Tag:Stephen Weiss
Posted on: February 26, 2012 10:19 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 10:34 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Stars, Wild get comeback wins

By Brian Stubits

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

Winners

1. Dallas Stars

Talk about a huge two points. The Stars were down 2-0 to the NHL-best Vancouver Canucks, down 2-1 with less than a minute to play in Dallas. Insert Mike Ribeiro with the tying goal and the Stars had themselves a point. Dallas then picked up the second point on a Loui Eriksson tally in overtime.

They went from picking up nothing to gaining a huge two points. That moved them out of the logjam that is the race for eighth in the Western Conference and into a playoff spot by their lonesome. It also brings Dallas to within three points of the Pacific Division-leading Phoenix Coyotes. And yet this team is still on the fence about buying or selling?

As an extra note, saw this on the Stars broadcast during the game. Going back to 2006, the Canucks were 183-3-12 when leading over two periods. Make that 183-3-13.

[Related: Stars 3, Canucks 2 (OT)]

2. Minnesota Wild

Unlike the eighth seed race in the East where nobody seems to be able to step up and take it, the West is getting carnivorous, in a good way. The Wild, absolutely having to beat the San Jose Sharks to keep any hope of staying in the race alive pulled off their own late comeback.

When Brent Burns slapped home the go-ahead goal with less than 10 minutes left against his old team in his old barn, you had the feeling that it was going to be the dagger. The all-too painful dagger based on the circumstances.

Then Matt Cullen tied it up with his third goal in the last four games. OK, a point is looking good. Unless Jed Ortmeyer tips one in for his first goal in almost two calendar years. Seriously, it was his first goal since March of 2010. Granted, it was only 22 games, but still. Talk about timing.

The task is still tough, especially with every team in the Pacific Division deciding it wants to catch fire right now except for the Sharks, but they remain at that magical five-point mark behind in the race for the playoffs.

[Related: Wild 4, Sharks 3] | McLellan OK after scary incident

3. Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators

When Craig Anderson went down for an undetermined amount of time, people wondered if the Sens weren't going to fall like a rock. They've been riding Anderson hard all season long.

Well that precipitated the recalling of Lehner from the AHL and he responded well. Particularly on the day that the Sens went out and acquired another goaltender who presumably is going to be getting playing time down the stretch in Ben Bishop.

The Islanders might have scored three in the loss, but don't read too much into it from Lehner's end. He was good enough to make a good impression.

[Related: Senators 5, Islanders 3 | Sens get Bishop from St. Louis]

4. Martin St. Louis

He gets the award as the top performer of the day with his hat trick for the Lightning in their win over the Devils in New Jersey. It was his second trick this season, in fact.

With Florida's win, the Lightning didn't gain any traction in the Southeast race and are still eight points out. But what it tells you is that the Lightning are going to be one aggressive spoiler down the stretch. They have been playing much better of late but it's likely going to prove to be too little too late. That doesn't mean they won't have an impact on the rest of the playoff race.

[Related: Lightning 4, Devils 3]

Losers

1. Southeast Division chasers

The Florida Panthers began the day already tied for first place in the division and they had games in hand on the chasing Jets and Capitals. For the second straight night, the rest of the division was able to get excited to see Florida down 2-0 in the game. And for the second straight night, the Panthers overcame that 2-0 deficit to pull out two points against the Montreal Canadiens.

After being honored pregame for becoming the Panthers franchise's all-time games played record holder, Stephen Weiss took the celebration two steps further, potting two scores as the Panthers dominated after giving up the second goal and won really going away, 4-2.

They became the last division leader to hit 70 points to move two points up on the Jets, three on the Caps. They still have played three fewer than Winnipeg and one less than Washington. This is why those games in hand can be so big, but only if you convert them into points.

[Related: Panthers 4, Canadiens 2]

2. Chicago Blackhawks

For the first time in 40 chances, the Blackhawks finally scored a power-play goal. It came from Patrick Kane, who has struggled himself to score this season, no less. That was pretty much the end of the good news.

The Ducks got the benefit of the doubt when Andrew Cogliano was awarded a goal after a very long review where it appeared he might have kicked the puck in. Did he hit it with his stick? It looked like he could have, but there was no indisputable proof that Cogliano legally played it after or not. Still, Cogliano was given the game-tying goal and Anaheim went on for the win.

The bad news for the Ducks, the teams that were in action that they're chasing each won. That's why it's so hard for them to overcome this deficit. Despite a big win over Chicago, they remained six points out of the playoffs.

Light-hearted moment of the night

We're adding this section tonight just to share this video from the Canucks-Stars game and coach Alain Vigneault cracking up uncontrollably on the bench.

Kevin Bieksa is seen giving a good chuckle too. Apparently it was in response to Vernon Fiddler's awesome Bieksa impression.

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

Posted on: December 30, 2011 1:25 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Central the center of the action

By Brian Stubits

Earlier this week, the St. Louis Blues visited Joe Louis Arena and battled the Detroit Red Wings in one of the better games of the season. In it, the Wings came back from a two-goal deficit and stung the Blues 3-2.

That was just on Tuesday. Apparently it was so good, they're going to do it again this Saturday, same arena and all.

Two teams playing each other twice in one week isn't rare in hockey. Happens a lot of weekends actually with home-and-home series. But playing twice in one week in the same city? Unless we're in the playoffs, not that common. But the Red Wings won't mind, I'm sure.

In hockey, home-ice advantage doesn't compare all that well to home-court advantage in the NBA, for example. Most teams fare better at home, but it's not as much of a lock as basketball. However for the Red Wings, it is. After beating the Blues on Tuesday, Detroit has won 11 consecutive games at the Joe. Overall this season, the Wings are 14-2-1 at home.

And they want to get rid of that place, huh?

Then again, it's probably a lot more about the team on the ice than where the ice is located, huh? I mean any team that has Pavel Datsyuk has to be good.

The three-time Selke winner and Russian stick wizard took the first-star honors after Tuesday's win, scoring a goal on a fantastic redirection and setting up Detroit's first goal of the game.

The year began a little slowly for Datsyuk -- he didn't score his third goal of the season until No. 19 -- but he's back to old tricks. For the most part, I mean that literally for that's what you think you're seeing when Datsyuk is playing the puck, trickery. He's been in the NHL since 2001 but he still leaves people amazed.

Detroit will be looking for a bit more of that amazing this weekend. Obviously their battles with the Blues have grown this season with St. Louis taking off under Ken Hitchcock. The two teams are separated by only one point in the standings and it sure seems like neither team will go away this season. So all of the head-to-head games are big with the points up for grabs.

If the rematch comes close to being a repeat of the meeting earlier this week, it might still be one the best game this weekend.

Friday night's alright in the Central

That's not the only big interdivision matchup in the Central Division this weekend. Both the Blues and Red Wings have massive matchups on Friday night, including the season's first Blackhawks-Red Wings matchup.

Hard to believe that the Oilers and Wild have already played each other six times while the Blackhawks and Red Wings have yet to renew acquaintances, but that's the case. Until Friday, at least.

This is the matchup in a very good Central. The two top dogs, big rivals and true Stanley Cup threats. It begins Friday in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Blues will be tangling with the Nashville Predators in what has become a very nice -- or should I say not nice? -- rivalry in its own right.

These two Friday night showdowns pit four of the West's top six teams against one another (Nashville is tied with the Sharks and Kings with 42 points). More importantly, they are all fighting within the same division.

It's going to be a great weekend of hockey in the Midwest.

B's buzzing

At this point it's beyond absurd. The Boston Bruins are in the middle of one of the best stretches in the history of the NHL, and that's not hyperbole. In their last 24 games, Boston is an astounding 21-2-1, including the current seven-game win streak they take to Dallas.

In that time they have obliterated opponents. Eleven of those 21 wins were by a margin of three goals or more. By anybody's definition of dominant, the Bruins fit the bill.

Now they head to Dallas to face the Stars and get a glimpse of an old pal in Michael Ryder. The Stars forward was part of the Stanley Cup champs last season before migrating to Texas in the summer. The Bruins he played for were very good obviously, but not even that team was ever this great.

Of the many amazing things about the Bruins, one is the fact that not one of their players appears in the top 30 of the NHL in points. You have to go to No. 33 on the list to find Tyler Seguin. That's all in spite of the fact that the Bruins have the most productive offense in the league with 3.47 goals per game. Talk about balance. As Stars center Steve Ott would say "look at NHL.com."

Classic tuneup

While the Philadelphia Flyers are already back in the City of Brotherly Love and waiting to play in Citizen's Bank Park on Monday for the Winter Classic, their foes are making one stop in sunny South Florida first.

The New York Rangers, fresh off a 4-1 loss in Washington to the Capitals, would love to take a win with them into Philly for the game, so they'll take a crack at the Florida Panthers. It's the third meeting between the two teams this season, the most recent a Rangers demolishing of the Panthers in Madison Square Garden. The first meeting came in Sunrise and went to the Panthers.

The good news for Florida is that Stephen Weiss is a game-time decision. The top-line center has missed the past couple of games while the Panthers have made due with almost two lines worth of AHL forwards.

The game is just about as big for the Panthers as it is the Rangers. Florida has been atop the Southeast Division for most of the season, but the Winnipeg Jets have crawled to within four points of the 'Cats for the division lead.

Happy New Year!

Typically, the Winter Classic has been the first game played in the new year in recent seasons. Not this year.

Because of the final Sunday of the NFL season falls on Jan. 1, the Winter Classic -- and majority of the NHL schedule -- has been pushed back to Monday, Jan. 2. But one game will be played on Sunday.

The Calgary Flames will visit the Predators and the two will have the (meaningless) honor of being the first teams to play in 2012. Ring it in, boys.

We're going streaking!

Here are the streaks, good and bad, entering the weekend. Not a whole lot.

Bruins: As mentioned, take that seven-game win streak into Dallas.

Vancouver Canucks: The other Stanley Cup Finalist last season is almost as hot as the Bruins. The Canucks have won three in a row and seven of the last 10. They have a date with the Kings in L.A. on Saturday.

Phoenix Coyotes: Phoenix heads to face the Minnesota Wild as losers of four straight games. The good news? The fourth-place Coyotes are still only two points behind first-place San Jose in the Pacific.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 28, 2011 1:07 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 2:47 pm
 

Report: Injury-ravaged Panthers to sign Madden

By Brian Stubits

The Florida Panthers are in a world of hurt right now. As in literal hurt.

The surprising Southeast Division leaders are still holding onto a somewhat comfortable lead over the Winnipeg Jets in the division, but they are missing a lot of players. As in seven forwards, all due to some form of injury.

That has general manager Dale Tallon on the verge of signing veteran free agent John Madden. That's according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Hearing John Madden signs with @FlaPanthers tomorrow."

Madden played most recently for the Minnesota Wild and Russo used to be the beat writer for the Panthers, so he can have a rumor like that covered from both sides.

Then current Panthers beat writer George Richards of the Miami Herald tweeted that the timeline perhaps has been quickened. "Word in the #FlaPanthers locker room is John Madden has been signed and is excited to join the Cats."

Richards added that the deal isn't likely to be announced quite yet. "#FlaPanthers say no announcement on John Madden forthcoming; coach Kevin Dineen left practice early" followed by Tallon saying it isn't done quite yet.

“We don't know how long that's going to take [to get rust off] and when we're getting some other guys back," Tallon said Wednesday.

Either way, there's a lot of smoke, so the fire seems to be close behind.

Like a good chunk of the Panthers roster this season, Tallon has some familiarity with Madden, who was part of the Stanley Cup champion in Chicago that Tallon helped build. He is a tough-nosed center that likely still has some gas left in the tank. He scored 12 goals last season for the Wild.

He would also bring along the intangibles that come with being a veteran and a multiple-times champion in the NHL. In addition to winning the Blackhawks he also lifted the Stanley Cup twice while a member of the New Jersey Devils.

But more importantly, he helps the Panthers get through their injury woes at the moment. As mentioned, seven players are currently sidelined, all of them forwards. Stephen Weiss and Mikael Samuelsson could return soon but it doesn't look as good for Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim, Marco Sturm, Marcel Goc or Scottie Upshall.

I think it is a solid addition for the Panthers even without those intangibles. He's 38 but he can likely still lead a third or fourth line when the injured Panthers get healthy. Coach Kevin Dineen has been clear that he really likes to be able to run all four lines.

What's more, Madden has long been very good on the penalty kill, a department the Panthers could use some improvement. Their 80.2 percent kill rate ranks 24th in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 5, 2011 11:07 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 11:27 am
 

Realignment winners and losers

By Brian Stubits

In one hour of the Board of Governors convening in Pebble Beach, Calif., the NHL changed radically. It actually reverted back to the way it used to be, just with a lot more teams (you can thank expansion).

So with all that said, here's our Winners and Losers of realignment. Let's get right to it.

Winners

Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets

They wanted more games within their time zone and fewer trips to the West. Mission accomplished. Now those two will be with teams in Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg. With only one visit to every non-conference arena, that means each team will only play four games in the Pacific time zone as opposed to the eight they currently play.

Dallas Stars

In that same vein, the Stars have to be thrilled with this plan. Considering they have been playing 11 games in the Pacific time zone, they now also cut that down to four games. These things will greatly help the fan bases watch more games and, in theory, more fan support.

"Everyone knew our position on this," GM Joe Nieuwendyk said. "We wanted out of the Pacific Division. This makes total sense for us."

The mid-Atlantic

Particularly the Washington Capitals. Under the original four-conference format, the Keystone State rivalry was broken up and the Capitals and Penguins were in separate divisions. Not under this. Now the Atlantic Division is staying completely intact and it's adding the Capitals (Carolina Hurricanes, too). Who doesn't want to continue to see six games a season between the Flyers and Penguins? Now we'll also get six between the Penguins and Capitals. The Caps will now get to rekindle all those old Patrick Division rivalries.

"We understood, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, which rivalries were very heavily embedded," Gary Bettman said.

Displaced fans

Now if you're a Devils fan living in Los Angeles, you are guaranteed you will get a chance to see New Jersey play in person every season without having to hop on a flight. The same can be said for all of those ...

Northeastern snowbirds

All those people from the Northeast and Canada that have their parents living in Florida? This will be nice for them. There are obviously a lot of people who migrate south for the winter and they will get an extra visit to the teams in Florida. The local scribes will appreciate this, too. Many have already dubbed this the snowbird conference.

Losers

The Florida duo

More on realignment
Ray Ratto Ray Ratto
Realignment in NHL creates chaos beyond tumult in other leagues Read
Stories

Of the four votes that were against this realignment plan, it's a good bet that two of them came from the Panthers and Lightning. The two teams still have each other, but that's it. Now their closest division foes are in Buffalo and Boston. There will be a lot of long flights to Canada and New England.

But there are two bits of good news for the Florida teams. They will sell a few more tickets, albeit to opposing fans. The Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Bruins will be much bigger hits for them than the Hurricanes and Jets.

The other bit is more games in Canada for the players. At least it's good news to Panthers center Stephen Weiss. “We do a lot of travel anyway. I think that would probably make it even more,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. “But that's the nature of the beast. It's where we live, and you've got to do what you've got to do.”

The players

The only potential speed bump in all of this? The NHLPA. It won't be fond of all the increased travelling, which there will be or pretty much everybody. With guaranteed trips to every arena, that's a few additional trips cross country. It will hit players at some point, travelling is already one of the worst parts of the job.

Expansion foes

Yes, this format seems perfect for either two more or two fewer teams. And contrary to popular belief, contraction isn't likely to happen. So more expansion is possible. The same cities will be the candidates; Kansas City, Quebec City (if they don't get the Coyotes to move to them), Seattle, Las Vegas and Houston. Arenas are needed in most of those places -- K.C. has that part covered -- first, so it wouldn't be for a few years at least. But it could happen eventually. Andy Strickland of True Hockey says that is already being discussed.

Islanders, Devils and Hurricanes

OK, all isn't completely perfect for that Atlantic Division. These three teams are at a pretty big deficit when it comes to resources vs. the other teams in their division. It's going to be tough sledding for these teams to get into the playoffs with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers and Capitals around. This is probably akin to the Group of Death that you always hear about in the soccer World Cup.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 4, 2011 4:20 pm
Edited on: December 4, 2011 6:43 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Broadway boys continue to be a hit

By Brian Stubits

It's about time we start taking the New York Rangers seriously, wouldn't you say?

The view in the Eastern Conference is that it's the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins followed by every other team. While that's still the case -- I mean, they have combined to win two of the last three Stanley Cups -- there has to be a setting at the table for the Blueshirts, no? (Yes, Flyers fans, Philadelphia too.)

It's amazing to think about a team from New York being overshadowed. Teams all across Major League Baseball wish that were possible in their sport. But this Rangers team is rather quietly just chugging along. The latest steamrolling effort came in Tampa, where Brad Richards returned to one of his favorite places and helped the Rangers take down his and coach John Tortorella's former team, the Lightning, 4-2.

Since losing to the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in a shootout on October 29, the Rangers have gone 12-2-0. They won seven straight games before dropping two on the road and then have since reeled off five wins in a row since being shutout by the Panthers on Nov. 23.

And how about Richards, the big acquisition in the offseason? In the most recent five-game winning streak he has four goals and five assists. Looking at the team's last nine games, Richards has points in seven of them. The only two he didn't get on the score sheet? The two losses.

Don't think he didn't savor a win in his old stomping grounds. From the New York Daily News.

“It was the first win I had back here, and I really wanted it,” said Richards, who had lost both previous visits to Tampa Bay after being dealt to the Dallas Stars. “Torts wanted this one, too. I don’t know if he wanted it more or not, but the way it ended here was a little frustrating, so I was really happy to get that one.”

Tortorella said he and Richards meant no disrespect to Tampa Bay’s current front office, including general manager Steve Yzerman, but recalled watching in February 2008 as then-Tampa GM Jay Feaster traded away the man who won the Conn Smythe trophy during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run.

“Not this organization, not the owners here or the people here, but the people that moved him had no clue,” Tortorella said. “I was in the meetings. I watched it happen, and I thought they jammed it to him. How he was handled, I don’t think he’s too unhappy about getting a win here.”

I don't think anybody that's in the organization or is a Rangers fan is too unhappy these days.

The problem in recent seasons in New York certainly hasn't been the goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist has been outstanding in recent seasons and could have been a Vezina Trophy winner at some point if he had a little more offensive help. Let's be honest, team success is helpful in winning individual awards and the lack of offense wasn't helping the team achieve a whole lot of success.

More from the weekend
Recaps
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But things are finally clicking. It's no wonder the Rangers have won 12 of their last 14 games. In six of their last seven wins, the Rangers have scored at least four goals.

Marian Gaborik is back to scoring like he did before coming to New York. He has a team-high 12 goals. It would appear he's beginning to thrive again now that there is somebody else -- Richards -- to take a good chunk of the spotlight and expectations off of him, somebody to share those heavy burdens with.

Start spreading the news, the Rangers aren't leaving any time soon.

Moulson nice

The other team in New York, the Islanders, have been anemic when it comes to scoring goals. The offense has been horrible all season long. So of course they became the first team this season to have one of its players score four goals in a game.

The Isles needed all four scores from Matt Moulson on Saturday in Dallas, his final tally of the night being the game-winner.

"They [John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau] really gave me some good chances, all I had to do was sweep it into an open net," Moulson said. "The win's the biggest part. Score as many goals as you want, but the win's the most important thing."

The win in over the Stars caps off a very successful four-game road trip for the Isles. They picked up seven of the eight possible points, the only point missing came in Friday's shootout loss to the Blackhawks.

Yes, there is actually a hint of optimism on the Island again after another brutal start.

Good to have Gabby back

Bruce Boudreau's debut as the Anaheim Ducks coach was eerily reminiscent of his debut with the Capitals for years ago. His team was playing the Flyers, built a three-goal lead before losing it and going to overtime. The only difference was the Capitals won that game four years ago while a double minor in overtime cost his Ducks dearly as they lost in overtime.

But Boudreau had plenty of positives to take from the game, most notably the team's effort.

However it's what he said after the game that really caught my eyes and made me grateful Boudreau is already back in coaching. Having familiarity with the Flyers from his time in Washington, Boudreau said he was anticipating what Philly would do.

“I knew exactly what Philly was going to do,” he said. ”I knew the guys that were going to dive and they did. They got away with it. The only one that didn’t get away with it was [Wayne] Simmonds. It looked like he got shot. And he went down until he start peeking and no one was calling it and then he had to get back up.

“[Scott] Hartnell looked like he’d gotten shot by a bazooka. He didn’t miss a shift and then he comes in and scores the tying goal.”

Props for dropping a bazooka reference on us, Bruce. The implication is that the Ducks didn't really deserve all of the penalty minutes they accrued to contribute to the loss.

I'm sure Philly fans will love Boudreau as much as Rangers fans after this.

Rude welcome

While the first leg of the Flyers' back-to-back was all about the opposing team and its new coach, the second leg was about one of the Flyers players.

For the first time this season, Ilya Bryzgalov started both ends of a back-to-back, and it's probably no coincidence that it involved playing in his former city, Phoenix (or Glendale, if you'd prefer). They saw the Bryzgalov they came to know and love, too.

The Flyers goalie was sharp enough to allow just two goals and lead his new team over his old team with a 4-2 victory.

"I was walking in the building, and I can't explain what I felt, but it's something," Bryzgalov said about his return. "I played here three-and-a-half years. Winning lots of games, losing lots of games. Part of my soul is left here.

"I was surprised if they were going to boo me because I don't think I deserved it. I think I did lots of good things for this city and for this team and same thing. They did lots of good things for me. I really appreciate everything they've done for me."

He shows his appreciation by beating his old team. Nice (we kid).

Rat pack

This is how you make people believe you're for real.

The Florida Panthers just made a quick cross-country trip for games in Los Angeles and San Jose. While they lost 2-1 to the Kings on Thursday, they outshot and pretty much outplayed the Kings.

On Saturday they went into San Jose and fell down early to the Sharks. The Panthers stormed back in the second period and eventually won the game 5-3. It was the first time this season the Sharks lost a game when scoring the first goal.

As is becoming common again, there were even a few plastic rats on the ice, even in California.

Of course, it was the top line of Kris Versteeg-Stephen Weiss-Tomas Fleischmann doing the damage again after Versteeg missed the Kings game with a bad neck.

Now the Panthers begin their third consecutive week (!) as the Southeast Division leaders by welcoming Tomas Vokoun and the Washington Capitals to Florida on Monday. Still quite stunning.

Unbeatable Bruins

This is as great of a run as we've seen in hockey in a long time. The Bruins just finished reminding the Toronto Maple Leafs who the boss of the Northeast is. After beating the Leafs earlier in the week in Toronto, the B's took care of the Leafs a second time, this time back in Boston, 4-1.

With the win, the Bruins haven't lost in regulation since Oct. 29. That's an entire month (14 games) of earning points in every game. The only non-two-point game was the shootout loss to the equally hot Detroit Red Wings on Black Friday.

There are a lot of heralded players on the team. One of them, David Krejci, just received a big extension from the club. Another guy that could soon be getting a nice new contract is Chris Kelly, and he'd be on the unheralded side.

But his goal on Saturday, the game-winner, was already his 10th on the season. He came in to Boston as more of what people love to call a "role player." (Resisting urge to rant ...) Now he is only five goals from matching his career high of 15, which he set twice with the Senators, most recently in 2009-10.

We'll have more on the Bruins later this week from Adam Gretz, but this is one helluva run

Quote of the weekend

There were a few candidates this week. We shared them already, lines from Richards, Bryzgalov and Boudreau.

But none were more interesting than what Ilya Kovalchuk had to say after the Devils lost their fourth straight, 4-2 in Winnipeg to the Jets.

Like a lot of other players this season, Kovalchuk was booed in his visit to the 'Peg. What were his thoughts on the matter?

"They should support me, maybe I'm one of the reasons they moved here." Ouch. Sorry, Atlanta.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 29, 2011 12:51 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 1:00 pm
 

Frans Nielsen: A bargain on the Island -- for now

Fn1By: Adam Gretz

This past week the folks at BusinessWeek put together a list of what they called the "smartest" spenders in sports. Simply put: the teams that spent the fewest amount of dollars per win.

In theory, it's an interesting premise, but it seemed to produce some very flawed results. For example, while the Nashville Predators topped their list, a team that definitely gets the most bang for its limited buck, some of the other teams in the top-10 included the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Thrashers, and New York Islanders. Were these teams smart about which players they signed, or were they simply not spending money on any players of any value? After all, when you think of front office efficiency the Pirates or Thrashers (now the Jets) probably aren't the first teams that come to mind.

The Islanders, on the other hand, are a little more intriguing. At least potentially.

A team in transition, stuck in a rebuild that's been going on for about five years now, The Islanders are probably not quite ready to return to the postseason this year. But they are building something interesting on Long Island, and do have quite a few bargains on their roster for this year and in the future. The quartet of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, for example, are all signed through at least the 2013-14 season for a combined cap commitment of just around $14 million. I've said this before, but for all of the criticisms the Islanders front office has taken for handing out bad contracts in the past, those look to be examples of very smart spending going forward.

One of the often times most overlooked members of this Islanders team, and perhaps one of their biggest bargains this season at a cap hit of $525,000, the lowest on the team, is Frans Nielsen, their checking center that finished in the top-six in voting for the Selke Trophy last season as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. It's not uncommon for him to be one of their best players on any given night.

Usually playing on a line between the speedy Grabner and Okposo, Islanders coach Jack Capuano seems to use the trio in somewhat of a defensive role and more often than not sends them out there against the other teams top lines whenever he has a chance, especially during home games when his team has the last line change before faceoffs.

So far this season Nielsen's line has drawn regular assignments against players like Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan from the Rangers, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos from the Lightning, and Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg from the Panthers. Through the first eight games of the season the Islanders have allowed 14 goals during 5-on-5 play, and Nielsen has been on the ice for just three of them (two of them were scored by Stamkos in separate games, the other was a goal scored by Brandon Prust during a 5-2 Islanders win). If you're a believer in plus/minus, he's finished as a plus-player in each of the past two year on a team that's been outscored by 35 and 42 goals during the season while playing against the other teams best players.

Following a 3-2 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Capuano told me he was probably their best player on the ice that night. It was a game that saw him score a goal, create two chances on two different penalty kills, block three shots, record a takeaway and win a couple of defensive zone faceoffs. And that's pretty much just another day at the office for him.

"He's played a strong game throughout the year for us," said Capuano. "Obviously the numbers haven't been there but he's been pretty strong for us."

He also referred to Nielsen as "dominant" and commented on how he's always positionally sound when he doesn't have the puck.

With one of the smallest salary cap hits in the NHL this season, Nielsen is a tremendous bargain for the Islanders, but that could soon change as he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency following this season. And there should be no shortage of teams lining up to give him the rather large pay raise he's earned over the past three years if something doesn't get worked out with the Islanders. There's a ton of value in a matchup center that can chip in around 40 points (while playing a defensive role and being put into mostly defensive situations) and play Selke-caliber defense.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 1:43 pm
 

Panthers can't wait to be done with blue jersey

By Brian Stubits

The Panthers have been wearing an alternate jersey the past two seasons that has had them looking an awful lot like the Pittsburgh Penguins (and the Columbus Blue Jackets' alternate as well) in their throwback/alternate sweaters. Dark blue with light blue and a happy Panther in the center? That's been one of their looks recently.

Well assistant GM Mike Santos can't wait to say goodbye to the "Jetblues" as they are called in Florida, referencing one of the organizations biggest sponsors, Jet Blue airlines.

The team is obligated to wear the third jersey on 13 dates this season, and Santos wants to get those dates out of the way, including wearing them on the road.

“As soon as we can rid ourselves of those things, we'll be a happier bunch," Santos told George Richards of the Miami Herald on Friday when the team reported for training camp.

Of course, perhaps a large part of that has to do with the organization reidentifying itself with the color red. Among the steps they have taken is to go on a tour of South Florida promoting the new slogan of "We see red" and reupholstering all the seats in the BankAtlantic Center, changing them from a greenish-blue to red.

“We're connecting to a time when this organization was successful," Santos said. “A big part of that success is the color red. Red is our color, is a Panthers color. It's not light blue, baby blue or all these other silly colors. They have nothing to do with us. We were successful in red and will be again."

Earlier this summer I talked to the longest-tenured Panther Stephen Weiss and asked him his thoughts on the team's new red jersey. He said he had not really seen them but he and many of his teammates were looking forward to going away from the blue alternates, lamenting how similar they are to Pittsburgh.

So when those 13 days are done, Santos and Florida will be singing Bye, bye Blues.

Photo: Getty Images

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

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