Posted on: November 10, 2011 10:05 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 10:17 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The Chicago Blackhawks entered Thursday's game in Columbus with the worst power play unit in the NHL, converting on just five of their 57 attempts on the man advantage. That was not going to continue, simply because the Blackhawks have too many gifted playmakers and too much firepower on the roster to allow it to continue.
Perhaps all they needed was a game with the Columbus Blue Jackets to get things going in the right direction. Or maybe they just needed to give Steve Montador, of all people, a little bit of time on the power play.
During their 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets, who continue to secure their spot at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Blackhawks had a breakout game of sorts on the power play, going 2-for-3 during the win. It was the first time all season they scored more than one power play goal in a game, which is definitely good news. The surprising development isn't so much that they finally started to score, it's that it wasn't the usual suspects -- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa -- getting the goals. And not only were they not the ones getting the goals, they weren't even on the ice.
Both power play goals came with the same group of players on the ice: Duncan Keith, Steve Montador, Nick Leddy, Andrew Brunette and Marcus Kruger. That's three defensemen and two forwards.
Montador is probably the most surprising name on the list, seeing as how entering Thursday night he had played just 8:32 of power play time during the regular season. That's an average of just 32 seconds per game. And not only did he play nearly two minutes on the power play on Thursday, the Blackhawks had him planted in front of the net, and he ended up recording two points, including his first goal of the season (shown above) as well as a helper on a power play goal scored by Brunette.
It was Montador's first power play goal since Jan. 29, 2008, and only the third of his career, so you probably shouldn't get used to seeing this.
Nice night for a struggling Blackhawks power play unit, and another ugly night for the Blue Jackets, whose record now stands at 2-12-1.
Posted on: September 28, 2011 1:48 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 4:15 pm
Enjoy this while you can, there's no telling what the Central will look like next season.
One of the premier rivalries in the sport is the Blackhawks vs. the Red Wings. The only two Original Six teams in the West, they have long been fierce combatants. In recent years the Blackhawks have awoken from the doldrums, making this a great series once again.
But this could be it, especially if Detroit has its way. Realignment is coming to the NHL, that much is guaranteed after Atlanta moved to Winnipeg. The Red Wings organization has made it no secret it wants to move East, rivalry with Chicago be damned. Columbus and Nashville would both welcome a move East as well. Something's gotta give, and it will be the Central Division.
It's too bad. Because this year the division is set up to be about more than just these two powers.
Nashville is always sneaky good. People seem to sleep on the Predators every season, but you know they will be there. They are looking to build off the first postseason series win in franchise history with their three Stars in contract seasons. St. Louis seems to think its Blues are ready to make a leap, so long as they can stay healthy. That was a challenge last season. And Columbus? Well there is at least optimism for the first time in a while and some buzz around the team after the addition of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski to join Rick Nash.
But as many strides as those teams have and are taking, in the end it will likely still be about the two powerhouses. That's because the Blackhawks are back. They suffered a little last year after winning the Stanley Cup as they had to shed a lot of salary. That meant jettisoning a good chunk of the team that won the Cup. But the core remained together and the team found its groove in the end, pushing the Canucks to the brink in the first round. But after an offseason of reinforcing the roster, Chicago figures to be in the thick until the end.
And Detroit? The Red Wings are ... well they're just the Wings. It's hard to imagine them not being good. Although this year they don't seem to be as loaded as usual, those are some pretty lofty standards. They will still be a threat not only for the division title but in the Western Conference, they can flat out score. That much we know.
So if this is it as division rivals, it should be fun.
Central Division (in predicted order of finish)
Chicago Blackhawks: Ah, it's nice to be out of salary cap hell, isn't it Chicago? After having to do major salary shedding, the Blackhawks still come out with a cast of characters that includes the names Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and newcomer Andrew Brunette. Throw in Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers to give the team some nastiness power and the forwards are well-rounded.
On defense they will miss Brian Campbell, just not his salary. Sure, he is overpaid, but that doesn't mean he didn't bring anything to the table for the 'Hawks. But the defensive corps is still solid, led by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Expectations are very high in Chicago once again.
Strenghts: It's tough to find a better pair of linemates than Toews and Kane. They are both still stepping into their primes, so they have a lot more to show. Those two are also part of the reason why the power play should once again be successful. Last season the unit ranked fourth in the NHL with the man up, led by Sharp's 12 goals on the power play.
Weaknesses: Depth at center is a major concern at this point. The team has been experimenting during camp with Patrick Kane, of all players, manning the center position. Maybe it's an indictment on the centers on the roster. Perhaps it's an indication of Patrick Sharp's health (or lack thereof). Whatever the reason, it's slightly concerning.
I would also be a little worried about the backup goaltender situation behind Corey Crawford. Alexander Salak is going to have the job and he might be more than adequate in the role, we just don't know much about him at the NHL level where he has little experience.
Detroit Red Wings: The Wings are remarkably consistent as they have made the playoffs in each of the past 20 seasons. They also stay consistent in their roster, retaining a lot of their players over time. Case in point, this year's forward group. The Wings will trot out mostly all the same forwards as a year ago for when they finished second in the NHL in scoring.
But the defensive corps received quite a shakeup after last season's 2.89 goals against average, the retirement of Brian Rafalski and loss of Ruslan Salei.
In net they have Jimmy Howard with Ty Conklin backing him up. You have to wonder how much confidence Ken Holland and Mike Babcock have in their starter Howard, though, after the team had a failed pursuit of Tomas Vokoun.
Strengths: As mentioned, the Red Wings can score, almost all of them. Last season there were 13 players that recorded double digits in goals scored, led by Johan Franzen's 28. There is certainly loads of experience in Detroit, too. These guys aren't in their first rodeos. That especially includes defensive stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom, who put of retirement for another year on the ice.
Having the leadership that players like Lidstrom can provide certainly doesn't hurt. Also, you might have heard this Babcock fellow on their bench isn't so bad.
Weaknesses: Defense, defense, defense. That is the major concern/question mark here. They revamped the D, bringing in Mike Commodore and Ian White through free agency. Young defenseman Jonathan Ericsson received a pretty lucrative new deal, so he will be expected to improve.
In the defensive vein, the goaltending will also need to get better. Of course, that goes hand in hand with the defense, but Howard has room to improve. Playing for the Wings, his record was solid -- a nice 37-17-5 mark -- but the goals against average of 2.79 (36th out of 47 eligible goalies) and save percentage of .908 (33rd best) aren't worth writing home about.
Nashville Predators: Hope is high in Smashville coming off the best showing in franchise history, making it to conference semifinals. The Predators have more or less become the NHL's version of a Moneyball team, continuing to cultivate home-grown talent and win on the cheap.
The team is led by the high-profile trio of goalie Pekka Rinne (Vezina finalist) and defensemen Shea Weber (Norris finalist) and Ryan Suter, who are all going into contract seasons. It will be interesting to see how that plays out for each of them. For some players, it's a major distraction, for others it brings out the best playing for a new deal.
If there's anything we've learned about the Predators in recent years it's not to count them out, at least as long as Barry Trotz is on the bench. Maybe this will be the year he finally wins the Jack Adams as the best coach?
Strengths: The Preds have one of the best defenses in all of hockey. That's due to a multitude of reasons stretching from Trotz's system and philosophy to the outstanding personnel on the blue line -- which might get stronger with the addition of heralded prospect Ryan Ellis -- and the elite goaltending of Rinne. All in all, it led to the team posting the third-lowest GAA a season ago.
The farm system is also a strength, it usually is for Nashville. In addition to Ellis, they have forward Craig Smith, who drew rave reviews by scoring six goals in two games in the team's rookie tournament games.
Weaknesses: You would love to have somebody who is the clear-cut scorer on the team. Unfortunately, the Preds just don't score a lot, period, forget about one player. Only two players (Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist) topped the 20-goal mark with Kostitsyn pacing the team with 23. Perhaps a healthy Mike Fisher can help with that, at least that's the hope.
As you'd expect with low offensive numbers, the power play placed in the bottom five of the entire league a season ago. The leading power-play scorer was Martin Erat last season with seven.
St. Louis Blues: After coming out of the gate firing 9-1-2 last season, the Blues slowed down as the season wore along, eventually missing the playoffs by 10 points partly because the team dealt with a rash of injuries. Despite that finish, there is positive momentum going in St. Louis and the ownership sees it. That's why they left the young core of the team pretty much untouched this offseason, just electing to bring in a couple of savvy veterans in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to make an impact.
You can see the potential here, especially with another year under their belts. It will be interesting to see how they fare over a full season with Chris Stewert, who they acquired midseason from Colorado last year. After getting the forward, the Blues' offense saw a big uptick in scoring, eventually finishing 10th in the league.
Defensively they came in just below the median at 18th in the league. The Blues should be in the playoff picture all season long.
Strengths: There is a good amount of individual talent here, starting with Stewart and new captain David Backes. In all, they had six players last season score 20 goals or more and one of them, Andy McDonald, reached that plateau in just 58 games. With the abundance of talented and skilled skaters this is a team with plenty of speed up and down the lineup.
Weaknesses: We weren't entirely sure where to put goaltending in this equation since Jaroslav Halak had some struggles in his first season as a No. 1 goaltender. However he showed what he's capable of when he was with the Canadiens. But based on his just average numbers of a season ago and the unsure situation behind him (Ben Bishop vs. Brian Elliott), we'll put this as our best guess.
Another area where the Blues are lacking is in the physicality department. You wonder where exactly the toughness will come from.
Columbus Blue Jackets: What is that coming from Columbus? Is that hope? Why yes, I think it is. GM Scott Howson was active this summer by bringing in Wisniewski and Carter along with Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek on the blue line. In addition to signing new players, Howson was also busy in signing his current players to long-term deals, specifically R.J. Umberger and Fedor Tyutin.
Yes, the Jackets are spending money, that's not the problem. What is is the matter of how bang for the buck they are getting. To put it in perspective, the Jackets currently have a higher payroll than the Boston Bruins. The hope is that it translates into success, and a few more fans at the turnstiles as Columbus was 27th in the league in attendance last season.
Strenghts: They have struggled to score recently, but that should be done with, or at least minimized. They have a true No. 1 center now in Carter, which should only further help Nash show he is one of the best players people don't talk about in the NHL. The power play, perhaps Columbus' biggest bug-a-boo in recent seasons, should be significantly better now that they have a quarterback for the unit in Wisniewski (when he's back from suspension) and two very capable scorers up front. It had to get better from last year's 29th-ranked unit.
Weaknesses: Did somebody say goaltending? This is one area where the Blue Jackets didn't do a whole lot of upgrading. Instead, they elected to give the starting reins back to Steve Mason and signing the inexperienced Mark Dekanich to be his backup. Since winning the Calder as the league's top rookie, Mason has struggled. Last season he had a 3.01 goals against average and .901 save percentage. That's a big reason why the Jackets were 26th in scoring in the league.
And while Wisniewski helps, there still isn't much scoring threat from the blue line. Tyutin led Columbus in scoring among defensemen with just 27 points.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Alex Pietrangelo, Alexander Salak, Andrew Brunette, Andy McDonald, Barry Trotz, Ben Bishop, Brent Seabrook, Brian Elliott, Brian Rafalski, Brian Stubits, Central Division, Central Division Preview, Chicago Blackhawks, Chris Stewart, Columbus Blue Jackets, Corey Crawford, Dan Carcillo, David Backes, Detroit Red Wings, Duncan Keith, Fedor Tyutin, Fedor Tyutin, Ian White, Jamal Mayers, James Wisniewski, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jaroslav Halak, Jason Arnott, Jeff Carter, Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson, Jonathan Toews, Ken Holland, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kyle WIlson, Marian Hossa, Mark Dekanich, Martin Erat, Mike Babcock, Mike Commodore, Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators, Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patric Hornqvist, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Pekka Rinne, Realignment, Rick Nash, Ryan Ellis, Ryan Suter, Scott Howson, Sean O'Donnell, Sergei Kostitsyn, Shea Weber, St. Louis Blues, Steve Mason, Steve Montador, Ty Conklin
Posted on: August 8, 2011 7:00 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 6:52 pm
By: Adam Gretz
You may know Daniel Carcillo as one of the NHL's agitators and on-ice rabble rousers that is never shy about getting under the skin of an opposing player, and unless he plays for your team, you probably don't like him all that much because of it. Sometimes he takes it a bit too far, and sometimes he chooses the wrong time and place (like this, for example). But plenty of teams have found value in what he brings to the table, including the club that signed him this summer - the Chicago Blackhawks.
On Monday he had an opportunity to speak to the media for the first time -- along with fellow offseason addition Andrew Brunnette -- and was asked his opinion on the Blackhawks top playoff rival from the past couple of seasons, the Vancouver Canucks, and whether or not he's done any research on them in an effort to, basically, annoy the crap out of them
"I watched that series," said Carcillo. "I'm actually pretty excited to play them because there's a few guys there that I think played a little bit outside of their shoes, and I think I can keep most of those guys in check when we play them this year. I'm pretty excited to play them."
When asked specifically which players he was looking forward to playing he mentioned Maxim Lapierre (he placed him at the top of the list), Tanner Glass and Raffi Torres, with the only potential problem being that Glass and Torres no longer play for the Canucks, having signed with Winnipeg and Phoenix this summer. But Lapierre is still there, and between the two of them, there may be no two players that are disliked more across the league. So that certainly adds a bit of intrigue to a matcup that needed no additional hype. And, hey, with a preemptive strike to Glass and Torres, perhaps it makes their games with Phoenix and Winnipeg a little more interesting as well, and that can't hurt.
The Blackhawks and Canucks have met in the postsesaon three years in a row, with Chicago taking the series in 2009 and 2010, while Vancouver managed to hold on for a Game 7 win in the opening round this past season after letting a 3-0 series lead slip away.
The two teams meet for the first time on November 16 in Vancouver.
Photo: Getty Images
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: June 29, 2011 6:23 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2011 2:36 pm
You ever see a fish feeding frenzy? When the fish basically jump on top of each other to get the food first? That's what free agency will look like because of the dearth of big fish to be found, to mix our metaphors.
There is no doubt who the most coveted free agent is this season. Brad Richards tops all names up for grabs and pretty much every team is likely to show some interest in signing the former Stars center.
Richard expects to be a busy man come Friday, according to his agent, Pat Morris, who spoke to Buffalo radio station WGR 550 on Wednesday.
"If five teams call, I'd be shocked by the limited number. If 25 teams called, I wouldn't be shocked," Morris said.
Perhaps the first ring will come from the Rangers, who seem to be the team most coveting Richards. They would love to find a center who can score to anchor the first line with Marian Gaborik. Just a reminder, though: veteran newcomers don't always work out so well for the Blueshirts, just think of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.
If Rangers GM Glen Sather isn't first to get in touch with Richards, then it could very well be Brian Burke and Toronto. The Leafs are hungry to get back to the playoffs after a lengthy drought by the organization's standards (six seasons). Richards grew up a Leafs fan, so that has helped drive speculation in Ontario. But honestly a massive chunk of the NHL players grew up Maple Leafs fans, so that means next to nothing.
Frankly, any team that has enough room to sign Richards will probably be standing with food in hand, hoping to get the hook, line and sinker on the best player to be had.
Here are this year's best forward options (in alphabetical order).
Sean Bergenheim -- Lightning: Before the postseason, Bergenheim would have likely re-signed quietly with the Lightning after a modest 14-goal, 15-assist season. But he busted out in a big way during the playoffs, scoring nine goals in 16 games. Since then he has turned down an offer from Tampa Bay with GM Steve Yzerman commenting that the two sides obviously see Bergenheim's value a little differently. At this point it looks like he'll be playing elsewhere.
Erik Cole -- Hurricanes: Cole has been a near lifer in Carolina, spending all but a part of his nine seasons in the red of the 'Canes (he was sent to Edmonton and then promptly reacquired by Carolina). He enters free agency coming off a 26-goal, 26-assist campaign, more than attractive numbers. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford would still like to re-sign Cole and keep him around longer, but at this point they haven't been able to find common ground. Carolina is still the odds-on favorite, though.
Simon Gagne -- Lightning: Gagne is coming off a 17-goal, 23-assist season in Tampa Bay, his first with the Lightning. It wasn't long ago that Gagne was a 40-goal scorer for the Flyers, last hitting that mark in 2006-07. It isn't as if he's too old to still flash that form at 31, but the concern might be in the injury department, specifically concussion concerns. Could be worth a shot from a team looking for scoring on the wings.
Jussi Jokinen -- Hurricanes: Another player Rutherford has said he's not sure if he'll be able to re-sign but wants to, Jokinen should draw a good amount of interest if Carolina can't lock him up. The last two seasons for the 'Canes he has surpassed 50 points, highlighted by a 30-goal, 35-assist campaign in 2009-10. (June 30: Re-signed with Hurricanes for three years, $9 million)
Ville Leino -- Flyers: The 27-year-old Fin is coming off his best season in the NHL, scoring 19 goals with 34 assists on the heels of his 21-point postseason when the Flyers went to the Cup Finals. There is no question the Flyers would like to have him back, but it's a matter of if they can have him back. The Flyers are still reportedly eyeing RFA Steven Stamkos, so Leino could be left in the lurch and snagged by another team while Philly chases that option.
Richards -- Stars: Richards is a true No. 1 center. Last season in 72 games for the Stars he tallied 77 points on 28 goals and 49 assists. The mystery isn't who will be interested in Richards, it's who will Richards be interested in? He will likely have his pick of the litter, from his old stomping grounds in Tampa to New York or Chicago.
Michael Ryder -- Bruins: The 31-year-old Ryder hasn't made the best impression in the world in either Montreal or Boston, the two stomping grounds in his career. However, the guy has scoring ability, hitting the 25-goal plateau in four of his seven NHL seasons, including 38 as a rookie.
Maxime Talbot -- Penguins: Talbot isn't the highest-scoring center you'll find (just eight goals and 13 assists last season) but he has earned a reputation as a postseason performer, which never hurts. The Maple Leafs have shown interest in Talbot since it became clear he wouldn't be returning to Pittsburgh and seem the most likely destination at this point.
Scottie Upshall -- Blue Jackets: Smack dab in the middle of his prime at 27, Upshall has plenty of talent to draw interest. He hasn't found the perfect spot for himself in either Columbus or any of the spots before. But each of the past four seasons has seen his goal total rise, hitting 22 last season for the Jackets. Once concern is that last season was the first time he played 75 games (he played all 82).
Others of interest: Jason Arnott (WAS), Tomas Fleischmann (COL), Radim Vrbata (PHO), Joel Ward (NSH), Marcel Goc (NSH), Raffi Torres (VAN), John Madden (MIN), Andrew Brunette (MIN), Tim Connolly (BUF)
By Brian Stubits
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011 Free Agency, Andrew Brunette, Boston Bruins, Brad Richards, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Erik Cole, Jason Arnott, Joel Ward, John Madden, Jussi Jokinen, Marcel Goc, Maxime Talbot, Michael Ryder, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Radim Vrbata, Raffi Torres, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergehneim, Simon Gagne, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tim Connolly, Tomas Fleischmann, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ville Leino