Tag:Matt Niskanen
Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:17 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 10:29 am
 

Morning Skate: Stars keep playoff push going

The Stars go searching for a fifth straight win. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Morning 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.

Playoff Race

7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Dallas (NBC Sports Network)

The teams in the Atlantic Division (excluding the Islanders) are in an interesting spot here. Barring a miracle, they aren't going to catch the Rangers but none of them is fighting for their playoff lives either. Maybe New Jersey has to worry if they lose a few more -- maybe -- but they're six points up on ninth-place Winnipeg. So they're left playing big games seeing that it's playoff push time and all, but nothing all that impactful.

But you find ways to make them meaningful. For example, only one non-division winner is going host a first-round playoff series as the four seed. That's no doubt worth playing for. And that's what the Penguins are going after right now.

Their opponents on Wednesday night, however, have a lot greater sense of desperation. That's because the Stars enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the West (holding the tie-breaker with a game in hand). Dallas would be thinking about hopping into the division race if the Coyotes weren't hotter than the Phoenix summers. They have won four straight games and have gained no ground on the Coyotes.

Now none of the above means the Penguins are going to come coasting into the game while the Stars come guns a blazin'. They wouldn't be in the position their in if they did that ever. In today's NHL you can't do that against any team. It's just something to remember if you notice a difference in "compete level."

It also marks, by the way, the first time that James Neal has come back to Dallas to face his old team (and Matt Niskanen, of course). Seeing the season that Neal is having with his brand new contract extension has to be a little painful for the Dallas faithful thinking of what could have been.

Oh and don't forget about Evgeni Malkin. He has five goals and two assists in his last three games. I hear he's good.

8 ET, Toronto at Chicago

This game should be sponsored by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Free Falling could be the theme song.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tail spin that Chuck Yeager would have a hard time pulling out of. They've lost five in a row, most in ugly fashion. They've lost nine of their last 10 games. The fans are chanting for the coach to be fired. They are on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff race, going into tonight's game four points behind eighth-place Washington. The Leafs are as close right now to 14th in the East as they are eighth.

Well OK, I guess it's a pretty typical end of February in Canada's biggest city.

But let's not forget about America's Second City here and Chicago. They are going through their own swoon. They have only four wins in their last 16 games and bring a three-game losing streak into the battle with the Leafs.

If they were to get no points tonight, the Blackhawks would legitimately have to start worrying about being on the playoff bubble. Right now they are only three points up on teams 8-10 and will have played more games than all of them. When teams come into Chicago this out of sorts, the Blackhawks need to be able to deliver the next blow.

I'm not sure who is more desperate for the two points tonight.

Others worth watching

9:30 ET, St. Louis at Edmonton: The Blues are in fight for the Central Division crown with the Red Wings and have finally found their form on the road. They've won three straight away from home but the Oilers seem like a perfect team to play spoiler the rest of the way.

10 ET, Buffalo at Anaheim: To be frank, but of these teams is all but done in the playoff race. It would be remarkable if either made it in. But I'm still going to dub this a "loser leave town" match. Don't win this game and you can definitely forget about it.

Your promised miscellany

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

Posted on: February 19, 2012 10:26 am
Edited on: February 19, 2012 11:12 am
 

Pens re-sign Neal for six seasons, $30 million

Neal was given a big reason to smile by Pens GM Ray Shero. (US Presswire)

By Brian Stubits

While most teams are busy shoring up their rosters for the remainder of this season with the trade deadline just over a week away, the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken a big step toward shoring up their roster for the next half decade.

The Penguins announced on Sunday morning that they have re-signed breakout forward James Neal to a six-year extension worth $30 million. That's a cool $5 million per season. (As a side note, I just love how the Penguins release this information, it will get out either way, might as well control it.)

"I love everything about what goes on here and how we play the game," Neal said. "I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else."

Acquired from the Stars at last year's trade deadline along with Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligosky, Neal has taken his game to a higher level with the Pens. Not to say that he wasn't a good prospect already. By the time this season began, he already had 73 goals before turning 24 years old.

But this season he has already eclipsed his career bests in goals with 30 and points (56) while he's just two away from matching his best assist tally of 28. He was a late fill-in for the All-Star Game roster, his first such honor.

"As we've gotten to know Neal over past year, he really fits with our group," general manager Ray Shero told the team's website. "It's really difficult to find players like this. Neal has size, uncanny release, heavy shot, goes to the net hard, can skate. There's a lot to like even beyond the 30 goals."

I actually really like this deal for the Penguins. Some might think it's a leap of faith to give Neal $5 million amidst his first 30-goal season of his career, but he's been in the mid-to-high 20s in all of his previous seasons and he was still just a pup playing in Dallas. It's not a bold prediction to say Neal is on his way to being a consistent 30-goal scorer.

What it does mean for the Penguins is that they aren't going to have much maneuvering room this summer and next season, as it stands now. According to Cap Geek, the Pens already have $59,566,667 committed to next season's payroll. If the cap were to stay the same -- and who knows with CBA negotiations looming -- that leaves them less than $5 million. Meanwhile, Steve Sullivan, Arron Asham, Richard Park, Cal O'Reilly, Niskanen and Brent Johnson are all free agents of some kind.

But that doesn't mean that I dislike this signing at all. I think it's a very reasonable amount of money for the Penguins, actually. A simple projection out shows this season isn't likely to be a fluke. A $5 million salary for a potential 40-goal scorer is practically a bargain in the NHL these days.

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

Posted on: January 23, 2012 12:29 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 12:37 pm
 

Alex Goligoski signs 4-year extension with Stars

By: Adam Gretz

The Dallas Stars locked up what they consider to be one of their franchise players on Monday morning by signing defenseman Alex Goligoski to a four-year contract extension that will pay him $18.4 million, which comes down to an annual salary cap hit of $4.6 million.

Said general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, “Alex Goligoski is one of our core players and we are very pleased to get him under contract during the prime of his career. Alex is a character person and one of the anchors of our blue-line. He’s a big part of our hockey club.”

The 26-year-old defenseman was acquired by the Stars last season in the deal that sent forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh. Neal has since turned into one of the NHL's top goal-scorers for the Penguins, while it was a trade that saw both teams deal from a position of strength to fill a position of weakness. Since arriving in Dallas Goligoski has been one of the Stars' top defenseman.

He's missed some time this season due to injury, but has been their power play quarterback and logs more minutes per game than any other player on the team. It's certaily not a cheap contract for the Stars, but that seems to be the going rate for defensemen that can skate, produce offensively and play a ton of minutes every night, as Goligoski can.

In 59 games since the trade he's scored 10 goals to go with 20 assists for Dallas.

Had he and the team not come to an agreement on a new deal before July 1 he would have been eligible to become a restricted free agent. Now that he's signed for the next four years, the Stars have three of their top defenseman -- Goligoski, Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley -- all signed for at least the next three seasons and taking up just a little more than $11 million in salary cap space.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 12, 2011 5:46 pm
Edited on: December 12, 2011 5:48 pm
 

Brad Marchand fined for slew foot



By: Adam Gretz


A full week after it happened, the NHL announced on Monday afternoon that Bruins forward Brad Marchand has been fined $2,500 for a slew footing incident that took place during Boston's 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last week.

The play, which you can see in the above video, took place as the two players chased the puck behind the Pittsburgh net early in the second period with Marchand kicking Niskanen's legs out from under him. As the play started to go back the other direction, the two players exchanged words for a few seconds before dropping the gloves and taking part in a lengthy fight.

As always needs to be pointed out when a fine is issued, the $2,500 number is the largest fine that the NHL is allowed to hand out.

Marchand was issued a two-minute minor for tripping on the play, as well as the five-minute major for fighting.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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

Posted on: December 1, 2011 10:34 pm
Edited on: December 1, 2011 11:01 pm
 

Video: Erskine fights Asham in loss

By: Adam Gretz

The first time the Penguins and Capitals faced off this season, Pittsburgh's Arron Asham knocked out Jay Beagle in a fight and then celebrated on his way to the penalty box. Beagle has not played since, and it was inevitable that during their second meeting of the season on Thursday somebody on the Capitals would challenge Asham, and that's exactly what happened in the first period of the Penguins' 2-1 win, shortly after Pittsburgh's Craig Adams put his team on the board on a goal that was set up by Asham.

Asham squared off with Washington's John Erskine in a big league bout that saw a number of heavy punches land. Following the game Erskine said he wasn't trying to get revenge for Asham's fight with Beagle earlier this season, but simply trying to change the momentum in the game after Pittsburgh had taken the early lead.

Here's what it looked like:



And it was probably the highlight of the night for the Capitals.

Pittsburgh, playing without two of its top defensemen in Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek, and going with youngsters Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres (making his NHL debut), along with extended minutes from Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland, shut down the Capitals (still without their top defenseman, Mike Green) all night, especially in the third period as Washington attempted to tie the score in the closing minutes.

For the game, Washington recorded just 17 shots on goal (after registering just 19 in their first game under Dale Hunter) and only two in the third period. Alex Ovechkin registered just one shot on goal, and it was the only one he attempted all night.

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Asham Fights Beagle
Asham Expects Fireworks

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: November 19, 2011 10:05 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 8:47 am
 

What's wrong with Paul Martin?

By: Adam Gretz

In an effort to improve their overall team defense prior to last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins made two significant investments on their blue line by signing two of the top free agent defenseman that were available on the open market -- Paul Martin, who had spent the previous six years of his career with the New Jersey Devils, and Zbynek Michalek coming off a five-year stint with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Combined, the Penguins committed a total of $45 million over five years to the two rearguards, and the results on the ice spoke for themselves in their first year with the team. The Penguins went from being 20th in the NHL in goals allowed during the 2009-10 season, all the way up to 6th best in 2010-11, while allowing nearly a half-goal fewer per game. That's no small improvement, and the additions of Martin and Michalek were a vital part of it.

Through the first 19 games of this season, Martin has had an up-and-down campaign and seems to be facing a growing amount of criticism from the Penguins' fan base for his minus-10 rating entering play on Saturday. That is currently the worst mark on the team and the second-worst mark in the NHL among all defensemen, ahead of only Colorado's Jan Hejda. When you're counting $5 million against the salary cap and near the bottom of the NHL in any category it's going to draw some attention, and hey, every fan-base needs its whipping boy.

So what's wrong with Paul Martin, and is he playing as poorly as the usually misleading plus/minus would suggest?

Nothing that can't be fixed, and not exactly.

So why is his plus/minus currently getting slaughtered? In its simplest terms, plus/minus, in general, and as honestly as it can be said, sucks as a useful measuring stick for the quality of play from a player, and offers little context in to what is going on with the player in question (who is he playing against? What situation is he playing in? Etc.). So let's try and add some context, if we can, and try to better understand his role with two main points that are, in a way, connected to one another.

1) The Penguins aren't scoring goals when Martin is on the ice

And yes, as a player that's on the ice, Martin does have to take some responsibility for this. But it's not going to continue. At least, it shouldn't be expected to continue.

During 5-on-5 play this season the Penguins have scored just four goals with Martin on the ice, which is an extremely low number, especially when you consider the number of minutes he plays. A lack of goals at even strength will obviously have a negative impact on a players rating, and this should not be expected to continue, for this reason: The Penguins, as a team, are shooting just a little over 2 percent when Martin is on the ice during 5-on-5 play, a rate that is unsustainably low over the course of the season.

Of the 536 players that have played a minimum of 10 games this season, only 12 of them have been on the ice for a lower shooting percentage. Look at it another way: If you go back to last season and take the players that played at least half the season in the NHL (40 games), the lowest on-ice shooting percentage belonged to Anaheim's George Parros at 2.54 percent, and he was one of only two players (the other was New Jersey's Adam Mair) that were on the ice for a team shooting percentage of below 3 percent. Over the past four years Martin's teams in Pittsburgh and New Jersey have shot no worse than 7.4 percent over the course of the season with him on the ice.

When you're talking about a player as talented as Martin, playing on a team that scores as often as the Penguins do, eventually, over time, these percentages are going to start work out for Martin, especially when the Penguins generate as many shots on goal as they do with him on the ice.

2) He's playing more minutes than any other player on the team, and he's being asked to play some of the "toughest" minutes on the team

Due to various injuries, including Michalek and Brooks Orpik, as well as a two-game suspension to Kris Letang, Martin has played significantly more minutes than any other player on the team. Entering Saturday he's at 464 overall minutes, 351 of which have come during even-strength play. Letang is the only other player on the team to crack the 300-minute mark at even-strength, while no other player is over 285. Not only is he playing more often than everybody else, he's playing in significantly more difficult situations.

You can tell a lot about a player, and what that player's coach thinks of him, by the situations he's put into. This season Dan Bylsma and his staff are giving Martin some of the tougher assignments in the NHL, and definitely the toughest assignments on the team. Consider his QualComp (Quality of Competition -- the higher the number, the tougher the competition) numbers and the limited number of Offensive Zone face-offs he's been on the ice for.

Assignments For Penguins Defensemen
Player Even-Strength Minutes QualComp Offensive Zone Starts % On-Ice Shooting % +/-
Paul Martin 351:22 .091 46.1% 2.40% -10
Kris Letang 333:16 .065 48.3% 8.09% +1
Deryk Engelland 285:02 .006 53.4% 8.63% +1
Matt Niskanen 274:22 -.034 56.9% 8.80% +5
Brooks Orpik 207:30 .172 48.3% 8.91% +2
Zbynek Michalek 180:40 .063 51.0% 2.22% -5
Ben Lovejoy 154:43 -.060 56.2% 8.43% +1

The only Penguins defensemen that's seen tougher competition is Orpik, while no other defensemen has started fewer shifts in the offensive zone.

Martin's game has definitely hit a bit of a rough patch over the past couple of weeks, and he's had his moments where he's been beat by opposing players one-on-one. But there's also a lot of things working against him right now, including some bad luck (hello, unsustainably low shooting percentage) and playing some of the heaviest minutes on the team, and playing a lot of them.

That's an extremely difficult role. Playing against the other team's best players and starting most of your shifts in your own zone (defensive zone faceoffs are dangerous) is a difficult task for any player, and will have an impact on your ability to score, as well as the other team's ability to score against you. Players that play the most minutes against the best players in the toughest spots will see the more goals scored against them and have a more difficult time scoring goals.

Take another look at the above table and look at the quality of players Matt Niskanen, for example, plays against, and the number of shifts he gets to start in the offensive zone. He's a team-best plus-five this season. No disrespect to Niskanen intended, but there isn't a coach or GM in the NHL that would take him over Martin, now, or at any other point. Give Martin those minutes and assignments, and vice versa, and see what their ratings look like.

I went back and looked at every goal that's been scored against the Penguins this season that would count against his plus/minus, and there's some pretty fascinating things in there. On at least two of them the Penguins were stopped on prime scoring chances at the other end of the ice before the play went back the other way and resulted in a goal at the other end. On one of them his defensive partner, Michalek, fell down on the opening face-off in Winnipeg which resulted in a flukey turnover -- and goal -- eight seconds into regulation.

None of this is likely to change the opinion of the person that takes his plus/minus rating as gospel, but if you think he's currently the second-worst defenseman in the NHL, or somehow not worth the cap hit to the Penguins, you're simply wrong.

The Penguins defense is a critical part of their success, and Martin is, and will continue to be, a key cog in that machine.

(Statistical data via BehindTheNet)

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Injury watch: Goligoski, Visnovsky out

By: Adam Gretz

A pair of Pacific Division teams suffered a some rather large injuries on Friday night that will certainly test their depth on the blue line. The Dallas Stars will be without Alex Goligoski for a month due to a broken thumb, while Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky will be sidelined for a similar length of time due to a busted finger.

Goligoski suffered his injury on Friday night during his return trip to Pittsburgh, against the team that traded him last season in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen, after playing just six minutes during a 3-1 loss. Following the game Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said he expected Goligoski to be out for an extended period of time, while the defenseman's hand was heavily taped.

In 15 games this season Goligoski has scored two goals to go with four assists, and it's a big loss for a Dallas team that allows a significant number of shots on a nightly basis. His 21 minutes per game is the fourth highest average on the team, trailing only Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Sheldon Souray.

Meanwhile, the Ducks announced on Saturday that Visnovsky is expected to miss four weeks after he was struck by a puck late in the third period of their 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Visnovsky had a career year for Anaheim last season, leading all NHL defensemen in scoring with 68 points. So far this season he's scored just one goal to go with three assists in 16 games.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle recently told Eric Stephens of the OC Register that he thinks Visnovsky is taking too many chances and needs to let the game come to him. Unfortunately, he's going to have to wait a few weeks before he has a chance to do that.

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

Posted on: October 28, 2011 1:31 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 11:04 am
 

Weekend Preview: Rangers get MSG debut do-over

By Brian Stubits

The refurbished Madison Square Garden finally hosted a Rangers game on Thursday night, and it wasn't enough like old times for the fans. And I'm not talking about the $9.50 domestic beers.

No, the fans in attendance were longing for the old MSG, where Sean Avery delighted them on the ice. OK, maybe they were just longing for Avery.

There was also a banner hanging from the upper level earlier in the game in support of Avery. Mysteriously, it was gone later in the game. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the fan didn't have a change of heart midway through the game and took it down him/herself.

The case of Avery is an odd one. He is a player that all the teams in the NHL apparently don't want to touch with a 10-foot pole, including the Rangers, who sent him to the AHL's Connecticut Whale. If you ask 100 people to describe Avery the player in one word, the most flattering response you would receive is "agitator."

He's like a member of the Rangers family. Johnny Ranger fan can insult him all day long, just like I can call my brother a jerk (hypothetically, of course). But don't you even dare to call my brother a jerk. It's in the same vain. Avery might just be an ineffective player whose only role it seems is to piss opponents off, but he's THEIR ineffective player whose only role it seems is to piss opponents off. He's a fan favorite. His antics have gone over well in New York, clearly.

But honestly, this wouldn't be that big of a deal if the Rangers were playing better, specifically Avery's replacement, Kris Newbury. Sure, they are 3-3-2, but it has been less-than inspiring. This is a team that had a lot of hype after an offseason that saw them catch the biggest fish swimming in the free-agent lake. The combination of Brad Richards with Marian Gaborik would be gold, I tell you, gold. The Blueshirts would finally be able to give Henrik Lundqvist the kind of scoring support to show he is a Vezina-quality goaltender.

Well, it hasn't happened yet -- the scoring, not Lundqvist showing he is Vezina-quality. The Rangers offense has scored 16 goals in eight games. Even the mathematically challenged should easily recognize that as two goals per game, not very impressive.

“I’ve known [Gaborik] for a month now,” Richards said. “It would be great if we’d come in here and click perfectly. Realistically, we have some work to do, and we’ve got to get to know each other on the ice. We’re both used to having the puck. That’s a work in progress, for sure.”

“It’s no secret that we have to put more pucks in the net,” Ryan Callahan said after Thursday's game.

This has coach John Tortorella tweaking the lines, trying to find the right combinations. The pairing of Gaborik and Richards just hasn't produced yet the way they hoped. Gaborik was practicing on Friday with Wotjek Wolski and Erik Christensen on one line while Richards was with Brandon Dubinsky and Callahan on another.

It's under that backdrop that the Rangers welcome the Ottawa Senators to new-look MSG on Saturday. You know the Senators, the team most everybody saw as being the worst in the Eastern Conference this year but has surprised the masses by winning four games in a row? The plus side is that the Senators could be the team to jumpstart the typically sluggish Rangers offense. Ottawa has surrendered a league-high 39 goals in 10 games.

Let's look at that game as a second chance to make a first impression at home.

Scorer's delight

Speaking of that Rangers season debut at MSG, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who spoiled the party with a 4-2 win in New York. With the victory they remained one of the surprising starters of the season, improving to 6-2-1.

But I pose this question: What's more surprising, Toronto starting so well thanks to Phil Kessel's nine goals, or Penguins forward James Neal being tied with Kessel for the league lead in goals scored? We'll have a chance to see them at the same time on Saturday when the Penguins visit the Leafs.

Normally, hearing that a Pittsburgh Penguins player leads the league in scoring doesn't come as a surprise. Rather, it is expected. But that's expected from guys named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not James Neal.

Which brings me to that trade from last February when the Penguins acquired Neal. Talk about one of those trades where both sides win. Well, let me rephrase; a trade where it looks like both sides came out well. I caution against calling winner and losers in a trade so soon. But Neal has obviously been producing for Pittsburgh as he seems capable of not only reaching his career-high 27 goals he had in 2009-10, but surpassing it. On the other end, Matt Niskanen and Alex Goligoski, while having very cool surnames, have both been good fits in Pittsburgh and Dallas.

As for the Leafs' sharpshooter Kessel? Well this is what they hoped for when Brian Burke made that trade a couple of years ago. Just for fun, I'd like to point out that Kessel is on pace for an 81-goal, 144-point season and a plus-45 at this time.

Big Z, Max meet ... again

Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins will be in Montreal on Saturday to pay a visit to the Canadiens. Obviously it's an anticipated reunion for some folks who are into that sort of thing.

Chara has already been back to Habs Town since his hit on Max Pacioretty late last season, the Bruins had to go through the Habs on their way to the Stanley Cup. But it will mark the first time Chara has faced Pacioretty in Montreal. OK, OK, we're stretching a bit. The Canadiens just beat the B's Thursday in Boston, so let's just say this one is about the game, shall we?

These are two struggling teams. Montreal got off to such a bad start, it was their worst in 70 years! It led to the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn and since then, the Habs have reeled off two in a row, including one over the Bruins. Not that that had much if anything to do with Pearn's dismissal, but at least the Habs are showing signs of getting out of the early season doldrums.

For Boston, they have struggled too, although much more quietly. Interesting considering they are the defending champs and all. In a way this might have been expected. You hear all the time about the dreaded hangover, and that might be in play here. Either way, the Bruins are struggling to score.

The game is just like any other in an 82-game season, but this will quietly be an important one. These teams both want to get on track and in the Boston's case, a home-and-home sweep at the hands of the hated Habs wouldn't help in that regard. But for Montreal, it could help forgive much of the early struggles.

Best games, on paper

Entering the season, these two games appeared to be monster October showdowns: The Sharks visiting the Red Wings on Friday then the Capitals taking on the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday. If you had to pick five preseason favorites to win the Stanley Cup, there's a good chance three or maybe all four of these teams would make that list.

The Sharks have been somewhat slow to start themselves, but seem to have flipped the switch and won three games in a row, all on the road. The Red Wings, on the other hand, began like gangbusters, but have since lost two games to the Caps and previously winless Blue Jackets. However these two are still titans and will be in the Western hunt all year and just might have another playoff battle lined up. (You might remember they played a great seven-game series last season.)

As for Capitals-Canucks? Well one team has played like a Cup contender and the other, well, the Cup contention seems like a long time ago now. Washington finally took its first loss in Edmonton on Thursday night after getting off to a franchise-record 7-0-0 start. Tomas Vokoun has been spectacular. If there has been anything to complain about up to this point, it's nitpicking.

Vancouver meanwhile has a hot mess of a goaltending situation at the moment. Starter Roberto Luongo is more than a hot topic in the city, a lot of the fans want him gone and would like to see Cory Schneider play. A victory over the Capitals, while not incredibly symbolic at this time of the season, would perhaps satisfy the fan base with the notion that things will be OK. Serenity now!

Somebody get him a compass

Ilya Bryzgalov, who is admittedly "lost in the woods" right now and appears to be a broken goalie, is slated to start Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. He better find his way out of the woods in a hurry.

Since his first two starts of the season when he was stellar, Bryzgalov has been a mess, never worse than Thursday's five-goals-on-10-shots showing in "reprieve" of Sergei Bobrovsky. His best showing since those first two was when he gave up three goals to the Kings in an overtime loss. His numbers right now? Ugggly. Try an .870 save percentage and 3.45 GAA. Ouch.

So Peter Laviolette might have decided that what better way to get a goalie's broken confidence going once again than start him the next time out?

Either that or Lavy didn't want to put Bobrovsky back out there either.

Pregame trash talk

One of the great things about Twitter is the ability for players to interact with fans and other players for thousands to see. Ever wonder what players talk about before the puck is dropped in the faceoff circle? Twitter has helped give fans an idea.

But Anthony Stewart of the Carolina Hurricanes and Daniel Carcillo talking a little pregame smack on Twitter before Friday night's tilt? Yes please!

Carcillo (@CarBombBoom13) got it started with this: Goin 2 Carolina to throw a beat down on the Hurricanes and on@EhStew13 Just like in bantam when I'd drop u in buckets b4 pracy #indafaaace

Here was the response from Stewart (@EhStew13): You remembered u got Tko'd, keep the Bus in the Windy City, these 2 points aren't for sale #meh.

The short back-and-forth concluded with Carcillo: @EhStew13 we aren't lookin to buy #5fingerdiscount and I recall me havin to double shift in practice bc some1 had post concussion syndromes.

Good stuff. Guys having some playful smack (I'm assuming its playful) for all to see is good fun.

As to the game itself between the 'Hawks and 'Canes in Carolina? Well Chicago is looking for its first win in Raleigh since 1998. Granted there is unbalanced scheduling, but still, that's a long time. Also, Eric Staal needs to improve and that league-worst minus-9 he's sporting at the moment. Ouch.

Back to Vancouver ...

There will be no Green Men sitting by the opponent's box to torment Alex Ovechkin and crew. Vancouver's most famous fans will instead be ... in Bakersfield, Calif.?

Well look at that, the Green Men have turned their antics into appearances at hockey arenas. The Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL (originally from the WCHL) will have the spandex-wearing fans at their game on Friday night. Then Saturday will be Star Wars night.

I don't know about you all, but I'd rather see Star Wars night. Either way, these promotions are two big reasons why minor-league hockey is so awesome.

Photo: Getty Images

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