Tag:Ottawa Senators
Posted on: November 27, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 8:30 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Sanford, Jackets starting to roll

By Brian Stubits

Amid Columbus' awful, awful opening to the season, the only bit of defense the team and its fans had was something along the lines of waiting for everybody to be healthy. The team was built in the offseason around the additions of James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter and for the first month and a half of the season; they had not played in the same game. Now they are both playing and the Blue Jackets are now winning.

But it was another injured player returning that has been even bigger. And this one wasn't really on anybody's excuse radar.

Turns out the return of goaltender Curtis Sanford has been huge. Or at least it would appear that way. It was no mystery that Steve Mason in goal was as big an issue as anything else in Columbus' struggles, but I am not sure anybody believed there was a possible solution within the organization.

It wasn't long ago that in this blog we were discussing the possibilities of the Blue Jackets getting a major shakeup in the front office and coaching staff. Some were just saying give it more time, all they needed was to trade for a good goalie. The only problem was the Jackets are right up against the cap and have no flexibility.

This feels as good as a trade right now.

In the five games prior to Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Blues, all Sanford starts, the Blue Jackets picked up at least one point. His record is now 3-0-2 after Columbus' 5-1 beating of the Buffalo Sabres on Black Friday. He entered Sunday with a goals against average of 1.27 and a save percentage of .950. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The recent run has done what not long ago seemed laughable: the Jackets had climbed out of the NHL cellar. With the Devils' squeaker over the Devils on Saturday, the Jackets returned to the basement, but they are hot on the heels of the Isles, Ducks and Flames to move (or down) the draft lottery list.

But the big acquisitions have been doing their part, too. Carter, back after breaking his foot, is finally looking comfortable with his new team. With two beautiful assists against the Sabres, Carter brought his total to five points (3-2=5) in the last five games. Wisniewski has also recorded five points in that span as he also contributed two assists to the win on Friday.

However none of that would matter much if they weren't getting better goaltending. Now, with Sanford getting the bulk of the work, they are. It's not too late to crawl their way back into the picture, but a lot of that will ride on Sanford continuing to play at a level this high.

If he keeps those ice blue pads, maybe he will.

Hangover Part II

Much was made about the champion Bruins' hangover to start the season. They came out slower than any team not named the Blue Jackets. Of course, that's long-ago history as the Bruins have won 11 of the past 12 games, earning a point in all of them.

But not as much has been said about the Canucks' meager beginning. After all, this was the best team in the regular season last year and was within 60 minutes of winning the Stanley Cup. Like the Bruins, the Canucks returned the core of their team and were expected to be powerful once again. Yet they were merely average.

That might be changing. With a road trip that included a 5-0 domination of the Coyotes in a "packed" (with blue) Jobing.com Arena on Friday and a gritty 3-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday, the Canucks have won four in a row.

With the eight points in four games, they are now two points behind the Minnesota Wild, two points from reclaiming their seemingly rightful position atop the Northwest Division (they have lived in the Northwest penthouse for a few seasons).

In goal for each of those four games? That would be Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo. Schneider -- who had back-to-back shutouts in the four-game run -- was already seen by many to be the best backup in the game, rumored constantly in trade talks around the league over the last season-plus. Now the only goalie that Canucks fans want to throw around in those conversations is Luongo, the Vezina finalist from just last season.

There was already a goalie controversy in Vancouver even before Schneider began playing so well. The controversy? The fact that Luongo was the starter. That was enough to cause a civil war among the fans in British Columbia. This just makes it more heated.

It's show time

We got a taste of the Winter Classic on Saturday with the Flyers and Rangers waging battle in New York, a 2-0 Blueshirts win. Brandon Prust fought not once, but twice, much to the pleasure of John Tortorella.

It was also the first time this season that the league's highest-scoring offense, the Flyers, were grounded. It should come as no surprise that it was Henrik Lundqvist who was first to do it. They don't call him King Henrik for nothing.

But over the weekend, we also got our first taste of the HBO 24/7 series that's set to debut on Dec. 14. No, I'm not talking about the game, but HBO's 12-minute preview of the must-see show for hockey (and non-hockey) fans.

Warning: If you don't already have HBO in your cable/dish subscription plan, the following teaser might make you change your mind (video courtesy of nyrangersblog.com).

There wasn't even an appearance from Jaromir Jagr or Sean Avery in this tease, so clearly they must be saving the best for the show, a refreshing change from movie trailers that show you the only good parts of the movie.

Glory Toews

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews isn't going anywhere anytime soon. If they have their way in Chicago, he'll retire in the black and red.

But if he were to change work addresses, he just might move to Southern California.

The Blackhawks took their turn at the SoCal double dip with a game Friday in Anaheim and Saturday in Los Angeles. What did Toews do? Oh just help the 'Hawks take both games with three goals and three assists. One of those goals came 1960s style with Toews parked in the crease without a helmet and scrambling to hammer home the loose puck.

I have no doubt that when this season is all said and done, Toews will have his say in the Hart Trophy conversation.

Real quickly on the Ducks, this is just too atrocious to leave out (from Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register: The Ducks have now lost six in a row, 12 of 13 and 15 of their last 17. No other word for that than horrendous.

Florida flurry

It's not even December yet and the intrastate rivals in Florida have already met five times. For the second time in the first two months, the Lightning and Panthers had a back-to-back set beginning in Sunrise and finishing in Tampa.

This time, it was the Bolts getting the better of the Cats. One massive reason was the play of Steven Stamkos. He had three goals, including the game-winner in overtime on Friday night, and an assist. He was the best player on the ice on Saturday, no questions asked.

It continues to amaze me how little attention Stammer seems to be generating. After all, he proved last year he's one of the top three scorers in the league. He has quietly amassed 14 goals and 10 assists this season. Yet there seems to be hardly a peep about him.

A few more four-point weekends for the Lightning and I'm sure he'll start getting his due.

Capital punishment

At this point I'm starting to think this will be a regular section in the Weekend Wrap. At least as long as the Capitals continue to play the way they have been.

With their 5-1 beating in Buffalo -- where the Sabres' Zack Kassian scored his first career NHL goal -- the Caps moved to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. In the past eight, it's been particularly awful.

Check out this stat from Stephen Whyno at the Washington Post. The Caps have now been outscored 34-17 in their past eight games. Minus-17 in the past eight? That's worthy of one big OUCH.

The upcoming week for the Caps has dates with the Blues and Penguins. So things might not get better quite yet.

Quote of the weekend

After the Penguins destroyed the Senators 6-3 and Sidney Crosby continued his stellar return with three assists, Sens forward Nick Foligno attacked Crosby for taking a headshot at him late in the game. He wasn't too happy with Sid, saying he was disappointed and more or less called Crosby a hypocrite.

While Crosby was quiet about the criticism, his coach Dan Bylsma wasn't. Here's what he had to say in response.

"We're talking about a player that bumped into our goalie three times. With the score 5-1 and intentionally going into our goalie, he can expect more than Sidney Crosby coming at him and talking to him during the game. That's how we feel about those situations. He was in our net falling over our goalie, and I don't think there was any question about the intent."

Photo: US Presswire

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

Posted on: November 26, 2011 10:37 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 11:38 am
 

Pacioretty, Letang and controversy in Montreal

By: Adam Gretz

How do you know when a game has questionable (or, let's be honest about it, bad) officiating? When both teams have a legitimate gripe that they were robbed, which is kind of what unfolded in Montreal on Saturday night.

Late in the third period of Pittsburgh's 4-3 overtime win over the Canadiens, and just minutes after Jordan Staal tied the game, scoring on a breakaway off the bench, Montreal's Max Pacioretty hit Kris Letang coming across the middle of the ice with what appeared to be an elbow to the face, resulting in a pool of blood on the ice.

There was no penalty called on the play, though Pacioretty will be hearing from the NHL on Monday for this hit.




If that wasn't enough controversy for one night, Letang managed to return to the game for the overtime period and scored the game-winning goal. It was one that left the Canadiens and their fans absolutely livid.

As Pittsburgh's James Neal drove to the net and managed to get a backhand shot on goal, Montreal goaltender Carey Price appeared to have the puck secured underneath his leg, only to have the Penguins continue to dig and poke at the puck while the referees didn't blow the whistle, even though it easily could have been (and perhaps should have been) stopped given how Price had the puck secured.

It was eventually worked free and Letang was there waiting to deposit it into the empty cage. Price responded by breaking his stick off the goal post and then launching it across the ice. It had to be a frustrating moment, given how well he played throughout the game, stopping 38 shots, some of them in spectacular fashion.



And that's the kind of night it was in Montreal.

The fact it was Pacioretty that delivered the hit on Letang instantly resulted in a discussion about last season's incident involving him and Boston's Zdeno Chara, and how critical the Montreal forward was of the league for not suspending Chara for driving him into the turnbuckle along the benches at the Bell Centre. (It should be pointed out that Pacioretty apologized to Letang after the game for Saturday's hit). And that comes just one day after Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby was criticized by Ottawa's Nick Foligno for elbowing him in the head during a scrum around the net after Crosby called for the banishment of head shots over the summer as he recovered from a concussion.

Crosby spent most of his post-game interview on Saturday answering questions about Foligno's comments the night before, while he defended his actions the night before and pointed to the Pacioretty hit on Letang as the type of play the NHL should be looking to eliminate.

Chaos.

There are so many questions that, at this point, remain unanswered: Why was Paciorrety not penalized? Will the league step in and offer punishment after the fact in the form of a fine or suspension? Why did the refs not stop the play that Letang ultimately scored on? What game were referee's Mike Hasenfratz and Dan O'Rourke watching, and was it as good as the one taking place on the ice in Montreal?

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

Posted on: November 26, 2011 3:05 pm
Edited on: November 26, 2011 3:17 pm
 

As power play slumps, so do Senators

Gonchar1By: Adam Gretz

Before the season began the Ottawa Senators were penciled in by many to be among the worst teams in the NHL and a preseason favorite to land one of the top Russian prospects in the June draft, Nail Yakupov or Mikhail Grigorenko. Nearly two months into the season and the Senators have been a little better than expected, currently owning a 10-10-2 record following Friday's 6-3 loss.

It hasn't always been pretty, as they've been outscored by a significant margin during even-strength play and have had to rely on a number of third period comebacks (for the season, Ottawa is getting outscored by a 48-30 margin over the first 40 minutes, but owns a 32-26 edge in the third period). A large chunk of their wins came during a six-game winning streak at the end of October that included five games decided by one goal, including a pair of victories via the shootout.

The one difference for the Senators during that six-game winning streak compared to the rest of their season (where they have a 4-10-2 record) was a stunningly efficient power play that scored on seven of its 17 attempts, a stretch that propelled them to the top of the NHL's power play rankings. Entering Saturday's action, the Senators are still in the top-10 in the league in power play efficiency, converting on over 19 percent of their attempts, which is good enough for seventh in the NHL. This despite scoring on just two of their past 34 attempts, including an 0-for-4 showing in Pittsburgh on Friday night.

Over that stretch Ottawa has won just three of its 10 games.

One of the best indicators of future success on the power play is the total number of shots a team generates, and even when the Senators were clicking during their six-game winning streak, they weren't getting a ton of shots on goal. Over that six-game stretch the Senators generated just 31 shots on the power play over 40 minutes of power play time (or, obviously, less than one per minute) but still managed to put seven of them in the net for a shooting percentage of over 22 percent. That rate is unbelievably high on a team level and in no way something that should have been expected to continue. Since the 2007-08 season, no team has finished a full season shooting over 20 percent during 5-on-4 play.

In their other 16 games their power play shooting percentage is at 12 percent, which is closer to the league average and in the neighborhood of what the Senators were at during the 2010-11 season. The issue remains their inability to create more shots on goal, currently one of the worst teams in the league in terms of shots-per-minute on the power play. (On the other end of this spectrum, we looked at Chicago's struggling power play earlier in the season and pointed out that, even though they weren't scoring goals, the number of shots they were generating was a positive sign that should result in an improvement. Over the past three weeks Chicago's power play has caught fire and climbed 16 spots in the rankings.)

Even though the Senators, on paper, aren't as deep as other teams around the NHL they do have quite a bit of talent to throw a quality top power play unit on the ice with Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson. Ottawa signed Gonchar to a lucrative three-year contract prior to the start of last season with the hope that he would anchor its power play much the same way he did throughout his career in Washington and Pittsburgh. He's still a dangerous player on the man advantage, but Gonchar's game has declined a bit at the age of 37, and it almost seems as if the Senators power play is starting to run more through Karlsson, their 21-year-old, third-year standout.

Karlsson usually plays the right point (from the goalies perspective) and currently leads the team in power play shots, power play assists and power play points. He also carries the puck quite a bit, and while he's yet to score on the man-advantage this season, two of his assists on the power play this season have come on shots of his that were deflected or redirected on their way toward the net from the top of the right circle.

Still, for as good as Karlsson has been at times the Senators still need to find more more ways to create chances on their power play if they have any hope of hanging around in the Eastern Conference, because they simply haven't been good enough during even strength situations or received enough quality goaltending to do it any other way.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 26, 2011 9:44 am
Edited on: November 26, 2011 9:59 am
 

Foligno 'disappointed' with Crosby

crosby1By: Adam Gretz

In his return to the lineup against the New York Islanders on Monday night, Sidney Crosby wasn't really on the receiving end of any major contact, with Travis Hamonic getting credit for the only hit on him over the course of the game. Over the past two games against the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators it's been a bit of a different story, as not only has Crosby been had more physical contact come his way, he's also finding ways to get involved in it.

Not only is Crosby quickly climbing up the NHL's scoring leaderboard with seven points in his return to the Penguins' lineup, he's also quickly racking up the penalty minutes. In three games this season he's already been assessed eight penalty minutes, which is as many as his controversial teammate, Matt Cooke, has managed to rack up in 23 games.

Early in the third period of Pittsburgh's 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, Crosby was issued a two-minute minor for elbowing Senators forward Nick Foligno following some contact between Foligno and Pittsburgh's goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury (poor video quality here).

Foligno was also sent off for roughing.

Following the game Foligno spoke out about he was "disappointed" that Crosby would do that.

"I just said you've been talking about it all summer, and then you go and do that," said Foligno. "I was just disappointed that he would do that. I fell over Fleury and Crosby is hitting me, so I look up, I see it's him, and I'm not going to do anything, and then he elbows me in the head. I just kind of got a little frustrated that he would do something like that, so I went back at him. It's not a big deal, but it is something he preached all summer about that we should limit that, and then he goes and does it, so I was just a little disappointed. But, you know, that's a small part of the game and it's over now."

As he recovered from his concussion, Crosby was outspoken about eliminating hits to the head. During his first press conference back in September he was asked if the NHL should have a complete banishment on all head shots, and he responded with, "I don't think there's a reason not to take them out," before pointing out that probably only 50-60 hits that happen over the course of an NHL season are a hit to the head, and that the NHL would not miss such a small number of plays.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 21, 2011 3:37 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 3:38 pm
 

Did Burrows pull door open on Winchester check?

By Brian Stubits

Let's take you back to Sunday night for the late game in Vancouver. The Canucks were playing host to the Ottawa Senators and the question on Monday was if they were being decent hosts or not.

Mid-way through the first period, Jesse Winchester of the Sens was playing the puck with his back to the Canucks bench. Seconds later he was put through the gate and at the feet of the Vancouver bench.

Take a look at the play (shameless plug: Subscribe to Eye On Hockey's YouTube channel).

You don't see this all that often. Normally the backup goaltender is dilligently handling the opening and closing of the gate. So what has people talking today (and after the game) is whether or not this was intentional. You'll notice the man on the other side of the gate is Alex Burrows, and let's just say he nor Lapierre have the most pristine reputations in hockey.

Winchester, who avoided serious injury on the play but did come away with a sore back, had this to say after the game. From the Ottawa Sun

“It’s not a safe play,” Winchester said. “I was under the impression my butt was against the wall, the next thing I know I’m through the bench. I couldn’t see behind me, I’m not paying attention to what’s on the bench.”

When Sportsnet reporter Ian Mendes asked Winchester if he thought Burrows opened the door intentionally, his response was curt: "Go ask him."

Burrows' take? He's innocent, he tells ya (and the Province).

"It was a line change and at the last minute he got hit pretty good there and the door wasn't closed completely," said Canucks winger Alex Burrows. "He's a Montreal guy and one of my friends so it's a good thing he didn't get hurt on the play."

Now that you've heard from both sides and seen the evidence, what's your take? Is Burrows guilty of a dirty play by opening the door or was this just an accident?

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

Posted on: November 20, 2011 7:10 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 11:35 am
 

Want to see Crosby's return? It will cost you

ticketsBy: Adam Gretz

After months of guessing and speculation, Sidney Crosby will finally make his return on Monday night when the Penguins host the New York Islanders at the Consol Energy Center.

The big winners, aside from the Penguins who are getting their captain and best player back after missing nearly a full year of action, are looking to be the folks that enjoy making an extra buck or two on the second-hand ticket market.

Penguins tickets have been a hot item for several years now as the team is currently riding a consecutive sellout streak of well over 200 games, and as should be expected the prices for Monday's game on the team's official Ticket Exchange, as well as websites like StubHub, have seen a sudden spike following Sunday afternoon's announcement.

As of this posting on Sunday evening at 7 PM ET, the cheapest ticket for Monday's game on the Penguins Ticket Exchange is over $143 for second level tickets. And they quickly go up. The most expensive? Some opportunistic fan that is offering his seats in section 205 (just inside the blue line of the end the Penguins shoot at twice) for $690.00 ... each. Tickets in that section have a face value range of between $60 (Standing Room Only) and $100.

Good luck with that.

Most seats are north of $200 and $300.

The cheapest seats on StubHub, again, as of Sunday night, range from $115 to $345.

Just as a comparison, tickets for Wednesday's game against the St. Louis Blues range from $69.86 to $115 on the team's Ticket Exchange, before going up to a mininum of $86.25 on Friday to a maximum of $400 for Friday's game against the Ottawa Senators.

It's a good bet that those numbers will continue to rise leading up to faceoff on Monday evening.

Photo: Getty Images

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


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 16, 2011 1:13 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 1:31 pm
 

The best NHL All-Star Game write-in candidates

By Brian Stubits

The NHL All-Star voting has commenced on NHL.com and as usual, there are some fan campaigns trying to take the process over.

The first attempt to stuff the ballot boxes was launched well before the season even began. Considering this year's game is in Ottawa, some Maple Leafs fans (specifically a blogger from Pension Plan Puppets) had the idea to mock the Senators for their mismanagement over the years and to vote in all of the ex-Sens around the league. Names like Dany Heatley, Martin Havlat, Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa -- each with a good shot to make the All-Star Game to begin with -- are the targets. Even Sens fans are getting behind it.

But the second, most recent campaign that has been launched is from the New York Rangers fan base. They want to see their shot-blocking extraordinaire defenseman Dan Girardi get an honor they feel he so richly deserves. Thus, the #VoteForGirardi hash tag was born.

The New York Rangers Blog has been the driving force behind the movement, begging all the Rangers fans to use up their 30-ballot allotment and do their best to get Girardi an All-Star nod.

Girardi was so far off the radar when the ballot was put together, Girardi isn't even on the list to vote from. If he is going to make the ballot, it will be on a write-in basis.

It's not all that surprising, but Girardi has the support of his coach John Tortorella in his All-Star worthiness.

"This league," Tortorella said. "It's because he's not pedigree. There's no pedigree there. Our league is so ass-backwards when it comes to that.

"It's not just this year that he's underrated. This guy has been a really good player, but if you don't have the pedigree in this league, they don't look at you."

I might say he's not in the running because defense isn't something that translates to All-Star status very well except in the case of goaltenders, but I digress.

The Girardi ballot snub got me to thinking: What is the best starting six you can build out of names that didn't make the ballot cut? Here's my write-in submissions.

Forwards

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins: No-brainer, right? The kid has been on fire and is two behind Phil Kessel for the league lead in goals scored. His plus-15 is also tops in the NHL.

Kris Versteeg, Florida Panthers: Nobody is talking about Versteeg, but he has to be in the conversation for biggest surprise. His 20 points (9-11=20) tie him for the fourth most in the league.

Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings: Hard to believe the Mule isn't on the NHL-generated ballot list, so he makes the cut here. Sixteen points in 16 games (9-7=16) and a plus-6 gets the third nod.

Defensemen

Girardi, Rangers: Considering this is the genesis of the idea, Girardi gets a spot. His 42 blocks are tied for the sixth most in the NHL. And his offense is showing this season with three goals and five assists in 16 games.

Jason Garrison, Panthers: Many people don't even know the Florida blueliner, but he leads all defensemen in goals scored with seven. His booming blast from the back has been a revelation for the Panthers.

Goaltender

Jimmy Howard, Red Wings: There are a lot of great candidates here (Brian Elliott, Jhonas Enroth, Mike Smith) but I give the nod to Howard based on the fact that he's been the best of the true starters (Elliott and Enroth have split) with a .935 save percentage and 1.69 goals against average.

How'd he make the list?

R.J. Umberger, Columbus Blue Jackets: Unfortunately, somebody has to be the standout face that makes you say huh? The token choices of Marc Staal and Sidney Crosby jump out considering neither has played a game this season. But I'm going to go with Umberger considering he has one goal and four assists and is a minus-6 in 17 games.

So do your civic fan duty and vote. Just don't forget about that write-in section!

Photo: Getty Images

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