Tag:Minnesota Wild
Posted on: February 14, 2012 10:11 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 10:41 pm
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Wings set new record with 21 straight home wins

RedWingsBy: Adam Gretz

With their 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night the Detroit Red Wings made NHL history, setting a new mark (and one that looks like it will continue to grow based on the way they're playing) by winning their 21st consecutive home game, breaking the record that had previously been owned by the 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers and 1929-30 Boston Bruins.

It's an incredible streak, and shows just how much the Red Wings have dominated their opponents at Joe Louis Arena this season, pushing their home record to 24-2-1. They haven't lost a home game since dropping a 4-1 decision to the Calgary Flames on November 3. The only other losses at home this season were against  Minnesota (a 2-1 shootout loss on November 1) and San Jose (a 4-2 loss on October 28).

What makes it so amazing isn't just the number of wins, but also the manner in which many of them have been achieved.



Some quick facts on the current streak:

-- The Red Wings have outscored the 21 teams they've knocked off by a total margin (as of Tuesday) of 87-31.

-- 10 of the wins have been by a margin of three goals or more. Three of the wins have been shutouts, five involved the Red Wings giving up just one goal, and only two saw them give up more than two. No team has scored more than three goals against them.

-- In typical Red Wings fashion, they have completely controlled puck possession and have out-shot their opponents by an average margin of 32.8 to 25.4 on a nightly basis.

-- And, finally, yes, three of the wins did come by way of the shootout.

My Eye On Hockey colleague, Brian Stubits, rattled a few cages by pointing this fact out on Sunday night when the Red Wings tied the record with a win over the Flyers.

You can put whatever level of significance on that fact that you choose (you can put an asterisk next to it, or you can ignore it, it doesn't really matter), but there is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing it out, and it doesn't mean that by doing so that you can still can't marvel at the record -- because it is darn impressive, and worthy of being celebrated.

But these events from one era to another don't take place in a vacuum. The league that the 2011-12 Red Wings play in is vastly different from the league that the 1975-76 Flyers played in, for a number of reasons. It might as well not even be the same sport when compared to the league that the 1929-30 Bruins played (In 1929, for example, there were still limitations on when you could advance the puck with a forward pass). You wouldn't look at a 30-goal scorer in today's NHL the same way that you look at a 30-goal scorer in, say, the 1980s, because it's a completely different era with different rules and a different style of play.

None of this makes one streak better or worse than the other as all three teams had advantages and disadvantges when compared to the others, but it's still worth mentioning the differences. You have to (well, you should, anyway) take everything into account when comparing teams and players from different eras.

No matter how you look at the streak, the Red Wings are setting themselves up to be the favorites to take the Western Conference. After Tuesday's game they sit on top of the West (and the NHL, for that matter) with 80 points, and still have seven of their next 10 games on home ice where, again, they've only lost three games this season, and only two in regulation.

The schedule does get a bit tougher as they have upcoming games with Nashville, San Jose, Vancouver and Chicago at home, but that hasn't really mattered much this season, as nearly every team that's entered Joe Louis Arena has left in defeat, regardless of record.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 13, 2012 1:10 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 1:16 pm
 

Goal differential and the Southeast Division

SoutheastBy: Adam Gretz

Even though there are still three teams fighting for the top spot in the Southeast Division (yes, Winnipeg is still "in it" … barely) it's probably the worst division in the NHL, and there is a very real possibility that only one team will represent it in the postseason.

None of the teams have done anything to separate themselves from the other, and the team currently occupying the top spot, Florida, has fewer points than five other potential playoff teams in the conference as of Monday.

Also of note: every team in the division, again as of Monday morning, is on the negative side when it comes to goal-differential, with every team, including the currently first-place Panthers, having been outscored by their opponents over the course of the season.

Florida is at minus-11, Washington at minus-2 and Winnipeg at minus-22.

Of course, this isn't a good thing because, as common sense should tell you, good teams tend to score more goals than their opponents. A lot more. Since the NHL went to the three division alignment in the 1998-99 season, the average division winner (72 of them) has finished the regular season with a goal-differential of plus-45. Thirty-two have been plus-50 or better.

As the numbers above show, all three teams in the Southeast this season would have a hell of a long way to go  and need quite a few blowout wins over the final 25-or-so regular season games to reach that average mark. The Capitals having to spend so much time this season without two of their best players, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, has certainly impacted their numbers and on-ice performance, and the season has seemed to really fly off the rails since Backstrom went down with his concussion, pretty much eliminating whatever center depth they had. Still, how much of a threat would any of these teams as currently constructed be in the playoffs?

No division winner over the past 12 years has finished the season with a negative mark, and only five have finished with a mark worse than plus-10. Since it seems entirely possible that the winner of this division is going to post one of the worst goal-differentials for a division winner in recent NHL history, let's take a look at how the division winners with the five worst goal-differentials over the past 12 years did in the playoffs.

Interestingly enough, four of them also called the Southeast Division home.

2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes: 217 goals for, 217 goals against (even)

The Hurricanes finished the regular season with 91 points, fewer than six of the seven other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Amazingly, the Hurricanes went on an improbable playoff run and ended up winning the East before losing to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps showing that playoff run was a total fluke, the Hurricanes not only failed to make the playoffs the following season, they finished with the worst record in the league.

2006-07 Atlanta Thrashers: 246 goals for, 245 goals against (plus-1)

The only playoff experience in the Atlanta/Winnipeg existence, and it was a brutal one. The Thrashers not only failed to win a playoff game, they were outscored by the No. 6 seed New York Rangers by a 17-6 margin in the four games. Like the '01-02 Hurricanes, they failed to make the playoffs the following season, finishing with the third-worst record in the NHL.

2007-08 Minnesota Wild: 223 goals for, 218 goals against (plus-5)

Minnesota's last playoff team, the Wild narrowly edged the Colorado Avalanche for the top-spot in the Northwest Division and ended up facing off against their divisional rivals in the opening round of the playoffs. The Avs ended up taking the series in six games, owning a 17-12 edge on the scoreboard, with Minnesota's only two wins in the series coming in overtime, meaning they were just a couple of breaks or bounces away from being dismissed in four games. Minneosta hasn't been back to the playoffs since (and has a fight on its hands to get back in this season).

1998-99 Carolina Hurricanes: 210 goals for, 202 goals against (plus-8)

The worst playoff team in the Eastern Conference during this season, and not surprisingly, the only one from the Southeast Division. The Hurricanes finished the regular season with just 86 points in the standings, four fewer than any other Eastern Conference playoff team. The Bruins team they played in the first round, for example, finished the season with 91 points and had a goal-differential of plus-33. Not surprisingly, Boston won the series in six games and outscored the Hurricanes 16-10. Carolina followed this season up with a nearly identical 84-point campaign (with a plus-1 differential) in 1999-00 and missed the playoffs.

2002-03 Tampa Bay Lightning: 219 goals for, 210 goals against (plus-9)

After knocking off another Southeast team (Washington) in the first round, Tampa Bay dropped its second round series to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils in the second round. Tampa Bay came back the next season won the Stanley Cup.

Photo: Getty Images


For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 10, 2012 1:30 pm
Edited on: February 10, 2012 3:43 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Jets look to carry 'mo' to Pitt

Winnipeg is only three points behind Florida and Washington in the Southeast. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

WASHINGTON -- Here we are in mid-February and the Winnipeg Jets are still lingering right there in the playoff picture, just outside the East's top eight (even closer to the Southeast Division lead). That's how crucial Thursday night's Houdini act was in Washington, to take two points from a game that was seemingly lost.

The next question becomes how they can follow that up?

Winnipeg finishes off a travel-heavy stretch this Saturday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. It will be their eight road game in their last nine overall, a crucial stretch in their season that many thought would bury their playoff hopes. I admit, myself included.

Instead, they were given a golden opportunity with a lucky bounce to pick up some serious steam for a playoff push.

"We have a big game in Pittsburgh," forward Bryan Little said on Thursday after the 3-2 win in D.C. "If we get a couple points there it would be a great road trip for us."

And it would bring them some strong momentum into a home-heavy stretch they are about to hit.

"We've been playing well at home all season, so we'd be really pumped with that," Little said.

That's why the game against the Pens is so big. It would more or less signify that the win in Washington was a springboard to launch them into their homestand. But any sort of momentum gained from it is for the most part lost with a flat showing in the 'Burgh.

"We've won two in a row now," said Evander Kane, who has played two games since returning from a concussion. "We have to be able to put together strings together and long winning streaks because that's how you're going to make the playoffs."

That's the goal, obviously, bring the playoffs back to the 'Peg. Maybe the White out too. So what better way to head into a stretch where nine of their next 10 are at the friendly confines of MTS Centre than a win in Pittsburgh?

They'll be taking on a Penguins team that will get a lift courtesy of a returning player. No, not Sidney Crosby, but instead Jordan Staal. Coach Dan Bylsma announced on Friday that Staal will be back in the lineup after dealing with a nagging knee issue.

So it's up to you Jets, make that win in Washington really count.

What the Devil has gotten into them?

The New Jersey Devils aren't just hanging around in the playoff race like the Jets, they are climbing into the conversation for home-ice advantage in the first round.

In a rarity, the Devils actually lost in a shootout on Thursday night to the St. Louis Blues. It brought an end to New Jersey's five-game winning streak but extended their points streak to eight games.

The catalyst in the run has been not only the stellar play of Ilya Kovalchuk, but Zach Parise's outburst. With his name being talked about as a possibility in trade discussions, Parise has only shown why teams would love to have him -- including the Devils, of course. In the last six games he has six goals and two assists. Not too shabby.

In case you haven't checked the standings in a while -- here's our nifty Playoff Race -- the Devils have jumped over the Penguins for the time being in the Atlantic Division race and are just three points behind the Flyers.

You have to like the odds of their points streak being extended to nine on Saturday. That's when they'll play the Florida Panthers at the Rock, the fourth and final meeting between coach Peter DeBoer and his former team from Florida. Seeing how the Devils have looked strong in winning two of the three from the Cats and would have taken the other if not for a complete meltdown in the third period, it doesn't seem like this is the time they will be stopped in their tracks.

Add in Florida being 1-6-4 in its last 11 road games and, well, you can see where this is going.

Chicago blues

It's high time the Blackhawks find themselves again. They are mired in a stretch that could be too difficult to overcome when it comes time for seeding in the Western Conference, especially if it continues.

In the midst of a nine-game road trip that still has five more stops to go, the Blackhawks are reeling. They've lost six in a row, picking up a point in only one of those losses. You wouldn't figure the next four games being in San Jose, at Phoenix, in Nashville then at the Rangers will make it much easier, particularly with the Sharks and Coyotes coming back-to-back this weekend.

It seems preposterous, but a couple more games and all of a sudden the Blackhawks are going to find themselves in a serious fight for a playoff spot period, let alone the seeding.

As big as the one Friday night in San Jose is, that game in Phoenix will be particularly big as the Coyotes have made a little surge in recent days and have climbed into the eighth spot in the West. It could pull Phoenix to within three points of Chicago if their skid continues.

Fifth time's the charm?

The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers will have their fifth of six meetings this season on Saturday in Philly, a little matinee.

Despite it being their fifth game of the series, it's actually the first that will be played at Wells Fargo Center. So maybe that will be what the Flyers need to get off the Rangers schneid. They have been on the losing end of all four games so far.

There likely won't be any Ilya Bryzgalov in net again, though. And that's not because he's being benched, enjoying some nice tea in his thermos. Instead, he's enjoying some tea in his thermos because he's ill and, you know, people suggest you drink tea.

Obviously it hasn't mattered who has been in net for the Flyers this season, they haven't been able to figure out the Rangers yet. A game like Saturday's is huge for confidence, if not the standings.

Oh, and if you like fights, this might be your game. Last weekend's matchup broke out into an MMA show.

Mr. 1,000

It feels like we've had a lot of players hitting the 1,000 game milestone this season, doesn't it? On Thursday night Chris Neil of Ottawa celebrated entering four-digit territory. On Friday night it will be Tomas Holmstrom's turn.

The longtime Swedish Red Wings forward has obviously seen some good times in Detroit throughout his career. That tends to happen if you stay in a Wings uniform long enough. He'll be honored for that when the Ducks visit the Joe.

On the ice, this is actually quite the matchup. The Wings are still riding this ridiculous home winning streak, up to 18 games now. The Ducks, meanwhile, have come flying up from the basement and are now within eight points of a playoff spot in the West, still a long way to go but better than before. They are 11-2-2 in the last 15.

So don't be surprised if this is the team that's finally able to upset Detroit in Detroit and spoil the fun of Holmstrom's night.

We're going streaking!

Here is a look at the streaks -- both good and bad -- heading into the weekend.

Montreal Canadiens: Yes, that's right, the Habs are on a winning streak. They take a three-game run to their rivals in Toronto.

Vancouver Canucks: Remember when they were behind Minnesota in the Northwest? Me neither. They have a 15-point lead and carry a three-game win streak into Calgary on Saturday.

Coyotes: I said they've been on a run lately and that means they have a league-high four straight wins. Only Chicago awaits this weekend.

Blackhawks: See entry above: Six straight losses. Will they keep counting? Trips to San Jose and Phoenix on the docket.

Minnesota Wild: They have slipped out of the top eight in the West now having lost three consecutive games. A visit from Columbus is next on Saturday.

Ryan Miller: OK, I never put players on here, but Miller deserves a spot. The Sabres goalie has been much-maligned but he has turned a corner of late. He's on the run of his career. No, really. From Mike Harrington at the Buffalo News.

"Ryan Miller's 0.95 GAA and .969 save percentage over the last five games are the best in his career for any five-game stretch."

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

Posted on: February 7, 2012 2:18 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 2:20 pm
 

Owen Nolan to announce retirement on Tuesday

By Brian Stubits

A news conference is slated for today in San Jose and it's going to feature Owen Nolan. Those were the details that were released.

It doesn't take any kind of scientist, let alone one who specializes in rockets, to see where this is heading. But in case you need the jump from A to B drawn for you, check out the NHL Network update video.

Yes, Nolan is going to hang up the ol' skates, proverbially speaking. Drafted by the Quebec Nordiques (remember them?) first overall in the 1990 draft, Nolan played 18 seasons in the NHL totaling 422 career goals and 463 assists. He played most recently for the Wild in 2009-10.

Nolan is most recognized for his time spent with the Sharks -- hence the announcement coming in San Jose -- where he spent seven and a half seasons in his prime. Traded from the Avalanche after their relocation from Quebec to San Jose for Sandis Ozolinsh in 1995, Nolan helped the Sharks reach the playoffs five times. His best season came in 1999-00 when he had 44 goals with 40 assists for the Sharks.

Oddly enough, Nolan might best be remembered for what he did in a game that matter. In the 1997 All-Star Game, he had the joy of being the hometown hero in San Jose, recording a hat trick. Most famously, he called his shot a la the Babe and beat Dominik Hasek high glove side.

Born in Belfast, Ireland, Nolan's family moved to Canada when he was still young to escape the violence. That worked out for the best, huh?

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

Posted on: February 5, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 4:16 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Nothing to Laich in Caps loss

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals lost to the Bruins on Sunday on their home ice, 4-1.

As big of a loss as that is for the Caps, seeing Brooks Laich go down in the game is as big of a concern as anything for Washington right now.

In the second period, Laich was playing the puck behind the Bruins net when Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg delivered a check into the boards. It looked innocent enough but there was some contact on the play that pinned Laich's knee against the boards. Moments later he was being helped off the ice and down the tunnel toward the locker room without putting any pressure on his leg.

He came out during a television time out to test the knee but he couldn't go on. He left the arena with a brace on his knee and with the help of crutches.

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"I’m not a doctor, but with these things sometimes there’s some swelling ... But I don’t think it’s anything serious," Laich said after the game. "I'll get some ice on it and see how I feel when I wake up."

"He's day to day right now," Caps coach Dale Hunter said after the game. "We're just going to wait and see."

They better hope so. It's no secret that this season the Caps are in a dog fight just to make the playoffs. With the loss today, they remain out of the playoff seedings in the East at the moment. If they are going to sans Laich for any length of time, that makes things even tougher.

The Capitals already have a weakness up the middle with Nicklas Backstrom still on the sidelines since he was hit in the head by Rene Bourque. They can't afford to lose another center like Laich, who is one of their more consistent players and is a big piece for a team that hasn't been scoring much.

The good news for Washington is that despite the loss, they actually outshot an opponent on Sunday afternoon. They had 36 shots to the Bruins' 30, so there's that. Their pace of shooting has been way too low for well over a month now so that's a step in the right direction.

But they need to keep their fingers crossed Laich will be OK. He's a very underrated player for the Capitals, a solid two-way guy that probably every team in the NHL would like to have on their side.

With a win over the Canadiens on Saturday, normally you'd say a weekend split isn't bad. But depending on how Laich comes out of this, it could be.

Hit of the weekend

Watch Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik send Daniel Paille of the Bruins flying through the air at center ice.

I'm not sure it's 25 feet as the Penguins announcers says. I have a hunch they might have been dabbling in the art of hyperbole, something I do myself from time to time. But that still is probably the greatest hit in the history of hockey hits.

In this day and age you're not used to seeing the Bruins players acting as the ragdolls, they're usually the ones doing the pushing.

Shootout shutdown

The Colorado Avalanche are historically good when it comes to the shootout. They just don't lose in the "skills competition." That was until Saturday.

On the season the Avs were 7-0 in shootouts. Go back to last season and the streak was 10 consecutive shootouts. For an event that is statistically close to a tossup, that's pretty remarkable.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. The Avalanche finally lost a shootout this Saturday to the division rival Vancouver Canucks, failing to score in their three attempts.

Their shootout success has been a big reason why the Avs are as close in the playoff picture as they are. Those are crucial points to be picking up. And while losing the extra point to the Canucks doesn't seem like the biggest thing in the world considering they likely aren't catching the reigning Western Conference champs in the Northwest, it is obviously critical in the hunt for that eighth spot.

What a game

Speaking of shootouts, the only other team this season who had yet to fall in a shootout also suffered the fate on Saturday.

Despite two goals from Todd Bertuzzi (his first was the 300th of his career), the Detroit Red Wings couldn't hold onto their late third-period lead against the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course Sam Gagner played a huge part in the Oilers effort. He scored a point on each of the Oilers' eight goals against the Blackhawks in Edmonton's last game and then he was in on each of the Edmonton's first three goals against Detroit.

While he didn't get in on the game-tying goal in the final minute for the Oilers to snap his streak, Gagner did tally a score in the shootout, helping the Oilers eventually prevail thanks to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' shootout goal in his first game back, giving the Red Wings their first shootout defeat.

It was one of the better games of the season, a very entertaining, back-and-forth game. Minus the shootout, it had everything most every hockey fan likes to see.

Hit of the weekend Part II

I'm not sure this can compete with the Orpik-on-Paille hit, but it's still worth watching. I mean, who doesn't love guys being dumped over the boards?

The Wild and Stars got together for a crucial game for the West playoff picture and at least this hit showed how big it was. Watch Jake Dowell get dumped over the boards and into the camera well by Jed Ortmeyer of the Wild.

I'd say that's as good as time as any for a line change.

Quote of the weekend

“It was a party. It’s always fun. It keeps you in the game. Who knows, though? The next game I might get 15 to 20 shots, and you have to be ready for that, too.” -- Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators goalie on facing 43 shots against the Blues. (from the Tennessean).

Only a goalie could think his team facing 43 shots in one game could be considered a party.

Then again, when you beat a division rival 2-1 and move second place in the ultra-competitive Central, well then it might feel pretty good.

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

Posted on: February 3, 2012 3:14 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2012 3:51 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Winter Classic redux at MSG

Before Thursday, Giroux's last goal was against the Blueshirts in the Classic. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Let's go back just over a month on the NHL schedule, shall we? The Philadelphia Flyers had just finished losing to the New York Rangers in one hell of a finish in the Winter Classic hosted by the City of Brotherly Love.

The first half of the game was pretty dull, no scoring. But the game made up for it with a great second half, including a penalty shot in the final minute.

Among the two goals that the Flyers potted that cold January day was a beauty from Claude Giroux. It was his 18th of the season. It was a great start to the season that led me to pick him as my midseason Hart Trophy winner.

Would you believe that Giroux went the entire rest of the month without a goal? In the remaining 12 games in January, Giroux had nine assists.

You could look at it as a classic case of regressing to the mean. Giroux can score, but in his previous four seasons with the Flyers he never scored more than 25 (the mark he hit last season). Interestingly, he has exactly twice as many assists in his career as goals at this point. So his 18 goals and 29 assists were a bit out of whack. He's still a play-making center.

The only thing I wasn't sure about if it was a regression to the mean or not is if we were going to see a new way of playing for Giroux. There was obviously a lot more pressure put on him to carry the load after the offseason the Flyers had, jettisoning Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

Well, a Flyer can't change his wings. Or something like that.

Now of course Giroux scored on Thursday night in the Flyers' win over the Nashville Predators and ruined the nice little tie in I was going for here. That being the Flyers visiting Madison Square Garden on Sunday and the Rangers for their first encounter since that day outside in South Philly.

It should be a nice appetizer for the Rangers/New York Giants fans before the Super Bowl.

Little will be all that different from that Jan. 2 meeting either. The teams are still two of the best in the NHL, fighting each other in the Atlantic Division and the Rangers are even expected to be wearing their Winter Classic jerseys. Old-schoolers can rejoice, that would mean the Rangers are wearing white (or at least off-white) at home again. For one day.

Yes, it will be a pretty familiar feel, except for, you know, the game being played indoors on a quality sheet of ice (no disrespect to Dan Craig, the NHL's ice guru). And perhaps a different Giroux from that earlier meeting, but the same Giroux the Flyers have fallen in love with and have come to count on, goals or not.

Central casting

It seems like every weekend there is a massive matchup from the Central Division. I guess that happens when you have four of the eight teams in the league that have reached the 65-point mark.

Between the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, that's 36 games against one another throughout the season. So if the schedule were completely balanced, it would actually be more than once a week.

So it's not a rare occurrence to see one of the games. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be missed or not enjoyed to the fullest.

That's why we suggest you don't miss out on the Blues' visit to the Predators on Saturday night. It might help if you like defensively sound hockey, though.

This is their fourth meeting this season and if we throw out the Predators' 4-2 win in the second game of the season seeing that it's pre-Hitchcock, each game has played out the same way, a 2-1 shootout win for the Preds. That's not a lot of scoring but it doesn't mean it's not a lot of good hockey.

Don't underestimate the importance of all these games in the Central. They are what people like to call four-point games because of the potential swings they can cause in the standings. Considering the second and third seeds will go to the Pacific and Northwest, the second spot in the Central by season's end will be crucial, it will give that team home-ice advantage against what will surely be another Central foe.

Battle of Ontario resumes

Here Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul thought they got their month's worth of booing last weekend in Ottawa. Nope.

Those two plus the Leafs' third All-Star, Dion Phaneuf and the rest of the guys from Toronto will head for the Quebec border and meet the Senators in the Canadian capital on Saturday night.

This season the stakes have been ramped up in the Battle of Ontario already with the success the teams have enjoyed thus far and their battling at the bottom half of the East's playoff picture. But this one is crucial for the Sens.

This will be their second game back on home ice since Jan. 16 (Friday night they host the Islanders) and for the first time this season, the Sens have lost four straight in regulation. For a team that has played more games than anybody in the NHL, that has made their somewhat comfortable position in the playoff picture much more perilous. Considering the Leafs are one of their competitors for one of the East's eight spots, you can see why this is a massive game for Ottawa.

The captain is back

That would be the Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin.

On the other side of that provincial border down in Montreal, Ovechkin will play his first game since his three-game suspension before the All-Star break. Because of the time off it feels like Ovi has been out much longer than three games, his last game coming way back on Jan. 22.

"I'm not used to watching the games from upstairs and staying [on the ice] after the morning skates," Ovechkin told Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington. "I'm pretty excited. I miss hockey a lot. It's a situation where you miss the game and you're tired of watching."

The Caps weren't bad in his absence, playing honestly about the same level they were with him, going 1-1-1 in the three games. But there's no doubt he's welcome back in the lineup for his offensive ability on a team that just isn't doing a whole lot when they have the puck these days.

Star showdown

The old North Stars and replacement Stars (see: the Wild) get together for another one of their reunions that's always slightly uncomfortable for the fans back in Minnesota.

But they are clearly much more meaningful this season, more than just some interesting nostalgia coming back up to the fore. This is about the playoffs.

The West has six spots pretty much spoken for already and the Kings are making a good case for the seventh. That means there are a lot of teams fighting for one final spot in the playoff picture, currently held by Minnesota. The Stars are right behind them, three points back with a game in hand. So yea, the games are pretty big.

Of course that includes Saturday night's tilt in Dallas. Both teams could stand to get some wins going again as the Wild are just 4-5-1 in their last 10 while the Stars are 3-6-1 in that same span.

Fight for Florida

Are you noticing a little bit of a rivalry sense this weekend?

While I hesitate to call the Panthers and Lightning rivals, they get the nod based on nothing more than being division and intrastate rivals.

It's hard to quite believe, but this Saturday's game in Tampa Bay will mark the sixth and final meeting between them this season and there are still 30 or so games to go in the season.

Don't let the importance of the game for the Lightning be lost. Their playoff hopes are slim but not non-existent. A chance to take two points from the Southeast-leading Panthers would help them stay within striking distance. It's pretty close to the clichéd must-win game for the Bolts.

We're going streaking!

Here is a look at the streaks, both good and bad, headed into the weekend across the NHL.

San Jose Sharks: Believe it or not, this is the only team in the league right now that has a winning streak (three games in a row or more). And the Sharks barely qualify with three straight. They visit the Coyotes on Saturday night looking for four straight.

Senators: Already covered above, they have lost four in a row in regulation for the first time this season. They have two home games, against the Isles and Leafs.

Blackhawks: Punctuated by that beatdown by Sam Gagner -- I mean the Edmonton Oilers -- the 'Hawks have actually lost four in a row. Their only game of the weekend comes Friday night in Calgary.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Still smarting from that loss that shouldn't have been a regulation loss against the Kings, the Jackets ride their six-game skid into Anaheim to face the Ducks on Friday.

Colorado Avalanche: The up-and-down boys from the Rocky Mountain State are going downhill again. Four consecutive losses follow them into a Saturday matinee with the Canucks.

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

Posted on: February 1, 2012 11:00 am
 

Wild's Zidlicky 'can't be quiet' about scratches

Zidlicky has no goals and 11 assists this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Is the writing on the wall that Marek Zidlicky's time in Minnesota done?

The defenseman has been a scratch in each of the last three games. Mind you, he's healthy. Healthy scratches don't usually sit well with guys who are you used to playing. That's pretty obvious.

Zidlicky is no exception. You know a guy is fired up when he seeks out the reporter, in this case Wild beat writer Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“I can’t be quiet,” Zidlicky began during our sitdown, which you can read more details about in tomorrow’s Star Tribune. “I think three games healthy scratch, it’s more than just like a healthy scratch. [Yeo’s] put me in this position that I am in right now. It’s not easy for me. It’s good for team probably because the guys played pretty well the last two games, but for me, I did everything what he wants me to do. I played like 17, 18 minutes ice time, I play just third, fourth line, I stood on the blue line, I didn’t do anything what I did years before. He said everything I do with the puck and without the puck, it’s wrong. So I have a little different opinion.”

Zidlicky said that since he doesn’t get out with top guys, he spends most his shifts in the defensive zone and “if you spend most time in our zone, you can’t do anything. It can be anybody.” He said he has tried to tell Yeo twice what’s wrong with the power play and who can play the power play, but Yeo told him it wasn’t his business.

“He doesn’t like what I’m doing,” Zidlicky said. “If I’m an offensive player, I’m supposed to play with the top guys. He should show me, ‘You are that guy, and you will be out there the last minute when we need to score.’ There was a lot of times when I just laid on the bench and just wait for my chance. We had a couple meetings about that after 10, 15 games in the season, and I can’t change my style. That’s what I know. That’s for sure. He wants to play easy hockey. I tried everything what he wants, but apparently it doesn’t work.”

He went on to say that he hasn't gone as far as to request a trade from the Wild, but he didn't sound like a guy that would be opposed to it either.

As you might expect, his decision to go to the media to vent his frustrations didn't go over very well with Wild head coach Mike Yeo, who took the time to talk to Russo before Tuesday night's game to help defuse the situation.

“One thing for sure, we’re going to talk. This is not the right way to handle it. Much the same as I wouldn’t want a player to pick up the newspaper one day and read something like, ‘Woah, I didn’t know the coach thought that.’ Like, come into talk to me if there’s a problem. There’s always more than enough communication from our side. It’s got to go both ways.”

On not being told the first time he was a healthy scratch the first time? “The lineup was written on the board [before the skate]. I think if anything he’s confusing not being told with not being told what you want to hear.”

You trying to change him? “One problem for me is when he says I can’t change. 1) One it speaks to the buy-in for me, but 2) I don’t want him to change. I don’t ask Cal Clutterbuck to change. I don’t ask Matt Cullen to change. I don’t ask Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, any of these guys. I haven’t asked Marek Zidlicky to change either. I want them to be themselves, to play their game, but to do it within the team concept. That’s it. No. 1, that way works, wins hockey games. No. 2, like for a guy like that, I’ll point to guys like Kris Letang. He’s playing the same way, the same system, same way. Sergei Gonchar, played the same way, same system. It worked for these guys. So, not only would it be beneficial to him, but it would also be beneficial to the team. But it’s about buying into it. There are very, very clear expectations for every player. As a team, we knew three years in a row we haven’t made the playoffs, so we knew we had to change the culture here. We knew we had to change the environment either. So in order for that to happen, the players No. 1 had to know what was expected of them and No. 2 everybody has to be held accountable. That even means Marek Zidlicky. But with that, like, it also tells me that we’re not there yet. I’m willing to do that. I owe that to Craig, to Chuck, to the fans, the players, the players that are out there battling and doing everything they can for each other. I owe it to them. But I will know that we’re there when the players start holding themselves accountable to those standards.”

Well it sure seems that nobody is quite on the same page here, now does it?

The Wild started this season off so well but have really tumbled since. They are hanging on to the eighth spot in the West and any kind of friction like this can't do much to help.

When you look at Zidlicky as a trade asset, you wonder how much the Wild could get in return. He's just about to turn 35 and this season he has yet to score a goal, recording just 11 assists. For a player who it typically scoring in the 40s in regards to points in a season, that's a massive drop. It's clearly part of the reason why he has been a scratch recently.

In his career, Zidlicky has been his most productive on the power play. Of his 60 career goals, 42 have come on the man advantage, so therein could like some of his value to any team out there. At this point he probably won't be a difference-maker, but perhaps a new locale could help him find his game again.

No matter, things are coming to a head in Minnesota with Zidlicky and the Wild, so you can expect to hear more about him down the line.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL 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.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com