Tag:Kevin Bieksa
Posted on: February 28, 2012 11:09 am
Edited on: February 28, 2012 11:11 am
 

Fiddler's Bieksa imitation cracks Vigneault up

By Brian Stubits

Over the weekend, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was seen on the Vancouver bench in hysterics. For a guy who seems to have the same face during games at all times, it was a treat to see. He just couldn't control himself, trying to hide behind his papers and conceal his red-faced laughter.

Kevin Bieksa was giving a good chuckle on the bench too. But why, exactly? What happened?

It was one wicked Bieksa imitation from Dallas Stars forward Vernon Fiddler that at first appeared to escape the cameras, but oh no, there's video. Thank goodness there was video.

Well done Fiddler. That's worthy of a solid A.

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

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 21, 2012 3:02 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 3:09 pm
 

Erik Karlsson's big year leading Senators

KarlssonBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at offensive production of Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson

With less than two months to play in the regular season the Ottawa Senators find themselves in a position that probably not even the most optimistic of their fans expected them to be when the season began back in October.

As of Tuesday afternoon, and following their 6-0 win over the New York Islanders on Monday, the Senators are in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with a six-point lead over the first non-playoff team. The playoffs look to be a very real possibility --if not likely at this point -- for a team that was projected by most to be one of the worst teams in the league over the summer.

It's a pretty good position to be in, and one of the driving forces behind their success has been the play of third-year defenseman Erik Karlsson, their first-round pick from the 2008 draft.

After a dominant two-goal, four-point performance on Monday afternoon against the Islanders, Karlsson currently sits atop the NHL leaderboard for scoring among defenseman with 57 points. That's 17 points more than the second-leading scorer, Florida's Brian Campbell. To look at it another way, the gap between Karlsson and Campbell from first to second is as big as the gap between Campbell and Florida's Jason Garrison, who is currently 38th in scoring among defenseman (23 points). And that's pretty amazing.

On his current pace of nearly a point-per-game, Karlsson would finish the regular season with 76 points, which is probably about as good as you can expect in the NHL these days from a defenseman. It's going to take him just 13 points over his final 21 games ( or an average .61 points per game, which is well below his current pace of .96 points per game for the season) to reach the 70-point mark, which would make him just the fifth different defenseman to reach that level over the past 14 seasons.

Nicklas Lidstrom did it four times over that stretch. Mike Green did it twice. Sergei Zubov and Brian Leetch each did it once.

His performance this season is starting to attach his name to the Norris Trophy discussion (as Sportsnet's Ian Mendes and Justin Bourne of the Score both argued on Tuesday), which is sure to have it's share of detractors.

Think back to when Green, the Capitals super-skilled and extremely productive defenseman, was a finalist for the Norris in back-to-back years during the '08-09 and '09-10 seasons with offensive seasons that were near mirror images of what Karlsson is currently doing for Ottawa. It was always polarizing because his shortcomings defensively were always pointed out and magnified, along with some variation of the comment, "well, he's basically a fourth-forward when he's on the ice." Or something along those lines.

Keep in mind, though, that the Norris Trophy doesn't (or isn't supposed to) go to the best "defensive defenseman." It's supposed to go to the player that demonstrates "the best all-around ability in the position."

That, of course, includes offensive ability, and that's something that Karlsson clearly has, and at a very young age. And it's not like he's a poor defensive player at this point in his career, either.

Karlsson is already logging a team-high 25 minutes of ice-time per game for the Senators, nearly two full minutes more than the second defenseman, and when he is on the ice the Senators tend to have the upper hand when it comes to possession and keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Among defensemen that have played at least 50 games this season (or players that we would consider for the Norris Trophy) Karlsson currently has the best Relative Corsi rating in the NHL 13.8. Corsi, if you're not familiar with it, is simply the total shot-differential at even-strength (goals, saves, missed shots, blocked shots) when a player is on the ice, which gives a pretty good indication of which players and teams are controlling possession of the puck the most. And that's pretty valuable, because the best way to keep the other team from scoring is to keep them pinned in their own zone, and Karlsson has been as good at that as any other defenseman in the league this year.

Now, Karlsson does have a bit of an advantage over some of the players he's ahead of that are also legitimate Norris candidates, if not favorites, (such as Nashville' Shea Weber and Boston's Zdeno Chara).

The Senators do protect him a bit defensively by not asking him to start many shifts in his own zone (his offensive zone-start percentage is currently over 56 percent). He also isn't asked to kill penalties all that much, and spends a great deal of time on the power play. But even if you look at just his even-strength points (35) he's still crushing the rest of the defensemen in the league in scoring (the No. 2 defenseman in even-strength scoring is Kevin Bieksa, with 25 points).

No matter how you look at it, he's having an incredible season and has clearly been Ottawa's best defenseman, if not its best overall player, and is one of the biggest reasons the team has exceeded almost every expectation.

I don't know if that's enough to get him serious Norris consideration at this point as the names Chara, Weber and Lidstrom still carry enough clout (and are pretty darn good players as well) to make it difficult for him to crack the top-three.

That doesn't mean he isn't deserving.

(Corsi and Zone Start numbers via BehindTheNet.ca)

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.
Posted on: January 8, 2012 4:24 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 4:40 pm
 

Marchand has hearing for clipping; Salo concussed

By Brian Stubits

The Boston Bruins had not one but two players assessed game misconducts in Saturday's very combative Stanley Cup Final rematch loss to the Vancouver Canucks. One of those -- to Milan Lucic -- was rescinded by the NHL. The other one handed to Brad Marchand for clipping has led to a hearing with the NHL.

In a game that had numerous fights, hits and dustups, Marchand's hit on Sami Salo was the worst. With the two on a colision course, Marchand elected to play his own version of the limbo and see how low he could go. He connected with Salo right around his knees, flipping Salo head over heels and hitting the ice with his head.

Take note, too, of the leadup to the hit from Marchand. You see the two players bumped into each other then Marchand threw a couple of jabs at Salo before undercutting him. It doesn't help his case in arguing that it wasn't intentional.

It is a bit interesting that in today's league where teams like the Florida Panthers are listing concussed players as being out with bruised tailbones that the Canucks wasted no time in announcing that Salo did, indeed, suffer a concussion from the hit.

Remember too that Marchand has a discipline past on his short resume already. Earlier this season he was fined for slew-footing Matt Niskanen and last season he was given two games for elbowing R.J. Umberger in the head. We've seen a few times this season how Brendan Shanahan treats repeat offenders.

We know this much, the Canucks weren't happy about it at all.

“You talk about unacceptable plays in hockey,” GM Mike Gillis told the Vancouver Sun, “that's clearly one. I'm not going to comment any further.”

But of course defenseman Kevin Bieksa did. He's always good for an opinion on anything involving his teammates, it seems.

“It's very, very cheap,” Bieksa said. “I can't think of a cheaper hit you can do on the ice. That and a slew-foot kind of go hand in hand. Twenty seconds before that, [Marchand] and Sami have a pretty good collision in the exact same spot. Sami probably gets the better of him. Then second time, Marchand comes back and loses his will and goes down low. A cheap shot from him, and I hope he gets a phone call from the league.”

He is. That's how his hearing will be conducted, over the phone, meaning Marchand's suspension won't exceed four games.

Even the coaches are getting into it. Here's a little back and forth between Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault from the Sun.

“If guys start protecting themselves the way Marchand did, maybe guys will stop taking runs at other guys,” Julien told reporters, “because that's the consequences – you end up paying for taking runs at other guys, too.”

Canuck coach Alain Vigneault was not amused.

"That's a stupid comment," he said Sunday. "What Marchant did, you could end a player's career doing that. I've never seen Sami Salo take a run at any player in the NHL.

"Marchand -- and this is just my feeling -- but someday he's going to get it. Someday, someone's going to say 'enough is enough' and they're going to hurt the kid because he plays to hurt players. And if the league doesn't care, somebody else will."

Marchand addressed the possible suspension on Sunday with reporters, explaining that he was protecting himself when he saw Salo coming his way.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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

Posted on: January 6, 2012 12:56 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:47 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Bruins and Canucks meet again

By Brian Stubits

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Vancouver to start Schneider over Luongo

The Boston Bruins are out-of-this-world good. Six times this season they have beaten their opponent by at least five goals. That includes Thursday's 9-0 rout of the Calgary Flames.

On the season they have scored 138 goals (most in the NHL) and only allowed 69 (fewest in the NHL). For the mathematically impaired, that's exactly twice as many goals for as against. They have an absolutely staggering plus-69 goal differential on the season.

To put that in further perspective, here's a stat that was pointed out to me by a friend. In only half a season, the Bruins' plus-69 is better than all but three teams' season total in the last three years.

Since their 3-7-0 start, it's been utterly ridiculous what they have done. Their record since is 23-3-1. That means they have earned 47 of the past 54 possible points.

It's scary to think about, but the numbers point to the Bruins being a better team than they were a season ago when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Well the Canucks will get their one and only chance this season to see how much better, if at all, the Bruins are than a season ago.

These teams have had rather similar paths since their great seven-game Final a season ago. The Bruins have received a lot of the attention for the way they have just been steamrolling the competition, but the Canucks are going through a somewhat similar season. They, too, rebounded from the long postseason with a sluggish start but have since come to play the way they were expected. They have retaken their seat atop the Northwest Division and are in the thick for best record in the league.

It's no exaggeration to say that these very well could be the two best teams in the NHL again this season.

Yet this Saturday's matchup in Boston isn't as much about this season as it is about last season, specifically the Finals.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of hype for that game, but we’re a different team than we were last year. We’ve added some different components,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told ESPN.com. “Boston is pretty much the same team, but it’s a new year. We’re going to just go in there and try and play our best game.”

There was enough hostility in that seven-game series to last for three series. We had finger-biting, tire-pumping, trash-talking and rioting. Well OK, that last one wasn't in the series, but still.

The biggest bit of trash talk that came out publicly wasn't until after the series when now retired Bruins forward Mark Recchi said he has never hated an opponent like he did those Canucks. That prompted Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa to suggest Recchi go play a round of golf or take a nap.

Recchi, now working with NBC, did backtrack this week.

“I probably shouldn’t have said anything and I wish I wouldn’t have, but that’s what happened and that’s how the series was,” Recchi told Vancouver’s The Province. “People know I love B.C. and Vancouver and it was an unbelievable series but there was a lot of dislike on both sides. And it wouldn’t have been a Stanley Cup final if there wasn’t that much dislike -- we really didn’t like each other.”

It's not likely that the dislike has worn off in the half-year since.

The rematch will have about all you could ask for in a midseason contest, assuming the Bruins don't turn it into a snoozer with another rout.

Mr. 499

I haven't come across anybody who doesn't like Jarome Iginla. The Calgary Flames forward has long been the epitome of what people want in their professional athletes. He's humble, approachable, charitable and of course talented.

He's on the cusp of reaching a great milestone, sitting one goal away from No. 500 in his career. Quite honestly, it's about the only reason why non-Flames fans would want to watch Calgary at the moment.

Iginla told CBSSports.com this week that the pursuit of the milestone isn't something that he's been worried about, but he certainly has thought about it.

"No, it hasn't weighed, but now that I'm at 499, you definitely try not to think about it on each shot and think 'well it could be' or whatever. So I think about it a little bit," Iginla said. "But once you get to the game you're just competing and want to win the game. I don't look at it like I'm counting down games. Just keep going and just keep trying to shoot and get chances and keep the same approach. But you definitely think about it a little bit."

Because of the World Junior tournament that just ended on Thursday with one hell of a game between Sweden and Russia, the Flames have been road warriors for the past couple of weeks. But on Saturday night they'll return home to the Saddledome to take on the Minnesota Wild with Iginla still just one away.

In a way it's great that Iginla didn't reach the milestone in the past week for it will give him a chance to do it back home in Calgary. He'd be applauded handsomely in whichever city it happened, but it's always best to do these things at home.

Certainly the team will be happy to be back home, too. The Flames petered out the end of their seven-game road trip, losing the last five, including that 9-0 rout in Boston.

"We feel that we're good at home and that we're confident," Iginla said. They better hope so, they don't want to fall too far behind in the playoff picture.

Capitalizing

One team that has crawled back into the playoff picture is the Washington Capitals. The Caps were, to be frank, very average for a good chunk of the first half. However they have begun to play just how they were expected to. That's every more so the case with Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin had gone 23 straight games without multiple points in one night. He snapped that streak and has since run off four consecutive multi-point games. Maybe he had a great Christmas. Or perhaps it was the excitement of his two-year anniversary as captain. Whatever the reason, he has elevated his game big time and probably not coincidentally, so has Washington.

They travel to the West Coast to take on the San Jose Sharks on Saturday riding a four-game win streak. Again, it's no coincidence that Ovechkin has four straight multiple-point games.

But I'm still not 100 percent sold this team is back to its big-time status. Of the four wins, three have come at home where they have been very tough to beat, regardless of the overall mediocre performance. The fourth was a road win at Columbus. So this trip to San Jose, where they haven't won since 1993, will be a better gauge to see how the Capitals are coming along under Dale Hunter. Once they start winning on the road, then I'll start believing in them again.

Boom! Madden's debut

The Florida Panthers are still beating the odds and hanging onto first place in the Southeast Division. On Friday night they'll get some reinforcement to help them stay there.

Recently signed veteran John Madden is expected to make his debut with the Panthers in New Jersey. It's an interesting place for his first game as a Panther considering he spent the majority of his career with the Devils and helped them win two Stanley Cups.

That adds to the storyline this season of Devils coach Peter DeBoer facing his former team. Really, that doesn't hold much weight after the first meeting, so Madden's debut puts a little zest in another game between the two.

I'm sure the Devils fans will give Madden a nice, hearty hand even if he's in the other team's red.

More Wings work

It's going to be an Original Six weekend for the Detroit Red Wings.

On Saturday they will get a crack at their neighbors a little to the Northeast in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite not being in the same conference, these two teams still have a good rivalry that stretches way back. Their proximity to each other helps too. It's why so many want to see the Leafs play in next year's Winter Classic against the Wings, possibly in the Big House.

Once they are done with the team from Toronto, they face their other Original Six big rival, the one that's still in their division. The Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will wage a big battle on Sunday that will continue to help shape the ever-tight Central Division.

Great weekend of hockey for the folks in Hockeytown.

We're going streaking!

Here are the winning streaks and losing streaks in play entering the weekend.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts keep on winning, taking a three-game streak into Friday's matchup with the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

New York Islanders: The Isles make the list this week, and it's on the good side! A three-game win streak is on the line at the Ducks on Friday and then the Coyotes on Saturday.

Ottawa Senators: The quietest of the NHL's surprise teams, the Senators have a four-game run going into the home-and-home with the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and Sunday.

Capitals: Aforementioned four-game win streak with the one game at San Jose.

Colorado Avalanche: The up-and-down Avs are playing well again, having won three straight. They have a tough Friday-Saturday road trip of at the Blackhawks and at the Blues.

Sharks: Not mentioned above, the Sharks also come into the game against the Caps hot, having won three in a row.

Flames: They look to end their five-game skid against the Wild on Saturday.

Anaheim Ducks: Three losses in a row and counting? With all their players now on the trade block, they face the Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 23, 2011 11:55 am
 

No need to 'answer the bell' after good hits

By Brian Stubits

There is a growing trend in hockey and quite frankly, it's stupid. That's the best word I can think of to describe it.

There is a lot of discussion these days in the NHL on fighting and hitting. The two physical aspects of the game were already intertwined, but they seem to be colliding even more these days. With Brendan Shanahan's focus on removing bad hits from the game through the use of his Shanahammer, maybe the players are more on edge and aware of it themselves.

Here's what I don't get. The old-school hockey people continue to complain about these measures taking hitting out of hockey. Players don't seem to want anything to do with that, nor do many fans -- removing hitting, that is.

So why is it that when a player delivers a clean but vicious hit in today's NHL, they have to "answer the bell" as Ryan Kesler of the Canucks put it? I understand fully the concept of a guy having to answer for a bad hit. After all, that's one of the biggest arguments people use for justifying fighting in hockey, the enforcers are out there to discourage the other team from taking cheap shots at your teammates. If any liberties are taken, then you'll have the liberty of meeting the other team's tough guy.

As long as fighting is "allowed" -- I'll play along with Gary Bettman's semantics game that fighting isn't allowed, it is punished -- I have no qualms about a player having to answer to somebody's fists about a bad hit. That's a case of reaping what you sew when you add a couple of the bad stitches into the equation.

But enough is enough with fights after good, clean hits. Nothing is going to take hitting out of the game faster than players having to face a fight for every good check they deliver.

It happens on a seemingly nightly basis in the NHL. The best, most recent example came on Wednesday night in a game between the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks. It was after that game that Kesler talked about answering the bell. What he was referring to was a bit hit levied on him by Niklas Kronwall. Here's a look at the play.

Could the Canucks have some beef with the hit? OK, a little. Kronwall did leave the ice to make the hit, but it was a man coming at him with the puck on his stick. Also, right or wrong, there was no penalty given on the play. Still, Kesler was revved up and obviously wanted a piece of Kronwall.

“I like the hit, but my only problem with the hit is that he doesn’t stand up for himself,” Kesler said. “If you're going hit guys like that, you're going to have to drop the gloves.

“I gotta get my head up. Obviously you see him backing up and you know that’s his move there. I think you have to put the blame on the ‘hittee’ a little bit, but I also think he’s gotta stand up for himself.”

The always vocal Kevin Bieksa put his two cents in on the situation as well.

"Because how sneaky it is, it's a little bit dirty," Bieksa said after the game. "If you're going to do that, you should pay the price and he hasn't paid the price yet. So he loses a little respect in my book."

So let me get this straight: Kesler had no problems with the hit and even implicated himself for part of the responsibility but thinks Kronwall still needs to put his dukes up? Why? Because, as Bieksa puts it, it was sneaky? If you have no problems with the actual hit, then requesting the guy to fight isn't the answer. You guys still have more time to play, you are free to hit Kronwall in return.

Thanks to the magic of HBO and 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic we saw another example of this concept at work.

In the Rangers' recent visit to the Phoenix Coyotes, Mike Rupp was seen laying a good, solid hit along the boards on Kyle Chipchura. Moments later he is being jumped by the Coyotes' Raffi Torres, whereupon the refs immediately come in and are insisting to Torres it was a clean hit from Rupp. (NSFW Warning: In case you didn't know, NHL players -- and the refs -- have potty mouths. You've been warned.)

As a side note, maybe the most interesting part of the second episode was following the refs into their locker room where they discussed the hit a little further.

Now neither of this incident or the Kronwall/Kesler one resulted in a fight, but that wasn't for the lack of trying from the instigators. There have been plenty of other hits this season that have led to fights after what the referees and later the NHL deemed were OK hits.

Quite frankly, players getting aggressive toward others for clean hits is as threatening to hitting in the game as any league official. If guys are going to have to "answer the bell" when players come knocking after a good hit, then in essence the players themselves are discouraging hitting among their fellow athletes.

It almost feels like a machismo thing to me. A guy gets clobbered during play so he has to save face and get the guy back. Not to sound like a cranky old man, but I'm tired of it.

Don't read this as an anti-fighting column. It's not that. Instead it is anti-stupid fighting. Asking guys to drop the gloves are good hits is a waste of time -- literally as the player will have to sit at least five minutes if he gets the fight. Just get back up and play hockey.

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

Posted on: December 14, 2011 4:45 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2011 5:06 pm
 

'Hawks' Bolland rips Sedin 'sisters,' Vancouver

By Brian Stubits

If you are looking for drawbacks in the NHL's realignment plan -- you likely aren't, most people found enough of those -- then here's one for ya. The death blow to the non-traditional rivalry that is the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks.

Playoff familiarity has bred a lot of contempt between these two teams. So much that I don't think it's exaggeration for one team to call the other their biggest rival in the sport right now. Sure, the Blackhawks have the Red Wings and the Canucks have, well, all of Canada, but no relationship seems to have the vitriol that this one is harboring at the moment.

Despite the fact that the two teams haven't played each other since Nov. 16 and won't play again until Jan. 31, they are still chirping away.

Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland is the man responsible for getting this fire burning once again when he joined WGN radio with Chicago goalie Corey Crawford on Tuesday night. He then proceeded to become the first person in the history of ever to refer to twins Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin as the "Sedin Sisters." OK, he was actually the second person on the show to say it, parroting the remarks of the show's host Dave Kaplan (full audio here).

Bolland was then asked if he would still call the Sedins sisters if they ever became Blackhawks. Bolland's response?

"Well, they'll never become 'Hawks," Bolland said. "I don't think we'd let them on our team. That'd probably be one thing. We'd be sure not to let them on our team. And, yeah, they probably still would be sisters. I think they might sleep in, like, bunk beds. The older one has the bottom one, the younger one's got the top."

But he didn't end his verbal assault on Vancouver there. No, he continued, this time branching out to the entire city. From the Vancouver Sun:

Bolland also talked about Canucks fans. Kaplan asked Bolland what Blackhawks players do in their spare time when on the road. Bolland mentioned that he tries not to venture too far from his hotel room when he has to play the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

"There's a lot of weirdos there," said Bolland of Vancouver. "You don't want to be out there too long."

A young fan asked Bolland, "Do you hate everyone on the Canucks, or just a lot of them?"

"I hate of all of them," said the Blackhawks forward.

Of course, it wouldn't be a full story without the Canucks retort. I'll give you one guess as to who was the player from Vancouver to issue a response, and you know it wasn't one of the Sedins.

That's right, it was Kevin Bieksa, the very vocal defenseman who seems to be the team spokesman in situations like this. He was equally stinging of Bolland.

"If it wasn't for the twins, I don't think anyone would hear about Dave Bolland," Bieksa said on Wednesday. "If he doesn't want them on his team, he's crazy. But it's probably b/c he'd be out of a roster spot."

Heck, even the coach is getting in on the action. You know it's getting interesting when that happens.

“When you have comments like Bolland, obviously an individual who’s IQ is the size of a bird seed and a face only a mother can look at," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.

Now that is an original put down. Much better than the tried and clearly not true sisters line.

But don't think for one second that Bolland didn't know what he was doing. He knew full well what the ramifications of what he was saying would be. He didn't care.

He also seemed to be pandering to the crowd. It was a bit reminiscent of a wrestler being purposely outrageous to give the fans what they want. To draw a parallel to competitive sports, it was more like a booster pep rally for a college football or basketball team. If he was trying to bait the Canucks, it worked.

Figures that just when this rivalry is getting really good, they are going to only have two guaranteed meetings starting next season. Of course, if they meet in the semifinals or even Stanley Cup Final, depending how the playoffs will work, there will be that much more juice on the line.

Photo: Getty Images

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

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