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

Weekend Preview: Bryzgalov gets to meet Winnipeg

By Brian Stubits

Weekend Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what he said in April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back on track

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

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

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

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

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

Roller coast of tough love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ovie debate continues

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

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

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

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

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

How much more for Maurice?

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

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

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

We're going streaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 15, 2011 2:57 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:33 pm
 

Chicago's power play will improve

hawkspp

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the struggling Chicago Blackhawks power play that may not be as bad as its early season numbers indicate.

By: Adam Gretz


The Chicago Blackhawks power play has been struggling to score goals through the first month-and-a-half of the season, which is kind of surprising given the talent they have on the on their roster. Not to mention the fact they were one of the best teams in the NHL on the man advantage last season, finishing with the fourth best power play percentage in the league.

Entering last week's game against Columbus, the Blackhawks owned the worst power play percentage in the NHL, converting on just eight percent of their chances on the man advantage. Certainly not something you would expect for a team that boasts players like Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews.

During that game against the Blue Jackets, which Chicago won 6-3, the Blackhawks used an interesting alignment on their second power play unit (which we wrote about here) sending three defensemen out on to the ice -- Duncan Keith, Nick Leddy and Steve Montador, with Montador positioning himself in front of the net as if he were Chicago's version of Tomas Holmstrom.

Not only did the seemingly makeshift line generate some offense, it scored twice for what was Chicago's first game of the season with multiple power play goals. Two games later in another 6-3 win, this time against the Edmonton Oilers, the same group of players scored another goal on the man advantage, with Montador again standing in the slot and re-directing a Leddy one-timer into the cage. In three games this week Montador scored two power play goals and assisted on another, after scoring just two power play goals over the first 11 years of his career. Crazy stuff.

Over that three game stretch (all Chicago wins) the Blackhawks power play has converted on four of its 11 attempts to help them climb from 30th in the NHL up to 24th. In the 15 games prior the unit was just 5-for-57.

Was the power play really that bad -- or underachieving -- over the first 15 games of the season? And was the presence of Montador in front of the net all they needed to get the ship going in the right direction?

Not exactly. Though, you have to give Montador credit for filling in and doing his job extremely well. (It's worth noting that Toews told Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday that Montador's experience on the PK may be serving him well in his new role. “He does a great job of boxing guys out on the penalty kill in front of our net, so he’s a workhouse ... He’s good at getting himself open when he’s on offense.”)

Small sample sizes early in the season can create some misleading percentages, and it's been found that one of the best indicators of future power play success is the number of shots on goal a team generates (you can read about it in part here). So far this season the Blackhawks have been one of the best teams in the NHL when it comes to getting shots on goal during 5-on-4 play, and prior to their recent three-game power play explosion, they had a shooting percentage of around 5 percent on the power play.

In three different games over the first month Chicago had at least 10 power play shots on a given night and failed to score. How long could that really continue? Kane and Hossa, for example, each have 17 shots on goal at 5-on-4 with no goals (Hossa's one power play goal this year came during a 5-on-3). That, too, will not continue.

We saw something similar take place with the Detroit Red Wings a couple of weeks ago during their panic-inducing six-game losing streak when their offense all but disappeared. They were still dominating their opponents in the shots department, but were going through a run where, as a team, they had an incredibly low (and unsustainable) shooting percentage. Eventually that was going to turn around (and it did. They've since won four games in a row, scoring 18 goals).

I'm not sure how long Montador is going to keep finding the back of the net on the power play, but I am confident that as long as heavy hitters in the scoring department (Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa) keep generating chances and shots, the goals will start to return.

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

Posted on: November 7, 2011 11:58 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 4:30 pm
 

Mark Messier completes NYC Marathon

By: Adam Gretz

As far as athletes go, I have a great deal of respect for anybody that can complete a full marathon, or, heck, even attempt it. It has to take a tremendous amount of dedication, strength, stamina and training to not only prepare for it, but to actually do it. It's no small accomplishment.

The New York Marathon took place on Sunday, and former NHL great -- and Stanley Cup Champion with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers -- Mark Messier took part in, and completed the 26.2 mile race in just a little over four hours.

Upon crossing the finish line, the 50-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer was so exhausted and dizzy that he had to be taken to a medical tent on a wheelchair. Fortunately, he released a statement on Sunday night that said he "Just got filled up with inspiration. I feel great now."

More from the New York Daily News:

He ran to raise money for two charities - Tomorrow's Children's Fund and Answer the Call, which supports the surviving families of 9/11 first responders. But it was Messier who needed help after accomplishing his goal.

He leaned on a railing by the finish line and asked to sit down, said Mary Wittenberg, the CEO of the New York Road Runners, the marathon organizer. He was then escorted to a TV studio and rested for five minutes before going to the medical tent.

The paper also has a brief video of Messier being taken away to the medical tent. But again, fortunately, everything seems to be OK. And a tip of the cap to Messier and all those that took part in the race.

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

Posted on: November 4, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 3:22 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Streaks, stats on the line

By Brian Stubits

It's amazing how quickly things can go from being so hot to being so cold. I mean 72 days for a marriage? That's a quick flameout.

Oh, and there are also those Red Wings from Detroit. Just two weeks ago, the NHL eyes were locked on a battle of the unbeatens; 5-0 Detroit at 6-0 Washington. Fast-forward to Friday and the Red wings have picked up one single point since, sitting now at 5-5-1.

In this six-game losing streak it hasn't been what we figured would be the team's Achilles' heel -- defense - that has let them down. I mean it could be much better -- it could ALWAYS bet better -- but it's sufficed, even if Jimmy Howard has slumped a little, too.

Instead, it's been the offense, the unit that carried the team a season ago. During the six-game losing streak, the Wings are averaging exactly one goal per game. Once they scored two, once they were shutout, the other four games they scored once. That means Detroit has the second-fewest goals in the NHL -- incidentally still six clear of the last-place Islanders, who have scored just 18 goals in 10 games.

At that kind of scoring clip, the Red Wings were lucky to even pick up one point.

"We've got to believe in ourselves, stay positive," Henrik Zetterberg told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "Here we go again -- same quotes, but there's nothing else we can do."

We can chalk some of that up to bad luck, though. Detroit is carrying a shooting percentage of 6.2 percent right now. As Jesse Spector of the Sporting News points out for comparison's sake, the Devils were at 7.3 percent last season for the worst in the league.

Statisticians will tell you shooting percentage is more a byproduct of luck than anything else. The Wings are too talented to shoot at that low of a level for the season. These things do even out. If you believe they will continue to shoot that low of a percentage this season, I have some beach-front property in Nebraska to sell you. Real cheap, too.

Maybe Ken Holland crossed a black cat's path sometime just before Halloween or something. Seven games of bad luck, perhaps?

If the streak stretches to seven, it will have to come at the expense of the similarly struggling Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. The Ducks themselves enter on a nasty little losing streak, having lost four in a row, the last two in overtime.

As they say, something's gotta give.

Lucky Seven

The opposite of the Red Wings and their six-game losing streak? Try the Edmonton Oilers and their six-game WINNING streak. (Boy, the NHL standings look awfully wacky right now ... can it last?) The last time the Oilers won six in a row? You have to go back to 2002.

They will have a chance to run that streak to seven on Saturday when they visit the Coyotes.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Nikolai Khabibulin, who is back to being the Bulin Wall. He spent a couple weeks in jail back in Arizona for a DUI offense. Who knows what kind of impact that might have had on Khabibulin, but he's been spectacular.

He was deservedly named one of the NHL's three Stars for the month of October. He has been maybe the biggest surprise of the season from an individual standpoint. He is still averaging less than a goal per game (0.98) in GAA and has a spectacular .963 save percentage.

Just like Detroit's shooting percentage, you don't need a genius to tell you that's not going to last. Still, for a guy that people felt was going to be as useful as an empty Twinkie wrapper, this qualifies as outstanding.

He will have a chance to keep his stats low for another night, though. Considering the Oilers and Coyotes are two of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, a 2-1 battle or so is probably in store. Of course, now that we mention it, the game will more likely be a 7-5 breakout.

Speaking of bad shooting percentages ...

Remember that start the Colorado Avalanche had? The one where they were 5-1-0 and the early talk of the NHL? Yes, life on the road was nice.

Well home has not provided very friendly confines. At all.

The Avs are 1-4-1 at home while still 6-1-0 on the road. Since you are clever readers, I'm sure you know where this is going ...

Colorado is at home for the weekend capper on Sunday evening when it hosts the Calgary Flames. The key to getting on the right track at home? Again, we return to the that luck theme.

In their home games, the Avalanche have a 3.8 -- 3.8!!! -- shooting percentage. Either they continue to shoot directly into the opposing goalie's chest, or things just aren't going their way.

More starting trends

One more shooting percentage trend and then that's it, we promise.

Here are two reasons not to go all in on the Toronto Maple Leafs quite yet. First, their shooting percentage is unusually high at 12.9 percent as a team. Secondly, Toronto is actually being outshot by an average of five shots per game. They are in first place in the Northeast.

On the other hand, the Bruins are plus-five in shots per game and they are in last place in the Northeast.

The means exist for a reason. Teams usually regress toward the mean over the course of a season. Of course, in the meantime these trends are still being bucked.

Now the table is set for their showdown on Saturday in Toronto. By the way, Phil Kessel is still on pace for that monster season with 10 goals and 11 assists through 13 games.

Net issue

Very quietly there is the rumblings of a goaltending controversy in Buffalo. Like we said, very quietly.

Backup Jhonas Enroth has been very solid in his backup work of Ryan Miller, including the relief appearance earlier this week against the Flyers. In that game, Enroth held the Flyers scoreless for the majority of the game after Miller was pulled early in the first period with three quick goals.

It comes as little shock then that Lindy Ruff is going to start Enroth on Friday night with the Calgary Flames in town. Ruff is electing to start the hot goalie and likely trying to flip Buffalo's fortunes at home.

Like the Avs, the Sabres aren't finding home so nice in the early going. They are 2-4-0 at the First Niagara Center or whatever they call the arena these days.

The champs are here!

That would be baseball's champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Friday night in St. Louis will be a chance for the Blues to honor their winning neighbors.

Chris Carpenter, the Cards' ace pitcher, practiced with the team this week. In case you missed it, it was brought up countless times during the playoffs that Carpenter played hockey growing up.

Also, now ex-Cardinals manager (retirement) Tony La Russa will drop the ceremonial puck before the Blues face the Canucks. The Blues would love it if some of that winning magic can rub off on them as the Blues enter having dropped their last two games and are a quiet 5-6-0.

Photo: US Presswire

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

Posted on: November 1, 2011 4:50 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 8:01 pm
 

Andy Sutton suspended 5 games



By: Adam Gretz


Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andy Sutton had an in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan on Monday for his hit to the head of Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog on Friday night. Because the hearing was done in person the NHL had the option of suspending Sutton for at least five games, and that's exactly what it did on Tuesday when Shanahan announced that Sutton will be forced to sit out Edmonton's next five games, which also result in him forfeiting over $57,000 in salary.

"The video shows that as Landeskog looks back to receive the pass in the neutral zone," said Shanahan in his latest suspension video (shown above). "Sutton steps up in anticipation of delivering a hit. Sutton takes an improper route to Landeskog and does not deliver a full body check. Instead he picks Landeskog's head. This is a clear violation of the illegal check to the head rule."

He continued: "At the moment of impact, it's clear that the head is the principal point of contact and has been recklessly targeted. Landeskog is looking back for the pass and rotates his head, but the position of his head does not dramaticallly change. Regardless of whether there is brushing of Landeskog's shoulder, the head is the principal of contact and the head is picked by Sutton."

Shanahan also added that it was taken into consideration that throughout his career Sutton has previously been fined and suspended for various illegal checks and while he is not considered a repeat offender according to the CBA, he felt they could not ignore his history of illegal hits.

Sutton will not be eligible to return to the Oilers lineup until Sunday, Nov. 13 against the Chicago Blackhawks, which is the final game of a six-game road trip the team starts on Thursday. He will miss games against Los Angeles, Phoenix, Montreal, Boston and Detroit.

In 10 games this season Sutton has recorded one assist and logged an average of 16 minutes of ice-time per game.

Said Sutton in a statement released by the team: "I have been informed of and understand the League's decision, however, I had no intention of delivering an illegal check.  For 14 years, I've always played the game with respect and integrity and I will continue to do so when I return."

More NHL Discipline News Here

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

Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:32 pm
 

Handing out some first month grades

octgrades

By: Adam Gretz

The first month of the NHL season is in the books and we're still trying to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad and which hot start is for real and which one is simply an early season mirage. Let's check in with a progress report on some notable players and teams for the month of October.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's pretend, just hypothetically, that Phil Kessel is able stay near the top of the NHL's scoring list all.

Now, you shouldn't expect him to maintain his current pace (his shooting percentage is currently 26 percent -- that's probably not sustainable for a full season), but what if he were to do something completely unexpected like, say, win the NHL's scoring title and help lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Would that do anything to change your opinion of the the trade that brought him to Toronto? Should it? Brian Burke has already said Boston won the trade because it has a Stanley Cup, but that trade -- which landed the Bruins two first-round draft picks, including a No. 2 overall selection used on Tyler Seguin, and a second-round pick -- had little to do with that championship. Seguin played about 12 minutes a game and scored 11 goals during the regular season, and only appeared in two postseason series. It's not like he was the driving force behind that cup run. The steep price Toronto paid still overshadow the fact that Kessel is a pretty darn good (three straight years of 30-plus goals) player and still only 24 years of age.

Even if he doesn't maintain this current pace he's been the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL this season and one of the biggest reasons the Maple Leafs are off to their best start in a decade, and that's worthy of a top-grade for the first month.

Other players and teams earning A's for the month of October

Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) -- had one of the best months of any goaltender in the NHL, including three consecutive shutouts; James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- for a Penguins team that continues to deal with injuries, Neal has been their best overall player and looks to be the young goal-scoring winger they've been searching for for years; Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) -- He leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average for what has been, so far, the toughest team in the NHL to score against; and the Dallas Stars -- winners of eight of their first 11 games, thanks in large part to the play of Kari Lehtonen.

Ottawa Senators: For the first two weeks of the season the Ottawa Senators looked to be every bit as awful as they were expected to be.

Over the next two weeks? They won six games in a row and end the month two game over .500. Even through the awful stretch to start the season the Senators were impressive with their determination to never quit in a game, regardless of the score, resulting in acouple of late come-from-behind victories (against Minnesota and the Rangers).

They've been outscored 27-15 over the first two periods but have outscored their opponents 21-18 in the third period. It's not likely they'll be able to continue to rely on huge third period comebacks to get wins, and they're going to have to start getting some better starts in games so they're not constantly trying to play catch up, but a 7-5 record at this point is more than could have (or should have) been expected.

Other players and teams earning B's for the month of October

Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) -- He's been the best player on a Nashville team that is losing the possession battle just about every single night and is facing more shots than any other goaltender in the league. He's keeping the Predators in it while they search for some offense; Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia Flyers) -- Three years away from the NHL and at 39 years of age Jagr opened the season and showed everybody that he can still play at the highest level with a point-per-game pace for the Flyers.

Detroit Red Wings: The A-plus honor student that brings home the rare and unexpected C. You know they can do better, and you expect them to do better. (And they will do better.) But after starting the season 5-0 the Red Wings dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 16-4. That streak includes a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, a game that was followed by a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first victory of the season. Their defense definitely took a hit when Brian Rafalski retired over the summer, and they're not the defensive stalwart they were a few years ago, but they should be better than they've looked over the first month.

Other players and teams earning C's for the month of October

Montreal Canadiens -- Injuries to their defense, as well as top forward Michael Cammalleri, didn't help, but a rather uninspiring start for the Canadiens that only started to turn around when an assistant coach was forced to take the fall.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula spent a ton of money this summer in an effort to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, and one of his biggest investments, Ville Leino, has been a complete non-factor through the first month of the season. In 10 games the 28-year-old Leino has scored just one goal to go with one assist and has recorded just five shots on goal, or one every other game. He's definitely talented, but based on what he's actually produced at the NHL level the six-year, $27 million contract was, at the very least, one hell of a gamble. And so far it's a losing one.

Other plays and teams earning D's for the month of October

 Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) -- And he's probably right on the line between D and F. Let's just say this: the only goaltender in the NHL that has a worse save percentage entering November is Ottawa's backup, Alex Auld.

Columbus Blue Jackets: An offseason with such excitement and a season that seemed to have so much promise was opened with … the worst start in franchise history and the worst record in the NHL. There is obviously time to turn it around -- and I still believe the Jackets can -- and the two big offseason acquisitions have been limited so far, which isn't helping things. James Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season, while Jeff Carter, acquired from the Flyers, was limited to just five games in October due to a foot injury, scoring zero goals. Still … the worst start in franchise history?

Other players and teams earning F's for the month of October

The Boston Bruins -- Defending champs with the second-worst record in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:32 pm
 

Handing out some first month grades

octgrades

By: Adam Gretz

The first month of the NHL season is in the books and we're still trying to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad and which hot start is for real and which one is simply an early season mirage. Let's check in with a progress report on some notable players and teams for the month of October.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's pretend, just hypothetically, that Phil Kessel is able stay near the top of the NHL's scoring list all.

Now, you shouldn't expect him to maintain his current pace (his shooting percentage is currently 26 percent -- that's probably not sustainable for a full season), but what if he were to do something completely unexpected like, say, win the NHL's scoring title and help lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Would that do anything to change your opinion of the the trade that brought him to Toronto? Should it? Brian Burke has already said Boston won the trade because it has a Stanley Cup, but that trade -- which landed the Bruins two first-round draft picks, including a No. 2 overall selection used on Tyler Seguin, and a second-round pick -- had little to do with that championship. Seguin played about 12 minutes a game and scored 11 goals during the regular season, and only appeared in two postseason series. It's not like he was the driving force behind that cup run. The steep price Toronto paid still overshadow the fact that Kessel is a pretty darn good (three straight years of 30-plus goals) player and still only 24 years of age.

Even if he doesn't maintain this current pace he's been the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL this season and one of the biggest reasons the Maple Leafs are off to their best start in a decade, and that's worthy of a top-grade for the first month.

Other players and teams earning A's for the month of October

Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) -- had one of the best months of any goaltender in the NHL, including three consecutive shutouts; James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- for a Penguins team that continues to deal with injuries, Neal has been their best overall player and looks to be the young goal-scoring winger they've been searching for for years; Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) -- He leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average for what has been, so far, the toughest team in the NHL to score against; and the Dallas Stars -- winners of eight of their first 11 games, thanks in large part to the play of Kari Lehtonen.

Ottawa Senators: For the first two weeks of the season the Ottawa Senators looked to be every bit as awful as they were expected to be.

Over the next two weeks? They won six games in a row and end the month two game over .500. Even through the awful stretch to start the season the Senators were impressive with their determination to never quit in a game, regardless of the score, resulting in acouple of late come-from-behind victories (against Minnesota and the Rangers).

They've been outscored 27-15 over the first two periods but have outscored their opponents 21-18 in the third period. It's not likely they'll be able to continue to rely on huge third period comebacks to get wins, and they're going to have to start getting some better starts in games so they're not constantly trying to play catch up, but a 7-5 record at this point is more than could have (or should have) been expected.

Other players and teams earning B's for the month of October

Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) -- He's been the best player on a Nashville team that is losing the possession battle just about every single night and is facing more shots than any other goaltender in the league. He's keeping the Predators in it while they search for some offense; Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia Flyers) -- Three years away from the NHL and at 39 years of age Jagr opened the season and showed everybody that he can still play at the highest level with a point-per-game pace for the Flyers.

Detroit Red Wings: The A-plus honor student that brings home the rare and unexpected C. You know they can do better, and you expect them to do better. (And they will do better.) But after starting the season 5-0 the Red Wings dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 16-4. That streak includes a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, a game that was followed by a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first victory of the season. Their defense definitely took a hit when Brian Rafalski retired over the summer, and they're not the defensive stalwart they were a few years ago, but they should be better than they've looked over the first month.

Other players and teams earning C's for the month of October

Montreal Canadiens -- Injuries to their defense, as well as top forward Michael Cammalleri, didn't help, but a rather uninspiring start for the Canadiens that only started to turn around when an assistant coach was forced to take the fall.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula spent a ton of money this summer in an effort to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, and one of his biggest investments, Ville Leino, has been a complete non-factor through the first month of the season. In 10 games the 28-year-old Leino has scored just one goal to go with one assist and has recorded just five shots on goal, or one every other game. He's definitely talented, but based on what he's actually produced at the NHL level the six-year, $27 million contract was, at the very least, one hell of a gamble. And so far it's a losing one.

Other plays and teams earning D's for the month of October

 Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) -- And he's probably right on the line between D and F. Let's just say this: the only goaltender in the NHL that has a worse save percentage entering November is Ottawa's backup, Alex Auld.

Columbus Blue Jackets: An offseason with such excitement and a season that seemed to have so much promise was opened with … the worst start in franchise history and the worst record in the NHL. There is obviously time to turn it around -- and I still believe the Jackets can -- and the two big offseason acquisitions have been limited so far, which isn't helping things. James Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season, while Jeff Carter, acquired from the Flyers, was limited to just five games in October due to a foot injury, scoring zero goals. Still … the worst start in franchise history?

Other players and teams earning F's for the month of October

The Boston Bruins -- Defending champs with the second-worst record in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 10:33 pm
 

Weekend wrap: Bruins' slow start staggers on

By Brian Stubits

Before the season, there was a lot of lip service given to the Stanley Cup hangover. While I could see the thinking behind it, I wasn't sure I believed it would really have a negligible effect.

While it could be pure coincidence, I'm beginning to believe in the power -- or more appropriately pain -- of the hangover. That's because the Boston Bruins are 3-7 to start the season after being swept in a home-and-home by the not-long-ago struggling Canadiens (by the way, that's three straight wins since the Habs axed assistant Perry Pearn). For those keeping track at home, that's good enough to be last in not only the Northeast Division, but the Eastern Conference.

“Honestly, this is so frustrating,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after Saturday's 4-2 loss in Montreal. “I don’t know. It’s like we can’t buy a break right now and we just keep getting deeper. We need to turn this around.”

Maybe this is a team that used up all of its breaks last season.

But I didn't see this hangover coming this harsh to start the season. I mean, this is the kind I'd get in college when I'd sleep through breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I was a believer in Boston last season, picking them to win the Cup before the playoffs began. I'm a sucker for plus/minus stats for teams, and nobody was better than Boston in that category a season ago. I took that as a sign of quality balance and partly the product of Tim Thomas' career year.

Thomas hasn't been the problem this year, even if he's not living up to the standard of a year ago. But nobody, and I repeat nobody, expected that season again. It was record-setting as far as save percentage goes, the best in NHL history. That's tough to repeat.

No, instead it's been the offense. It's a group that doesn't seem to possess any elite scorers, but as the playoffs showed, there are numerous guys who are good enough. They have just 22 goals in 10 games. Defensively, there 25 goals allowed is the second lowest total in the East behind only Buffalo.

Claude Julien has tried to fix the issue. There has been line mixing. The team's best player has been sophomore Tyler Seguin, who has four goals and six points. Only five players have at least five points through 10 games.

For his part, GM Peter Chiarelli is not panicking yet. Why would he? This current roster is almost exactly the same as the one that won the championship a few months ago. Obviously it is good enough. But Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reported that Chiarelli might be working the phones already, trying to perhaps find a player to come in and inject some life into Boston.

“I’m always working the phones, but I am a little more diligent these days," Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Thursday.

This is the part where we normally remind you that we're only 10 games into the season. There is still a lot of time for the B's to wake up and defend their Cup in earnest. But it's also worth noting that the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference are looking better this season.

They can't afford to sleep in too long until the headache goes away.

Any be-Leafers now?

When do you start believing in what the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing? Ron Wilson's crew is 7-3-1 begin the year. The last three games, including Saturday's OT win over the Penguins, have been with starting goaltender James Reimer injured. They did get tripped up by the Sens on Sunday night in a great game.

We chuckled at the uber optimism Leafs fans were feeling with the quick start and statements such as Phil Kessel is headed for Wayne Gretzky numbers. Now there is a bigger sample size of 10 games and Kessel has 10 goals with eight assists. It's still a small sample size, however it's easier to take big projections. Don't expect Gretzky numbers, but it could be a monster season nonetheless.

Speaking of monsters, Jonas Gustavsson has fared certainly well enough in Reimer's absence. With Reimer sidelined for a little bit, this was Gustavsson's chance to show he could handle the backup duties himself. So far so good. He was good enough on Saturday for Ron Wilson -- one of the few coaches on Twitter -- to pronoune him the starter for Sunday night's game against Ottawa, a loss.

"Great win. Monster was huge and gets start tomorrow. Komo keeps getting better. Dion and Phil are the best at their positions in NHL!"

If nothing else, let's just say it's time to take Toronto a little more seriously.

Streaking Senators

Raise your hand if you saw the Senators winning six games by Thanksgiving before the season began.

Forget Thanksgiving, the Sens have won six games in their last six outings after a great comeback win over the Rangers on Saturday and then a solid win over the Maple Leafs on Sunday. Things seem to be coming together quickly.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but Jason Spezza has been his usual spectacular self. He has 15 points through 12 games (7-8=15). But also joining him in the better-than-a-point-per-game pace are Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson, who has an NHL-high 12 assists.

Before the season, a lot of folks had the Senators as the preseason favorites for the Nail Yakupov (top draft prospect) sweepstakes. While they still could be, they are at least giving the fans some fun along the way.

A Star is born

Has anybody noticed what Kari Lehtonen is doing in Dallas? Judging by the attendance, the majority of the Metroplex hasn't.

The Stars are 8-3-0 after Saturday's 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. In those 11 games, Lehtonen is 8-1. He carries a goals against average of 1.75. He has been simply stellar for a team now being led not by Brad Richards, but instead by a bevy of young guns and veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray.

Lehtonen is at that magical age in sports when they are supposedly at their peak, 27. After playing in 69 games a season ago, he looks ready to carry the load again this season.

Just another quality goalie from Finland. Ho hum.

As for the attendance? Well Saturday night only 11.740 were announced to be in the stands to witness the win. I understood the reasons for low attendance numbers earlier this season, baseball's Rangers were fighting for the World Series and, well, the Stars lost their big star in the offseason. But with this kind of start and the Rangers now done, I hoped to see more than 11,740 in the crowd. Baby steps, I guess. Baby steps. If the Stars keep winning, they will come.

Night Caps

The Washington Capitals took on the Vancouver Canucks in the Saturday night cap and it didn't last long for Tomas Vokoun. The Capitals goalie gave up three first-period goals, two of them being on Canucks power plays, and was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau to start the second.

The reason? Boudreau wanted to give the team a spark. Well, his Caps did come back to the tie game, but it all got away from them again in a 7-4 loss. (On a side note, a four-goal performance won't do much to change the Canucks fans' feelings about Roberto Luongo either.)

Some are seeing it as a deal. Boudreau said Vokoun wasn't particularly sharp. Vokoun said he felt fine.

But I'd like to point out that Vokoun had played every game since Michal Neuvirth was given the opening-night start. If nothing else, Vokoun deserved a break.

We're going streaking!

As already mentioned, the Ottawa Senators now have a six-game winning streak going. But they're not alone.

The San Jose Sharks have also won five in a row. More impressively, all five of those games were on the road, including Saturday's shootout win over the Islanders and a win on Friday over the Red Wings.

Speaking of Detroit, it has lost four games in row since beginning the year 5-0. Maybe that 7-1 beatdown at the hands of the Capitals sent them into a funk?

The Islanders are also in an early tailspin. Make that five losses in a row for them after Saturday's loss to San Jose.

Last but certainly not least, the Edmonton Oilers are very quietly in first place in the Northwest Division, surpassing the Colorado Avalanche. That's because the Oilers have won five games in a row after weekend wins over the Avalanche on Friday and Blues on Sunday. The Kids in the Hall are getting a lot of attention for that, but Nikolai Khabibuln has been spectacular.

Quote of the weekend

Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was very happy with his team's 3-2 comeback win over the Sabres on Saturday night. He took it as a chance to talk a little, umm, anatomy.

Let's just say he appreciated the marbles his team showed by scoring twice in the final four minutes for the win.

Photo: Getty Images

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

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com