Tag:Montreal Canadiens
Posted on: February 1, 2012 2:01 pm
 

Canadiens take exception to Gaustad's chirp

By Brian Stubits

Go back a few months and it was the Buffalo Sabres who were being picked on, called out for being soft or whatever other similar insult people could come up with.

The shoe is on the other foot today. That's nice for a change in what has been a pretty miserable season for Buffalo up to this point.

The Sabres began the post-All-Star break push with a 3-1 win on the ice in Montreal. Paul Gaustad had a point on each of those three goals, so he was probably pretty jacked up. But with a few seconds left and the lead up the eventual 3-1 game-winning margin, there got to be some chirping by the benches.

None of this should strike you as unusual (except Gaustad recording three points in one game). Chirping happens all the time. But the Canadiens didn't like something that Gaustad had to say, specifically him asking Max Pacioretty "Where's Chara?"

That line shouldn't need a refresher at this point, but just in case it does, here you go.

Not to be outdone, the Habs responded by asking Gaustad "Where's Lucic?" referencing the situation earlier this season where Lucic ran over Ryan Miller and the Sabres didn't have much of a response.

Again, none of this is usually a big deal. That's mostly because this stuff normally doesn't make its way into the media. But this one obviously has thanks to the Habs, specifically Mathieu Darche and goaltender Carey Price. Here's Darche after the game last night (from the Buffalo News).

Price had some comments of his own, saying "He's got a big mouth and he likes to run it. What can you do? Can't worry about what he's got to say. He doesn't do much out there."

Seeing how that all took place in the Canadiens locker room after the game last night, the first chance the Sabres had to talk about it publicly was on Wednesday at the morning skate. Gaustad was pretty frank when discussing the matter (again from the Buffalo News).

"I'm just going to address it for the last time today," Gaustad said. "It's something where Pacioretty said something to me, I said something back along the same lines and the guy that kind of brought it up in the media [Montreal's Mathieu Darche] wasn't even involved with it. For Darche to bring it up in the media, in my opinion is stuff on the ice stays on the ice. I don't want to blow it out of proportion. You have to have thick skin in the NHL. I'm fine with it. Just move on."

Hey, maybe the NHL has a new marketing partner in Las Vegas: What happens on the ice stays on the ice.

Lindy Ruff isn't one to shy away from making comments on these matters either, so he had his piece. Again, not much on the mincing words front.

"I could give you one situation every night [where there is trash-talking]," Ruff said. "For them to go public that I thought was ridiculous on their part. They were looking for something to talk about or feel good about after that game and they're barking up the wrong tree if you ask me."

It brings that old unwritten rule book conversation again. What is in bounds as far as trash-talking goes? It's pretty clear that we have some differing opinions from the Canadiens and Sabres concerning injury chirps. But what's the line, if one is even there? If there were one of decorum, there's little doubt Pacioretty's would be off limits, it was a vicious hit that left him with a broken neck.

As Ruff says, there is trash-talking all the time. It's pretty much a part of the game, you know it comes with the territory. Behind the scenes shows like HBO's 24/7 have helped make that plenty clear to those who haven't played hockey or been on the ice.

I've chatted with somebody whose job it was to open the penalty box doors and he had some great stories about the cross-box trash talk, names omitted of course. There isn't a whole lot that's sacred ground.

You be the judge on this one: Did the Sabres cross the line here or are the Habs wrong for making it public?

By the way, doesn't this have to really make the Bruins and their fans laugh? Two division rivals taunting each other with things Bruins players have done to each?

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

Posted on: January 31, 2012 1:41 pm
 

Mascots do group Tebow in AHL All-Star Game

By Brian Stubits

For me, perhaps the most memorable moment from the NHL's All-Star weekend was the breakaway challenge in Saturday's skills night. Patrick Kane was exciting with his Superman act and Corey Perry busting out the mini goalie stick to score was good fun.

But the best part of it all was Carey Price, the Canadiens goalie who was in one net. He spun in circles, he made a save playing with his back to the shooter. He even just Tebowed for one attempt. It was a show-stealing performance, at least for me.

The question now is: Was that the best Tebow at a hockey all-star event this weekend?

With much less fanfare, the AHL held their all-star battle in Atlantic City, N.J. on Monday (not technically the weekend, but play along). Of course the event featured a mascot game. Any all-star game worth its weight in salt will have an mascot game.

And it produced the best en masse Tebowing these eyes have ever seen. Yes, better than those high school kids who were punished.

In the middle of their game a turnover led to a breakaway the other direction. Seeing that they're mascots and all, he was clotheslined. The led to the following penalty shot.

Everybody, even the goalie and mascot referee get in on the act. I don't know, maybe we should consult the Guiness Book of World Records for the biggest collective Tebow on this one. Plus, their moves were held a lot longer than Jack Johnson's in-game Tebowing earlier this season.

H/t to Puck Daddy

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

Posted on: January 26, 2012 11:38 am
Edited on: January 26, 2012 5:08 pm
 

What would all-Quebec team look like for Habs?

By Brian Stubits

Go back a few weeks when Randy Cunneyworth's "hiring" in Montreal was all the rage. Literally, rage. It led to organized protests against the Canadiens organization, not just Cunneyworth (although that was the impetus).

Those who didn't support Cunneyworth's hiring because he doesn't speak French were upset not only with the Cunneyworth promotion, but what they called the entire Anglicization of the Montreal Canadiens, Quebec's only team since the Nordiques became the Avalanche.

The list of complaints went beyond the coach not speaking French, however. Here is what the Canadian Press reported about the protests.

Protesters also complained the music played at the Bell Centre is in English, that announcements are in both languages and that the team has few francophone players.

I laughed when I first saw that. Would the people of Quebec rather have a team of Francophones that stink than a team of Anglophones that wins (of course they have neither right now)?

So that got me to thinking: What would an all French-speaking, Quebec-born team look like? I wanted to take a look and see how good of a team I could put together, keeping salary cap restraints in mind. (Hey folks, it's the All-Star break, just having some fun here.) Consider this my own All-Star fantasy draft.

Let's just get right to it, shall we?

Head coach

Alain Vigneault is the guy. The Quebec City native has actually tried coaching the Canadiens before, making the playoffs only once from 1997-2001. He was fired midseason in the 2000-01 campaign. But he's found success since moving on to Vancouver, winning the Jack Adams once and coming in as a finalist in 2011 (he was also a finalist in 2000 with the Habs). A return trip to Montreal will hopefully go better this time.

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury, Jean-Sebastien Giguere get the nod here. Now this is a position where I have a lot of choices. Fleury I think is a pretty clear starter based partly on his age, but for the second spot there are a lot of veterans: Giguere, Martin Brodeur, Jose Theodore, Martin Biron, Mathieu Garon and Jonathan Bernier. They can stop pucks in Quebec, that's pretty clear.

In terms of salary, Fleury takes up $5 million, Giguere only $1.25. So $6.25 million in goal is a decent price to pay, but not bad.

Robidas has spent time in Montreal already. (Getty Images)

Defensemen

I'm going with (in no particular pairing order) Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Francois Beauchemin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Stephane Robidas and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Letang leads the scoring punch while Bergeron, Beauchemin and to an extent Vlasic adding some more points. Defensively, Vlasic and Beauchemin highlight a pretty good two-way corps. But if anybody goes down, it gets thin after that.

As a whole, the defensemen don't cost that much. Beauchemin ($3.8 million), Letang ($3.5 million), Robidas ($3.3 million), Vlasic ($3.1 million), Bergeron ($1 million) and Gragnani (550,000) come in at a total of $15.25 million.

Center

Now this is a group of guys I like: Patrice Bergeron, Danny Briere, David Desharnais and Maxime Talbot. You'll notice one pretty big omission here and that's Vincent Lecavalier, but that $10 million per year is too big of a burden, I don't know how the Lightning do it. But I still have two guys who can score, arguably the best defensive center in the game, a young and promising player in Desharnais and a solid worker in Talbot.

Naturally this is costing me some cash here. Briere ($6.5 million) is costly, then add Bergeron ($5 million) before getting a little reprieve with Talbot ($1.75 million) and Desharnais ($850,000). In total, they take up $14.1 million.

Right wing

OK, I take it back about center. This is where my team is really loaded. Check out this lineup of Martin St. Louis, Jason Pominville, P.A. Parenteau and Alex Burrows. That's some serious scoring ability on the wing. I didn't have room for Maxim Lapierre or Pascal Dupuis at this position, but more on them later.

As you'd expect, this is the most expensive per-player corps on the team. St. Louis commands a cool $5.625 million, Pominville takes $5.3 million, Burrows costs $2 million and Parenteau a very reasonable $1.25 million. Total bill: $14.175 million.

Left wing

Here we have an Achilles' heel. The lineup we could toss out is Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Alex Tanguay, David Perron and Guillaume Latendresse, but that's an awfully risky group of players. Each of Bouchard, Perron and Latendresse have dealt with concussions while Tanguay has been suffering with a neck strain. So to add a little stability, I'm going to convert Dupuis to the left side and leave out Bouchard -- more expensive than Latendresse.

The good news is this group doesn't cost a whole lot. Tanguay ($3.5 million), Latendresse ($2.5 million), Perron ($2.15 million) and Dupuis ($1.5 million) run up a bill of $9.65 million.

Scratches

Since he didn't make the list at right wing, Lapierre is going to serve as our daily scratch. But really he's likely going to be playing a lot at left wing with the injury potential. What he also gives is a physical presence. He's at least not averse to dropping the gloves, having five fights this season for Vancouver. Maybe we could try and talk Georges Laraque to coming back and serving the enforcer role, but undoubtedly sitting in press row most nights.

Lapierre comes in at an even $1 million.

Overall

The total salary for this team checks in at $60.425 million, giving our GM (we'll just keep Pierre Gauthier) a little room to maneuver or sign maybe another defenseman that would likely sit in the press box most nights.

Moreover, the top prospect in the system would have to be Jonathan Huberdeau, the player who went third overall to Florida in the last NHL Draft. He's likely to be in the NHL next season and right now projects to be a center but he can also play on the wing, so he could help out with the weaker left side.

In the end, it's actually a much better team than I thought it could be. It might be a little lacking in the physical department, but the team has a lot of ingredients: It has some big-time scorers (seriously, a top two lines of Tanguay-Bergeron-St. Louis and Perron-Briere-Pominville isn't bad at all), it has some agitators (I'm looking at you, Burrows and Lapierre), is good defensively and I think it's solid in net.

And don't forget, everybody speaks French!

More from Eye on Hockey

Yes there were protesters in Montreal
Quebec group unhappy with Cunneyworth hire
Owner: Bilingual coach is important

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

Posted on: January 24, 2012 6:16 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 8:08 pm
 

Video: rink in Slovakia collapses



By: Adam Gretz

The video posted above shows former NHL player Richard Zednik innocently skating in Slovakia with a group of youth hockey players on Sunday.

That is, until the roof started to collapse under the weight of heavy snow and ice, and came crashing down to the playing surface just minutes after everybody had safely exited.

The most amazing part of it all? Nobody was injured. Thankfully.

Starting at the 1:10 mark the camera takes a walk around the boards, giving you an idea as to just how serious the damage is and how fortunate everyone is to have been able to safely walk away.

Zednik spent 13 seasons in the NHL with the Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, scoring 200 goals in 745 career games. He last played in the NHL during the 2008-09 season as a member of the Panthers.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 21, 2012 9:49 am
Edited on: January 21, 2012 2:49 pm
 

P.K. Subban fined $2,500 for 'dangerous trip'

By: Adam Gretz

It's difficult to find the exact moment the Montreal Canadiens season went flying off the rails.

There are simply so many possibilities, and Friday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Penguins seems to be just another low in a season full of them. Even though they owned a two-goal lead with 16 minutes to play in regulation, the Canadiens still finished in the loss column for the 12th time in their past 16 games.

The game also brought some more unwanted attention to their young star defenseman, P.K. Subban, for what appeared to be a slew foot midway through the overtime period.



There was no penalty called on the play, but Subban was fined $2,500 on Saturday for what the NHL called a "dangerous trip." When compared to the play the Rangers claim was a slew foot on Brad Richards on Thursday, this one stands out as being way more deliberate and actually worthy of being called a slew foot.

Since he has taken over NHL player safety, Brendan Shanahan has not issued a suspension for a slew footing incident. He did, however, also fine Boston's Brad Marchand $2,500 for an incident involving Matt Niskanen earlier this season.

The last player to actually be suspended for a slew foot was Evgeny Artyukhin back in October, 2009, for his slew foot against, oddly enough, Niskanen during his days with the Dallas Stars. It was a three-game suspension.

The Canadiens enter Saturday's game in Toronto, one of the four teams between them and a playoff spot, nine points out of what would be the eighth and final spot, and they're in desperate need of a win, especially after letting a point slip away on Friday

"It's not even close to enough," said forward Max Pacioretty after Friday's game. "Especially against a team that's hanging around for a playoff push, both of us right now, when you look at that, if it goes the other way and we hang onto that lead ... it's frustrating that keeps happening. We have to find answers."

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Cooke won't face discipline for alleged slew foot
Brad Marchand fined for slew foot
More NHL Discipline news here

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 18, 2012 1:03 pm
 

Capitals prepare to face Rene Bourque

By: Adam Gretz

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom hasn't appeared in a game for the team since he was elbowed in the head by then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque earlier this month. It was a play that resulted in Bourque earning a five-game suspension from the NHL, and had some of the Capitals, including forward Troy Brouwer, lamenting the fact they weren't going to play another game against Bourque and the Flames this season.

That all changed, of course, when Bourque was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday in the trade that sent Mike Cammalleri back to Calgary.

And which team are the Capitals visiting on Wednesday night? You guessed it, Rene Bourque and the Canadiens.

Not surprisingly, John Erskine, perhaps the Capitals' most willing fighter, is expected to be in the lineup, and some fireworks are expected. It's pretty much a given that somebody is going to challenge Bourque, even if the Capitals are downplaying it and talking about how the two points are the important thing (and, truth be told, they are the most important thing for the Capitals right now).

“For us to say we're going go out there and take liberties at him or something like that, probably not," said forward Joel Ward, via Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. "I think we'll definitely be playing hard for sure. I'm sure guys are going to be playing pretty hard, especially against him and let him know that what he did we thought was a pretty cheap shot.”

With all of that in mind, the folks at Capitals Blog Russian Machine Never Breaks have their own idea as to how tonight's game is going to play out ... if it were a version of the classic Nintendo game, Mike Tyson's Punch Out.



(H/T Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Rene Bourque suspended 5 games
Bourque traded to Montreal for Mike Cammalleri

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

Weekend Preview: Brothers Sutter meet in Calgary

By Brian Stubits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking a Flyer

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

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

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

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

Speaking of good games ...

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

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

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

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

Pesky Stars

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

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

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

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

We're going streaking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Getty Images

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