Tag:Ben Bishop
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:38 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 9:45 am
 

Pregame Skate: Big night for all in playoff push

Jumbo Joe and San Jose enter the night eighth in the West. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

10:30 ET, Edmonton at San Jose

This is pretty amazing to type with only a few weeks left in the season, but if the Sharks don't win this game, they could be out of playoff position.

Now here is the part where I throw out the disclaimers: the Sharks have multiple games in hand on the teams ahead or near them in the standings. It's also where I remind you that does you no good unless you actually win those games in hand.

But the Sharks are sinking right now. They are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games, unable to really find their footing since returning from that nine-game road trip they took in February. As a result, they find themselves holding on to the final playoff spot in the West at the moment. Of course, they could also forge a three-way tie with losses by their Pacific Division rivals tonight and regain the third seed. This is how it is shaping up to be for the remainder of the season in the Pacific.

The important thing for San Jose is to not let these types of games slip away. The Sharks have had a couple days off, they're at home and the league's second worst team record wise (the Oilers) are visiting a night after playing in Anaheim. It's as good a shot at two points as any. It's more or less herring just dangling in front of them.

9 ET, Minnesota at Colorado (NBC Sports Network)

The Avalanche won't go away out West either. Unlike the East where teams like Toronto and Washington to an extent have been playing their way out of the playoffs, Colorado is one of those out West that has been winning its way in, meaning they have won five of the last seven games.

That includes a win on Sunday night against the same Minnesota Wild they host on Tuesday. It was a 2-0 win for the Avs with the lone tallies coming from Jamie McGinn in the first period.

I still haven't been convinced by the Avalanche that they have staying power in the Western Conference to make the playoffs this season. But here we are in March and they just won't go away. With that said, their odds still aren't as good as the other teams around them in the standings due to the extra number of games they have played. Sports Club Stats puts the odds on the Avs making it in at 17.95 percent.

It's important to point out that Semyon Varlamov has been significantly better in goal for them of late, showing why they traded a first-round draft pick for him this summer. Only once in his last six starts has he given up more than two goals. In the other five starts his goals against average is a decimal shade above 1.00 even.

7:30 ET, Ottawa at Tampa Bay

Welcome back to the playoff picture, Tampa Bay.

The Lightning have been streaking of late behind the hot stick of Steven Stamkos -- honestly, when is it not hot? -- and are about to enjoy some time at home. Having won four in a row, the Lightning are embarking on a nine-game stretch where eight games will come at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Here's an interesting little tidbit about that: The Lightning actually have the Southeast Division's best home record. Better than Winnipeg. Actually, Washington has a better home record than Winnipeg too (by two fewer OT losses). That's saying something about Tampa's prowess at home.

If they can use this home-heavy stretch the way the Jets just did on their eight-game home stand, there's no reason the Lightning can't get in the playoff seeding very soon, or possibly even jumping the Panthers for first place in the division (they enter tonight six points behind).

Of note for the Senators: Ben Bishop is expected to get his first start since being traded to Ottawa after Robin Lehner was sent back to AHL Binghamton.

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Others worth watching

7 ET, Boston at Toronto: Let's see if the change from Ron Wilson to Randy Carlyle is going to help the Maple Leafs finally get over the Bruins hump. Boston has won all four meetings this season by a combined score of 23-6. Eek.

7 ET, Phoenix at Columbus: The Coyotes come into Columbus straight off a loss -- albeit a good showing -- against the Penguins on Monday. It was just Saturday that the Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes in the desert.

7 ET, Carolina at Washington: The last time these two got together the Hurricanes whitewashed the Capitals 5-0 in Raleigh. Washington comes in having lost two straight at home while failing to score in either. To say the Caps need this is an understatement.

7 ET, Detroit at Philadelphia: Not a whole lot in the playoff picture other than Detroit's battle for the Central Division and Presidents' Trophy, but Mark Howe's number will be retired before the game and it should just be an all-around good game.

8 ET, Los Angeles at Nashville: Kings coach Darryl Sutter joked the Predators “haven’t lost at home since Christ was a child.” Doesn't bode well for a team trying to stay in the playoff hunt too. If things go right, L.A. could be just one point out of first in the Pacific by night's end.

10 ET, Dallas at Vancouver: As the day begins, this is a matchup of division leaders as the Stars took that title on Monday night with Phoenix's loss. But the task is tall if they want to keep that lead after tonight.

Your promised miscellany

  • Monday's Winners & Losers
  • The Senators threatened they might leave Ottawa if tax breaks were eliminated. No worries, they're staying. (Ottawa Sun)
  • The news on the Jonathan Toews mystery injury front is sounding better for Chicago. (CSN Chicago)
  • A little more on my favorite story of the year so far, OHL forward Connor Crisp talks about the experience playing goaltender.

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

Posted on: February 27, 2012 5:53 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 6:07 pm
 

NHL Trade deadline winners and losers

The Nashville Predators were the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline's biggest winners. (Getty)

By: Adam Gretz

It shouldn't be a surprise that Monday turned out to be, for the most part, a quiet day as the 3 ET trade deadline passed.

Increased parity around the league and the fact nearly every team in the NHL still thinks it has a chance to make the playoffs this season reduced the number of true sellers to no more than four or five (If that). That, of course, made it nearly impossible to strike many impact deals, not to mention the sky-high prices teams were apparently putting on their players.

In the end, Rick Nash is still a Columbus Blue Jacket. Steve Ott is still a Dallas Star.  Roman Hamrlik and Mike Knuble are still Washington Capitals. Ryan Suter is still a Nashville Predator.

And speaking of the Predators, if they wanted to send a message to Suter and his partner in crime on the blue line, Shea Weber, not to mention the rest of the organization, the fan base and the NHL as a whole that they're ready to start going for it, they certainly did so on Monday.

Or attempted to, anyway.

The Predators were one of the busiest teams in the NHL over the past week, and after acquiring Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens last week for a couple of draft picks, they made two of the biggest moves on Monday by acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn from the Canadiens for two more draft picks, and then grabbed Paul Gaustad and a draft pick from the Buffalo Sabres for a first-round pick.

The Gaustad trade is a bold one. Perhaps even a little crazy given the price they paid for a role player that also happens to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. But he's a valuable player that is going to help, and now that everything has settled the Predators are a deeper, better team than they were at this time last week.

As general manager David Poile said "These trades have certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year."
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Winners

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings big trade came earlier in the week when they landed  Jeff Carter from the Columbus Jackets, giving the team the goal-scoring help it desperately needed, and reuniting him with his long-time teammate, Mike Richards. As I pointed out the night of the deal, the Kings were able to acquire Richards and Carter over the past year in two separate trades that did not require them to give up any of their own franchise, core players, which is pretty big score.

Buffalo Sabres: When word surfaced early on Monday that the asking price for Gaustad would be a first-round draft pick, there was some disbelief, as well as the assumption that as the day progressed that price would drop. The Sabres didn't back down from their demands and ended up getting the first-round pick they wanted for a player that had chance to lose for nothing over the summer.

They also addressed their need for young talent down the middle by striking what was perhaps the biggest deal of the day, sending Zach Kassian to the Vancouver Canucks for Cody Hodgson.

Minnesota Wild: In what was simply a hockey trade that saw two teams swap different types of defensemen the Oilers shipped Tom Gilbert to Minnesota in exchange for Nick Schultz. The Oilers traded an offensive-minded player for a defensive one, the Wild did the exact opposite, but ended up picking up the better player. Gilbert is going to help Minnesota a lot more than Schultz will help Edmonton.

Ottawa Senators: Saturday's addition of goaltender Ben Bishop is one of those deals that could sneak under the radar but provide a big return. Bishop is a highly regarded prospect and with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak filling the position for the foreseeable future in St. Louis, Bishop wasn't going to get much of an opportunity. He might get it in Ottawa, especially in the short-term now that Craig Anderson is sidelined, and the Senators were able to get him without giving up much in return. Solid addition at a fair price at the right time.

Losers

Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets: The most shocking development to come out of the Rick Nash drama on Monday wasn't that he didn't get traded. For all of the rumors and speculation that followed his name over the past week, it's not a huge surprise that he's still a member of the Blue Jackets on Monday evening. The insanity really started to kick in when.general manager Scott Howson admitted in his Monday afternoon press conference that Nash initially approached the team and asked for a trade, putting the entire process in motion.

Why Howson would admit this is a mystery, but it's becoming pretty obvious that even though Nash will finish this season in Columbus, he's probably not going to be there at the start of next season. Especially now that his (current) general manager pretty much tossed him in front of the bus.

The only question that remains is whether or not Howson will be the man to make the inevitable trade over the summer. And given the return Columbus received on its two trades this past week, selling off Antoine Vermette and Jeff Carter for what amounts to Jack Johnson and some magic beans, not to mention the way he fumbled the Nash situation helping to put a nice bow on a season that only seems to get worse, it's worth asking who will be making that call from the general manager's office.

Of course, Nash isn't completely without blame in this mess either. His agent commented over the weekend that it would be best for a trade to be done sooner rather than later, and if Nash himself were really that desperate to get out of Columbus he wouldn't have limited the Jackets' potential trade partners by only offering to waive his no-trade clause for a short-list of teams, and one that his agent claims will not grow over the summer.

This appears to be a no-win situation for Columbus and its fans.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks goaltending and defense has been a sore spot this season, and their only major move was to add Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets. Not sure if that's going to be enough.

Carolina Hurricanes: After re-signing Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason, two popular names in trade speculation over the past month, the Hurricanes did not deal Bryan Allen or Jaroslav Spacek, two players that are eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season, which means they could possibly walk out the door for no return. It's still possible that one (or both) can be re-signed, which could be exciting ... if you're interested in keeping together a team that's currently 14th in the Eastern Conference. 

Teams that stayed quiet

Pittsburgh Penguins: For the first time under general manager Ray Shero the Penguins did not make a move on, or near, the NHL's trade deadline. With the way the team is playing right now and the makeup of its roster, with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal leading the way, a move wasn't really needed. This team is playing well enough as it is, doesn't appear to have many holes and looks like a team that can be a favorite and top contender for the Stanley Cup.

But the mindset around Pittsburgh seems to be that the lack of a move is a positive sign that Sidney Crosby could be on the verge of a return, or that he will eventually be "the big addition" for the roster. That's all well and good, and if it works out that way, fantastic. But assuming anything right now regarding Crosby is a major stretch. Nobody knows for sure when he'll be back, and it's worth pointing out that his last return lasted all of 10 games. Still a lot of uncertainty around that entire situation.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals were expected to be one of the busiest teams on Monday, especially after their decision to move center Nicklas Backstrom to the long-term injured list, opening up a pretty significant amount of salary cap space ahead of the deadline.

In the end the Capitals did nothing, which seems to be a pretty big shock around the NHL. But is it?

The Capitals could have certainly used a center, but with the way this team has looked for much of the season it's hard to imagine there being a move out there that was going to help this team get over the hump this year. Why give up significant long-term assets to chase after the No. 7 or 8 playoff spot when a deep postseason run doesn't look like it's a legitimate possibility?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 26, 2012 10:19 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 10:34 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Stars, Wild get comeback wins

By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

1. Dallas Stars

Talk about a huge two points. The Stars were down 2-0 to the NHL-best Vancouver Canucks, down 2-1 with less than a minute to play in Dallas. Insert Mike Ribeiro with the tying goal and the Stars had themselves a point. Dallas then picked up the second point on a Loui Eriksson tally in overtime.

They went from picking up nothing to gaining a huge two points. That moved them out of the logjam that is the race for eighth in the Western Conference and into a playoff spot by their lonesome. It also brings Dallas to within three points of the Pacific Division-leading Phoenix Coyotes. And yet this team is still on the fence about buying or selling?

As an extra note, saw this on the Stars broadcast during the game. Going back to 2006, the Canucks were 183-3-12 when leading over two periods. Make that 183-3-13.

[Related: Stars 3, Canucks 2 (OT)]

2. Minnesota Wild

Unlike the eighth seed race in the East where nobody seems to be able to step up and take it, the West is getting carnivorous, in a good way. The Wild, absolutely having to beat the San Jose Sharks to keep any hope of staying in the race alive pulled off their own late comeback.

When Brent Burns slapped home the go-ahead goal with less than 10 minutes left against his old team in his old barn, you had the feeling that it was going to be the dagger. The all-too painful dagger based on the circumstances.

Then Matt Cullen tied it up with his third goal in the last four games. OK, a point is looking good. Unless Jed Ortmeyer tips one in for his first goal in almost two calendar years. Seriously, it was his first goal since March of 2010. Granted, it was only 22 games, but still. Talk about timing.

The task is still tough, especially with every team in the Pacific Division deciding it wants to catch fire right now except for the Sharks, but they remain at that magical five-point mark behind in the race for the playoffs.

[Related: Wild 4, Sharks 3] | McLellan OK after scary incident

3. Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators

When Craig Anderson went down for an undetermined amount of time, people wondered if the Sens weren't going to fall like a rock. They've been riding Anderson hard all season long.

Well that precipitated the recalling of Lehner from the AHL and he responded well. Particularly on the day that the Sens went out and acquired another goaltender who presumably is going to be getting playing time down the stretch in Ben Bishop.

The Islanders might have scored three in the loss, but don't read too much into it from Lehner's end. He was good enough to make a good impression.

[Related: Senators 5, Islanders 3 | Sens get Bishop from St. Louis]

4. Martin St. Louis

He gets the award as the top performer of the day with his hat trick for the Lightning in their win over the Devils in New Jersey. It was his second trick this season, in fact.

With Florida's win, the Lightning didn't gain any traction in the Southeast race and are still eight points out. But what it tells you is that the Lightning are going to be one aggressive spoiler down the stretch. They have been playing much better of late but it's likely going to prove to be too little too late. That doesn't mean they won't have an impact on the rest of the playoff race.

[Related: Lightning 4, Devils 3]

Losers

1. Southeast Division chasers

The Florida Panthers began the day already tied for first place in the division and they had games in hand on the chasing Jets and Capitals. For the second straight night, the rest of the division was able to get excited to see Florida down 2-0 in the game. And for the second straight night, the Panthers overcame that 2-0 deficit to pull out two points against the Montreal Canadiens.

After being honored pregame for becoming the Panthers franchise's all-time games played record holder, Stephen Weiss took the celebration two steps further, potting two scores as the Panthers dominated after giving up the second goal and won really going away, 4-2.

They became the last division leader to hit 70 points to move two points up on the Jets, three on the Caps. They still have played three fewer than Winnipeg and one less than Washington. This is why those games in hand can be so big, but only if you convert them into points.

[Related: Panthers 4, Canadiens 2]

2. Chicago Blackhawks

For the first time in 40 chances, the Blackhawks finally scored a power-play goal. It came from Patrick Kane, who has struggled himself to score this season, no less. That was pretty much the end of the good news.

The Ducks got the benefit of the doubt when Andrew Cogliano was awarded a goal after a very long review where it appeared he might have kicked the puck in. Did he hit it with his stick? It looked like he could have, but there was no indisputable proof that Cogliano legally played it after or not. Still, Cogliano was given the game-tying goal and Anaheim went on for the win.

The bad news for the Ducks, the teams that were in action that they're chasing each won. That's why it's so hard for them to overcome this deficit. Despite a big win over Chicago, they remained six points out of the playoffs.

Light-hearted moment of the night

We're adding this section tonight just to share this video from the Canucks-Stars game and coach Alain Vigneault cracking up uncontrollably on the bench.

Kevin Bieksa is seen giving a good chuckle too. Apparently it was in response to Vernon Fiddler's awesome Bieksa impression.

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

Posted on: February 26, 2012 11:46 am
Edited on: February 26, 2012 1:44 pm
 

Senators acquire G Ben Bishop from Blues

Bishop has a .928 save percentage, 2.26 GAA this year for Peoria. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Days after it was announced Craig Anderson was going to be out an undetermined amount of time after slicing his finger while cooking, the Ottawa Senators went out and acquired goaltender Ben Bishop from the St. Louis Blues. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun was the first to report the trade.

The pick heading to St. Louis for Bishop is Ottawa's second-rounder in the 2013 draft.

Bob McKenzie of TSN added that just after the deal was completed, Bishop signed a one-year contract extension with the Sens. He was scheduled to become a free agent after this season so this ensures the Senators will have him through next season at the least.

“I’m very excited," Bishop told the Sun. "I couldn’t be more happy, especially to a team lwith a great history and the fan support they have.”

Bishop, a highly regarded goaltending prospect, has been stuck in the AHL for the Blues this season with the play of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. He was an All-Star in his own right, representing the Peoria Rivermen in the AHL's extravaganza.

He had hoped before the season to win the backup job in St. Louis but it went to Elliott who has run with it. It led to Elliott receiving a contract extension earlier this season, leaving Bishop's future with the team as one of being in the AHL for some time.

He's the biggest goalie of today's big goalie trend in the NHL. The University of Maine product stands 6 feet 7 has been viewed as one of the better goaltending prospects in the game, he was just blocked in St. Louis.

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There figured to be a lot of teams interested in Bishop, most notably the Tampa Bay Lightning and possibly the Maple Leafs with their goaltending issues. Instead it's Ottawa that gets him and if nothing else, he will give the Sens a chance to rest Anderson a little more when they're both healthy.

I like the deal from both sides. The Blues were likely going to lose Bishop any way after this season, he was going to become an unrestricted free agent despite his age because of the lack of playing time. He was not likely to re-sign with the team if it meant staying in the AHL. So in that regard the Blues got something in return. Maybe they could have gotten a little more for Bishop, but all in all not bad.

For the Sens it means they didn't give up a whole lot to get a goalie they are probably hoping can carry them down the stretch this season. Potentially a lot more.

Where it leaves Robin Lehner, the Sens' top goalie prospect, is another matter. It was expected that next season is when Lehner was going to make the move to the NHL full time and take over Alex Auld's spot as the second goalie in Ottawa. But it's tough to argue that Bishop isn't a better prospect at the position. Lehner is now left in the same spot that Bishop was in in St. Louis, the third goalie blocked by others. A one-way deal for Bishop means that he isn't going to be in the AHL next season.

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

Posted on: December 11, 2011 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 4:55 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Just stop it, Brian Elliott

By Brian Stubits

There was concern going into this season for the people in St. Louis regarding the team's goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had been subpar in his first year with the Blues, exacerbating the need for a quality backup should things not improve.

So with the choices on the board, who did they sign? Brian Elliott, a castoff by both the Senators and Avalanche. His signing was so underwhelming that there was no guarantee he would even open the season with the Blues. There was an honest-to-goodness competition for the second goalie spot between he and young Blues prospect Ben Bishop.

If you've been paying attention to the first third-plus of the season, then you know how that competition turned out. But it's my duty to pretend that my readers are dumb and don't know a thing (sorry people) so I'll just tell you that Elliott won out.

And he's been winning ever since.

Despite being the "backup" to Halak, Elliott is tied for the league lead in shutouts after Saturday's blanking of the San Jose Sharks. He also leads the league with his jaw-dropping save percentage (.947) and goals against average (1.45).

"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself," Elliott said after the 1-0 victory on Saturday. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."

Truth is, he has had to be that good. The Blues aren't exactly scoring like their division foes in Detroit.

While the coaching change from Davis Payne has worked wonders for the Blues and Halak, it would be unfair to credit Elliott's success to that, too. He was outstanding before the change, he's been just as excellent after it.

It's rather amazing when you think where he came from. As we mentioned, his signing was just a little underwhelming and uninspiring. Why? Consider that last season he played for both the Senators and Avalanche after a mid-season trade, a straight goalie swap for Craig Anderson. For the whole season, Elliott was 15-27-9, including 2-8-1 with the Avs. That .947 save percentage this season? Last season it was .893.

That's quite a turnaround. It's not like he's just become suitable this season, he's been outstanding. You could make the argument that he's been the MVP for the Blues this season. Honestly, I have a hard time making an argument for anybody but Elliott considering Hitchcock isn't a player.

"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the only goal in the game. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."

He had to make 11 saves in the third against the Sharks to preserve the win, obviously with no room for error.

I can't say that Elliott is the reason why the Blues are knocking on the Blackhawks' and Red Wings' doors in the Central. It would obviously neglect a lot of other factors at play. But Elliott could very well be at the top of that list.

Power boost

The Washington Capitals had one of the worst power-play units going into Friday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the worst penalty-killing units. Advantage: Capitals.

Among a lot of the concerns surround the Capitals, one was the power play's struggles. They had recently just gone through an 0-for-17 streak -- or skid, if you'd prefer. Then the Caps scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday with the man up.

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Originally three were credited to Dennis Wideman with an assist on the fourth goal, but it was reviewed at Wideman's request on Saturday and the hat trick was taken away. But for a night at least, Wideman had the first hat trick by a Capitals defenseman in more than a decade (Sergei Gonchar in 2000).

But more immediately, there is hope that the Capitals might have found some hope for the man-up. Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that it came against the Leafs.

There is no doubt that the PK continues to be the Achilles' heel for Toronto. After Friday's awful showing, the Leafs are above only the Blue Jackets in successful PKs at 74.3 percent.

Bachman overdrive

When it was announced that the Dallas Stars would be without Kari Lehtonen for some time due to injury, Stars fans were right to be worried at the process of Andrew Raycroft getting more time. Not a reason for much optimism.

However Richard Bachman is. The rookie got his first start of his NHL career on Saturday and he turned in a great effort, holding the Kings to one goal for the 2-1 Dallas win.

With the win, he likely earned himself a start for the Stars' next game Tuesday at the Rangers.

"He's a competitive guy, and he's pretty clean when it comes to rebounds," said coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the former Colorado College goalie in the minors last season. "I just told him when he went out there, `It's the same game that you've been playing.' He has that ability, and he's going through the natural progression. He deserves another start, and most likely we'll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it."

The two points put the Stars back on top of the Pacific Division, which has been surprising this season, and not so much in a good way. The Stars and Coyotes are tied atop the division, but they are each 10 points behind the top team in the West, the Wild. If the division winners weren't awarded the one of the top three seeds, the Stars would be the sixth seed.

On the other bench ...

What's going on with the L.A. Kings? I'll tell you one thing, Terry Murray can't be feeling very comfortable with his job these days.

There was so much hope coming into this season for the Kings. They had been growing every season, they added Mike Richards. It appeared the Kings were on their way to their best season since the days of Gretzky.

They still could be, but they'll have to right the ship in a hurry. Would you believe that there is no team in the NHL worse at scoring goals than Los Angeles? Its 2.21 goals per game ranks at the bottom of the NHL< including below the Ducks in nearby Anaheim. Nothing like low-scoring games to sell hockey in SoCal.

When your cross-town rival makes a move firing its coach and you are being booed off the ice, it's time to wonder if the end is in sight for Murray.

The Wings are good

Just in case you missed that memo.

I was getting ready to start talking about the Winnipeg Jets and how they were extremely quietly inching their way up the Eastern Conference. Then they went to Detroit and were railroaded.

The Red Wings had seven goals from six different scorers -- and none of them was Pavel Datsyuk. It was Detroit's ninth straight win at home where they are 12-2-1 this season. Those are the most wins at home for any team this season.

Some things never change.

One-sided rivalry

What is it about the Battle of Alberta that the Oilers are having so many problems with?

Half of the season's six games have been played between the Oilers and Calgary Flames this season, and the boys from Edmonton have yet to pick up a single point. Against the rest of the NHL, the Oilers are 14-10-3.

The most recent rendition of the provincial rivalry saw Jarome Iginla flash some of his old form with a pair of goals and the Flames took the game 3-0.

Most everybody would agree that the Oilers are likely the better team between the two, but they just can't beat their neighbors. I guess that's why they play the game (well that and winning, right Herm?).

Quote of the weekend

If I were to take a poll of NHL fans who have the Center Ice package which announcer is the biggest homer around? I think it would be a two-horse race between Paul Steigerwald in Pittsburgh and Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.

So for this week's QOTW, we're going to take a light-hearted look at a call from Edwards in the Bruins' win over the Blue Jackets.

On the play, Derek Dorsett is driving toward the net to try and beat Tim Thomas, but his shot attempt is stopped and he then goes skidding into the boards. Here is Edwards' call, you might be surprised (like me).

Yes, that is Edwards rather vehemently arguing against a penalty that went on an opposing player. Clearly he was right, in no way, shape or form was that goaltender interference. If anything, it was interference from Tomas in the form of a trip on Dorsett, who was a bit worse for the ware afterward.

Before you jump down my throat, calm down. I have no problems with local announcers catering to the home team, that is their audience. But sometimes it goes overboard and is comical. So when I hear somebody this adamant in another team's defense, it's "ear-catching."

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: September 28, 2011 1:48 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 4:15 pm
 

Central Division Preview: 'Hawks, Wings battle on

By Brian Stubits

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)

PenguinsChicago 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.

They figure to be better at killing penalties thanks to the additions of Mayers, Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell, an area where Chicago struggled last season.

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.

PenguinsDetroit 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.

PenguinsNashville 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.

PenguinsSt. 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.

You also have to like the young defensive corps that has two stars in the making with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, who each had 43 points from the back end a season ago.

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.

PenguinsColumbus 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.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: July 28, 2011 10:35 am
 

Daily Skate: Preds, Weber prepare for arbitration

By Brian Stubits

ALWAYS BE PREPARED: Even though all other arbitration hearings haven't come to fruition so far (not counting Chris Campoli, who the Blackhawks decided to walk away from well before), Shea Weber and the Predators are both preparing for their battle (the Tennesseean). The chances still are good that a deal will be reached in time, but the sides maintain they aren't close right now. The arbitration meeting is set for Tuesday, Aug. 2, so expect things to stay at a stalemate until Monday. If they still go to arbitration, then Nashville has to take whatever award Weber gets since it filed for arbitration and it will only be a one- or two-year deal. You can see why the Preds would love to handle this on their own.

PITTSBURGH IS ON THE CLOCK? No site has been selected for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft yet, but Pittsburgh has stepped to the front of the table as the leader (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). The city's main foe appears to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year the draft was held in Minnesota. But that's not all the Penguins are up to in the middle of the summer. The team is also going to unveil a Mario Lemieux statue outside of the arena at some point before then. Certainly a worthy gesture.

GETTING WITH THE TIMES FORUM: Steven Stamkos got the most money from Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, but a close second is the St. Pete Times Forum. The team's new owner Jeff Vinik is serious about rebuilding the franchise, and one of those steps is rebuilding the arena. The Forum is in the process of receiving a $35 million facelift (St. Petersburg Times) to the arena which will feature a whole bunch of new and interesting aspects. You know the pirate ship at Tampa's football stadium? Well the Lightning are looking for something similar as far as a recognizable destination goes. The way team CEO Tod Leiweke put it: "we felt the building in some ways needed a soul."

BACKUP BLUE: When free agency began, the Blues got in the action by signing former Senators goaltender Brian Elliott. It wasn't long after that they re-signed massive (literally) prospect Ben Bishop to the same exact two-way contract as Elliott. Now the two are primed for a camp battle for the same spot. Pro Hockey Talk takes a look at the backup battle and notes its importance considering Jaroslav Halak played a career high in games last season and it was just 57. The backup will certainly be relied upon.

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

Posted on: July 24, 2011 9:16 am
Edited on: July 24, 2011 9:45 am
 

Daily Skate: Coyotes ticket sales up

By Adam Gretz

TICKET SALES ON THE RISE IN PHOENIX: It may not be quite as impressive as the Buffalo Sabresrecord renewal rate, but the Phoenix Coyotes have set their own franchise record for season-ticket renewals. According to the Arizona Republic, the team has sold over 1,000 new season ticket packages this summer and has had a 90-percent renewal rate, the highest mark in the history of the team. All of this despite continued uncertainty in ownership and with the long-term future of the franchise. The Coyotes averaged 12,188 fans per game last season, 29th in the NHL (only the Islanders averaged less). Any improvement is a positive sign at this point.

SURGERY FOR MALONE: The Tampa Bay Lightning reported on their Twitter feed that forward Ryan Malone underwent shoulder surgery this offseason, and he should be ready for the start of training camp. The team claims any reports of him being out four-to-six months are "inaccurate."

BISHOP COMPETING FOR BACKUP ROLE: Ben Bishop and Brian Elliott are set to compete for the backup goaltender spot in St. Louis, and it should simply come down to which player plays the best. Contracts or the salary cap shouldn't play a factor, because as general manager Doug Armstrong said, via Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch, "Two guys, both making the same amount of money, looking for the same job."

STAMKOS HAPPY TO STAY IN TAMPA BAY: After weeks of offer-sheet speculation, the Lightning were finally able to sign restricted free agent Steven Stamkos to a five-year contract last week. Stamkos, as well as general manager Steve Yzerman, talked about the process of finally working out a deal, and the 21-year-old superstar seems happy to stay with the Lightning.

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

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com