Tag:Bruce Boudreau
Posted on: March 4, 2012 11:31 am
  •  
 

Bruce Boudreau unleashes on refs after loss

By Brian Stubits

It's been a stressful time for the Anaheim Ducks the past few weeks. They came flying back into the playoff conversation with a torrid run but still had little margin for error. Well lately, like Saturday night, they have been exceeding that margin for error with results like a 4-2 loss to the Kings.

The resulting pressure is bringing out a lot in the Ducks, including head coach Bruce Boudreau. After the loss to L.A., he let go a lot of his frustrations by unleashing a pretty tough tirade on the referees.

You can view the whole postgame interview below, but here are the money lines. And by money lines, I mean the lines that are likely going to cost Boudreau some money. (Transcribed quotes from O.C. Register. Thanks for the time-saver.)

“Some of the worst calls I’ve seen in a friggin’ long time,” he said. “A game of this importance, we can’t have officiating making calls like that. I mean, there’s three penalties that weren’t penalties.

“Granted, they scored and [it’s] probably sour grapes because they scored, but those things can’t happen. It’s too important. There’s too much at stake for everyone not coming to do their jobs.”

And there was some more in there too. As they say, pressure bursts pipes.

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

Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:07 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 12:48 am
 

Winners & Losers: Penguins, Blackhawks, Leafs



By: Adam Gretz

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

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh-Dallas Stars matchup is your typical, run-of-the-mill East vs. West game that takes place once, maybe twice per year.

There really isn't much of a history between the two teams, and it's not really a game that would (or probably should) get any extra attention on your schedule.

But man, something flipped the switch on Wednesday night as the two teams played one of the most physical -- and entertaining -- games of the season, with what appeared to be plenty of bad blood. The Penguins lost Kris Letang and Steve Sullivan during the game, and didn't necessarily play their best, but still ended up coming away with the 4-3 win in a shootout. That gives them another two points in the Eastern Conference standings and moves them three points ahead of the Senators (with two games in hand) and four points ahead of the Philadlephia Flyers.

The real concern for the Penguins now is the status of Letang, easily their best defenseman. With all of the talk about Sidney Crosby's absence this season (and back to last season) the Penguins still have plenty of scoring and depth down the middle, especially with the way Evgeni Malkin and Jodan Staal are playing. They can still be a Stanley Cup contender, if not one of the favorites, without Crosby, and have played like it.

They may not be without Letang. During his earlier absence the Penguins were 10-11 witout him.

[Related: Penguins 4, Stars 3 -- Kris Letang injured (Video)]

Chicago Blackhawks: February hasn't been the best month for the Chicago Blackhawks, and entering Wedneday's game against the Maple Leafs, another team that's been sleepwalking through the month, the Blackhawks were riding a three-game losing streak and falling dangerously close to the Western Conference playoff bubble.

After falling down early in the first period, the Blackhawks roared back and earned a 5-4 win thanks to a big performance from Marian Hossa, scoring two goals, including the game-winner ... which turned out to be an empty net goal late in the third period.

[Related: Blackhawks 5, Maple Leafs 4]

Ryan Miller: The Sabres goalie spoke out earlier in the week about his team trading Paul Gaustad to the Nashville Predators for a draft pick (he didn't like it), and in his first appearance since the trade deadline he played perhaps his best game of the season, stopping all 43 shots he faced, including 20 in the third period alone, as Buffalo picked up a 2-0 win over the Ducks to keep a small glimmer of hope alive when it comes to its playoff chances.

[Related Sabres 2, Ducks 0 -- Sabres trade Gaustad to Nashville]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs
: After slow start after slow start, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally had a fast start on Wednesday night in Chicago, in a game they absolutely needed to win, not only for their playoff hopes, but to keep some sort of sanity within the city of limits of Toronto. They actually jumped out to a 3-1 lead first period lead.

Things looked promising. And then they watched as the bottom completely fell out, resulting in a 5-4 loss to the Blackhawks. And just like that, things went from bad to total meltdown.

Toronto has now lost 10 of its past 11 games, with the only win during that stretch coming in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers, and remain four points behind the Washington Capitals for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference -- a playoff spot that no team seems to want.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks already slim playoff hopes took a big hit on Wednesday night, and thanks to the Stars gaining a point in a shootout loss, and Anaheim's 2-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Bruce Boudreau's bunch now finds itself seven points out of the No. 8 seed in the West, and still in 13th place.

They put together a heck of an effort in the third period, firing 20 shots at Ryan Miller (and 43 for the game) but could never break through on the scoreboard.

[Related: Playoff Race]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 23, 2012 2:05 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 2:26 pm
 

Caps' Hamrlik questions Dale Hunter after scratch

Hamrlik has been statistically much better with Hunter than Boudreau. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals are imploding right before our very eyes. It's getting downright nasty in the nation's capital.

The most recent -- but check back in an hour -- development in How the Capitals Turn concerns veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik. On the same day that rumors started to spread that he was on the trading block, coach Dale Hunter had Hamrlik as a healthy scratch in the team's 5-2 loss to the Senators on Wednesday night.

Before the game Hunter gave his reasoning to the Capitals media, explaining why Hamrlik was joining them in the press box.

"We need him playing better defensively," Hunter said. "He's a defensive defenseman and the way we mark scoring chances [against] he's been involved in too many of them. That's why he was sitting out and that's why [Jeff] Schultz was sitting out before him.

"[Hamrlik] is backing in way too much. He's letting [forwards] come through and they're hitting the second tier. Sitting out is a humbling experience. We all went through it. If you played hockey or any sport you sat out. You've just got to go to practice and work hard like he did today. Watch video and learn from it and when you get the chance play well."

Hamrlik was asked about the words of the coach and the scratch after the team's skate on Thursday and, well, he wasn't very coy. Quotes courtesy of Sky Kerstein of 106.7 the Fan in D.C.

Hamrlik said he hasn't talked to Hunter on why he didn't play, asked why he might not of been in "I don't know, you should ask him. You should ask him [Hunter] about the penalties because when he played I think he [Hunter] make lots of penalties in himself so he should know better.

"I know I take bad penalty, but if that's reason I didn't play, but it's his decision"

Well then. I'm not sure how exactly that compares to Alex Ovechkin's infamous words behind Bruce Boudreau's back earlier this season that many think played a massive role in Boudreau's dismissal, but a player almost challenging a coach publicly? Gee, if Boudreau lost control of the locker room, what does that say for Hunter?

As for the trade rumors, Hamrlik shot down any notion that he wanted out. From CSN Washington:

"Nothing I can do about it. I'm happy to be here and do my job. I don't have control over that. I hope I stay here and make the team better and help them make the playoffs. I don't have reason to leave."

Adding to the drama was Hunter's frank assessment of the play of Tomas Vokoun, who was pulled for the second consecutive game in favor of Michal Neuvirth.

NHL Trade Deadline
More NHL coverage

“Tomas would like a few of them back. He wasn’t as sharp as he should’ve been and it was in the back of our net,” the Caps’ coach said. “We were playing well and it’s one of these things where you get deflated. ... We outchanced them, but we need our goaltending better and Tomas wasn’t sharp tonight.

“Just can’t get off to a bad start like that. If somebody’s not playing as well as they should, you have to block more shots and cover up for him more.”

Vokoun's agent Allen Walsh, never shy to stick up for his clients, added a little to the drama in an oh-so-subtle way.

“I’m not going to comment directly on what someone may have said after a game,” Walsh said in a text message to the Washington Times. “I will point out though that hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.”

But Vokoun didn't add fuel to any fire, saying it's not personal and he'd prefer too that his stats were better.

On top of all of this, Alex Ovechkin is day to day with a lower-body injury and didn't suit up on Wednesday in Ottawa.

When the Caps hired Hunter to replace Boudreau earlier this season it wasn't perfectly clear but it sure sounded like it was for the rest of the season and then they'd go from there. Neither the coach or the franchise knew how the fit would go. It's kind of safe to assume now that Hunter's odds of returning to the OHL London Knights are going up by the day.

By the way, the Caps are still only two points out of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Thanks, Southeast Division.

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

Posted on: February 19, 2012 4:38 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 8:48 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: No hating on Wings now

The weekend saw Detroit's home streak go from 21 in a row to 23. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

I took a lot of heat for suggesting last week that the Red Wings' home win streak, as impressive as it is, might be deserving of a little side not in the history books thanks to the shootout.

But even I'll concede now you can forget that. I said if the Wings continued to push out the streak it becomes a non-issue and you are just left in too much awe of what Detroit has done. They've done exactly that.

After failing in their last five regular-season games against the San Jose Sharks, the Wings instead finished off a six-game homestand with another win, a hard-fought 3-2 victory at the Joe. For those counting at home, and I'm sure that's most all of you, that's 23 consecutive home wins, three more than the previous record.

It all underscores a bigger point. Sure, the NHL record is great and all, but that's nothing more than a nice stat to go in the history books. Otherwise it means nothing. However it will mean something if the Red Wings earn the Presidents' Trophy, or at least the top seed in the Western Conference.

You look hard to find holes on this team. At one point you might have said it was the backup goaltending, then Jimmy Howard got hurt, Joey MacDonald was called up and he has proven he is capable of replacing Ty Conklin. More than capable, in fact.

Before the season the hole was glaring on the defense. That's why they brought in some players to help in that regard, although none seemed to be all that significant at the time, at least to me. Oops.

While one of those additions, Mike Commodore, has been sparingly used, you can't say the same for Ian White. Despite pretty solid career numbers, I wasn't too crazy about a guy who played on three different teams last season (Calgary, Carolina and San Jose). Apparently that was a silly worry.

He has been as solid a plug into their blueline group as anybody out there. He chews up more than 23 minutes per game, he contributes some offensively and is on pace to smash his career best plus/minus mark (currently he is plus-29). I know, I know, plus/minus doesn't mean much, but you'd rather have a player who is that far above zero than below it, wouldn't you?

Moreover, they have scoring depth. Who'd a thunk that Drew Miller -- no longer just the brother of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller -- would be on his way to 15 or so goals? He is one of the 10 Red Wings players who are in double digits in goals this season. That means there is little reprieve at any point in a game against the Wings.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories
More Eye on Hockey

Obviously you're a good team when you win 23 in a row at home. Clearly no slouch is going to get that done. But the biggest thing about this home streak for me is that it will contribute to them playing a lot more at home. Ironic, I know. But what really matters will be the home games beyond the guaranteed 41.

Philly's problem

This week the Flyers made not one but two trades to get help on the defensive corps. While the help was definitely needed, not a lot is going to get better if the goaltending duo doesn't improve.

A sight that has become all too familiar this season, Ilya Bryzgalov was yanked mid-game after Matt Cooke scored the all-too rare 3-on-5 goal. Sergei Bobrovsky came in and din't perform any better. Eventually it ended in a 6-4 loss for the Flyers to the intrastate rival Penguins.

But evidenced by the downpour of boos from the Wells Fargo Center faithful, this has been a season-long issue for Philadelphia. Heck, it's been a lot longer than this season, but it was supposed to be resolved when they brought in Bryzgalov.

His save percentage has been floating around .900 all season. Right now it's sitting square on that mark, the lowest of his career. His goals against average is up to 2.79. His only worse season was in 2008-09 when he gave up 2.98 per game with the Coyotes.

Needless to say this isn't what the Flyers invested so much into him for. You have to think that with the success the team has had despite the goaltending woes, if either one of the goalies could get it going and start playing up to an acceptable level at minimum, they could make some serious noise in the playoffs.

You just wonder if that's possible at this point, if it's in either goalie with the current situation, from the defense in front of them to the coaching. It's a conversation that continues to linger around the Flyers.

Just check out what the Flyers had to say, including Bryzgalov after Saturday's loss.

Hockey Day in America

So among all the American players playing on Sunday, who'd a thunk that Paul Gaustad would be the first to score on Sunday's Hockey Day in America?

Assuming you don't count Canadian-born Jason Pominville even though he does play for the American natonal team as a dual-citizen, it was his Sabres teammate that scored the first goal by an American. He barely beat Drew Miller in Detroit for that honor.

It was part of a rare breakout for the Sabres. It's been a big struggle for them this season in Buffalo, but they brought out the scoring sticks and pounded the Penguins 6-2. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't do much for Buffalo who is too far out of the playoff picture, but it was perhaps a nice audition for Gaustad in this month of the trade deadline.

He's not going to be as sought after as a lot of the other players, but some team seeking grit and toughness with a side of skill, Gaustad could fit somewhere. Just go back and watch his work on Evgeni Malkin on Sunday to get a sense of that.

Unlucky break of the weekend

Speaking of Hockey Day in America, one of the other big games of the day was the St. Louis Blues visiting the Chicago Blackhawks. It was also a big matchup in the Central Division as well.

As is the case with every Blues game, it was a low-scoring affair that turned with one bad break. This one going against the Blues.

The game-winning goal for the Blackhawks technically went to Dave Bolland, but if they could, it should have gone to the Blues' David Backes, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The centering pass shot off of Backes and he couldn't stop the puck from going in the net in time. The 'Hawks eventually potted an empty-netter for their third straight win after the nine-game skid.

Vancouver love

This year's NHLPA players poll voted the Vancouver Canucks as the league's most overrated team. Don't think I'd agree at all in calling them overrated. They were one game from winning the Cup last season and as we all know, only one team can win the Cup each season. I mean the Canucks have won the games to put them in the positions they've been in each postseason, it's not like it's a fabrication, they earned those points.

In fact, I'd say that this team doesn't get enough credit, at least in the States. They seem to be in the news a bit, but not often for their play. Yet all they do is win as DJ Khaled so eloquently said. This is the team that could take away from that Red Wings home-ice advantage in the West this postseason.

That's because they extended their points streak to 12 games after beating down the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2 on Saturday in Vancouver. They are 9-0-3 in that time. They became the second team behind the Wings to reach the 80-point plateau.

Perhaps that overrated label has come from the fact that we expect this now. It might also explain why they are winning so quietly. Or maybe it has been the large amount of overtime and shootout wins, especially lately. But no matter the reason, people should probably pay attention.

Just can't Capitalize

Every time you think the Washington Capitals are going to get it going after a big and impressive win, they fall flat. It happened again this weekend.

They took two points from the division-leading Panthers on Friday night in a dominating effort, outshooting Florida by a wide margin. So how'd they follow that up? By looking like the Caps we've seen for the most of Dale Hunter's tenure ... being outshot and outchanced for the majority of the game and losing a low-scoring affair to the Lightning 2-1.

It seems every step they take forward they take one step back. It's why the Panthers are still sitting in first place in the Southeast with just 65 points. That's the seventh most in the Eastern Conference yet best in the division.

At some point if the Caps are going to make the playoffs they need to start stringing together a couple of these wins in a row instead of missing these chances.

Quote of the weekend

“I haven’t been on a vacation for 15 days,” Boudreau said. ”This is ridiculous. The East has no idea how lucky they are. And I think every team in the West should start with 10 points before the season starts.

“Eight games and 15 days. And I’m sure Pittsburgh goes through it, too. But when you have a four-game road trip in seven days, you’re coming home exhausted. We’re at seven days right now and this is just the halfway point in our trip.

“For a guy that’s played in the East or coach in the East as well, I don’t know how they do it,” he said. ”I really don’t. It’s quite a testament to every team in the West’s character for not griping as much as I’m doing right now about it.

“You don’t even know what hotel room you’re getting into. You forget the hotel rooms and everything during the course of the day on this trip. It’s pretty Wild. But it is what it is. You can’t use it as an excuse and you’ve got to keep going.”

-- Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on the travelling for his Anaheim team. It was technically said on Thursday, but hey, it's worth pointing out, particularly as the Ducks went from New Jersey on Thursday to Carolina on Friday and Florida on Sunday evening.

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

Posted on: February 16, 2012 2:26 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 2:32 pm
 

Can Ducks complete comeback and make playoffs?

Selanne and Anaheim can see the eighth spot now. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

This is shaping up just like a Disney movie. They could call this one The Mighty Ducks. Oh, wait ...

Go back about two months and you'd find the Anaheim Ducks left for dead. They were playing the Columbus Blue Jackets with the loser taking the lead in the Fail for Nail (Yukupov, top draft prospect this year) race. That's how far in the dumps they were.

A look at the standings today after their 2-1 win in Pittsburgh Wednesday night reveals the Ducks are only six measly points out of a playoff position with 25 games to go. Meanwhile, they are now 17 points up on the Jackets, having passed six other teams on the way up.

It has people wondering if they can do the unthinkable, pull of a remarkable comeback and sneak into the playoffs. In looking at the bubble teams earlier this week, colleague Adam Gretz estimated the Ducks will roughly have to finish the season 20-6-0. That could possibly come down. Perhaps an 18-7-1 record could be enough. Those three fewer points make it seem a lot less daunting, don't they?

The point is, the odds are still long. But are they too long for the Ducks?

Remember how they finished last season, on a tear that took them to the playoffs and Corey Perry to the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Anaheim closed out the season going 15-5-0. Considering it's mostly the same group of guys just with their No. 1 goaltender actually on the ice this time, why couldn't they put together a similar record this year?

I don't have a good reason for you other than it would mean stretching this strong run out for much longer and the odds of a team staying that hot for that long aren't good. Then again, they did stay so cold for so long earlier this season.

With Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and the rest of the crew scoring goals again -- something they weren't doing earlier this season -- it's possible. When they are on, that's one of the most talented group of players you'll find in the game.

You'd think the road-heavy schedule might be the big obstacle, and it well could be. But right now they are halfway through an eight-game road trip and have picked up seven of the eight possible points so far.

If it happens that the Ducks do find themselves sneaking into the playoffs, I can't imagine there will be a team that would want that first-round matchup. Also, you can anticipate hearing some calls for Bruce Boudreau to win the Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach. A turnaround like that would put him in the conversation with Ken Hitchcock, John Tortorella, Kevin Dineen and more. Imagine that, a coach winning the Jack Adams in the same season he was fired.

Personally, I wouldn't say Boudreau would be deserving of the Adams. No, I'd vote Bob Murray for general manager of the year over Florida's Dale Tallon. Remember, it wasn't the hiring of Boudreau that was the impetus for this surge, it was Murray threatening to trade everybody but Selanne and Saku Koivu. Talk about a kick in the pants.

I'm going to go out on the limb and say I think the Ducks will get it done and make the playoffs. Unfathomable two months ago, I'm going to say I'm one of the believers now. What's your call?

More from Eye on Hockey

Ducks believe in miracles
Murray says players available
NHL's playoff race

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

Posted on: February 15, 2012 12:08 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2012 12:20 pm
 

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

Can the Islanders pull off a miracle run? (Getty Images)

Pucks and Numbers:
a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the playoff bubble and what the teams on it need to do to make the postseason


By: Adam Gretz

Recent hot streaks by the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning have sparked some playoff hope for their respective fan bases. On the other side, a recent slump that's come in the form of a 9-game losing streak has left some wondering if the Chicago Blackhawks could, amazingly, find themselves on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture when the regular season comes to a close.

Anything is possible, but even though there appears to be a large number of teams that are still "in" the playoff race, the harsh reality is that even a two or three-game deficit (four or six points in the standings) is a lot to overcome. It doesn't seem like it should be, but it is.

A couple of months ago I looked at how a slow start is extremely damaging to a teams playoff chances sooner than you might realize, and as the days of the regular season start to fall away those deficits become even more daunting. I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week that since the start of the '05-06 season there have only been two teams that managed to overcome a 5-point deficit this late in the season (the '06-07 Rangers and the '08-09 Blues) to qualify for the playoffs.

Ninety-five points is usually a safe bet to get your team into the playoffs, so with that in mind, let's take one more look at what each of the bubble teams will need to do over their remaining games to reach that level. Of course, it is possible for a team to make the playoffs with fewer than 95 points, and that may in fact happen this season, especially in the East, but I'm simply going with the number that tends to be a near automatic playoff berth.

Let's start with the Eastern Conference...

Eastern Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
7 Ottawa Senators 23 29 13-7-3
8 Toronto Maple Leafs 25 33 15-7-3
9 Washington Capitals 26 34 15-7-4
10 Winnipeg Jets 25 37 17-5-3
11 New York Islanders 26 39 17-4-5
12 Montreal Canadiens 25 40 18-3-4
13 Tampa Bay Lightning 26 41 18-3-5
14 Buffalo Sabres 26 41 18-3-5

Incredibly, Washington and Winnipeg still have an outside shot (at this point, a very outside shot) at winning the Southeast Division, which speaks more to the quality (or lack of it) of the division than anything else, but that hope of a Division title gets smaller with each loss. Once you get past Washington in the No. 9 spot the remaining teams have almost no margin for error.

The Canadiens? Better start praying. The Islanders, for example, have been playing some pretty great hockey recently, especially veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, but does anybody believe they have a 17-4-5 finish in them?

Even if it only took 90 points to reach the playoffs, they would still need a 15-7-4 finish.

Now, a look at the Western Conference...

Western Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
6 Chicago Blackhawks 25 30 15-10-0
7 Los Angeles Kings 25 30 15-10-0
8 Phoenix Coyotes 25 32 15-8-2
9 Calgary Flames 25 33 15-7-3
10 Colorado Avalanche 25 35 16-6-3
11 Dallas Stars 26 36 17-7-2
12 Minnesota Wild 26 37 17-6-3
13 Anaheim Ducks 26 40 20-6-0

When you look at in terms of how many games these teams need to win the rest of the way, the playoff races may not be as deep as they appear to be. When you get right down to it, there might only be four teams (Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Calgary) in the West fighting for three playoff spots.

Minnesota would need to play almost as well as it did in October through December to get back into the top-eight, which shows just how far that team fell over the past month-and-a-half. After 30 games the Wild had the best record in the league. Just 26 games later they're going to need to play like the best team in hockey for the remainder of the season just to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Bruce Boudreau has certainly helped get Anaheim going back in the right direction, but he's going to need to turn water into wine to get Anaheim, as well as its played in recent weeks, into the playofs this season.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 2, 2012 10:45 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 10:48 pm
 

Winnipeg is still in the playoff race

ByfuglienBy: Adam Gretz

Believe it or not, but the possibility of the Winnipeg whiteout making a return to the NHL playoffs this spring is still alive. For now.

Including their 2-1 overtime win in Tampa Bay on Thursday night, the Jets have won just five games since Jan. 1 and for the season have earned just 54 points in the standings, a total that only 10 teams in the league have yet to reach. The amazing thing about that is following their win on Thursday they are just three points out of the top spot in the Southeast Division and what would be a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference due to the current NHL playoff format.

The Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers have been involved in a back-and-forth race since the start of the season, and on any given night either one of them is in a position to drop from third place to ninth place, as was the case following Wednesday's game in Florida, a game the Panthers won by a 4-2 margin and went from being on the outside of the playoff picture to one of the top spots in the conference.

All of the attention has focussed on them, but quietly -- very quietly, as it turns out -- the Jets have found a way to, shockingly, hang around in the race.

Of course, while the Jets trail the Capitals by just two points and the currently first-place Panthers by three, it needs to be pointed out that those two teams both have games in hand on the Jets. Florida has played three fewer games than Winnipeg, while Washington has played two fewer, so there is an opportunity for them to increase their leads as the schedule balances out. But the Jets are also going to have their own opportunity to continue to close in on them with six games remaining against their divisional rivals, including Friday night in Florida, a game that suddenly has some significance when it comes to the playoff race.

The Jets aren't playing great hockey, but the Panthers and Capitals haven't done anything to run away with the division. Florida has lost 14 of its past 21 games and Washington's offense has all but disappeared since replacing Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter.

There is a good chance the division will provide just one playoff team this year, and right now it's a pretty wide open race. The geography and travel may be an issue for the Jets having to play in the Southeast, but the overall mediocrity of it has also given them an increased opportunity to actually make the postseason, something that probably wouldn't exist in any other division.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 20, 2012 12:57 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 3:50 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Rangers and Bruins finally meet

McDonagh's and Seguin's teams renew acquaintances. (Getty Images)

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

By Brian Stubits

Thanks to the scheduling quirks of the NHL, it has taken us until the end of January to get a dose of some real New York-Boston feuding in hockey. No offense to the Devils and the Islanders, but the city-to-city rivalry is reserved for pretty much only the Rangers against the Bruins.

This season, though, the wait has seemed even longer than it really has been. That's because of the little fact that for the first team in a long, long time, the Bruins and Rangers are the best two teams in the Eastern Conference.

There has been some bemoaning lately of the lack of rivalries in hockey. Well this isn't on par with Yankees-Red Sox in baseball, but there's always a little extra flair when it's New York vs. Boston. This one should have a lot of extra flair.

Nobody at this point will dispute the Rangers are one of the best teams in the league this season. You'd be foolish to try. But there are people, myself included, who are still wondering exactly how good are the Rangers? Well what better way to find out than to send them to the hornets’ nest that is TD Garden in Boston to face the defending champs?

Although it’s too bad we could have had this game a week or so ago. By their standards this season, each of these teams has lost some steam going into the game. The Bruins are only 6-4-0 in their last 10 (gasp!) while the Rangers just slightly better at 7-3-0. I laugh about it a little but it was just in the last two weeks that each of these teams had won nine of 10 games.

One of the tricks for each of the coaches is to find ways to keep pushing their guys in the middle of the season, particularly when you've had as much success as these two Original Six squads have. Sometimes that can be as simple as finding a bear to poke (pun clearly intended).

Bruins coach Claude Julien took his poking stick to the midsection of Nathan Horton this week on the Bruins' recent road trip.

"Horton has got to pick up his game. No ifs or buts about it," Julien said after the shootout win at Florida. "A guy his size needs to get more physically involved. He needs to compete a lot harder. He's skating hard, you can see it on the backcheck ... but we need more from him. When he's emotionally engaged, he scores goals and he's a difference-maker. He's got to find his game. We're at the point where we're a little shorthanded and we need him to step up."

Horton responded by scoring twice in the loss to the Lightning and then one more in the win on Thursday night against the Devils. That might be mission: accomplished.

It looks like Rangers coach John Tortorella has his own target to try and prod.

Brad Richards was the star they brought to New York this summer to give Marian Gaborik that other scoring threat and finally give Henrik Lundqvist some much-deserved support. In that regard, Richards has been alright. But that's it.

In 45 games he has 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points while carrying a minus-3. That stat still means very little, plus/minus, but on a team like the Rangers, it's tough to be negative. He and Ruslan Fedotenko are the only players on the team with more than 10 games played that are in the red.

Going into the game against the Bruins, Richards hasn't tallied a single point in the last six games. Obviously that's not very good, particularly for a guy making $6.7 million per season.

While Tortorella didn't go anywhere close to the level of criticism that Julien did with Horton, he at least made it known that Richards needs to step up some. From Ranger Rants:

Coach John Tortorella said he didn’t want to analyze individual performances after the game when asked specifically about Staal and Brad Richards. But he acknowledged that Richards’ game wasn’t spot on right now (he was a minus-1 in 16:46 though he won 12 of 16 faceoffs).

If the Rangers can get a point-per-game pace out of Richards like he has been doing for most of the past few seasons, then watch out.

This will be the first of four matchups between the foes this season and each will very likely go a long way in determining who gets home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

If that leaves you wanting more ...

... Then you'll get it. There is no better way to spend Saturday if you're a hockey fan than to tune in to the NHL Network. Once that Rangers-Bruins tilt is done it's on to the next, but it takes no backseat to the first game.

The Vancouver Canucks seem to have a lot of rivalries these days. We all know about their ongoing feud with the Bruins, they have a fierce battle with the Chicago Blackhawks and pretty much any team from Canada.

But don't forget about their rivals to the south in San Jose, too. They've had some damn good playoff battles as well, including that Western Conference final matchup a season ago where Kevin Bieksa was the only person on the ice who knew what the heck was going on.

The Sharks are an interesting team to me. Perhaps it's a situation of just getting used to it, being desensitized to them, but once again they are right there in the race for the Presidents' Trophy this season. Remember, they have games in hand on every single Western Conference team.

Yet they are just quietly trudging along on the West Coast. It's expected from them now to be honest. That's a great compliment to give to the ownership and front office in San Jose.

Unlike the Eastern powers mentioned above, these Western heavies have already met three times this season, so when they dance on Saturday night in Vancouver, it's the last time they'll see each other until next season. Unless ...

Hot, hot, hot!

The Ottawa Senators are 12-2-2 since Kyle Turris came to town. They are in the midst of a very challenging road trip to the West Coast, starting it off with a win on Thursday in San Jose.

When they looked at the itinerary for the road trip, they had to look at the Saturday visit to Anaheim as a little bit of a reprieve on the tough trip. Not anymore.

It took a while, but Bruce Boudreau is seeing the Ducks play the way we all thought they would this season. All of a sudden, these are the two hottest teams in the NHL (what?!?). The Ducks are 6-0-1 in their last seven games in their own right.

It's likely well past the time for them to get back into the playoff picture. Even with these 13 points in seven games, they are still 13 points behind Colorado for the eighth spot in the West. What a really strong finish can do, though, is affect the way general manager Bob Murray views his team and thus how much of a seller the Ducks will be at the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

In the meantime, each of the Sens and Ducks gets a heat check in one of the few places in either the USA or Canada that it's actually warm right now, Southern California.

Familiar foes

Friday night will feature some old friends facing off as the Florida Blackhawks visit the Chicago Panthers. Wait ...

Since Dale Tallon took over in Florida as general manager, the Panthers have taken on quite a strong feeling of the Blackhawks. They currently carry five former players from Chicago: John Madden, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Jack Skille. Of them, only Skille wasn't a contributor to the Stanley Cup a couple of seasons ago.

To make that happen obviously Tallon had to send some of his Panthers players to GM Stan Bowman in Chicago. It's not as strong the other way but the Blackhawks currently employ former Panthers Michal Frolik, Steve Montador and have Rostislav Olesz and Alexander Salak in the system.

But the player to watch in this battle? How about Andrew Shaw, who is quickly making a big name for himself in Chicago. The 20-year-old forward who was a fifth-round pick by the 'Hawks has five points in the last four games on the strength of a goal in each game. That's led to the Twitter hashtag of #ShawFacts where fans have taken their best Chuck Norris jokes and tailored them for Shaw.

Something else worth watching: With weather conditions as bad as they are in Chicago this weekend, will the Panthers have any problems getting out of town and into Winnipeg in time for their game Saturday against the Jets?

Speak of old friends ...

What would the Tampa Bay Lightning give to have the summer over and keep Mike Smith instead of Dwayne Roloson?

The Bolts will get the chance to see firsthand what has happened to Smith since he moved to the desert this offseason. For those not in the know, what has happened is that he has become a quality starting goaltender for the Coyotes.

The Lightning are giving up more goals than any team in the league. Don't you think Smith and his 2.41 goals against average would be handy in Tampa Bay this season?

Then again, it probably wouldn't be too much different if the defenders in front of Smith were playing the same/as injured as they are in front of Roloson and Mathieu Garon.

Fun doesn't stop Saturday

On Sunday there is a nice pair of battles for matinee games in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins will take on another one of the I-95 corridor powers in the Philadelphia Flyers while the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Washington Capitals for their final bout this season. It might be a bit watered down without Sidney Crosby playing, but it's still worth watching.

Both games are worth it, so get ready to wear out the "last" button on your remote.

We're going streaking!

A look at the winning and losing streaks heading into the weekend.

Penguins: Remember how they just lost six in a row? This is how you rebound from that. The Pens take a four-game winning streak into Friday night's game against the Canadiens before the game against the Caps.

Detroit Red Wings: For the moment, they have taken the lead in the Central Division, which is an unbelievable race this season. Their five straight wins will be put on the line Saturday vs. the Blue Jackets.

St. Louis Blues: They are doing what they can to keep pace with the Red Wings and Blackhawks, and they're doing it just fine. They ride a three-game run into a home game against the Sabres, losers of 10 straight on the road.

Buffalo Sabres: As just mentioned, 10 straight road losses, four in a row overall. Only the one chance in St. Louis to snap it this weekend.

Panthers: They haven't won a game in their last three chances but they have picked up points in two of those three. The double dip this weekend is at Chicago and at Winnipeg.

Minnesota Wild: The ship keeps on sinking. Remember when they were first in the NHL? I hardly do either. Four straight losses and Dallas on tap this weekend.

Dallas Stars: Misery loves company, I suppose. Dallas brings its own losing streak of three games into the weekend, but they get Tampa Bay before facing the Wild.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com