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Tag:Eric Staal
Posted on: November 6, 2011 5:21 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2011 6:06 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Sabres goalies; Jackets bottom out

By Brian Stubits

If you happened to have a family vacation or weekend-long wedding to attend -- anything to cause you to miss the weekend in the NHL -- here is what you missed.

The Columbus Blue Jackets seem on the verge of upheaval. There might be a goalie controversy in Buffalo. Georges Laraque is talking steroid use and, well, at least John Tortorella was the same as usual, so that's comforting.

Yes, just a ho-hum weekend.

Let's start in Buffalo, shall we?

The Sabres had a double dip over the weekend, playing Friday at home against Calgary then Saturday in Ottawa. It wasn't a surprise that coach Lindy Ruff went with Jhonas Enroth over Ryan Miller in Friday's game. Enroth has played well of late while Miller hasn't. It was surprising, however, when Enroth got the nod again on Saturday. Usually back-to-backers are split among goalies, especially when there is a quality backup in play.

At first glance, you think little of it. Miller is struggling and Ruff is just going with the better option at this point. Especially in early November, that's nothing to write home about. That's until you see things like this, from Sabres beat writer John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

"One of the Sabres admitted to me after last night's game: The team has just been playing harder in front of Enroth than they have for Miller."

That doesn't sound good. It could mean that Miller has been so good in the past that the team has become somewhat complacent when he is in the game. Not exactly what you would want to hear. You want your team to play hard all the time for any goalie. But it beats the alternative explanation of the team not playing for Miller for the other reasons. The reasons that bring about the use of words like Schism.

The Sabres are high on Enroth. That's no secret. If nothing else, he has earned himself more playing time with his 4-0-0 start this season. His GAA is 1.41 and he has a save percentage of .952. He hasn't surrendered more than two goals in a game this season.

But it's not as if Miller suddenly became bad. He has hit a rut. Every goalie does. He was solid to start the season when he was 4-1 with a 1.61 GAA. Since then he's 0-4 and has a GAA at 3.91. It happens.

I don't think many believe Miller will continue to struggle and Enroth will get the lion's share of the work. No, Miller is not likely to repeat his 2009-10 Vezina-winning season. There's a reason why seasons like that are called career years, but he's still only 31 and has been considered one of the game's best netminders for the past few years. That's why it's kind of a big deal when there appears to be a controversy.

But the good news for Buffalo out of all of this is that we know there are two good keepers in town.

Just when you think they can't get any lower ...

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a world of hurt. They were obliterated by the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday 9-2. Perhaps making matters worse, they had to see Jakub Voracek have his best game as a Flyer since being acquired from the Blue Jackets and the draft pick Philly also picked up in the trade, Sean Couturier, abused them.

In all, it was the 12th straight road loss for the Blue Jackets. From the Other Unbelievable Stats Department, it was the 10th time in 13 games that Columbus goalie Steve Mason has given up a goal on one of the first four shots he faced. To see even more on how rough it has been for Mason this season, check out Eye On Hockey's Adam Gretz's post on Mason. Bru-tal!

“We’ve hit a lot of bottoms this year,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said, “and this is another big one.”

Rumors were circling last week that the end was nigh for Arniel and maybe GM Scott Howson. They each made it through the week. But this? This might be too tough for them to survive.

Last week the word was that Ken Hitchcock and Craig Button were the names being mentioned to replace Arniel and Howson in the case of a dismissal. Now the name being tossed out, at least for the GM role, is Kings executive Ron Hextall. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said he hasn't been contacted by anybody about Hextall's availability.

Here is the problem I see in Columbus. I feel bad for Arniel, he just doesn't have a team that can compete. While most feel that it's a roster that could stand to be blown up and a fresh start be undertaken, that won't be easy. There are a lot of big contracts on the roster. It still amazes me, but the Blue Jackets are pushing the salary cap.

Obviously things need to be fixed, but I'm not sure there is a quick fix to be found. Maybe the best thing that could happen to them at this point is to get the top pick in the draft and get a potential superstar in Nail Yakupov, the consensus top prospect right now.

Talk about Staaled

Eric Staal is off to one tough start.

The Hurricanes captain still hasn't scored even strength this season. All three of his goals came with the man up. At least he had two assists in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Stars, but his league-worst minus-14 dropped even further to minus-16.

Is it the absence of Erik Cole on his line? The captain clearly hasn't been the same this season without Cole, who signed with the Canadiens in the offseason.

We're at the point where slow starts are no longer categorized as just slow starts. They are starting to be cause for concern. Staal is supposed to be the big gun. He has led the 'Canes in scoring three out of the last four seasons. But right now he just looks off. Against the Stars, he drew a two-minute minor that seemed to be out of frustration.

At the same time, his Hurricanes also ran into the red-hot Stars, who became the first team to 10 wins this season. If anybody doesn’t believe in Dallas yet, I suggest you watch them for a game or two. Loui Eriksson is for real and he and Jamie Benn make one heck of a duo.

Torts at it again

John Tortorella actually has the Rangers rolling along at the moment. His team has won three in a row, Saturday's 5-3 win over Montreal giving him the 100th victory of his career. So you would think that might make the often salty coach a little happier and forthcoming these days?

Come on. This is Tortorella we're talking about.

His pregame media availability lasted 43 seconds before the Habs game. All questions were met with either a nope, a shake of the head or just "no idea." That brought about a softball question to soften the mood. "What's your mom's birthday?" At least it yielded a smile, but it was another "I have no idea."

Oh Torts, don't ever change. Especially before the 24/7 series is done.

As for things on the ice, Torts seems to have found a nice little recipe by putting Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards on separate lines. It has keyed the Rangers' recent streak and has them looking more like the team a lot of people expected after this summer's moves.

Visor vision

Saturday night the Kings and Penguins played a doozie on the West Coast. Pittsburgh eventually won a great game that was decided in a shootout (collective groan now).

But during the game, the mandatory visor crowd got some more ammunition when Drew Doughty took a puck to the face.

Video courtesy of The Score.

It didn't save Doughty from being cut above the eye, but it might have saved his eye. It was a scary moment, but it's even scarier to think about what would have happened if he didn't wear the shield.

Of course, as you'd expect from any hockey player, Doughty wasn't removed from the game and helped the Kings pick up one point on the night.

Welcome back Bruins

Is this what wakes up the defending champs?

How good must it have felt for Boston to go into Toronto and rout the division-leading Maple Leafs 7-0? Really good I imagine.

Tyler Seguin recorded his first career hat trick. With the way he has been playing this season, that only seemed like a matter of time. He has clearly been their best player in the early going this year.

Sometimes it can be games like this that flip the switch. It was getting close to desperation time for Boston, it couldn't afford to fall any further behind. Now we wait and see if it rubs off and they show the form that made them so good a season ago.

Caps stop playing

At least that's what Alex Ovechkin thinks.

The Capitals ran into the stone-cold Islanders, losers of six in a row before Saturday, and fell 5-3. Despite the loss, it might have been Ovechkin's best game of the season. He only had a goal on the night, but it was a solid performance.

He couldn't say the same about his team, however.

“I think we have pretty good start. We score two goals. After that, we just stopped playing and give them opportunities to score goals,” Ovechkin said. “They’re young, they’re fresh and they want to win. After first period, we just stopped playing.”

Maybe they were still stunned from that ceremonial faceoff. (We just wanted to show off this photo of an Air National Guardsman dropping the ceremonial puck. Awesome.)

Quote of the weekend

Arniel when asked about his job security after the 5-2 loss:

"Nice question, all right. Nice question. I’m not in charge of that. I’m worried about what I have to do tomorrow with this hockey team."

Photos: Getty Images/Deadspin

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

Posted on: November 2, 2011 2:21 pm
 

Hurricanes' Jokinen out at least 3-4 weeks (leg)

By Brian Stubits

The Carolina Hurricanes have received little production from captain Eric Staal in the first 12 games. He has just two goals and three assists while sporting a horrid minus-12. Yet the 'Canes have picked up at least one point in eight of their 12 games so far. Jussi Jokinen is one of the reasons why, he is second on the team with nine points (behind Jeff Skinner's 12).

This is where the bad news comes in. Jokinen will be out at least three to four weeks after sustaining an injury in the third period of Tuesday night's win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. According to Chip Patterson of the News & Observer, Jokinen awkwardly twisted his left leg early as he fell back over the Lightning's Ryan Shannon.

"It didn't look good and it isn't good," GM Jim Rutherford said of the injury. "We'll know more after Jussi sees the doctor again today and the time could change. But it will not change to less time."

Yep, that's bad news alright. Especially the part where he says that the timetable for a return will only go up if it moves at all.

Jokinen has been a 50-plus point scorer in the last two seasons with the Hurricanes. He has become a critical part of their attack. Without him in the lineup, it will only further increase the need to get Staal back on top of his game.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 28, 2011 1:31 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 11:04 am
 

Weekend Preview: Rangers get MSG debut do-over

By Brian Stubits

The refurbished Madison Square Garden finally hosted a Rangers game on Thursday night, and it wasn't enough like old times for the fans. And I'm not talking about the $9.50 domestic beers.

No, the fans in attendance were longing for the old MSG, where Sean Avery delighted them on the ice. OK, maybe they were just longing for Avery.

There was also a banner hanging from the upper level earlier in the game in support of Avery. Mysteriously, it was gone later in the game. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the fan didn't have a change of heart midway through the game and took it down him/herself.

The case of Avery is an odd one. He is a player that all the teams in the NHL apparently don't want to touch with a 10-foot pole, including the Rangers, who sent him to the AHL's Connecticut Whale. If you ask 100 people to describe Avery the player in one word, the most flattering response you would receive is "agitator."

He's like a member of the Rangers family. Johnny Ranger fan can insult him all day long, just like I can call my brother a jerk (hypothetically, of course). But don't you even dare to call my brother a jerk. It's in the same vain. Avery might just be an ineffective player whose only role it seems is to piss opponents off, but he's THEIR ineffective player whose only role it seems is to piss opponents off. He's a fan favorite. His antics have gone over well in New York, clearly.

But honestly, this wouldn't be that big of a deal if the Rangers were playing better, specifically Avery's replacement, Kris Newbury. Sure, they are 3-3-2, but it has been less-than inspiring. This is a team that had a lot of hype after an offseason that saw them catch the biggest fish swimming in the free-agent lake. The combination of Brad Richards with Marian Gaborik would be gold, I tell you, gold. The Blueshirts would finally be able to give Henrik Lundqvist the kind of scoring support to show he is a Vezina-quality goaltender.

Well, it hasn't happened yet -- the scoring, not Lundqvist showing he is Vezina-quality. The Rangers offense has scored 16 goals in eight games. Even the mathematically challenged should easily recognize that as two goals per game, not very impressive.

“I’ve known [Gaborik] for a month now,” Richards said. “It would be great if we’d come in here and click perfectly. Realistically, we have some work to do, and we’ve got to get to know each other on the ice. We’re both used to having the puck. That’s a work in progress, for sure.”

“It’s no secret that we have to put more pucks in the net,” Ryan Callahan said after Thursday's game.

This has coach John Tortorella tweaking the lines, trying to find the right combinations. The pairing of Gaborik and Richards just hasn't produced yet the way they hoped. Gaborik was practicing on Friday with Wotjek Wolski and Erik Christensen on one line while Richards was with Brandon Dubinsky and Callahan on another.

It's under that backdrop that the Rangers welcome the Ottawa Senators to new-look MSG on Saturday. You know the Senators, the team most everybody saw as being the worst in the Eastern Conference this year but has surprised the masses by winning four games in a row? The plus side is that the Senators could be the team to jumpstart the typically sluggish Rangers offense. Ottawa has surrendered a league-high 39 goals in 10 games.

Let's look at that game as a second chance to make a first impression at home.

Scorer's delight

Speaking of that Rangers season debut at MSG, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who spoiled the party with a 4-2 win in New York. With the victory they remained one of the surprising starters of the season, improving to 6-2-1.

But I pose this question: What's more surprising, Toronto starting so well thanks to Phil Kessel's nine goals, or Penguins forward James Neal being tied with Kessel for the league lead in goals scored? We'll have a chance to see them at the same time on Saturday when the Penguins visit the Leafs.

Normally, hearing that a Pittsburgh Penguins player leads the league in scoring doesn't come as a surprise. Rather, it is expected. But that's expected from guys named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not James Neal.

Which brings me to that trade from last February when the Penguins acquired Neal. Talk about one of those trades where both sides win. Well, let me rephrase; a trade where it looks like both sides came out well. I caution against calling winner and losers in a trade so soon. But Neal has obviously been producing for Pittsburgh as he seems capable of not only reaching his career-high 27 goals he had in 2009-10, but surpassing it. On the other end, Matt Niskanen and Alex Goligoski, while having very cool surnames, have both been good fits in Pittsburgh and Dallas.

As for the Leafs' sharpshooter Kessel? Well this is what they hoped for when Brian Burke made that trade a couple of years ago. Just for fun, I'd like to point out that Kessel is on pace for an 81-goal, 144-point season and a plus-45 at this time.

Big Z, Max meet ... again

Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins will be in Montreal on Saturday to pay a visit to the Canadiens. Obviously it's an anticipated reunion for some folks who are into that sort of thing.

Chara has already been back to Habs Town since his hit on Max Pacioretty late last season, the Bruins had to go through the Habs on their way to the Stanley Cup. But it will mark the first time Chara has faced Pacioretty in Montreal. OK, OK, we're stretching a bit. The Canadiens just beat the B's Thursday in Boston, so let's just say this one is about the game, shall we?

These are two struggling teams. Montreal got off to such a bad start, it was their worst in 70 years! It led to the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn and since then, the Habs have reeled off two in a row, including one over the Bruins. Not that that had much if anything to do with Pearn's dismissal, but at least the Habs are showing signs of getting out of the early season doldrums.

For Boston, they have struggled too, although much more quietly. Interesting considering they are the defending champs and all. In a way this might have been expected. You hear all the time about the dreaded hangover, and that might be in play here. Either way, the Bruins are struggling to score.

The game is just like any other in an 82-game season, but this will quietly be an important one. These teams both want to get on track and in the Boston's case, a home-and-home sweep at the hands of the hated Habs wouldn't help in that regard. But for Montreal, it could help forgive much of the early struggles.

Best games, on paper

Entering the season, these two games appeared to be monster October showdowns: The Sharks visiting the Red Wings on Friday then the Capitals taking on the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday. If you had to pick five preseason favorites to win the Stanley Cup, there's a good chance three or maybe all four of these teams would make that list.

The Sharks have been somewhat slow to start themselves, but seem to have flipped the switch and won three games in a row, all on the road. The Red Wings, on the other hand, began like gangbusters, but have since lost two games to the Caps and previously winless Blue Jackets. However these two are still titans and will be in the Western hunt all year and just might have another playoff battle lined up. (You might remember they played a great seven-game series last season.)

As for Capitals-Canucks? Well one team has played like a Cup contender and the other, well, the Cup contention seems like a long time ago now. Washington finally took its first loss in Edmonton on Thursday night after getting off to a franchise-record 7-0-0 start. Tomas Vokoun has been spectacular. If there has been anything to complain about up to this point, it's nitpicking.

Vancouver meanwhile has a hot mess of a goaltending situation at the moment. Starter Roberto Luongo is more than a hot topic in the city, a lot of the fans want him gone and would like to see Cory Schneider play. A victory over the Capitals, while not incredibly symbolic at this time of the season, would perhaps satisfy the fan base with the notion that things will be OK. Serenity now!

Somebody get him a compass

Ilya Bryzgalov, who is admittedly "lost in the woods" right now and appears to be a broken goalie, is slated to start Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. He better find his way out of the woods in a hurry.

Since his first two starts of the season when he was stellar, Bryzgalov has been a mess, never worse than Thursday's five-goals-on-10-shots showing in "reprieve" of Sergei Bobrovsky. His best showing since those first two was when he gave up three goals to the Kings in an overtime loss. His numbers right now? Ugggly. Try an .870 save percentage and 3.45 GAA. Ouch.

So Peter Laviolette might have decided that what better way to get a goalie's broken confidence going once again than start him the next time out?

Either that or Lavy didn't want to put Bobrovsky back out there either.

Pregame trash talk

One of the great things about Twitter is the ability for players to interact with fans and other players for thousands to see. Ever wonder what players talk about before the puck is dropped in the faceoff circle? Twitter has helped give fans an idea.

But Anthony Stewart of the Carolina Hurricanes and Daniel Carcillo talking a little pregame smack on Twitter before Friday night's tilt? Yes please!

Carcillo (@CarBombBoom13) got it started with this: Goin 2 Carolina to throw a beat down on the Hurricanes and on@EhStew13 Just like in bantam when I'd drop u in buckets b4 pracy #indafaaace

Here was the response from Stewart (@EhStew13): You remembered u got Tko'd, keep the Bus in the Windy City, these 2 points aren't for sale #meh.

The short back-and-forth concluded with Carcillo: @EhStew13 we aren't lookin to buy #5fingerdiscount and I recall me havin to double shift in practice bc some1 had post concussion syndromes.

Good stuff. Guys having some playful smack (I'm assuming its playful) for all to see is good fun.

As to the game itself between the 'Hawks and 'Canes in Carolina? Well Chicago is looking for its first win in Raleigh since 1998. Granted there is unbalanced scheduling, but still, that's a long time. Also, Eric Staal needs to improve and that league-worst minus-9 he's sporting at the moment. Ouch.

Back to Vancouver ...

There will be no Green Men sitting by the opponent's box to torment Alex Ovechkin and crew. Vancouver's most famous fans will instead be ... in Bakersfield, Calif.?

Well look at that, the Green Men have turned their antics into appearances at hockey arenas. The Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL (originally from the WCHL) will have the spandex-wearing fans at their game on Friday night. Then Saturday will be Star Wars night.

I don't know about you all, but I'd rather see Star Wars night. Either way, these promotions are two big reasons why minor-league hockey is so awesome.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 21, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2011 5:57 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Will Trotz lose it? Wings-Caps

By Brian Stubits

The Barry Trotz tour of tantrums continues with a stop in Calgary on Saturday to conclude the Predators' first Western Canada swing of the season.

If you haven't been paying attention to the Predators for the past week, you've been missing out. Not so much with their play -- Nashville enters Calgary on a four-game losing streak and a minus-7 on the season -- but from Trotz, the well-renowned head coach for the Preds. He has been less-than pleased about his team's recent performance and hasn't been afraid to tell everybody.

After the Predators lost to the Oilers 3-1, Trotz was clearly upset, saying the team had to "start from scratch." But the majority of the sound bite came from Jarred Smithson, who undoubtedly echoed Trotz's frustration.

"It’s not one guy, it’s not two guys, it’s the whole group. Pekka [Rinne] is the exception. He’s the only guy playing his balls off right now and if it wasn’t for him, we don’t have any points. I don’t know what to say about tonight, it was terrible.”

Oh, but the fun was only just beginning. Because Thursday night brought about a 5-1 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver and more Trotz frustration. A lot more. (Quotes courtesy of Twitter feed from Joshua Cooper of the Tennessean)

His assessment of rookie Mattias Ekholm? "I thought he was horrible, just horrible." Ouch.

How about his feelings on his younger players having to go up against the likes of the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and the rest of the Canucks? “You’re going to have to line up against the best in the league, if you’re scared of that, get a dog.”

Finally, he took the time to thank Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. Seriously. "“I want to thank Alain Vigneault for not playing his top two lines the last 10 minutes.”

Making matters worse before they face Calgary, it looks like they will be without star defenseman and Norris candidate Shea Weber after the hit he laid on Jannik Hansen of the Canucks. That won't help the struggling offense get any better.

The Predators better hope they show up with a better effort in Calgary or it might be a lot of bag skates coming their way.

Somebody's got to lose

There are only two remaining unbeaten teams in the NHL, and they will meet on Saturday. Hopefully they will both be perfect as that makes for one delicious matchup.

The Capitals are sitting at 6-0-0 for the first time in franchise history of their 5-2 win over the Flyers on Thursday. So they enter the battle against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in Washington unblemished.

The Red Wings will have to go through the winless Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night first, but considering the struggling Jackets will be without Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, you have to like Detroit's chances.

One thing to keep an eye on, Detroit is the only team in the league not to have played five games entering Friday. They're last game came a week ago Saturday against the Wild. So the legs are as fresh as they can get.

Brotherly love

The Carolina Hurricanes have a pretty famous hockey brother on their team. Captain Eric Staal gets chances to reunite with siblings whenever he plays against the Penguins (Jordan) and Rangers (Marc) while his youngest brother (Jared) is in the Hurricanes farm system.

But Friday night will bring about another sibling rivalry for the 'Canes. When they take on the Blues in St. Louis, Anthony Stewart will go up against his brother Chris Stewart. It marks the first time the brothers will play in an NHL game against each other.

"I'm excited," Chris said. "I felt like it's been a long time and a long time overdue. We went for dinner [Wednesday] night, and I'm sure we'll go for dinner again tonight. I look forward to tomorrow."

"It's a big day for our family. They're going to be watching," Anthony said. "They're not going to make it in, but they're definitely excited and the buddies back home are texting us asking if we're going to fight. We'll be fighting on the score sheet. That's probably about it."

Here's their shot

Let's just assume the Red Wings take care of the Blue Jackets on Friday night. Seems like a pretty safe bet. So they will be 0-6-1 headed into Saturday, their final game without Wisniewski. They will have a very winnable game in Ottawa against the Senators.

Ottawa is a league-worst minus-11 on the season, tied with Winnipeg at the bottom of the league. The Sens have given up 31 goals in seven games, that's more than four per game.

If they can't get the win in Ottawa, then you really have to wonder how long it will be. After playing the Senators, Columbus will play Detroit (4-0-0) at home, go to Buffalo (5-1-0) and Chicago (4-1-1), play the Ducks (4-1-0) and Maple Leafs (4-1-1), visit Philadelphia (4-1-1) then host Chicago again. Finally, they'll get a reprieve and face the Jets at home.

Columbus could sure use one or both of the games this weekend.

Mile(stone) marker

San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton will play in his 1,000th career game this weekend when his team plays the Devils Friday night in New Jersey. Then on Saturday he'll play No. 1,001 in Boston, the city where he began his career.

Thornton was a member of the Bruins from 1997 until the 2005-06 season when he was sent to the Sharks for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart.

To show how good he's been throughout his career, here's a stat courtesy of fellow Eye On Hockey blogger Adam Gretz (@agretz on Twitter): Only five players have at least two 90-assists seasons: Joe Thornton is one of them. The others: [Wayne] Gretzky, [Mario] Lemieux, [Bobby] Orr, and Adam Oates.

"It goes by incredibly fast," Thornton said. "As a young guy everybody says enjoy it because it goes by very quickly. It sure does. Now I'm the older guy telling the younger guys."

Of course with all his accomplishments, including the Art Ross and Hart trophies in 2005-06, he's missing the biggest one, the Stanley Cup. That's the goal this season, but the Sharks are slow out of the gate.

"We're obviously 1-3 in the standings but I feel we've played pretty well," he said. "Just stay positive and start getting some points."

Quick start

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has himself quite a little streak going. He has recorded back-to-back shutouts, one against the Blues, the other vs. the Coyotes on Thursday night.

Assuming he gets the start on Saturday back home in Los Angeles, he'll get a stern test from the Dallas Stars, who are off to a quick start themselves.

They come into the weekend in Tinsel town with a 5-1-0 record and will not only face Quick's Kings, but first must go through the 4-1-0 Ducks on Friday. Throw in the Sharks' potential and the Pacific Division might be on its way to being a monster this season.

There will be some good hockey in Southern California this weekend, so enjoy.

Southeast Winnipeg

The most awkward divisional alignment begins this weekend when the Jets will host the Hurricanes. It is Winnipeg's first taste as a member of the Southeast Division, an arrangement that is just a touch unnatural, something that will be remedied before next season.

Hockey night indeed

It's always worthwhile when the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens do battle. They played the first game of the season (get the honor thanks to Boston's pregame Cup ceremony) and will have Part II on Saturday in Montreal.

Let's play two

We'll also have a pair of division leaders doing battle for the second time in three days. The surprising Colorado Avalanche, a perfect 5-0 on the road this season, will be in Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Saturday night. Chicago won the opening game of the home-and-home series, beating the Avs 3-1 on Thursday.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:04 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 10:15 pm
 

Claude Julien gets ejected in Boston

By: Adam Gretz

When Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask left his crease to skate the length of the ice and challenge Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward to a fight late in the first period, you had to know this game, which Carolina ended up winning 4-1, was going to end up taking a turn for the absurd. And it certainly did not disappoint.

The Bruins were an undisciplined mess all night, recording 72 penalty minutes, 47 of which came in the third period alone. The penalty situation eventually become so ridiculous that at one point the Bruins had five players crammed into their penalty box as if it were a can of hockey-playing sardines. The Hurricanes had so much power play time that when Eric Staal scored on a 5-on-3 advantage in the third period, allowing one of the penalized Bruins to come out of the box, they were still on a two-man advantage (which, of course, resulted in another goal).

From there, things only continued to spiral out of control as fans started to litter the ice with garbage (on more than one occassion), while Bruins coach Claude Julien was given a game misconduct ending his night behind the bench early. When asked after the game why he was ejected he said that he wish he knew.

The Bruins simply lost their cool and ended up paying the price on the scoreboard.

Here's a look at the sequence -- one of the many that included a fight or an attempted fight -- that resulted in Rask leaving his crease to challenge Ward, who wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Bruins goaltender. And that's probaly for the best, because Rask seems like he would be a tough customer, at least based on the temper he displayed during a minor league game a couple of years ago.


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

Posted on: October 3, 2011 8:55 pm
 

Rangers' Staal to miss opening games in Sweden

By Brian Stubits

Now might be the time for New York Rangers fans to begin worrying about their blue line.

Marc Staal, one of the team's alternate captains and a leader among the defensive corps, will miss the start of the season. He won't make the trip to Europe, instead staying back in the State to continue working with doctors as he battles post-concussion symptoms stemming from a hit last season from his brother Eric of Carolina.

Not long ago, the team decided to withhold Staal from the final preseason games as he dealt with the symptoms. But we were told it was just precautionary and Staal would likely join the team for the regular-season openers in Sweden. The message was that it was nothing more than the Rangers being extra careful.

“Marc Staal continues to work with his people [in New York] and he’s not coming on the trip,” Tortorella told the media after the Rangers' 8-4 exhibition loss in Zug, Switzerland. “He will not be [in Stockholm]. He continues to work with the doctors out there, so we thought it was best to leave him alone right now. So he won’t open the season with us.”

You never can tell how players are going to progress as they try and get over post-concussion issues, so it makes sense the Rangers are taking their time. At this point they probably figured it wasn't worth sending him on a plane trip halfway across the globe if they weren't 100 percent on his playing status.

It's not all gloom and doom, though, as Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record and Ranger Rants blog reports, Staal was practicing with the Connecticut Whale. So perhaps he isn't facing a long-term injury stay with an IR visit like Sidney Crosby, but the fact that he still isn't well enough to make the trip and play is of slight concern.

The Rangers would obviously like to get Staal back as soon as they can. Because without him, the Rangers will take on the Ducks and Kings with a defensive corps that consists of Dan Girardi, Steve Eminger, Brendan Bell, Stu Bickel, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer. Hopefully for the Blueshirts, Henrik Lundqvist will thrive being back in Sweden.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:09 pm
 

Southeast Division preview: Still chasing Caps

By Brian Stubits

The days of the South-least Division are slowly fading away.

For the last half decade, the Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals' playground with four teams chasing. Of course the Caps have been very good through that time, but fattening up on their division "rivals" undoubtedly helped them to four straight division championships.

Just take the 2009-10 season as an example. That year the Capitals had 18 more points than the next closest team in the East while no other team in the division finished even in the top nine of the conference standings. That's especially amazing when you consider there are only 15 teams in the East.

They stil finished atop the East despite a transformation. Head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the way the team plays, trying to lock down on defense. As a result, the league's highest-scoring team the past few years dipped all the way to 19th in scoring. Alex Ovechkin had a very good season by almost anybody's standards. Just not his own.

The trick for Boudreau is to find that happy medium. They showed defense is something they can and in the past they showed they can score. Now they need to show they can do both. If they don't, especially early, Boudreau will hear the calls for his firing. The most successful regular-season team hasn't done enough after it to satisfy the increasingly antsy and demanding fan base.

But the somewhat surprising emergence of the Lightning last year has beefed up the division's rep. Tampa Bay figured to be on its way back up the NHL ladder, but the boom that came out of last season seemed to be ahead of schedule. Now the division has two of the game's elite scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin. With the Bolts unceremoniously sweeping the Caps in the playoffs last year, we just might have the beginning of an actual division rival for Washington.

The division also features something new: the most amped up fan base in the league, at least for one season. The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck playing in a division that will have them being true fish out of water. To say the Jets will suffer from jet-lag isn't just a fun pun but a reality they face. With that said, what was one of the easiest road trips in the NHL just became one of the toughest, especially for the teams in the Southeast that should look into taking the Concord to Manitoba.

Southeast Division (in order of predicted finish)

Washington Capitals: The Caps have become one of the league's elite teams and have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their core together. Well this offseason owner Ted Leonsis and crew decided it was time to shake up the roster a touch to try and find the missing recipe to move Washington deeper into the playoffs. Enter Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun among others. I don't think there was a bigger offseason addition in this division than the Caps getting Vokoun, especially when you factor in the salary he'll be getting. Vokoun's talents have been hidden in Florida in the past four seasons, but he's an excellent goaltender but he is (or at least was) prone to prolonged slumps. As for Ward and Brouwer, they considerably beef up the Caps' toughness up front along the boards who are very capable two-way players.

Strengths: They have shown they can do every facet of the game well. It is a challenge to find a more talented team in hockey, including on the blue line. That's not something you could say in the past, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner complement each other well enough to make one of the best young defenseman duos in the NHL.

Weaknesses: It is tough to pinpoint any with this team, it is very well-rounded. It will be interesting to see how they handle expectations and increased heat when they hit some rough patches. Also, from an organizational standpoint the team has very little room to maneuver under the salary cap. That could be worth monitoring if/when GM George McPhee decided to tweak the roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Everything came together for a great run to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season under new coach Guy Boucher. He brought in the ol' 1-3-1 system that seemed to be a magic trick for the Bolts. Now the question becomes can they repeat or was last year lightning in a bottle (that pun really was not intended)? One thing strongly in their favor is that the return almost the entire roster intact from last season. They did lose a couple of players such as Simon Gagne, but not much in the way of being unable to repair. one player who is back is Eric Brewer, and he'll be better for having spent camp and beginning the season in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how this team fares with expectations on their shoulders.

Strengths: They roll out two excellent lines at the top. The Ryan Malone-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line is one of the best in the game and the second group of Nate Thompson-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell isn't too shabby, especially if Purcell continues his growth. They also had excellent special teams last year, ranking in the top 8 of both power play (it helps to have Stamkos, who scores 17 on the PP last year) and penalty kill a season ago. I also love the man on their bench as Boucher is a star in the making among coaches.

Weaknesses: I am still not in love with the goaltending situation. Dwayne Roloson was very good after being picked up by GM Steve Yzerman (he would qualify as another strength), but he just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me to keep it up. The addition of Mathieu Garon to back him up is a good one, though. Moreover, consistency might be an issue, especially for Stamkos. He really slowed down last season, failing to score 50 goals when he appeared to be on his way to 60 midseason.

Carolina Hurricanes: If the playoffs were a night club, the Hurricanes have been the guy standing at the front of the line until the bouncer says they're full. Every year it seems they are squarely on the playoff bubble, including last season when it came down to Game 82, which was a sound defeat. This season figures to be more of the same for the 'Canes as they might just be the next-best thing to a playoff team the East has to offer. They had a very pleasant surprise in Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner last season and captain Eric Staal is still leading the show. Gone, though, is another Carolina long-timer in Erik Cole (now in Montreal). One thing you have to love about this franchise, though, is its consistency. GM Jim Rutherford has been there ever since they became the Hurricanes (and before). It seems like their best players don't leave the organization, either. Hopefully for them the consistency in their finishes doesn't stay the same, but instead they crack the postseason. But in a beefed up East, that will be tougher said than done.

Strengths: They have an excellent captain in Staal, both from a leadership standpoint and player quality. They also boast one of the better goalies in the league in Cam Ward, an All-Star last season. And there's that whole consitency thing they have going on, often helps in the old chemistry department.

Weaknesses: There is not much depth to talk about in Carolina. After Stall, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, they aren't likely going to find a whole lot of scoring. They also don't posses a ton of size among the forwards, hence the reason they brought in Anthony Stewert and Alex Ponikarovsky this offseason to help. There just doesn't seem to be enough to crack the postseason, but Rutherford admits to this being somewhat of a "rebuilding" phase. That's a pretty competitive team for one that's rebuilding.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers were incredibly active in the free-agent market in July, adding a slew of veterans to hold the tide while the youngsters develop. Undoubtedly the Panthers are better than they were last season, but how much better? They did lose arguably their best player in Vokoun and are replacing him with the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, not exactly an exciting development. But it can't be denied that the Panthers now at least have NHL-quality players across their lines (and defensive pairings, led by Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski), but they still aren't high-quality players, not guys that you figure can get them into the playoffs, finally. The trick in Florida is not doing anything now to hinder the future, which is very bright as the system is loaded.

Strengths: I do like the defensive corps they are putting together, especially if 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick Erik Gudbranson makes the team as expected. It's very hard to say at this point with so many new faces coming together what kind of strenghts we're looking at, it's tough to predict how they will play together. But we do know something that isn't likely be a strength this year ...

Weaknesses: The aforementioned goaltender position. With Vokoun gone, the Panthers are relying on the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. Now, both do have experience, Theodore more so than the Clemmer, but in no way do they make up for what Vokoun, Florida's best player in recent seasons, took with him. You also have to wonder about chemistry issues with this team having brought in so many new faces. We'll put new coach Kevin Dineen as an "unknown."

Winnipeg Jets: The virtue of such a home-ice advantage will likely make the Jets a little better than the Thrashers were last season, but not enough. Thankfully for them the new home crowd in Winnipeg will just be jacked to have hockey back. They will need to take advantage of the home crowd, especially with a stretch of 10 home games in 11 contests that stretches from the end of November through December. But they will need to find scoring punch, especially from the forward group. They have excellent point producers among the defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but Ladd needs more help. Hopefully, that's where Evander Kane will fit in. In his third year since being drafted in the first round (all of his time spent at the NHL level) this could be the year he steps up his game and becomes a franchise fixture. He is already a popular figure partly by virtue of his Twitter account and the way he has taken to Winnipeg.

Strengths: They were above average on the power play last season, finishing 12th in the league thanks to Byfuglien and Enstrom. Thrown in the potential of Zach Bogosian as an offensive weapon and that's a lunch of firepower coming back the blue line. I like Ondrej Pavelec in net if he can get a little better support from his teammates. I will put one more in this category, and that's the patience of the front office. They have a lot of first-round talent on the roster and they don't seem willing to abandon the long-term plan for a quick fix to appease the riled up fans.

Weaknesses: The forwards need to show more. Outside of Ladd, nobody up front cracked the 20-goal barrier last season in Atlanta. They need to find a way to tighten down defensively after giving up the second-most goals per game in hockey last year at 3.20. The forwards doing a better job of creating scoring chances and possessing the puck will certainly contribute. The penalty kill was almost equally bad last year, clocking in at 27th in the NHL. Like the Panthers, we'll put new coach Claude Noel as an "unknown."

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

Photo: Getty Images

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



Posted on: September 22, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 1:22 pm
 

'Canes sign GM Rutherford to four-year extension

By Brian Stubits

The Hurricanes signed general manager Jim Rutherford to a four-year contract extension on Thursday, keeping him in Carolina through the 2015-16 season.

“Jim is one of the premier general managers in all of sports,” 'Canes CEO, Owner and Governor Peter Karmanos said. “In the 14 years since the Hurricanes arrived in North Carolina, his leadership has allowed our franchise to host two Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL All-Star Game and the NHL Draft, bringing tremendously positive attention to the team and the area. This contract will take him through his 30th year with our hockey organization, and I am proud to have been associated with Jim for that long.”

That's right, Rutherford has held his position as the GM of the organization going back to their days as the Hartford Whalers. He is the second-longest tenured GM in the NHL behind only Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey.

Rutherford has had a good run leading the organization, highlighted by the team bringing the Stanley Cup to Carolina in 2006. He has done a good job keeping up a level of success as the 'Canes did make it back to the Eastern Conference finals two years ago and they have been in the playoff hunt every season.

Part of the staff's success in Carolina has been the ability to draft. It isn't as if Raleigh has been a location where players are breaking down doors to play or that they are winning by virtue of a big budget. Instead they are led by home-grown talent such as Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Jeff Skinner, Cam Ward and Chad LaRose.

Twice in his career in Carolina has he been recognized as the Executive of the Year by THN, both years the Hurricanes made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Photo: Getty Images

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