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Category:NHL
Posted on: March 8, 2012 11:04 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 1:17 pm
 

Avs' Duchene out 3-4 weeks with ankle injury

By Brian Stubits

Right back in the thick of things out West, the Colorado Avalanche shared some bad news on Thursday when they announced that Matt Duchene is going to miss the next 3-4 weeks after suffering an ankle injury. The good news? At least it doesn't require surgery.

Have a look at the play that caused the injury as the puck slipped between his feet and a pokecheck came. The best word to describe it is awkward.

The No. 3 overall draft pick a couple summers ago, Duchene has fallen into the junior slump. Yes, I just made that up but after impressive rookie and sophomore campaigns, his numbers have dipped some this season, partly due to the injuries he's battled through. But at this point he has just 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 48 games played.

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When he is on his game, though, Duchene is one of the flashier young players in the league. And for a team like Colorado that is in a three-way tie for the last playoff spot and doesn't have a tremendous amount of scoring, his absence isn't good. Although since coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly two months he has just one goal and one assist in nine games. But the team has won six of the last eight with him in.

Does this cripple the Avs' postseason hopes? I don't think so. The odds are already against them with so many teams in the mix right now out West and the fact that the point totals are slightly misleading at the moment considering how many games the Avs have played. But they have hung around without a tremendous amount of production from him directly.

However this doesn't help them much, that much I'll say.

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

Posted on: March 8, 2012 9:47 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 9:51 am
 

Pregame Skate: Jeff Carter back in Columbus

Carter returns to Columbus, just in black. I guess that's fitting. (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.

7 ET, Los Angeles at Columbus

Sure, there's the story of the Kings' playoff push to watch for in this one. They only enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. So, ya know, the game is pretty important in that regard.

But even at this time of the year that takes a little bit of a back seat to the bigger storyline of the game: Jeff Carter returning to Columbus. Already. Even though he denies it, Carter never seemed to be too pleased to be in Columbus after the summer trade out of Philadelphia. His short time in Ohio was also disturbed by a few injury setbacks that have cut his season shorter.

“Obviously when I got traded from Philly, it was hard on me, something that I didn’t expect. Over time, you get over that," Carter told Rich Hammond of L.A. Kings Insider I came in here [Columbus] with an open mind. There were a lot of expectations around the team, from the fans and the city and stuff like that. For whatever reason, it didn’t really work out that way, and things just started to snowball from there. When you’re losing games, like we did, and giving up leads late, it’s pretty tough on guys. It’s hard to kind of keep going. It was a tough year."

You know the already disgruntled Blue Jackets fans who have sat through that tough year are going to let Carter know how they feel about him, and I can only guess it's not overwhelmingly positive. And while the Carter storyline might be front and center to start the game, once the puck drops it's back to the action.

“Obviously you want to go out and play good and beat your old team," Carter said. "I think above all that is, we’re in a pretty tight race here too. We need two points, for sure."

7 ET, Tampa Bay at Washington (NHL Network)

The Capitals and Lightning enter the night only two points apart in the Southeast Division with a couple weeks left. It feels like last season for one night, at least.

The problem, of course, is that they aren't battling for first in the division on Thursday night. They are fighting for eighth/ninth in the East. That's a position the Caps are in with their current 1-2-1 home stand and the Lightning from a first half of the season of very mediocre play. But speaking of mediocrity, the East has it and so these teams are still dreaming.

It's amazing to think that with a regulation win tonight, the Lightning will pull even with the Capitals in the playoff race. They'll have to await the final between the Jets and Canucks to see where they stand in relation to the last playoff spot.

Of course for Tampa they come in with an injury at their worst position on the ice, goaltending. Mathieu Garon is out and so it's up to Dwayne Roloson and Dustin Tokarski. The good news? The Caps aren't doing a whole lot of scoring this season, so this game could prove to a remedy for either side: the Caps offense or Lightning goaltending.

8:30 ET, San Jose at Dallas

This much we know: The Stars will remain in first place by the end of the night. But what they could do that's even more impressive is open up a five-point advantage on the Sharks in the Pacific and Western Conference race. Now that would be something.

The Sharks have been in a freefall for a few weeks now and it has led them to the brink of slipping out of the playoffs altogether. Imagine that, the Sharks missing the playoffs? It's not too tough to imagine right now. By virtue of having games in hand on the other teams, the Sharks hold the eighth position right now in the three-way tie, but with both the others in action, it's possible the Sharks could be 10th by night's end.

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I'm still trying to figure out which is more surprising, though: The Sharks being on the playoff bubble or the Stars being the division leader.

By the way, this is the third meeting between these teams and the final day of the season, April 7. So they're going to have a few chances to make some big swings in the standings, starting with tonight.

Others worth watching

9 ET, Minnesota at Phoenix: It was only a few days ago that the Coyotes were the surprise Pacific Division leader. Now they have lost four straight, including two to Columbus. They get another bottom feeder in the Wild. They kind of need to win this.

10 ET, Winnipeg at Vancouver: Now we find out how real the Jets are. They did what they had to do and held down the home-ice advantage on their long home stand, but where they will make the playoffs is on the road. It starts at the Canucks.

7 ET, Buffalo at Boston: Another hard to believe sentence: The Sabres can move into the eighth position in the East with a win tonight. This was expected to be the Northeast battle this season, but at least it's a big game with the Sabres' resurgence.

Your promised miscellany

  • Wednesday's Winners & Losers
  • The Canucks have hit a bump in the road, but it's hardly a reason to panic. Just look at the Bruins a year ago. (The Province)
  • Bobby Ryan is looking ahead to life after Teemu in Anaheim and he wants to take that second-line role. (O.C. Register)
  • Did Brian Burke also target Ron MacLean when he complained to the CBC about Coach's Corner. Yes, yes he did. (Pro Hockey Talk)
  • Lastly, I'm a proud American and make no apologies for it, but I'm a fan of Canada ... and it's national anthem. So even I cringe at this from last night's game in Buffalo.

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

Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:11 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:15 pm
 

Injuries starting to build for the Maple Leafs

MapleLeafsBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are losing ground in the playoff race, and they're also starting to lose bodies on the ice.

Just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong, Toronto lost two more players on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh when defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown went down on their first shifts of the night and did not return during a 3-2 loss to the Penguins, a game that saw the Maple Leafs blow a two-goal lead, losing for the 11th time in their past 13 games.

Franson did not return after getting hit in the eye with a stick, and Brown left with what was described as a lower body injury.

"We showed signs of enthusiasm and kind of stuck with our game plan," said Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, coaching his third game with the team after replacing Ron Wilson last week. "I thought we were better from a defensive standpoint in the critical areas. I thought our work ethic was stronger, but we ran out of bodies. We lost two bodies in the first ten minutes tonight and taxes it everybody else. Then it showed on some of the ... I would call them questionable decisions. When to pinch, when not to pinch, turnovers, position versus the regroup, all that kind of stuff. It's the little things that are costing us in these situations."

It wasn't hard to see how outmanned the Leafs were on Wednesday night, spending much of the night tied up in their own end of the ice. For the most part, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson did everything he could to keep his team in the game, only allowing two goals, one of which was deflected right in front of him on its way into the net, before giving up what can only be described as a soft goal to Pascal Dupuis early in the third period for the eventual game-winner.

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf did not want to use the injuries, including the one to Lupul and Armstrong, as an excuse as it should give other players an opportunity to make an impact in the lineup.

"It's an opportunity for guys to step up," said Phaneuf. It gives guys a little more opportunity, but when you lose a guy like [Lupul] and you lose Army in the same game, and we lose two more guys tonight, guys have to step up. Injuries are a part of the game and you can't use it as an excuse.

"Guys have to adapt to it. Every team goes through injury problems. Look over there [at Pittsburgh]. They have one of the top players in the world, if not the top player out, and they're winning hockey games. You've got to adapt, you've got to have guys step up, and guys did step up, but we just made more mistakes than they did tonight."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:49 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Pominville keeps Sabres in race



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.

Winners

Buffalo Sabres: Thanks to Jason Pominville's overtime goal (as seen above) the Buffalo Sabres managed to gain a little more ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race on Wednesday night.

Their 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes pulled them to within two points of a playoff spot in the East, and they've now won seven of their past nine games, with one of the losses coming in overtime (meaning they still gained a point in the standings). There isn't going to be much time to celebrate this one, however, as they have to get right back into it just 24 hours later when they visit the Boston Bruins.

The Sabres controlled much of the game and after falling behind 1-0 early in the first period, they stormed out in the second period and received a pair of goals from Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe less than two minutes into the period.

Ryan Miller, one of the biggest reasons for the late season turnaround, stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced.

[Related: Sabres 3, Hurricanes 2]

Brad Thiessen and the Penguins: Rookie goaltender Brad Thiessen was a surprise starter for the Penguins on Wednesday night and he ended up playing a heck of a game, stopping 22 of 24 shots and holding down the fort in Pittsburgh as his teammates erased a two-goal deficit to earn a 3-2, come-from-behind win against the Maple Leafs.

His biggest save of the night came late in the third period, with Toronto on a power play, when he slid across his goal crease and made a fantastic pad save on a Phil Kessel one-timer, preserving what was a one-goal lead for the Penguins one-goal.

The Penguins have only won five games that Marc-Andre Fleury did start this season, and two of them have gone to the rookie Thiessen, his only two starts of the year.

[Related: Penguins 3, Maple Leafs 2 -- Letang: the missing piece]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs: On a night where one of the teams they're chasing in the playoff race -- the Sabres -- picked up two points, the Maple Leafs letting a two-goal lead against the Penguins slip away, the second time they've done so in as many trips to Pittsburgh, is not what they were looking for.

Especially as they suffered even more injuries, losing defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown within the first 10 minutes of the game, just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong.

Toronto is falling fast in the standings, and with injuries starting to mount the season seems as if it's on the verge of slipping away.

[Related: Playoff race]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 3:00 pm
 

Avery not on AHL playoff roster; is career done?

Avery played 15 games this season with New York, scoring three goals. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Is this it? Have we seen the end of Sean Avery the professional hockey player?

The AHL Connecticut Whale put together their playoff roster and Avery wasn't on it. What's more, they even told him he no longer needs to report to the rink for practices or games according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post. Sounds like a complete excommunication to me.

It's been one whirl of a season for Avery, who clearly has worn out his welcome with the Rangers. Just before the season Avery was cut and sent to the AHL at which point he considered possibly playing overseas. The Rangers then called up him due to injuries and early lackluster play but then sent him back to the AHL just before the new year. This from Brooks is what Avery has been relegated to since.

Avery has not played in a game for the Whale since Jan. 27 and has not practiced with the team for approximately three weeks, instead skating on his own under management orders.

He even has gone through waivers and obviously wasn't claimed, making you wonder if any team is interested. So is this it for Avery in the NHL? I mean, if he's done playing I don't get the feeling we're never going to see or hear from him again like a lot of players. The question is if we'll hear about him on the ice.

He is an unrestricted free agent this summer so I suppose some time might decide its worth taking a flyer on a two-way contract for cheap. I just have a hard time believing it will happen at this point.

But if there were a team interested, Sean Hartnett of CBS New York has an idea as to who it might be.

One team in particular known to gather players from their rivals is the New York Islanders. The Isles were believed to been interested in the 31-year old had he been passed through waivers.

We'll have to wait and see, but I don't think there will be many fans crying if Avery doesn't have an NHL job for next season.

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

Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:53 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:18 pm
 

Kris Letang: the missing piece for the Penguins



By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the importance of Kris Letang to the Penguins' postseason chances.

When it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact, the next major step in his latest attempt return to the lineup, it sent a wave of excitement and optimism through the Penguins fan base.

It's not hard to see why. He is, after all, their captain, their best player, and the best player in the league when he's healthy.  With him in the lineup the Penguins should go from being a Stanley Cup contender to, perhaps, one of the top two or three favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the NHL ... if their lineup remains intact.

His return, whenever it happens (it apparently won't be before Sunday's game against Boston) will certainly have a significant impact on their chances. But, and as crazy as this may sound, there is still another player they are currently without that may be even more important for any sort of Stanley Cup run in Pittsburgh -- defenseman Kris Letang, who is currently out of the lineup after being hit by Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars at the end of February.

It's the second time this year he's missed time with a head injury, missing over 20 games with a concussion earlier this season after he was hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.

The Penguins have been without Crosby, minus the eight games he played earlier this season, since the beginning of last January, which is over a full calendar year and nearly a season-and-a-half worth of games, and they have still managed to be one of the top teams in the NHL.

In 65 games this season they are the third-highest scoring team in the league (in terms of goals per game) and have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers. It's a testament to the depth they've acquired over the years and the 1-2 punch they still have down the middle at center with Evgeni Malkin (arguably the best player in hockey right now) and Jordan Staal, a duo that few teams in the NHL can match up with.

Even without Crosby they still have another No. 1 center, a darn good No. 2 center, and a pretty potent offense overall. One of the best in the league.

What they don't have without Letang is another No. 1 defenseman, and that's a pretty glaring weakness to have on a potential Stanley Cup team. Their blue line takes on an entirely different look without him, and it simply isn't anywhere near as effective. Just looking at the raw numbers this season: with Letang in the lineup the Penguins are 25-10-5, average over 3.2 goals per game, only allow 2.4 and have a total goal-differential of plus-31.

Without him those numbers drop down to a 14-11-0 record, 2.68 goals for per game, 2.56 against and a total goal differential of just plus-3.

Is Letang by himself worth that entire difference? Well, not exactly, because the Penguins have had other players out of the lineup at various times, but his absence is still huge given the number of roles he's asked to play, and the way he's able to perform within them.

He plays over 25 minutes a night, he is their power play quarterback, a regular on the penalty kill, and during even-strength situations he takes on some of toughest assignments on the Penguins defense, as the scatterplot below, which uses Corsi Relative Quality of Competition and Offensive Zone starts, helps to illustrate. The closer to the top left (meaning tougher opponents and fewer offensive zone starts) the more difficult the assignments, and the closer to the bottom right the "softer" the assignments.

PenguinsDefense

As you can see, the Penguins have a pretty set group of top-four defensemen that stand out from the pack when it comes to their 5-on-5 assignments with Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. Everybody else that's played on their blue line this season has been relatively protected. And when Letang is out of the lineup, as he's been for 25 games and counting this season, one of those other players has to step into a top-four role, and the results aren't always pretty.

Letang not only draws some of the toughest assignments on their blue line, he also outperforms everybody else. He has a positive Relative Corsi rating (a sign that when he's on the ice the Penguins are controlling the puck far more than they are when he's not on the ice) and he is by far their leading scorer on the blue line despite appearing in just 40 games. Orpik is a great physical presence on the blue line, and Martin hasn't been anywhere near as bad as his many critics in Pittsburgh want you to believe that he's been, but none of them are as valuable to the Penguins blue line as Letang.

His ability to get the puck out of danger, lead the rush and control the game is unmatched by any other player on their defense.

Crosby's return will be huge news, and it will give the Penguins pretty obscene depth down the middle. But the return of Letang is what would potentially put the the Penguins over the top, on paper anyway.

I'm still convinced they could win without Crosby due to the presence of Malkin and Staal at center. I'm not convinced they can win without Letang (even with Crosby) because they have nobody else that can fill his skates on defense.

(Corsi, Quality of Competition and Zone Start Data all via BehindtheNet.ca)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:18 pm
 

Leafs' Lupul separates shoulder, out 3-4 weeks

Lupul is right behind Kessel for the team lead in points. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

When it rains it pours, which is what is happening to the Toronto Maple Leafs right now. On Wednesday they announced that All-Star winger Joffrey Lupul is going to miss the next 3-4 weeks after separating his shoulder.

In the process, the Leafs also announced that Colby Armstrong is day to day after breaking his nose and the team called up Ashton Carter to fill in. Carter was the return from Tampa Bay in the Keith Aulie trade.

Just in case you still had hopes that the Leafs were going to turn things around under the guidance of new coach Randy Carlyle and get back into the playoff pictures, this news has to remove any hope. Lupul has been a massive part of Leafs this season since coming over from Anaheim. His 25 goals and 42 assists are good enough for the sixth-highest point total in the league at 67.

Losers of 11 of their last 13 games, this isn't exactly what the Leafs needed to hear, even if Carlyle and Lupul haven't always gotten along going back to their Anaheim days. I can't imagine that Carlyle is too happy with this news.

Sorry to say, Toronto, but at this rate it is looking like you are going to take the lead in the longest playoff drought (as long as the Panthers don't choke down the stretch).

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

Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:52 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 1:14 pm
 

Penguins honor Mario Lemieux with statue

The new statue up close. (Kevin McGran)

By Brian Stubits

The Pittsburgh Penguins honored one of the all-time greats and the multi-time savior of their franchise on Thursday, unveiling a statue of Le Magnifique, Mario Lemieux.

The ceremoney, held on a warm, 66-degree day (so perfect) in Pittsburgh was attended by a large amount of Penguins fans who came to not only honor Lemieux as a great player, but thank him for saving the franchise on multiple occassions.

The statue depicts Lemieux splitting a pair of defenders on the ice on his way to a breakaway goal.

"I'm very happy [with the statue]. We went through hundreds of pictures that they showed me and this is the one we picked," Lemieux told Root Sports. "It really illustrates my life off the ice and my life on the ice. I was known in the late 80s, early 90s to break away from people at center ice and this is the perfect statue to illustrate that."

It's an interesting choice, I thought you might see something more of him celebrating or hoisting the Stanley Cup, some thing that makes him the focal point.

But it certainly does represent classic Lemieux, so there's that.

Here is video of the play that they used for the statue.

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

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