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Tag:New Jersey Devils
Posted on: January 19, 2012 9:58 pm
 

Henrik Tallinder to miss 6-8 weeks

By: Adam Gretz

The New Jersey Devils are going to be without one of their top defenseman, Henrik Tallinder, for the next 6-8 weeks as announced by general manager Lou Lamoriello on Thursday night.

Lamoriello said that the veteran was diagnosed with acute thrombophlebitis (a blood clot) in his leg, which is obviously not a good thing.

In 39 games this season he's recorded six assists and has played an average of just over 21 minutes per game, second most on the team, trailing only rookie Adam Larsson.

The Devils lost to the Bruins, 4-1, on Thursday night, and currently sit in the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference with 54 points.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz 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 17, 2012 12:32 pm
 

Brodeur 'leaning toward coming back next year'

By Brian Stubits

Did you think this season was your last chance to see Martin Brodeur manning the crease for the New Jersey Devils? Not so fast.

The Devils longtime goaltender and owner of a handful of NHL records including wins and shutouts isn't having the best season of his storied career. His goals against average (2.90) and save percentage (.894) are both the worst of his career outside of his rookie season when he only played in four games.

But he is having fun. So at this point, he isn't ruling out a return for next season one bit, according to the New York Post.

“I feel differently about it now than I did last summer, or at the start of the season,” Brodeur said. “It’s not 100 percent, but I’m definitely leaning toward coming back next year.”

The possibility of a lockout next season could muddle his plans, but Brodeur previously insisted he was undecided about playing after his contract ($5.2 million) ends this season.

"There’s a bigger chance now than before,” said Brodeur, 13-10-1 in this, his 18th NHL season. “A few people I’ve spoken to have told me that if you think you still have that little flame, keep it going, because once it’s out, it’s out.”

For nostalgic purposes, that's great. Who wouldn't love the chance to see Brodeur play into his 40s, all with the same franchise -- assuming he'd get his wish and return to New Jersey. But if his numbers are slipping this season, wouldn't the Devils be a little concerned what they'll do with another season?

However it's not like they have any heir-apparents waiting in the wings. Backup Johan Hedberg is only a year younger than Brodeur.

It's great that Brodeur is still having so much fun, it really is. And I would not dare to begrudge him the ability to play another season. But it could put the Devils in an awkward, Brett Favre-like position. The only difference is they don't have Aaron Rodgers waiting for his turn.

H/t to Pro Hockey Talk

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 15, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 5:24 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Do you believe in the Sens?

By Brian Stubits

As the Monkees once sang, I'm a believer.

It has taken more than half a season, but I'm ready to buy stock in the Ottawa Senators. Now I don't think I'd like them to do much beyond make the playoffs at this point, but considering preseason expectations, that's a minor miracle in and of itself.

Before the season began, I remember seeing Senators GM Bryan Murray saying he thought his team could make the playoffs this season contrary to about everybody's prediction of the team's outlook. I also remember my reaction to it was to laugh.

My laughing has stopped.

The Senators pretty much dispelled any notion that this has been a fluke. Their 46 games played are enough to convince you otherwise.

Something else I personally was laughing at was their trade for Kyle Turris. Based on a few seasons of minimal production in Phoenix, I was of the mind that Kyle Turris wasn't as good as his draft position a few years ago indicated, that he was still living off a "potential" tag that wasn't going to materialize the way everybody hoped. In short, I saw Turris as being overrated.

So here's an "oops" on a couple of accounts.

The match of Turris and the Senators has been one forged in heaven. Or something like that. Since Murray shipped defenseman David Rundblad to the Coyotes (who has since been sent down to the AHL) in exchange for Turris, it's been a win for the Senators. A lot of wins.

With Turris in their lineup, the Senators are a sensational 12-2-2, including four consecutive wins after the prevailed over the Canadiens in a shootout on Saturday. Turris has contributed two goals and seven assists in that time.

They have come a long way since that 1-5-0 start to the season.

On the sobering side, they still give up way too much. Their 3.13 goals against per game clocks in at 27th in the league, ahead of only the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Lightning. Just check the standings to see how those teams are faring by giving up so much.

But the Sens can score. You can nit-pick their four All-Star selections, but none of them is completely undeserving. In a game that values offense, the Sens have that covered. Between Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and the venerable Daniel Alfredsson (as well as Erik Karlsson on the blue line) you see how Ottawa is where it is.

Now you have to account for some inflation here. The Senators have played more games than any of the other contenders in the East, so everybody has games in hand on them. But fact of the matter is they have put themselves in a good position to withstand the tide turning back toward other teams in the games-played department.

This is a big stretch for the Senators, playing nine games out of 10 on the road and so far they are three for three.

Feel free to believe.

Home sweet home

The game of the weekend got Saturday started off right with an early faceoff in Detroit. The Red Wings and Blackhawks met for the third time this season, and for the third time it was a 3-2 final. Talk about great hockey.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

Considering the game was at the Joe in Detroit, you should have no problem correctly guessing who prevailed. It was an OT tally from Todd Bertuzzi that gave the Wings the second point on the day, an overtime that was completely controlled by Detroit.

The Red Wings have a great history. You all know that. They have become the definition of a playoff staple. So it's saying something about this year's team when you consider they just captured their 14th consecutive win on home ice to tie a team record. That goes all the way back to 1965.

"Even though we're in the thick of a tight race, it is something we can be proud of as a team," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "This franchise hasn't done this since the 1960s, so it says a lot that we've been able to do it."

That's why the Central Division race is going to be so critical this season. If the Red Wings can get the division title, they are guaranteed to have home ice for at least one series come playoff time. In a division as tight as the Central.

The devil inside

One question I've heard a few times in the press box this season is if the New Jersey Devils are for real. My answer: no doubt.

They aren't without their concerns, for sure. Their goalie situation isn't ideal these days with Martin Brodeur and as good as their power play can be with the skill they have, they have a little problem allowing short-handed goals.

But the thing with the Devils that people forget is that last season was the anomaly. The expectations weren't high because of the miserable first half they endured last season, partly due to salary cap constraints, partly due the absence of Zach Parise.

Bring back a healthy Parise and the rookie Adam Henrique and you have the Devils playing good hockey this season. They were able to do what very few teams have been able to on Saturday night and that was to go into Winnipeg and come away with a victory over the Jets at the MTS Centre thanks to two third-period goals. The winner came from Patrik Elias, his 16th.

Therein lies one of the things I like about any staying power for the Devils, they are more than Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Henrique. They have some second-level scoring to fill in.

Plus, they don't lose in shootouts or overtime much at all. That doesn't help when the postseason comes around but it can help them get there.

They needed that

It sounds like hyperbole, but this really might have been the biggest weekend of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were struggling bad, having lost six games in a row for the first time in years. Then there was the drama about some possibly internal strife and the idea that the Penguins might name a captain in Sidney Crosby's absence.

The team debunked any of that talk on Friday when they took to the ice in Sunrise, Fla. for their morning skate with everybody wearing a C on their sweater (except for Evgeni Malkin who wore a K). The media scrutiny of them and their captain was apparently getting to them so they fought back.

And then they fought back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, too. They came out against the Panthers on Friday night and assaulted the Southeast Division leaders (not for much longer) on their way to a slump-busting 4-1 win. Making sure not to follow it up with a thud, they jumped on the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Sunday and held on to give the Bolts a seventh straight loss.

To put in perspective how dominating they were, the Pens outshot the Panthers and Lightning by a combined 85-46 and won each game by three.

That was a weekend that was sorely needed. The team appears to be galvanized by the whole episode, playing some great hockey in Florida. Either that or the feel of a vacation in the Sunshine State did the trick.

Quote of the weekend

"That should suggest to this whole locker room that we're not far off." -- Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison.

That came after the Hurricanes pulled off the "say what?" moment of the weekend by doubling up the Bruins in Carolina 4-2 on Saturday night.

They might believe they're not far off as far as putting it all together, but they're still very far off when it comes to the standings. However three wins in a row has done something for them in the standings, take them out of the Southeast cellar thanks to the Lightning's skid.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 12, 2012 1:43 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 4:24 pm
 

All-Star Game: Dissecting the picks; predictions

By Brian Stubits

The NHL announce its full list of All-Stars on Thursday in about as poor a way as it could have. Remember when Mario Lemieux called the NHL a garage league? Maybe he was thinking of days like this.

The NHL had ample opportunities to put this front and center. They could have announced the selections on Wednesday night using NBC Sports Network and TSN. Heck, they could have made the announcement using the NHL Network instead of running a replay of a game from last night.

All of that would have been better. Instead, the All-Star selections started leaking one at a time. The first was the Florida Panthers announcing Brian Campbell would be representing them. Then the Blackhawks followed with the Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. The leaks continued until the NHL finally released the entire list of players about an hour later.

It's almost like it wasn't planned.

Anyway, on to the guys who were selected. These are the guys who will head to Ottawa for the All-Star Game and will be part of the second NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft, much like the way you would pick teams for kickball at recess with two captains selecting players until they're gone.

As usual, there are a few head-scratchers in here.

Forwards

Jason Spezza (Senators), Milan Michalek (Senators), Daniel Alfredsson (Senators), Jamie Benn (Stars), Pavel Datsyuk (Red Wings), Marian Gaborik (Rangers), Claude Giroux (Flyers), Marian Hossa (Blackhawks), Jarome Iginla (Flames), Patrick Kane (Blackhawks), Phil Kessel (Maple Leafs), Mikko Koivu (Wild), Joffrey Lupul (Maple Leafs), Evgeni Malkin (Penguins), Logan Couture (Sharks), Alex Ovechkin (Capitals), Jason Pominville (Sabres), Daniel Sedin (Canucks), Henrik Sedin (Canucks), Tyler Seguin (Bruins), Corey Perry (Ducks), Steven Stamkos (Lightning), John Tavares (Islanders), Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks).

Defensemen

Erik Karlsson (Senators), Dion Phaneuf (Maple Leafs), Dustin Byfuglien (Jets), Brian Campbell (Panthers), Zdeno Chara (Bruins), Alexander Edler (Canucks), Dan Girardi (Rangers), Shea Weber (Predators), Keith Yandle (Coyotes), Dennis Wideman (Capitals), Ryan Suter (Predators), Kimmo Timonen (Flyers).

Goaltenders

Tim Thomas (Bruins), Brian Elliott (Blues), Jimmy Howard (Red Wings), Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers), Carey Price (Canadiens), Jonathan Quick (Kings).

For those wondering on the breakdown, that's 24 players from the Eastern Conference, 18 from the Western. The six vote-ins all coming from the East helps with that bit of disparity, though.

Now, on to the superlatives ...

Biggest snub

You never know who actually said no to the invite. That's the caveat here. But if nothing else the players should get the honor and then decline to appear (I get the murkiness of it, but they deserve the honor).

With that said, wow, where do I begin? Teemu Selanne? Nicklas Lidstrom? Well they asked out, so no use getting bent out of shape there. So moving on ...

I understand that Nicklas Backstrom (the Capitals center, that is) is injured at the moment, but he's day to day and the game isn't for another few weeks. There is zero doubt that he has been the Capitals' best player this season, not Ovechkin, who made the roster ahead of a long list of players that probably deserved it more.

I scratch my head a little with the selection of Byfuglien on defense. Not that he is bad by any stretch, but I probably would take a few guys over him. From the Jets perspective, I would have liked to see Evander Kane more.

You could make a case -- probably not a great one, however -- for Florida's Jason Garrison, as well. He leads defensemen in goals with 11 and has a slap shot that might possibly stand a chance in the hardest shot competition against Chara and Byfuglien.

There are a few more in the forward role who seem to be more deserving. It's going to continue to come back to Ovechkin because he's the high-profile name with mediocre numbers. Thomas Vanek in Buffalo? Scott Hartnell in Philly? Kris Versteeg in Florida? Patrik Elias for the Devils? Patrice Bergeron in Boston? Patrick Sharp (who was reportedly not picked before injury concerns) Or even Radim Vrbata from the Coyotes? The lists goes on.

It goes to show how even when the fans aren't voting, star power is a big factor. It's always about a little more than just performance.

Least deserving

To make room for the snubs you obviously have to decide who shouldn't be on the list, otherwise they aren't a snub, right? Well that is pretty tough to do.

I do not think Ovechkin deserves his selection based on merit alone. But again, there's more to it than just the stats. Ovechkin gets in based on the star power and marketing more than anything else. I don't necessarily like that, but I can accept that. I think Kane falls into this category to an extent, too. All things being equal, a few of the snubs probably deserve the honor more than Kane this season, but he has a little star power that, say, Versteeg doesn't have.

I'm not terribly high on the other Caps pick of Wideman either. He's had a good season offensively, which is what this game values most, so in that regard it's OK. But even he admitted he was surprised when he was told, he thought he was getting traded.

After them (not counting the guys voted in) it gets pretty tough. Not any wholly undeserving guys (not even the above mentioned).

Keeping in mind that every team gets represented through the All-Star Game or the rookie selections, some guys are safe. That makes it tougher.

Who will be Mr. Irrelevant?

We know this much: It won't be Kessel again. Absolutely no way to predict this accurately, so my stab in the dark is going to say Couture. He's the only member from the Sharks, he is young and plays at the position with the most players, on the wing.

Who will be the captains?

The official announcement will come in a week, so for now we're left to speculate. Alfredsson is a given seeing how the game is in Ottawa. Take that one to the bank. The other was likely going to be Selanne, but now ... Iginla? Maybe you go with an old Senator in Chara? I'd take my chances it's Iginla.

Or maybe Kessel? That would be interesting.

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

Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:43 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 2:25 pm
 

Midseason Awards: Breaking up the Hart

By Brian Stubits

On Monday night, the NHL season went over the hump and the second half officially began.

The league has been a Wild ride through only half a season as the Maple Leafs fell from the trees and onto your lawn. Stars have been dropping all over the place, too. Some teams have been singing the Blues as they’ve gone down in Flames while others have been surprising high Flyers as if they were in Jets. You'd almost think they made deals with the Devils or something.

OK, enough with the ambiguous team-name puns, time to get our Ducks in a row here.

In the first half of the season alone the NHL has seen seven head coaches fired, plenty of surprises, has memorized the introduction to a Brandon Shanahan video and had a memorable Winter Classic (we can thank NBC for that, right Torts?).

Now comes the fun part where everybody and their brother has their own candidate for each award, but here are the Eye on Hockey midseason awards as handed out by myself, Brian Stubits and my colleague Adam Gretz.

See that commentary space at the bottom? That's for your write-in candidates. Don't be shy (as if you needed the encouragement).

Hart (Given to the Most Valuable Player)

Stubits: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Giroux has had absolutely no problem filling the scoring void left by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in Philadelphia. His 48 points are 11 better than the next highest on his team (Scott Hartnell) despite missing four games with a concussion and he has the Flyers in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

Gretz: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

I know the history. I know that goaltenders don't generally win this award, and that you can probably count on one hand the number of times it's happened, at least over the past 30-40 years. But we're talking about MVP's of the first half of the season, and I'm not sure where the Rangers would be without him at this point. He faces a heavy workload and he's their best player every night.

Vezina (Given to the most outstanding goalie)

Stubits: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

I had a tough time here with him and Henrik Lundqvist. Considering Quick has carried more of his team's load and has twice as many shutouts clinches it for me. As for Tim Thomas? Hard when Tuukka Rask's numbers are even better. Brian Elliott has been splitting too much. Jimmy Howard another close call. Hard to make a bad pick for Vezina this year.

Gretz: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

The last four goalies to win the MVP (Jose Theodore, Dominik Hasek -- twice -- Jacques Plante) also won the Vezina Trophy that same season, so if I have Lundqvist as my mid-season MVP, it only seems fair to give him the Vezina as well. Boston's Tuukka Rask has better numbers at this point, but he's also only appeared in 14 games.

Norris (Given to the top defenseman)

Stubits: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Offensively speaking, he's one of the best you'll find in hockey. Defensively speaking, he's one of the best you'll find in hockey. What else could you want in a defenseman? Zdeno Chara comes in a close second for me with Brian Campbell a surprising third.

Gretz: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

He's one of the leading scorers among defensemen in the NHL and one of the guys Nashville leans on to play heavy minutes (among the toughest in the league), which makes his ability to put up points even more impressive.

Calder (Given to the top rookie)

Stubits: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

As of now, that's not a terribly tough call, I don't think. Nugent-Hopkins has been great for the Oilers this season, particularly on the power play. He's on pace for around 75 points if he were to play 82 games (which he won't). It will get more interesting as the season wears on and Nugent-Hopkins remains sidelined. Watch for Adam Henrique in New Jersey.

Gretz: Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils

Offensively, his numbers are nearly identical to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton with seemingly far less fanfare. I give the edge to Henrique because he's played in tougher situations and is a regular on New Jersey's penalty kill, which happens to be the best in the NHL. He's tied for the league lead (among all players, not just rookies) in shorthanded points.

Jack Adams (Given to the best coach)

Stubits: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues

How can your choice be anybody else? The Blues were 6-7-0 before he was hired, 18-5-5 since. St. Louis has allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL behind the Rangers and Bruins. Paul MacLean is my second choice. Kevin Dineen and Mike Yeo slipped with sluggish Decembers.

Gretz: Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators

Nobody had any preseason expectations for the Ottawa Senators other than that they would be competing for the No. 1 overall pick. Did anybody have them competing for a playoff spot at the halfway point? Or at any point? He also wins the Lanny MacDonald award for best mustache in the NHL.

Selke (Given to the best defensive forward)

Stubits: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

There are some great choices, but you can't go wrong with Bergeron. The Bruins defense is outstanding and he's part of that. Guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews have arguments here too but the best defense should be rewarded in some fashion.

Gretz: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Bergeron has been climbing up the Selke voting in recent years, slowly but surely, and he's the best defensive player on one of the best defensive team in the league. Even though he plays some of the toughest minutes on the team, he's only been on the ice for 10 goals against at even strength. He kills penalties, wins faceoffs ... he does it all. One of the best two-way players in the league.

Best surprise

Stubits: Florida Panthers

The Panthers have been in first place of the Southeast Division for almost two months running. Let those words soak in. Sure, the division hasn't been very good as a whole, but this team was ripped pretty mercilessly for the offseason overhaul and here they are. Other good choices: Jets, Senators, Wild.

Gretz: Ottawa Senators

For the same reasons I have Paul MacLean as mid-season coach of the year. Nobody expected anything from the Senators this season other than for them to be terrible.

Biggest disappointment

Stubits: Buffalo Sabres

They aren't the worst of the candidates -- Ducks, Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Lightning -- but they had some very high expectations and have been incredibly pedestrian. They just aren't scoring much, their 107 goals the second fewest in the East. Very big things were expected of them, a point-per-game pace doesn't fit the bill.

Gretz: Columbus Blue Jackets

Well, this seems easy. Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski were supposed to be difference makers at two spots they needed the most help at, and while I didn't think they would be any sort of contender, I at least thought they would have a shot at the playoffs. At the halfway point, they're the worst team in the league.

Best offseason acquisition

Stubits: Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues

It was very close for me between him and another Brian, Campbell down in Florida. But Elliott, an afterthought on the goalie market this offseason, has been sensational in St. Louis, even before Hitchcock came aboard. He'd be my favorite for the Vezina if he weren't splitting so much with Jaroslav Halak.

Gretz: Ian White, Detroit Red Wings

There were questions as to how the Red Wings would replace Brian Rafalski on the blue line, and Ian White at an average annual salary of $2.75 million over two years has been a bargain for the production and quality of play he's provided.

Worst offseason acquisition

Stubits: Tomas Kaberle, Carolina Hurricanes

To be honest, I was looking for somebody other than Ville Leino, who is likely the runaway choice for this. But Kaberle was almost as bad, the only difference was that his contract isn't the long-term commitment that Leino's is. That didn't stop 'Canes GM Jim Rutherford from fixing his mistake before the All-Star break by trading Kaberle to Montreal. Under the radar pick: Re-signing Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay.

Gretz: Ville Leino, Buffao Sabres

This seemed like a dubious signing from the start. Buffalo gave Ville Leino six-years and $27 million based on one full season of production in the NHL. In 30 games this season he has 10 points.

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
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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.

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