Posted on: October 12, 2010 5:55 pm

Wisniewski gets two games

Obviously the league considers what the Islanders defenseman did to be a lot less family-friendly than a throat slashing gesture, and so James Wisniewski got an extra game in his suspension.

Chicago’s Nick Boynton was forced to sit for one game for his slicing motion a couple of weeks ago, but the already injured-plagued Islanders will lose Wisniewski for two because of his explicit sexual gesture on the ice. 

See it came in an afternoon game designed to attract kids. With commissioner Gary Bettman in the house. Of course Wisniewski would have been punished even without those factors, and two games does seem about right for being a jackass in public.

The league can’t have impressionable fans subjected to that kind of behavior, not on the ice anyway. But maybe it will be okay on television, say like at the end of the year when HBO cameras will go inside the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Wonder what folks will see and hear then.
Category: NHL
Posted on: October 12, 2010 5:25 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2010 6:07 pm

Devils and the details

Well the numbers are getting a little better for the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils have signed free agent forward Adam Mair, formerly of the Sabres, so they’ll be only two players short of a full deck when they face Buffalo on Wednesday. That’s one less than they were Monday night against Pittsburgh, which theoretically should improve their odds.

Or maybe not. New Jersey did lose to the Penguins, though not necessarily because it ran out of gas being shorthanded. The Devils couldn’t dress enough players because of salary cap restrictions, but with only 15 skaters, actually outshot and outscored Pittsburgh in the third period. It was the earlier parts of the game that did them in.

Then again the Devils haven’t played very well on the whole in any of their first three games under rookie coach John MacLean. They’ve lost them all, allowing 14 goals in the process and Ilya Kovalchuk’s most notable achievement so far has been a fight, not any goal. It’s the kind of start that often come back to bite teams in tight playoff races, especially if the malaise lingers, and in New Jersey’s case that seems quite possible.

No doubt the Devils have a pretty messy and self-inflicted situation on their hands because of the way they’ve managed the cap. The free agent contract given to Kovalchuk this summer was obviously the breaking point, but New Jersey has several other big-ticket players on the payroll, players GM Lou Lamoriello can’t or won’t move. And right now, the team is paying the price, looking as confused on the ice as the situation off it seems to be.

Lamoriello has been a master at working the CBA's edges to maximum advantage since the lockout, but he’s up against it because of Kovalchuk’s controversial nine-figure contract and will be under increasing pressure to resolve the situation soon. The league has already fended off many howls of indignation, insisting New Jersey didn’t violate the CBA by dressing only 17 players.

Apparently the Devils were technically in compliance because of emergency situation provisions. But the Devils can’t keep showing up to games with fewer players than the other team has. It looks a little bush, especially when you’re in front of the paying customers at home. And it’s going to catch up with New Jersey, not to mention keep the calls for admonishment from the league coming. 

So naturally, New Jersey has already announced it will be short players for at least one more game.

For their part, the players know changes are coming probably sooner rather than later. Many have talked about it openly since training camp began because Kovalchuk’s deal meant New Jersey had to dump salary.  It was always more a matter of when than if.

Lamoriello has been buying time since the opening night deadline by putting players on injured lists and waivers, he just hasn’t had the cap space to replace them. Meanwhile his team is losing games and ground.

Those numbers aren’t getting any better and that's the biggest price New Jersey has to pay.
Category: NHL
Posted on: October 12, 2010 12:15 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2010 12:18 pm

D-men and discipline

A few thoughts for a Tuesday as we wonder if the Anaheim Ducks will manage to keep an opponent to fewer than 45 shots per game this season.  With the problems Anaheim has along the blue line, you should wonder too.

In the meantime there are other things to consider, like how many games Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson and James Wisniewski of the Islanders will get for what they did on Columbus Day.  The holiday was pretty busy for the NHL with six games on tap, but those two stood out and because of it, seemed destined for suspensions. The question is for how long.

Hjalmarsson’s hit from behind on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville was probably the more egregious of the two because his victim suffered a concussion, although the consensus from both teams dressing rooms in the aftermath was that it was more the result of carelessness by the young Blackhawks defenseman than malicious intent. But Wisniewski miming of a sexual act to the Rangers choirboy Sean Avery was on YouTube before the game was over and had lots more viral appeal, and things that embarrass the league tend to rate just as highly on its required disciplinary meter.

Of course there is no defined penalty for being stupid, which is how you would describe Wisniewski’s action on a day when commissioner Gary Bettman was in attendance on Long Island. Bettman was there to help the Islanders owner lobby for improved facilities, the kind of information usually passed along to players before games when they are reminded to put on a ‘good show’ for the matinee crowd.

Then again, you have to figure that Wisniewski is someone who tends to block things out. He had no problem blocking out that he was going to be Brent Seabrook’s best man when he crushed his former teammate into the glass last season. Wisniewski started at Chicago’s blue line and plastered Seabrook into the glass well after he got rid of the puck, causing the Blackhawks player to crumple in a heap and suffer a concussion. 

Wisniewski sat eight games for that, although wasn’t penalized following this latest incident.  Hjalmarsson was, getting ejected for the boarding major after he hit Pominville from behind. It wasn’t a particularly dirty hit  to the shoulder area and there will be those who think Pominville left himself vulnerable, but the upshot is that Buffalo’s forward went face first and hard into the glass and was carried off on a stretcher.  And that requires some sort of suspension, if only so the NHL can send the message that players have to think more on the ice.

Decisions should come down soon.

Oh yes and as far as Anaheim goes, Ducks defenseman Paul Mara says the team’s weak start should be put into perspective.

“Three games in, I don’t think it’s time to panic,” he told NHL Home Ice. “Once the 10-, 15-,20-game mark hits and you don’t have the wins you thought, then it’s time  to hit the panic button and figure out what’s going on.”

We can wait. Can they?
Category: NHL
Posted on: October 11, 2010 11:57 am

Babcock gets his just due

Mike Babcock has never won the NHL's coach of the year award, but the Red Wings didn’t become the model organization they have by misjudging talent. So giving Babcock a four-year extension today was really no surprise. Babcock may not have the individual hardware, but you can bet that anyone who does would trade it for his Stanley Cup, Presidents’ Trophies, 50-plus win seasons and an Olympic gold medal.

And really those prizes say a lot more about him as a coach than a Jack Adams.

No doubt the 47-year-old Saskatchewan native has been fortunate to have high-end talent he has since becoming the Red Wings first post-lockout coach. But managing it and getting the most from players who have a lot expected of them is not necessarily a given as many young coaches have learned. It's really not as easy as telling player to get out there.

Babcock came to Detroit with only two years of NHL coaching experience under his belt, all of it in Anaheim. But he took a team that wasn’t supposed to make the playoffs in 2003 all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, starting the run with a stunning first-round upset of Detroit. Since then the Red Wings have given him much more to work with, but he has made good use of it, putting together a 259-101-52 regular season record that includes four division titles and a 48-33 mark in the playoffs.

Last season though, was perhaps Babcock’s finest hour, with his not-so-young lineup decimated by injuries, free agent defections and the second consecutive short summer after a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. But he kept Detroit’s patchwork lineup above water long enough for the troops to return and finish as the league’s hottest team. Detroit even won a tough seven-game first round against Phoenix, before running out of gas in the second round against San Jose.

But Babcock did have at least one consolation, the gold medal he won coaching Canada’s Olympic team after it had been on the brink of elimination. Now he gets a well-deserved other one. Along with a 2-0 start. 


Category: NHL
Posted on: October 8, 2010 3:58 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2010 4:01 pm

A Hurricanes' warning

There were some good signs for the Carolina Hurricanes from their schedule-opening two games in Helsinki, Finland.

And not just because they came away with wins in both games against the Minnesota Wild.

Starting off that way is always a good thing certainly, especially for the Hurricanes, who are transitioning to a younger roster of players and still remember how a miserable start destroyed them a year ago. The ‘Canes probably don’t want to read too much into these overseas wins, especially against a Minnesota team that seems destined to be in the lottery hunt, but the wins count and more important, Carolina did a lot of things right.

And the ‘Canes got some really fine work from goalie Cam Ward in both games. Ward, along with captain Eric Staal, are keys to Carolina’s playoff hopes, but one player who made it clear he’ll be worth keeping an an eye on is rookie Jeff Skinner.

Skinner 18 and was the seventh pick overall in June, and hasn’t received anywhere near the kind of attention the top two picks, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, have had. But Skinner drew raves from scouts around the league at Carolina’s rookie camp in July and then had a great regular training camp, making the club, at least for the time being.

The Hurricanes can let him play in nine games before having to decide whether to return him to junior and thereby preserve a year of contract eligibility. But watching Skinner in his first two games, it’s hard to see him being sent back.

Skinner even scored the winner in Game 2 on a shootout goal, although that won’t go down as his first official NHL point. No, his first point was an assist earlier in the game when he beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom to the puck in a foot race and started a play that ended with Jarkko Ruutu’s tying goal.

But the play that really said this kid looks special won't show up on the scoresheet. It came midway through the overtime when Skinner took a lead pass in the neutral zone and split the Minnesota defense to create a great scoring chance. Skinner was stopped on the play, but charged to the back the net and single-handedly kept Minnesota defenseman Greg Zanon and then his partner Nick Schultz going side to side and unable to get the puck out.

The scouting reports all said Skinner was a great skater with big-time instincts around the net. Looks like he’s trying to prove it.

Category: NHL
Posted on: September 29, 2010 3:54 pm

Rains and 'Canes

Memo to the Marlins: Games can be rained out down here in Florida even when they’re going to be played indoors.

Not to worry. It only happens when there’s a threat of a tropical storm, like the one that wiped out Wednesday’s meeting between the Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. And you only get those for about two-thirds of your season. 

The Panthers schedule gets them out of the danger zone a lot quicker, but not entirely because it forced the cancellation of their first home game of this pre-season. The bright side though is that hardly anyone will notice.

Personally I was looking forward to my first live game since the Stanley Cup Finals, but not because I have much interest in a pre-season game. Not this one anyway. Still I was hoping to talk to a few of the Hurricanes about their big time road trip that starts at the end of the week, the one including a pre-season game that actually will be very interesting.

Carolina is one of six NHL teams that will start their regular seasons in Europe, playing the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki on Oct. 7 and 8.
But a few days earlier, ‘Canes will play SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL in an exhibition game, marking the first NHL team has played in Russia in 21 years.  (The Phoenix Coyotes will play in Latvia two days later).

It’s part of what is being called the Compuware Premiere Challenge and an attempt at rapprochement between the NHL and KHL, which have been at odds for years over contracts and transfer agreements.

The NHL players association has signed off the game too, so while it is a meaningless contest in theory, it is hard to believe anyone will approach it that way. Not with bragging rights at the very least on the line, both for the players and the leagues involved.

In other words, this is the kind of pre-season game that everyone will be revved up for. SKA will have former San Jose Sharks starter Evgeni Nabokov in goal, while Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice has already said he’ll been using the lineup he expects to use opening night.  So I was hoping to get a sense of how the Carolina gang was feeling as things were getting closer and that just didn’t work out. Yet lo and behold, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford called in to the NHL Live show a little while ago and talked briefly about the game in Russia.

Rutherford not the rivalry between leagues, and said it would make game more competitive than most pre-season games. But he also sounded like someone trying to dampen expectations surrounding a team that didn’t make the playoffs but will be carrying the NHL flag.

“We won’t approach the game probably quite the same way they will,” Rutherford said. “The most important games for us are the two in Finland against Minnesota at same this is a good time to play that game. It will have a different kind of intensity than most pre-season games and it can prepare us for Helsinki.”

Rutherford did say the team was actually looking forward to the European trip and to the start of their North American part of the schedule, even if it has the ‘Canes playing the first five games on the road, four of them on the West Coast.

“You have to go on that road trip at some point in the season,” he said. “With so many new faces, this is a good time to get away and start bonding and getting a feel for who fits into this team and who wants to be a part of it.

“The Carolina Hurricanes will get a real good test in the first 10 games of the season.”

Without any rainouts.


Category: NHL
Posted on: September 28, 2010 2:17 pm

The pain drain

A few bumps and bruises are part of NHL training camps, but less than two weeks into them, the list of seriously continues to grow around the league.

Just in the last few days, Wild backup goalie Josh Harding wrecked his knee and will be gone for the year; Calgary’s Matt Stajan separated his shoulder and is out indefinitely; Flyers goalie Michael Leighton could miss up to six weeks with a bad back and Marc Savard announced that he is still suffering from post-concussion symptoms and has no idea when he’ll be ready to play for the Bruins.

Still the guy who might be missed the most by his team is New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit, one of the most under-recognized great free agent signings in recent memory and  someone who has returned full value on a contract that raised a lot of eyebrows when it was offered in 2008.

Streit has been one of the league’s top producing defensemen while in New York, averaging more than 50 points in each of his first two seasons to become one of the team’s top scorers. But after suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder during a weekend scrimmage, he could be out of the season, a void coach Scott Gordon says is significant.

“I don’t think you can replace him,” Gordon said on the NHL radio network. “What Mark has accomplished here on Long Island, really without having the kind of supporting cast that other guys like him have, is amazing.

“It’s a big hole in our lineup because he plays a lot of minutes on both sides of the puck. It’s one thing when you lose a defenseman, but when he’s one of your top scorers on a team that doesn’t score a lot of goals, it’s huge.”

So is the possible the return of Rick DiPietro, the franchise goalie with the lifetime contract who has spent most of the last two seasons sidelined by a series of knee surgeries. Gordon has only gotten to coach DiPietro for about a dozen games combined in his two seasons behind the bench, so he was cautious with his optimism when it came to the netminder.

But Gordon noted the DiPietro is healthier than at any time during his tenure since he became coach, and is coming of a very good off-season conditioning effort.

“This was the first time in two years he had a summer in which he trained like a pro athlete instead of someone rehabbing,” Gordon said. “He came into camp with full strength of his legs, got on ice in August now we’re at the point where he’s on the right kind of schedule.”

Gordon said he was encouraged because DIPietro had no physical problems from the scrimmages in which he took part. The goalie could even get into a couple of pre-season games by the weekend.

“Everything has been great so far,” Gordon said. “Knock wood, where he’s come from and how hard he’s worked, it would be a great thing to see him in net opening night.”

Especially since Streit won’t be there.
Category: NHL
Posted on: September 28, 2010 12:37 pm

It's all about the 'W's'

What a difference a day makes huh?

Yesterday, the world seemed to be coming down on Carey Price in Montreal. Today he is once again the the toast of the town, or at least a little closer to it.

All Price needed to silence his critics – for the time being anyway – was his first pre-season win Monday.

The 6-2 victory wasn’t a classic performance by any stretch of the imagination for the Canadiens goalie and it came against the Panthers, a team with an offense that rarely strikes fear in people. To prove the point, Florida made Price face only 21 shots.

Still he stopped 19, enough to get him a win that was crucial for the young goaltender even if was in essence meaningless. But Price had a rough time in each of his first two starts and heard the wrath of the boo-birds delivered with gusto from the rafters. The hostile reception became a hot button topic for several days – perhaps someone might have noticed it on this site as well – but it must have touched a nerve locally because fans were chanting Price’s name when the Canadiens took the ice and cheering him throughout the game. 

It was important for him to deliver, although later, Price put things into context by reminding everyone that his effort came in a game that doesn’t count. But he made sure to express his appreciation for the support.

“It makes things way easier for everyone,” he told reporters.

So does winning.


Category: NHL
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