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Tag:Detroit Red Wings
Posted on: December 24, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 4:33 pm
 

Top NHL stories and moments in 2011

By Brian Stubits

There was a lot of good in 2011, but also a lot of bad. By bad, I really mean tragedy. It was an unforgettable yet forgettable year all at the same time.

As we hit the heart of the holiday season, here is a look back at the year that was in hockey with the top 10 moments/storylines of 2011.

10. Summer acquisitions -- This is when the magic happens in the NHL's salary cap world and franchises are made or destroyed.

It was over the summer that two teams in particular built the nucleus for their surprising starts this season, the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers. Minnesota was the host for this year's NHL Entry Draft and really did leave an impression. Not only did they come away from the draft with a few new prospects in their system but they also swung a deal to land Devin Setoguchi from the San Jose Sharks for Brent Burns. The Wild swung another deal with the Sharks that landed them Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. Of course their biggest summer acquisition might have been the hiring of head coach Mike Yeo.

The Panthers meanwhile continued to use the draft to make their system better and also swung a big trade, taking on Brian Campbell's big salary from the Blackhawks in exchange for Rostislav Olesz. That kicked off a wild spending spree that lasted through free agency and the core of the team that's in first in the Southeast was built just like that. Like the Wild, they also found themselves a new coach who has returned big dividends early in Kevin Dineen.

The unrestricted free-agent class was led by the pursuit of Brad Richards, who eventually signed with the New York Rangers after a day of courting, including from the Maple Leafs while GM Brian Burke was in Afghanistan. But the most intrigue was on the restricted front where Steven Stamkos' future was wildly speculated before re-signing with the Lightning and Shea Weber stayed with the Predators after the biggest arbitration award ever.

A couple weeks in the middle of the year set up the last couple of months in the year and even with what was perceived as a weak free-agent class, this year was no different.

Look back: Free-agency tracker

9. Winter Classic -- As sad as it is to think about, games hardly ever are the top stories in sports any more. But in hockey, the Winter Classic will always matter, it's that big of a showcase and spectacle for the NHL.

As is the case with every Winter Classic -- as fans of all the less-fortunate teams will remind you -- it was a marquee matchup of two high-profile teams from the East with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps eventually prevailed in a game that might be the most memorable Winter Classic thus far for a variety of reasons, one of them makes an appearance later on this list.

But first of all the lead up to the game featured the first 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic series on HBO and it was riveting. While technically most of it aired in 2010, it is tied in with the Winter Classic so it counts. It left fans anticipating the next version like a kid awaits Christmas, this year's version featuring the Flyers and Rangers.

Mother Nature also left her mark on the game. It was the first Winter Classic thus far that the weather was so uncooperative that they had to delay the start of the game. Unseasonably warm temperatures and rain in Pittsburgh led to the game being pushed to the night and it did provide a pretty memorable setting at Heinz Field. 

Look back: Caps win Winter Classic 3-1

8. Realignment -- While the fruit of this labor will be seen starting in 2012, it was a large conversation for the entire second half of the year, spurred by a development that appears further up this list.

I don't know if there was a person in hockey -- both within the game and covering it -- that didn't have their own idea for how the realignment should be done. In the end the six-division format was blown up, an effort that was from all accounts led by Gary Bettman himself.

The biggest drama in the whole saga revolved around the Detroit Red Wings' desire to move to the Eastern Conference. Well, without an Eastern Conference to move to any more, I guess you could say that was taken care of.

Look back: NHL announces realignment

7. Lokomotiv plane crash -- The KHL is to the NHL as the NHL is to ESPN. That is to say the only time we ever seem to hear about the KHL is when something bad happens.

Unfortunately, that was the case this summer when the airplane carrying the KHL's Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team barely got airborne before it crashed, killing everybody on board except a member of the flight crew.

The tragedy was already tough enough for the hockey community in North America simply for the fact sheer sadness of the lethal error. But what made it really hit home in the NHL was the number of former NHL players who died in the crash.

Among those who died in the crash were Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and head coach Brad McCrimmon, all of who were in the NHL at some point in their careers. In the case of McCrimmon he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff as recently as last season before he took the chance to be a head coach in Russia.

Nothing from the ordeal was more chilling than the sad, sad story from a professional driver in Dallas who was tasked with picking up the family of Skrastins to drive them to the airport hours after the tragedy. Honestly, I'm getting emotional just thinking about it again. It was truly a horrible day for hockey.

Look back: Lokomovit team plane crashes

6. Vancouver riot -- For the second time in as many Stanley Cup trips for the Vancouver Canucks, the hockey-crazed city erupted into a violent storm following its team's loss in the decisive Game 7. A similar eruption happened in 1994 after the Canucks fell to the New York Rangers.

The night began with a massive gathering in the streets of Vancouver for the fans to all watch the game together on a big screen. Many saw that as an ill-fated moment from the start and boy were they right. Soon after the game and season were finished, the hooligans of Vancouver were just getting started.

Looters took to the streets to cause mayhem, and cause mayhem they did. The result was a night full of rioting embarrassing to the city, a lot of videos to live on in YouTube glory (like this classic), at least 25 people being charged (including Miss Congeniality) and the romance, sports and maybe general photo of the year, the "riot kiss" seen up above.

The unfortunate part (OK, one of them) was the fact that the riot completely overshadowed what was really a great postseason and season for the Canucks. Vancouver was the best team all regular season long and as fine of a year as they ever have.

Look back: Riot erupts after Stanley Cup Finals

5. Brendan Shanahan takes over -- There has been no bigger overarching story in the second half of the year than what Shanahan has been doing as the new head of player safety having replaced Colin Campbell. His arrival on the job has coincided with the attempt to expand and clarify Rule 48.1, the one dealing with headshots. The focus has also been ramped up on boarding.

His impact has been felt from the get-go. In the preseason he was very busy and then really sent some shock waves through the league when he suspended Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski for eight games.

It's at the point now that every questionable hit is immediately scrutinized and I'm still not sure if that's good or bad. Obviously the good is that it continues to put a microscope on bad hits in an attempt to rid the game of them. On the bad side, some clean hits get more attention than they should and the consistency of punishment applications has been a bit bedeviling, just ask the Sabres fans.

However Shanahan has done something that I've yet to find a person complain about and that's making videos for each and every suspension wherein he explains exactly what the thought process was that led to the decision. The first one he made in the preseason was a breath of fresh air and welcome transparency. All season he's been a busy, busy man.

You know you've watched a lot of Shanahan suspension videos when you can recall that he has done videos in front of three different backdrops and you can tell when he gets a haircut.

Look back: A look at Shanahan's handy work

4. Winnipeg Jets return -- At one point, it looked like the old Jets -- the Phoenix Coyotes -- were going to be the team to move to Winnipeg. Fans were elated as it seemed that with a clear potential ownership group and new, albeit small, arena, the NHL would be coming back to the 'Peg after 15 years.

Then they pulled a little switcheroo on everybody when the Coyotes announced they were staying in Phoenix for another year, so attention turned to the Atlanta Thrashers. A few transactions later and hockey was back in Manitoba (and the NHL had to realign -- Winnipeg in the Southeast?).

The push was one to rename the team the Jets like the old franchise in town and after much debate, the fans won out, although a new logo would be introduced. Not lacking in flair, the Jets showed off their new uniforms in an unveiling at a military base with the players wearing the new duds walking out of a cargo plane.

The first game of the Jets. 2.0 came in their new home at the MTS Centre and they fell in defeat to the Montreal Canadiens, but you couldn't tell. The great hockey city that is Winnipeg was happier than a pig in you-know-what just to have the NHL back. When Nik Antropov became the first player to score for the new Jets, the roar was deafening. Maybe the best way to measure the city's appreciation and love for having hockey back would have been with decibels.

After a slow start (again, they were the Thrashers) the Jets have really come to find a comfort on home ice, as many thought they would. With a 12-6-1 record at home this season, the Jets have the best home mark in the Eastern Conference next to Boston's 13-6-1. It seems that a little excitement really can go a long way.

Look back: Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg

3. Sidney Crosby's concussions -- This was the biggest development to come out of the aforementioned Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby caught an elbow to the head from the Capitals' David Steckel that rocked the game's best player pretty good. He certainly appeared out of sorts but was back in the lineup a few days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A check from Victor Hedman led to Crosby experiencing another concussion and he didn't play again for the rest of the season. He finally did return to game action in November, playing eight games before being shut down again for post-concussion symptoms.

Before he went down, Crosby was on pace for one mammoth season. To illustrate how good he was playing before the injury, he still finished the season as the Penguins' leading scorer by a whopping 16 points despite playing only 41 games.

For literally almost a year, the hockey world sat and waited for word on Crosby returning. There was speculation he could come back for the Penguins' playoffs games. There was talk that he might retire. None of that happened, but what did do was bring another reminder of the seriousness that are concussions.

It's not good business for the NHL when the top players aren't on the ice, let alone the best player. I'd like to think it isn't the case, but you have to wonder if Crosby's absence didn't go a long way in facilitating the NHL's actions on trying to remove bad hits as well as enacting strong concussion protocols.

The way the Penguins have handled the Crosby situation has been one of the best parts of all -- or maybe the only good part, depending on your point of view. They have been incredibly patient the entire time, insisting they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize Crosby's health and future.

But because of his most recent setback, Crosby Watch 2011 will move on into Crosby Watch 2012.

Look back: Crosby's recovery efforts

2. Deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak -- The NHL's summer of sorrow began in late spring when the tragic news came down of New York Rangers and former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard's death. The autopsy concluded he died of a lethal mix of alcohol and Oxycodone.

Later in the offseason the NHL was then shook by the news of deaths of Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, separated by only two weeks. Both players were fighters themselves, each suffered from depression and both apparently committed suicide (Rypien's was classified as such, Belak's death treated as such by Toronto PD).

The news of their deaths was sad and shocking in their own right. These were all players 35 or younger who all shared a role in their hockey careers. It was also a catalyst for the discussion of fighting in hockey. No tie can be drawn between each of their deaths and fighting, but it at least begged the question.

Since the three players died, the conversation has picked up. It was really spurred along by the New York Times' in-depth piece that looked at the life of Boogaard and the study of his brain. The findings of the Boston University lab found Boogaard's brain was already showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a deterioration of the brain due to repeated blows to the head.

Look back: Boogaard | Rypien | Belak

1. Bruins win Stanley Cup -- If he didn't already have the designation by all before, Tim Thomas certainly earned it in the playoffs. He is the best goalie in the world.

Thomas pretty much put the Bruins on his shoulders and carried them past the Vancouver Canucks in a great seven-game series that led to the Bruins hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Of course Thomas topped it off with a shutout in Game 7 and took home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP, an incredibly well-deserved award.

But in addition to Thomas, it was one heck of a series. The first six games were won by the home team. We had one game ending a few seconds into overtime. Who can forget the man that scored that goal, Alex Burrows, was caught biting Patrice Bergeron in a scrum and the resulting taunts at Burrows from the Bruins later on.

There was Nathan Horton getting leveled and concussed in Boston in a moment that some feel changed the series. The Bruins responded to that by running the Canucks out of their building in Games 3 and 4. Horton made another impression when he was seen pouring TD Garden ice on the rink in Vancouver before Game 7, a superstitious move that will live in Bruins lore.

We had Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo pumping Thomas' tires after critiquing his aggressive style in net. Then of course item No. 6 on this list, the post-series riot in Vancouver.

The series was about as memorable as it gets. The ratings were as good as they have been in decades, too. And the Bruins' post-championship romp back in New England became a legend with a reported $156,679.74 bar tab that included one Amstel Light. It kicked off a great summer tour with the Cup for the Bruins, Michael Ryder's Cup mishap included.

There is no disputing the Bruins earned the right to lift Lord Stanley's Cup after one great Final.

Look back: Bruins win Stanley Cup

Photo: Getty Images

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


Posted on: December 23, 2011 11:55 am
 

No need to 'answer the bell' after good hits

By Brian Stubits

There is a growing trend in hockey and quite frankly, it's stupid. That's the best word I can think of to describe it.

There is a lot of discussion these days in the NHL on fighting and hitting. The two physical aspects of the game were already intertwined, but they seem to be colliding even more these days. With Brendan Shanahan's focus on removing bad hits from the game through the use of his Shanahammer, maybe the players are more on edge and aware of it themselves.

Here's what I don't get. The old-school hockey people continue to complain about these measures taking hitting out of hockey. Players don't seem to want anything to do with that, nor do many fans -- removing hitting, that is.

So why is it that when a player delivers a clean but vicious hit in today's NHL, they have to "answer the bell" as Ryan Kesler of the Canucks put it? I understand fully the concept of a guy having to answer for a bad hit. After all, that's one of the biggest arguments people use for justifying fighting in hockey, the enforcers are out there to discourage the other team from taking cheap shots at your teammates. If any liberties are taken, then you'll have the liberty of meeting the other team's tough guy.

As long as fighting is "allowed" -- I'll play along with Gary Bettman's semantics game that fighting isn't allowed, it is punished -- I have no qualms about a player having to answer to somebody's fists about a bad hit. That's a case of reaping what you sew when you add a couple of the bad stitches into the equation.

But enough is enough with fights after good, clean hits. Nothing is going to take hitting out of the game faster than players having to face a fight for every good check they deliver.

It happens on a seemingly nightly basis in the NHL. The best, most recent example came on Wednesday night in a game between the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks. It was after that game that Kesler talked about answering the bell. What he was referring to was a bit hit levied on him by Niklas Kronwall. Here's a look at the play.

Could the Canucks have some beef with the hit? OK, a little. Kronwall did leave the ice to make the hit, but it was a man coming at him with the puck on his stick. Also, right or wrong, there was no penalty given on the play. Still, Kesler was revved up and obviously wanted a piece of Kronwall.

“I like the hit, but my only problem with the hit is that he doesn’t stand up for himself,” Kesler said. “If you're going hit guys like that, you're going to have to drop the gloves.

“I gotta get my head up. Obviously you see him backing up and you know that’s his move there. I think you have to put the blame on the ‘hittee’ a little bit, but I also think he’s gotta stand up for himself.”

The always vocal Kevin Bieksa put his two cents in on the situation as well.

"Because how sneaky it is, it's a little bit dirty," Bieksa said after the game. "If you're going to do that, you should pay the price and he hasn't paid the price yet. So he loses a little respect in my book."

So let me get this straight: Kesler had no problems with the hit and even implicated himself for part of the responsibility but thinks Kronwall still needs to put his dukes up? Why? Because, as Bieksa puts it, it was sneaky? If you have no problems with the actual hit, then requesting the guy to fight isn't the answer. You guys still have more time to play, you are free to hit Kronwall in return.

Thanks to the magic of HBO and 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic we saw another example of this concept at work.

In the Rangers' recent visit to the Phoenix Coyotes, Mike Rupp was seen laying a good, solid hit along the boards on Kyle Chipchura. Moments later he is being jumped by the Coyotes' Raffi Torres, whereupon the refs immediately come in and are insisting to Torres it was a clean hit from Rupp. (NSFW Warning: In case you didn't know, NHL players -- and the refs -- have potty mouths. You've been warned.)

As a side note, maybe the most interesting part of the second episode was following the refs into their locker room where they discussed the hit a little further.

Now neither of this incident or the Kronwall/Kesler one resulted in a fight, but that wasn't for the lack of trying from the instigators. There have been plenty of other hits this season that have led to fights after what the referees and later the NHL deemed were OK hits.

Quite frankly, players getting aggressive toward others for clean hits is as threatening to hitting in the game as any league official. If guys are going to have to "answer the bell" when players come knocking after a good hit, then in essence the players themselves are discouraging hitting among their fellow athletes.

It almost feels like a machismo thing to me. A guy gets clobbered during play so he has to save face and get the guy back. Not to sound like a cranky old man, but I'm tired of it.

Don't read this as an anti-fighting column. It's not that. Instead it is anti-stupid fighting. Asking guys to drop the gloves are good hits is a waste of time -- literally as the player will have to sit at least five minutes if he gets the fight. Just get back up and play hockey.

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

Posted on: December 21, 2011 2:12 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 2:18 pm
 

The most dangerous player in hockey right now

malkinBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin is back, and right now it looks as if the Pittsburgh Penguins are his team.

When Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup last month the discussion immediately focussed on whether or not he could win the NHL's scoring title, despite missing the first 20-plus games of the season. As it turns out, Malkin is the Penguins forward we should have been looking at all along.

Thanks to his three-assist performance during a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, which came after a five-point destruction of the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend, Malkin moved into a tie for the top spot in the NHL scoring race with 39 points, catching Toronto's Phil Kessel, despite missing six games of his own.

Right now there isn't a more dangerous offensive player in the league, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Penguins.

For the second year in a row the Pittsburgh roster has been crushed by injuries and on any given night has had some combination of Crosby, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, among many others, sidelined due to various ailments and injuries. Even with all of that, the team has a continued to pile up wins and stay near the top of the conference standings and have the look of a top Stanley Cup contender. Head coach Dan Bylsma certainly deserves a lot of credit for that, as does the Penguins front office, led by general manager Ray Shero, for having the type of organizational depth that allows the team to handle so many injuries to so many key players.

But it also doesn't hurt to have a player like Malkin, one of the most talented and skilled players in the world, that is always capable of taking over a game. And that's exactly what he's been doing for the Penguins this year. For much of this season he's been playing on a line with James Neal and free agent acquisition Steve Sullivan. When the Penguins acquired Neal last season it was done so under the assumption that he would eventually be the goal-scoring winger the Penguins have long been searching for to put alongside Crosby. But with Crosby missing so much time due to injury, Neal has found a home on Malkin's line, and along with Sullivan, have formed a trio that has been Pittsburgh's best on a nightly basis.

"I thought his line in particular, I know Geno is the big guy on that line, but their line played very well in the first," said Bylsma after Tuesday's game. "They attacked in every chance they got over the boards at 5-on-5, and on the power play. They were putting pucks behind and playing in the offensive zone and on the attack."

A couple of years ago Malkin was one of the players consistently mentioned in the "best player in the world" discussion, along with Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. He won the scoring title during the 2008-09 season and then followed it up with a Conn Smythe performance in the postseason as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

But over the past two seasons his production dropped a bit, perhaps due to lingering injuries, and then he missed the last half of the 2010-11 campaign, as well as the playoffs, due to a knee injury that he suffered when Buffalo's Tyler Myers awkwardly fell on his leg during a game last January. Because Malkin has always played second chair in Pittsburgh to Crosby, the face of the franchise, his name has always been the one that's been brought up in absurd trade rumors and baseless speculation for a wide range of reasons (I've brought this up before, but just google "Evgeni Malkin Trade" and start reading), including but not always limited to salary cap concerns, the need to acquire a goal-scoring winger, and, well, pretty much anything that anybody could throw against the wall in the hopes that it would stick. It never did, and for good reason.

Even though Malkin is the "No. 2" center in Pittsburgh (it's probably more of a 1A and 1B deal) when the team is at 100 percent, he has always had a knack for elevating his game when Crosby is out of the lineup. He did it during the 2007-08 season when Crosby missed extended time due to an ankle injury that came after he fell into the boards, and he's doing it again this season. On a per-game average he's actually scoring at a higher rate right now than he was during the '08-09 season when he won his Art Ross Trophy.

 "Geno has been a force offensively," said Bylsma on Tuesday. "But he's also a guy we're counting on to play against other teams top lines right now, and he's been good at both ends of the rink. He's been powerful and making plays and driving. He's going to have probably 10 scoring chances again with how he's dominating and how he's playing."

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 15, 2011 4:18 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2011 7:05 pm
 

Jimmy Howard's all-star season

howard

By: Adam Gretz


PITTSBURGH -- By now you're probably already aware that Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was left off the NHL's All-Star ballot, news that was controversial at the time it was announced, and you've probably already displayed the proper amount of fist-shaking at what has been an obvious snub that looks dumber by the day.

Entering Thursday's game in Nashville, Detroit's third-year starter is near the top of the NHL leaderboard for just about every goaltending category, leading the NHL in wins, while also occupying the top-10 in goals against average, save percentage, even strength save percentage and shutouts. It's been a great season for him. An All-Star season. And even though he's not on the ballot, fans in Detroit have pushed his write-in campaign, and for good reason.

Red Wings goalies, however, tend to be a different animal, and it's always difficult to figure out how much of the success is a result of the skill and ability of the goaltender, and how much of it is the goalie simply being a cog in a well oiled machine. And the discussion is usually intense. I think part of that comes from the fact the team invests so little cap space in the position, instead using its financial resources to build up the forwards and defense. During the 2008 Stanley Cup finals, when the Red Wings topped the Penguins in six games, general manager Ken Holland addressed that at the time by saying, "My feeling is if you can get one of the five or six best goalies in the league you can spend the money. We can't get into those guys, and the difference between the eighth goalie in the league and the 15th goalie, it's a big difference in money. It's not a big difference in performance."

This season the duo of Howard and Ty Conklin takes up only $3 million in cap space -- which is less than 19 individual goalies across the league, most of whom have played at a level below Detroit's pairing, and Howard in particular.

The Red Wings have been a team that smothers their opponent defensively and controls the puck in the offensive zone better -- and longer -- than just about every other team in the league. And that can obviously be very beneficial for a goaltender. The fewer shots and chances he has to face, the less chance their is for a goal, and the easier life is for him.

For years debates raged on about Chris Osgood's importance to Detroit's success, even as they went to Stanley Cup Finals and, ultimately, won them.  Among Red Wings fans, he was viewed as a vital part of the team's ability to win and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Outside of Detroit he was (and pretty much still is) generally viewed as just another goalie playing behind a team loaded with All-Stars, whose Hall of Fame credentials are up for serious debate.

Now that Howard is having the best season of his brief career, and so far one of the best ones in the NHL, he's not getting much attention outside of Detroit, either.

Through their first 29 games the Red Wings have allowed the fifth fewest goals per game in the NHL, while also giving up the second fewest shots in the NHL at 27.4, trailing only the Ken Hitchcock-led St. Louis Blues.

"It's a huge priority for us," said Wings coach Mike Babcock of his team's defensive play on Tuesday night after its 4-1 win in Pittsburgh. "You can't outscore everybody and you have to be able to play well without the puck."

Their defensive play was an obvious point of emphasis (if not concern) coming into this season for two main reasons: 1) The team lost one of its long-time standouts on the blue line, Brian Rafalski, to retirement over the summer, and 2) The team's defensive play saw a noticeable decline last season compared to where it was in recent years, putting additional pressure on the offensive to, well … outscore everybody.

Especially when Howard saw his number regress from where they were during his rookie season when he was a finalist in the Rookie Of The Year voting. The 2010-11 team allowed an average of over 30 shots per game, something that a Red Wings team hadn't done in more than a decade, and the result was the eighth most goals against in the league.

And now this year? Once again one of the best teams in the league defensively. In games that Howard has started the Wings have allowed more than three goals just two times. They've allowed more than two just five times. Part of that success has been due to the fact team is once again keeping teams locked up in their own end of the ice, but there is also no denying that Howard has played at a higher level this season and taken advantage of the lesser workload on a nightly basis.

Following Tuesday's game I asked him about it being another night where he only had to face around 25 shots, as has been the case much of the season, and he quickly laughed and said, "Well, it was 26 we allowed, but who's really counting?"

The only personnel changes on the blue line have been Jakub Kindl and Mike Commodore replacing Ruslan Salei, and Ian White coming in for Rafalski. Was that really enough to swing the Red Wings defense from the bottom third of the NHL to the top-third?

The system helps, as does Detroit's impressive roster, but Howard has been great, too.

"We just do a great job," Howard added. "For the most part you only have to worry about the one shot, and I just try to put the rebound into good areas, whether it's holding on to it or putting it in the corner."

The Wings' defensive play was one of the main topics of discussion in their locker room on Tuesday night, and forward Dan Cleary was quick to give a lot of the credit to his team's often times overlooked goalie.

"We pride ourselves on being good defensively," said Cleary. "That's how we won a championship here, being good defensively, and we all believe that's how you win in the end. And the other side of it is, i think, Howie has had a specatular season, and anytime your goalie is your best player, goals against are going to be good."

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

Posted on: December 13, 2011 1:22 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Jets claim Miettinen on waivers

am1By: Adam Gretz

On Monday the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Antti Miettinen, a forward that had started the season playing for Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, to a two-year, $3 million contract in an effort to add some forward depth to their struggling team that, after Monday's 5-4 loss to New Jersey, sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

According to league rules, because Miettinen had started the season playing overseas he was forced to pass through waivers before he could officially report to the Lightning. And he's not going to get the chance to do that, as the Winnipeg Jets claimed him on waivers on Tuesday morning.

The Lightning did all of the work, and the Jets end up getting the player.

We saw this exact scenario play out multiple times last season. The St. Louis Blues lost players they had signed on two seperate occassions, one involving Marek Svatos and the other time with Kyle Wellwood. The Detroit Red Wings ran into an issue when they attempted to sign veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov after he was left go by his KHL team only to have the New York Islanders, desperate for a veteran goalie due to an in-season trade and multiple injuries, snag him on the waiver wire. Nabokov then refused to report the team, sat out the remainder of the season, and then finally joined the Islanders this season.

I still find it amazing that the same general managers who refuse to make offer sheets to restricted free agents because of some unwritten, gentlemens agreement have no issue taking part in waiver claims like this. There's nothing wrong with it, of course, as it's how the system works and if you can add a player that you think can help your team, you should absolutely go for it.

After the signing was announced on Monday Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman acknowledged there was a possibility that Miettinen could be claimed by another team, telling Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times, "There's a possibility. We sat around here waiting for a week to see if anyone would sign him. We'll see what happens."

The 30-year-old Miettinen spent the previous three seasons in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild after starting his career with the Dallas Stars. In 472 NHL games he's scored 89 goals, including at least 15 in each of the past four seasons.

During his brief stay with Ak Bars Kazan this season he scored two goals to go with six assists in 20 games before he was let out of his contract with the club.

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

Posted on: December 11, 2011 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 4:55 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Just stop it, Brian Elliott

By Brian Stubits

There was concern going into this season for the people in St. Louis regarding the team's goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had been subpar in his first year with the Blues, exacerbating the need for a quality backup should things not improve.

So with the choices on the board, who did they sign? Brian Elliott, a castoff by both the Senators and Avalanche. His signing was so underwhelming that there was no guarantee he would even open the season with the Blues. There was an honest-to-goodness competition for the second goalie spot between he and young Blues prospect Ben Bishop.

If you've been paying attention to the first third-plus of the season, then you know how that competition turned out. But it's my duty to pretend that my readers are dumb and don't know a thing (sorry people) so I'll just tell you that Elliott won out.

And he's been winning ever since.

Despite being the "backup" to Halak, Elliott is tied for the league lead in shutouts after Saturday's blanking of the San Jose Sharks. He also leads the league with his jaw-dropping save percentage (.947) and goals against average (1.45).

"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself," Elliott said after the 1-0 victory on Saturday. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."

Truth is, he has had to be that good. The Blues aren't exactly scoring like their division foes in Detroit.

While the coaching change from Davis Payne has worked wonders for the Blues and Halak, it would be unfair to credit Elliott's success to that, too. He was outstanding before the change, he's been just as excellent after it.

It's rather amazing when you think where he came from. As we mentioned, his signing was just a little underwhelming and uninspiring. Why? Consider that last season he played for both the Senators and Avalanche after a mid-season trade, a straight goalie swap for Craig Anderson. For the whole season, Elliott was 15-27-9, including 2-8-1 with the Avs. That .947 save percentage this season? Last season it was .893.

That's quite a turnaround. It's not like he's just become suitable this season, he's been outstanding. You could make the argument that he's been the MVP for the Blues this season. Honestly, I have a hard time making an argument for anybody but Elliott considering Hitchcock isn't a player.

"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the only goal in the game. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."

He had to make 11 saves in the third against the Sharks to preserve the win, obviously with no room for error.

I can't say that Elliott is the reason why the Blues are knocking on the Blackhawks' and Red Wings' doors in the Central. It would obviously neglect a lot of other factors at play. But Elliott could very well be at the top of that list.

Power boost

The Washington Capitals had one of the worst power-play units going into Friday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the worst penalty-killing units. Advantage: Capitals.

Among a lot of the concerns surround the Capitals, one was the power play's struggles. They had recently just gone through an 0-for-17 streak -- or skid, if you'd prefer. Then the Caps scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday with the man up.

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Originally three were credited to Dennis Wideman with an assist on the fourth goal, but it was reviewed at Wideman's request on Saturday and the hat trick was taken away. But for a night at least, Wideman had the first hat trick by a Capitals defenseman in more than a decade (Sergei Gonchar in 2000).

But more immediately, there is hope that the Capitals might have found some hope for the man-up. Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that it came against the Leafs.

There is no doubt that the PK continues to be the Achilles' heel for Toronto. After Friday's awful showing, the Leafs are above only the Blue Jackets in successful PKs at 74.3 percent.

Bachman overdrive

When it was announced that the Dallas Stars would be without Kari Lehtonen for some time due to injury, Stars fans were right to be worried at the process of Andrew Raycroft getting more time. Not a reason for much optimism.

However Richard Bachman is. The rookie got his first start of his NHL career on Saturday and he turned in a great effort, holding the Kings to one goal for the 2-1 Dallas win.

With the win, he likely earned himself a start for the Stars' next game Tuesday at the Rangers.

"He's a competitive guy, and he's pretty clean when it comes to rebounds," said coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the former Colorado College goalie in the minors last season. "I just told him when he went out there, `It's the same game that you've been playing.' He has that ability, and he's going through the natural progression. He deserves another start, and most likely we'll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it."

The two points put the Stars back on top of the Pacific Division, which has been surprising this season, and not so much in a good way. The Stars and Coyotes are tied atop the division, but they are each 10 points behind the top team in the West, the Wild. If the division winners weren't awarded the one of the top three seeds, the Stars would be the sixth seed.

On the other bench ...

What's going on with the L.A. Kings? I'll tell you one thing, Terry Murray can't be feeling very comfortable with his job these days.

There was so much hope coming into this season for the Kings. They had been growing every season, they added Mike Richards. It appeared the Kings were on their way to their best season since the days of Gretzky.

They still could be, but they'll have to right the ship in a hurry. Would you believe that there is no team in the NHL worse at scoring goals than Los Angeles? Its 2.21 goals per game ranks at the bottom of the NHL< including below the Ducks in nearby Anaheim. Nothing like low-scoring games to sell hockey in SoCal.

When your cross-town rival makes a move firing its coach and you are being booed off the ice, it's time to wonder if the end is in sight for Murray.

The Wings are good

Just in case you missed that memo.

I was getting ready to start talking about the Winnipeg Jets and how they were extremely quietly inching their way up the Eastern Conference. Then they went to Detroit and were railroaded.

The Red Wings had seven goals from six different scorers -- and none of them was Pavel Datsyuk. It was Detroit's ninth straight win at home where they are 12-2-1 this season. Those are the most wins at home for any team this season.

Some things never change.

One-sided rivalry

What is it about the Battle of Alberta that the Oilers are having so many problems with?

Half of the season's six games have been played between the Oilers and Calgary Flames this season, and the boys from Edmonton have yet to pick up a single point. Against the rest of the NHL, the Oilers are 14-10-3.

The most recent rendition of the provincial rivalry saw Jarome Iginla flash some of his old form with a pair of goals and the Flames took the game 3-0.

Most everybody would agree that the Oilers are likely the better team between the two, but they just can't beat their neighbors. I guess that's why they play the game (well that and winning, right Herm?).

Quote of the weekend

If I were to take a poll of NHL fans who have the Center Ice package which announcer is the biggest homer around? I think it would be a two-horse race between Paul Steigerwald in Pittsburgh and Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.

So for this week's QOTW, we're going to take a light-hearted look at a call from Edwards in the Bruins' win over the Blue Jackets.

On the play, Derek Dorsett is driving toward the net to try and beat Tim Thomas, but his shot attempt is stopped and he then goes skidding into the boards. Here is Edwards' call, you might be surprised (like me).

Yes, that is Edwards rather vehemently arguing against a penalty that went on an opposing player. Clearly he was right, in no way, shape or form was that goaltender interference. If anything, it was interference from Tomas in the form of a trip on Dorsett, who was a bit worse for the ware afterward.

Before you jump down my throat, calm down. I have no problems with local announcers catering to the home team, that is their audience. But sometimes it goes overboard and is comical. So when I hear somebody this adamant in another team's defense, it's "ear-catching."

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:16 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2011 12:37 pm
 

Penguins to face old friends without Crosby

jagrsmile

By: Adam Gretz


One of the most anticipated matchups of the regular season finally takes place on Thursday night as cross-state rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia face off at the Wells Fargo Center. These games are always a highlight of both team's schedules, and usually involve some level of on-ice chaos.

This time around, it's the first meeting between the two teams since the Flyers' dip into the free agency pool over the summer that included their signings of former Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot.

Talbot was a playoff hero for the Penguins in recent years, scoring two goals in their Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, helping the team claim its third Stanley Cup title. There was also his famous silencing of the crowd in Philadelphia earlier that postseason following his fight with Daniel Carcillo in a Game 6 series clinching win.

And the there's the Jagr angle. He is still the second greatest player in franchise history, and a large part of the first two championships the team won in the early 90s, and all of that is going to get overshadowed for the foreseaable future, or at least as long as he wears the Flyers orange and black, because of what happened over the summer.

By now, you're probably already familiar with how it all went down, but if you're not, a quick refresher: After spending three years playing in the KHL, Jagr was ready to make a return to the NHL and the Penguins were one of the teams interested. What followed was a highly publicized free agency courtship between them and the Detroit Red Wings, before both teams ultimately backed out of the bidding with Jagr signing a one-year pact with Pittsburgh's fiercest rival, essentially burning every bridge that wasn't already burned when he asked for a trade out of Pittsburgh 10 years ago.

And with that, the stage is set for Thursday night, even if it seems to mean more to the fans of the two teams (especially the Penguins fans) than it does for the players on the ice.

Three talking points heading into Thursday's game:

1) Matchup with Jagr more for Penguins fans than Penguins players: Regarding the Penguins' first meeting with Jagr since his signing with Philadelphia, defenseman Brooks Orpik said, via Josh Yohe of the Tribune-Review, "I think this whole thing is more for the fans. I've been here the longest of anyone, and I've never played with him. Had one training camp with him — that was it."

And that's probably accurate. When Jagr last suited up for the Penguins, players like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and James Neal were all under the age of 14. Defenseman Simon Despres would have been 10 years old, and none of the players on the roster played a single game with him in the NHL.

After they missed out on Jagr, the Penguins ended up signing veteran forward Steve Sullivan who has spent most of this season playing on a line with James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. He hasn't been Jagr, but he's been solid with 12 points in 28 games.
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2) With Jagr, the Flyers can still score ... a lot: Two months into the season and Jagr has proven he can still play at a high level, even at the age of 39, averaging a point-per-game with nine goals and 13 assists in his first 22 games this season, playing mostly on a line with the NHL's current leading scorer, Claude Giroux. The additions of Jagr and Talbot were part of a summer-long re-tooling by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, and while it seemed that goaltending would finally become a strength (or at least, no longer be a glaring weakness) with the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, it's the offense that's continued to carry the Flyers, even in the absence of defenseman Chris Pronger.

The Flyers, at this point, have silenced any doubt as to whether or not they have enough offense following the losses of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino to compete for a top spot in the East, currently putting the highest-scoring team in the NHL out on the ice. Giroux has been everything the Flyers could have hoped that he would be at their top-scoring option, while rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier have played large roles.

3) Sidney Crosby Isn't Playing And Nobody Knows Why: When the Penguins announced on Wednesday that Sidney Crosby will miss the next two games (including Thursday's game in Philadelphia) it was assumed that it was a result of his center ice collision with teammate Chris Kunitz. And while that wouldn't have been good news, it would have been better than worrying about whether or not it was a head injury. But that may not be the case. As Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers pointed out on Thursday, Crosby took several hits during what was an extremely physical game with the Boston Bruins on Monday, including an elbow from David Krejci (poor video quality by clicking here). Because the Penguins were so vague with their description, saying only that he "took a hard hit," and because NHL teams guard injury information like it's gold in Fort Knox, we're left to guess as to which play has him sidelined "as a precaution."

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

Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:15 pm
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