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Tag:Detroit Red Wings
Posted on: February 5, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 4:16 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Nothing to Laich in Caps loss

By Brian Stubits

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

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

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

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

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hit of the weekend

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

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

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

Shootout shutdown

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

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

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

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

What a game

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

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

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

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

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

Hit of the weekend Part II

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

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

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

Quote of the weekend

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Preview: Winter Classic redux at MSG

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

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central casting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of Ontario resumes

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

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

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

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

The captain is back

That would be the Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin.

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

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

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

Star showdown

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

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

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

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

Fight for Florida

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

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

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

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

We're going streaking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: February 3, 2012 10:27 am
Edited on: February 3, 2012 2:10 pm
 

Wings' Howard breaks finger, out couple of games

Howard was in Ottawa last weekend for the All-Star Game. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Friday that All-Star goaltender Jimmy Howard suffered a broken pinkie in Thursday's shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks and will miss some time.

The good news is that right now the team is only committing to Howard missing the next two games. At that point he will be re-evaluated.

When the news of an injury first started leaking out, it was a cause of a bit of concern for the Wings. Howard plays almost every night, evidenced by the fact that he's giving a serious run toward the 50-win mark this season. If Howard were going to miss a couple weeks or more, the Wings' spot atop the West might not have been something they could hold.

However it doesn't seem like things will be that bad. They hope. It means veteran Ty Conklin will handle the starting duties while Howard is out and they called up Joey MacDonald from the AHL.

“The good news is it's his stick hand and it's the tip of the finger,'' general manager Ken Holland told MLive.com. “We won't have to wait until it's totally healed for him to play. He just needs a little time. He wants to stay with the team. He feels he won't be out too long.

“Jimmy will stay with us [on the trip]. When we get back to Detroit on Tuesday he'll see a doctor and we'll get a little better read on when he can play.

“Does he need a week? I don't know. We want to give him a little bit of time.''

Howard has played in 44 of Detroit's 52 games thus far this season, winning 32 of them. He also has a goals against average of 2.03 and a save percentage at .924. He's been nothing short of excellent for Detroit.

Conklin has a .886 save percentage and 3.20 GAA in his limited action this season, so the drop is more like a black diamond than a bunny slope.

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

Posted on: February 1, 2012 11:55 am
 

Jan Mursak unintentionally plays with two sticks

By Brian Stubits

Who doesn't love bloopers? I'd say only the people who are actually in said blooper reel. In this case, that would be Jan Mursak of the Detroit Red Wings.

The Wings took to the ice in Calgary on Tuesday night and about halfway through the game, Mursak got himself stuck in a fluky situation. It's not uncommon for a player to be on the ice without a stick, but not often do you see a guy with two sticks.

Talk about a two-way player.

Even with the stick waggling in a way that would make a golfer proud, Mursak doesn't appear to be aware of its presence with him. Or if he does, that's some excellent concentration to play through it until the whistle and hustle up and down the ice.

It would have been spectacular if that stick of his on the backside made a pass or even scored a goal. Could he really have been called for playing the puck illegally?

H/t to Puck Daddy

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

Posted on: January 28, 2012 11:28 pm
Edited on: January 28, 2012 11:35 pm
 

NHL skills contest results, highlights

By: Adam Gretz

The NHL wrapped up its Super Skills competition on Saturday night with Daniel Alfredsson's team, loaded with all of the hometown Ottawa Senators, picking up the overall win by a 21-12 margin. Below is the complete list of winners in all of the invidual events, including Patrick Kane in the Breakaway challenge and Zdeno Chara taking home yet another championship (and record) in the hardest shot contest, as well as some of the highlights (and lowlights) from the night.

2012 NHL Super Skills Results
Competition Winner
Fastest Skater Carl Hagelin (New York Rangers)
Breakaway Challenge Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks
Shot Accuracy Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
Skills Challenge Relay Team Alfredsson
Hardest Shot Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins)
Elimination Shootout Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Zdeno Chara makes the hardest shot contest the must-see event: I understand what the NHL is trying to do with the breakaway challenge (it's basically the Slam Dunk contest, in hockey form) and at times on Saturday night it was the highlight of the night, whether it was Kane putting on the Superman cape, Anaheim's Corey Perry busting out the knee-hockey stick and using it to score a goal, or Montreal's Carey Price stopping a shot with his back turned to the shooter. Great stuff.

But the must-see event, at least as long as Chara is taking part in it, remains the hardest shot contest, If for no other reason than to watch in amazement at the freakish speeds these guys can fire a piece of frozen rubber across the ice. Watching Chara in this event right now is like watching a home run hitter get himself in a rhythm and hit one titanic fly ball after another in a home run derby.

At this point it's his event, and everybody else is just taking part in it for his amusement. Even Shea Weber, a guy that hit 106 on the radar gun Saturday night, couldn't get near him. Chara has won the event five years in a row, and not only does he keep winning, but his shots keep getting faster and faster, and he keeps shattering his own records.

It's worth asking if 110 MPH is in play next season in Columbus. I wouldn't bet against it.

Change that wasn't an improvement:
The NHL used a new format for the fastest skater contest this season, having the players line up side by side, skate in a straight line down the ice, make a narrow, short turn, and then head back in the opposite direction. In years past the players would simply skate all the way around the ice, the complete length of the rink, making it easier to compare players and their times from year-to-year. The new approach almost seemed to slow the players down because it didn't give them enough of a chance to really show what they can do speed-wise.

On a positive note, for the second year in a row goalies competed in one of the rounds, with Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick blowing away Detroit's Jimmy Howard. And yes, they have to skate with all of their equipment on, which definitely adds a bit of unintentional humor.

Fortunately for the two keepers this year neither one of them took a spill in the corner like Boston's Tim Thomas did last season.

Event that doesn't seem to work: The Skills Challenge relay. Dump it. It's basically a giant obstacle course that involves just about every skater on the two team's taking part in a series of events, including passing, one-timers, shot accuracy and puck control. Unfortunately, it just doesn't seem to work or generate much excitement.

It's by far the longest event from start to finish, taking nearly two-and-a-half minutes for one team to complete the course, and it seems to suck a lot of the life out of the crowd.

Helmet camera's are always cool: St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who received a nice ovation from the Ottawa fans as one of the many former (and current) Senators to play in the game, had a helmet cam throughout the night -- along with Howard -- to give a first-person look at some of the events. That included during the breakaway challenge when Elliott was in the cage attempting to stop Kane's slapshot with what turned out to be a trick puck that broke into four pieces on its way to the net.

Of course, given the way that Elliott is playing this season for the Blues it's not much of a surprise that none of the pieces ended up in the back of the net, while he even managed to glove one of them out of the air.



Previously at Eye On Hockey

Kane's Superman wins breakaway challenge
Chara sets another record
More 2012 All-Star Game coverage

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 28, 2012 5:00 pm
Edited on: January 28, 2012 5:03 pm
 

Players we would like to see in skills challenge



By: Adam Gretz

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

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

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

Fastest Skater

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

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

Accuracy Shooting

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

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

Hardest Shot

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

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

Breakaway Challenge

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

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

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

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 24, 2012 4:26 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 10:26 am
 

How the NHL's top scorers have been used

The Kings are relying on Anze Kopitar to do it all. (Getty Images)
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at how the NHL's have top scorers have been used this season.

By: Adam Gretz


Of all the top scorers in the league this season the most overlooked and underappreciated one of them all might be Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

Not only because he's their leading scorer (and one of the only players on the team that's actually having a good season offensively) but also because they are asking him to play in every possible situation against the best players on a nightly basis.

More often than not in recent years the player that finishes the regular season as the NHL's leading scorer also tends to take home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP, as has happened in six of the past 10 years. In two of the four years it didn't happen, the Hart went to the player that scored the most goals. That kind of gives you an idea as to what voters are looking at, at least in part -- total production, whether it be goals and/or total points.

Of course, there is a ton of value in a player that scores enough to lead the league in any or both of those categories, and that player is obviously going to be one of the best players in the league. That is, after all, the most basic concept of the game: score goals.

But not all scorers play in situations that are created equal. Some players are put into situations where they can focus entirely on offense (like, say, Henrik and Daniel Sedin).

Others are given assignments that aren't quite as conducive to putting up points because of what might be greater defensive responsibilities, whether it be playing more minutes as a penalty killer, where offensive is nearly impossible to come by, or simply playing more even strength shifts in areas where defense has to take a priority over offense (such as a faceoff in the defensive zone).

Last week we looked at the top rookies that have been given the toughest assignments this season, and this week we're going to take a similar look at how the top-25 scorers in the league (at the start of this week) have been utilized by their teams. The chart below takes into account all five-on-five situations and locates players based on the quality of competition they face, as well as the percentage of their shifts that start in the offensive zone (both numbers via BehindTheNet).

The closer a player is to the top left, the harder the assignments. The closer to the bottom right, the "easier."

This, again, is the top-25 scorers in the NHL at the start of this week.

TopScorers

1) See those two guys way out on the right, all by themselves? Those are the Sedin twins, and it's easy to see what their role is for the Canucks. Along with their regular linemate, Alex Burrows, the Sedin's start a higher percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone than any player in the league (not just among the top scorers, but all players) and there really isn't anybody else that is even remotely close to them.

After Burrows, who again is their linemate, the only other regular player in the NHL that has a mark over 70 percent is Tampa Bay's well known defensive sieve, Marc-Andre Bergeron. And these guys are bordering on the 80 percent mark. This is not a new development for the Canucks, as head coach Alain Vigneault has pretty much always used his players this way, whether it be making sure that the Sedin's are always playing in the offensive zone, or players like Manny Malhotra are always on the ice for defensive zone draws.

Obviously, the Canucks are not the only team that operates this way and puts certain players in certain spots, as most of the top-scorers shown above are used in similar situations (favorable five-on-five roles, a lot of power play time, almost no time on the penalty kill). Though, the Canucks do seem to be the most committed to it, and as I mentioned in this week's Power Rankings, if it weren't for icing calls that forced them to stay on the ice for a faceoff in their own zone, I wonder if the Sedin's would ever be asked to start a shift in their own end of the ice.

2) The MVP campaign for Philadelphia's Claude Giroux is no joke, and if there were any doubts about his ability to take over the No. 1 center role in Philadelphia and play the tough minutes that Mike Richards previously played, well, you can forget about it. He's not only playing the key even strength minutes, he also spends two-and-a-half minutes per game on the penalty kill. And he's still the second leading scorer in the NHL, even with the fact that he's missed four games.

Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk is having a similar season, but we already knew he's capable of that and he's simply continuing to do what he's always done throughout his career -- play unmatched two-way hockey and dazzle with his obscene level of skill.

3) Where would the Kings and Devils be without Kopitar and Patrik Elias this season? Not only are they the top point producers for two teams that have little offense after them, but they have also been doing it under less-than-ideal circumstances for offense, while both spend significant time every night killing penalties for two of the top penalty killing teams in the league. Kopitar, for example, logs 2:28 of shorthanded ice time per game for the Kings, while Elias checks in at just under two minutes per game. Of the 25 players on the scatterplot above, only nine of them play more than one minute of shorthanded ice-time per game. Twelve of them play less than 10 seconds per game.

Does this mean that players like Kopitar and Elias are better than players like the Sedins, or Evgeni Malkin and James Neal? Or having better seasons? Well, no, not exactly, because those guys are still scoring at pretty impressive rates and being relied on to carry their teams offensively. In the cases of Malkin and Neal, for example, they're pretty much the only guys scoring for their team right now, so that can't be underestimated.

It does, however, mean that perhaps the gap isn't quite as big as the point total or goal total would indicate.

It means that a player like Kopitar, who never seems to get much attention as being one of the best players in the league (he's not even an All-Star this season, for whatever that's worth) is probably extremely underrated and underappreciated for what he has done for his team every single night this season, and the way he's gone about doing it.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 22, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 3:56 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Halak, Elliott duo dominating

Halak and Elliott have nine shutouts combined(Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

When it comes to the awards season, not many people pay much attention to the Jennings Trophy. The goaltender hardware that matters is the Vezina, going to the top individual goaltender. But this year the Jennings race could be almost as compelling and debateable.

In case you need a refresher on one of the lesser-known NHL awards, the Jennings goes to the best goaltending tandem for one team. It's a way to recognize the best backups as well as starters in the league.

Now I'm starting to wonder just which duo is going to take the trophy home. It seems to me to be a two-horse race and will likely remain that way through the rest of the season: The Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues.

Everybody knows about the Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask pairing in Boston. As great as Thomas is, it's Rask that's having the better season of the two with a 1.69 goals against average and a league-high .943 save percentage. To be honest, they are probably still the favorites.

But don't dismiss Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. The only thing putting them in second place right now is the slow start to the season for Halak. I think it's safe to say he has rebounded just fine.

On Saturday night Halak grabbed another win when the Blues gave the Sabres their 12th straight road loss, 4-2. For Halak it meant a 14-game unbeaten (in regulation) streak. In that time he's an astonishing 11-0-3 and he has three shutouts now in his last five starts.

Let me put it this way to tell you how good this duo has become: On the season Elliott has five shutouts and Halak has four. That means they have shut out opponents in more than 19 percent of their games this season. Just how Ken Hitchcock likes it.

In all, it's part of the crazy trend that we're seeing under Hitchcock in St. Louis and the success of the Blues. In the month of January they are 8-0-1. At home now the Blues are 21-3-3. And check out this one from NHL.com's Brian Compton: With David Perron in the lineup (so stretching back two years), the Blues are 25-1-2 in their last 28 games. Unbelievable.

The return of Halak, though, is the most interesting aspect to me. The Blues brought him in from Montreal after that spectacular close to the season and playoff push with the Canadiens with the hope that he was going to be their feature goalie. It didn't start out that well. Last season was not good up to any starter's standards for Halak and you were left to wonder if this was another example of a playoff cinderella falling back to normalcy.

It was continuing this season, too. Remember back to the beginning of the year when Elliott was the only one winning in St. Louis. It seemed like the backup was on his way to becoming the starter for the Blues. Elliott is the one who earned an All-Star berth and turned a two-way contract into a three-year extension. Halak was becoming an afterthought.

So much for that theory. Apparently all it took was Hitchcock to come to town and bring a system to help Halak succeed. Usually I subscribe to the theory that if you have two starting goaltenders you really have none. That doesn't work in St. Louis, not this year.

It has all led to another unbelievable fact: the Bruins are no shoe-in for the Jennings this season.

All-time Canuck

Speaking of the Jennings Trophy, one of last season's winners, Roberto Luongo (along with his teammate Cory Schneider) took a rare honor home on Saturday after the Canucks' 4-3 win over the Sharks. With it he passed Kirk MacLean to become the franchise's all-time leader in wins with 212.

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The rare honor? He currently holds that record for two franchises as he is still the all-time leader in wins for the Florida Panthers as well.

Not too shabby for a guy who has been treated awfully harshly over the years in Vancouver, particularly in the last year. It's been tough to keep the perspective on things that, yea, Luongo is a pretty damn good goalie.

Of course, he has been blessed enough to play in front of some good teams that can, for example, help him get a win against one of the best teams in the league despite giving up three goals, as was the case against San Jose.

Luongo won't be in the conversation this season for any of the regular-season awards, Vezina or Jennings. But don't mistake that for a goalie that isn't still one og the better netminders in the game.

Wings keep rollin', rollin', rollin'

Seriously, all due apologies for the Limp Bizkit reference a decade after the fact.

But the point stands: If the Detroit Red Wings are playing at home, they are going to win the game. The snuck past the Columbus Blue Jackets in the shootout on Saturday to extend their franchise-record home-winning streak to 16 games.

Imagine that, the Wings have been plowing through the rest of the league this season but need a shootout to get by the NHL-worst Blue Jackets.

Some people criticize when good teams sneak past bad teams. Me? I often take the other approach: Good teams find ways to win games when they aren't at their best. I'd put the shootout win for the Wings over the Jackets in that category. Still, a win is a win and now Detroit is only a couple of games from the NHL record.

One-sided rivalry

That describes the battle of Alberta at the moment.

Nobody is going to confused the Calgary Flames for juggernauts right now, except maybe their rivals in Edmonton.

The Flames continued their dominance over their provincial neighbors on Saturday with a 6-2 beating of the Oilers. You know it's one-sided in the series when Lee Stempniak is recording hat tricks.

For those keeping track at home, that makes nine consecutive wins in the series for the Flames. Man, that really has to sting the fans in Edmonton. They have to be dying for the team to return to respectability, getting dominated by the Flames isn't a sign you're there.

Quote of the weekend

“It’s hard to get shots when you don’t have everyone playing the right way, I guess. It’s going to take 20 guys. Tonight, I don’t think we had 20. It’s hard to say [how many they did have] right after a game. I’m sure it will be clear on video, but we need more. You need four lines if you want to win games in this league, bottom line.

“We’ve got to find more ways to score goals. There’s maybe some guys gripping the stick, but at the end of the day, guys have got to find the back of the net. It can’t just be one or two guys. That’s what it feels like it’s been, at least lately. We need more goals from lots of people." -- L.A. Kings captain Dustin Brown (from L.A. Kings Insider).

Well I know one of those 20 that didn't help in the Kings' 3-1 loss to the Avalanche on Saturday, backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Lame jokes aside, it's a season-long issue that isn't getting much better under Darryl Sutter. The Kings just can't score and it's a massive testament to Jonathan Quick that the Kings are still in the thick of things in the Pacific Division.

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