Tag:James Wisniewski
Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:32 pm
 

Handing out some first month grades

octgrades

By: Adam Gretz

The first month of the NHL season is in the books and we're still trying to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad and which hot start is for real and which one is simply an early season mirage. Let's check in with a progress report on some notable players and teams for the month of October.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's pretend, just hypothetically, that Phil Kessel is able stay near the top of the NHL's scoring list all.

Now, you shouldn't expect him to maintain his current pace (his shooting percentage is currently 26 percent -- that's probably not sustainable for a full season), but what if he were to do something completely unexpected like, say, win the NHL's scoring title and help lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Would that do anything to change your opinion of the the trade that brought him to Toronto? Should it? Brian Burke has already said Boston won the trade because it has a Stanley Cup, but that trade -- which landed the Bruins two first-round draft picks, including a No. 2 overall selection used on Tyler Seguin, and a second-round pick -- had little to do with that championship. Seguin played about 12 minutes a game and scored 11 goals during the regular season, and only appeared in two postseason series. It's not like he was the driving force behind that cup run. The steep price Toronto paid still overshadow the fact that Kessel is a pretty darn good (three straight years of 30-plus goals) player and still only 24 years of age.

Even if he doesn't maintain this current pace he's been the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL this season and one of the biggest reasons the Maple Leafs are off to their best start in a decade, and that's worthy of a top-grade for the first month.

Other players and teams earning A's for the month of October

Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) -- had one of the best months of any goaltender in the NHL, including three consecutive shutouts; James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- for a Penguins team that continues to deal with injuries, Neal has been their best overall player and looks to be the young goal-scoring winger they've been searching for for years; Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) -- He leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average for what has been, so far, the toughest team in the NHL to score against; and the Dallas Stars -- winners of eight of their first 11 games, thanks in large part to the play of Kari Lehtonen.

Ottawa Senators: For the first two weeks of the season the Ottawa Senators looked to be every bit as awful as they were expected to be.

Over the next two weeks? They won six games in a row and end the month two game over .500. Even through the awful stretch to start the season the Senators were impressive with their determination to never quit in a game, regardless of the score, resulting in acouple of late come-from-behind victories (against Minnesota and the Rangers).

They've been outscored 27-15 over the first two periods but have outscored their opponents 21-18 in the third period. It's not likely they'll be able to continue to rely on huge third period comebacks to get wins, and they're going to have to start getting some better starts in games so they're not constantly trying to play catch up, but a 7-5 record at this point is more than could have (or should have) been expected.

Other players and teams earning B's for the month of October

Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) -- He's been the best player on a Nashville team that is losing the possession battle just about every single night and is facing more shots than any other goaltender in the league. He's keeping the Predators in it while they search for some offense; Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia Flyers) -- Three years away from the NHL and at 39 years of age Jagr opened the season and showed everybody that he can still play at the highest level with a point-per-game pace for the Flyers.

Detroit Red Wings: The A-plus honor student that brings home the rare and unexpected C. You know they can do better, and you expect them to do better. (And they will do better.) But after starting the season 5-0 the Red Wings dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 16-4. That streak includes a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, a game that was followed by a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first victory of the season. Their defense definitely took a hit when Brian Rafalski retired over the summer, and they're not the defensive stalwart they were a few years ago, but they should be better than they've looked over the first month.

Other players and teams earning C's for the month of October

Montreal Canadiens -- Injuries to their defense, as well as top forward Michael Cammalleri, didn't help, but a rather uninspiring start for the Canadiens that only started to turn around when an assistant coach was forced to take the fall.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula spent a ton of money this summer in an effort to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, and one of his biggest investments, Ville Leino, has been a complete non-factor through the first month of the season. In 10 games the 28-year-old Leino has scored just one goal to go with one assist and has recorded just five shots on goal, or one every other game. He's definitely talented, but based on what he's actually produced at the NHL level the six-year, $27 million contract was, at the very least, one hell of a gamble. And so far it's a losing one.

Other plays and teams earning D's for the month of October

 Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) -- And he's probably right on the line between D and F. Let's just say this: the only goaltender in the NHL that has a worse save percentage entering November is Ottawa's backup, Alex Auld.

Columbus Blue Jackets: An offseason with such excitement and a season that seemed to have so much promise was opened with … the worst start in franchise history and the worst record in the NHL. There is obviously time to turn it around -- and I still believe the Jackets can -- and the two big offseason acquisitions have been limited so far, which isn't helping things. James Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season, while Jeff Carter, acquired from the Flyers, was limited to just five games in October due to a foot injury, scoring zero goals. Still … the worst start in franchise history?

Other players and teams earning F's for the month of October

The Boston Bruins -- Defending champs with the second-worst record in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 30, 2011 12:17 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 9:50 pm
 

Report: Jackets could fire coach, GM on Monday

By Brian Stubits

You didn't think the Columbus Blue Jackets could start the season 1-9-1 and the head coach and GM would still be safe, did you?

Despite team president Mike Priest giving coach Scott Arniel and GM Scott Howson a "vote of confidence" -- further proof that is often more curse than reassurement -- amid the slow start, Aaron Portzline at the Columbus Dispatch reports that folks around the situation are on "high alert.

Multiple NHL sources have informed The Dispatch early Sunday that Jackets president Mike Priest has contacted Ken Hitchcock about returning as the club’s coach, and that former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button has been contacted about taking on the same job with the Jackets.   Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson and/or coach Scott Arniel could be replaced by Monday, the sources indicated

Here's a little more on Hitchcock and Button from Portzline.

Hitchcock coached the Blue Jackets to the Stanley Cup playoffs following the 2008-09 season, the franchise’s only taste of the post-season. He was fired the following season when the Jackets were languishing at 23-27-9 in early February.

Button was briefly a candidate with the Blue Jackets when Scott Howson was hired to replace Doug MacLean during the summer of 2007.

He has worked for the Stars, Flames and Maple Leafs and is currently an analyst on the NHL Network’s NHL On The Fly.

For the record, Button, who now works for TSN, denied being in touch with Columbus. "While it's flattering to be mentioned in GM rumors, I've had no contact with Columbus. I wish Scott H. the best to turn things around."

He then gave another denial later Sunday on camera.

Part of Priest's "vote of confidence" was the fact that the team had yet to play with the full roster that Howson built. James Wisniewski missed the first eight games because of a suspension and then Jeff Carter was sidelined with a hairline fracture in his foot. Still, dating back to last season, the Blue Jackets are -- get this -- 4-21-8 in their last 33 games. That's not a typo.

As for the roster, it's equally as hard to believe that Columbus has the league's fifth-highest payroll. According to capgeek.com, Columbus only has $81,643 in cap space available. This in spite of the Jackets being in a "small" market, one where they are drawing the fourth-lowest amount of fans per game this season at a little more than 12,000.

Moreover, Howson has been working on a long-term plan for this franchise. He has put together a roster with five players signed through at least the 2016-17 season. That's a lot of foresight and commitment to the plan for the future. It would not be an enviable position for any new GM to come in to who would be looking to take the franchise on his own path.

Looking at the investment vs. production to this point, it's easy to see where a bombshell like this is coming from. Clearly the people in charge in Columbus aren't happy with a three-points-in-11-games start, but I can't help think along Priest's original line of thinking, that no judgments should be made about the roster until they newcomers have all had a chance to play some games together. Since Carter has been out since October 15, he and Wisniewski haven't been on the ice together yet this season.

Maybe Sunday night's home game against the Anaheim Ducks will be a lost chance at salvation for Arniel and Howson.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 25, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 9:50 pm
 

Columbus' surprising first victory

By: Adam Gretz

At some point, the Columbus Blue Jackets miserable start to the season was going to end. But did you expect it to end against the Detroit Red Wings? Probably not.

Riding an 0-7-1 streak into Tuesday's game against their divisional rivals, and less than a week removed from letting what could have been their first win of the season slip away in the final 30 seconds of a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Blue Jackets finally found their way into the win column with a surprising, hard-fought 4-1 win over the Red Wings.

Everything that had gone wrong over the first eight games finally started to go right on Tuesday.

For one, defenseman James Wisniewski made his Blue Jackets regular season debut after sitting out the first eight games of the regular season due to a suspension, and logged a team-high 27 minutes. He finished as a plus-one, recorded a shot on goal and blocked four shots. Goaltender Steve Mason, who has had a disastrous start to the season, played well and stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, even though he had to briefly leave the game in the first period due to an apparent injury. Columbus even managed to get some offensive production from a pair of their recent first-round draft picks as Ryan Johansen and John Moore tallied their first NHL goals.

Johansen, whose goal proved to be the game-winner, played a bouncing puck off the end boards and fired a puck from behind the goal line off the back of Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin during a power play mid-way through the first period. Moore added his first late in the second when he blasted a shot from the blue through traffic.

The win comes on the same day Blue Jackets general manager, Scott Howson, penned an article on the team's official website talking about how the start to the season was like a punch to the gut. His players responded on Tuesday night with a spirited effort and impressive win over one of the best teams in the NHL.

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

Posted on: October 25, 2011 3:36 pm
 

Jackets GM feels 'punched in the gut'; Wiz back

By Brian Stubits

Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is one of the most open and honest executives you will find in sports. He is candid on his Twitter account (@GMScottHowson) and openly talks about his team. Unlike many other people on Twitter who understandably don't talk about their teams -- like Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, whose favorite subject is Showtime's excellent show Dexter -- he is real with fans concerning the inner workings of his franchise.

Case in point is his latest blog entry. Yes, in addition to tweeting he also updates his own blog every so often. In the latest, his honesty reveals a frustration with the team's 0-7-1 start. Here is a little excerpt.

Just under three weeks ago, we started the 2011-12 season with a high level of optimism and positive energy following a summer of transformation and development for our hockey club. What has transpired since has felt like we -- management, coaches, players and fans -- have been punched in the gut.

Ninety percent of our season remains and that is more than enough time to reach the goals we set for ourselves. We are bent, but not broken, and very determined to get back on track.

But perhaps Howson's most interesting paragraph is this one:

The first three weeks have been extremely difficult for all of us. The responsibility for where we are lies with me, our management staff, coaches and players. It does not lie with Brendan Shanahan or the NHL or the officials. It is not about luck. The responsibility for getting us out of it lies also with us... all of us doing it together.

First of all, you notice right away that Howson isn't ducking any of the responsibility for the woeful beginning. He also refuses to use any excuse -- which the Blue Jackets have a few of -- to explain things. It's a true candidness that's tough to find in sports any more.

The mantra is to stand and fight, something he plucked from former 49ers and Stanford University football coach Bill Walsh. Now if he could just get a quarterback for his offense like Joe Montana, he'd be set.

The hope is that can be James Wisniewski, who will make his Blue Jackets debut against the Red Wings on Tuesday night after serving his eight-game suspension.

“I’m happier than a pig in ... stuff right now,” Wisniewski told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch. “Can’t wait.

"God has his plan. Maybe he wants us to have a Cinderella story and come back and win the Stanley Cup after going 0-7-1.”

That would make for a fun Howson blog, now wouldn't it?

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 23, 2011 2:40 pm
 

Saturday Story: Jon Quick on fire; Booth dealt

By Brian Stubits

You ever notice that there seems to be 15 or 20 goalies who are described as one of the top 5 in the league? Well I'm starting to get the feeling I know of another.

In case you haven't noticed, Jonathan Quick is having himself quite a stretch in net for the Los Angeles Kings right now. He blanked the streaking Stars in a 1-0 Pacific Division battle, marking his third consecutive shutout. Going back to last Saturday's game against Philadelphia when Matt Carle beat him on the power play, that's 188:10 consecutive minutes without a goal.

If you want to make that even more impressive, the last team he was beaten with an even-strength goal? You have to go back to 13:03 of the first period against the Devils on Oct. 13. That's 286:57 straight minutes.

"Anytime a goaltender gets a shutout, everyone contributes. But you've got to give him a lot of the credit," Kings coach Terry Murray said after the win. "He's focused on the play and he's aggressive to the shots. Tonight he was again on his game, and he just followed up on the game at Phoenix and brought the same game here tonight."

A lot of attention this summer was paid to the addition of Mike Richards in Los Angeles and Drew Doughty's contract. That's all rightfully so. They were massive moves worthy of their attention.

But you can't forget about Quick. When push comes to shove, a team is usually only as good as its goalie. Look at the Bruins and Tim Thomas a season ago.

It's not like we're going off again on another small-sample size judgment parade here. Quick just posted a .918 save percentage and 2.24 goals against average last season. For his career, which consists of 186 games, he has a .914 save percentage. But streaks like this will get you noticed.

Plus, it's pretty great to have him on your Fantasy team, too (#humblebrag).

Booth dealt

When news of the David Booth to the Canucks found its way to the press box at the Verizon Center on Saturday night, the collective response was one of shock. Why on Earth would the Panthers give up Booth for Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson? What was the end game for Dale Tallon?

Well, having had a little more time to digest it, I think I can at least see the rationale for Tallon. That's not to say I buy it, but I can see it.

Booth was more than sluggish to start the season. His one point in six games didn't exactly fit the profile of a player making more than $4 million per season. Considering he scored 23 goals last season and had just 40 points, the perception of him is still high considering his 31-goal season a few years back. That was also before his concussion.

So there was still some high-stock value for Booth. Any longer of a slow start and that would have gone down. But still, only Sturm and Samuelsson for Booth, Steven Reinprecht and a third-round draft pick? There has to be more.

Well, consider that obviously Sameulsson and Sturm aren't in the Panthers' long-term plans. When Tallon went on the spending spree this past summer, he signed four lines worth of NHL-caliber players to longer deals. There was no room for the Panthers to begin showing off their expansive farm system.

But with these two deals coming off the books, that's conceivably two roster spots that will be available for highly touted players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Quinton Howden to play. That could be the biggest part of all.

And for the Canucks? Well yea, the deal makes too much sense. Booth with fellow Michigander Ryan Kesler could be magic. Of course, Booth could struggle, too. It's not a completely risk-free trade, but it's close.

How to stay winless in 60 seconds

The Columbus Blue Jackets were so close they could probably taste it. Going in to the final minute against the Senators, the Jackets had the lead and seemed at least sure to get one point. That would have doubled their season total. But the real fish they were chasing was their first win.

Instead, they reminded everybody why they are the only winless team in hockey by collapsing in the final minute, giving up not one, but two goals to the Senators, including the winner with 4.7 seconds left.

"It's tough. It seems like we're not getting any bounces," Rick Nash said. "It seems like we're finding ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win games. That's the difference between good teams and bad teams right now."

The saving grace for Columbus? The team is about to get a lift. James Wisniewski will finally make his Blue Jackets debut after his eight-game suspension and Jeff Carter shouldn't be out too much longer.

Still, there is no easy treading ahead. The next seven games will come against teams above .500. At this point, they just need to get the proverbial monkey off their backs because this will only weigh on them the longer it goes.

Long season ahead

The Washington Capitals are flying sky high right now. They are off to a 7-0-0 start and D.C. is buzzing about its hockey team again. Seriously, outside of the arena before Saturday's game against the Red Wings there was a marching band which had one of the adjacent streets shut down.

After they dismantled the Wings 7-1, optimism is even higher. But that's why we have Ted Leonsis around (well that, and he kind of owns the team).

In a nutshell, here's the main message of his blog post to his Caps faithful.

It is October.

It is not how you start -- it is how you finish.

Enjoy the ride.

But don’t ever get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. Thank you. Go Caps!

It's a good moment of clarity from Leonsis, to be sure. Obviously he knows all too well about the Capitals being regular-season warriors who haven't delivered in the playoffs. But I just can't help but notice a more well-rounded and dare I say better team.

Stinking up the place

Rangers coach John Tortorella was brief in his postgame interview after New York's 2-0 loss to the Oilers on Saturday night. Real brief.

I take it he wasn't too happy with his team?

Somebody who was impressed? Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. Not with the Rangers, but with Tortorella's postgame showing. Here is what Wilson tweeted on Sunday.

"Impressive Torts! U just set a new presser record at 16 secs. I'm going to break that record!"

Man, I can't wait for 24/7, this is going to be good.

Habs heat?

A start of 1-4-2 in Montreal? You know this is going to go well.

The Canadiens are just a little slow out of the gate. Part of that is injuries, so there's nothing to really blame there. But free-agent acquisition Erik Cole is yet to do one thing they brought him in for -- score a goal.

Montreal fans can be ruthless. They are serious about their hockey, obviously. So they were clamoring for a shakeup to the roster. So what do they get? Try a trade of Brock Trotter and a seventh-round pick to the Coyotes for Petteri Nokelainen and Garrett Stafford. I'm sure that's exactly what the Habs fans had in mind.

At the least, they expect playoff appearances in Montreal. So the longer the Habs wallow out of the gate, the more pressure coach Jacques Martin will feel.

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 1:55 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 2:54 pm
 

Blue Jackets put Jeff Carter (broken foot) on IR

By Brian Stubits

This is not how Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson envisioned this season starting out.

The team is one of only two who are winless (along with the Rangers) and one of his two star pickups -- James Wisniewski -- in the offseason still hasn't played because of a suspension. So just when they begin to think things can't get any worse ...

Jeff Carter, who was already doubtful for Tuesday's game against the Dallas Stars, is undoubtedly out. He'll also miss the next couple of games after the Blue Jackets placed him on injured reserve with a hairline fracture in his foot, an injury he sustained by blocking a shot.

“He’s got a broken bone,” coach Scott Arniel said. “Now it’s all about pain tolerance. ... It’s stabilized, but it’s still pretty tender.

“Until he can get a boot on that foot and be able to push with it, we’re in wait-and-see mode.”

Carter was brought in to give the top line in Columbus some serious juice, figuring a combination of Carter and Rich Nash would be lethal. But so far, Carter, who had at least 33 goals in each of the last three seasons, has been held scoreless. He leads the league in a not-so flattering statistic, most shots on goal (20) without scoring. But he does have three assists and a plus-1 rating.

The fracture occurred on a bone that was already bruised from training camp and where he had a steel plate inserted to fix a broken bone while with the Flyers.

Aaron Portzline at the Columbus Dispatch points out that Carter continuing on despite pain hasn't helped matters in the past.

But Carter’s willingness to play through pain might be part of the problem. He missed only a couple of days of training camp -- and one exhibition game -- after suffering the injury last month.

“If you can play with pain, you play,” said Rick Curran, Carter’s agent. “Jeff has proven in the past that he’s quite willing to do that, possibly to the detriment of the injury itself.

“At some point, when you have the same injury recurring, it’s necessary to sit back and let it heal properly. At this point, I think it’s premature to say what should happen.”

By putting him on the IR and thus sidelining him out at least a week, there will be no temptation to gut it out here. Columbus will need Carter around for the rest of the season if they want to rebound from the sluggish start.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 14, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 5:29 pm
 

Jumping to conclusions and the early NHL season

CBJ1

By: Adam Gretz

We're a little over a week into the regular season which means it's only natural to start jumping to conclusions based on a small sampling of games or head coaching decisions, and we're all guilty of it. Sometimes your initial knee-jerk reaction is accurate, and teams or players are as good or bad as they appear this early in the season, and other times it proves to be way too soon for such a judgement.

What about the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the three teams in the NHL that has yet to win a game this season as of Friday afternoon. After an exciting summer of big-name acquisitions (Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski) is it still more of the same for an organization that has known nothing but losing since entering the NHL a decade ago? Or is it just a slow start hindered by the fact that one of those players (Wisniewski) has yet to appear in a game?

Is there really a goaltending controversy in Washington because Michal Neuvirth started the first game of the season instead of Tomas Vokoun? And is Vokoun really thee guy the Capitals can trust after struggling through his first start? Is Brendan Shanhan's early season run of suspensions going to be overkill?

In the spirit of Tom Symkowski and his Jump To Conclusions Mat in Office Space, we're going to jump to our own conclusions on those -- and more -- early season storylines .

1) New Look, Same Old Blue Jackets

Our Conclusion: Too soon

A lot of the Blue Jackets success (or lack of success) this season will depend on how well goaltender Steve Mason plays, and so far, it's been a less-than-inspiring start for Columbus and its young goaltender.

But it's too soon to think these are the same old Blue Jackets.

For one, Wisniewski is still serving his suspension that runs through the first eight games of the regular season, and that has definitely been a big blow to the Jackets' lineup. Wisniewski is expected to be -- and will be -- one of Columbus' top-defensemen and anytime you're playing without that sort of presence in your lineup it's going to have a negative impact. The biggest issue for Columbus so far, and an area Wisniewski should certainly help improve once he returns to the lineup, has been its  dreadful power play, which is currently off to an 0-for-20 start. This should get better when Wisniewski returns, and while the playoffs still aren't a given this season, the Blue Jackets are going to improve and take a step forward.

2) Tomas Vokoun Isn't The Answer For Washington/Capitals Goaltending Controversy

Our Conclusion: Crazy talk. And Way Too Soon

When Michal Neuvirth received the opening night start over free agent acquisition Tomas Vokoun it started the discussion as to whether or not the Washington Capitals had a goaltender controversy on their hands. When Vokoun earned his first start of the season in game No. 2 and struggled during a shootout win against Tampa Bay, allowing five goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were concerns that he's not the answer in goal for Washington.

Traditionally Vokoun has been a slow starter throughout his career. Tim Greenberg of the Washington Post, for example, recently pointed out that October has been the worst month of Vokoun's career from a save percentage perspective, and generally plays better as the season progresses. He already rebounded on Thursday during the Capitals' 3-2 win in Pittsburgh with a strong performance that saw him make 39 saves, giving his team a chance to pick up two points in the standings.

Vokoun has been one of the best goalies in the NHL in recent years, and even at 35, should have enough left in the tank to help form one of the better goaltending duos in the NHL with Neuvirth. And both will get the fair share of starts throughout the season.

3) Buffalo is a Stanley Cup contender

Our Conclusion: Probably Accurate

The Sabres were already a playoff caliber team with plenty of excitement around them heading into the regular season, and a pair of impressive wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the season in Europe did nothing to hurt that. The Sabres have one of the NHL's best goalies in Ryan Miller and boosted their defense over the summer with Christian Ehrhoff and, perhaps their best offseason addition, Robyn Regehr, to go along with Tyler Myers.

They were already a top-10 team a year ago offensively -- even with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford missing extended time due to injury -- and only added to that firepower up front by signing Ville Leino to help complement their already impressive group of forwards.

With that type of scoring depth, a trio of defensemen like Myers, Regehr and Ehrhoff, and a goaltender like Miller the Sabres should be one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

4) Ilya Bryzgalov Will Be Philadelphia's Savior

Our Conclusion: Too Soon

The Philadelphia Flyers finally have their No. 1 goalie and in his first two starts managed to allow just one goal. Problem solved, right? Maybe.

I'm still not sure he's going to be enough to get Philadelphia it's long-awaited Stanley Cup, and for as much as the Flyers revolving door of goaltenders was criticized last season, they were still in the top-half of the league in save percentage and not that far below what Bryzgalov put up in Phoenix's tight defensive system.

It's not that Philadelphia isn't a good team defensively, but I have some concerns over the age -- and and durability -- of their top-two defensemen, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, I'm just not sure Bryzgalov is going to be enough of an upgrade to make up for what Philadelphia lost up front this summer.

5) Brendan Shanahan Will Be Too Quick On The Suspension Trigger

Our Conclusion: It's simply been the adjustment period.

New rules (or new wording of one of the rules -- rule 48) and a new person in charge of handing out discipline led to a sudden spike in suspensions during the preseason and sky is falling fears that hitting and all physical contact will be removed from the game. It's no different than when we came out of the lockout when the league put an emphasis on eliminating clutch-and-grab hockey and we saw a sudden spike in penalties, which eventually started to regress once players adjusted to the rules. The same thing will happen with Shanahan and the suspensions. The hammer will be dropped early as players figure out what they can and can not do, and once they adjust, business will go on as usual.

Photo: Getty Images

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

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