Tag:Colorado Avalanche
Posted on: January 28, 2012 5:00 pm
Edited on: January 28, 2012 5:03 pm
 

Players we would like to see in skills challenge



By: Adam Gretz

The video above features Mike Ribeiro of the Dallas Stars scoring an absolutely insane shootout goal against the Colorado Avalanche a couple of years ago. It's a pretty amazing goal, leaving then-Avs goalie Peter Budaj completely confused. Throughout his career, Ribeiro has made a habit out of scoring highlight reel goals during the regular season skills competition that is otherwise known as the shootout.

He seems like he would be the type of player that would excel in the All-Star skills competition, particularly any of the breakaway challenges. But because he's not an All-Star this year, we don't get an opportunity to see what he's fully capable of when the spotlight is on. The NBA brings in players that aren't on the All-Star rosters to take part in their skills competition, and I wouldn't mind seeing the NHL try something similar.

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at some of the players not in the All-Star game this season that could be favorites to win the various events, or at the very least, put up a solid showing.

Fastest Skater

1. Darren Helm, Detroit Red Wings
2. Andrew Cogliano, Anaheim Ducks
3. Mason Raymond, Vancouver Canucks

Cogliano has actually already won this event, taking it back in 2009 with a time of 14.31 seconds, but I would put Helm up against any other skater in the league in terms of pure speed. He doesn't score much, but everything he does on the ice, including his penalty killing, seems to be a complete blur.

Accuracy Shooting

1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
2. Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals
3. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres

Kind of a tough one to figure out, and it's not as easy as simply looking at a players shooting percentage because that doesn't necessarily mean a player with a high number is an "accurate" shooter, but Kovalchuk and Semin are obvious snipers that can pick their spots and hit the corners from anywhere in the offensive zone.

Hardest Shot

1. Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks
2. Jason Garrison, Florida Panthers
3. Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars

Jason Garrison has more goals than any other defenseman in the NHL this season with 13, and eight of them have come by way of his booming slap shot, more than any other player in the league. I don't know if he has what it takes to challenge Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber, but I imagine he could put up some impressive numbers, and the same could be said for Salo. At the Canucks team skills competition earlier this week he hit 102 MPH, which would have been harder than any other participant in last year's event with the exception of Chara and Weber.

Breakaway Challenge

1. Mike Riberio, Dallas Stars
2. Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings
3. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets

We already addressed what Riberio can bring to the table, but when the Red Wings are involved in a shootout they tend to be quality entertainment, not only because of the presence of Pavel Datsyuk, always a human highlight reel, but also because of Todd Bertuzzi, who has some pretty underrated skill. It's not uncommon to see him bust out the spin-o-rama move, but he has quite a few additional tricks up his sleeve as well. And don't underestimate the skill and hands that Rick Nash has for a big, power forward.

Any other players that didn't participate this season that you would like to see?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 26, 2012 7:45 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 7:45 pm
 

NHL playoff race at the All-Star break

NHLPlayoffRaceAllStarBreakBy: Adam Gretz

Back in December I looked at the teams you could probably consider as being out of the playoff race at that point in the season, and how difficult it would be to overcome a slow start, even a quarter of the way through the schedule. Obviously, as you get deeper into the season teams that are on the outside of the playoff picture have an even more difficult time climbing back into it. Those points are tough to make up, and by the time you reach this point in the season you start to get an idea as to which teams are good, and which teams are not.

As we head into the All-Star break this weekend, we're a just passed the halfway point in the season, and in the Eastern Conference there are probably only two teams that currently sit outside of the top-eight that can still be considered to be in the playoff face: Toronto and Winnipeg.

The Maple Leafs are currently in a three-way tie with New Jersey and Florida with 55 points, but lose out on a tiebreaker. The Jets are barely holding on to their slim postseason hopes, trailing both the No. 8 seed, as well as the top spot in the Southeast Division, by five points.

The other teams in the East? See you guys next season.

The Western Conference has a few more teams still in contention as Colorado, Dallas, Calgary and Phoenix are all within three points of the current No. 8 seed, the Minnesota Wild. But even though some of those teams are still within striking distance, the bottom of the playoff picture in the west has a logjob of six teams (Los Angeles, Minnesota, and the four teams mentioned above) fighting for just two spots.

It's not just the fact you have to make up the points, but that you also have to jump over a number of teams, as well.

To get an idea as to how difficult a point deficit of even three or four points is to overcome at this point in the season, I went back over the standings at the past three All-Star breaks (not counting the 2010 season, as there was no All-Star game that year due to the Olympics). Of the 48 teams that held a top-eight spot at that point in the season, 40 of them went on to make the playoffs.

Of the eight teams that worked their way into a playoff spot over the remainder of the season, only two of them overcome a deficit of more than two points -- the 2010-11 Sabres, which overcame a six-point deficit, and the 2008-09 St. Louis Blues, a team that was nine points out at the break. Four teams overcame one point deficits, and two overcome two point deficits.

The race in the east this season has a pretty similar look when compared to last season's, not because of the teams involved, but in the sense that we have a pretty good idea as to which teams are going to represent the conference. Last year the Atlanta Thrashers held the No. 8 spot at the break (yeah, they had a great first half) but were replaced by the Sabres by the end of the season.

The Western Conference is a little bit cleaner this season, as last year's playoff race at the break had every team with the exception of the Edmonton Oilers within at least five points of a playoff spot. The Sharks and Kings, both one point out at the break, ended up making the playoffs, while the Dallas Stars let a six-point lead in the Pacific Division at the break slip away by losing 20 of their final 32 games.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 25, 2012 4:08 pm
 

Varlamov talks about losing No. 1 role to Giguere

Varlamov has lost his starting role to Giguere. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Colorado Avalanche headed into the free agency period on July 1 last summer without anybody ready to take the reins in goal. They were widely considered the favorites to sign Tomas Vokoun until they surprised most people by backing off and instead trading for Semyon Varlamov of the Capitals.

It showed how much the Avs wanted Varlamov, who was on his way out of Washington anyway. They shipped the Capitals a their first-round pick in the 2012 draft and a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013. They also signed veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere to be his backup.

The expectation was pretty clear: Varlamov was going to be the Avs' starting goalie, and hopefully do that for a long time. After all, he's only 23.

Problem is, Varlamov hasn't played like a franchise goalie, instead showing the form that led the Capitals to having no problem in trading Varlamov away. His record this season is 14-15-1. His goals against average is 3.00 and save percentage at .899. Conversely, Giguere is having a bit of a career revival with a 2.15 GAA and .921 save percentage.

That has led to coach Joe Sacco taking the title of starting goaltender and bestowing it upon Giguere, not Varlamov.

"J.S. is playing well right now, and it's good for the team," Varlamov told the Denver Post. "I just have to keep working. I know it's going to be tough, but I just have to be ready -- always."

At least he's saying the right things. Let that be a lesson to all the aspiring professional hockey players out there: stick to the clichés and you'll be fine. Watch a little Bull Durham and you're good to go.

Unfortunately for Varly, he hasn't been doing the right things on the ice. He hasn't played since he was abused for six goals by the Coyotes nine days ago.

"That's why I'm not playing right now, I think," Varlamov said. "But it's a long season. We still have 30 games after the break."

He has a lot of work to do if he wants to reclaim the lion's share of the work. The Avs are one of the surprise teams in the NHL at the All-Star break, I don't think many people saw them holding a playoff spot at this point, even if it is the eighth and final spot. Giguere is a large reason why, he has been excellent.

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

Posted on: January 18, 2012 4:11 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 4:43 pm
 

Rookies facing the toughest assignments

CouturierBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at which top rookies are playing some of the toughest (and easiest) assignments in the NHL.

Most NHL teams are going to put their rookies into favorable situations on the ice.

They are usually not going to be asked to play the toughest minutes on their team, against the best opponents and in defensive situations, and instead are going to be put into low pressure situations where they have the best opportunity to succeed. There are, of course, always exceptions, and some youngsters are asked to take on larger (and more important) roles, whether it be out of necessity, or because the player has shown that he's capable of taking on such an assignment at a young age. 

This year's rookie class has had some pretty impressive performances so far, including that of top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (currently the NHL's leading rookie scorer) in Edmonton, Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson with the Devils and, of course, Philadelphia's young forwards Sean Couturier (pictured) and Matt Read, who have not only flashed some offensive ability, but have also proven themselves to be more than capabale penalty killers.

But which of the NHL's top rookies are being asked to play the toughest minutes this season?

Well, that's what the scatterplot picture below helps us figure out. We're using Relative Corsi Quality of Competition (the level of competition the player is playing against -- the higher the number, the tougher the opponent, and vice versa) and Offensive Zone starts (both via Behind The Net) during 5-on-5 play to determine which rookies are being asked to play in the toughest situations by their respective teams.

The closer a player is to the top left of the chart, the harder the assignments he's being given (playing against better players and starting fewer shifts in the offensive zone), while the closer a player is to the bottom right, the easier the assignment (playing against weaker competition and starting more shifts in the offensive zone).

The players included: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers), Adam Henrique (Devils), Nick Johnson (Wild), Luke Adam (Sabres), Cody Hodgson (Canucks), Jared Cowen (Senators), Adam Larsson (Devils), Gabriel Landeskog (Avalanche), Sean Couturier (Flyers), Matt Read (Flyers), Ryan Johansen (Blue Jackets), Raphael Diaz (Canadiens), Craig Smith (Predators), Colin Greening (Senators) and Kaspars Daugavins (Senators).

Rookie Assignments

A few thoughts:

1) When it comes to the NHL's rookie of the year debate the two most common names are, naturally, Nugent-Hopkins and Henrique. They are, after all, the top two scoring rookies in the league, and before Nugent-Hopkins went out with his injury they were neck-and-neck in that scoring race. Now that Henrique is running unopposed for the foreseeable future, he's going to take over that scoring lead (barring an injury of his own, of course) and will probably become the front-runner for the award by seasons end.

Both players have arguments working in their favor.

When we did our mid-season award picks I went with Henrique based on the fact he and Nugent-Hopkins were nearly identical offensively, while Henrique was being asked to play in tougher situations (as the chart above illustrates). Along with that, he is also one of the top penalty killing forwards on the best penalty killing team in the league, and has proven himself to be a threat offensively even when his team is down shorthanded, currently tied for the league in shorthanded points. Conversely, Nugent-Hopkins is getting some of the easiest minutes in the league among the top rookies, and has played just a total of one minute and 16 seconds of shorthanded ice time this season.

That said, it can't be ignored that Henrique is already 21 years old while Nugent-Hopkins is one of the youngest players in the league at the age of 18. Actually, he's the second-youngest player to have skated in an NHL game this season, having been born just six days after Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad, who appeared in nine games for the Senators.

He may not be asked to play in tough situations, but his performance is still darn impressive given his age.

2) Don't overlook the rookie duo in Philadelphia. The Flyers completely re-tooled their roster over the summer, and halfway through the 2011-12 season they haven't missed a beat as far as being a contender in the Eastern Conference is concerned.

 Losing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter looked like it was going to be a major blow to their forward depth, and while they are definitely a different team from a year ago, they're still boasting an impressive group of forwards, including their two prized rookies Couturier (selected with the draft pick that came from Columbus in exchange for Carter) and Read. Both are among the Flyers' top penalty killing forwards, and among Flyers forwards that have played at least 20 games this season Read is currently facing the fourth-toughest competition on the team.

3) Mike Yeo, head coach of the Minnesota Wild, appears to have a lot of faith in Nick Johnson, a player the team picked up on waivers before the season. Not only is he playing, by far, the toughest minutes of any of the top rookies in the NHL (he's currently 11th among rookie scorers) his Qual Comp is the highest of any forward on the Wild roster. Perhaps that faith shouldn't be much of a surprise given the connections both have to the Pittsburgh organization (Johnson was drafted by the Penguins, while Yeo was a former assistant).

Of course, age once again needs to be taken into account. While Johnson is playing tougher minutes than all of these other rookies, he's also by far the oldest player on the chart having already turned 26 back in December. A 26-year-old rookie and an 18-year-old rookie aren't exactly the same thing.

Taking into account performance, assignments and age I'd still choose Henrique as the top rookie in the NHL this season (so far), with Nugent-Hopkins, Read and Craig Smith coming in just behind.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 13, 2012 1:15 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Brothers Sutter meet in Calgary

By Brian Stubits

One of the many things I love about hockey is that it doesn't revolve around the coaches, they are hardly ever the stories. You can't say the same about other sports, particularly college athletics where the coach is sometimes the only constant there is. In the NHL, a lot of coaches are so quiet I'm not even sure half of the hockey fans out there could name all 30 bench bosses.

But this weekend in Calgary? It's about the coaches. Well it's now partly about a certain player's Flames debut too, but first to the coaches.

The Los Angeles Kings will be traveling to the Saddledome for a slightly awkward reunion. It's the first time that Darryl Sutter has been involved in a game in Calgary since he resigned -- all but forced -- as general manager for the Flames a little more than a year ago, leaving his younger brother Brent behind to continue to coach the Flames.

For those who suggest you shouldn't mix business with family, this is a good example why. During the time they were together working with the Flames, they had some problems with each other to the point that they stopped talking after Darryl was ousted. Imagine that, two brothers getting to the point of not talking based largely on their working relationship.

They were giving each other the silent treatment until Darryl reached out this week and at least reopened the lines of communications. Probably a good idea on many fronts, particularly about the one of avoiding the awkward moment at the game.

“We had a good chit-chat -- it was good,” said Brent, whose brother initiated the call, to the Calgary Sun.

“We talked about their team, about our team ... never once did we talk about anything personally. We talked about the kids. We were all over the map with it. That was the first time I talked to him. It was nice.”

Saturday won't just be the first time these two have been back together at a Flames game since Darryl left, but now it's also about the first time that Mike Cammalleri returns to the Saddledome in a Flames jersey since he left. That's thanks to the Thursday night trade of Cammy to Calgary in exchange for Rene Bourque going to Montreal.

The Flames could use the fire under their behind that perhaps current GM Jay Feaster is trying to send. His team hasn't been playing particularly well and a jolt to the roster might help recharge their playoff push. They aren't dead and buries in that race, especially considering the season is only half over, but they could use a run to help set them up for the finish.

At the least they got a player who's excited to be in Calgary -- again, in the case of Cammalleri.

"I am extremely excited, I was told I was traded and I wasn't sure where. I hoped it was Calgary," he said on Thursday after the trade.

"It's a place that I have such fond memories, I really have strong relationships with some of the players. I really appreciated playing there."

So that will bear watching, no doubt. But it's going to be tough to overcome the drama of the bench bosses.

And I just love it when things come together like this. It means absolutely nothing and has no bearing on anything that will happen on the ice, just little coincidences that are fun to mark. Darryl coached 210 games for the Flames. On Saturday night Brent will coach his, you guessed it, 210th game with the Flames. Not that that will steer the spotlight away from Darryl vs. Brent and the Sutter family equation.

“We’ve now had communication since then, and it has been good,” Brent said.

“Any way you want to look at it, we’re still brothers. I care deeply about what happens with him and how he does.”

Well the family feud will live on for 60 more minutes on Saturday.

Oh, Ottawa

I still haven't decided if the Ottawa Senators are as good as they have shown, but it's getting really tough to deny them based on a small sample size.

Now they have played at least two more games than every other team in the East except for Carolina, but that excuse isn't flying any more either. They are comfortably in the top eight in the East as it stands right now, right on the heels of the Flyers for the fourth seed. When you start beating the Rangers at Madison Square Garden with a shutout no less, then yea, it might be time to believe.

But we're going to find out a lot in the upcoming weeks, starting Saturday. OK, it actually started on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. That was when the Senators played their first of nine road games in a 10-game span. The only interruption in that road show comes on Monday with the Jets coming to Ottawa. After that, they go into their weekend as host for the All-Star Game with a trip that takes them out West.

But they can't play those before the play this weekend's game against the Canadiens first. They seem to be getting Montreal at the perfect time. They have all sorts of struggles and strife to deal with at the moment and could possibly be without P.K. Subban after his hit on David Krejci on Thursday night.

If the Sens can do what most everybody else is doing right now and beat the Habs, they will finish with six points in the three-game road trip.

It sure makes those four All-Star selections a lot easier to swallow, too.

Taking a Flyer

In all honesty, this isn't the best slate of games the NHL has seen this year for the weekend. There aren't a whole lot of really intriguing matchups pitting two elite teams.

But one of the better ones will be in Nashville, a cross-conference battle to boot. The Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Predators in Smashville. Adding a little more intrigue to the good matchup? The in-person scouting that the Flyers might or might not be doing on the opposition.

You are going to hear a lot about the status of Ryan Suter in the coming weeks, his name will surely be at the fore of all the trade speculation unless he signs a contract extension before then. Among the top contenders for his services will be the Flyers, already mentioned in the speculation.

That just adds a little underlying story to what should be a very good game.

Speaking of good games ...

The Blackhawks and Red Wings clash again. They went a long time this season without renewing acquaintances, but now they are meeting seemingly every week.

The next round in their Central Division battle comes on Saturday at the ripe ol' hour of 12:30 from the Joe in St. Louis. I wonder if the Blackhawks will even be functioning at that hour.

Joking aside, hopefully the start time doesn't take away from the quality of games these two put on. The first two meetings this season came in Chicago and each was a 3-2 game (Blackhawks won the first, Wings the second in OT). You can always count on great hockey when these two get together.

Now that realignment has been halted, hopefully the next proposal doesn't split these teams up.

Pesky Stars

That's the nickname that has caught on in Dallas regarding their Stars. Pesky. I guess it's because they won't go away.

Dallas isn't as big of a surprise as a couple of other teams this season, including the above-mentioned Senators, but that doesn't mean they aren't a surprise. Here it is mid-January and they continue to hang around in the Pacific Division race as well as the Western Conference.

They will look to continue their pesky ways against the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. The Avs are as up and down as any team in the league this season. There seems to be no happy medium with them. After their most recent run they are no slipping back down the slope, going into Dallas with a three-game losing streak.

It's a battle of a pair of mild surprises in the West. These all count when it comes down to season's end and each of these hopefuls is trying to sneak into the postseason. The schneid list is getting long.

We're going streaking!

Here are the hot and cold streaks going into the weekend's action.

Senators: Talked about above, they have won three straight and only visit Montreal.

Toronto Maple Leafs: How 'bout them Leafs, huh? They take a four-game win streak into Buffalo on Friday night and if it holds will take a five-gamer into Saturday night's home game against the Rangers.

Predators: Three games and counting heading into the Philly matchup.

Flames: Lost in all the other talk surrounding Calgary, they have actually rattled off three straight wins since returning home from an unfruitful road trip.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens are entering unchartered territory here. They bring a six-game losing streak with them to Florida for the Sunshine State saunter, at the Panthers on Friday, Lightning on Sunday.

Buffalo Sabres: While the Leafs have won four in a row going into Friday's game, the Sabres have lost three straight. They also visit the Islanders on Saturday.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The postseason run followup isn't going as planned. Five straight losses going into Friday at the Capitals, Sunday vs. the Penguins.

Avalanche: How long will this skid go? Right now it's at three games.

Edmonton Oilers: My how long ago that season start seems. They have fallen 23 points behind the Canucks in the Northwest and have lost four in a row. Their one chance to snap that comes against the Kings on Sunday night.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 8, 2012 3:11 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 3:32 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: This one's for the good guys

By Brian Stubits

While you were busy worrying about the upcoming summer of labor after the NHLPA declined the realignment plan ...

With all due respect to the guys of Green Day, nice guys really can finish first. Or at least succeed.

Saturday was a milestone day for two of the classiest and most loyal players in the NHL. One milestone awesome, the other simply dumbfounding, on a couple of levels.

First, the awesome: Jarome Iginla's 500th goal in Saturday night's win against the Minnesota Wild. Nobody is surprised that Iginla hit the 500-goal mark in his career. I've seen it argued that he would have passed that milestone a while ago if he had played with some better centers in his time with the Calgary Flames.

It doesn't matter how ugly it might have been. Iginla's had enough beauties in his career, I don't think for one second he was worried about it coming on a pass from the boards that bounced off skates and into the net.

I could go on about with platitudes about the class of guy that Iginla is. People already know that and my personal experience with the guy did nothing at all to change that impression for me. I like to point to this somewhat infamous and incredibly cringe-worthy exchange with Iginla and a reporter earlier this season that Iginla dealt with as patiently as any player could, even though nobody knew what exactly was being asked.

Iginla became only the 42nd player in NHL history to hit the plateau. So we're talking about a pretty exclusive club. Iginla's case is even more unique when one realizes that he became only the ninth player ever to score his first 500 goals with one team.

Every franchise usually has a designated Mr. (fill in the team name). Iginla no doubt is Mr. Flame.

The second milestone also came from a Mr. Franchise type and it was a bit more amazing.

Unless you work for the Elias Sports Bureau or are the biggest Phoenix Coyotes fan out there, it probably caught you by surprise that Shane Doan's hat trick on Saturday night was the first of his career.

It took him 1,161 games to get there, but Doan finally put three in in one game. And it's not like we're talking about a guy who doesn't score. He joins Scott Mellenby as the only other player in NHL history to score 300 goals before his first hat trick.

The most amazing part of all? It took Doan 59 minutes, 59 and 9/10 of a second to get that third goal.

Sometimes you can't make this stuff up.

Like Iginla, Doan has been a consummate professional, a player with the loyalty to a franchise that fans love to see in sports these days. This is a guy who has stuck with a franchise that has been surrounded in questions for a couple of years but has stuck with the only team he has ever known.

A little bit of irony in Doan's goal coming with only 0.1 second left, the Coyotes fell victim to a similar situation earlier this season. The Rangers potted a goal with the same exact amount of time on the clock. The only difference between those two last-second tallies? The Rangers' was for a win, Doan's for the hat trick in an already-decided game.

And all those hats he collected? They are reportedly being donated to the Phoenix Children's Hospital.

It was almost as if Saturday was a night for the good guys in the NHL. Two great honors for two great players. Certainly beats more concussions.

Blue moon

The St. Louis Blues are no fluke, people. This sample size with Ken Hitchcock at the helm is big enough to draw that conclusion.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

The Blues are in the Central Division. They compete with the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators. Yet, after Saturday's games, it's the Blues that are sitting in first place of the monster division, for my money the best in the NHL.

St. Louis dominated the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, pitching a 4-0 shutout. The Avs had been maybe the hottest team in the NHL, bringing a four-game win streak into the Lou. Instead they were just another victim for St. Louis.

That moved the Blues to 18-5-5 under Hitchcock. Their sole lead isn't going to last long. By the end of Sunday they will at least be in a tie with either the Blackhawks or Red Wings. But they are right there and will remain right there for the entire season.

The goaltending duo of Brian Elliott -- who had another shutout -- and Jaroslav Halak has rightfully received a lot of the attention for the Blues' success, but the guys in front of them deserve a lot. Just look at what the Avalanche were able to -- or unable to -- do: They only had 15 shots on goal for the entire game. That's why Elliott didn't even get one of the three Stars of the game. The most shots in one period that Colorado had? Seven. In the first they had just two.

I'll admit I'm happy for the fans of St. Louis. It's not a market that gets a lot of recognition as a big one like the cities in the Northeast or Canada, but it's been a strong market for hockey and remains that way. They haven't had a lot to cheer for in the past couple of years but they do now.

And of course the Western Conference has another team to be reckoned with.

Jerseylicious

The story out of Pittsburgh on Saturday was that the Penguins lost their fourth straight game, something they had not done in two years. On Sunday it was compounded by the announced injuries of James Neal (broken foot) and Jordan Staal (out 4-6 weeks).

But that's taking away from the success of the New Jersey Devils.

Their 3-1 win in Pittsburgh came a night after their 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers at home on Friday. They have points in seven of their last 10 games. They have also hurdled the Penguins in the Atlantic Division and are creeping up on the Flyers, four points behind Philadelphia.

A common thread in those two weekend wins? Ilya Kovalchuk had the game-winner. He's up to 15 goals on the season now, tied with David Clarkson for the team lead. He has the penchant for turnovers -- that's nothing new -- but is still as electric as almost any player in the league with the puck on his stick. What Peter DeBoer wouldn't give to continue to get that kind of production from Kovalchuk.

Danny's dance

What a day it was Saturday for Danny Briere. The Philadelphia Flyers veteran had a double rarity in the Flyers' 3-2 win over the Senators: He finished off a hat trick with a goal in the final seconds of overtime and dropped the gloves with Kyle Turris (!).

First, here's the bout from HockeyFights.com.

Not terrible for a couple of guys who don't normally go a round. For Briere it was only his third career fight.

But in the end it was his fifth career hat trick that was the biggest moment of the night. Apparently content to take the game to the shootout, the Senators seemed to give up once the clock moved under 10 seconds. It was up to Craig Anderson to keep them alive. He made the first stop on Briere from point-blank range but couldn't prevent the second from slipping in and winning the game with 5.3 seconds left.

Buffalo bull

They're getting pretty desperate up there in Buffalo where the Sabres just can't seem to do anything right.

It's a solid cast of characters. There's a reason why people thought this would be a contender in the East this season. Add in the ownership takeover of Terry Pegula, and there was a lot of noise coming out of Buffalo. Now, not so much. Really.

"Married couples fighting upstairs, you can hear that on the ice," Ville Leino joked to John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

That'll happen when you're not scoring much. Like they didn't score in the 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Buffalo.

Their lack of scoring is the biggest culprit for the following: Since Nov. 12 -- as in the day Ryan Miller met Milan Lucic -- the Sabres have the fourth-worst record in the NHL. The fans are beginning to beg GM Darcy Regier to do something. This isn't how it was supposed to go.

Quote of the weekend

"It got a little tight, so we're being careful with him. We took him and pulled him out." -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter on defenseman Mike Green and his hamstring.

The Caps just got Mike Green back from a hamstring-induced absence that stretched back to early November. Now it might cost him even more time now. If so, that will be the third time that Green has been out with injury. He also had an ankle issue cost him time earlier this season.

The Capitals saw their four-game winning streak come to an end on Saturday night in San Jose to the streaking Sharks. It was actually the first loss of the season for the Caps when Green played. They are now 9-1-0.

Looking beyond this season, Green will hit free agency this summer and here's one argument being laid out for why the Capitals shouldn't re-sign him. It will be worth a debate for GM George McPhee.

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

Posted on: January 6, 2012 12:56 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:47 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Bruins and Canucks meet again

By Brian Stubits

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Vancouver to start Schneider over Luongo

The Boston Bruins are out-of-this-world good. Six times this season they have beaten their opponent by at least five goals. That includes Thursday's 9-0 rout of the Calgary Flames.

On the season they have scored 138 goals (most in the NHL) and only allowed 69 (fewest in the NHL). For the mathematically impaired, that's exactly twice as many goals for as against. They have an absolutely staggering plus-69 goal differential on the season.

To put that in further perspective, here's a stat that was pointed out to me by a friend. In only half a season, the Bruins' plus-69 is better than all but three teams' season total in the last three years.

Since their 3-7-0 start, it's been utterly ridiculous what they have done. Their record since is 23-3-1. That means they have earned 47 of the past 54 possible points.

It's scary to think about, but the numbers point to the Bruins being a better team than they were a season ago when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Well the Canucks will get their one and only chance this season to see how much better, if at all, the Bruins are than a season ago.

These teams have had rather similar paths since their great seven-game Final a season ago. The Bruins have received a lot of the attention for the way they have just been steamrolling the competition, but the Canucks are going through a somewhat similar season. They, too, rebounded from the long postseason with a sluggish start but have since come to play the way they were expected. They have retaken their seat atop the Northwest Division and are in the thick for best record in the league.

It's no exaggeration to say that these very well could be the two best teams in the NHL again this season.

Yet this Saturday's matchup in Boston isn't as much about this season as it is about last season, specifically the Finals.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of hype for that game, but we’re a different team than we were last year. We’ve added some different components,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told ESPN.com. “Boston is pretty much the same team, but it’s a new year. We’re going to just go in there and try and play our best game.”

There was enough hostility in that seven-game series to last for three series. We had finger-biting, tire-pumping, trash-talking and rioting. Well OK, that last one wasn't in the series, but still.

The biggest bit of trash talk that came out publicly wasn't until after the series when now retired Bruins forward Mark Recchi said he has never hated an opponent like he did those Canucks. That prompted Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa to suggest Recchi go play a round of golf or take a nap.

Recchi, now working with NBC, did backtrack this week.

“I probably shouldn’t have said anything and I wish I wouldn’t have, but that’s what happened and that’s how the series was,” Recchi told Vancouver’s The Province. “People know I love B.C. and Vancouver and it was an unbelievable series but there was a lot of dislike on both sides. And it wouldn’t have been a Stanley Cup final if there wasn’t that much dislike -- we really didn’t like each other.”

It's not likely that the dislike has worn off in the half-year since.

The rematch will have about all you could ask for in a midseason contest, assuming the Bruins don't turn it into a snoozer with another rout.

Mr. 499

I haven't come across anybody who doesn't like Jarome Iginla. The Calgary Flames forward has long been the epitome of what people want in their professional athletes. He's humble, approachable, charitable and of course talented.

He's on the cusp of reaching a great milestone, sitting one goal away from No. 500 in his career. Quite honestly, it's about the only reason why non-Flames fans would want to watch Calgary at the moment.

Iginla told CBSSports.com this week that the pursuit of the milestone isn't something that he's been worried about, but he certainly has thought about it.

"No, it hasn't weighed, but now that I'm at 499, you definitely try not to think about it on each shot and think 'well it could be' or whatever. So I think about it a little bit," Iginla said. "But once you get to the game you're just competing and want to win the game. I don't look at it like I'm counting down games. Just keep going and just keep trying to shoot and get chances and keep the same approach. But you definitely think about it a little bit."

Because of the World Junior tournament that just ended on Thursday with one hell of a game between Sweden and Russia, the Flames have been road warriors for the past couple of weeks. But on Saturday night they'll return home to the Saddledome to take on the Minnesota Wild with Iginla still just one away.

In a way it's great that Iginla didn't reach the milestone in the past week for it will give him a chance to do it back home in Calgary. He'd be applauded handsomely in whichever city it happened, but it's always best to do these things at home.

Certainly the team will be happy to be back home, too. The Flames petered out the end of their seven-game road trip, losing the last five, including that 9-0 rout in Boston.

"We feel that we're good at home and that we're confident," Iginla said. They better hope so, they don't want to fall too far behind in the playoff picture.

Capitalizing

One team that has crawled back into the playoff picture is the Washington Capitals. The Caps were, to be frank, very average for a good chunk of the first half. However they have begun to play just how they were expected to. That's every more so the case with Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin had gone 23 straight games without multiple points in one night. He snapped that streak and has since run off four consecutive multi-point games. Maybe he had a great Christmas. Or perhaps it was the excitement of his two-year anniversary as captain. Whatever the reason, he has elevated his game big time and probably not coincidentally, so has Washington.

They travel to the West Coast to take on the San Jose Sharks on Saturday riding a four-game win streak. Again, it's no coincidence that Ovechkin has four straight multiple-point games.

But I'm still not 100 percent sold this team is back to its big-time status. Of the four wins, three have come at home where they have been very tough to beat, regardless of the overall mediocre performance. The fourth was a road win at Columbus. So this trip to San Jose, where they haven't won since 1993, will be a better gauge to see how the Capitals are coming along under Dale Hunter. Once they start winning on the road, then I'll start believing in them again.

Boom! Madden's debut

The Florida Panthers are still beating the odds and hanging onto first place in the Southeast Division. On Friday night they'll get some reinforcement to help them stay there.

Recently signed veteran John Madden is expected to make his debut with the Panthers in New Jersey. It's an interesting place for his first game as a Panther considering he spent the majority of his career with the Devils and helped them win two Stanley Cups.

That adds to the storyline this season of Devils coach Peter DeBoer facing his former team. Really, that doesn't hold much weight after the first meeting, so Madden's debut puts a little zest in another game between the two.

I'm sure the Devils fans will give Madden a nice, hearty hand even if he's in the other team's red.

More Wings work

It's going to be an Original Six weekend for the Detroit Red Wings.

On Saturday they will get a crack at their neighbors a little to the Northeast in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite not being in the same conference, these two teams still have a good rivalry that stretches way back. Their proximity to each other helps too. It's why so many want to see the Leafs play in next year's Winter Classic against the Wings, possibly in the Big House.

Once they are done with the team from Toronto, they face their other Original Six big rival, the one that's still in their division. The Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will wage a big battle on Sunday that will continue to help shape the ever-tight Central Division.

Great weekend of hockey for the folks in Hockeytown.

We're going streaking!

Here are the winning streaks and losing streaks in play entering the weekend.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts keep on winning, taking a three-game streak into Friday's matchup with the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

New York Islanders: The Isles make the list this week, and it's on the good side! A three-game win streak is on the line at the Ducks on Friday and then the Coyotes on Saturday.

Ottawa Senators: The quietest of the NHL's surprise teams, the Senators have a four-game run going into the home-and-home with the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and Sunday.

Capitals: Aforementioned four-game win streak with the one game at San Jose.

Colorado Avalanche: The up-and-down Avs are playing well again, having won three straight. They have a tough Friday-Saturday road trip of at the Blackhawks and at the Blues.

Sharks: Not mentioned above, the Sharks also come into the game against the Caps hot, having won three in a row.

Flames: They look to end their five-game skid against the Wild on Saturday.

Anaheim Ducks: Three losses in a row and counting? With all their players now on the trade block, they face the Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 4, 2012 5:55 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2012 6:10 pm
 

Taking a look at Colorado's shootout success

DucheneBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the shootout success of the Colorado Avalanche and what it might mean for them going forward.

Thanks to a recent hot streak that's seen the team win nine of its past 11 games the Colorado Avalanche entered Wednesday in what would be the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Three of those recent wins have come by way of the shootout, and for the season, Colorado has been the best team in the league in the tie-breaking skills competition, posting a perfect 7-0 record, after an impressive 6-1 performance a season ago.

They're relying heavily on the shootout, and that may not be a good thing for the team going forward.

Their 2010-11 performance in the shootout earned them absolutely nothing as they failed to qualify for the playoffs and finished with one of the worst records in the NHL. This season, for the short-term anyway, it's at least helping to keep them competitive for a while, and as one of only two teams in the league to still be perfect in the shootout (the other is Detroit -- which has only been involved in one shootout this season) those seven extra points have certainly helped.

For Colorado, its shootout success this season has a lot to do with goaltender Semyon Varlamov. During actual game play he's been terrible and currently owns a .900 save percentage, well below the league average. In shootouts, however, he's actually been one of the best goalies in the league and has stopped 17 of the 19 shots he's faced, winning every shootout he's been involved in. His individual performance in this area has improved in each of the past three seasons, and for his career owns one of the best all-time shootout save percentages in league shootout history (brief as it may be).

Meanwhile, forwards like Milan Hejduk, the currently injured Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly have been their most called upon skaters and have managed to convert on 10 of their 17 chances, including five of the seven game-deciding goals.

Of course, the shootout still has its share of critics around the league, mainly among hockey purists, and the NHL has even taken steps to minimize the impact it has at the end of the season, as those wins no longer count when it comes to breaking ties for playoff spots. 

It's also worth pointing out that teams that rely heavily on the shootout during the regular season don't have much success in the postseason, for obvious reasons.

First, if your team is taking part in a lot of shootouts it probably means they're not pulling away from the opposition and find themselves in a lot of close games that can be decided with one bounce. And, even more importantly, there's no shootout in the playoffs, which means those teams will then have to rely on actual 5-on-5 hockey to win, and if they were successful in that area, they wouldn't have had to rely on so many shootouts over the course of the regular season.

Since the NHL added the shootout coming out of the lockout for the 2005-06 season, the average NHL team takes part in 10-12 shootouts per year, usually winning somewhere around five or six of them per season. Only once did the NHL average number of shootout wins drop below five in a season (4.76 per team in '05-06) and only once did it go above 6 (6.1 during the '09-10 season).

The Avalanche already have seven this season, and with half of the season still to go, it's a good bet they're probably going to win a few more.

How have teams that relied on shootout success done in the playoffs? Not well. Not well at all. Over the past six seasons 13 teams have won at least 10 shootouts in a single season, and here's what they did in the playoffs, assuming they qualified:

Teams with 10-or-more shootout wins in a season
Team Year Shootout Wins Playoff Success
Edmonton Oilers 2007-08 15 Did Not Qualify
Phoenix Coyotes 2009-10 14 Lost In First Round
Dallas Stars 2005-06 12 Lost In First Round
Los Angeles Kings 2010-11 10 Lost In First Round
Pittsburgh Penguins 2010-11 10 Lost In First Round
Los Angeles Kings 2009-10 10 Did Not Qualify
Boston Bruins 2009-10 10 Lost In Second Round
New York Rangers 2008-09 10 Lost In Second Round
New Jersey Devils 2006-07 10 Lost In Second Round
Pittsburgh Penguins 2006-07 10 Lost In First Round
Buffalo Sabres 2006-07 10 Lost In Conference Finals
Minnesota Wild 2006-07 10 Lost In First Round
New York Rangers 2006-07 10 Lost In Second Round

Only five made it past the first round of the playoffs, while only Buffalo during the 2006-07 season went as far as the Conference Finals.

Whether or not the Avalanche have to worry about that at the end of the season remains to be seen at this point. As a team they've been getting crushed during 5-on-5 play, mainly due to the struggles of Varlamov when he's not taking part in a shootout.

Right now they're relying almost exclusively on their power play (which is quite good) and their ability to scratch out extra points in a skills competition. How long can that reasonably be expected to continue?

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