Tag:Martin St. Louis
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: July 14, 2011 1:35 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2011 1:46 pm
 

Recovering Pacioretty plays in charity game

By Brian Stubits

Max Pacioretty's recovery from his vicious hit into a stanchion last season took another step this week, albeit a "weird" one.

Pacioretty suited up and played all of his shifts in the Big Assist annual charity game (it benefits the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation, which works to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries and diseases), skating with Martin St. Louis from the Lightning and Matt Moulson of the Islanders. The Canadiens forward even got on the score sheet, netting a goal and a few assists.

Most importantly, though, it was his first competitive action since he was hospitalized after the hit from Zdeno Chara. A charity game doesn't exactly compare to the rigors of an NHL game, but it's still a step.

"It felt ... I don't know, I guess it just felt weird," Pacioretty said following the game. "It was weird at first, but as the game went on I think I felt a little more comfortable, and I'm looking forward now to gaining some momentum off of that.

"I had a lot of time off since my injury, and now I'm just working on putting on muscle and trying to get as big and as fast as possible,"

The Canadiens would love to have Pacioretty back and fully healthy for next season. The native of Connecticut was enjoying his best season of his young career last year before it ended with just 37 games played. In that time, though, he scored 14 goals and added 10 more assists for Montreal, easily surpassing his totals of 3-11=14 in 54 games two seasons ago.

Ever since the injury, Pacioretty has been vocal about not wanting any more discipline for Chara and that he just wanted to move on. He's sticking by that stance.

"The past is the past, and I can dwell on it as much as I want, but that will do me no good," he said. "So I'm going to do everything I can to work toward the future and get ready for next year."

Photo: Getty Images

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


Posted on: July 7, 2011 7:37 pm
Edited on: July 8, 2011 11:46 am
 

Improvement your team needs to make the playoffs

By: Adam Gretz

Under the direction of first year coach Guy Boucher and the front office leadership of Steve Yzerman, the Tampa Bay Lightning made a 23-point improvement in the standings from 2009-10 to 2010-11. That improvement was enough to take them from the 12th spot in the Eastern Conference in 2009 to the No. 5 playoff seed in 2010.

From there, the Lightning eliminated the top two favorites in the East -- Pittsburgh and Washington -- and took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins to a seventh game in the Conference Finals, falling one goal short of completing what would have been an almost improbable run to the finals.

Perhaps even more impressive than the jump in the standings was how much they improved their goal differential from one season to the next.

During the 2009-10 campaign the Lightning were outscored by 43 goals over the course of the season, the third-worst mark in the league. In 2010-11, the Lightning actually outscored their opponents by seven goals, which was an improvement of 50 goals, the largest jump in the entire league. The second-best improvement belonged to Boston, which improved its differential by 45 goals (going from plus-6 to plus-51).

The 1-3-1 system of Boucher, an MVP-caliber season from Martin St. Louis, the continued development of Steven Stamkos and a number of astute additions (like the mid-season trade for goaltender Dwayne Roloson) helped the Lightning to score 30 more goals and allow 20 fewer than they did the previous year.

A team's goal differential is important. The more you outscore your opponents the more games you're going to win and the more points you're going to accumulate in the standings. Every team that made the playoffs this past season had a positive goal differential, and of the 16 teams, 10 of them outscored their opponents by at least 20 goals. I've found in recent years that tends to be the magic number to pretty much guarantee yourself a spot in the playoffs.

Since the 1999-00 season 113 teams have finished the regular season with a goal differential of plus-20 or better, with 111 of them qualifying for the playoffs. The only two clubs that didn't were the 2006-07 Avalanche, which missed the postseason by one point in the standings (every team that qualified ahead of them in the Western Conference had a better goal differential) and the 2000-01 Oilers, who missed by two points in the standings.

Over the past two offseasons I've taken the non-playoff teams and looked at how much of an improvement they needed to make in order to reach that magic number, and here's an updated list taking a look at last year's non-playoff team and how much they will need to improve to hit the plus-20 mark. Keep in mind, it is possible to make the playoffs with a mark worse than that, but we're just looking at what it's going to take to all but guarantee a trip to the postseason.

Improving goal differential
Team 2010-11 Differential Improvement Needed
Calgary Flames +13 +7
St. Louis Blues +6 +14
Carolina Hurricanes -3 +23
Dallas Stars -6 +26
Minnesota Wild -27 +47
Toronto Maple Leafs -33 +53
Florida Panthers -34 +54
New Jersey Devils -35 +55
New York Islanders -35 +55
Columbus Blue Jackets -43 +63
Winnipeg Jets -46 +66
Ottawa Senators -58 +78
Colorado Avalanche -61 +81
Edmonton Oilers -76 +96

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

Posted on: March 17, 2011 4:25 am
Edited on: March 17, 2011 11:00 am
 

Morning Skate: NHL won't enter no-spin zone

You can understand why Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford immediately raised his stick in protest after Tampa Bay Lightning's Martin St. Louis did his twirl between the circles and scored on a shootout last week. 

"It was pretty close," Crawford told  ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers . "It looked like maybe he stopped for a second and then kept going. They think they made the right decision so we just have to live with it."




A player can stop during the shootout as long as the puck keeps moving forward. USA TODAY’s Kevin Allen reports that NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell will attempt to clarify that rule. 

"The hard part is interpreting the puck stopping and it will be interpreted by video review," Campbell said. "When we first introduced shootouts the challenge was they were new and we had a number of questions to answer. This is one of the last lingering questions, what's acceptable and what is not."

Line Changes
The Pittsburgh contingent is not a fan of the spin. 

"It's about entertainment, I understand that," Pittsburgh general manager Ray Sherosaid. "But when I see Pavel Datsyuk on the shootout, he is probably the most entertaining player I've seen, and he's never done a spinorama."


In a week where (baby) steps were taken to limit concussions, this seems like a minor matter to fiddle with -- especially since shootouts are limited to the regular season. But for those teams competing for the last few slots in each conference, that extra point means something this time of year. 

EXPANDED REVIEW: Some general managers on the final day of their meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., expressed interest for video review of double minor  high-sticking calls, according to The Canadian Press
"We've had situations where on video review it's the other player's stick and it's a hard call on the ice," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior vice-president and director of hockey operations. "We said we can live with it for 82 games, but in the playoffs that's a pretty big turnaround if you get the wrong call. The referees have supported us on that, they would like some help on that.

"That's our plea in hockey operations." It appears the biggest issue to be worked out is whether a video review would be triggered by referees, a coach's challenge or automatically with every double minor for high-sticking assessed.


WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS
Toronto 3, Carolina 1  
Detroit 3, Washington 2  
Vancouver 4, Colorado 2
Anaheim 2, St. Louis 1
Posted on: March 14, 2011 4:29 pm
Edited on: March 14, 2011 4:54 pm
 

Playoff Watch: Toronto nearing must-win territory



Tampa Bay Lightning (38-22-9) at Toronto Maple Leafs (30-29-10)


Air Canada Centre, 7 pm ET 

SERIES: Tampa 3-0-0; Toronto 0-2-1

IMPLICATIONS: Tampa can pull within a point of fourth-place Pittsburgh in the conference standings and to within three points of Southeast Division-leading Washington. Toronto can climb back within fourth points of eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. 

BREAKDOWN: The Maple Leafs aren’t just looking to just avoid a season sweep by the Lightning. A victory is nearly a must to keep pace in the hyper-competitive East. There is currently one team (Carolina) between the Leafs and the eighth-place New York Rangers and there will only be a dozen games left on Toronto’s schedule after tonight. With the Atlanta Thrashers and a resurgent New Jersey Devils team on their tail, the Leafs might not to want to squander this home tilt.

Tampa has shut out the Toronto in each of the last two meetings and the Lightning have outscored the Leafs 10-3 overall this season. Martin St. Louis, Simon Gagne and Steven Stamkos each have two goals and an assist versus Toronto this season. The Lightning enter on a two-game skid. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Tampa Bay D Eric Brewer vs. Toronto D Dion Phaneuf. Brewer played more than 25 minutes in Saturday’s loss to Florida and he can expect a heavy workload again tonight. This is the final game the Lightning will be without defenseman Pavel Kubina, who was suspended three games for his hit to the head of Chicago’s Dave Bolland. Phaneuf, Toronto’s captain, logs nearly 25 minutes a game himself has thrown 161 shots on net, but only has four goals to show for it -- only two more than a season ago when he was limited to 26 games due to injury. 

KEY STAT: 26.4. The average age of Toronto’s roster, the third-youngest in the NHL. 

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