's tight defensive system.

It's not that Philadelphia isn't a good team defensively, but I have some concerns over the age -- and and durability -- of their top-two defensemen, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, I'm just not sure Bryzgalov is going to be enough of an upgrade to make up for what Philadelphia lost up front this summer.

5) Brendan Shanahan Will Be Too Quick On The Suspension Trigger

Our Conclusion: It's simply been the adjustment period.

New rules (or new wording of one of the rules -- rule 48) and a new person in charge of handing out discipline led to a sudden spike in suspensions during the preseason and sky is falling fears that hitting and all physical contact will be removed from the game. It's no different than when we came out of the lockout when the league put an emphasis on eliminating clutch-and-grab hockey and we saw a sudden spike in penalties, which eventually started to regress once players adjusted to the rules. The same thing will happen with Shanahan and the suspensions. The hammer will be dropped early as players figure out what they can and can not do, and once they adjust, business will go on as usual.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: October 14, 2011 5:04 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 5:04 pm
 

Asham calls Ovechkin hypocrite, expects fireworks

By Brian Stubits

Nothing like a fight to get things riled up once again in the NHL.

Arron Asham's knockout of Jay Beagle in last night's Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals game has been the talk of the day, the soup de jour. The fight itself was noteworthy enough. After getting his right hand free, Asham threw two punches square to Beagle's face, dropping him to the ice a bloody mess.

Obviously what took it from there to a bigger story altogether were Asham's actions immediately after the fight. On his way to the penalty box, he motioned that it was over and then did a go-to-sleep sign. Very soon Asham realized the severity of the injury for Beagle and was seen tapping the glass in support. He was further apologetic after the game.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who was yelling at Asham from the penalty box while serving Beagle's two-minute minor, wasn't happy in the postgame.

“It’s a fight. It’s hockey game but again it was pretty tough. Beagle, like, he’s just first-year NHL,” Ovechkin said Thursday night. “Asham, I don’t know if he knows that or not, but just put him on the ice,” Ovechkin said. Beagle is “not a fighter, it’s not his job to fight. I don’t know, it looked kind of not respectful for players on different team. I don’t know what people think, but I think it’s not respectful.”

Well that got the attention of Asham. The Penguins tough guy, who reached outto the Caps' Mike Knuble to apologize to Beagle, wasn't willing to take that from the Ovie without a retort.

More Capitals-Penguins

“I don’t know what Ovie’s talking about, disrespectful,” Asham told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “A guy who throws his stick down and warms his hands over it. He is being a hypocrite himself. The rivalry is back. I’m sure the next game is going to have a lot of fireworks.

"I woke up this morning feeling pretty stupid. Guys make mistakes. Mine could have been a lot worse than some of the mistakes that go on. I held him up at the end so he didn't smash his face up.

"I didn't know he was unconscious. I obviously want to win the fight but I don't want to hurt anyone. The thing is, I didn't go up and ask him to fight. I told him to settle down. He challenged me. He wanted to fight me."

I wasn't aware that the Penguins-Capitals rivalry had gone anywhere to the point that it's back, as Asham says, but this did solidify Dec. 1's rematch in Washington as must-see TV. After sitting out as a scratch the first three games of the season, it's probably safe to say D.J. King will be in the lineup for the Caps that day.

Meanwhile, Capitals defenseman John Carlson, only 21, took to Twitter to share some of his frustrations. After simply tweeting "#JayBeagle83", he was chirped back by a Penguins fan. Carlson's response? "Go screw yourself u mutant." Well, there's no doubting Twitter gets fans closer to athletes than every before.

Rivalries make the world go round. And in hockey, this has become one of the best and most intense out there. Now we just have some logs for the fire.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 14, 2011 3:46 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 3:50 pm
 

Caps' Laich has heard enough about concussions

By Brian Stubits

There are a few ongoing hot topics in the NHL these days, one of them is the concussion debate. It was already a big conversation before Sidney Crosby was sidelined with one, but since the superstar has been out for 10 months and counting, it has seemed to be an even bigger deal.

The whole idea of the concussion movement, for lack of a better term, is to protect the players. We're talking about something that has proven to be a very serious danger. Paul Kariya went on a bit of a tirade concerning concussions when announcing his retirement. After all, they shortened his career. In football, there have been high school players who died from concussions.

It isn't hyperbole when you hear people say this is life and death discussion. It truly can be.

But Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich doesn't much care for it (Washington Times) and has heard just about enough.

“I really don't care about that awareness stuff. To be honest I'm sick of hearing all this talk about concussions and about the quiet room,” Laich said. “This is what we love to do. Guys love to play, they love to compete, they want to be on the ice.

“How do you take that away from somebody? We accept that there's going to be dangers when we play this game and know that every night that you get dressed. Sometimes it just feels like we're being babysat a little too much. We're grown men and we should have a little bit of say in what we want to do.”

Teammate Mike Green, who missed a good portion of last season because of a concussion, basically echoed Laich's standpoint.

“You've got to make that call. I think at times the protocol for testing for concussions -- they're just tests, they're not exactly how you feel,” Green said.

I'm one of the first people to support people's rights to do something, even if they are endangering themselves. Ever see the shots from the beach during a hurricane where they show a couple of people surfing while the reporter begs people to stay away from the beach? I say go right ahead. The police shouldn't arrest them. Warn them they are putting their lives at risk and if they still want to do it, that's their right.

So in that way, I support what Laich has to say. I agree that a player should be able to make this decision on his own. But not the day of. A player in the moment probably isn't wise enough to make a rational decision on the matter. It's like a criminal trying to enter a plea when they are deemed incompetant. A court won't take it until the person is aware of what they are being charged with.

But where Laich loses me is not caring about awareness stuff, the discussion and quiet rooms. It's an important conversation and players need to be aware of the dangers and procedures. You know the old saying keep your friends close and your enemies closer? This is sort of the same idea. You need to know the ins and outs of concussions before you can make a truly informed decision on the matter, on your own health.

Hockey is a tough game, a sport filled with machismo. We know that. Guys still fight bare knuckles and tough out injuries all the time. It's not a sport where showing any perceived weakness is something a player wants to do. So I get where this is coming from.

I feel that what Laich and other players want to do with the information at their disposal is up to them. But the conversation is too important to tune out.

Photo: Getty Images

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