Tag:Vancouver Canucks
Posted on: January 11, 2012 12:03 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 3:48 pm
 

B's Thornton, Vancouver columnist banter on TV

By Brian Stubits

This past weekend's 4-3 Canucks win over the Bruins is the game that keeps on giving.

It was one of the more hyped regular-season games that I can remember (outside of the Winter Classics), it actually lived up to that billing while it was played and the battle has continued to be played out through the media since, even with the teams moving on.

A lot of the postgame chatter has circled around Brad Marchand and the five-game suspension he received for clipping Sami Salo of the Canucks. Needless to say, the Canucks supported the decision and the Bruins didn't. That's just further fueled a fire that has been burning intensely since last June's Stanley Cup Final matchup.

But it hasn't all been about Marchand. Shawn Thornton got into a little back and forth with Vancouver columnist Tony Gallagher of the Province on a CSN New England show Sticks and Stones regarding Thornton's challenging Dale Weise to a fight, something Gallagher clearly objected to. Well the conversation actually began between Gallagher and the show's host Michael Felger, it just so happened that Thornton was in studio.

It has a certain WWE feel to it, doesn't it, one of those between-matches talking segments?

Once you're able to get past Thornton's awesome velvet blazer, it's an interesting conversation. I'm not going to be tough on Gallagher for getting tripped up a little and having the size of the players wrong (he first says Thornton outweighs Weise by 40 pounds, gets it down to 20 but per NHL.com it's only seven pounds), he was essentially ambushed in this segment. (UPDATE: Turns out, Gallagher was informed Thornton might be on. If so, ambush statement retracted.)

Plus, I'll just put it out there, according to Hockeyfights.com, Thornton has not been in three fights in the same period in his NHL career, nor even two. That doesn't mean he's never done it at some point in his hockey playing days, just not in the NHL against presumably the best of the best.

But I can't get past the WWE aspect of it. Thornton seems like that guy who is supposed to be a heel that everybody actually likes.

Maybe as interesting is Felger playing the part of Mean Gene Okerlund and getting a little combative with Gallagher at the end when asking why the Canucks are so hated. Gallagher's response was well put, I thought, and Felger agreed before calling the Canucks "weasely." It ended with a little "we have the Cup" jab.

Can we find a way in the next realignment to put these teams in the same conference?

H/t to Pro Hockey Talk

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 6:33 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2012 12:20 am
 

Brad Marchand suspended five games for clipping

By Brian Stubits

Brendan Shanahan's verdict is in for Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand and his clipping on Vancouver's Sami Salo: It's going to cost him five games.

Here is the very interesting explanation from Shanahan on the ruling.

On Sunday, Marchand said that he was defending himself on the play, echoing the comments of his coach Claude Julien. Citing that he's a short player, he was trying to avoid what he thought was a hit coming from Salo. In a few videos this season, Shanahan has explained that he believed the player's assertions on their intentions. Obviously that's not the case here.

Shanahan called the hit "predatory," nothing that they believed he had no intention on the play but to hurt Salo with the hit. That mission was accomplished, by the way. Salo was diagnosed with a concussion after the game.

"While we understand that in certain circumstances, a player may duck or bail instinctively in order to avoid an imminent or dangerous check, we do not view this play as defensive or instinctive," Shanahan explained. "Rather, we feel this was a predatory, low hit delivered intentionally by Marchand in order to flip his opponent over him.

"Further, Salo is not coming at Marchand with great speed, nor in a threatening posture. He does nothing to indicate that Marchand is about to be hit illegally or with excessive force. To be clear, we do not consider this to be a defensive act where there were no other options for Marchand."

It's a very detailed explanation, even including the 20 or seconds before the hit where the two collided on the boards in a much less vicious manner. Marchand then threw a couple of jabs at Salo's back, something that Shanahan took note of.

A short while later, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli released a statement expressing the team's frustration with the ruling.

"While we respect the process that the Department of Player Safety took to reach their decision regarding Brad’s hit on Sami Salo, we are very disappointed by their ruling.

"While we understand that the Department of Safety is an evolving entity, it is frustrating that there are clear comparable situations that have not been penalized or sanctioned in the past.

"It is equally disappointing that Brad sought the counsel of the Department this past Fall for an explanation and clarification regarding this type of scenario so as to adjust his game if necessary. He was advised that such an incident was not sanctionable if he was protecting his own safety.  Given our feeling that Brad was indeed protecting himself and certainly did not clip the player as he contacted the player nowhere near the knee or quadricep, today’s ruling is not consistent with what the Department of Player Safety communicated to Brad."

Remember, too, that Marchand has a history of disciplinary action. He was suspended last season and was fined earlier this season for a slew-foot.

This puts a wrap on really a weekend full of Canucks-Bruins. The animosity between these two teams is astonishing.

UPDATE: Marchand is apparently doing a season-long diary with ESPN Boston. Here is his most recent entry that he posted late on Monday night after the suspension. Among the highlights is Marchand insinuating Vigneault has a lack of class and denying he plays to hurt people.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 2:27 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2012 5:25 pm
 

Patrick Sharp to miss 3-4 weeks

By: Adam Gretz

The Chicago Blackhawks have become the latest team to be hit with a significant injury.

The team announced on Monday afternoon that forward Patrick Sharp is going to be sidelined for the next three-to-four weeks with what has been described as an "upper body injury" (It's reported to be a broken wrist, coming when he was slashed just before scoring a goal on Sunday night). It comes at a bad time for Chicago as the team is currently riding a four-game losing streak and has also lost six of its past nine games

He was injured on Sunday night when the Blackhawks lost to their divisional rivals from Detroit, 3-2 in overtime, and played just a little over five-and-a-half minutes. He left the game after the first period and did not return.

It's a big blow for the Blackhawks for the near future as Sharp is one of their best, most reliable and most consistent skaters. Through his first 42 games of the season he's second on the team in goals (20), fourth in assists (20) third in total points (40), first in power play points (12) and leading the team with 158 shots on goal.

Assuming it's just a three-to-four week injury he should be back in the lineup sometime in early February. Looking ahead at Chicago's schedule they get the struggling Blue Jackets and Wild this week, before things get significantly tougher with games against the likes of Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver and a home-and-home set with Nashville over the remainder of the month.

More NHL Injuries

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Posted on: January 8, 2012 4:24 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 4:40 pm
 

Marchand has hearing for clipping; Salo concussed

By Brian Stubits

The Boston Bruins had not one but two players assessed game misconducts in Saturday's very combative Stanley Cup Final rematch loss to the Vancouver Canucks. One of those -- to Milan Lucic -- was rescinded by the NHL. The other one handed to Brad Marchand for clipping has led to a hearing with the NHL.

In a game that had numerous fights, hits and dustups, Marchand's hit on Sami Salo was the worst. With the two on a colision course, Marchand elected to play his own version of the limbo and see how low he could go. He connected with Salo right around his knees, flipping Salo head over heels and hitting the ice with his head.

Take note, too, of the leadup to the hit from Marchand. You see the two players bumped into each other then Marchand threw a couple of jabs at Salo before undercutting him. It doesn't help his case in arguing that it wasn't intentional.

It is a bit interesting that in today's league where teams like the Florida Panthers are listing concussed players as being out with bruised tailbones that the Canucks wasted no time in announcing that Salo did, indeed, suffer a concussion from the hit.

Remember too that Marchand has a discipline past on his short resume already. Earlier this season he was fined for slew-footing Matt Niskanen and last season he was given two games for elbowing R.J. Umberger in the head. We've seen a few times this season how Brendan Shanahan treats repeat offenders.

We know this much, the Canucks weren't happy about it at all.

“You talk about unacceptable plays in hockey,” GM Mike Gillis told the Vancouver Sun, “that's clearly one. I'm not going to comment any further.”

But of course defenseman Kevin Bieksa did. He's always good for an opinion on anything involving his teammates, it seems.

“It's very, very cheap,” Bieksa said. “I can't think of a cheaper hit you can do on the ice. That and a slew-foot kind of go hand in hand. Twenty seconds before that, [Marchand] and Sami have a pretty good collision in the exact same spot. Sami probably gets the better of him. Then second time, Marchand comes back and loses his will and goes down low. A cheap shot from him, and I hope he gets a phone call from the league.”

He is. That's how his hearing will be conducted, over the phone, meaning Marchand's suspension won't exceed four games.

Even the coaches are getting into it. Here's a little back and forth between Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault from the Sun.

“If guys start protecting themselves the way Marchand did, maybe guys will stop taking runs at other guys,” Julien told reporters, “because that's the consequences – you end up paying for taking runs at other guys, too.”

Canuck coach Alain Vigneault was not amused.

"That's a stupid comment," he said Sunday. "What Marchant did, you could end a player's career doing that. I've never seen Sami Salo take a run at any player in the NHL.

"Marchand -- and this is just my feeling -- but someday he's going to get it. Someday, someone's going to say 'enough is enough' and they're going to hurt the kid because he plays to hurt players. And if the league doesn't care, somebody else will."

Marchand addressed the possible suspension on Sunday with reporters, explaining that he was protecting himself when he saw Salo coming his way.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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Posted on: January 7, 2012 4:36 pm
Edited on: January 7, 2012 6:32 pm
 

Bruins, Canucks offer plenty of craziness



By: Adam Gretz

The video you see above shows the play that earned Bruins forward Brad Marchand a five-minute major for clipping late in the second period of Saturday's Stanley Cup Finals rematch between Boston and Vancouver.

In the end, it proved to be a costly penalty for the Bruins as the Canucks took advantage of the extended power play, scoring a pair of goals that proved to be the difference in their 4-3 win. It was a game that did not fall short of the hype leading in to it. From the drop of the puck it was obvious there was no love lost between the two teams (or the fans) and it was non-stop craziness from start to finish, and it also may have given Brendan Shanahan a bit of extra work to do over the weekend in terms of supplemental discipline.

Not only will Marchand's hit most certainly be looked at by the league (Sami Salo, the player he hit, was not only injured on the play, but he never even had possession of the puck while Marchand made no attempt to play it), there's also the question of what will be done to Bruins forward Milan Lucic after he was ejected just six minutes into the first period for leaving the bench during a line brawl (which you can watch right here). ESPN Boston's James Murphy passed along the information during the game that NHL will meet after the game to decide whether or not he joined the scrum during a legal or illegal change.


If it is determined to be an illegal change he will be facing a 10-game suspension, which is the mandatory punishment for leaving the bench during a fight. Last season Eric Godard, then a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was hit with that punishment for leaving the bench during the now infamous February brawl between the Penguins and Islanders. A couple of weeks ago Tampa Bay's Steve Downie was hit with a $2,500 fine for a similar incident, avoiding the suspension because the NHL decided that he joined the play during a "legal" change and had a right to be in the game at that moment.

(UPDATE: The NHL rescinded the game misconduct to Milan Lucic after the game, meaning he's not likely to face any sort of a suspension.)

When all was said and done on Saturday afternoon, the Bruins and Canucks combined for over 100 penalty minutes, including four fighting majors, Marchand's major penalty for clipping, two game misconducts and two additional ten-minute misconducts. In other words: just another day at the office for the Bruins.

The Canucks' biggest issue in the Finals last season, when they lost to Boston in seven games, was their inability to score on the power play, scoring on just two of their 31 attempts. If you're going to beat the Bruins (and not many teams have recently) you're going to have to take advantage of the power plays they give you, and on Saturday Vancouver did just that, converting on four of 11 chances thanks to goals from Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Henrik Sedin and Cody Hodgson.

Cory Schneider, a Massachusetts native, was given the surprise start for the Canucks in goal and stopped 36 of the 39 shots he faced, which also helped to provide us one of the more bizarre moments of the day. Even though it was Schneider between the pipes for the Canucks, the Bruins faithful spent most of the day heckling Roberto Luongo (despite the fact that, again, he wasn't playing), even starting a "we want Luongo" chant during the second period. The only real negative of the day for Schneider came midway through the second period when he and the Canucks were on the wrong end of a missing icing call by the officials (seen here), leading to Boston's second goal of the game off the stick of Rich Peverely. It was a blown call, but the lesson here is always play to the whistle.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 6, 2012 4:42 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:48 pm
 

Canucks starting Schneider over Luongo in Boston

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Preview: Vancouver and Boston meet again

The Vancouver Canucks head to Boston for the rematch against the Bruins from last year's Stanley Cup Final. It was a house of horror for the Canucks, goaltender Roberto Luongo in particular.

Three games were played in Boston in that series and the Bruins won all three by a combined score of 17-3. The first game was an 8-0 blanking by the Bruins and Luongo was in goal for all of it. He gave up all but two of those 17 scores.

Fast forward to this season and it seemed to take Luongo a long time and a lot of boos to get back into the form that saw him earn a Vezina nomination last year. He's been significantly better of late, including a shutout in his last start, Wednesday at home against the Wild. So now he gets to go and face down some of his demons, right?

Wrong.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault announced on Friday that it's going to be Cory Schneider getting the start against the Bruins, not Luongo. His reasoning is that Schneider, who is from Boston and played college hockey at Boston College, has earned the start in his hometown.

"I would have liked to play the game," Luongo said Friday, "but in fairness to Cory he's from here and deserved to play -- I'm all for it."

I'm thinking the hometown start angle is malarkey.

I won't rule out that it really could be as simple as wanting to let Schneider start a game back in Boston. But it sure has the look of Vigneault holding Luongo back from this game in particular, doesn't it? How often do you see goalies benched the game after a shutout (and when it's not a back-to-back)? Not often.

There are three schools of thought on this, best as I can tell. The first is why risk damaging Luongo's confidence that has been built back up? With the way the Bruins are playing, the Canucks could be run out of the building. The second, which is the one I lean toward, is Luongo shouldn't be sheltered and should instead face that team in that building. The always say that the best way to overcome your fears is to face them head on.

The third school is that it's just a game in January.

I personally don't think a midseason game is going to do much one way or the other. If Luongo were to beat them, it wouldn't be the end to the talk of struggles and if he were to get beat badly, I don't think it would shake up to an unrecoverable level.

I think Vigneault should continue to play the hot goalie, the one that is playing well. I think it sends a bad message to Luongo if he is being sheltered, it's admitting two things: 1) that Luongo has a shaky psyche and 2) he doesn't like the odds of winning in Boston.

Is Vigneault making the right call here or not?

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: January 6, 2012 12:56 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:47 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Bruins and Canucks meet again

By Brian Stubits

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Vancouver to start Schneider over Luongo

The Boston Bruins are out-of-this-world good. Six times this season they have beaten their opponent by at least five goals. That includes Thursday's 9-0 rout of the Calgary Flames.

On the season they have scored 138 goals (most in the NHL) and only allowed 69 (fewest in the NHL). For the mathematically impaired, that's exactly twice as many goals for as against. They have an absolutely staggering plus-69 goal differential on the season.

To put that in further perspective, here's a stat that was pointed out to me by a friend. In only half a season, the Bruins' plus-69 is better than all but three teams' season total in the last three years.

Since their 3-7-0 start, it's been utterly ridiculous what they have done. Their record since is 23-3-1. That means they have earned 47 of the past 54 possible points.

It's scary to think about, but the numbers point to the Bruins being a better team than they were a season ago when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Well the Canucks will get their one and only chance this season to see how much better, if at all, the Bruins are than a season ago.

These teams have had rather similar paths since their great seven-game Final a season ago. The Bruins have received a lot of the attention for the way they have just been steamrolling the competition, but the Canucks are going through a somewhat similar season. They, too, rebounded from the long postseason with a sluggish start but have since come to play the way they were expected. They have retaken their seat atop the Northwest Division and are in the thick for best record in the league.

It's no exaggeration to say that these very well could be the two best teams in the NHL again this season.

Yet this Saturday's matchup in Boston isn't as much about this season as it is about last season, specifically the Finals.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of hype for that game, but we’re a different team than we were last year. We’ve added some different components,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told ESPN.com. “Boston is pretty much the same team, but it’s a new year. We’re going to just go in there and try and play our best game.”

There was enough hostility in that seven-game series to last for three series. We had finger-biting, tire-pumping, trash-talking and rioting. Well OK, that last one wasn't in the series, but still.

The biggest bit of trash talk that came out publicly wasn't until after the series when now retired Bruins forward Mark Recchi said he has never hated an opponent like he did those Canucks. That prompted Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa to suggest Recchi go play a round of golf or take a nap.

Recchi, now working with NBC, did backtrack this week.

“I probably shouldn’t have said anything and I wish I wouldn’t have, but that’s what happened and that’s how the series was,” Recchi told Vancouver’s The Province. “People know I love B.C. and Vancouver and it was an unbelievable series but there was a lot of dislike on both sides. And it wouldn’t have been a Stanley Cup final if there wasn’t that much dislike -- we really didn’t like each other.”

It's not likely that the dislike has worn off in the half-year since.

The rematch will have about all you could ask for in a midseason contest, assuming the Bruins don't turn it into a snoozer with another rout.

Mr. 499

I haven't come across anybody who doesn't like Jarome Iginla. The Calgary Flames forward has long been the epitome of what people want in their professional athletes. He's humble, approachable, charitable and of course talented.

He's on the cusp of reaching a great milestone, sitting one goal away from No. 500 in his career. Quite honestly, it's about the only reason why non-Flames fans would want to watch Calgary at the moment.

Iginla told CBSSports.com this week that the pursuit of the milestone isn't something that he's been worried about, but he certainly has thought about it.

"No, it hasn't weighed, but now that I'm at 499, you definitely try not to think about it on each shot and think 'well it could be' or whatever. So I think about it a little bit," Iginla said. "But once you get to the game you're just competing and want to win the game. I don't look at it like I'm counting down games. Just keep going and just keep trying to shoot and get chances and keep the same approach. But you definitely think about it a little bit."

Because of the World Junior tournament that just ended on Thursday with one hell of a game between Sweden and Russia, the Flames have been road warriors for the past couple of weeks. But on Saturday night they'll return home to the Saddledome to take on the Minnesota Wild with Iginla still just one away.

In a way it's great that Iginla didn't reach the milestone in the past week for it will give him a chance to do it back home in Calgary. He'd be applauded handsomely in whichever city it happened, but it's always best to do these things at home.

Certainly the team will be happy to be back home, too. The Flames petered out the end of their seven-game road trip, losing the last five, including that 9-0 rout in Boston.

"We feel that we're good at home and that we're confident," Iginla said. They better hope so, they don't want to fall too far behind in the playoff picture.

Capitalizing

One team that has crawled back into the playoff picture is the Washington Capitals. The Caps were, to be frank, very average for a good chunk of the first half. However they have begun to play just how they were expected to. That's every more so the case with Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin had gone 23 straight games without multiple points in one night. He snapped that streak and has since run off four consecutive multi-point games. Maybe he had a great Christmas. Or perhaps it was the excitement of his two-year anniversary as captain. Whatever the reason, he has elevated his game big time and probably not coincidentally, so has Washington.

They travel to the West Coast to take on the San Jose Sharks on Saturday riding a four-game win streak. Again, it's no coincidence that Ovechkin has four straight multiple-point games.

But I'm still not 100 percent sold this team is back to its big-time status. Of the four wins, three have come at home where they have been very tough to beat, regardless of the overall mediocre performance. The fourth was a road win at Columbus. So this trip to San Jose, where they haven't won since 1993, will be a better gauge to see how the Capitals are coming along under Dale Hunter. Once they start winning on the road, then I'll start believing in them again.

Boom! Madden's debut

The Florida Panthers are still beating the odds and hanging onto first place in the Southeast Division. On Friday night they'll get some reinforcement to help them stay there.

Recently signed veteran John Madden is expected to make his debut with the Panthers in New Jersey. It's an interesting place for his first game as a Panther considering he spent the majority of his career with the Devils and helped them win two Stanley Cups.

That adds to the storyline this season of Devils coach Peter DeBoer facing his former team. Really, that doesn't hold much weight after the first meeting, so Madden's debut puts a little zest in another game between the two.

I'm sure the Devils fans will give Madden a nice, hearty hand even if he's in the other team's red.

More Wings work

It's going to be an Original Six weekend for the Detroit Red Wings.

On Saturday they will get a crack at their neighbors a little to the Northeast in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite not being in the same conference, these two teams still have a good rivalry that stretches way back. Their proximity to each other helps too. It's why so many want to see the Leafs play in next year's Winter Classic against the Wings, possibly in the Big House.

Once they are done with the team from Toronto, they face their other Original Six big rival, the one that's still in their division. The Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will wage a big battle on Sunday that will continue to help shape the ever-tight Central Division.

Great weekend of hockey for the folks in Hockeytown.

We're going streaking!

Here are the winning streaks and losing streaks in play entering the weekend.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts keep on winning, taking a three-game streak into Friday's matchup with the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

New York Islanders: The Isles make the list this week, and it's on the good side! A three-game win streak is on the line at the Ducks on Friday and then the Coyotes on Saturday.

Ottawa Senators: The quietest of the NHL's surprise teams, the Senators have a four-game run going into the home-and-home with the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and Sunday.

Capitals: Aforementioned four-game win streak with the one game at San Jose.

Colorado Avalanche: The up-and-down Avs are playing well again, having won three straight. They have a tough Friday-Saturday road trip of at the Blackhawks and at the Blues.

Sharks: Not mentioned above, the Sharks also come into the game against the Caps hot, having won three in a row.

Flames: They look to end their five-game skid against the Wild on Saturday.

Anaheim Ducks: Three losses in a row and counting? With all their players now on the trade block, they face the Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 30, 2011 1:25 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Central the center of the action

By Brian Stubits

Earlier this week, the St. Louis Blues visited Joe Louis Arena and battled the Detroit Red Wings in one of the better games of the season. In it, the Wings came back from a two-goal deficit and stung the Blues 3-2.

That was just on Tuesday. Apparently it was so good, they're going to do it again this Saturday, same arena and all.

Two teams playing each other twice in one week isn't rare in hockey. Happens a lot of weekends actually with home-and-home series. But playing twice in one week in the same city? Unless we're in the playoffs, not that common. But the Red Wings won't mind, I'm sure.

In hockey, home-ice advantage doesn't compare all that well to home-court advantage in the NBA, for example. Most teams fare better at home, but it's not as much of a lock as basketball. However for the Red Wings, it is. After beating the Blues on Tuesday, Detroit has won 11 consecutive games at the Joe. Overall this season, the Wings are 14-2-1 at home.

And they want to get rid of that place, huh?

Then again, it's probably a lot more about the team on the ice than where the ice is located, huh? I mean any team that has Pavel Datsyuk has to be good.

The three-time Selke winner and Russian stick wizard took the first-star honors after Tuesday's win, scoring a goal on a fantastic redirection and setting up Detroit's first goal of the game.

The year began a little slowly for Datsyuk -- he didn't score his third goal of the season until No. 19 -- but he's back to old tricks. For the most part, I mean that literally for that's what you think you're seeing when Datsyuk is playing the puck, trickery. He's been in the NHL since 2001 but he still leaves people amazed.

Detroit will be looking for a bit more of that amazing this weekend. Obviously their battles with the Blues have grown this season with St. Louis taking off under Ken Hitchcock. The two teams are separated by only one point in the standings and it sure seems like neither team will go away this season. So all of the head-to-head games are big with the points up for grabs.

If the rematch comes close to being a repeat of the meeting earlier this week, it might still be one the best game this weekend.

Friday night's alright in the Central

That's not the only big interdivision matchup in the Central Division this weekend. Both the Blues and Red Wings have massive matchups on Friday night, including the season's first Blackhawks-Red Wings matchup.

Hard to believe that the Oilers and Wild have already played each other six times while the Blackhawks and Red Wings have yet to renew acquaintances, but that's the case. Until Friday, at least.

This is the matchup in a very good Central. The two top dogs, big rivals and true Stanley Cup threats. It begins Friday in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Blues will be tangling with the Nashville Predators in what has become a very nice -- or should I say not nice? -- rivalry in its own right.

These two Friday night showdowns pit four of the West's top six teams against one another (Nashville is tied with the Sharks and Kings with 42 points). More importantly, they are all fighting within the same division.

It's going to be a great weekend of hockey in the Midwest.

B's buzzing

At this point it's beyond absurd. The Boston Bruins are in the middle of one of the best stretches in the history of the NHL, and that's not hyperbole. In their last 24 games, Boston is an astounding 21-2-1, including the current seven-game win streak they take to Dallas.

In that time they have obliterated opponents. Eleven of those 21 wins were by a margin of three goals or more. By anybody's definition of dominant, the Bruins fit the bill.

Now they head to Dallas to face the Stars and get a glimpse of an old pal in Michael Ryder. The Stars forward was part of the Stanley Cup champs last season before migrating to Texas in the summer. The Bruins he played for were very good obviously, but not even that team was ever this great.

Of the many amazing things about the Bruins, one is the fact that not one of their players appears in the top 30 of the NHL in points. You have to go to No. 33 on the list to find Tyler Seguin. That's all in spite of the fact that the Bruins have the most productive offense in the league with 3.47 goals per game. Talk about balance. As Stars center Steve Ott would say "look at NHL.com."

Classic tuneup

While the Philadelphia Flyers are already back in the City of Brotherly Love and waiting to play in Citizen's Bank Park on Monday for the Winter Classic, their foes are making one stop in sunny South Florida first.

The New York Rangers, fresh off a 4-1 loss in Washington to the Capitals, would love to take a win with them into Philly for the game, so they'll take a crack at the Florida Panthers. It's the third meeting between the two teams this season, the most recent a Rangers demolishing of the Panthers in Madison Square Garden. The first meeting came in Sunrise and went to the Panthers.

The good news for Florida is that Stephen Weiss is a game-time decision. The top-line center has missed the past couple of games while the Panthers have made due with almost two lines worth of AHL forwards.

The game is just about as big for the Panthers as it is the Rangers. Florida has been atop the Southeast Division for most of the season, but the Winnipeg Jets have crawled to within four points of the 'Cats for the division lead.

Happy New Year!

Typically, the Winter Classic has been the first game played in the new year in recent seasons. Not this year.

Because of the final Sunday of the NFL season falls on Jan. 1, the Winter Classic -- and majority of the NHL schedule -- has been pushed back to Monday, Jan. 2. But one game will be played on Sunday.

The Calgary Flames will visit the Predators and the two will have the (meaningless) honor of being the first teams to play in 2012. Ring it in, boys.

We're going streaking!

Here are the streaks, good and bad, entering the weekend. Not a whole lot.

Bruins: As mentioned, take that seven-game win streak into Dallas.

Vancouver Canucks: The other Stanley Cup Finalist last season is almost as hot as the Bruins. The Canucks have won three in a row and seven of the last 10. They have a date with the Kings in L.A. on Saturday.

Phoenix Coyotes: Phoenix heads to face the Minnesota Wild as losers of four straight games. The good news? The fourth-place Coyotes are still only two points behind first-place San Jose in the Pacific.

Photo: Getty Images

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