Archive for December, 2011

Canucks Down Avs

The Vancouver Canucks survived an ugly fist period and turned what was supposed to be Hodgson vs Duchene round 2 into the JanHan/Daniel Show.The Canucks were badly out played and out shot in the first period but a Daniel Sedin wrap around bounced in off Avs goaltender Varlomov and Luongo was flawless giving the Canucks a 1-0 lead heading into the 2nd period.

Booth collided with Avs defenceman Kevin Porter half way through the first and went down violently. He had to be helped off the ice and did not return. He is scheduled for an MRI tomorrow.  

Early in the second period Luongo took a puck off the throat and went down causing a smile on Cory Schneider’s face. Luongo would miss the rest of the game but did sit on the bench for the third period. The injury is reported to be minor and he is expected to start versus Montreal in the Canucks next game.

Schneider made a couple big saves early, allowing the Canucks to maintain their lead. JanHan and Bieksa executed a give and go to perfection in the slot with JanHan driving home his 8th goal of the season giving the Canucks a 2 goal lead.

It was all Canucks in the third as Daniel scored 2 more to complete the hattrick and JanHan tied his career season high with his 9th goal of the year. Schneider completed the shutout as the Canucks cruised to a 6-0 win in Rogers Arena.

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Open Season On Goalies

A couple weeks back Milan Lucic barreled down the ice and slammed into Ryan Miller. It was a despicable play one can expect from the Bruins. Miller was obviously unhappy with the play and even unhappier that Lucic received no suspension.
 
Lucic said he only saw Miller at the last second and since he couldn’t avoid Miller, he simply braced himself in protection. NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, who has been doing an amazing job handing out suspensions, deservedly came under scrutiny for failing to suspend Lucic for this transgression.
 
Miller sat out with a concussion for a couple weeks only getting back into the starting lineup this past weekend. In his first game back, Miller was once again the target of a cheap shot, this time by Jordin Tootoo, bearing down on goal.
 
Tootoo crashed into Miller at full speed and the two went flying. Upon landing Miller flipped over onto Tootoo and started throwing rights and lefts, letting his attacker know if the NHL wasn’t going to make him pay for crashing his crease than he was.  
 
This time Shanahan did get it right by suspending Tootoo for two games, but the message from the NHL already seems to have been sent. Goalies are fair play. Tonight we saw another example of a player charging recklessly towards a goalie as Justin Abdlekater took out Brian Elliot. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe it’s a case of blue car syndrome, or maybe players feel they have a free run at goalies without consequences.
 
Running a goalie is cowardly. It is taught in minor hockey that you just don’t do it.  Hopefully this is the last one we see for a while, but if not, Shanahan better get tough on the culprits.

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Chicago Blackhawks Maintain Excellence Amid Roster Purge

The Chicago Blackhawks were one of the worst NHL teams for nearly a decade. This poorly run franchise did just about everything wrong on and off the ice and lost a once rabid fan base. But if a team is going to be bad long enough, it’ll eventually earn enough top draft picks to build a solid core of young players upon which to build a contender. The Hawks built this core just as the owner of the team passed away, allowing new management to establish a new business model where they could capitalize on the strengthening product on the ice.

Two years later they were Stanley Cup champions. But the following summer the team was met with overwhelming salary cap issues. A lot of those younger players contracts expired at the same time and when you’re on a team that has just won the Cup, you’re going to want a raise.

This forced management to fire the GM, Dale Tallon, and expert at evaluating talent but sub par at negotiating contracts. They brought in Stan Bowman to fix the salary cap issues. He did so by trading away 13 players from his Stanley Cup roster and focussed on rebuilding the team around Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharpe, Marion Hossa, Brian Campbell, and Dave Bolland, as good as any core in the NHL. They brought some young rookies into the lineup, including goaltender Corey Crawford, who has played liked a 10 year veteran.  They relied on young talent and the young talent responded. 

The main reason they’ve been able to maintain this success is because of the man behind the bench. Joel Quenneville is a master at developing young players and putting them in a position to succeed. He builds their confidence and makes sure they know that they can compete on a daily basis in the NHL. And they’ve responded. It’s refreshing to see a coach have so much confidence in players who are just learning the game.  And as long as that core stays intact and Quenneville continues to do his magic, the Blackhawks will continue to contend for the Stanley Cup.

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Evaluating Cody Hodgson’s Rookie Campaign

Vancouver Canucks rookie Cody Hodgson has been labeled everything from the heir apparent to Trevor Linden to a total bust. But so far, 24 games into his rookie campaign, he has settled nicely under a more realistic label, a promising young NHLer.
 
When he was first drafted there were immediate comparisons to the Canuck great #16 Trevor Linden. Having never played an NHL game this was optimistic but also unfair.  But as I watch Hodgson play, I don’t see another Linden in the making, I give that distinction to Ryan Kesler, instead I’m reminded of a young Henrik Sedin.  
 
Hodgson is still young and has some deficiencies to improve upon such as body checking, it’s one comparison with a Sedin I wouldn’t want to covet. He’s not the strongest player, but he’s still growing into a man’s body. He at times makes rookie mistakes in his positioning, and he’s just adequate in the faceoff circle.
 
But there are also some efficiencies, a package of skills that Canuck fans are excited about.  Efficiencies that have Canucks fans asking how good can Hodgson get? He has incredible hands, a great shot, his skating has improved dramatically, he has amazing vision and can thread a needle with his pass, much like Henrik. 
 
To date he has 12 points through 26 games, while being shuffled around various lines, regularly getting the lowest minutes of ice time of all the top 9 skaters. These 12 points project to about a 40 point season. A very good total for a rookie. When I compare those numbers to the Canucks current 3 stars when they were 21, it is very encouraging.  
 
As 21 year olds Henrik had 36 points, Daniel had 32 points, and Kesler had 23 points. So far, Hodgson’s in good company.  But I’m not too concerned with points at this stage in his career. I’m more interested in how he thinks the game, adjusts to the game, with how he physically holds up. And it’s these areas where I find great optimism.
 

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HBO’s 24/7 Winter Classic Coverage Begins

It’s not TV, it’s HBO. Anyone who has watched The Sopranos, The Wire, Game Of Thrones, etc. knows that when HBO commits to a show, it’s down right awesome.
 
Last year I convinced my wife, not a hockey fan, to watch the first episode of HBO’s 24/7 series following the Penguins and Capitals. I can’t get her to watch a game with me as she has no interest, but by the end of the first episode, she was hooked.
 
The production value, the insight of the players and coaches at home, in the locker room, in rehab was engrossing. It really did something that is hard to do when following the NHL season from regular sports feeds, it humanized the participants.
 
We got to see Sydney Crosby watch his own highlights in his hotel room with the appreciation of a kid. We saw what the players go through to rehab injuries. We saw how coaches breakdown video and communicate with their players. We got to look behind the curtain and found something so much more fulfilling than a charlatan playing tricks.
 
This year HBO will follow the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers as they build up to the Winter Classic being played in Philadelphia. Two interesting teams with a great rivalry to exploit. My wife is looking forward to it already.

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Leafs Win In NY

The Leafs beat the New York Rangers 4-2 tonight, ending their fathers/sons road trip with a 1 – 1 record.  They played a solid game against the Rangetrs who are one of the suprise teams in this early NHL season, sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. 

Recent Leafs acquisitions Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, and Joffrey Lupul scored for the Leafs while David Steckel added an empty netter.  Franson has had a frustrating start to the season spending a lot of time in the press box, but with a few injuries on the back-end, he has now been given an opportunity and has played well. 

This is one of the key differences this year for the Leafs.  They have NHL caliber players sitting in the press box where as the last few years they had AHL calibre players playing significant NHL minutes. 

On Saturday Ron Wilson told the media that Gustavsson would be playing that night against the Bruins, but at game time James Reimer got the start, causing a bit of a radio, twitter, media rift.  Burke threw his 2 cents in defending his coach to what is essentially a non issue.  So when Ron Wilson said  that Gustavsson would be starting today, it was a surprise to the Toronto media when Gustavsson actually got the start.  The Monster had a solid game and came up with 30 saves. 

The Leafs will try and build off this win when they suit up versus the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at the ACC.

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NHL Approves Re-alignment

It took the NHL board of govenors an hour to discuss and approve league re-alignment where there will be four conferences and no divisions.  As posted yesterday, here’s what the new Conferences will look like:

West

Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose, Los Angelas, Anaheim, Colorado, Phoenix

Central

Winnipeg, Nashville, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Dallas, St. Louis

East North/South

Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Buffalo, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida

East Central

New York Islander, New York Ranger, New Jersey, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina

Teams will play a heavily weighted schedule within their own conference and then have home and away games against the rest of the teams in the league. 

For the Canucks this means playing a lot more games in their own time zone as they will face LA, Anaheim, and San Jose up to 7 games a season. This year, the Canucks will only play 6 road games in their own time zone, the toughest road schedule in the NHL. 

This will also ensure that they play Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg twice a year.
This is great for the Canucks, the other teams currently in the Western Conference, and as a whole, for the NHL.

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