Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:17 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 11:38 pm
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.
You know things are going bad for the Washington Capitals when the only way they can seem to generate some offense is when Mathieu Perreault has to get hit in the face with a puck, as shown in the above video. It was his 10th of the season, and probably the most painful goal he's scored in his brief career.
Unfortunately, that was probably the only highpoint of the night for the Capitals.
1. Erik Karlsson and the Ottawa Senators: Over their past four games the Ottawa Senators are outscoring their opponents 21-4, and that includes their 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
It was also another huge performance for defenseman Erik Karlsson as he recorded another three more points, scoring a goal and chipping in two assists, to push his season total to 60. That's now a 20-point lead over the No. 2 scoring defenseman in the NHL, Florida's Brian Campbell.
That is absurd, folks.
The other big star of the night for Ottawa was Milan Michalek as he scored a highlight reel goal in the first period to open scoring, and added another later in the game when he deflected a Karlsson slap shot past Vokoun. Thanks to his two-goal performance he's now set a new career high with 27 goals.
[Related: Senators 5, Capitals 2 -- Karlsson's big year -- Michalek's goal]
2. Tuomo Ruutu's bank account: At this rate trade deadline day is going to come down to whatever the Columbus Blue Jackets do and not much else. For the second time in two weeks the Carolina Hurricanes took one of the most talked about players off the trade market with a long-term contract extension, signing the forward to a four-year contract with $4.75 million per season.
That's a hefty price tag for the Hurricanes, but for a team that's closer to the salary cap floor than the salary cap ceiling, it's probably not that big of an issue.
[Related: 'Canes sign Ruutu]
3. Paul Stastny and the Avs playoff push: Every game down the stretch is important for the Colorado Avalanche, especially when it's against a team that they're chasing in the standings like the Los Angeles Kings. Paul Stastny led the way for Colorado on Wednesday scoring a pair of goals in a 4-1 win to pull to within two points of the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference, which is currently occupied by the Kings.
Stastny and the Avs managed to do what few other teams have been able to do this season, which is get the best of Jonathan Quick, chasing him from the net after the first period, scoring on three of their 11 shots.
[Related: Avs 4, Kings 1]
1.The Washington Capitals: Already without Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals had to hit the ice on Wednesday without Alex Ovechkin due to what was described as a lower body injury, and it goes without saying that those are two huge blows. But man, this team is quickly going in the wrong direction having won just four of its past 15 games.
Like the other two playoff contenders in the Southeast Division, the biggest thing keeping them in the playoff hunt at this point is the collective mediocrity of the division.
2. The Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are obviously sellers at this point, but the decision to trade Antoine Vermette, a skilled, very useful player having a down year at what his probably his lowest possible value for what amounts to a throw-in goalie and two draft picks -- a second and a fifth -- is just … bizarre.
Vermette still has a couple of years remaining on his contract and unless the Blue Jackets think the bottom is about to fall out on his career, there shouldn't have been any rush to trade him for such a small return. The most valuable asset they received in return was a second-round draft pick, and as I pointed out last week, the odds of such a pick turning into a useful NHL player at some point down the line aren't exactly high. Especially if it's a mid-to-late pick in the round.
[Related: Vermette traded to Coyotes]
3. The Kings (lack of) offense: If Jonathan Quick doesn't stop every single shot he faces, the Los Angeles Kings don't have a chance right now. After scoring just one goal on Wednesday they've managed to score just 15 goals in their past 10 games. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that they've won just two of those games.
[Related: How would Nash fit in with the Kings?]
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 15, 2012 5:58 pm
Recently, ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun asked an NHL scout to rank the four big Russian skaters playing in the NHL -- Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. Here's the answer he gave:
"Really close between Datsyuk and Malkin, they’re 1a and 1b, then it’s Kovalchuk, and Ovechkin a distant fourth."
Imagine that, Alex Ovechkin, two years ago seen by many as the best player in the world, "a distant fourth" just among Russian skaters? It seems hard to imagine if you think back to 2008 or 2009. But you can't argue with it at all.
Malkin might be the front-runner for the Hart Trophy right now. Datsyuk is seen by most to be the most offensively gifted player in the league, described as a wizard when he has the puck. And Kovalchuk? Well he has become a complete player this season as my colleague Adam Gretz pointed out earlier today.
Ovechkin? Well he's trended down in the last couple of seasons, way down. The stat heads will tell you that he was due for it, his numbers from a couple of seasons ago were completely unsustainable. Perhaps, but how to explain such a sharp and quick drop in production?
Former Cap Ollie the Goalie Kolzig, now a consultant for the Caps goaltenders, was asked about a number of topics regarding Washington on Wednesday. Among them, he had some thoughts to help explain Ovechkin's dip.
Well, that's pretty interesting. The insinuation there is that Ovechkin isn't dedicated enough. Dare I paraphrase and say that he doesn't "care" enough like his Russian teammate in Washington Alex Semin has been accused of? To be sure it's pretty harsh criticism.
What would point to him being wrapped up in the rock star status? Not that I agree, I'm just spitballing, but he did recently make some news when he bought an extravagant $4.2 million home in Virginia. Perhaps it is his lavish car, a Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series. Or maybe it's his romantic link to Russian tennis player Maria Kirilenko? I'm not sure.
What I can tell you is that production is still down. Here are some numbers that illustrate how much via Corey Masisak of NHL.com.
Personally, I think it's more about the league figuring him out. Nicklas Backstrom being hurt doesn't help, but his numbers have been down the past season and a half, much of that with Backstrom playing, so I don't buy it as a big reason.
The lesson in all of this is that if you make as much money and are as recognizable a player as Ovechkin is, you better hope if your production dips that your team's doesn't, otherwise fingers will be pointed.
Posted on: February 13, 2012 10:58 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:27 pm
WASHINGTON -- This season began with such promise for the Washington Capitals. They beefed up in an attempt to finally get over the Eastern Conference semifinal hump and hopes were high that this was the team.
It is starting to head toward an end of such despair.
Now granted, there is still time -- and a trade deadline to go -- but this team just isn't the contender so many saw. If you want, blame it on the injuries. It's tough for a team to play without its No. 1 center (Nicklas Backstrom) and No. 1 defenseman (Mike Green). But they aren't the only team dealing with injuries. That's not going to garner much sympathy.
But fact of the matter is they are slipping and are running out of games to pick it up. Depending on what happens with the Panthers take on the Senators on Wednesday night, the Caps could find themselves down by as many as six points in the Southeast Division. Adam Gretz already explained pretty well that that's obviously the worst division in hockey. So being six points back of the worst division leader isn't a good sign.
They have been tough to beat at home. Not for the San Jose Sharks, they weren't. Not on Monday night. The Sharks came in after a tough loss in St. Louis 24 hours ago and beat the Caps down, walking away with a 5-3 win (Caps scored a couple late to make it closer). It was Washington's third loss in a row, second at Verizon Center.
"I don't think we are frustrated," Alex Ovechkin said. "One [game] we have to win, but we didn't win. Everybody's trying. I can't say nobody's trying, nobody's playing 100 percent."
This is why things are hitting critical mass. They have been good at home for almost all of the season and pretty dang bad on the road. Washington's next four are on the road starting with Friday's massive game against the Panthers in Florida. That will follow with dates in Tampa Bay, Carolina and Ottawa too. Not exactly Murder's Row but for a team that struggles on the road, anything is tough.
It's not a stretch to say that they probably need six out of the eight points on that trip. They can't afford to fall any further behind Florida or the rest of their Eastern counterparts.
The good news? There is some. Ottawa is falling harder than the Caps right now, not making the bottom of the East out of reach.
It's pretty safe to say that the Caps need to do something at the trade deadline. They will be active no doubt. Tonight in Washington 12 scouts were on hand including two from the Blue Jackets, ex-Ducks coach Randy Carlyle (now a scout for Anaheim) and Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier. It's worth noting that this weekend in Columbus two Caps scouts were present.
"The determination is there -- I think -- in this room,” Matt Hendricks said. “I think the focus is there. The execution just isn't there right now."
This coming road trip is a crucial a stretch as any this season. It really could be the season for the Capitals after their recent swoon.
More from Eye on Hockey
Posted on: February 9, 2012 1:17 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 1:17 pm
The Washington Capitals made a pretty sound statement this week when they smacked down the Florida Panthers, the team they are battling neck-and-neck with in the Southeast Division. It would be a tremendous boost to them if they could get arguably their best player (yes, even compared to Alex Ovechkin) Nicklas Backstrom back to help them out.
That doesn't sound too likely.
Out since early January when he suffered a concussion from a hit from then Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque, Backstrom recently talked to Gefle Dagblad in his native Sweden about his recovery efforts and it's not promising. Thanks to Capitals blog Japers Rink, here is a translated version of what he had to say.
"I don’t know when I will be able to play again, but I hope I will be ready for the playoffs," Backstrom said. "I’m getting better, but it takes time."
Hoping to be ready for the playoffs is not what anybody wants to hear. Even a couple of months down the line isn't certain. Of course we know that timetables are virtually impossible to set with concussions, but you would hope that they were a little more optimistic.
More importantly, there is no guarantee that there will be a playoff season to get ready for. While the conventional wisdom is that the Caps should be fine when it comes to making the postseason, they really are in a dog fight with less than 30 games to go. You'd have to like their odds a lot more if Backstrom were back playing with the team.
Backstrom tried at one point to begin the comeback, but shut things down after three minutes of skating.
"Two weeks ago I tried to get on the ice for a practice, but I got off after three minutes. It didn’t work. I just wasn’t ready."
As for the hit from Bourque that put Backstrom out and landed Bourque a five-game suspension? Backstrom isn't a fan of it.
"It was an unnecessary hit," he said. "I feel like he could have just skated by me instead."
Before his injury, Backstrom was in the middle of another very good season for the Capitals. He had 13 goals and 29 assists in 38 games. On a team whose offense is down, he was one of the few still making things happen. Not to mention he is that all-important top-line center.
Posted on: February 3, 2012 3:14 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2012 3:51 pm
Let's go back just over a month on the NHL schedule, shall we? The Philadelphia Flyers had just finished losing to the New York Rangers in one hell of a finish in the Winter Classic hosted by the City of Brotherly Love.
The first half of the game was pretty dull, no scoring. But the game made up for it with a great second half, including a penalty shot in the final minute.
Among the two goals that the Flyers potted that cold January day was a beauty from Claude Giroux. It was his 18th of the season. It was a great start to the season that led me to pick him as my midseason Hart Trophy winner.
Would you believe that Giroux went the entire rest of the month without a goal? In the remaining 12 games in January, Giroux had nine assists.
You could look at it as a classic case of regressing to the mean. Giroux can score, but in his previous four seasons with the Flyers he never scored more than 25 (the mark he hit last season). Interestingly, he has exactly twice as many assists in his career as goals at this point. So his 18 goals and 29 assists were a bit out of whack. He's still a play-making center.
The only thing I wasn't sure about if it was a regression to the mean or not is if we were going to see a new way of playing for Giroux. There was obviously a lot more pressure put on him to carry the load after the offseason the Flyers had, jettisoning Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Well, a Flyer can't change his wings. Or something like that.
Now of course Giroux scored on Thursday night in the Flyers' win over the Nashville Predators and ruined the nice little tie in I was going for here. That being the Flyers visiting Madison Square Garden on Sunday and the Rangers for their first encounter since that day outside in South Philly.
It should be a nice appetizer for the Rangers/New York Giants fans before the Super Bowl.
Little will be all that different from that Jan. 2 meeting either. The teams are still two of the best in the NHL, fighting each other in the Atlantic Division and the Rangers are even expected to be wearing their Winter Classic jerseys. Old-schoolers can rejoice, that would mean the Rangers are wearing white (or at least off-white) at home again. For one day.
Yes, it will be a pretty familiar feel, except for, you know, the game being played indoors on a quality sheet of ice (no disrespect to Dan Craig, the NHL's ice guru). And perhaps a different Giroux from that earlier meeting, but the same Giroux the Flyers have fallen in love with and have come to count on, goals or not.
It seems like every weekend there is a massive matchup from the Central Division. I guess that happens when you have four of the eight teams in the league that have reached the 65-point mark.
Between the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, that's 36 games against one another throughout the season. So if the schedule were completely balanced, it would actually be more than once a week.
So it's not a rare occurrence to see one of the games. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be missed or not enjoyed to the fullest.
That's why we suggest you don't miss out on the Blues' visit to the Predators on Saturday night. It might help if you like defensively sound hockey, though.
This is their fourth meeting this season and if we throw out the Predators' 4-2 win in the second game of the season seeing that it's pre-Hitchcock, each game has played out the same way, a 2-1 shootout win for the Preds. That's not a lot of scoring but it doesn't mean it's not a lot of good hockey.
Don't underestimate the importance of all these games in the Central. They are what people like to call four-point games because of the potential swings they can cause in the standings. Considering the second and third seeds will go to the Pacific and Northwest, the second spot in the Central by season's end will be crucial, it will give that team home-ice advantage against what will surely be another Central foe.
Battle of Ontario resumes
This season the stakes have been ramped up in the Battle of Ontario already with the success the teams have enjoyed thus far and their battling at the bottom half of the East's playoff picture. But this one is crucial for the Sens.
This will be their second game back on home ice since Jan. 16 (Friday night they host the Islanders) and for the first time this season, the Sens have lost four straight in regulation. For a team that has played more games than anybody in the NHL, that has made their somewhat comfortable position in the playoff picture much more perilous. Considering the Leafs are one of their competitors for one of the East's eight spots, you can see why this is a massive game for Ottawa.
The captain is back
On the other side of that provincial border down in Montreal, Ovechkin will play his first game since his three-game suspension before the All-Star break. Because of the time off it feels like Ovi has been out much longer than three games, his last game coming way back on Jan. 22.
"I'm not used to watching the games from upstairs and staying [on the ice] after the morning skates," Ovechkin told Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington. "I'm pretty excited. I miss hockey a lot. It's a situation where you miss the game and you're tired of watching."
The Caps weren't bad in his absence, playing honestly about the same level they were with him, going 1-1-1 in the three games. But there's no doubt he's welcome back in the lineup for his offensive ability on a team that just isn't doing a whole lot when they have the puck these days.
But they are clearly much more meaningful this season, more than just some interesting nostalgia coming back up to the fore. This is about the playoffs.
The West has six spots pretty much spoken for already and the Kings are making a good case for the seventh. That means there are a lot of teams fighting for one final spot in the playoff picture, currently held by Minnesota. The Stars are right behind them, three points back with a game in hand. So yea, the games are pretty big.
Of course that includes Saturday night's tilt in Dallas. Both teams could stand to get some wins going again as the Wild are just 4-5-1 in their last 10 while the Stars are 3-6-1 in that same span.
Fight for Florida
Are you noticing a little bit of a rivalry sense this weekend?
It's hard to quite believe, but this Saturday's game in Tampa Bay will mark the sixth and final meeting between them this season and there are still 30 or so games to go in the season.
Don't let the importance of the game for the Lightning be lost. Their playoff hopes are slim but not non-existent. A chance to take two points from the Southeast-leading Panthers would help them stay within striking distance. It's pretty close to the clichéd must-win game for the Bolts.
We're going streaking!
Here is a look at the streaks, both good and bad, headed into the weekend across the NHL.
San Jose Sharks: Believe it or not, this is the only team in the league right now that has a winning streak (three games in a row or more). And the Sharks barely qualify with three straight. They visit the Coyotes on Saturday night looking for four straight.
Senators: Already covered above, they have lost four in a row in regulation for the first time this season. They have two home games, against the Isles and Leafs.
Tags: 2012 Winter Classic, Alex Ovechkin, Brian Stubits, Chicago Blackhawks, Claude Giroux, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Dion Phaneuf, Florida Panthers, Joffrey Lupul, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Phil Kessel, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Weekend Preview
Posted on: January 28, 2012 8:25 pm
Edited on: January 28, 2012 8:33 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The breakaway challenge, which was introduced during the 2008 All-Star festivities, is supposed to be the NHL's answer to the slam dunk contest where players have an opportunity to show off their skill and creativity. With props. Lots, and lots of props.
At times, as was the case in the first round on Saturday, it can seem to be more of a gong show as sometimes the shooters manage to fake themselves out.
Chicago's Patrick Kane managed to steal the show this year by busting out some Clark Kent glasses and a Superman cape, soaring across the ice on his stomach and beating Blues goaltender Brian Elliott.
Kane ended up winning the contest, getting 47 percent of the fan vote, beating out Anaheim's Corey Perry who made a convincing argument by pulling a mini-stick out from under his jersey (the type of stick you used when you played knee hockey in your basement) and scored with it.
Impressive, but not enough to win over the fans.
Washington's Alex Ovechkin won this contest in each of the first three years it's been featured.
Previously at Eye On Hockey
Players we would like to see in the skills challenge
More 2012 All-Star Game coverage
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 26, 2012 2:17 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 2:29 pm
I only speak for myself -- obviously -- but the draft has already become my favorite part about the All-Star weekend. It's entertaining, fun and even has some suspense. The game itself that finishes the weekend might not have any of those three features working for it.
Last year's inaugural draft in Carolina was clearly a success, that's why it's coming back this year. It's just like sitting at home plate waiting for the kickball on the mound to call your name in elementary school recess. Who doesn't look back at those days fondly (don't answer that)?
Unfortunately, some of the suspense of the event is taken away though as there are some predictable elements to the draft. You already know that captains will stick to their real-life teammates. For example, Daniel Alfredsson has already made it very clear that his first pick will no doubt be his defensive teammate with the Senators, Erik Karlsson.
The draft will take part on Thursday night at 8 ET on NBC Sports Network (here's a guide to the whole weekend courtesy of Puck the Media). It was moved up one day this year to take place on Thursday instead of Friday. Don't forget that.
With all that said, here's a guide of what to look for in the draft.
Sens will go fast: This one is a guarantee. One of them is a captain. Another one will go to Team Alfredsson likely on his first pick. The others (Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek) could very well be headed to Team Alfredsson early too. It's the hometown team with a hometown captain, he's not going to let those guys sit in the pool for very long.
Same goes for the Bruins: I'm going to take a stab in the dark here and say Tim Thomas will be the first goaltender picked, and he'll go to Team Chara. That's especially the case when you consider Team Alfredsson already has a goaltender in assistant captain Henrik Lundqvist. Tyler Seguin isn't going to last long with Chara picking either. You have to take care of your own, you know?
Kessel won't go last: There was a chance when the captains were named that you thought Phil Kessel could possibly fall to the bottom of the draft again and be Mr. Irrelevant even with the solid season he's having. But then Maple Leafs teammate Joffrey Lupul was named the assistant to Zdeno Chara and he'll likely lobby for Chara to forget some old feud and select Kessel for their team.
But one of these guys will: The pool for guys going last is pretty easy to narrow down. It's going to be a forward (rules require goalies and defensemen to go by a certain round) who is the lone representative from his team and is on the lower-profile side. That knocks out big scorers (Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry) and veterans (Jarome Iginla). That leaves five guys (not burgers and fries) to choose from -- placed in my order of least likely to go last to most likely.
John Tavares -- I think he's easiest to cross off seeing that he plays center. He's safe.
Logan Couture -- A couple weeks ago he was my pick when the teams were announced but some later additions make him safe in my mind.
Jamie Benn -- The only Stars player, the All-Star Game will actually be his first game in a couple of weeks after an appendectomy. That could actually garner him some sympathy. But he's a quiet guy, so we'll see.
Jordan Eberle -- The Oilers forward was one of the late additions because of injury. He's only 21 and in just his second season. There are ingredients for him to be the last one sitting. But as last year showed with Kessel, that can result in a nice parting package.
For the record, the oddsmakers at Bovada (formerly Bodog) have Scott Hartnell the favorite to go last at 6/1, but I think he's safer than the guys above.
Disinterested players: Of course there will be guys who look like this is one of the worst things they've had to do as a professional hockey player. That's pretty much inevitable. It's a distinct possibility the captains could look that way. Sorry, but Alfie and Chara don't exactly scream exuberance.
Boo birds: The battle of Ontario is regaining steam this season, so no doubt Lupul and Kessel will hear some boo birds (and cheers from those Leafs fans who snuck in). Poor Kessel, guy can't catch a break at this thing.
Sedin twins: Will Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin be split up again? Is it possible that Brian Burke was able to keep them together against 29 other teams but the captains can't do it against one other team? This is as good of a chance as any year ... would Chara actually pick a Canucks player?
Hazing: I'm not talking about anything serious here, but remember the things like Alex Ovechkin taking a picture of a lonely Kessel in the seats? Yea, there will be some fun being had among the players. I'm putting money down on Hartnell pulling a prank on somebody in some fashion.
Better yet, it would be better if Hartnell tripped himself after he is picked, like at least one kid does at every graduation ceremony ever hosted. It would add to the legend that is Hartnell Down.
Enjoy the show everyone. It only goes downhill from there this weekend.
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Tags: 2012 All-Star Game, Alex Ovechkin, Boston Bruins, Brian Stubits, Corey Perry, Daniel Alfredsson, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Sedin, Jamie Benn, Jarome Iginla, Jason Pominville, Jason Spezza, Joffrey Lupul, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Logan Couture, Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators, Phil Kessel, Scott Hartnell, Steven Stamkos, Tim Thomas, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Seguin, Vancouver Canucks, Zdeno Chara
Posted on: January 25, 2012 11:15 am
Edited on: January 25, 2012 11:16 am
It took way too long in almost everybody's estimation, but James Neal was finally named an All-Star on Wednesday. He was given a spot in the game thanks to Alex Ovechkin abstaining after his suspension.
From the moment the All-Stars were announced, people immediately wondered why the Penguins' leading goal scorer wasn't on the list. As of Wednesday, he's only tied with Jonathan Toews for the second most goals in the league with 27.
"We thought he was an All-Star when they first named the team," coach Dan Bylsma said on Tuesday.
Better late than never, I suppose.
It's funny to me how people feign disinterest in the All-Star Game but then get worked up when players don't get the nod to play in it. Neal's exclusion put that whole idea on display.
Neal gets the late addition to the game the day after Scott Hartnell had the same happen with him, replacing Jonathan Toews. Both players are in the top 10 in goal scoring this season and were seen as probably the two biggest omissions to the initial list. Circumstances allowed that to be corrected.
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