Tag:Miikka Kiprusoff
Posted on: March 1, 2012 9:53 am
Edited on: March 1, 2012 10:01 am

Morning Skate: Sabres creeping back in

Miller has wins in four of his last five starts. (US Presswire)

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

10:30 ET, Buffalo at San Jose

Well would you look at that, the Buffalo Sabres are back in the conversation. Somewhat miraculously it's true.

Ryan Miller is showing flashes of the goaltender America came to know two years ago. He's been up to the quality we've come to expect from him in recent games, including Wednesday's shutout of the not-long-ago streaking Anaheim Ducks. As a result -- and of the East's struggle at the bottom -- the Sabres begin the day only five points back of Washington.

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it's time to remind everybody that the chances still aren't good and that's a lot of ground to make up still. According to Sports Club Stats, the odds the Sabres make the postseason are still only 4.1 percent. A win tonight in San Jose, however, then we're talking. They would hop two teams and move into 10th place, just three behind Washington (and we'll wait to see what Winnipeg does).

The Sharks meanwhile are still fighting for a playoff spot that is in no way guaranteed to be theirs right now. They just grabbed a huge 1-0 win over the Flyers the other night in San Jose to give them a little breathing room from the eighth-place chasers.

8 ET, Florida at Winnipeg

The Panthers are one of the rare teams that have had success this season in Winnipeg. They have played their twice and won both times. In those two games, Kris Versteeg scored five goals. To put that into context, he has 22 on the season, so nearly 1/4 of his goals have come at MTS Centre despite play 2/59 of his games there.

So the good news for the Jets? Versteeg won't be playing. That's a huge plus for a team that really needs this game at home. Winnipeg enters the night with four fewer points despite three more games played. Win this one and the Panthers stay within reach, fail to pick up any points and, well, that gets to be a big task.

But luckily for the Jets, the eighth seed in the East is still available too. They enter the night one point behind Washington there and can jump back into playoff position by the end of the evening. Again though, they have all those games in hand. That's why their margin for error is so slim, they need to pick up 2/3 of the points available the rest of the season to have a good shot.

9 ET, Calgary at Phoenix

The good news for the Flames as they head to face the Coyotes? The calendar no longer shows February. Phoenix was literally unbeatable (in regulation) for the month going 11-0-1 which included a comeback win in Calgary a week ago.

With that game a key culprit in the equation, the Flames have been slipping lately despite playing a home-heavy schedule. Perhaps getting away from home -- however unlikely that is -- might help them get back on track. It's about time they do if they want to keep in the conversation. Because right now they are four points back of being in with two teams in between them.

And it's not a terribly big secret why the Flames have lost four in a row. Miikka Kiprusoff can only be superman back there for so long. Without him it's hard to picture Calgary still being in the race. In the last four games, however, he has given up 15 goals as well as picking up a loss in two shootouts.

On the other side they face the hottest goaltender this side of ... well anywhere. You can already write Mike Smith's name in pen for the first start of the month of February. He was 11-0-0 in the month. My word.

Others worth watching

10 ET, St. Louis at Vancouver: Hoooo boy, this should be a good win. By virtue of a tie-breaker, these are the top two teams in the Western Conference. Heck, if the Blues win, they're in the lead for the Presidents' Trophy. Plus they have four straight wins on the road. Buckle up.

9 ET, Columbus at Colorado: The Blue Jackets might be out of it, but the Avalanche certainly aren't. They have the opportunity to move into the eighth spot in the West tonight. Pretty remarkable for a team that has been as streaky as they have.

7 ET, New Jersey at Boston: There isn't a whole lot here on the Devils' end. They are somewhat comfy in, but they'd like to start winning again to feel a little better. The Bruins actually find themselves in a division race. They have been mediocre (yes, really) for well over a month now.

Your promised miscellany

  • Wednesday's Winners & Losers
  • Rangers captain Ryan Callahan might be out for the Rangers' game against the Hurricanes tonight. (Rangers Rants)
  • A look through the mirrors back to an age of smoking in hockey. (SI)
  • The Ducks' slim playoff chances are getting even slimmer now and the team is showing some frustration. (O.C. Register)
  • ECHL coach Nick Vitucci lost his mind with the officials and went on one hell of a tirade. (Puck Daddy)

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

Posted on: February 17, 2012 12:19 am
Edited on: February 17, 2012 12:33 am

Video: Mike Ribeiro highlight reel dangle, goal

By: Adam Gretz

It was obvious when watching on television that the crowd gathered in Dallas for Thursday's Stars-Flames game was a little sparce, with large sections of empty seats scattered throughout the lower bowl for a game between two teams still fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

The Stars managed to secure the extra point, and overcome an earlier injury to leading scorer Jamie Benn, with a 3-2 win in overtime thanks to a nifty looking goal from center Mike Ribeiro. After a pretty impressive display of behind-the-back stickhandling in the offensive zone, Ribeiro loaded up and blasted a slap shot past goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff for his 12th goal of the season.

Have a look, and be sure to pay attention to the replay at the 19-second mark for the must-see part of the goal:

Awesome goal, mainly due, again, to the move that preceded it, and a fun moment for the fans in attendance.

Speaking of which, during Riberio's post-game interview that was broadcast over the PA system in the arena, he addressed the fans (or perhaps the lack of fans in the arena) by saying, with a rather serious look on his face, "hopefully you guys can invite your friends so we can have more people here."


The official attendance was listed at 11,389. For the season, the Stars have averaged 13,244 per home game.

More Dallas Stars news

Benn 'day-to-day' after cut to leg
Grossman traded to Flyers
All Dallas Stars coverage

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

Posted on: February 9, 2012 1:22 am
Edited on: February 9, 2012 1:28 am

Miikka Kiprusoff earns win No. 300 in style

By: Adam Gretz

On Wednesday night Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff became just the 27th goalie in NHL history to record his 300th win by stopping 34 of the 37 shots he faced in a 4-3 win against the San Jose Sharks, the team that originally draft him in the 5th round of the 1995 draft.

His best save of the night came with just under four minutes to play in the third period when he made what is being referred to as "the scorpion" save by somehow snatching a bouncing puck out of mid-air with his legs, behind his back, and keeping it from heading into the net for what would have been a game-tying goal.


No idea how he did that, and as amazing as that save is, he managed to pull off a similar move back in 2009, also against the Sharks (click here to watch).

Along with being a milestone win for Kiprusoff, it was also a huge win for the Flames in their quest to reach the Western Conference playoffs and it pulls them to within just one point of the No. 8 seed Minnesota Wild. While Kiprusoff was making big saves in net, Olli Jokinen picked up a hat trick to lead the charge offensively.

Kiprusoff, as he has been since joining the Flames during the 2003-04 season, has been a workhose this season, and even though there was talk before the season about limiting his starts, he's already started 45 of their 54 games. He's started at least 70 games in each of the past six seasons, a number that looks to be within reach once again.

As always needs to be pointed out with post-lockout goalies and win totals, Kiprusoff has had the benefit of picking up wins in the shootout (goalies prior to the '05-06 season would have had such games result in ties, of course) but it's also worth mentioning that he never had an opportunity to become a full-time starter in the NHL until 2005, when he was already 29 years old.

Pretty impressive career for a guy that came up through the Sharks system around the same time as Evgeni Nabokov, Vesa Toskala and Johan Hedberg.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:10 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 12:14 pm

Rangers success has Lundqvist shining brighter

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Thanks to HBO, we all learned a little something extra about New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist: he plays in one awesome jam band.

In the second episode of the great behind-the-scenes show, Lundqvist was followed on a day off to a studio where he was seen playing right beside American tennis legend John McEnroe and Jay Weinberg, son of Max Weinberg, on the drums.

How does a Swedish hockey player end up playing alongside such a group of guys?

"You live in New York, play there a few years obviously you're going to run into people," Lundqvist said. "John McEnroe, I've been running into him a bunch of times. He's a hockey fan and I'm a tennis fan. So we've been talking about playing music together. I said finally this year, 'Let's do it, let's do something fun.' We're doing a charity event in February, rock it out a little bit.

"Then the drummer Jay Weinberg, I met him at a Bruce [Springsteen] concert in Sweden actually, when his dad was playing. It's fun. If you play in New York you get to meet a lot of interesting people, sometimes people that you admire and respect a lot, so it's a great place."

So add musician to things we already knew about Lundqvist, such as his stellar fashion sense. Oh, and the fact that he's a damn good goalie.

We know that because New York isn't just a great place to live, it's a great place to play when you're playing for a Rangers team like this.

"So far it's been a good year," Lundqvist said. "It's been fun, it's been fun."

That usually happens when you are fighting for the top spot in the conference with every game you play. Sure beats the alternative of the past few seasons where the Rangers were fighting for the eighth spot in the East instead of first.

Make no mistake about: The Rangers have grown as a team. They have a young core of players that is only going to get better -- as a side note, watch out if Brandon Dubinsky regains his scoring form that he's beginning to show again -- and they had a pretty notable upgrade to the scoring this summer with Brad Richards in free agency. They are a very good group of skaters.

But Lundqvist has been and still is the straw that stirs the Rangers drink. He has earned the right to be referred to as an elite goaltender, and not just because he plays in New York. He's been that good in recent seasons for the Blueshirts. Without him, you wonder if they make the playoffs as often as they have. OK, I'll save you the wondering -- they don't.

But now he has help.

"I mean the reason why we're in pretty good shape in the standings is not that we're that much better than everybody else," Lundqvist said, "but it's that we've been consistent in how we play and how hard we have to play, so that's been paying off for us."

One of the ways that they play is a commitment to blocking shots. Defenseman Dan Girardi has been near the top of the shot-blocking list in the league the last couple of seasons and team captain Ryan Callahan isn't afraid to get in the way of a puck either. In the first period of the Rangers' 4-1 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday, Callahan was credited with four blocked shots, one of them actually led to a Dubinsky goal, giving Callahan an assist. He then was a mad man during a later penalty kill, scrambling and diving all over the ice, getting credit for three blocks in one shift.

"Guys take a lot of pride in that [blocking shots]," Lundqvist said. "You have a style. We have to play hard and we have to block shots, it's part of our game. Guys are doing a great job of that.

"To play well as a goalie you want to feel the support from the team in front of you. It helps if you have a good structure, you know what's going on and what type of chances are going to come up."

Well, it's working, because Lundqvist is playing as well as he ever has. In his case, that's saying something. Through 26 games this season, Lundqvist is on pace for career bests in save percentage (currently .936) and goals against average (1.95 per game).

Maybe that has something to do with coach John Tortorella's plan to play Lundqvist less this year, too. Only once in the past five seasons has Lundqvist played less than 70 games -- last season with 68. He was up there with the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff for biggest workhorses in the league. Now backup Martin Biron is being asked to and is carrying some more of the load. Rather well, too.

Before he took the loss against the Caps, Biron had a 7-1-0 record in his spot duty with a 1.84 GAA and .933 save percentage. That makes it a lot easier for the Rangers to stick to the plan this year and play Lundqvist around 65 games or so, possibly even a few less.

"I'm trying to get used to not playing as much. Last few years the plan was for me to play around 65 games, around there. It hasn't turned out that way," Lundqvist said. "We're [he and Biron] a good team. Benny [Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire] and Marty work well together, push each other to work hard."

Well whatever it is, it's working.

The funny thing this season is that everything seems to be coming together for the Rangers. The spotlight was turned up on them this season anyway thanks to the Richards signing and all else they are experiencing this year.

"It's been a fun year. It's been an interesting year starting in Europe and then HBO and the Winter Classic coming up," Lundqvist said. "It's been a lot of ... I don't want to say distractions ... fun things going on. Things we don't normally see in a normal regular season. It's been a fun experience. I think we all look forward to the Winter Classic here as well.

"But it's good for us to have these different things happening during the year, learn to deal with it. It could be a distraction, it hasn't been one for us. We've been focused on what we have to do, with all the travel starting the year, the HBO, Winter Classic coming up. So, it's a test for us to maintain our focus on the games."

As he said, they've done that. He's done that.

But they're all hoping to have a lot more fun by season's end.

"It's still so early, but I'm happy with the way I've been playing so far, but there's a long way to go here," Lundqvist said. "We definitely raised the bar this year though. Our goal is to play in June. That's our goal."

If this is the Rangers' year, maybe Lundqvist can get the band together for a big show on the streets of Manhattan this summer.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 4, 2011 11:44 pm

Flames goalies Karlsson, Kiprusoff run into

By Brian Stubits

We had more goalies being run into on Sunday night. Of course it happened between two teams that don't like each other all that much (you could probably say that about any pair of Canadian teams).

With the Vancouver Canucks cruising 5-1 over the Calgary Flames in the third period, there was an unfortunate accident that took Flames goalie Henrik Karlsson out.

On the play the Canucks' Jannik Hansen was driving to the net and being chased by Tom Kostopoulos. Both guys eventually go down and Kostopulous slid right into Karlsson who immediately began grabbing at what appeared to be his knee. Karlsson left the game after the hit and limped toward the locker room.

This was just an unfortunate accident, a little friendly fire. Seemed to be nothing more than a freak play leaving a player perhaps injured, we'll know more later how seriously.

But then Miikka Kiprusoff came on to relieve Karlsson and, wouldn't you know it, he was run into too.

This time the hit was actually levied by an opponent as David Booth tried to cross in front of the crease but was held up by Joe Piskula and was left with nowhere else to go. So he ran into Kiprusoff.

Of course, a melee ensued. The Flames were already being beat and lost a goalie from a hit, so they took exception to this one. Plus, it really didn't look good for Booth, who seemed to follow through the impact high. Granted, it looks worse than it was, but with the heightened sense of protection around the goalies right now, it will raise some eyebrows.

You just know that this will remain a hot topic until something is done about it. What, I'm not entirely sure. But there is a lot of clamoring for clarification of the rules if nothing else. Soon they will be protected with the same ferocity that we see in football with the quarterbacks.

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

Posted on: November 13, 2011 3:21 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2011 9:31 pm

Weekend Wrap: Where was the Sabres' response?

By Brian Stubits

Results: Friday | Saturday

Let's start with the shot heard 'round the world from Saturday night.

Early in the Bruins' 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres (their fifth straight win for those keeping track at home) Milan Lucic found himself chasing down a puck on a breakaway. Ryan Miller found himself in the tough position of playing the puck before Lucic or waiting for the breakaway attempt. Miller chose option A and the following was the result.

The play had Miller peeved. He gave the hockey world a contender for quote of the year after the game when he was asked about any injury he might have sustained on the play.

"I'm not really going to get into that," Miller said. "I just stuck around because I wanted to say what a piece of [feces] I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that? It's unbelievable. Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he plays. That was gutless. Gutless. Piece of [feces]."

Of course seeing their goalie get trucked by Lucic was tough for the Sabres to see. But maybe the biggest problem of the day for them is why didn't it look like it bothered them? Lucic was given maybe a nudge or two. That's why he skated to the penalty box with a smirk on his face that would have made the Grinch proud.

His comment after the game must have been equally as cutting.

"You know, we wouldn't accept anything like that," Lucic said. "We would have [taken] care of business. But we're a different team than they are."

Ouch. That's pouring salt squarely onto the wound.

The worst part, though, was the Sabres knew they didn't respond in the right away. Paul Gaustad was embarrassed with how his team reacted immediately after the play. And he was on the ice.

"I can do more. I'm embarrassed that we didn't respond the way we should have," Gaustad said. "It falls on myself. I look at myself first, and I wasn't good enough.

More on Bruins-Sabres

"We didn't push back. There's no reason to be scared. We had to go after it, and we didn't."

The only player who seemed genuinely intent on getting back at Lucic was Miller himself. He took a swing with his stick as Lucic went by after the hit and then was restrained by a linesman and was left to shout -- presumably -- some obscenities at Lucic when he was escorted to the box.

I can't help but think back to a quote from last week from John Vogl of the Buffalo News. He said a player on the team told him the Sabres weren't playing as hard in front of Miller as they are for Jhonas Enroth. The general consensus on that was that it was because Miller is so good and the team has grown a bit complacent in front of him. This lack of response and that quote from Vogl could still not be linked, but it makes you wonder.

What I do know is that coach Lindy Ruff wasn't too pleased with his team's response either. He was reportedly hot in the team meeting on Sunday and left the building without speaking to the media, instead responding "[Bleep] the media" when informed reporters were waiting to talk to him.

I can't agree more with the crowd saying the Sabres showed no spine in response to the play. It was no coincidence that the game got away from the Sabres in a hurry after that and the Bruins went on to the 6-2 rout. You have to stand up for your goalie when he gets trucked like this. It's standard procedure to get in a guy's face when a goalie gets a snow shower, let alone a big hit like this.

Should Miller have made this play? Probably not. If you venture into the jungle, expect you might get bit. Either way, he certainly wasn't expecting a hit like that. Lucic saw a golden opportunity to hit a goalie and took advantage of it. It's like anytime a quarterback throws an interception, all the defenders are looking for a chance to lay the quarterback out with a big shot in the name of blocking.

But that doesn't mean that it was a legal play by Lucic. Here is what Rule 69.4 states specifically:

69.4 Contact Outside the Goal Crease - If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.

When a goalkeeper has played the puck outside of his crease and is then prevented from returning to his crease area due to the deliberate actions of an attacking player, such player may be penalized for goalkeeper interference. Similarly, the goalkeeper may be penalized, if by his actions outside of his crease he deliberately interferes with an attacking player who is attempting to play the puck or an opponent.

When the Bruins meet the Sabres again, we could be looking at a slugfest. Buffalo will look at that game as a chance for retribution. Hey, better late than never, I suppose.

Russian rut

Alexander Semin is one of the more talented players in the NHL, speaking strictly on a matter of offensive skill. It was only two seasons ago that he had 40 goals and 44 assists in 73 games for the Capitals.

But he's also a player that's been singled out for not caring. That was an offseason storyline after former teammate Matt Bradley basically said as much. Funny how there weren't many Caps fans and media rushing to defend Semin for the slight. I think many actually agreed with Bradley.

But that was the offseason. This season isn't going much better for the 27-year-old Russian. He's off to a very slow start by his standards with three goals and five assists in 15 games. He's also a minus-1 and has a team-high 11 minor penalties this season. It seems they have all been some sort of stick penalty (mostly tripping) in the offensive zone.

With coach Bruce Boudreau on an accountability kick this year, it has led to some reduced time for Semin. So much so that he was benched in Washington's 2-1 win on Friday night against the Devils. He only logged 8:25 of ice time according to the official stats.

He did see a return to some normal ice time in Saturday's 3-2 loss to New Jersey as Boudreau doesn't seem to want to bury his star's confidence.

“I thought he tried really hard. You're not going to keep benching him and benching him and benching him,” Boudreau said after Saturday's game. “He got a penalty early -- he went for the puck. That wasn't a lazy penalty.

“You guys are getting the wrong impression: The penalties are part of why he didn't play [Friday], but it wasn't the whole reason. He just wasn't playing very well, and we wanted to win the game. So we went with what we thought were the nine best players at the time. Everybody assumes it's because he took two penalties. He was still playing after he took the two penalties.”

Semin declined to talk to reporters after the game on Saturday, both the English-speaking media and the Russian-speaking crowd.

This is getting to be an interesting situation in Washington. Semin is obviously gifted, that is not in dispute. He is a free agent after this season. If things don't improve not only on the ice but off of it, it will be interesting to see how interested the Caps will be in bringing him back, particularly with the money he will likely command. He is making $6.7 million this season.

Rangers rolling

It was such a pedestrian start for the Rangers this season. They were 3-3-3, were still having troubles scoring and the addition of Brad Richards didn't seem to make a difference.

Then coach John Tortorella got this crazy idea to switch up the lines and split the tandem of Richards and Marian Gaborik that had New York fans dreaming big before the season began. Wouldn't you know it's worked. The Rangers are on fire these days, dumping the Hurricanes 5-2 on Friday night for their sixth straight win.

I'm starting to think the Rangers like their plush new (or renovated) digs at Madison Square Garden. They are now 5-1-1 at home this season. That's their best start since 1992-93..

Oh, and the Rangers are 4-0-0 with Sean Avery back in the lineup, outscoring their opponents 16-6 in those games. He scored his first goal of the season Friday. Just sayin'.

It's all in the Hitch

The Ken Hitchcock era is off to a nice and somewhat predictable start in St. Louis.

In the three games the Blues have played under their new coach, they have two shutouts, including Saturday's 3-0 blanking of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In those three games, they have earned five of the six possible points.

We all had an idea that the Blues would get better defensively and thus would have better goaltending under Hitchcock, but this quickly? I'd like to credit it more to the wakeup call of a coach being fired and a new one leading them than anything tangible at this point.

Either way, victorious goaltender Brian Elliott was pleased.

"That was the complete game we've been wanting," Elliott said. "Everybody was hustling. Everybody was working hard. No one took a shift off."

Veteran's Day surprise

We return to Boston for maybe the best moment of the weekend.

Before the game at TD Garden on Saturday night, the Bruins, honoring a family of an active soldier in Afghanistan, helped offer a special surprise. When the parents of the soldier came out to drop the ceremonial first puck, the Bruins announced there was a surprise and they were soon reunited with their son, on leave from Afghanistan.

It's hard not to get a little choked up watching that, it's a great moment brought to us by the Bruins.

I'm a sucker for these reunion videos. I got lost one day going through all the videos at the Welcome Home blog. It's chicken soup for the soul type of stuff, especially on Veteran's Day. I'd just like to say thank you once again to any vets out there reading.

Not Flame retardant

Nature isn't the only place where a flame will conquer snow any day of the week. It appears to be a law of hockey too.

The Colorado Avalanche just can't beat the Calgary Flames, no matter where the game is played. On Saturday the Avs failed for the eighth straight time trying to beat their division rivals, and that was with one spirited comeback.

Miikka Kiprusoff is as composed as any goalie in the league when he's under pressure. Just see the final minute of the 4-3 on Saturday as an example. The final minute was incredibly intense and Kiprusoff didn't look like he was trying to hang on to the tenuous lead; he had the poise of a goalie with an 8-1 edge.

Meanwhile the Avalanche, after that 5-1-0 start have now fallen back to 8-8-1 with their seventh loss in nine games.

Quote of the week

First of all, we all know it's Miller's quote referenced above. But consider this the Miller-less category.

It's hard to pick just one, but all my choices are coming from Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo. To say the he has been unimpressed with his team the last few outings would be pretty accurate. This quote came on the heels of the 5-2 loss to the Kings on Saturday.

"Like, we think we’re there. We’re not even close," Yeo said (courtesy of Michael Russo at the Minneapolis Star Tribune). "Like, we think we’re good enough yet, that because we won five games in a row that we’re there. It’s not even close. We said this when we were winning these games. We’re not there. We along the way forgot what we have to put in to winning hockey games.”

It sounds to me like a coach who is trying to bring his team back down to Earth after a great stretch of games, that Yeo sensed his team needed a little humbling.

Photo: US Presswire

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

Posted on: October 4, 2011 4:43 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 4:43 pm

Fantasy: Ovechkin primed for bounceback season

By Brian Stubits

Alex Ovechkin is arguably the NHL's biggest star (although Sidney Crosby has a pretty good case). He recently had a wax statue in his likeness unveiled. He was picked as the face -- literally -- of the Mr. Big bar. He even was in a bunch of odd, yet funny (some people will just stop at odd). You could say he's kind of a big deal.

He's also our biggest Fantasy star -- among non-goalies, of course -- in this season's projections. His predicted numbers are still a touch below his torrid pace of a few years ago, but 45 goals and 52 assists ain't too shabby. He just edges out Steven Stamkos of the Lightning among the skaters.

Henrik Lundqvist is the top player overall based on the projections. Remember this valuable lesson when assembling your Fantasy team: In most scoring formats, Miikka Kiprusoff is about as valuable as Ovechkin. That's just the quirk of goaltending in Fantasy.

But back to Ovechkin. Here's how high he has set the standards for himself: Last season's 32-goal, 53-assist season was a disappointment. As somebody who spent a first-round Fantasy draft pick on him, believe me. It was hardly his usual output.

He still ended the season with more points (85) than games played (79) but it was the lowest total of his career, seven points lower than his sophomore season. It was the lowest goal total of his career by a longshot; the 32 goals were 1 4 fewer than his previous low of 46, again in his sophomore campaign.

It's pretty easy to identify the culprit in this case. Not much changed from season to season that would have led to such a steep drop from a personnel standpoint. He's been playing with Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and the rest of the Capitals core for a few seasons now. He was also injury free, as far as we know.

No instead it's easy to pinpoint what was different, and that was a new philosophy. When Ovechkin was putting up monster numbers like his 65-goal season in 2007-08, the Caps basically said to hell with defense and rushed all day long. It was succesfful in the regular season, but they could never sustain it when it mattered most, the playoffs. So coach Bruce Boudreau decided to change the focus, make the Capitals play with a more defensive conscience. All of a sudden Washington was no longer the league's top-scoring team. They weren't even in the league's top half of scoring teams. Their 2.67 goals per game was good for 19th in the NHL.

So it's easy to beg the question: which Alex Ovechkin will we see in 2011-12?

Fantasy Hockey prep

At 26, he's just entering the prime of his career (that's scary to think about), so the natural inclination is to expect he'll have a return to normal, which is around 50-plus goals. That seems to be what the oddsmakers are thinking, enlisting Ovechkin as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy with 4/1 odds.

The Capitals are going to try and find a balance this season between offense and defense. Boudreau says that they are going to try and be more opportunistic to jump into scoring plays. If that holds true, then naturally we can expect a climb in his numbers again. After all, there is hardly anybody faster and Ovechkin on the rush is a killer.

Getting Mike Green back fully healthy will help, too. The hope is he will help make the Washington power play more than just average, which is exactly what it was last season. In a related note, Ovechkin, who once scored 22 goals on the power play in a season, had a very modest seven in 2010-11.

Now you have a better picture of why there is optimism he'll have a bump back up in his numbers. When you stack his six seasons together, there's an anomaly, and it's 2010-11.

Herein lies some concern. Last season Ovechkin had one less shot than he did in 2009-10. That season he had 50 goals on 368 shots. Last season he had 32 on 367. That means his shooting percentage went from 13.6 to 8.7, the first time in his career he was below double digits. The hope for Ovie drafters is that is rectified by the team trying to open back up a little.

But this is the time to remind of perspective. We're still talking about a guy who will be better than a point-per-game player. That's not about to change. It's hard to imagine you can keep a good player like him down.

Plus, having him atop your team lends itself to some great Fantasy team names like Ovy One Kenobi.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: September 30, 2011 6:44 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 7:02 pm

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it


By: Adam Gretz

This was the only division in the NHL last season to produce only one playoff team, and that was the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks, the team that's won the division three years in a row.

Playoff teams have been difficult to come by in the Northwest in recent years, as Colorado and Calgary are the only teams other than Vancouver to reach the postseason over the past three years; and they only managed to qualify once each. You have to go back to the 2007-08 season to find the last time more than two teams went to the playoffs in the same year out of the Northwest, and it's probably not going to happen this year.

Once you get past Vancouver, the Flames are probably the best bet to reach the playoffs, and even they're not a lock, having failed to qualify two years in a row, and then there's a steady dropoff to a pair of rebuilding teams in Colorado and Edmonton, and a team in Minnesota that seems to be stuck somewhere in the middle between being in contention and in a  rebuilding phase.

The Northwest Division (In predicted order of finish):

CanucksVancouver Canucks: The Vancouver Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history last season, losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games. After jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, Vancouver went on to lose four of the final five games of the series. And they not only lost, they were absolutely dominated, losing by a combined score of 21-4. Even with that disappointment in the rearview mirror, the Canucks are bringing back a roster that remains loaded from top to bottom, and is one of the top two or three cup contenders in the league.

Strengths: Just about everything is a strength for the Canucks. They're deep down the middle with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and the underrated Manny Malhotra at center, and even with the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, they have an excellent defense led by Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo. Roberto Luongo is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and Cory Schneider, his young backup, could probably start for quite a few teams as well. They have quality depth up front with wingers like Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre, and they excel on special teams, finishing with the top power play in the league last season and the third best penalty kill.

Weaknesses: It's really difficult to find one. Is there one? An obvious one? The Canucks are as deep as just about any team in the NHL at forward, defense and goaltender and have outstanding special teams. Where is the weakness?

FlamesCalgary Flames: A slow start that resulted in just 11 wins in their first 27 games put the Flames in a hole that was simply too deep to dig out of in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs by just four points. It's actually the exact opposite path they followed the previous season when they opened the with a 17-6-3 mark, only to completely fall apart over the final four months of the season and missed the playoffs by five points.

Strengths: Jarome Iginla is simply fantastic. He hasn't missed a game in four years, has scored at least 32 goals in each of those years, and managed to put in 43 during the 2010-11 season. Rene Bourque, Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross and David Moss is a solid group of forwards to put around Iginla, and all have the ability to score somewhere between 20 and 25 goals. A lot of other teams teams can -- and will -- do worse up front.

Weaknesses: How much does Miikka Kiprusoff have left in the tank? He's declined in recent years and his workload might be catching up with him and Henrik Karlsson could (and perhaps should) be getting a bigger role this season. Losing Robyn Regehr could be a significant loss on the blue line, and Jay Bouwmeester's first two years in Alberta have to be considered a tremendous disappointment. In his final three years with Florida he scored 12, 15 and 15 goals. In his two years with the Flames? He's scored seven. Total. And he's taking up over $6.6 million in cap space to be an offensive-defenseman. That's not going to work.

WildMinnesota Wild:  Mike Yeo takes over a team that hasn't made the playoffs in three years, hasn't won a playoff series since it went to the Conference Finals nine years ago, and he's introducing his version of the neutral zone trap (insert your own "it's boring hockey" comment here). Actually, it's pretty similar to the system the Penguins run -- the team Yeo was an assistant with for a number of years -- and is a bit more up-tempo than the Jacques Lemaire trap Minnesota fans witnessed all those years.

Strengths: Yeo is pushing for Mikko Koivu to win the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward, and he's definitely a worthy player to put on your early season watch list. An excellent two-way player that makes an impact in all three zones and all phases of the game. Dany Heatley, acquired from the Sharks over the summer, is coming off a down year (by his standards) in the goal-scoring department but possesses the best natural goal-scoring ability of any player on the roster and is a legitimate 40-goal threat.

Weaknesses: With Brent Burns no longer on the roster Minnesota has a bit of a hole on its blue line when it comes to providing offense. Marek Zidlicky, who was limited to just 46 games a season ago, was the only other defenseman to register at least 20 points. The 13th ranked power play in the league a season ago lost its top-three power play goal scorers (Burns, Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunnette). Heatley should be able to help in that area, but will he be enough?

How good is Niklas Backstrom? He hasn't approached the numbers he put up the first three years of his career while playing under Lemaire, and his backups have pretty consistently put up similar save percentages in recent years. Was he a product of the system or is he set to play like one of the best goalies in the league again?

FlamesColorado Avalanche: Their decision to trade a first-round draft pick to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Semyon Varlamov was panned over the summer, as most observers are expecting Colorado to once again finish near the bottom of the NHL's standings, meaning that pick could turn out to be a lottery selection. The jury is still out on that trade, obviously, but there's no denying the Avalanche needed a significant upgrade in net after a disappointing season from Craig Anderson helped put the Avs at the bottom of the NHL in save percentage last season.

Strengths: The 1-2 punch of Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny down the middle is the foundation of this team, and they picked up another top young forward prospect back in June when they selected Gabriel Landeskog at the top of the draft.

Weaknesses: The Avalanche bulked up their defense this summer by putting an emphasis on adding size to their blue line, but will it result in a better product? Erik Johnson, acquired in last season's blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Blues, has the most potential of the group and is still only five years removed from being the No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft. Even with the addition of Varlamov, goaltending remains a question mark, especially since he's had problems staying injury free throughout his career.

The Avs had the worst penalty killing unit in the league last season. Can a full season of Jay McClement to go along with Daniel Winnick help improve that area?

OilersEdmonton Oilers: It's another rebuilding year, but they're getting closer, slowly but surely, to making an impact. And they might be the most entertaining -- and exciting -- non-playoff team in the league with an impressive list of young forwards led by last year's top pick, Taylor Hall.

Strengths: Even if No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn't spend the entire season in Edmonton, the Oilers still have some outstanding young talent up front. Ales Hemsky is one of the NHL's most creative players with the puck and a tremendous playmaker, typically averaging near a point-per-game. The biggest flaw in his game, unfortunately, is that he tends to miss at least 10 games (or more) per season. Getting him for a full season would be a welcome change. Hall looks to be a star in the making, and players like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner are loaded with potential and should make the Oilers worth watching every night, even if they don't win a ton of games.

Weaknesses: Defense. Goaltending. Goaltending. Defense. After Ryan Whitney it's a very thin team on the blue line, and additions like Cam Barker aren't likely to help that. Their defense and goaltending, led by Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk, will keep the Oilers at the bottom of the division, as well as the Western Conference, for at least another year.

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

Photo: Getty Images

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