Tag:Alex Ovechkin
Posted on: November 28, 2011 2:41 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 8:49 pm
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Bruce Boudreau loses job after losing team

By Brian Stubits

ARLINGTON, Va. -- To most, it would appear that Bruce Boudreau is the classic case of a coach becoming a victim of his own success.

The Washington Capitals fired their coach of four seasons on Monday, breaking the news to him at 6:15 in the morning and naming one of greatest players in franchise history, Dale Hunter, his replacement.

Boudreau was as good of a regular-season coach as the NHL has ever seen. The Caps took off under him when he became the boss during the 2007-08 season, going 37-17-7. The four times he finished the season behind the Caps bench, they won the Southeast Division.

But he could never get over the playoff failures. In his tenure, the Caps were 17-20 in the playoffs. That lost him a lot of favor among the fans who were thirsting for more. To see a team doing so well season after season and failing to make a conference final? Still, the Capitals brass stuck behind Boudreau.

No, what cost Boudreau his job wasn't the losses in the playoffs -- although those didn't help -- but instead it was the loss of the team this season.

"These are always difficult decisions but, as I said, you don't want to make these decisions but when you see what I saw, you have to make the decision," general manager George McPhee said. "You can't look the other way. I've seen it in a few games recently, enough that I knew the team wasn't responding. We've got their attention now and hopefully they respond in the right way.

"He gave it everything. As I said, he emptied the tank, he gave it everything and he pushed every button he could push. It worked for a while, it's not working now."

The losing of the team was never on more display than the now infamous incident when Alex Ovechkin, the team's superstar and captain, was benched for the final shift of the game, one in which the Caps scored to tie the game, no less. On the bench, Ovechkin was seen mumbling something about his portly coach that was less than flattering (lip-readers out there know what was said). If there were any thing that signaled the beginning of the end, that was probably it.

General manager George McPhee declined to signal out one instance, but when talking about losing the team, that is exhibit A.

"I don't think this has anything to do with Alex Ovechkin," McPhee said on Monday at the team's practice facility. "I think this has everything to do with his team not playing well. The goalies aren't stopping pucks, the defense aren't getting the pucks out and the forwards aren't checking and scoring enough. It's our whole team, not an individual. We have a lot of players that aren't playing the way they are capable of playing, and that's why a change was made.

"We've got to be good defensively. We haven't been good defensively. That's really my issue right now. We're just giving up too many goals."

Maybe the players put it best.

“For whatever reason, as a team we weren’t really responding well enough or as good as we should have been,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “And it’s kind of ‘Where do you go from there?’ And that’s when they come into play, the guys upstairs. And they do what they have to do.”

Or there was Brooks Laich's more succinct take.

"You should be giving your best effort all the time ... It sucks that he's the fall guy for it."

More NHL Coaching Changes

If that Ovechkin incident was just the beginning, than it was a recent road trip that was the end. The final nail in the coffin appeared to be an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

"A couple of games on the road last week, I didn't like them at all," McPhee said. "I was happy we bounced back early last week with a couple of wins, but then I started to see the same thing again. and that's when you know.

"It's probably been about a week that we've been kicking it around."

The hope, of course is that this will flip the switch and the Capitals will return to being the Capitals of the past few seasons, the team that romped its way to the Presidents' Trophy. There is hope among the Caps and their fans that this in-season change will work as well as it did for the Penguins and Flyers in recent seasons, with both teams representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.

The most intriguing aspect of this will be to see if Ovechkin, and to a lesser extent Alexander Semin, will play like we have seen them in the past. The local radio shows here are filled with what you'd expect: people thinking Ovechkin is done, wanting Semin gone, etc.

It's a worthwhile question: Can a new coach bring back the old players?

That's the task for Hunter. Many are betting he will. I'm not as convinced. I don't think we'll ever see the 50-goal Ovechkin again. I'm not even sure how much we'll see of a 40-goal Ovechkin. Power forwards don't last forever in the NHL, especially when they don't adapt. If Ovechkin is going to become the dynamic player he once was, he'll have to change. Maybe that is a message Hunter will be able to get through to him, because clearly Boudreau couldn't.

The inevitable happened in this coach vs. star battle: the star won. We all knew that would be the result eventually, you can't fire Ovechkin. In reality, Ovechkin doesn't come away looking any better than Boudreau in this case.

"I think everybody was in shock," the captain said.

Ovechkin continued, saying that sometimes a message can get a little tiresome.

"You can be tired from what the coach is telling you and maybe mistakes and some things like that," Ovechkin said. "But again, the decision is made and we just have to look forward, not look back. Or if you are going to look back at what happened, I think we don't have to talk to you guys about it. It's going to be between our family and our locker room."

That family no longer includes Boudreau, obviously. Not after his early morning talk with McPhee.

"We had a meeting at 6:15 this morning and he was a class act, all the way," McPhee said. "He said all the right things and he made me feel better. Bruce has got such a nice way about him. He made me feel better about the decision. If the worst thing you can say about the guy is that he's a hell of a nice guy, he must be a great guy, and Bruce has been a great guy here."

I can tell you this much. While Boudreau might night be missed a whole lot by the fans, he'll be missed as a personality in the sport. He became an even bigger star when he stole the show on HBO's 24/7 series. But he won't be out of hockey long at all. If he isn't coaching again, he'll find a spot on television for sure.

With his affability, that's a team he would never lose.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 28, 2011 8:44 am
Edited on: November 28, 2011 6:17 pm
 

Capitals fire Boudreau, bring in Dale Hunter

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By Brian Stubits

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals announced on Monday morning that they have fired head coach Bruce Boudreau and named former player Dale Hunter to be his replacement.

Hunter will make his debut as the Caps' new boss on Tuesday night in Washington against the St. Louis Blues.

The rumor mill picked up late Sunday night when Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet reported that he was hearing rumblings Boudreau could be out as coach in 24-48 hours. He had it wrong. Apparently it was more like 12 hours.

"The reason for the change was we weren't winning, obviously," general manager George McPhee said. "This wasn't a slump. You can ride out slumps. This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce. When you see that, as muc as you don't want to make a change you have to make a change.

"Bruce did a terrific job here, we're very proud of him, very proud of the work he did for us. But when the players aren't responding, you have to make a change."

Can you view the Boudreau, then, as a failure?

More NHL Coaching Changes

"I don't view this as a negative or a failure at all," McPhee said. "I think Bruce came in and did a great job, but his time was up."

Boudreau took over as the Capitals coach during the 2007-08 season, replacing Glen Hanlon, and in parts of five seasons behind the team's bench compiled an impressive 201-88-40 regular season record. The team qualified for the postseason in each of the previous four seasons but struggled to have the regular season success carry over to the playoffs, never advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs, and twice exiting in the first round. That includes the 2009-10 season when they won the Presidents Trophy with the best record in the NHL and were dismissed by the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens in seven games.

Replacing him will be the 51-year-old Hunter who has spent the past decade coaching the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and leading them to the Memorial Cup championship during the 2004-05 season. He owns the highest career winning percentage of any coach in the OHL's history.

Hunter, of course, also played for the Capitals between 1987 and 1999 during a career that saw him score 323 goals and compile over 3,500 penalty minutes in 1,407 regular season games. Along with the Capitals, he also spent time with the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche.

"This has been my team ... I shouldn't say my team, it's Ted's [Leonsis] team but it feels like my team because I played here for so long and I have good memories here," Hunter said at his meet the media session after Monday's team practice here at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "I taped every game for the last how many years?"

Asked what Hunter will bring as a coach, McPhee talked about the pedigree Hunter has.

"Hopefully [he brings] the same things that he brought as a player," McPhee said. "Obvioulsy Dale was an intelligent player, he had talent and he was tough, downright mean at times. We probably won't see a player like that again for a while. You don't see numbers like the numbers he's had. But he played 19 years in this league and I think the best thing you could ever say Dale Hunter was whether the game was home or away or he was injured or healthy or we were winning or losing, that guy played the same every night. And it was hard. So he had really a great NHL career over 19 years, played a heck of a lot of playoff games."

As for his jump from the OHL to the NHL? McPhee isn't worried.

"No one's been better at that level. In that Ontario Hockey League that's been around forever, he has the best winning percentage of all time. It's not a flash in the pan; one or two or three years. It's 11 years. He's turned that franchise into the best junior franchise going."

Hunter, the only player in NHL history to have 300 goals and 3,000 penalty minutes in his career, will bring his style back to Washington, a city where he is remembered fondly as one of only four retired jerseys in the rafters.

"We're going to be a hard team to play against," Hunter said. "We're going to be on the puck hard, forecheck hard, really responsible defensively, backside pressure coming back through the neutral zone so teams can't run-and-gun on ya."

Asked if his team will play the way Hunter did, he didn't exactly say yes.

"Too many referees out there now!" Hunter said, drawing a laugh from the massive media contingent. "There's an extra referee out there now."

One of the big concerns, then, is getting this team to respond. If Boudreau lost the team's ear, how can he expect to get it back? How will his approach differ from that of Boudreau?

"Every coach coaches differently," Hunter said. Sometimes the players hear your voice everyday and sometimes the players don't execute as well as they should.

"I'm a player's coach, but also the players will know when I'm mad at them. I'm stern on them, that's the way you have to be to win game. Mistakes ... everybody makes mistakes out there, but if he continues making mistakes than there will be repurcussions."

That sounds a bit like the accountability mantra Boudreau was preaching this season. One difference though is that Hunter will start with that attitude. It's much easier for players to accept it when you are always more stern than somebody like Boudreau who was a bit more of a player's coach who tried to turn into a demanding coach in the offseason. That's a difficult change to make.

This is already the second in-season coaching change of the NHL season, as the Blues, Washington's opponent on Tuesday night, replaced Davis Payne with Ken Hitchcock earlier this month.

The Capitals opened the season on a 7-0 record and the best record in the NHL, but have followed that up with a 5-9-1 run and have struggled the most over the past two weeks, getting blown out by Buffalo, New York and Toronto, while also dropping games to Nashville and Winnipeg.

Adam Gretz contributed to this report

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 27, 2011 11:04 pm
 

Talk about Boudreau's security picks up again

By Brian Stubits

From the completely unsubstantiated rumors department, we present to the latest from Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos -- a typically solid insider -- on the Washington Capitals coaching situation. This is just a friendly reminder to consume this with one healthy grain of salt.

As a guest on Rogers Sportsnet's Hockey Central, Kypreos was asked about the situation in Washington at the moment, a city he once played in. His response sent the Caps fan base into a tizzy (transcribed quotes from Washington Times).

“A lot of speculation something could happen in the next 24-48 hours,” Kypreos said. “The name being thrown out there is ex-Washington Capital, a centerman of mine, Dale Hunter.”

The Capitals denied the rumor, calling it just speculation.

Kypreos played with Hunter in Washington during their stints in the NHL. Hunter has been the coach of the London Knights in the OHL for 11 years and his family is tied in with the organization. For his part, he denied being contacted for the job through the London Free-Press.

I don't think anybody could be surprised if Boudreau were to get the boot now. Because of the team's lack of success in the playoffs, he has been on thin ice for a guy who has won as much as he has in the regular season. But since they started the season 7-0-0, the Caps have fallen on tough times. Since then, they are 5-9-1 and in the past eight games they have been outscored 34-17.

What makes this time different then all the past rumors of his demise? Well general manager George McPhee failed to give a comment on Boudreau's job safety earlier this month when asked.

There have been issues this season with some of his players this season. Things haven't seemed as harmonious for the Caps after Boudreau was encouraged by McPhee in a new accountability theme with the team. That led to the benching of Alex Ovechkin in the final shift of the game -- one which the Caps eventually did score on. He has been poking and prodding Alexander Semin to get the most out of him, including scratching the Russian winger for a game.

Through it all, none of it has seemed to work much. Would a new coach like Hunter be what finally brings those guys back to form?

With their 4-3 win over the Coyotes last week, Boudreau became the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 wins. Still, here we are talking about Boudreau's job security. Again.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 21, 2011 6:49 pm
 

Alexander Semin a healthy scratch for Caps

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals are in one massive funk. And this one isn't like last year's slump where the Caps weren't playing all that bad but still losing every night for a couple of weeks. No, in this stretch they are playing downright poor hockey.

Chief among that funk is the team's talented Russian forward named Alex (OK, well both of them, but in this case we're talking about Alexander Semin, not Alex Ovechkin).

Bruce Boudreau has tried it all to get Semin to perform better. He has called him out through the media. He benched Semin for the second half a game. The following game he gave Semin a lot of ice time, trying some positive reinforcement. He then had Semin playing with the fourth line in practice. None of it seemed to work all that much. Semin has more minor penalties (14) than points (nine).

So now Boudreau is pulling about the last card in his deck: Semin was a healthy scratch for Monday night's game against the Coyotes in Washington. It's the first time since 2003-04 Semin has been a healthy scratch.

Even more interesting, Semin didn't even take part in the Caps' morning skate on Monday or in the pregame skate around, both somewhat unsusual occurences. Although the morning skate was optional.

We're used to players performing their best in contract years, i.e. the final years of their contracts. That's not the case for Semin, who is not under contract beyond this upcoming spring. If he doesn't get this turned around quick and find his way out of Boudreau's doghouse, it will be interesting to see what his options for the future will be.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 18, 2011 1:52 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Bryzgalov gets to meet Winnipeg

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Let's call this the Ilya Bryzgalov tour of fun.

It started with Bryz facing his former team on Thursday night, the Phoenix Coyotes. His old pals still in the Phoenix red? Let's just say not all of them had flattering comments to make about their former netminder.

There was Derek Morris (no, not THAT Derek Morris) talking about how Bryzgalov gives up soft goals. He even went so far as to say he's glad Bryzgalov is gone and Mike Smith is in. Adrian Aucoin wasn't the most complimentary either.

In the end Bryzgalov got the last laugh with a 2-1 win. Afterward he was only complimentary of his ex-squad.

"It's my former team and not an easy team to beat," he said.

That was Step I, reunion with the team he used to play for. Step II is visiting the city he could have played for, but never would have on Saturday afternoon.

You remember earlier this year, before the Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets, don't you? Most of the speculation was that the Coyotes, not the Thrashers would become the Jets. So Bryzgalov was asked for his thoughts on the matter and considering he's usually always candid, the response he gave didn't exactly sit well with the 'Peggers.

Here is what he said in April.

"You don't want to go to Winnipeg, right?" Bryzgalov said. "Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus it's cold. There's no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It's going to be tough life for your family.

"I better go to somewhere in Russia, KHL, to be honest. Because KHL is Russian people, it's family, friends. Even as a cold place, I can speak to people in Russian language."

Think the people in Winnipeg forgot about that? Of course not. After all, there is no excitement except the hock ...

Bryzgalov remembers it too, and he did back off a bit on Friday.

"I didn't mean it and I didn't want to offend anybody," Bryzgalov said (from Ted Wyman at the Winnipeg Sun). "I'm pretty sure it's good people, beautiful people live in Winnipeg. I'm pretty sure it's passionate fans. I didn't mean it to be honest. That's it."

Since returning to the NHL this season, the Jets fans have enjoyed once again the art of goalie taunting. No doubt they will serenade the goalie with "Illlll-yaaaa" chants all game long, but they could have just a little more juice in store. A popular Jets fan forum has taken to posting sign ideas for fans at the game. I'm envisioning a WWE event or ESPN College Gameday site with signs all over in the crowd. Make it happen Winnipeg.

Of course, with all of the anticipation in Winnipeg for the chance to boo and jeer Bryzgalov, it will probably be Sergei Bobrovsky that starts.

As far as the game on the ice is concerned, the Jets are playing better hockey these days and have been getting the habit of knocking off some of the traditionally stronger East teams at home. They come into the game against the Flyers -- the top team in the East at the moment -- having won the last two home games, both against teams in the playoffs last year (Capitals and Lightning). They also knocked off the Penguins at home early in the season.

When you add in the absence of Jaromir Jagr for the game and it won't be a walk in the park (get it?) for Bryzgalov and the Flyers.

Back on track

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Canadiens were in disarray. They were off to their worst start in more than 60 years. Assistant coach Perry Pearn was fired. Jacques Martin seemed to be only a couple of losses away from meeting the same fate.

Since an October 24 loss to the Florida Panthers and the subsequent dismissal of Pearn, the Canadiens have very quietly rebounded. I mean, when have you known the Habs to do anything quietly? They have posted a 7-3-1 record since that game and have climbed within three points of the division-leading Sabres.

The natural connection to make is to see the team has done well since firing Pearn, so that must have something to do with it. While I don't want to completely dismiss the idea -- there could be some credence to the belief that it was a "wakeup call" for the Habs players -- it probably is more coincidental than anything. Montreal just happened to have a rough patch at the beginning of the season.

This is where I caution you not to get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. The Canadiens have evened themselves out and are at .500 (if we treat OT losses as ties). Of course, that doesn't mean Martin's seat isn't still hot, it's just not scalding at the moment. He's been passed by Scott Arniel and Paul Maurice in the hot seat rankings.

We will get a better idea of which team more closely resembles the truth: the one that started the season or the one that is 7-3-1 of late. That's because they will go up against arguably the hottest team in hockey on Saturday night. What the Rangers been up to lately? Oh, they're just on a seven-game win streak.

Roller coast of tough love

Speaking of highs and lows, check out the Detroit Red Wings. Talk about a roller coaster of emotion.

The Wings came out of the gate winning their first five games. They followed that up with six straight losses before rebounding with four consecutive wins. Now they have lost two in a row. Pretty amazing for a team to be 17 games in without anything but a streak.

Overall, they have lost five in a row on the road.

"It's tough, nothing that we want to do," said Henrik Zetterberg of the road losing streak. "We have another chance Saturday [in Los Angeles] to turn it around."

That will come on Saturday afternoon against an on-the-up Kings team, 4-1-0 in their last five.

"Do we want to be a good team or not?" coach Mike Babcock said about what will be the subject matter of a team meeting (Detroit News). "Life doesn't just go on good for you. You make a decision it's going to go good for you. You decide for yourself you're going to be successful. You decide for yourself that you're going to make a difference and have a good career. No one just gives you stuff.

"The other teams are trying to. We have to make some decisions."

Ovie debate continues

Alex Ovechkin is drawing a lot of heat these days, and unfortunately for him it isn't over goal celebrations.

At first glance, his numbers don't seem bad (seven goals and seven assists in 17 games) but this is Ovie we're talking about here. Obviously a lot is expected of him.

Right now he is struggling. And, maybe as a result, the Capitals are struggling. Are the two connected? Somewhat. Obviously No. 8 is a big part of the Caps. They especially need more than one goal in a five-game span, such as his current stretch.

So what better place than Toronto for Ovechkin and Washington get find their confidence again? Since James Reimer went down, the goaltending in Toronto has returned to its pre-Reimer state: atrocious. Moreover, Ovechkin has always put up good numbers at the Leafs' place, scoring 23 goals in 23 games there.

It would help ease some of the increasing hysteria in "the nation's hockey capital" if he and the Caps could bust out the scoring stick again in a Hockey Night in Canada showcase.

How much more for Maurice?

That's becoming a popular question in NHL circles right now. Is Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice one or two more losses away from being fired?

Something's gotta give right now in Carolina. The 'Canes have lost six of seven and their star player, Eric Staal, is still struggling to make much of an impression. This was supposed to be a year of progression, not the other way around. After just barely missing the playoffs last spring, the hopes were that the 'Canes would again contend for the postseason as presently constructed.

It would probably go a long way toward calming the panic that is setting in not only among the fans, but GM Jim Rutherford as well, if they handle the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night. As you'll recall, Rutherford has fired Maurice before, he could certainly do it again.

We're going streaking

As the great Lou Brown said in Major League: "Gentlemen, we won yesterday. If we win today, that's two in a row. If we win tomorrow, that's what they call a winning streak. It has happened before."

So with that obvious definition in mind, here's a look at the winning streaks in play.

Flyers: As mentioned above, they play in Winnipeg on Saturday and they enter having won three in a row.

Rangers: Also covered, they have won seven games in a row and take that streak into Saturday's tilt against the Habs.

Boston Bruins: The B's also enter the weekend winners of their last seven games and only have one game to play, that's Saturday at the Islanders.

Ottawa Senators: Yes, the Sens have found themselves on another run, winning three in a row. Their lone weekend game comes on Sunday night in Vancouver.

Chicago Blackhawks: Riding a four-game streak, the Blackhawks will have to do the Alberta two-step with the Flames on Friday and Oilers on Saturday.

St. Louis Blues: That's right, that Ken Hitchcock move is working out pretty well. The head to Minnesota having won three consecutive.

Kings: Lastly (boy there are a lot of streaks right now) the aforementioned Kings also take a three-game run into their Saturday game against the Red Wings.

Among the losing steaks, we'll just list the top (or bottom) and that's the Oilers, losers of four in a row.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 6, 2011 5:21 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2011 6:06 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Sabres goalies; Jackets bottom out

By Brian Stubits

If you happened to have a family vacation or weekend-long wedding to attend -- anything to cause you to miss the weekend in the NHL -- here is what you missed.

The Columbus Blue Jackets seem on the verge of upheaval. There might be a goalie controversy in Buffalo. Georges Laraque is talking steroid use and, well, at least John Tortorella was the same as usual, so that's comforting.

Yes, just a ho-hum weekend.

Let's start in Buffalo, shall we?

The Sabres had a double dip over the weekend, playing Friday at home against Calgary then Saturday in Ottawa. It wasn't a surprise that coach Lindy Ruff went with Jhonas Enroth over Ryan Miller in Friday's game. Enroth has played well of late while Miller hasn't. It was surprising, however, when Enroth got the nod again on Saturday. Usually back-to-backers are split among goalies, especially when there is a quality backup in play.

At first glance, you think little of it. Miller is struggling and Ruff is just going with the better option at this point. Especially in early November, that's nothing to write home about. That's until you see things like this, from Sabres beat writer John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

"One of the Sabres admitted to me after last night's game: The team has just been playing harder in front of Enroth than they have for Miller."

That doesn't sound good. It could mean that Miller has been so good in the past that the team has become somewhat complacent when he is in the game. Not exactly what you would want to hear. You want your team to play hard all the time for any goalie. But it beats the alternative explanation of the team not playing for Miller for the other reasons. The reasons that bring about the use of words like Schism.

The Sabres are high on Enroth. That's no secret. If nothing else, he has earned himself more playing time with his 4-0-0 start this season. His GAA is 1.41 and he has a save percentage of .952. He hasn't surrendered more than two goals in a game this season.

But it's not as if Miller suddenly became bad. He has hit a rut. Every goalie does. He was solid to start the season when he was 4-1 with a 1.61 GAA. Since then he's 0-4 and has a GAA at 3.91. It happens.

I don't think many believe Miller will continue to struggle and Enroth will get the lion's share of the work. No, Miller is not likely to repeat his 2009-10 Vezina-winning season. There's a reason why seasons like that are called career years, but he's still only 31 and has been considered one of the game's best netminders for the past few years. That's why it's kind of a big deal when there appears to be a controversy.

But the good news for Buffalo out of all of this is that we know there are two good keepers in town.

Just when you think they can't get any lower ...

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a world of hurt. They were obliterated by the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday 9-2. Perhaps making matters worse, they had to see Jakub Voracek have his best game as a Flyer since being acquired from the Blue Jackets and the draft pick Philly also picked up in the trade, Sean Couturier, abused them.

In all, it was the 12th straight road loss for the Blue Jackets. From the Other Unbelievable Stats Department, it was the 10th time in 13 games that Columbus goalie Steve Mason has given up a goal on one of the first four shots he faced. To see even more on how rough it has been for Mason this season, check out Eye On Hockey's Adam Gretz's post on Mason. Bru-tal!

“We’ve hit a lot of bottoms this year,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said, “and this is another big one.”

Rumors were circling last week that the end was nigh for Arniel and maybe GM Scott Howson. They each made it through the week. But this? This might be too tough for them to survive.

Last week the word was that Ken Hitchcock and Craig Button were the names being mentioned to replace Arniel and Howson in the case of a dismissal. Now the name being tossed out, at least for the GM role, is Kings executive Ron Hextall. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said he hasn't been contacted by anybody about Hextall's availability.

Here is the problem I see in Columbus. I feel bad for Arniel, he just doesn't have a team that can compete. While most feel that it's a roster that could stand to be blown up and a fresh start be undertaken, that won't be easy. There are a lot of big contracts on the roster. It still amazes me, but the Blue Jackets are pushing the salary cap.

Obviously things need to be fixed, but I'm not sure there is a quick fix to be found. Maybe the best thing that could happen to them at this point is to get the top pick in the draft and get a potential superstar in Nail Yakupov, the consensus top prospect right now.

Talk about Staaled

Eric Staal is off to one tough start.

The Hurricanes captain still hasn't scored even strength this season. All three of his goals came with the man up. At least he had two assists in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Stars, but his league-worst minus-14 dropped even further to minus-16.

Is it the absence of Erik Cole on his line? The captain clearly hasn't been the same this season without Cole, who signed with the Canadiens in the offseason.

We're at the point where slow starts are no longer categorized as just slow starts. They are starting to be cause for concern. Staal is supposed to be the big gun. He has led the 'Canes in scoring three out of the last four seasons. But right now he just looks off. Against the Stars, he drew a two-minute minor that seemed to be out of frustration.

At the same time, his Hurricanes also ran into the red-hot Stars, who became the first team to 10 wins this season. If anybody doesn’t believe in Dallas yet, I suggest you watch them for a game or two. Loui Eriksson is for real and he and Jamie Benn make one heck of a duo.

Torts at it again

John Tortorella actually has the Rangers rolling along at the moment. His team has won three in a row, Saturday's 5-3 win over Montreal giving him the 100th victory of his career. So you would think that might make the often salty coach a little happier and forthcoming these days?

Come on. This is Tortorella we're talking about.

His pregame media availability lasted 43 seconds before the Habs game. All questions were met with either a nope, a shake of the head or just "no idea." That brought about a softball question to soften the mood. "What's your mom's birthday?" At least it yielded a smile, but it was another "I have no idea."

Oh Torts, don't ever change. Especially before the 24/7 series is done.

As for things on the ice, Torts seems to have found a nice little recipe by putting Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards on separate lines. It has keyed the Rangers' recent streak and has them looking more like the team a lot of people expected after this summer's moves.

Visor vision

Saturday night the Kings and Penguins played a doozie on the West Coast. Pittsburgh eventually won a great game that was decided in a shootout (collective groan now).

But during the game, the mandatory visor crowd got some more ammunition when Drew Doughty took a puck to the face.

Video courtesy of The Score.

It didn't save Doughty from being cut above the eye, but it might have saved his eye. It was a scary moment, but it's even scarier to think about what would have happened if he didn't wear the shield.

Of course, as you'd expect from any hockey player, Doughty wasn't removed from the game and helped the Kings pick up one point on the night.

Welcome back Bruins

Is this what wakes up the defending champs?

How good must it have felt for Boston to go into Toronto and rout the division-leading Maple Leafs 7-0? Really good I imagine.

Tyler Seguin recorded his first career hat trick. With the way he has been playing this season, that only seemed like a matter of time. He has clearly been their best player in the early going this year.

Sometimes it can be games like this that flip the switch. It was getting close to desperation time for Boston, it couldn't afford to fall any further behind. Now we wait and see if it rubs off and they show the form that made them so good a season ago.

Caps stop playing

At least that's what Alex Ovechkin thinks.

The Capitals ran into the stone-cold Islanders, losers of six in a row before Saturday, and fell 5-3. Despite the loss, it might have been Ovechkin's best game of the season. He only had a goal on the night, but it was a solid performance.

He couldn't say the same about his team, however.

“I think we have pretty good start. We score two goals. After that, we just stopped playing and give them opportunities to score goals,” Ovechkin said. “They’re young, they’re fresh and they want to win. After first period, we just stopped playing.”

Maybe they were still stunned from that ceremonial faceoff. (We just wanted to show off this photo of an Air National Guardsman dropping the ceremonial puck. Awesome.)

Quote of the weekend

Arniel when asked about his job security after the 5-2 loss:

"Nice question, all right. Nice question. I’m not in charge of that. I’m worried about what I have to do tomorrow with this hockey team."

Photos: Getty Images/Deadspin

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

Posted on: November 2, 2011 10:38 am
Edited on: November 2, 2011 12:59 pm
 

Ovechkin benched in crunch time; big deal or not?

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- When it came crunch time on Tuesday night for the Washington Capitals, trailing by one with less than a minute to go, Bruce Boudreau put his best line on the ice. That did not include putting Alexander Ovechkin in the game. And wouldn't you know it, Nicklas Backstrom scored on a big rebound to send the game to overtime.

The Caps eventually prevailed over the Ducks when Backstrom again beat Jonas Hiller. Ovechkin was on the ice for that goal, getting an assist as the pass to Backstrom went off Ovie's skate.

But back to that end of regulation. Coming out of a timeout, Boudreau had just diagrammed a play and pulled his goalie Tomas Vokoun. That's when Ovechkin was ready to jump on the ice, only to be told to take a seat.

As you can see from the video, Ovechkin was saying the right things afterward. But at the time? Well he didn't seem too pleased with the benching, now did he?

The obvious answer is why wouldn't he? Of course he wanted to play and be on the ice in the final minute. If he weren't angry and wanting to play, just taking a benching with disinterest, wouldn't THAT be cause for concern? So he muttered something to himself. Big deal.

Boudreau explained -- quite well, if you ask me -- why Ovechkin wasn't on the ice. Was it due to poor performance?

"You tell me," Boudreau responded. "I got to put out the guys that I think are going to score the goal. Ninety-nine percent of the time Alex is the guy I think is going to score the goal. I just didn't think he was going to score the goal at that time tonight."

Ovechkin responded on Wednesday, explaining he was, indeed frustrated, but supports Boudreau's system of accountability. (Quotes from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post.)

"I was pissed off. Of course I want to be in that situation on the ice. It was just a little bit frustrating because I’m a leader in the team and I want that kind of responsibility."

As to what he said that was caught on TV?

"It doesn’t matter who I said it, and what I said. It looked funny on TV."

The funny thing is that Boudreau is making a heck of a lot of calls this year, brave ones. He started Michal Neuvirth over Vokoun on opening night. He specifically said Ovechkin needed to be better ... after Game 2 of the season. He split up his stud defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson so they could extend their versatility. Mike Knuble? He's been pushed down to the fourth line. Ol' Bruce has been pushing a lot of buttons, and a lot of them have been the right ones. After all, the Caps are 8-2-0.

Is there big trouble in little China Town, aka Washington (see, Verizon Center is located in D.C.'s China To ... ah forget it)?

Not at all. Feelings might be a little hurt, but that's about it. Boudreau was right, the third line of Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Brooks Laich was excellent not only on Tuesday, but all season long. Oh, and Washington scored the goal. Doesn't that vindicate Boudreau a little bit?

Fact of the matter is that Ovechkin isn't playing the same way that we're used to seeing. Check that. He IS playing the same way we're used to seeing and everybody in the league seems to know what he's going to do before he does. But we aren't seeing him produce the same way. He isn't producing the goals that make you say "wow." He has scored five goals and has five more assists in 10 games, but you can see it isn't coming as easily. The up-ice rushes are shut down nearly every time now with defenders expecting that cutback to center ice and then the shot flying.

That's why this is being blown a bit out of proportion.

If it happens in the next game, then there might be some more there. As of now, Boudreau had a hunch, and his hunch was right.

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