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Tag:James Neal
Posted on: December 21, 2011 2:12 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 2:18 pm
 

The most dangerous player in hockey right now

malkinBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin is back, and right now it looks as if the Pittsburgh Penguins are his team.

When Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup last month the discussion immediately focussed on whether or not he could win the NHL's scoring title, despite missing the first 20-plus games of the season. As it turns out, Malkin is the Penguins forward we should have been looking at all along.

Thanks to his three-assist performance during a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, which came after a five-point destruction of the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend, Malkin moved into a tie for the top spot in the NHL scoring race with 39 points, catching Toronto's Phil Kessel, despite missing six games of his own.

Right now there isn't a more dangerous offensive player in the league, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Penguins.

For the second year in a row the Pittsburgh roster has been crushed by injuries and on any given night has had some combination of Crosby, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, among many others, sidelined due to various ailments and injuries. Even with all of that, the team has a continued to pile up wins and stay near the top of the conference standings and have the look of a top Stanley Cup contender. Head coach Dan Bylsma certainly deserves a lot of credit for that, as does the Penguins front office, led by general manager Ray Shero, for having the type of organizational depth that allows the team to handle so many injuries to so many key players.

But it also doesn't hurt to have a player like Malkin, one of the most talented and skilled players in the world, that is always capable of taking over a game. And that's exactly what he's been doing for the Penguins this year. For much of this season he's been playing on a line with James Neal and free agent acquisition Steve Sullivan. When the Penguins acquired Neal last season it was done so under the assumption that he would eventually be the goal-scoring winger the Penguins have long been searching for to put alongside Crosby. But with Crosby missing so much time due to injury, Neal has found a home on Malkin's line, and along with Sullivan, have formed a trio that has been Pittsburgh's best on a nightly basis.

"I thought his line in particular, I know Geno is the big guy on that line, but their line played very well in the first," said Bylsma after Tuesday's game. "They attacked in every chance they got over the boards at 5-on-5, and on the power play. They were putting pucks behind and playing in the offensive zone and on the attack."

A couple of years ago Malkin was one of the players consistently mentioned in the "best player in the world" discussion, along with Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. He won the scoring title during the 2008-09 season and then followed it up with a Conn Smythe performance in the postseason as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

But over the past two seasons his production dropped a bit, perhaps due to lingering injuries, and then he missed the last half of the 2010-11 campaign, as well as the playoffs, due to a knee injury that he suffered when Buffalo's Tyler Myers awkwardly fell on his leg during a game last January. Because Malkin has always played second chair in Pittsburgh to Crosby, the face of the franchise, his name has always been the one that's been brought up in absurd trade rumors and baseless speculation for a wide range of reasons (I've brought this up before, but just google "Evgeni Malkin Trade" and start reading), including but not always limited to salary cap concerns, the need to acquire a goal-scoring winger, and, well, pretty much anything that anybody could throw against the wall in the hopes that it would stick. It never did, and for good reason.

Even though Malkin is the "No. 2" center in Pittsburgh (it's probably more of a 1A and 1B deal) when the team is at 100 percent, he has always had a knack for elevating his game when Crosby is out of the lineup. He did it during the 2007-08 season when Crosby missed extended time due to an ankle injury that came after he fell into the boards, and he's doing it again this season. On a per-game average he's actually scoring at a higher rate right now than he was during the '08-09 season when he won his Art Ross Trophy.

 "Geno has been a force offensively," said Bylsma on Tuesday. "But he's also a guy we're counting on to play against other teams top lines right now, and he's been good at both ends of the rink. He's been powerful and making plays and driving. He's going to have probably 10 scoring chances again with how he's dominating and how he's playing."

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 10, 2011 9:07 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2011 9:29 pm
 

Travis Hamonic was ejected for this play

By: Adam Gretz

With the Islanders leading, 3-2, midway through the secod period one of their top defenseman, Travis Hamonic, was assessed a five-minute major for elbowing as well as a game misconduct for a hit on Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. The call resulted in a two-man advantage for the Penguins that included the game-tying goal from James Neal, his second goal of the game.

After watching the replay, it's difficult to see why Hamonic was penalized, let alone ejected.

You can check out the play by clicking right here.

Orpik did leave the ice and head to the locker room, later returning with a noticable cut on the top part of his nose. But based on that look it appears to be the result of his own stick hitting him in the face rather than Hamonic's Elbow, which doesn't appear to make any contact with Orpik's head.

Bad call that shouldn't result in any additional punishment (or even a look) from the NHL.

Pittsburgh went on to win the game, 6-3.

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

Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:16 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2011 12:37 pm
 

Penguins to face old friends without Crosby

jagrsmile

By: Adam Gretz


One of the most anticipated matchups of the regular season finally takes place on Thursday night as cross-state rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia face off at the Wells Fargo Center. These games are always a highlight of both team's schedules, and usually involve some level of on-ice chaos.

This time around, it's the first meeting between the two teams since the Flyers' dip into the free agency pool over the summer that included their signings of former Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot.

Talbot was a playoff hero for the Penguins in recent years, scoring two goals in their Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, helping the team claim its third Stanley Cup title. There was also his famous silencing of the crowd in Philadelphia earlier that postseason following his fight with Daniel Carcillo in a Game 6 series clinching win.

And the there's the Jagr angle. He is still the second greatest player in franchise history, and a large part of the first two championships the team won in the early 90s, and all of that is going to get overshadowed for the foreseaable future, or at least as long as he wears the Flyers orange and black, because of what happened over the summer.

By now, you're probably already familiar with how it all went down, but if you're not, a quick refresher: After spending three years playing in the KHL, Jagr was ready to make a return to the NHL and the Penguins were one of the teams interested. What followed was a highly publicized free agency courtship between them and the Detroit Red Wings, before both teams ultimately backed out of the bidding with Jagr signing a one-year pact with Pittsburgh's fiercest rival, essentially burning every bridge that wasn't already burned when he asked for a trade out of Pittsburgh 10 years ago.

And with that, the stage is set for Thursday night, even if it seems to mean more to the fans of the two teams (especially the Penguins fans) than it does for the players on the ice.

Three talking points heading into Thursday's game:

1) Matchup with Jagr more for Penguins fans than Penguins players: Regarding the Penguins' first meeting with Jagr since his signing with Philadelphia, defenseman Brooks Orpik said, via Josh Yohe of the Tribune-Review, "I think this whole thing is more for the fans. I've been here the longest of anyone, and I've never played with him. Had one training camp with him — that was it."

And that's probably accurate. When Jagr last suited up for the Penguins, players like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and James Neal were all under the age of 14. Defenseman Simon Despres would have been 10 years old, and none of the players on the roster played a single game with him in the NHL.

After they missed out on Jagr, the Penguins ended up signing veteran forward Steve Sullivan who has spent most of this season playing on a line with James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. He hasn't been Jagr, but he's been solid with 12 points in 28 games.
More On Penguins-Flyers

2) With Jagr, the Flyers can still score ... a lot: Two months into the season and Jagr has proven he can still play at a high level, even at the age of 39, averaging a point-per-game with nine goals and 13 assists in his first 22 games this season, playing mostly on a line with the NHL's current leading scorer, Claude Giroux. The additions of Jagr and Talbot were part of a summer-long re-tooling by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, and while it seemed that goaltending would finally become a strength (or at least, no longer be a glaring weakness) with the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, it's the offense that's continued to carry the Flyers, even in the absence of defenseman Chris Pronger.

The Flyers, at this point, have silenced any doubt as to whether or not they have enough offense following the losses of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino to compete for a top spot in the East, currently putting the highest-scoring team in the NHL out on the ice. Giroux has been everything the Flyers could have hoped that he would be at their top-scoring option, while rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier have played large roles.

3) Sidney Crosby Isn't Playing And Nobody Knows Why: When the Penguins announced on Wednesday that Sidney Crosby will miss the next two games (including Thursday's game in Philadelphia) it was assumed that it was a result of his center ice collision with teammate Chris Kunitz. And while that wouldn't have been good news, it would have been better than worrying about whether or not it was a head injury. But that may not be the case. As Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers pointed out on Thursday, Crosby took several hits during what was an extremely physical game with the Boston Bruins on Monday, including an elbow from David Krejci (poor video quality by clicking here). Because the Penguins were so vague with their description, saying only that he "took a hard hit," and because NHL teams guard injury information like it's gold in Fort Knox, we're left to guess as to which play has him sidelined "as a precaution."

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

Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:15 pm
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Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:53 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 10:43 am
 

Tracking Crosby: How he was utilized in debut



By: Adam Gretz

One of the biggest questions heading into Monday's Penguins and Islanders game was the number of minutes Sidney Crosby would play. The early estimates started off as low as 12 or 13, while it was pretty much a given that he wouldn't see anywhere near the 20 or 21 minutes he's averaged throughout his career.

When all was said and done, Crosby ended up playing a total of 15 minutes and 54 seconds over 21 shifts.

Here's how it looked:

Even-Strength Ice Time (11:29) -- When the Penguins acquired James Neal last season it was pretty much assumed that it was done for the purpose of eventually putting him with Crosby. And who knows, that may very well happen at some point. But with the way Neal has developed chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan, the Penguins are apparently in no hurry to break up a line that's working. So for the majority of his 21 shifts on Monday, Crosby centered the Penguins' top line between wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, as he has done throughout much of the previous two seasons. During those 11 minutes he recorded seven shots on goal (an incredible rate), scoring both of his goals, while also assisting on Brooks Orpik's second goal of the season. He also managed to draw a penalty when Milan Jurcina was sent off for cross-checking in the first period.

More on Sidney Crosby

Power Play Ice Time (4:23) -- During the Penguins' four power plays Bylsma responded each time by sending Crosby's unit out there to open the shift in the offensive zone. The Penguins power play, which struggled to score goals last season and through their opening round playoff loss to Tampa Bay, ended up finishing the night 1-for-4 with Crosby assisting on Malkin's power play tally at the 3:17 mark of the second period.

Faceoffs And Zone Starts -- When asked how conscious he was of where Crosby's shifts were starting, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma responded with, "I wasn't that conscious of that situation, more of the opponent he was playing against. However, he was winning a lot of his draws and When we could get him out there in that situation to win draws we did do that. He ends the game winning 15 of his draws, that's a lot. He picked up kind of where he left so we were using him in that situation."

Crosby ended the night winning 15 of his 21 faceoffs, a success rate of over 67 percent. This is one area of his game that Crosby made huge improvements in over the past two seasons and Bylsma utilized him in all three zones:

Offensive Zone Faceoffs: Seven (4-for-7 on faceoffs)
Neutral Zone Faceoffs: Six (5-for-6 on faceoffs)
Defensive Zone Faceoffs: Eight (6-for-8 on faceoffs)

Given that the Penguins were the home team and had the last line change, they were able to dictate who was out there against him for the most part, and did a good job of having him avoid New York's top defenseman, Mark Streit, as well as avoiding the Islanders' best defensive forward, Frans Nielsen, during even strength situations.

His most common opponent in the faceoff circle was Josh Bailey, whom he beat on four of eight draws. He was 5-for-5 against Nielsen, with all of them coming on the power play, and 4-for-6 against Marty Reasoner.

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

Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Injury watch: Goligoski, Visnovsky out

By: Adam Gretz

A pair of Pacific Division teams suffered a some rather large injuries on Friday night that will certainly test their depth on the blue line. The Dallas Stars will be without Alex Goligoski for a month due to a broken thumb, while Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky will be sidelined for a similar length of time due to a busted finger.

Goligoski suffered his injury on Friday night during his return trip to Pittsburgh, against the team that traded him last season in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen, after playing just six minutes during a 3-1 loss. Following the game Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said he expected Goligoski to be out for an extended period of time, while the defenseman's hand was heavily taped.

In 15 games this season Goligoski has scored two goals to go with four assists, and it's a big loss for a Dallas team that allows a significant number of shots on a nightly basis. His 21 minutes per game is the fourth highest average on the team, trailing only Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Sheldon Souray.

Meanwhile, the Ducks announced on Saturday that Visnovsky is expected to miss four weeks after he was struck by a puck late in the third period of their 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Visnovsky had a career year for Anaheim last season, leading all NHL defensemen in scoring with 68 points. So far this season he's scored just one goal to go with three assists in 16 games.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle recently told Eric Stephens of the OC Register that he thinks Visnovsky is taking too many chances and needs to let the game come to him. Unfortunately, he's going to have to wait a few weeks before he has a chance to do that.

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

Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 5:36 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Ducks searching for wakeup call

By Brian Stubits

Weekend schedule: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

You know it's bad when we're still early in November and the Anaheim Ducks call a closed-doors meeting. It stinks almost as much as the Avalanche calling Thursday's tilt against the Islanders a "must-win game." They did, barely (4-3 in OT).

But desperate times call for desperate measures. And right now, things are getting close to desperate in Orange County. The Ducks are the coldest team in hockey having lost six in a row. In a world without the overtime loser point, Anaheim is 5-10. That is not good.

"You have to eliminate any confusion, any doubt before you can take the next step forward," Carlyle said about the meeting.

"A lot of times coaches are talking and nobody says a word and you go to the ice and say, 'Well, I don't think that's work[ing]," Teemu Selanne offered. "It's important that the players can give their input also about the situation. It was really good. It was really honest conversations. I think it was a huge step forward."

They better get things figured out quickly. With Dallas playing as well as it is and San Jose in the division, the Ducks could dig themselves a hole too tough to get out of. They have the fewest goals scored and the most goals surrendered in the Pacific Division. In 15 games they have 29 goals, that's less than two goals per game.

How can a team with Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Selanne be struggling to score this much? Well presumably that's what the closed-door meeting was for.

I can't help but think it's the lack of power of the mustache. Since the month of Movember came around and the Ducks all began growing out their best 'staches, the team hasn't won a game. This is making me rethink my entire stance on the world. Here I was holding the mustache in such high esteem.

Or maybe it could be more rationally explained by figuring out where Lubomir Visnovsky has gone? The defenseman who had 18 goals and 50 assists last season has just four points (1-3=4) in 15 games and is a minus-9. Him finding his game would go a long way in helping the Ducks remove the ugly from their game.

So who do they get to try their presumably new tactics against first? How about the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night? Just the team for a struggling squad to face (the still-not-invented sarcasm font was on there).

But that's not all for the weekend. On Sunday the Ducks welcome the last team they beat, the Minnesota Wild. Of course since that win, these two teams have flipped their fortunes. The Ducks have become the coldest team this side of Columbus while Minnesota has been red hot.

SoCal struggles, Part II: This was supposed to be the season the Los Angeles Kings stepped forward, made a run for the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. It obviously still could be, the season is only a short way in. But right now they could use a swift kick in the rear to get in gear.

Los Angeles has followed a 5-1-1 start with a 2-5-2 stretch, including a five-game losing streak that has people wondering if the boot isn't being polished up before delivering the kick. After all, the Kings have not scored more than three goals in 13 of their 16 games. For a team that acquired an offensive talent like Mike Richards to go with a solid group already, that's not going to cut it.

"The offense, certainly myself at the top of the list, should be scoring more, getting to the net," Justin Williams said following Thursday's loss.

So do you put the blame for the struggling stretch on coach Terry Murray? After all, head coaches are always the first scapegoat. I find it hard to blame Murray. He's trying all that he can, mixing and matching the lines to try and create a spark. But as they always say, you can't really fire the players. I mean you can, but it's a lot more difficult.

One of the issues right now is the play of Jonathan Quick. Remember that shutout streak back in October? That's a thing of the past. In his last six starts, Quick has zero wins. He is giving up nearly three goals per game in that stretch.

About the only thing going well right now for L.A. is the play of Drew Doughty. His game has been on point recently with five points in the last three games.

Like their SoCal neighbors in the O.C., the chance to get on the right track will come against the Wild, Saturday night at Staples Center. Oh, Minnesota enters the game having won five of the last six.

What the ....? You know who's not struggling? The first-place Florida Panthers. Yes, you read that right, first-place Panthers.

Dale Tallon threw together a team that everybody anticipated would struggle to jell, but it came together like jell-o. The Panthers have tallied a point in six consecutive games, including back-to-back wins on the road in Toronto and Winnipeg.

If they want to make it seven straight, they will have to get through the Flyers, who are in Sunrise on Sunday.

This is where I'd like to spread a little love on Kris Versteeg, the forward who is on his fourth team in a two-year span -- the one before the Panthers being the Flyers. He has apparently found the right fit and is scoring at a pace of better than a point per game, leading the Cats with 17 points in 15 games. Brian Campbell hasn't been too shabby either with 15 points in 15 games.

The surprises are all around on one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season. Jason Garrison is a sniper from the blue line? Who knew? But he's tied with Nicklas Lidstrom in the NHL lead for goals among defensemen with six. Jose Theodore can still be effective as a No. 1 goalie? Just talk to the folks in the Washington press box to see how hard that is to believe.

There's no telling how long this will last. First place in a division with the Capitals is asking a lot. But with a start like this, they can at least dream of ending that 10-year playoff drought in Florida.

Texas two-step: Want to know if the Dallas Stars are really as good as their 11-3-0 record indicates? Other than the fact that you are what your record says you are, as Bill Parcells would say, the Stars are in the midst of about as tough a three-game road stretch you can conjure up in the NHL.

They already went through the Capitals, handing them their first loss in D.C. this season. Now they have back-to-back games starting Friday in Pittsburgh. The game was viewed as a potential return date for Sidney Crosby, but that's not happening now. However it is still the top two teams in each conference and James Neal vs. the team that traded him.

If that's not enough, Dallas will take the trip to Detroit where the Red Wings await on Saturday.

I'm not sure how many more tests the Stars have to pass before this start and this team is believed to be for real by the masses. It might be already. I know I'm a believer. But just to be safe, a few more points in this weekend double-dip couldn't hurt.

The Bruins got their groove back: It only took a month, but now the Boston Bruins are showing the form the hockey world expected. After all, ask Boston fans and they will tell you last season was just a whole heaping of bonus -- this was the season when they were expected to be legitimate Cup contenders.

The team that in the early going couldn't score now can't stop scoring. Especially in bunches. Five times in the month of November the Bruins scored two goals within 49 seconds of one another. Five times!

Without a doubt, the most impressive player has been Tyler Seguin. The sophomore is showing why there was such a debate between himself and Taylor Hall before the 2010 draft. He is so quick and always seem to get his stick on the puck near the net.

The above items considered, it should come then as no surprise that the Bruins have won four games in a row and are streaking into their game against Northeast Division foe Buffalo.

The question there is which Sabres goalie will be entrusted with slowing down this now potent Bruins attack? That’s the question every day now in Buffalo where at the moment -- and I stress at the moment -- the goaltending job is a 50/50 proposition between Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. If Miller gets the call, it could be a tough situation to find a slump-busting performance.

Defense rules

The Tampa Bay defense, specifically the 1-3-1 trap that coach Guy Boucher loves to use, is the topic of the week in the NHL. The crux of the issue: people want to see more scoring, less stalling.

If that describes you, maybe you should find something else to do on Saturday night when the Lightning and St. Louis Blues meet. Offense might not be too plentiful.

With Ken Hitchcock now on the St. Louis bench and his preference to play a defensive-minded game, it could be a pretty slow and plodding game. Nothing as bad as the scene on Wednesday night, but still not offense friendly. In the two games under Hitchcock, the Blues have given up two goals.

Of course after all this you can now expect for the teams to hit the over.

Photo: US Presswire

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

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.

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