Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:32 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The first month of the NHL season is in the books and we're still trying to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad and which hot start is for real and which one is simply an early season mirage. Let's check in with a progress report on some notable players and teams for the month of October.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's pretend, just hypothetically, that Phil Kessel is able stay near the top of the NHL's scoring list all.
Now, you shouldn't expect him to maintain his current pace (his shooting percentage is currently 26 percent -- that's probably not sustainable for a full season), but what if he were to do something completely unexpected like, say, win the NHL's scoring title and help lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Would that do anything to change your opinion of the the trade that brought him to Toronto? Should it? Brian Burke has already said Boston won the trade because it has a Stanley Cup, but that trade -- which landed the Bruins two first-round draft picks, including a No. 2 overall selection used on Tyler Seguin, and a second-round pick -- had little to do with that championship. Seguin played about 12 minutes a game and scored 11 goals during the regular season, and only appeared in two postseason series. It's not like he was the driving force behind that cup run. The steep price Toronto paid still overshadow the fact that Kessel is a pretty darn good (three straight years of 30-plus goals) player and still only 24 years of age.
Even if he doesn't maintain this current pace he's been the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL this season and one of the biggest reasons the Maple Leafs are off to their best start in a decade, and that's worthy of a top-grade for the first month.
Other players and teams earning A's for the month of October
Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) -- had one of the best months of any goaltender in the NHL, including three consecutive shutouts; James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- for a Penguins team that continues to deal with injuries, Neal has been their best overall player and looks to be the young goal-scoring winger they've been searching for for years; Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) -- He leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average for what has been, so far, the toughest team in the NHL to score against; and the Dallas Stars -- winners of eight of their first 11 games, thanks in large part to the play of Kari Lehtonen.
Ottawa Senators: For the first two weeks of the season the Ottawa Senators looked to be every bit as awful as they were expected to be.
Over the next two weeks? They won six games in a row and end the month two game over .500. Even through the awful stretch to start the season the Senators were impressive with their determination to never quit in a game, regardless of the score, resulting in acouple of late come-from-behind victories (against Minnesota and the Rangers).
They've been outscored 27-15 over the first two periods but have outscored their opponents 21-18 in the third period. It's not likely they'll be able to continue to rely on huge third period comebacks to get wins, and they're going to have to start getting some better starts in games so they're not constantly trying to play catch up, but a 7-5 record at this point is more than could have (or should have) been expected.
Other players and teams earning B's for the month of October
Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) -- He's been the best player on a Nashville team that is losing the possession battle just about every single night and is facing more shots than any other goaltender in the league. He's keeping the Predators in it while they search for some offense; Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia Flyers) -- Three years away from the NHL and at 39 years of age Jagr opened the season and showed everybody that he can still play at the highest level with a point-per-game pace for the Flyers.
Detroit Red Wings: The A-plus honor student that brings home the rare and unexpected C. You know they can do better, and you expect them to do better. (And they will do better.) But after starting the season 5-0 the Red Wings dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 16-4. That streak includes a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, a game that was followed by a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first victory of the season. Their defense definitely took a hit when Brian Rafalski retired over the summer, and they're not the defensive stalwart they were a few years ago, but they should be better than they've looked over the first month.
Other players and teams earning C's for the month of October
Montreal Canadiens -- Injuries to their defense, as well as top forward Michael Cammalleri, didn't help, but a rather uninspiring start for the Canadiens that only started to turn around when an assistant coach was forced to take the fall.
Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula spent a ton of money this summer in an effort to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, and one of his biggest investments, Ville Leino, has been a complete non-factor through the first month of the season. In 10 games the 28-year-old Leino has scored just one goal to go with one assist and has recorded just five shots on goal, or one every other game. He's definitely talented, but based on what he's actually produced at the NHL level the six-year, $27 million contract was, at the very least, one hell of a gamble. And so far it's a losing one.
Other plays and teams earning D's for the month of October
Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) -- And he's probably right on the line between D and F. Let's just say this: the only goaltender in the NHL that has a worse save percentage entering November is Ottawa's backup, Alex Auld.
Columbus Blue Jackets: An offseason with such excitement and a season that seemed to have so much promise was opened with … the worst start in franchise history and the worst record in the NHL. There is obviously time to turn it around -- and I still believe the Jackets can -- and the two big offseason acquisitions have been limited so far, which isn't helping things. James Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season, while Jeff Carter, acquired from the Flyers, was limited to just five games in October due to a foot injury, scoring zero goals. Still … the worst start in franchise history?
Other players and teams earning F's for the month of October
The Boston Bruins -- Defending champs with the second-worst record in the league.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Adam Gretz, Boston Bruins, Brian Burke, Brian Rafalski, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Edmonton Oilers, James Neal, James Wisniewski, Jaromir Jagr, Jaroslav Halak, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen, Los Angeles Kings, Michael Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ottawa Senators, Pekka Rinne, Phil Kessel, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Seguin, Ville Leino
Posted on: October 24, 2011 3:08 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 3:17 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Finally, some good news for the Montreal Canadiens. Well, some potential good news anyway.
When the Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers on Monday night they will be getting one of their injured defenseman back as Jaroslav Spacek is expected to be in the lineup for the first time since the second game of the season when he went out with a rib injury in a 5-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Canadiens, plagued by injuries for much of the season, especially on their blue line, haven't won since that night in Winnipeg and carry a five-game losing streak into Monday's home game with the Panthers. That losing streak has caused a bit of a panic in Montreal, and head coach Jacques Martin seems to be sitting on the hot seat whether it's justified or not. When you've been without two of your top defensemen for all but two games of the season, as well as missing players like Michael Cammalleri and Chris Campoli, some struggles should be expected. Maybe not as many as they've had over the first two weeks, but some.
In the absence of Markov and Spacek a lot of the pressure has fallen on P.K. Subban and he's struggled so far, recording just two assists in seven games. A disappointing start for a player that scored 14 goals to go along with 24 assists as a rookie just a year ago.
Peter Budaj is expected to start in goal for the Canadiens, giving Carey Price the night off. Scott Gomez, out with an upper body injury, is not expected to play.
In other news, the Panthers will be without Mikael Samuelsson in this game as he's still in Vancouver dealing with some soreness according to TSN's Darren Dreger. Samuelsson, of course, was acquired over the weekend, along with Marco Sturm, in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward David Booth.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 20, 2011 10:32 pm
Edited on: October 20, 2011 10:37 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- In what seems to be a nightly routine for the Montreal Canadiens, they lost another player to injury on Thursday night.
On the same night they had one of their leading offensive players, Michael Cammalleri, return to the lineup, the revolving door of injuries continued to swing during their 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh. Center Scott Gomez left the game early in the first period after playing just a little over two-and-a-half minutes.
He did not return, and head coach Jacques Martin said after the game that it was an "upper body injury" and that he will be re-evaluated on Friday.
The veteran center has been logging around 17 minutes of ice-time per game this season for the Canadiens but has recorded just one assist through their first five games of the season. At various points thoughout the night the Canadiens were down to just 10 forwards as Gomez's injury was joined by brief absences by Max Pacioretty and Andreas Engqvist. Both players eventually returned.
"Obviously he's a big part of the team," said Canadiens forward Brian Gionta of Gomez. "But they're [Pittsburgh] missing some big guys, too. Injuries are not an excuse."
Excuse or not, the Canadiens have definitely had the injury bug take a bite out of their lineup in the early parts of the season. Cammalleri's return on Thursday was just his third game of the year. He said he felt OK in his return and that he will "have to get used to it a little bit, but it felt good." They've also lost a number of defensemen to injury including Jaroslav Spacek and Chris Campoli. Campoli managed to play just one game after he was signed to help add depth to their already depleted blue line.
Andrei Markov, the team's best defenseman, has yet to appear in a game this season -- after playing in just seven a year ago -- due to complications from his offseason knee surgery. The Canadiens are now 1-4-1 on the young season, but we also haven't had an opportunity to see them at full strength.
Posted on: March 8, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 1:49 pm
SEASON SERIES: Boston 1-2-1; Montreal 3-1-0
IMPLICATIONS: A Boston win and a Flyers loss Tuesday would pull the top two teams in East even in the points department. (Flyers would still technically be in first since they'd still have more wins.) Montreal could pull within three points of the Northeast lead with a regulation win.
BREAKDOWN: The Habs won the first three meetings, outscoring the Bruins 10-6 in those games. Then came their last meeting, a slugfest Boston won, 8-6, on Feb. 9. That contest included 45 penalties for a total of 182 minutes -- and two of the dozen fighting majors was the result of a goalie fight (above) between Montreal's Carey Price and Boston's Tim Thomas.
“It was pretty crazy,” Boston forward Milan Lucic told CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty. “Especially that second period with eight goals scored, and four for each side. I remember watching the highlights later and hearing (Bruins play-by-play announcer) Jack (Edwards), say ‘Mercy.’ It was fun to be in, and I know our fans talk about it and remember it.”
The same goalies in net for the last meeting are expected to get the call again tonight. Last game was long on penalties, but short on saves.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Boston LW Milan Lucic vs. Montreal LW Michael Cammalleri. Cammalleri took a “therapy day” on Monday, a day away from the rink that might have been needed since he has two points in the seven games since he returned from injury. The Bruins are nearly perfect, 21-1-0, when Lucic scores, something he did twice in the last meeting.
KEY STAT: 710. The total number of meetings between these two Orginal Six clubs, second only to Detroit vs. Chicago (712).
Photo: Getty Images