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Tag:Semyon Varlamov
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:38 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 9:45 am
 

Pregame Skate: Big night for all in playoff push

Jumbo Joe and San Jose enter the night eighth in the West. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame 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.

10:30 ET, Edmonton at San Jose

This is pretty amazing to type with only a few weeks left in the season, but if the Sharks don't win this game, they could be out of playoff position.

Now here is the part where I throw out the disclaimers: the Sharks have multiple games in hand on the teams ahead or near them in the standings. It's also where I remind you that does you no good unless you actually win those games in hand.

But the Sharks are sinking right now. They are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games, unable to really find their footing since returning from that nine-game road trip they took in February. As a result, they find themselves holding on to the final playoff spot in the West at the moment. Of course, they could also forge a three-way tie with losses by their Pacific Division rivals tonight and regain the third seed. This is how it is shaping up to be for the remainder of the season in the Pacific.

The important thing for San Jose is to not let these types of games slip away. The Sharks have had a couple days off, they're at home and the league's second worst team record wise (the Oilers) are visiting a night after playing in Anaheim. It's as good a shot at two points as any. It's more or less herring just dangling in front of them.

9 ET, Minnesota at Colorado (NBC Sports Network)

The Avalanche won't go away out West either. Unlike the East where teams like Toronto and Washington to an extent have been playing their way out of the playoffs, Colorado is one of those out West that has been winning its way in, meaning they have won five of the last seven games.

That includes a win on Sunday night against the same Minnesota Wild they host on Tuesday. It was a 2-0 win for the Avs with the lone tallies coming from Jamie McGinn in the first period.

I still haven't been convinced by the Avalanche that they have staying power in the Western Conference to make the playoffs this season. But here we are in March and they just won't go away. With that said, their odds still aren't as good as the other teams around them in the standings due to the extra number of games they have played. Sports Club Stats puts the odds on the Avs making it in at 17.95 percent.

It's important to point out that Semyon Varlamov has been significantly better in goal for them of late, showing why they traded a first-round draft pick for him this summer. Only once in his last six starts has he given up more than two goals. In the other five starts his goals against average is a decimal shade above 1.00 even.

7:30 ET, Ottawa at Tampa Bay

Welcome back to the playoff picture, Tampa Bay.

The Lightning have been streaking of late behind the hot stick of Steven Stamkos -- honestly, when is it not hot? -- and are about to enjoy some time at home. Having won four in a row, the Lightning are embarking on a nine-game stretch where eight games will come at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Here's an interesting little tidbit about that: The Lightning actually have the Southeast Division's best home record. Better than Winnipeg. Actually, Washington has a better home record than Winnipeg too (by two fewer OT losses). That's saying something about Tampa's prowess at home.

If they can use this home-heavy stretch the way the Jets just did on their eight-game home stand, there's no reason the Lightning can't get in the playoff seeding very soon, or possibly even jumping the Panthers for first place in the division (they enter tonight six points behind).

Of note for the Senators: Ben Bishop is expected to get his first start since being traded to Ottawa after Robin Lehner was sent back to AHL Binghamton.

NHL Playoffs
2011 NHL Playoffs
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Others worth watching

7 ET, Boston at Toronto: Let's see if the change from Ron Wilson to Randy Carlyle is going to help the Maple Leafs finally get over the Bruins hump. Boston has won all four meetings this season by a combined score of 23-6. Eek.

7 ET, Phoenix at Columbus: The Coyotes come into Columbus straight off a loss -- albeit a good showing -- against the Penguins on Monday. It was just Saturday that the Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes in the desert.

7 ET, Carolina at Washington: The last time these two got together the Hurricanes whitewashed the Capitals 5-0 in Raleigh. Washington comes in having lost two straight at home while failing to score in either. To say the Caps need this is an understatement.

7 ET, Detroit at Philadelphia: Not a whole lot in the playoff picture other than Detroit's battle for the Central Division and Presidents' Trophy, but Mark Howe's number will be retired before the game and it should just be an all-around good game.

8 ET, Los Angeles at Nashville: Kings coach Darryl Sutter joked the Predators “haven’t lost at home since Christ was a child.” Doesn't bode well for a team trying to stay in the playoff hunt too. If things go right, L.A. could be just one point out of first in the Pacific by night's end.

10 ET, Dallas at Vancouver: As the day begins, this is a matchup of division leaders as the Stars took that title on Monday night with Phoenix's loss. But the task is tall if they want to keep that lead after tonight.

Your promised miscellany

  • Monday's Winners & Losers
  • The Senators threatened they might leave Ottawa if tax breaks were eliminated. No worries, they're staying. (Ottawa Sun)
  • The news on the Jonathan Toews mystery injury front is sounding better for Chicago. (CSN Chicago)
  • A little more on my favorite story of the year so far, OHL forward Connor Crisp talks about the experience playing goaltender.

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

Posted on: March 4, 2012 9:37 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 10:13 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Avs, Stars, Cats with big 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

Jamie McGinn, Colorado Avalanche: So they got this guy from the Sharks for scoring, right?

Whether the Avalanche did or didn't (the answer is not really) he's giving it to them anyway. Or at least he did on Sunday.

The Avs, needing to keep pace in the Western race, got two early goals from McGinn and hung on to shut out the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota. It not only kept them squarely in the conversation, it pretty much cemented the fate of the Wild as they drop seven points out of a playoff spot. That's just a little tough to make up at this point.

The Avs have been on one of their patented upswings in an up-and-down season and now join the Kings just one point back of the Sharks in the Western Conference, tied with the Los Angeles Kings.

It was a nice showing for Semyon Varlamov too to stop all 30 shots he faced from the Wild. For a goalie that has struggled for much of the season, to string together some wins like that will go a long way in turning around a young goalie's psyche.

[Related: Avalanche 2, Wild 0]

Florida Panthers: Some team has to win the Southeast Division and in recent days you got the feeling that this team wasn't going to be able to hold on. They still might not, but they have to feel a lot better after Sunday's comeback win.

For the sixth time in the last nine games, the Panthers fell in a 2-0 hole. This time, though, they crawled out of it with four unanswered goals, including a somewhat shocking breakaway score from Krys Barch. Really, you don't see that often.

It brought an end to Ottawa's reign over the Panthers as well. The Sens had won nine in a row -- NINE! -- against Florida including five straight in Sunrise. It looked like they were on their way to making it a perfect 10 until the comeback came.

What the end result is besides the confidence boost for Florida to get over that Senators hump is that the Panthers move four points up on the Jets, five on the Capitals and six up on the Lightning in the Southeast. Keeping that cushion is important.

[Related: Panthers 4, Senators 2]

Dallas Stars: Don't look now, but the Stars have jumped the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division and are now tied with the Phoenix Coyotes for the division lead (but lose out on the tie-breakers at this point). They also bumped the Sharks down to eighth in the West while taking the seventh spot themselves.

That's the result of them marching into Calgary and prevailing in the shootout thanks to their scoring stars of Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

The Stars are playing as well now as they were at the beginning of the season when they ran out to one of the best starts in the league. There's still a good ways to go, but they have shown they're a serious threat and maybe even a good bet at this point to make the postseason.

The Flames, meanwhile, do get one point and move to within three of the Sharks but remain in 11th place.

[Related: Stars 3, Flames 2 (SO)]

Anders Nilsson, New York Islanders: There was a time this season that people were laughing at the Islanders for carrying three active goalies on the roster each night. Then they called on the fourth man in the rotation, Nilsson, on Sunday and he delivered.

Not only did Nilsson pick up his first NHL victory, it was a shutout. And it had to be as the Islanders only scored once against the Devils, a Kyle Okposo goal in the second period.

If they even dare to dream on the Island, there is still a glimmer of hope that they can get into the playoffs. A glimmer, I said. The win brought them within five points of eighth-place Winnipeg when they finished up. With the way the bottom of the East has been dropping like a rock allowing some of the other cellar dwellers to climb back in (see: Lightning, Sabres) what's to say the Islanders can't? Any kind of winning streak at this point puts you into contention.

Of course they might need a few more goals but points are points no matter how they come.

[Related: Islanders 1, Devils 0]

Losers

Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin: The Capitals were shut out for the second consecutive game at home, being blanked by the Flyers 1-0. Ilya Bryzgalov, who has had his well-chronicled struggles this season, was sharp, very sharp. Obviously, he held the Caps off the board completely despite some of the Flyers' best defensemen (Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros) being out.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, appeared to be benched in the second period by Capitals coach Dale Hunter after his role on the one and only goal, a deflection from Eric Wellwood that beat Michal Neuvirth. His turnover and then pretty poor attempt at stopping the pass to the crease appeared to earn him a seat for the rest of the second.

"My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game," Ovechkin said.

Now we're left once again wondering if the Caps are dead in the water. With back-to-back home losses, they have fallen five points behind the Panthers in the Southeast and remain out of the playoff picture in the East. If the Sabres -- Buffalo! -- is able to beat the Jets on Monday, the Caps will fall into 10th in the conference.

[Related: Flyers 1, Capitals 0]

Detroit Red Wings: I elected to put the Wings in the losers section instead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the winner section tonight because of the collateral damage that came along with their 2-1 loss at the Joe on Sunday afternoon.

The second period curiously began with Joey MacDonald in the net instead of Jimmy Howard, who had been on for the first 20 minutes. It wasn't immediately clear why. Remember, Howard just missed a couple of weeks with a broken finger.

Eventually Howard was back on the bench and it was revealed that he suffered a lower-body injury and is day to day. That was worthy of a sigh of relief. Of course it's not like MacDonald has been bad in his spot duties so far this season. He gave up the only goal that was scored in the final two periods and took the loss on Sunday, but that dropped his record to just 7-2-1.

The Wings also saw defenseman Jakub Kindl leave the game with an upper-body injury. Add that to the already absent Pavel Datsyuk and the Wings are starting to take some wear and tear.

Oh, and by the tie-breakers, they lost the Central Division lead to the Blues. Not that that means too much right now.

[Related: Blackhawks 2, Red Wings 1]

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

Posted on: February 24, 2012 10:29 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2012 11:23 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Capitals, Avalanche, Canadiens



By: Adam Gretz


There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Their 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night was just the fourth win in 11 games during the month of February for the Washington Capitals, and only the fourth time they've scored more than two goals over that same stretch. And it couldn't have come at a better time for the Capitals as they still managed to pull to within two points of regaining the top spot in the always comical Southeast Division, despite what has been a month of less-than-stellar play.

Alex Ovechkin returned to the Washington lineup in the win and blasted a one-timer past Carey Price for his 25th goal of the season, giving him at least 25 goals in each of the first seven years of his career.

Some of the NHL's other winners and losers for Friday night…

Winners

1. Colorado Avalanche: Big win for the Avalanche on Friday night as they keep pace in the Western Conference playoff push with a 5-0 dismantling of the Columbus Blue Jackets. David Jones scored a pair of goals, Semyon Varlamov stopped all 28 shots he faced and the newest Avalanche player, Steve Downie, scored his first goal for the club.

[Related: Avalanche 5, Blue Jackets 0]

2. Dallas Stars: The Stars took over sole possession of the No. 8 playoff spot in the West with a 4-1 win over Minnesota. Dallas raced out to an early 3-0 lead in the second period, chasing Niklas Backstrom after only 23 minutes. Eric Nystrom, a member of the Wild at the start of the season, scored his 16th goal of the year while Tom Wandell added a pair to give him six on the year.

[Related: Stars 4, Wild 1]

3. Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild general manager: Whether or not any of the players  or draft picks Chuck Fletcher received in the trade that sent Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey on Friday is pretty irrelevant at this point. He managed to gain three players and two draft picks for a player that no longer wanted to be in Minnesota (and was playing like it) while team itself had little leverage when it came to trading him.

Oh, and he also cleared a few million in salary cap space for next season. That's a win for the organization, even though the team lost on the ice.

[Related: Zidlicky traded to New Jersey]

Losers

1. Montreal Canadiens: The only positive development to come out of their loss in Washington on Friday night was the fact that Rene Bourque scored a shorthanded goal. Why is this so meaningful? Or even a little meaningful? Because until Bourque scored that goal, the Canadiens had gone more than 12 periods of hockey without scoring a goal against the Capitals, dating back to last season. In their past four games against Washington Montreal has been outscored 11-1. Since the start of last season they've been shutout by the Capitals four times.

2. Calgary Flames social media: I appreciate the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. It's one of the great ones in the NHL, and it reached a new level on Friday when an anonymous member of the Flames social media team accidentally sent out a Tweet mocking the proposed contract terms for Oilers forward Ales Hemsky. The Flames acknowledged it, said it was a mistake, don't condone it, and will handle it internally. That's great, but it's not like the Flames don't have their own contracts that would draw a few chuckles from other teams around the league.

[Related: Flames official Twitter mocks Hemsky contract talk -- Oilers re-sign Hemsky]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 25, 2012 4:08 pm
 

Varlamov talks about losing No. 1 role to Giguere

Varlamov has lost his starting role to Giguere. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Colorado Avalanche headed into the free agency period on July 1 last summer without anybody ready to take the reins in goal. They were widely considered the favorites to sign Tomas Vokoun until they surprised most people by backing off and instead trading for Semyon Varlamov of the Capitals.

It showed how much the Avs wanted Varlamov, who was on his way out of Washington anyway. They shipped the Capitals a their first-round pick in the 2012 draft and a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013. They also signed veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere to be his backup.

The expectation was pretty clear: Varlamov was going to be the Avs' starting goalie, and hopefully do that for a long time. After all, he's only 23.

Problem is, Varlamov hasn't played like a franchise goalie, instead showing the form that led the Capitals to having no problem in trading Varlamov away. His record this season is 14-15-1. His goals against average is 3.00 and save percentage at .899. Conversely, Giguere is having a bit of a career revival with a 2.15 GAA and .921 save percentage.

That has led to coach Joe Sacco taking the title of starting goaltender and bestowing it upon Giguere, not Varlamov.

"J.S. is playing well right now, and it's good for the team," Varlamov told the Denver Post. "I just have to keep working. I know it's going to be tough, but I just have to be ready -- always."

At least he's saying the right things. Let that be a lesson to all the aspiring professional hockey players out there: stick to the clichés and you'll be fine. Watch a little Bull Durham and you're good to go.

Unfortunately for Varly, he hasn't been doing the right things on the ice. He hasn't played since he was abused for six goals by the Coyotes nine days ago.

"That's why I'm not playing right now, I think," Varlamov said. "But it's a long season. We still have 30 games after the break."

He has a lot of work to do if he wants to reclaim the lion's share of the work. The Avs are one of the surprise teams in the NHL at the All-Star break, I don't think many people saw them holding a playoff spot at this point, even if it is the eighth and final spot. Giguere is a large reason why, he has been excellent.

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

Posted on: December 16, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Flyers streak on sans Pronger, G

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

By Brian Stubits

There must be something in the water in Pennsylvania. That's the old cliché people turn to when they can't make sense of what's going on, how people (or teams in this case) continue to perform at a high level despite the obstacles.

We saw it last year (and again this season, really) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite being without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the second half of last season, they just kept on winning. Their 106 points were tied with the Flyers for most in the Atlantic and were just one point behind the Capitals for best in the East.

This season, the Flyers are getting their own taste of life without their Stars. And just like their Keystone State brethren, they continue to win. As in seven in a row.

Philly has been playing without its captain Chris Pronger for a month now. After yesterday's news, they are going to have to play the rest of the season without him, too. In fact, some are saying that Pronger might never play a game again. After all, he is 37 and he has a life after hockey to think about.

As good as Pronger is and has been his entire career, the Flyers have done a good job overcoming his absence this season -- nay, a great job. Since he last played against Winnipeg on Nov. 19, the Flyers have won nine of 11 games.

As callous as it always feels, the Flyers must move on. While their captain and best defenseman deals with severe post-concussion syndrome, they have a very promising season to continue. With the roster freeze coming next week, it's unlikely the Flyers will acquire some additional help on the blue line in the near future, but it will have to be a consideration for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

Holmgren told the media on Friday that he's already considered that, having called all 29 teams, presumably about any defensemen they might have available.

But that's for then. Right now, the Flyers are making due without him or their budding superstar center Claude Giroux (or simply G, as they team calls him). It doesn't seem like it will be a long shelving for Giroux, but you never can know, concussions tend to be pretty fickle.

In the only games the Flyers have played without either player, they have won. Despite missing their leading scorer and a point-producing defenseman, Philly has still averaged 4.5 goals in the two games without Giroux and Pronger.

But now a real test comes to see how they compare with the other beats of the East without the two stars.

The Boston Bruins are nipping on the Flyers' heels for the best record in the Eastern Conference and they, too, have been playing without arguably their best player (skaters-only division) in Zdeno Chara. But the big man might be back in time for the Saturday matinee in Philadelphia.

"We're going to give him a chance to fly and see how he feels," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "If he feels good then we have a chance of seeing him."

Normally I'd lament this game being played without Giroux, Pronger and possibly Chara. But with the way both of them, the Flyers in particular, have played without the all-stars, I don't see it stopping what will likely still be a very good game.

Winnipeg welcome wagon rolls on

This first season with the Jets back in the NHL has been an ongoing welcome wagon for the folks in Manitoba. They were licking their chops at getting to see Ilya Bryzgalov, they relished the opportunity to see former Jet Shane Doan back in Winnipeg.

Now comes perhaps the best welcome/return of them all; Teemu Selanne.

The veteran once starred for the Jets before he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks. He has waited for the chance to go back and play in the first NHL city he called home. Now it comes on Saturday night.

"You know, even when the schedule came out, even when I didn't know if I was going to play or not, I checked right away if we were going to Winnipeg," Selanne said. "That day was on my calendar right away.

"I knew there were two really special things. Obviously the Finland trip and then Winnipeg. It was really exciting to even think about it."

Unlike the welcomes fans in Winnipeg gave to Bryzgalov and, to an extent, Doan, it's hard to imagine there will be any jeers, only cheers for Selanne.

"He was so admired. It was overwhelming," Jets chairman Mark Chipman said of Selanne. "This guy was so good and so approachable and so humble in his approach that the community just absolutely fell head over heels for the guy."

Amazingly, Selanne is still performing at the level he was when he first broke into the NHL with the Jets in the early 90s. That's only going to help the flashbacks for the fans -- minus that whole wearing the Ducks jersey part.

Back in Buffalo

One of the more criticized offseason signings (excluding just about every move made by the Florida Panthers) was the Toronto Maple Leafs signing former Sabres center Tim Connolly. Leafs GM Brian Burke gave Connolly a two-year deal worth $4.75 million per season.

People in Buffalo laughed and simply said "Enjoy!" to their near-neighbors in Toronto. It wasn't about Connolly being a bad player -- he's not at all -- but it was about his health concerns. There always seemed to be something that was keeping Connolly on the bench.

So there's a sense of irony when the Maple Leafs visit the First Niagara Center this weekend. Connolly will be healthy and on the ice against his former team. Although he hasn't been without his health issues this season, when he's been on the ice, he's been good for Toronto. In 18 games played, he has 15 points.

On the other hand, the deal that Buffalo signed with Ville Leino was widely applauded. That one hasn't worked out so well.

Reunion tour continues

The Washington Capitals will be visiting the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. That means they will get to see their old goalie Semyon Varlamov up close and personal again.

Varlamov was traded to the Avs this summer after he made it clear that he was looking to play in the KHL over Washington. So Caps GM George McPhee swung a deal with the Avs to give them Varlamov in exchange for Colorado's first-round draft pick this offseason and their second-round pick.

So not only do the Caps get the chance to say hi to an old friend, but they can help themselves out in more ways than one. The points in the standings are the first and most obvious way, but every game without points for the Avs helps the Caps' first-round draft pick go higher and higher.

Although it's quieted down with Varlamov coming back down to earth, when he and the Avalanche were off to their hot starts, some in Washington wondered if the team made the wrong goalie decision. There might still be some questions considering the duo of Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth hasn't fared much better, if at all. But at least Neuvirth comes into the game having just shut out the Jets in Winnipeg, so there might be some positive momentum building. The goaltending problems have been as much an issue as anything in D.C. this season.

Canucks are still great

In fact, according to Roberto Luongo they are better than they were last season, which was great.

"We were one win away, so I don't think you need to change much," Luongo said. "That being said, though, we went through a lot last year, and I think we grew as a team. So for that reason alone, I think that we're better than last year."

That's even with him still getting a lot of starts in the net. Remember, he was a Vezina finalist last season. This season? Not so much.

Their next chance to prove Lu right will come in Toronto on Saturday evening for another Hockey Night in Canada appearance.

Stammer don't hurt 'em!

More like don't get hurt Stammer.

With his overtime winner on Thursday night, Steven Stamkos joined Milan Michalek on the top of the goal-scoring list this season with his 19th. Hopefully the same fate that has befallen many of the game's best scorers in recent weeks won't strike the Lightning's superstar.

With Michalek, Giroux, Sidney Crosby and Jeff Skinner (among many others) recently being diagnosed with concussions or at least post-concussion symptoms, the last thing the league wants is another young star to go down. If anything, it would probably love to see Stamkos go on one of his tears and become a positive story in the league again.

He'll have the chance to take the lead in the goals race by himself when Tampa Bay heads to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets.

We're going streaking!

Flyers: As mentioned, they are the hottest thing going in the NHL right now between their seven-game win streak and HBO's 24/7.

Bruins: Philly's opponent brings a modest three-game run of itself into the Saturday matchup.

Chicago Blackhawks: A double-dip awaits the Blackhawks and their three-game win streak as they face the Ducks and Flames.

Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues: We're going to combine these two because they are both riding four-game win streaks and they will face off against one another on Saturday. The Blues also have the Jackets on Sunday.

Dallas Stars: Last on the win side, the Pacific-leading Stars take to New Jersey seeking to extend their three-game streak on Scott Niedermayer Night.

New York Islanders: Once again, the Isles are slumping. They get to face the NHL-best Minnesota Wild with a four-game skid. The good news for New York is Minnesota is likely down a lot of bodies.

Florida Panthers The Southeast leaders are on a mini slump having lost three in a row. They have the Flames and Hurricanes at home this weekend to try and cure the ills.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 3:56 pm
 

Avs goaltending, defense still struggling

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By: Adam Gretz


PITTSBURGH -- Milan Hejduk has spent his entire career with the Colorado Avalanche organization, playing over 920 games (and still counting). He's scored over 360 goals and been a member of a Stanley Cup winning team, and on Tuesday night he played his first game as the team's captain, just the third different one the franchise has had since 1992-93, when it was still based in Quebec.

After a strong first period that included Hejduk registering an assist on Matt Duchene's highlight reel goal, everything unraveled over the final 30 minutes of regulation as the Avs dropped a 6-3 decision to the Penguins, spoiling what should have been an exciting night for the 13-year veteran.

"It's a great honor," said Hejduk after the game. "I'm very proud to have the 'C' on my jersey, but I wish tonight could have been a different result."

The result, unfortunately, has been a common one for the Avs over the past month, as the loss is their ninth in their past 12 games, and follows what had been a promising start that saw the team win six of its first eight games, with all of the wins coming on the road. Whether it's been at home or on the road, finding the win column has been an issue lately for a team that has won just three games in regulation all season, and only one since Oct. 13.

Still, for all of their struggles lately you have to say this for the Avalanche: their games are definitely not boring.

Their forwards are young, fast and exciting, especially Duchene, who was one of the best players on the ice for either team on Tuesday night. When that all meets at the confluence of poor defense and goaltending, well, you're going to see a lot of goals. Last season Avalanche games were the highest scoring games in the league, and they're not far off that pace this season averaging over six goals per game. The NHL average is just 5.56.

Though, a lot of that has been -- and still is being -- driven by the aforementioned issues on the blue line and in the crease. That has to be a concern given the emphasis that was placed on both areas over the summer to improve a team that allowed the ninth most shots in the NHL and owned, by a pretty large margin, the worst save percentage.

In an effort to fix those weaknesses the Avalanche assembled one of the biggest defenses in the NHL (seriously, these guys are huge ... four of their regulars are each listed over 6-feet-3, 230-pounds) by signing Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien to go with Erik Johnson and Ryan O'Byrne, two players that were acquired in mid-season trades during the 2010-11 season. Those additions on the blue line were accompanied by what was perhaps the most controversial move of the summer, by any team, when the club sent its 2012 first-round pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for goaltender Semyon Varlamov. At the time of the trade it was thought that pick could turn out to be a lottery pick, and it still very well could be.

Varlamov did his part to silence the critics of the move early in the season, basically standing on his head during his first three starts. But to say he's struggled since would be an understatement. While the Avs have managed to cut down the number of shots they allow, the goaltending has still been an issue with Varlamov posting a save percentage below .900 in eight of his past 11 apperances, including Tuesday, while their team mark is still in the bottom-three of the NHL.

"When you're going through a stretch like this, you rely on your goaltender," said coach Joe Sacco following Tuesday's game, which saw Varlamov allow six goals on 33 shots. "He (Varlamov) made some big saves, but I'm sure there's a few he'd like to have back. Everybody has to be better including him."

Of course, there are still plenty of question marks as to whether or not they will -- or can -- be much better.

Their defense is massive, but how well does that size translate to success in the current NHL? And outside of Johnson, a former No. 1 overall pick by the St. Louis Blues, how much long-term upside is there with the current group? In the crease, Varlamov is still a major Wild card. He's definitely a gifted athlete with impressive quickness, but his career has been plagued by injuries and bouts of inconsistent play.

If their play on the back side doesn't improve it could be another long season in Denver, and this time there will not even be the prospect of a top draft pick there to help salvage it.

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

Posted on: November 15, 2011 11:13 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 10:47 am
 

Duchene vs. Malkin: Which goal is better?

By: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- After racing out to a two-goal lead in the first period the Colorado Avalanche had a bit of a meltdown on Tuesday, allowing five consecutive goals in Pittsburgh to fall by a 6-3 margin, losing for the ninth time in their past 12 games. The game had a great flow at times as the two teams exchanged chances, and it also featured two of the nicest goals we've seen across the NHL this year.

First, Colorado's third-year standout, Matt Duchene, made a ridiculous move between the circles to drag the puck between his legs and dangle around Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to deposit the puck into an empty net for his seventh goal of the season. Duchene was one of the best players on the ice for much of the game, especially through the first two periods, recording seven shots on goal -- including the one he scored on -- in just over 17 minutes of ice-time.

Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin scored what proved to be the game-winner early in the third period when he forced a turnover behind the net, and then proceeded to turn Gabriel Landeskog and Semyon Varlamov inside-out on his way to his fifth goal of the season.

Two outstanding plays, but which one tops your highlight reel for the night?


I know it came in the losing effort, and the goal itself is probably no consolation on a night where his team surrendered five unanswered goals (and it wasn't), but I'm tempted to go with Duchene's as the better play. But it's close. To be able to pull that move off at that speed is incredible.

Said Duchene after the game, "I kinda forgot about it, but it was a great play by Pauly (Stastny). He made a great pass to me and I was just able to free myself up for an open net. I think we're a little but disappointed as a line because we felt like we played a good enough game to score two or three more and just weren't able to do it. Had some bad bounces, a post, some chances that just didn't go in. We could have put the game away early with any luck."

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

Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:29 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 10:57 am
 

Early season surprises: Avalanche take the cake

By Brian Stubits

The Colorado Avalanche have shown a little pattern in recet years, so maybe we should have seen this start coming.

Three seasons ago they came off a conference semifinal loss by finishing with 69 points, bad enough to get the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, which they used to select Matt Duchene (good call). The following season they were in the playoffs behind Craig Anderson in goal. That was followed by another miserable season to give the Avs the No. 2 pick, which is where they grabbed Gabriel Landeskog.

It is still incredibly early, but if there were a surprise from the first two weeks of the season, it is without a doubt the Avalanche. Colorado lost its home opener before embarking on a five-game road trip to the East, including the Eastern Canada swing, and lo and behold, the Avs took all 10 available points. It was the first time in franchise history they won five consecutive road games. Not bad for a team with only three players over the age of 30 -- Jean Sebastien-Giguere, Milan Hejduk and Jan Hejda.

"Now what we have to do is take this kind of game we played on the road -- keeping it simple, doing little things -- and translating it to our home ice," Giguere said Monday night after beating his former Maple Leafs team. "This was obviously a great trip for us. It should give us confidence going forward."

Obviously winning at this rate won't last. That goes without saying. Considering their youth and inexperience, they are more susceptible than most to higher highs and lower lows. But the prospects of not finishing near or at the bottom of the Western Conference like many foresaw? Those seem pretty good right now.

A good chunk of the team's success has come from the goaltending duo of Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. Desperate to get a goaltender to take the reins this offseason, the Avs signed the veteran Giguere, but it was their move for Varlamov that took the attention.

Colorado was the heavy favorite to court and then sign free agent Tomas Vokoun. It seemed to be a perfect match. But a funny thing happened; the Avs didn't seem to want to go down that road. Instead, they spoke with the Capitals -- Vokoun's eventual landing spot, oddly enough -- and worked out a trade to acquire Varlamov, who said he was done playing in Washington. The price of a first-round pick in return seemed like a quality deal for the Capitals. After all, Colorado was the second worst team in the league a season ago. Talk to people around Washington and they are all aware of how talented Varlamov is. That was never the issue. If he can stay healthy -- now we have our issue -- it could be a coup for the Avalanche

However they are more than the goaltending, obviously. What really jumped out of the screen watching them play the Leafs on Monday -- and again, this was the fifth of five games on the road in another time zone, so the excuses to be sluggish where there -- was their speed and energy. I guess you can call that youthful exuberance. Whatever words you use to describe it, I call it impressive.

A lot of people might have been sleeping on the Avs before this season began, but Joe Sacco's crew has opened some eyes in a hurry.

Surprises

Toronto Maple Leafs: Despite losing to the Avalanche in overtime on Monday -- their first missed point of the season -- Toronto is out of the gate strong. Now this isn't something entirely new this time of year. Remember the Maple Leafs started 4-0-0 last season, then they won only one of the next 12 games.

One difference this time around, however, is James Reimer -- or his Twitter world nickname Optimus Reim, if you prefer. The young goalie is giving fans hope that they have finally solved the riddle in the cage. That and the so-far spectacular play of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf gives you reason to believe the Maple Leafs just could end their six-year playoff drought this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: They are surprising, but not in a good way. The Eastern Conference runnerups from a season ago have looked, well, awful. They have picked up only four points from their first six games and given up four goals or more four different times already. Dwayne Roloson looks his age, which is now 42.

"Obviously, we're not happy," Steven Stamkos said Monday. "I wouldn't say we're in a panic mode, but we're worried. This isn't the start we wanted. We're taking way too many penalties."

They better figure it out soon because with some improved teams in the East this year, they don't want to fall too far behind.

Dallas Stars: So Brad Richards is winless with his new team while his old team, the Stars, are 4-1? That qualifies as a surprise to many.

Everybody wondered how Dallas would replace the loss of Richards. Signing Michael Ryder in the offseason didn't seem to be a void-filler. Maybe all they needed was another year for Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Brendan Morrow, Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson together. Oh, and a healthy Kari Lehtonen. Dallas is 4-0 when Lehtonen starts this season.

Then there is Sheldon Souray, who Edmonton couldn't get out of town fast enough. Dallas took a shot on the bought-out Oilers defenseman and so far it's looking like a good gamble. He has a goal and three assists as well as a plus-4 rating while averaging more than 20 minutes on ice per game.

Florida Panthers power play: Is this real life or is this just fantasy?

The Panthers had 35 power-play goals in 82 games last season. Let that sink in for a minute. As you would probably guess, that was the lowest in the NHL. Maybe it's the addition of Kevin Dineen and assistant Craig Ramsey, maybe it's the influx of new forwards, or, perhaps most likely, it's the arrival of Brian Campbell to run the show. Whatever the result, the Panthers have scored on eight of their 25 power-play attempts this season, including five in one game against the Lightning on Monday.

Heck, they even have a short-handed goal already, making them an even squad on the penalty kill.

No suspensions for hits: With how busy Brendan Shanahan was during the preseason, I was getting ready to request Shanny TV 24/7. It was like Hannukah, waking up every day for eight straight days to see the newest gift, or in this case video. But since the first puck was dropped in Toronto, the only suspension handed down was for the Wild's Marc-Pierre Bouchard and his high stick on the Blue Jackets' Matt Calvert.

But a funny thing happened when the season began, the suspensions stopped coming. That's because the head hits have stopped coming, which is exactly what everybody hoped to see in the first place, even the anti-Shanny crowd. I view it like Republicans and Democrats; everybody wants to get to the same prosperous place, they just don't agree on how to get there. This is the same. I have yet to hear one person say they want head shots to remain in hockey, just that they feel like Shanahan was going too far, or as Don Cherry and Mike Milbury put it, setting the bar too high.

The preseason over/under on the number of suspensions laid down by Shanahan was 40.5. That under is starting to look awfully tasty now.

But this could change later Tuesday after Kris Letang of the Penguins has his meeting with Shanahan.

Not surprising but still noteworthy

The Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings both remain perfect. But we wouldn't expect anything else from those two franchises these days. To the other hot starters like the Flyers and Ducks, consider it a compliment that your team isn't on here. They have rosters people thought were capable of doing just this.

Photos: 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