Tag:Philadelphia Flyers
Posted on: February 12, 2012 3:35 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2012 6:32 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Callahan, Rangers keep rolling

Callahan had four goals in the Blueshirts' two weekend wins. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

At this point I'm wondering what the New York Rangers have to do to convince everybody they are this good. I'm already there but I still find a lot of skeptics.

They do everything well enough. Some things they do exceptionally well, like stop pucks from going in the net. You can thank Henrik Lundqvist for that largely, but it's a team effort. There might not be a tougher team to get shots through the defensemen than the Rangers. They are physical, evidenced by their league high fighting majors. Now they are scoring just enough to support Lundqvist.

And they have passed pretty much every test thrown at them this season, including this weekend. Back-to-back against the Flyers and Capitals? No problem. They took all four points possible, including a fifth win in five chances against Philly on Saturday, 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center. That featured a Ryan Callahan hat trick.

Captain Cally kept it up with the first goal of the Blueshirts' 3-1 win on Sunday over the Caps. Go back to Thursday night win over the Lightning and that's five goals for Callahan in his last three games.

To give it a little more significance with a much larger sample size, Dave Lozo of NHL.com did some quick math today: using Callahan's last 113 games, he has averaged 32 goals per 82 games, a full season's worth. Not bad for a guy who has a career high of 23 set last season (which he is one away from breaking this season).

That doesn't even factor in the shots that he blocks. He is the epitome of John Tortorella's Rangers: hard-nosed, two-way player who will throw his body in front of anything and give the team all he has. Basically he has all the intangibles you love in a player while actually possessing many of the tangibles, too.

If you have any doubt, check out the goal he scored on Sunday. It was ugly but beautiful all at the same time.

At this point, the Rangers are atop the NHL standings in points (depending on Sunday's result in Detroit). Even if they aren't there at the end of the day, their points percentage is tops in the league. They have 77 points in 54 games, the Wings have played two more games (three more by the end of the night.

New York is actually pulling away from the rest of the East in the race for home-ice throughout the conference playoffs. They are up seven points now on the Boston Bruins.

The thing that gets me was on display this weekend. They have been just as good on the road as they have been at Madison Square Garden. They won both games this weekend despite one being in Philadelphia. Overall, they are 18-6-2 at MSG, 18-7-3 away from it. That's pretty remarkable. Winning on the road is crucial, especially when it comes to postseason success.

It all has people dreaming of the summer of 1994 again, another summer parade down Broadway.

Personally, I've run out of reasons to think it can't happen.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories
More Eye on Hockey

Blackhawks (falling) down

While they aren't pressing it yet, I get the sense that a lot of Blackhawks fans are digging through their things looking for that big red button. No, I don't mean the tchotchke Staples easy button.

With a sweep on their weekend visits to San Jose and Phoenix, including a 3-0 blanking by the Coyotes on Saturday night, the Blackhawks have lost eight consecutive games. Eight! They have earned just one of the last 16 points available.

Their place in the Central Division race is all but gone. They trail the division-leading Red Wings by 11 points. With two teams in between them (the Blues and Predators) the hope of winning the division is all but gone, especially with the Wings not leaving Detroit often for the rest of the season.

More importantly, they have to watch their playoff spot. With the loss to Phoenix, the 'Hawks are only three points up on eighth place, five ahead of ninth-place Calgary. And that could diminish further as the Blackhawks still have three more games on this extended road trip.

Playing a little game I'll call fun with Twitter, the Eye on Hockey account (follow it here!) asked if this was the bottom for the Blackhawks, if they had really hit the floor yet. One fan -- @therudeinshrewd -- didn't think so. "No, something tells me the #blackhawks haven't bottomed out yet. i think the road trip will be winless. THAT will be bottom."

It's gotten to the point that Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times is wondering if coach Joel Quenneville's seat isn't hot. The defense has some serious issues, coming in 27th in the league in goals against per game with an even 3.00. Their goal differential is down to plus-3 thanks to their high goals for (174 to 171).

This can't be too far from the bottom you'd figure with a team that has this type of talent, but it's getting close to desperate in Chicago.

Just give him the Hart

Evgeni Malkin has been absurd -- in a good way -- for the Pittsburgh Penguins, especially in the past two months.

For the third time since Dec. 17, Geno had himself a five-point game this weekend in Pittsburgh's 8 -5 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. Unlike the previous two five-pointers, this one didn't come with a hat trick. He was in a much more giving mood this time scoring a goal with four assists.

The outburst gave him a little separation from the points pack as he moved five up on Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux with 67.

But considering the injuries the Penguins are dealing with again this season and their position of still being solidly in the East's playoff picture, Malkin is separating himself from the rest of the Hart candidates, too. Barring injury, it seems a safe bet that he'll take the "MVP" award home -- unless the aforementioned Lundqvist doesn't take it.

While we're at it ...

Might as well just hand Stamkos the Richard Trophy now too.

Scoring is down in the NHL, colleague Adam Gretz explained that in his most recent edition of Pucks & Numbers (a must-read weekly piece, hockey fans), yet Stamkos isn't stopping.

The 22-year-old is now up to 37 on the season after potting one in a 2-1 Lightning win in Buffalo on Saturday. That puts him seven ahead of Malkin and Phil Kessel in the goals department, a very comfortable lead with less than 30 games to go.

Like Malkin and the Hart, it's really hard to imagine at this point that Stamkos won't win the Richard barring injury.

Goals not so plentiful here

The Los Angeles Kings might be solely responsible for bringing down the league's scoring total mentioned above. Even with the coaching change from Terry Murray to Darryl Sutter, the Kings are still at the bottom of the league in that category, averaging just 2.07 goals per game.

That ineptitude was on display at the Islanders on Saturday. For the second straight game on their current road trip the Kings scored only one goal. The good news for them is that the Islanders only scored one goal in the first 60 minutes too before winning it in OT. So at least the Kings got a point.

But when you are fighting hard for a playoff berth in the Western Conference, scoring one goal in games isn't going to help you get to your end. The Kings are right now holding onto the seventh spot in the West after their league-high (tied with Florida and Carolina) 11th OT loss this season. Those extra points will be awfully important at season's end.

You have to think the Kings will be one of the more aggressive teams in the hunt for that elusive scoring forward at the trade deadline.

Quote of the weekend

For the visually/audio impaired ...

"I'm a little disappointed at the effort, the emotional level, a top team in the conference and league and to be honest. We got half the guys going and half not.

"That was my opinion. You might see differently, but that is what I saw. It’s a big game for us and I was expecting more. It was tight game, they got three power play goals, we didn’t score any.

"They play the same way every night. There's no surprises and if there is a breakdown their goalie makes the save and they block a ton of shots. Somehow they get the job done. They work hard. They play the same system every night and their goal plays really well every night.

"You have to bring it every night. I don't care who you are ... Every game matters. You have to bring it!"

-- Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (from CSN Philly) on Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers.

Sounds like those five losses to the Rangers this season (seven in a row) are really starting to take their toll.

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

Posted on: February 11, 2012 1:42 pm
 

St. Louis and Detroit's home-ice domination

HomeIceWesternConferenceBy: Adam Gretz

Sitting on top of the NHL standings with 76 points, the Detroit Red Wings are in a rather familiar position as one of the top contenders to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Always a dangerous team come playoff time, the Red Wings domination on home ice this season has to make them one of the scariest teams to match up with in the postseason if they can secure the No. 1 seed and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

After Friday's 2-1 shootout win against the Anaheim Ducks, the Wings pushed their home record on the season to 22-2-1, a mark that only one other team in the league can come close to matching -- their central division rivals, the St. Louis Blues, who currently own a 22-3-4 record on home ice.  

As of Saturday afternoon, only five points separate the two teams in the standings while St. Louis still has three games in hand. Seeing as how the two teams are nearly unbeatable on their home rinks but are .500 teams on the road (between them the two teams are 44-5-5 at home, but just 25-26-4 on the road) wrapping up the top spot in the division, as well as what could be the top spot in the conference, has to be a top priority for both clubs.

Given the upcoming schedules, you have to like the Red Wings chances. Detroit is currently riding a 19-game winning streak at Joe Louis Arena, the second longest run in NHL history, trailing only the 20 game runs that the 1975-76 Flyers and 1929-30 Boston Bruins achieved (oddly enough, the Red Wings next home game is on Sunday night against the Flyers).

The incredible thing about Detroit's winning streak at home isn't just the number of wins, it's also that a lot of these games haven't even been that competitive. Of the 19 wins 10 of them have been by a margin of three goals or more, and overall they've outscored their opponents by an 80-27 margin.

They're not just beating teams at home, they're crushing them, and they're in the middle of a stretch that has them playing nine of their next 12 games at home.

The Blues? Eight of their next 12 are on the road.

Unless either team does something to reverse the script that's been written through the first half of this season, this looks like a pretty big opporunity for Detroit to open up quite a lead in the Central Division race.

Photo: Getty Images

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

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

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

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

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

The next question becomes how they can follow that up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Devil has gotten into them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago blues

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

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

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

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

Fifth time's the charm?

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. 1,000

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

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

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

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

We're going streaking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: February 9, 2012 10:11 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 10:16 pm
 

Hartnell scores, then fights Dion Phaneuf (video)

By: Adam Gretz

Scott Hartnell had a pretty solid game for the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, recording a Gordie Howe hat trick in a 4-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a display of what can only be referred to as "old time hockey," Hartnell managed to earn two-thirds of his Gordie Howe Trick (the goal and the fight) on the same play, within seconds of each other.

Impressive, and very unusual.

After firing a bouncing puck past James Reimer from just inside the faceoff circle to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead late in the first period, Hartnell almost immediately stopped his post-goal celebration, turned around, gave Toronto's Dion Phaneuf a slash across the leg, and then started to fight the Maple Leafs defenseman.

Here's a look at the sequence (including a hit from Phaneuf on Hartnell just before the goal) that resulted in Hartnell picking up the extra penalty for slashing, via Hockeyfights.com:



For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 9, 2012 11:30 am
 

Ranking the Winter Classic venues

By Brian Stubits

The next edition of the Winter Classic will be held at one of college football's most iconic sites, the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich. It's the first time the Classic will be held on a college campus. Previously, three have been held at baseball stadiums and two at NFL stadiums (but to be fair, a college team is a tenant at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field).

The annual outdoor game has seen some of the best sites to host a game in just a short existence. Here's this author's humble ranking of the venues the NHL has picked so far.

Heinz had a prime time look. (Getty Images)

6. Heinz Field, Pittsburgh (2011)

The weather was uncooperative as it was rainy and mild. While it did add a neat effect, the game had to be delayed to the night time as well.

But Heinz Field just doesn't have a whole lot going for it on the appearance side. It's just another nice football stadium, really. Not much to create a setting.

I would have loved to see the game at the Pirates' PNC Park, with downtown Pittsburgh just across the river in the background including the Roberto Clemente Bridge. That is one of if not the best view in baseball from a stadium.

Citizen's Bank Park was rocking in Philly. (Getty Images)

5. Citizen's Bank Park, Philadelphia (2012)

Some lamented that Citizen's Bank was just another cookie-cutter baseball stadium for the game, it doesn't have a ton that makes it unique or characteristic. It doesn't have a true flavor.

Still, after delaying the game a couple of hours the weather played along. There was even snow. Although it only came during an intermission, it was a great site to see.

The stadium does have a little visual appeal going for it in that downtown Philly is beyond the centerfield wall, but it's so far away it doesn't feel like you can reach out and touch it like you could in, say, PNC Park.

Buffalo put on the inaugural American outdoor show. (Getty Images)

4. Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo (2008)

The best thing the Bills' stadium had going for it was the snow globe effect. The wind was whipping and the flurries falling, making for a pretty awesome site.

But much like Heinz, there isn't a whole lot that is visually appealing about the stadium itself. It gets a little extra credit for being the first stadium and in a truly cold city like Buffalo.

I think if it weren't the first game and not snowing the way it was, it would be the most forgettable.

The Big House will have a record crowd. (Getty Images)

3. Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor (2013)

Maybe it's just because I like college football too, but the Big House makes for a pretty great setting.

There isn't anything you can see from the stadium. It's just a massive bowl that is completely enclosed. But I expect the pageantry of college football and the stadium itself will come out. The college campus just adds a cool element to me.

With that said, I can't imagine it will be good for the fans at the game. The seats go up slowly in the bowl, they aren't steep. I can't imagine there will be many good seats for seeing the action.

The Green Monster had a monster presence. (Getty Images)

2. Fenway Park, Boston (2010)

The Green Monster? The Pesky Pole? A relatively small and history-laden stadium? Those are all some great ingredients.

Plus, you know, they got to blast Neil Diamond and sing along. I don't ever really see how that can be a problem.

Boston was a good host and Fenway is a great stadium to take in a game, of any sport. You could just see Carlton Fisk still willing that ball fair while the players sported the eye black. I just loved the shots like the one above with the Monster in the background.

Wrigley's charm was impossible to escape. (Getty Images)

1. Wrigley Field, Chicago (2009)

Was there any doubt? This was as good as it will probably ever get, I think. What can really top it?

Wrigley is as classic as the game of baseball. The ivy on the outfield walls the signature sign, but the rooftop bleachers and city of Chicago in the distance? Just a perfect setting.

While it's cheating a little, the jerseys they were wearing added to the appeal of the game for me. They were by far the best sweaters to appear in a Winter Classic so far.

The stadium on the North Side of Chicago had everything to make for a great Classic.

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

Posted on: February 7, 2012 4:40 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 4:53 pm
 

Goal scoring is still going down

Goal Scoring DownBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the continuing decline of goal scoring in the NHL.

On Tuesday Morning TSN's Gord Miller mentioned on Twitter that there has been some talk from "a few" NHL general managers about potentially reintroducing the red line. The NHL attempted to open up the game by allowing two-line passes coming out of the lockout prior to the 2005-06 season in an effort to help increase goal-scoring across the league.

If there is one thing the NHL doesn't need right now, from an offensive standpoint, it's a rule change that would take the league back to the clutch-and-grab, neutral zone obstruction era of pre-lockout hockey. You remember those days. Scoring first means a near automatic win, games that looked as if they were being played in mud through the middle of the ice.

The clutch-and-grab aspect is already making its way back into the game as teams seem to be getting away with more obstruction and interference away from the play, and goal-scoring has been nearing the levels it was in the late 90s and early 2000s when scoring first was a near automatic win.

When the NHL came out of the darkness that was the lost season of 2003-04, there was a huge crackdown on neutral zone obstruction, and when combined with the elimination of the red line, goal-scoring soared during the '05-06 season to levels that hadn't been reached since the early 90s.

In the following years, however, it's slowly but surely started to regress back to the dead puck era, and it seems that a lot of it has to do with the fact that the league has started to look the other way on neutral zone obstruction and interference away from the puck, and it's becoming more and more obvious every time you turn on a game.

Below is a quick look at the total goals-per-game across the NHL going all the way back to the 2000-01 season, as well as the number of power plays each team averaged on a per-game basis:

NHL Goal Scoring
Year Total Goals Per Game Average Power Plays For Team Per Game
2011-12 5.48 3.4
2010-11 5.59 3.5
2009-10 5.68 3.7
2008-09 5.83 4.1
2007-08 5.57 4.2
2006-07 5.89 4.8
2005-06 6.17 5.8
2003-04 5.14 4.2
2002-03 5.31 4.4
2001-02 5.24 4.1
2000-00 5.51 4.5

The league may be trying to crack down on headshots and hits from behind (and that's a good thing), but it's also been looking the other way on the neutral zone obstruction.

Before the lockout, when clutch-and-grab hockey was at its peak, teams were still averaging more than four power plays per game. As you can see over the past three years, teams are getting fewer and fewer opportunities on the man-advantage, which naturally helps lead to fewer goals, and it's been on a steady downward trend for the past six years.

That also helps put some individual performances across the league in some perspective. So far this season there are only 17 players in the NHL averaging at least a point-per-game, and only two players, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, are on a pace that would give them at least 100 points over the course of an 82-game season. Only five players are on a pace that would reach 90 points.

Last season only one player, Vancouver's Daniel Sedin, topped the 100-point plateau.

Of course, there's also been a player safety angle to a potential return of the two-line pass. It's been suggested over the course of the season that bringing the red line back and slowing the game down through the neutral zone could help cut down on the number of concussions across the league (a growing problem that isn't going away), as the game has simply become too fast and resulted in more violent collisions. On the surface, that does make some sense. But the problem with that argument is there is no way of really knowing for sure if concussions are a bigger problem now because the game is "too fast" through the neutral zone, or if head injuries were simply overlooked, underreported or simply viewed as "having your bell rung" 10 years ago and we're just more aware of it today.

At this point it's nothing but talk, but there is still some smoke for the return of the two-line pass, and fans of fast-paced, skillful hockey should be at least a little concerned. If they already aren't.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz 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: January 26, 2012 9:41 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2012 10:51 am
 

Logan Couture last man standing at All-Star Draft

By: Adam Gretz

Nobody remembers that Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward was the first pick in last year's All-Star draft, just like nobody will remember that Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk went first this year.  But everybody seems to remember it was Toronto's Phil Kessel that was the last man sitting in the seats waiting for his name to be called a year ago.

Perhaps a little too much.

Kessel, of course, didn't think it was all that big of a deal, and still doesn't today. When asked on Thursday, after being selected in the eighth round by Zdeno Chara, what advice he would give to the player that goes last this year, he simply laughed and said "it doesn't matter, it's not a big deal."

The last man standing this season: San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture, as he ended up on Alfredsson's team after Zdeno Chara selected Dallas' Jamie Benn in the final round.

But don't feel too bad for Couture. This isn't quite the same as being picked last for kick ball in gym class or on the playground. He is, after all, still getting an opportunity to play in the NHL All-Star game with some of the best players in the world, which is an impressive accomplishment on its own. But he also takes home a brand new car for being the last player selected, which this year is a Honda Crosstour. Shortly after the draft ended, Couture went to his personal Twitter feed and posted, "First order of business. Pimping that Honda out."

Along with the new ride, the NHL and NHLPA will also be donating $10,000 (each) to the grassroots hockey fund of his choice.

It's not much of a surprise that Couture was the last pick, as he was one of the favorites heading into the draft. According to the folks at Bovada earlier in the week he was a 13/2 pick to be the last player selected (yes, people actually bet on this … recreationally, of course).

The other favorites were Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell (6/1), Buffalo's Jason Pominville (13/2)  and Benn (13/2).

The only thing we knew for sure was that the last player was going to be a forward, as every goalie had to be selected before the end of round 10, and all of the defensemen had to be selected before the end of round 15.

More 2012 NHL All-Star Game Coverage

Complete All-Star Game Rosters
Complete 2012 All-Star Game Coverage

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