Tag:Alexander Semin
Posted on: January 28, 2012 5:00 pm
Edited on: January 28, 2012 5:03 pm
 

Players we would like to see in skills challenge



By: Adam Gretz

The video above features Mike Ribeiro of the Dallas Stars scoring an absolutely insane shootout goal against the Colorado Avalanche a couple of years ago. It's a pretty amazing goal, leaving then-Avs goalie Peter Budaj completely confused. Throughout his career, Ribeiro has made a habit out of scoring highlight reel goals during the regular season skills competition that is otherwise known as the shootout.

He seems like he would be the type of player that would excel in the All-Star skills competition, particularly any of the breakaway challenges. But because he's not an All-Star this year, we don't get an opportunity to see what he's fully capable of when the spotlight is on. The NBA brings in players that aren't on the All-Star rosters to take part in their skills competition, and I wouldn't mind seeing the NHL try something similar.

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at some of the players not in the All-Star game this season that could be favorites to win the various events, or at the very least, put up a solid showing.

Fastest Skater

1. Darren Helm, Detroit Red Wings
2. Andrew Cogliano, Anaheim Ducks
3. Mason Raymond, Vancouver Canucks

Cogliano has actually already won this event, taking it back in 2009 with a time of 14.31 seconds, but I would put Helm up against any other skater in the league in terms of pure speed. He doesn't score much, but everything he does on the ice, including his penalty killing, seems to be a complete blur.

Accuracy Shooting

1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
2. Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals
3. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres

Kind of a tough one to figure out, and it's not as easy as simply looking at a players shooting percentage because that doesn't necessarily mean a player with a high number is an "accurate" shooter, but Kovalchuk and Semin are obvious snipers that can pick their spots and hit the corners from anywhere in the offensive zone.

Hardest Shot

1. Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks
2. Jason Garrison, Florida Panthers
3. Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars

Jason Garrison has more goals than any other defenseman in the NHL this season with 13, and eight of them have come by way of his booming slap shot, more than any other player in the league. I don't know if he has what it takes to challenge Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber, but I imagine he could put up some impressive numbers, and the same could be said for Salo. At the Canucks team skills competition earlier this week he hit 102 MPH, which would have been harder than any other participant in last year's event with the exception of Chara and Weber.

Breakaway Challenge

1. Mike Riberio, Dallas Stars
2. Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings
3. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets

We already addressed what Riberio can bring to the table, but when the Red Wings are involved in a shootout they tend to be quality entertainment, not only because of the presence of Pavel Datsyuk, always a human highlight reel, but also because of Todd Bertuzzi, who has some pretty underrated skill. It's not uncommon to see him bust out the spin-o-rama move, but he has quite a few additional tricks up his sleeve as well. And don't underestimate the skill and hands that Rick Nash has for a big, power forward.

Any other players that didn't participate this season that you would like to see?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:04 pm
 

Caps getting Mike Green back for Flames game

By Brian Stubits

Things are starting to turn around for the Washington Capitals, it seems.

The Caps ended 2011 with a run of three consecutive wins, their first such stretch since the season-opening seven-game win streak. Now they are going to start 2012 with one of their most important players back, defenseman Mike Green.

Judging by the fact that the Capitals are 8-0-0 this season when Green plays, it's not a stretch to call him arguably the team's MVP. He isn't the sole reason why they are unbeaten when he plays, but it sure helps matters. The Capitals will welcome his three goals and three assists in just eight games this season on the blue line.

“Finally,” Green said after Tuesday's morning skate. “It’s been frustrating sitting out and obviously a couple months ago coming back and then the first game back, back on the press box. I’m just happy to be back, focused. Preparing to do the right things tonight and that’s all that’s on my mind right now.”

As I said, his return from a groin injury that has kept him out since Veteran's Day comes at a moment right when the Caps appear to be finding their footing and showing everybody why they were pegged as a Stanley Cup contender. Alex Ovechkin, who was behind even last year's career-low paces until recently, has found his touch. He has four goals in the last two games. He has six goals in his last six games, including three straight multi-point games, his first since Nov. 4.

But the Caps won't be showing off their full complement of players on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames in D.C. One player who will not be on the ice is Alex Semin, who is currently listed as day to day. He, too, has picked it up recently since the Ovechkin, Semin and Nicklas Backstrom line was reunited. He has five goals and four assists in the last seven games.

Instead, coach Dale Hunter is going to suit seven defensemen, a rarity for the Caps under Bruce Boudreau. But it makes sense, there's no telling how Green is going to play and what type of minutes he can give the team. Good to have some insurance on the bench.

“I think you’ve got to ease yourself in,” Green said. “I’m not going to be jumping up all over the ice or whatnot. I think it’s important for me to get my game back and it’s better that I do that slowly rather than quickly. I don’t intend on being up and down the ice tonight.”

Sounds like some defensive insurance on the bench is a pretty good idea.

Hopefully for the Capitals and Green, he can stay healthy this time. That's been a bug-a-boo for him recently. In addition to the groin injury he is recovering from, Green missed time earlier this season with a twisted ankle and fought a concussion through much of last season.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 30, 2011 11:52 am
 

Boudreau on Caps: I tried an awful lot of things

By Brian Stubits

Bruce Boudreau waited a day to do his farewell media tour to the people in Washington. He didn't want to overshadow the debut of Dale Hunter as his replacement and the team. So when did start talking about his time with the Capitals on Tuesday, he was typical of the guy nicknamed Gabby for his propensity to talk.

In a radio interview on D.C.'s 106.7 The Fan, Boudreau ran the gamut what he learned and went through as a coach with the Capitals, a job he describes as a dream job.

"I'm sure there more options, but I tried an awful lot of things," Boudreau said when referring to pushing so many buttons. "I'm sure I would have thought of few more things."

But the elephant in the room was his relationship with star forward and team captain, Alex Ovechkin. There has been a lot of speculating that the two had, for lack of a better term, grown apart.

So, was there a rift between the two of them?

"Quite frankly maybe I'm naive, I have no idea," Boudreau said. "We both grew a little bit. When I first got here he was 21. I think everything else has been blown out of proportion."

When the two finally did talk on Tuesday (understandably, Boudreau wasn't interested in talking to anybody really on Monday) what did he have to say?

"I told him he was very fair to me and he made it easy for me to coach," Boudreau said.

It's interesting that Boudreau left the door open for speculation with some of his answers. On a couple of occasions he cited his own naiveté before denying any rifts or other such issues such as him "losing the team." We can't really say if there was a problem in their relationship or not, but from the press box, it didn't seem all peachy keen.

Is he just trying to say all the right things now or is he being completely honest? Knowing Boudreau, he's probably telling the truth, he's never been one to really hold back on saying what he thinks.

What about the other Russian winger he seemed to be butting heads with, Alexander Semin. Was he difficult to coach?

"Sometimes just because the language barrier and sometimes just because the penalties," Boudreau said. "Sometimes he was a pleasure to watch, sometimes it was frustrating. Like a lot of geniuses when they are flowing they are tremendous, but when they are struggling it's tough."

Boudreau could see the writing on the wall and while it was tough, he said he understands why he lost his job. It's almost like a coach at the college level who is asked to walk away from a job at his/her alma mater. It's home for them and they don't want to see it hurt. Better yet, it's the way some people view breakups -- if you truly care for the person, you hope they'll be happy.

Boudreau comes off that way, like he's leaving an ex-girlfriend behind in D.C.

"I was more concerned with the state of hockey here in D.C.," he said. "We've built something good here and I didn't want that to deteriorate."

As I wrote Tuesday night, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock isn't worried about life after the Capitals for Boudreau. He expects him back and around hockey very soon. Boudreau feels pretty much the same. He better.

"Hockey is in my blood. My wife would kick me out of the house anyway if I stay around too long so I better do something."

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 28, 2011 2:41 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 8:49 pm
 

Bruce Boudreau loses job after losing team

By Brian Stubits

ARLINGTON, Va. -- To most, it would appear that Bruce Boudreau is the classic case of a coach becoming a victim of his own success.

The Washington Capitals fired their coach of four seasons on Monday, breaking the news to him at 6:15 in the morning and naming one of greatest players in franchise history, Dale Hunter, his replacement.

Boudreau was as good of a regular-season coach as the NHL has ever seen. The Caps took off under him when he became the boss during the 2007-08 season, going 37-17-7. The four times he finished the season behind the Caps bench, they won the Southeast Division.

But he could never get over the playoff failures. In his tenure, the Caps were 17-20 in the playoffs. That lost him a lot of favor among the fans who were thirsting for more. To see a team doing so well season after season and failing to make a conference final? Still, the Capitals brass stuck behind Boudreau.

No, what cost Boudreau his job wasn't the losses in the playoffs -- although those didn't help -- but instead it was the loss of the team this season.

"These are always difficult decisions but, as I said, you don't want to make these decisions but when you see what I saw, you have to make the decision," general manager George McPhee said. "You can't look the other way. I've seen it in a few games recently, enough that I knew the team wasn't responding. We've got their attention now and hopefully they respond in the right way.

"He gave it everything. As I said, he emptied the tank, he gave it everything and he pushed every button he could push. It worked for a while, it's not working now."

The losing of the team was never on more display than the now infamous incident when Alex Ovechkin, the team's superstar and captain, was benched for the final shift of the game, one in which the Caps scored to tie the game, no less. On the bench, Ovechkin was seen mumbling something about his portly coach that was less than flattering (lip-readers out there know what was said). If there were any thing that signaled the beginning of the end, that was probably it.

General manager George McPhee declined to signal out one instance, but when talking about losing the team, that is exhibit A.

"I don't think this has anything to do with Alex Ovechkin," McPhee said on Monday at the team's practice facility. "I think this has everything to do with his team not playing well. The goalies aren't stopping pucks, the defense aren't getting the pucks out and the forwards aren't checking and scoring enough. It's our whole team, not an individual. We have a lot of players that aren't playing the way they are capable of playing, and that's why a change was made.

"We've got to be good defensively. We haven't been good defensively. That's really my issue right now. We're just giving up too many goals."

Maybe the players put it best.

“For whatever reason, as a team we weren’t really responding well enough or as good as we should have been,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “And it’s kind of ‘Where do you go from there?’ And that’s when they come into play, the guys upstairs. And they do what they have to do.”

Or there was Brooks Laich's more succinct take.

"You should be giving your best effort all the time ... It sucks that he's the fall guy for it."

More NHL Coaching Changes

If that Ovechkin incident was just the beginning, than it was a recent road trip that was the end. The final nail in the coffin appeared to be an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

"A couple of games on the road last week, I didn't like them at all," McPhee said. "I was happy we bounced back early last week with a couple of wins, but then I started to see the same thing again. and that's when you know.

"It's probably been about a week that we've been kicking it around."

The hope, of course is that this will flip the switch and the Capitals will return to being the Capitals of the past few seasons, the team that romped its way to the Presidents' Trophy. There is hope among the Caps and their fans that this in-season change will work as well as it did for the Penguins and Flyers in recent seasons, with both teams representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.

The most intriguing aspect of this will be to see if Ovechkin, and to a lesser extent Alexander Semin, will play like we have seen them in the past. The local radio shows here are filled with what you'd expect: people thinking Ovechkin is done, wanting Semin gone, etc.

It's a worthwhile question: Can a new coach bring back the old players?

That's the task for Hunter. Many are betting he will. I'm not as convinced. I don't think we'll ever see the 50-goal Ovechkin again. I'm not even sure how much we'll see of a 40-goal Ovechkin. Power forwards don't last forever in the NHL, especially when they don't adapt. If Ovechkin is going to become the dynamic player he once was, he'll have to change. Maybe that is a message Hunter will be able to get through to him, because clearly Boudreau couldn't.

The inevitable happened in this coach vs. star battle: the star won. We all knew that would be the result eventually, you can't fire Ovechkin. In reality, Ovechkin doesn't come away looking any better than Boudreau in this case.

"I think everybody was in shock," the captain said.

Ovechkin continued, saying that sometimes a message can get a little tiresome.

"You can be tired from what the coach is telling you and maybe mistakes and some things like that," Ovechkin said. "But again, the decision is made and we just have to look forward, not look back. Or if you are going to look back at what happened, I think we don't have to talk to you guys about it. It's going to be between our family and our locker room."

That family no longer includes Boudreau, obviously. Not after his early morning talk with McPhee.

"We had a meeting at 6:15 this morning and he was a class act, all the way," McPhee said. "He said all the right things and he made me feel better. Bruce has got such a nice way about him. He made me feel better about the decision. If the worst thing you can say about the guy is that he's a hell of a nice guy, he must be a great guy, and Bruce has been a great guy here."

I can tell you this much. While Boudreau might night be missed a whole lot by the fans, he'll be missed as a personality in the sport. He became an even bigger star when he stole the show on HBO's 24/7 series. But he won't be out of hockey long at all. If he isn't coaching again, he'll find a spot on television for sure.

With his affability, that's a team he would never lose.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 28, 2011 8:44 am
Edited on: November 28, 2011 6:17 pm
 

Capitals fire Boudreau, bring in Dale Hunter

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By Brian Stubits

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals announced on Monday morning that they have fired head coach Bruce Boudreau and named former player Dale Hunter to be his replacement.

Hunter will make his debut as the Caps' new boss on Tuesday night in Washington against the St. Louis Blues.

The rumor mill picked up late Sunday night when Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet reported that he was hearing rumblings Boudreau could be out as coach in 24-48 hours. He had it wrong. Apparently it was more like 12 hours.

"The reason for the change was we weren't winning, obviously," general manager George McPhee said. "This wasn't a slump. You can ride out slumps. This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce. When you see that, as muc as you don't want to make a change you have to make a change.

"Bruce did a terrific job here, we're very proud of him, very proud of the work he did for us. But when the players aren't responding, you have to make a change."

Can you view the Boudreau, then, as a failure?

More NHL Coaching Changes

"I don't view this as a negative or a failure at all," McPhee said. "I think Bruce came in and did a great job, but his time was up."

Boudreau took over as the Capitals coach during the 2007-08 season, replacing Glen Hanlon, and in parts of five seasons behind the team's bench compiled an impressive 201-88-40 regular season record. The team qualified for the postseason in each of the previous four seasons but struggled to have the regular season success carry over to the playoffs, never advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs, and twice exiting in the first round. That includes the 2009-10 season when they won the Presidents Trophy with the best record in the NHL and were dismissed by the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens in seven games.

Replacing him will be the 51-year-old Hunter who has spent the past decade coaching the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and leading them to the Memorial Cup championship during the 2004-05 season. He owns the highest career winning percentage of any coach in the OHL's history.

Hunter, of course, also played for the Capitals between 1987 and 1999 during a career that saw him score 323 goals and compile over 3,500 penalty minutes in 1,407 regular season games. Along with the Capitals, he also spent time with the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche.

"This has been my team ... I shouldn't say my team, it's Ted's [Leonsis] team but it feels like my team because I played here for so long and I have good memories here," Hunter said at his meet the media session after Monday's team practice here at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "I taped every game for the last how many years?"

Asked what Hunter will bring as a coach, McPhee talked about the pedigree Hunter has.

"Hopefully [he brings] the same things that he brought as a player," McPhee said. "Obvioulsy Dale was an intelligent player, he had talent and he was tough, downright mean at times. We probably won't see a player like that again for a while. You don't see numbers like the numbers he's had. But he played 19 years in this league and I think the best thing you could ever say Dale Hunter was whether the game was home or away or he was injured or healthy or we were winning or losing, that guy played the same every night. And it was hard. So he had really a great NHL career over 19 years, played a heck of a lot of playoff games."

As for his jump from the OHL to the NHL? McPhee isn't worried.

"No one's been better at that level. In that Ontario Hockey League that's been around forever, he has the best winning percentage of all time. It's not a flash in the pan; one or two or three years. It's 11 years. He's turned that franchise into the best junior franchise going."

Hunter, the only player in NHL history to have 300 goals and 3,000 penalty minutes in his career, will bring his style back to Washington, a city where he is remembered fondly as one of only four retired jerseys in the rafters.

"We're going to be a hard team to play against," Hunter said. "We're going to be on the puck hard, forecheck hard, really responsible defensively, backside pressure coming back through the neutral zone so teams can't run-and-gun on ya."

Asked if his team will play the way Hunter did, he didn't exactly say yes.

"Too many referees out there now!" Hunter said, drawing a laugh from the massive media contingent. "There's an extra referee out there now."

One of the big concerns, then, is getting this team to respond. If Boudreau lost the team's ear, how can he expect to get it back? How will his approach differ from that of Boudreau?

"Every coach coaches differently," Hunter said. Sometimes the players hear your voice everyday and sometimes the players don't execute as well as they should.

"I'm a player's coach, but also the players will know when I'm mad at them. I'm stern on them, that's the way you have to be to win game. Mistakes ... everybody makes mistakes out there, but if he continues making mistakes than there will be repurcussions."

That sounds a bit like the accountability mantra Boudreau was preaching this season. One difference though is that Hunter will start with that attitude. It's much easier for players to accept it when you are always more stern than somebody like Boudreau who was a bit more of a player's coach who tried to turn into a demanding coach in the offseason. That's a difficult change to make.

This is already the second in-season coaching change of the NHL season, as the Blues, Washington's opponent on Tuesday night, replaced Davis Payne with Ken Hitchcock earlier this month.

The Capitals opened the season on a 7-0 record and the best record in the NHL, but have followed that up with a 5-9-1 run and have struggled the most over the past two weeks, getting blown out by Buffalo, New York and Toronto, while also dropping games to Nashville and Winnipeg.

Adam Gretz contributed to this report

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 27, 2011 11:04 pm
 

Talk about Boudreau's security picks up again

By Brian Stubits

From the completely unsubstantiated rumors department, we present to the latest from Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos -- a typically solid insider -- on the Washington Capitals coaching situation. This is just a friendly reminder to consume this with one healthy grain of salt.

As a guest on Rogers Sportsnet's Hockey Central, Kypreos was asked about the situation in Washington at the moment, a city he once played in. His response sent the Caps fan base into a tizzy (transcribed quotes from Washington Times).

“A lot of speculation something could happen in the next 24-48 hours,” Kypreos said. “The name being thrown out there is ex-Washington Capital, a centerman of mine, Dale Hunter.”

The Capitals denied the rumor, calling it just speculation.

Kypreos played with Hunter in Washington during their stints in the NHL. Hunter has been the coach of the London Knights in the OHL for 11 years and his family is tied in with the organization. For his part, he denied being contacted for the job through the London Free-Press.

I don't think anybody could be surprised if Boudreau were to get the boot now. Because of the team's lack of success in the playoffs, he has been on thin ice for a guy who has won as much as he has in the regular season. But since they started the season 7-0-0, the Caps have fallen on tough times. Since then, they are 5-9-1 and in the past eight games they have been outscored 34-17.

What makes this time different then all the past rumors of his demise? Well general manager George McPhee failed to give a comment on Boudreau's job safety earlier this month when asked.

There have been issues this season with some of his players this season. Things haven't seemed as harmonious for the Caps after Boudreau was encouraged by McPhee in a new accountability theme with the team. That led to the benching of Alex Ovechkin in the final shift of the game -- one which the Caps eventually did score on. He has been poking and prodding Alexander Semin to get the most out of him, including scratching the Russian winger for a game.

Through it all, none of it has seemed to work much. Would a new coach like Hunter be what finally brings those guys back to form?

With their 4-3 win over the Coyotes last week, Boudreau became the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 wins. Still, here we are talking about Boudreau's job security. Again.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 21, 2011 6:49 pm
 

Alexander Semin a healthy scratch for Caps

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals are in one massive funk. And this one isn't like last year's slump where the Caps weren't playing all that bad but still losing every night for a couple of weeks. No, in this stretch they are playing downright poor hockey.

Chief among that funk is the team's talented Russian forward named Alex (OK, well both of them, but in this case we're talking about Alexander Semin, not Alex Ovechkin).

Bruce Boudreau has tried it all to get Semin to perform better. He has called him out through the media. He benched Semin for the second half a game. The following game he gave Semin a lot of ice time, trying some positive reinforcement. He then had Semin playing with the fourth line in practice. None of it seemed to work all that much. Semin has more minor penalties (14) than points (nine).

So now Boudreau is pulling about the last card in his deck: Semin was a healthy scratch for Monday night's game against the Coyotes in Washington. It's the first time since 2003-04 Semin has been a healthy scratch.

Even more interesting, Semin didn't even take part in the Caps' morning skate on Monday or in the pregame skate around, both somewhat unsusual occurences. Although the morning skate was optional.

We're used to players performing their best in contract years, i.e. the final years of their contracts. That's not the case for Semin, who is not under contract beyond this upcoming spring. If he doesn't get this turned around quick and find his way out of Boudreau's doghouse, it will be interesting to see what his options for the future will be.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

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