Tag:Alex Ovechkin
Posted on: March 9, 2012 12:07 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 12:10 am
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Winners & Losers: Stars steal one from Sharks



By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Tomas Vincour and the Dallas Stars: Dallas went into Thursday's game against San Jose holding a three-point lead in the Pacific Division over the suddenly slumping -- and fading -- Sharks. The one thing the Sharks had going for them was the fact that they had games in hand, as wel as three remaining meetings with the Stars. All of that only matters, of course, if the Sharks find a way to get into the win column again, and they fell short of that once again as the Stars found a way to scratch and claw out another win, beating San Jose in a shootout, 4-3.

It was probably the game of the night in terms of entertainment, and after San Jose took the lead, 3-2, with less than four minutes to play in regulation, Tomas Vincour scored the game-tying goal for the Stars on a goal that cleared the goal line behind Antti Niemi by, oh, let's say about an inch, sending the game to overtime.

The Stars had to kill off a 4-on-3 power play in the extra period, and ended up picking up the extra point in the standings thanks to Vincour's goal -- the only one in the shootout -- in the fifth-round.

With the win, the Stars now hold a four-point lead in the Division race. The two teams will meet two more times this season and the Sharks still have two games in hand, but again, sooner or later they have to start winning some of these games.

[Related: Stars 4, Sharks 3]

Washington Capitals: Say this for the Capitals -- they certainly make it interesting, and for the second time in a week they needed a late third period goal to force overtime, taking advantage of an Eric Brewer turnover, and then receiving a game-winning goal in the extra period from their captain, Alex Ovechkin, to pick up a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The win, combined with Florida's embarrassing loss to Philadelphia, moves the Capitals back to within two points of the top spot in the Southeast division.

Unfortunately, the Capitals may have to be without defenseman Mike Green for a game (or more) if the NHL decides to suspended him for his elbow to the head of Lightning forward Brett Connolly in the second period.

[Related: Capitals 3, Lightning 2 -- Video: Green elbows Connolly]

Boston Bruins: If nothing else, Boston's 3-1 win over the Sabres on Thursday night was big because it gave the Bruins consecutive wins for the first time since January 10-12. It also allowed them to maintain their three-point lead over the Ottawa Senators in the surprisingly tight Northeast Division race.

[Related: Bruins 3, Sabres: 1]

Losers

Florida Panthers: Yeah, they're still in first place, but you have to wonder how much longer they can go on like this. With their 5-0 loss to the Flyers, combined with the Capitals win, gives them just a two point lead in the division, and for the season they've now been outscored by 26 goals.

How bad is that? The only teams that have been outscored by more goals this season are the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.

That's not the type of company you want to be keeping at this point in the season.

[Related: Flyers 5, Panthers 0]

Another slow start for the Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes are making it difficult on themselves. On Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild they found themselves in a 2-0 hole for the fifth consecutive game, and it shouldn't be much of a surprise that for the fifth straight game they ended up in the loss column. Granted, this one came in a shootout, 4-3, giving them a point in the standings, but they can't keep falling behind by two goals early in games.

It's hard enough to win that way in the NHL for any team, especially one that isn't really built to play from behind.

[Related: Wild 3, Coyotes 2]

Anaheim Ducks: Bad night all around for the Ducks and their playoff chances. Not only did they lose to a Blues team that took over sole possession of the top spot in the NHL, a number of the teams they're chasing in the standings (Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose) gained a point. They're now back to being seven points out of the No. 8 seed.

[Related: Blues 3, Ducks 1 -- Blues take over top spot in NHL]

Los Angeles Kings: The Columbus Blue Jackets continued their spoiler role on Thursday with a 3-1 win over a Los Angeles Kings that couldn't afford to drop a game to the worst team in the league, on the same night the Blue Jackets did their part to erase the memories of Jeff Carter's brief stay in central Ohio by replacing his nameplates on fan jerseys with Jack Johnson nameplates.

And speaking of Johnson, and adding insult to injury for the Kings, he managed to get some revenge on the team that trade him (for Carter) by scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal. The Blue Jackets have now won four consecutive games, something they had not done since November. Of 2010.

[Related: Blue Jackets, 3 Kings 1 -- Blue Jackets will fix your Carter jersey]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 4, 2012 9:37 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 10:13 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Avs, Stars, Cats with big wins

By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Jamie McGinn, Colorado Avalanche: So they got this guy from the Sharks for scoring, right?

Whether the Avalanche did or didn't (the answer is not really) he's giving it to them anyway. Or at least he did on Sunday.

The Avs, needing to keep pace in the Western race, got two early goals from McGinn and hung on to shut out the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota. It not only kept them squarely in the conversation, it pretty much cemented the fate of the Wild as they drop seven points out of a playoff spot. That's just a little tough to make up at this point.

The Avs have been on one of their patented upswings in an up-and-down season and now join the Kings just one point back of the Sharks in the Western Conference, tied with the Los Angeles Kings.

It was a nice showing for Semyon Varlamov too to stop all 30 shots he faced from the Wild. For a goalie that has struggled for much of the season, to string together some wins like that will go a long way in turning around a young goalie's psyche.

[Related: Avalanche 2, Wild 0]

Florida Panthers: Some team has to win the Southeast Division and in recent days you got the feeling that this team wasn't going to be able to hold on. They still might not, but they have to feel a lot better after Sunday's comeback win.

For the sixth time in the last nine games, the Panthers fell in a 2-0 hole. This time, though, they crawled out of it with four unanswered goals, including a somewhat shocking breakaway score from Krys Barch. Really, you don't see that often.

It brought an end to Ottawa's reign over the Panthers as well. The Sens had won nine in a row -- NINE! -- against Florida including five straight in Sunrise. It looked like they were on their way to making it a perfect 10 until the comeback came.

What the end result is besides the confidence boost for Florida to get over that Senators hump is that the Panthers move four points up on the Jets, five on the Capitals and six up on the Lightning in the Southeast. Keeping that cushion is important.

[Related: Panthers 4, Senators 2]

Dallas Stars: Don't look now, but the Stars have jumped the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division and are now tied with the Phoenix Coyotes for the division lead (but lose out on the tie-breakers at this point). They also bumped the Sharks down to eighth in the West while taking the seventh spot themselves.

That's the result of them marching into Calgary and prevailing in the shootout thanks to their scoring stars of Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

The Stars are playing as well now as they were at the beginning of the season when they ran out to one of the best starts in the league. There's still a good ways to go, but they have shown they're a serious threat and maybe even a good bet at this point to make the postseason.

The Flames, meanwhile, do get one point and move to within three of the Sharks but remain in 11th place.

[Related: Stars 3, Flames 2 (SO)]

Anders Nilsson, New York Islanders: There was a time this season that people were laughing at the Islanders for carrying three active goalies on the roster each night. Then they called on the fourth man in the rotation, Nilsson, on Sunday and he delivered.

Not only did Nilsson pick up his first NHL victory, it was a shutout. And it had to be as the Islanders only scored once against the Devils, a Kyle Okposo goal in the second period.

If they even dare to dream on the Island, there is still a glimmer of hope that they can get into the playoffs. A glimmer, I said. The win brought them within five points of eighth-place Winnipeg when they finished up. With the way the bottom of the East has been dropping like a rock allowing some of the other cellar dwellers to climb back in (see: Lightning, Sabres) what's to say the Islanders can't? Any kind of winning streak at this point puts you into contention.

Of course they might need a few more goals but points are points no matter how they come.

[Related: Islanders 1, Devils 0]

Losers

Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin: The Capitals were shut out for the second consecutive game at home, being blanked by the Flyers 1-0. Ilya Bryzgalov, who has had his well-chronicled struggles this season, was sharp, very sharp. Obviously, he held the Caps off the board completely despite some of the Flyers' best defensemen (Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros) being out.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, appeared to be benched in the second period by Capitals coach Dale Hunter after his role on the one and only goal, a deflection from Eric Wellwood that beat Michal Neuvirth. His turnover and then pretty poor attempt at stopping the pass to the crease appeared to earn him a seat for the rest of the second.

"My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game," Ovechkin said.

Now we're left once again wondering if the Caps are dead in the water. With back-to-back home losses, they have fallen five points behind the Panthers in the Southeast and remain out of the playoff picture in the East. If the Sabres -- Buffalo! -- is able to beat the Jets on Monday, the Caps will fall into 10th in the conference.

[Related: Flyers 1, Capitals 0]

Detroit Red Wings: I elected to put the Wings in the losers section instead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the winner section tonight because of the collateral damage that came along with their 2-1 loss at the Joe on Sunday afternoon.

The second period curiously began with Joey MacDonald in the net instead of Jimmy Howard, who had been on for the first 20 minutes. It wasn't immediately clear why. Remember, Howard just missed a couple of weeks with a broken finger.

Eventually Howard was back on the bench and it was revealed that he suffered a lower-body injury and is day to day. That was worthy of a sigh of relief. Of course it's not like MacDonald has been bad in his spot duties so far this season. He gave up the only goal that was scored in the final two periods and took the loss on Sunday, but that dropped his record to just 7-2-1.

The Wings also saw defenseman Jakub Kindl leave the game with an upper-body injury. Add that to the already absent Pavel Datsyuk and the Wings are starting to take some wear and tear.

Oh, and by the tie-breakers, they lost the Central Division lead to the Blues. Not that that means too much right now.

[Related: Blackhawks 2, Red Wings 1]

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

Posted on: March 1, 2012 4:05 pm
 

Caps GM says Ovechkin's weight jumped to 242 lbs.

Ovechkin was the last player to score 60 goals in one season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

In searching for answers to why Alex Ovechkin's scoring totals have gone down one year to the next recently, a lot of different theories have been floated. Some just point to the statistics and say a regression was in order. Some like myself have pointed more to the league figuring him out. Even others have gone to some other outlandish conclusions.

Since 2007-08 when he had 65 goals, Ovechkin's totals have gone to 56 to 50 to 32 last season. His 26 this year has him a little ahead of last season's pace.

In an interview with ESPN 980, Caps general manager offered something else up that could possibly bear an explanation, or at least a factor (from the Washington Post).

“I think the progression in his weights, he came in 218, 224, 232, 237, 242,” McPhee said, which doesn’t exactly reflect the team’s prior reports. “He played at 242 once, and he got suspended for hitting a few people. And he was crushing guys, and he loved crushing guys, and we said you know what, Bruce always thought he was a better player at about 227. And you can see it when he’s moving out there, he’s flying.”

Putting on 24 pounds isn't the best way to maintain your game when it relies a lot on speed and agility.

For the record, McPhee said Ovechkin is weighing in at 224 right now.

McPhee was also asked about Ovechkin's commitment to the game, something that was put in question by former Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig.

“Um, well, it’s a lot better than it was,” McPhee said, hinting that there was indeed some issues about his commitment level.

How much might this have to do with his numbers decreasing in recent seasons? I don't know. It would only be speculation on anybody's part so attempt to say what affect it had, if any. But the GM more or less admitting in a round-about way that Ovechkin wasn't as committed as much as he should have been is definitely an interesting sign.

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

Posted on: February 29, 2012 3:18 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 5:19 pm
 

Can Steven Stamkos score 60 this season?

StamkosBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: what it's going to take for Steven Stamkos to become the first 60-goal scorer since 2007-08, and whether or not it's even possible.

Steven Stamkos has been the one consistent bright spot for the Tampa Bay Lightning this year, and he is currently putting together the most productive goal-scoring season of his young career.

Through Tampa Bay's first 63 games he is leading the league with 44 goals, seven more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin as of Wednesday afternoon. Barring injury he looks to be well on his way to the second 50-goal season of his career, as well as his second Rocket Richard Trophy. (He shared the goal-scoring crown during the 2009-10 season with Sidney Crosby, with both players scoring 51 goals).

He has clearly taken over as the NHL's best, and most dangerous goal scoring threat.

But he also has a chance -- a very small chance -- to do something that only one player has done over the past 14 years -- score 60 goals in a single season. It's not going to be easy, of course, and it's probably going to take a great deal of luck along the way, but it's not entirely out of the question, either.

Scoring 50 goals these days is rare enough. Since the NHL came out of the lockout in 2005-06 only 10 different players have scored even 50 goals in a single season (Alex Ovechkin has done it four times, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk have done it twice, Stamkos, Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Jaromir Jagr and Corey Perry have all done it once).

Scoring 60 goals in this era is practically unheard of.

Ovechkin was the last player to reach the mark having scored 65 goals during the 2007-08 season. Before that you have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season when Mario Lemieux and Jagr scored 69 and 62 goals respectively for the Penguins.

With 19 games remaining on the schedule for Tampa Bay, Stamkos needs 16 goals to reach 60 for the season. Twice in his career he's had 19-game stretches where he's scored at least 16 goals, including one such run earlier this season between games 20 and 38 for the Lightning, scoring 16 goals on 61 shots.

His best 19-game stretch came at the start of last season he averaged a goal-per-game over the first 19 games of the season. So it is possible, and he's done it before.

If he were to maintain his current shooting percentage for the season, a career-best 19.9 percent, he would need to generate somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 shots on goal over the final 19 games of the season to score 16 goals. That's a lot. Even worse, if he were to shoot at his career average of 16.8 percent he would need to generate nearly 100 shots in 19 games, which is just over five per game. That's nearly impossible. Especially if you add in the fact that he's already in the middle of a hot streak, having scored seven goals in his past seven games, which would mean he would need to finish the season with 23 goals in 26 games.

One of the biggest reasons we no longer see 60 (or even 50) goal seasons is the same reason goal-scoring as a whole is down across the league -- a declining number of power play opportunities.

Stamkos is at his most lethal to opposing teams when the Lightning are on the man-advantage and his teammates are able to feed him one-timer after one-timer from the circle. With the average NHL team getting just 3.5 power play opportunities per game this season, the lowest average the NHL has seen in over 10 years, and the Lightning actually well below that average at just 3.1 opportunities per game, players just aren't getting as many prime opportunities to put up huge goal totals.

And it's why the 60-goal scorer is nearly extinct in the NHL.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 28, 2012 10:48 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 10:57 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Senators, Capitals, Kings



By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Ottawa Senators: Heading into Tuesday's game in Boston there was an expectation that the Bruins would try to get some sort of "revenge" on Ottawa for Kyle Turris' hit on Joe Corvo during their last meeting over the weekend.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened (it was a physical game, but that's about it), and in the end, the Senators came away with an important 1-0 win led by the rookie goalie Robin Lehner recording his first career shutout, stopping all 32 shots he faced. It was a pretty impressive performance by the Senators in a big situation, and the only goal of the night came from defenseman Erik Karlsson as he extended his league lead for scoring among defenseman.

With the win, Ottawa now finds itself just one point behind Boston for the top spot in the Northeast Division, and the two teams still have one more meeting remaining this season. Not only do the Senators look like a guaranteed playoff team at this point, they have a real shot to win the division.

It can't be said enough times: Nobody saw this coming.

[Related: Senators 1, Bruins 0]

Washington Capitals: Down 2-0 with three minutes to play, and their season potentially on the line, the Capitals found a way to dig deep and come all the way back to win, 3-2, in overtime thanks to a vintage Alex Ovechkin goal as he came into the offensive zone, flying down the wing and fired a shot through a defenseman, beating Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov for the winner.

For the time being, the Capitals are back into the No. 8 spot in the East.

Perhaps a game that can save a season?

[Related: Capitals 3, Islanders 2]

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings barely average two goals per game this season. They matched that total in the first 12 minutes on Tuesday night in a 4-0 win over the Wild, a game that brought them into a three-way tie with Colorado and Dallas with 70 points.

It also might have been the least-convincing four-goal win any team has had this season.

The Kings generated just 15 shots on goal, with only six of them being quality scoring chances. Fortunately they were able to take advantage of them, scoring on four of them.

You're not going to get that sort of success rate every night, and they need to do way more to generate consistent offense, but they're also not going to turn down the two points at this point.

[Related: Kings 4, Wild 0]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs: Oh, Toronto. This is how the Maple Leafs started their game on Tuesday, a 5-3 loss, against the Florida Panthers. It might just be the perfect way to describe the past 10 games and a season that is quickly starting to slip away.



I have nothing else to add, other than to point out a "Fire Wilson" chant started in the third period.

[Related: Panthers 5, Maple Leafs 3]

New York Islanders: If the Capitals win helped to save their season, then the Islanders loss had to all but crush their season.

Not that their playoff chances were great to begin with, but a win in regulation would have brought the Islanders to within five points of the Capitals in the standings. After letting a two-goal lead slip away with less than three minutes to play, losing in overtime, they're now eight points behind the Capitals. That's one heck of a swing.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 24, 2012 10:29 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2012 11:23 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Capitals, Avalanche, Canadiens



By: Adam Gretz


There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Their 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night was just the fourth win in 11 games during the month of February for the Washington Capitals, and only the fourth time they've scored more than two goals over that same stretch. And it couldn't have come at a better time for the Capitals as they still managed to pull to within two points of regaining the top spot in the always comical Southeast Division, despite what has been a month of less-than-stellar play.

Alex Ovechkin returned to the Washington lineup in the win and blasted a one-timer past Carey Price for his 25th goal of the season, giving him at least 25 goals in each of the first seven years of his career.

Some of the NHL's other winners and losers for Friday night…

Winners

1. Colorado Avalanche: Big win for the Avalanche on Friday night as they keep pace in the Western Conference playoff push with a 5-0 dismantling of the Columbus Blue Jackets. David Jones scored a pair of goals, Semyon Varlamov stopped all 28 shots he faced and the newest Avalanche player, Steve Downie, scored his first goal for the club.

[Related: Avalanche 5, Blue Jackets 0]

2. Dallas Stars: The Stars took over sole possession of the No. 8 playoff spot in the West with a 4-1 win over Minnesota. Dallas raced out to an early 3-0 lead in the second period, chasing Niklas Backstrom after only 23 minutes. Eric Nystrom, a member of the Wild at the start of the season, scored his 16th goal of the year while Tom Wandell added a pair to give him six on the year.

[Related: Stars 4, Wild 1]

3. Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild general manager: Whether or not any of the players  or draft picks Chuck Fletcher received in the trade that sent Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey on Friday is pretty irrelevant at this point. He managed to gain three players and two draft picks for a player that no longer wanted to be in Minnesota (and was playing like it) while team itself had little leverage when it came to trading him.

Oh, and he also cleared a few million in salary cap space for next season. That's a win for the organization, even though the team lost on the ice.

[Related: Zidlicky traded to New Jersey]

Losers

1. Montreal Canadiens: The only positive development to come out of their loss in Washington on Friday night was the fact that Rene Bourque scored a shorthanded goal. Why is this so meaningful? Or even a little meaningful? Because until Bourque scored that goal, the Canadiens had gone more than 12 periods of hockey without scoring a goal against the Capitals, dating back to last season. In their past four games against Washington Montreal has been outscored 11-1. Since the start of last season they've been shutout by the Capitals four times.

2. Calgary Flames social media: I appreciate the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. It's one of the great ones in the NHL, and it reached a new level on Friday when an anonymous member of the Flames social media team accidentally sent out a Tweet mocking the proposed contract terms for Oilers forward Ales Hemsky. The Flames acknowledged it, said it was a mistake, don't condone it, and will handle it internally. That's great, but it's not like the Flames don't have their own contracts that would draw a few chuckles from other teams around the league.

[Related: Flames official Twitter mocks Hemsky contract talk -- Oilers re-sign Hemsky]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 24, 2012 10:01 am
Edited on: February 24, 2012 10:57 am
 

Morning Skate: Stars and Wild in West's big one

By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

8:30 ET, Minnesota at Dallas: With how quiet they have been since their early-season run, it's a little surprising to wake up on Friday and see that the Dallas Stars are in the eighth position in the Western Conference.

With how bad they've been since their early-season run, it's a little surprising the Minnesota Wild are still within earshot of the playoffs in the Western Conference.

Today's movin' and shakin' game in the massive battle for the West's last playoff spot is the matchup of the two teams that have called Minnesota home. It's like their step-brothers or something and the "first" brother doesn't take kindly to the "new" brother moving in. It's been 15 straight trips to Dallas without a victory for Minnesota. Yikes.

This would be as good a time as any to snap that. The Wild head into Friday three points behind the logjam for eighth place. Fall five back and they really have a tough task at hand.

But the Wild have picked it up here. Over the weekend it looked like they were about to be buried for good until they turned in one of their best performances in months and beat the Bruins. Then on Thursday night they got a rare shootout win over the Panthers in Florida. They're getting back to that Mike Yeo hockey that was so successful.

The Stars, meanwhile, aren't setting the world on fire but nobody at the bottom of the West is, so they're tied for that No. 8 spot after a strong win in Chicago on Thursday. Yet they are still reportedly considering being a seller at Monday's deadline.

For teams teetering, every game before the deadline is that much more important, especially when the playoff race is in full swing.

7 ET, Montreal at Washington: No two teams have been a bigger drama show this season than the Capitals and Canadiens. So maybe it's fitting they play each other just before the trade deadline, the season's biggest big top.

These are two teams either on the brink (Washington) or already over it (Montreal). The Habs are now in the bottom three. Starting Friday eight points out of a playoff spot, they are close to done for. At this point it's more like playing out the string ... and playing spoiler.

Really, most everybody's eyes will be on the Capitals. They have been significantly better on home ice this season so perhaps that can be the cure for the three-game losing streak that ails them. They are still miraculously in the Southeast Division race, entering Friday four points behind the Jets and three behind the Panthers. But remember they have four games in hand on Winnipeg. Florida, meanwhile, will have two in hand on Washington after Friday.

Washington might have to do it without Alex Ovechkin again, too. He missed the team's game in Ottawa earlier this week with a "lower-body injury" and has been listed as day to day. For a team that's struggling to score like the Caps are, being down an Ovechkin really isn't helping matters. They'll have to rely on some quality goaltending, whoever might get that nod.

7 ET, Vancouver at New Jersey: After taking out the Red Wings in a shootout and ending their home winning streak at 23 games, the Canucks set their sights on taking over the West's top spot for the time being with a trip to New Jersey.

Only problem for them is the Devils are no slouch. They have been one if the absolute best teams in the league since the All-Star break and have climbed into the East's No. 4 position, that critical spot for home-ice advantage in the first round.

Hard for me to believe that with both of these teams' pedigrees that people seem to be sleeping on them. The Canucks are quietly going about their business -- perhaps a refreshing change in Vancouver -- and are again in the Presidents' Trophy race. The same goes for the Devils who could potentially move to within five points of the Rangers for the top position in the East if they get some help from the Islanders.

Others worth watching

7 ET, Rangers at Islanders: What better way for the Rangers to get out of a scoring funk than to visit their neighbors on Long Island?

7 ET, Colorado at Columbus: The Avs are another one in that West logjam while the Jackets move on to the post-Jeff Carter era (era?).

7:30 ET, Boston at Buffalo: This was supposed to be a big game. Now it's about Brad Marchand calling Buffalo the worst city in the league.

Your promised miscellany

  • Kyle Quincey, just moved to Detroit after a three-way deal, wasn't very complimentary of the Avalanche franchise and said other guys were jealous that he got to leave. (Denver Post)
  • Want to know why the Canadiens have been called a circus act this season? Here's a reason. P.K. Subban got into a skirmish with a teammate at practice. Again. (TSN)
  • Peter Laviolette was just a bit unhappy with his Flyers' performance in Edmonton on Thursday night and he let the Philly media know. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Jeff Carter might not have welcomed his move to Columbus with open arms, but at least Jack Johnson is giving it a try. (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Flames GM Jay Feaster wasn't pleased with his team's effort in the last couple of games and threatened his team by telling Sportsnet it would be busy on Monday if they didn't pick it up. (Sportsnet)

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: February 23, 2012 2:05 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 2:26 pm
 

Caps' Hamrlik questions Dale Hunter after scratch

Hamrlik has been statistically much better with Hunter than Boudreau. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Washington Capitals are imploding right before our very eyes. It's getting downright nasty in the nation's capital.

The most recent -- but check back in an hour -- development in How the Capitals Turn concerns veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik. On the same day that rumors started to spread that he was on the trading block, coach Dale Hunter had Hamrlik as a healthy scratch in the team's 5-2 loss to the Senators on Wednesday night.

Before the game Hunter gave his reasoning to the Capitals media, explaining why Hamrlik was joining them in the press box.

"We need him playing better defensively," Hunter said. "He's a defensive defenseman and the way we mark scoring chances [against] he's been involved in too many of them. That's why he was sitting out and that's why [Jeff] Schultz was sitting out before him.

"[Hamrlik] is backing in way too much. He's letting [forwards] come through and they're hitting the second tier. Sitting out is a humbling experience. We all went through it. If you played hockey or any sport you sat out. You've just got to go to practice and work hard like he did today. Watch video and learn from it and when you get the chance play well."

Hamrlik was asked about the words of the coach and the scratch after the team's skate on Thursday and, well, he wasn't very coy. Quotes courtesy of Sky Kerstein of 106.7 the Fan in D.C.

Hamrlik said he hasn't talked to Hunter on why he didn't play, asked why he might not of been in "I don't know, you should ask him. You should ask him [Hunter] about the penalties because when he played I think he [Hunter] make lots of penalties in himself so he should know better.

"I know I take bad penalty, but if that's reason I didn't play, but it's his decision"

Well then. I'm not sure how exactly that compares to Alex Ovechkin's infamous words behind Bruce Boudreau's back earlier this season that many think played a massive role in Boudreau's dismissal, but a player almost challenging a coach publicly? Gee, if Boudreau lost control of the locker room, what does that say for Hunter?

As for the trade rumors, Hamrlik shot down any notion that he wanted out. From CSN Washington:

"Nothing I can do about it. I'm happy to be here and do my job. I don't have control over that. I hope I stay here and make the team better and help them make the playoffs. I don't have reason to leave."

Adding to the drama was Hunter's frank assessment of the play of Tomas Vokoun, who was pulled for the second consecutive game in favor of Michal Neuvirth.

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“Tomas would like a few of them back. He wasn’t as sharp as he should’ve been and it was in the back of our net,” the Caps’ coach said. “We were playing well and it’s one of these things where you get deflated. ... We outchanced them, but we need our goaltending better and Tomas wasn’t sharp tonight.

“Just can’t get off to a bad start like that. If somebody’s not playing as well as they should, you have to block more shots and cover up for him more.”

Vokoun's agent Allen Walsh, never shy to stick up for his clients, added a little to the drama in an oh-so-subtle way.

“I’m not going to comment directly on what someone may have said after a game,” Walsh said in a text message to the Washington Times. “I will point out though that hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.”

But Vokoun didn't add fuel to any fire, saying it's not personal and he'd prefer too that his stats were better.

On top of all of this, Alex Ovechkin is day to day with a lower-body injury and didn't suit up on Wednesday in Ottawa.

When the Caps hired Hunter to replace Boudreau earlier this season it wasn't perfectly clear but it sure sounded like it was for the rest of the season and then they'd go from there. Neither the coach or the franchise knew how the fit would go. It's kind of safe to assume now that Hunter's odds of returning to the OHL London Knights are going up by the day.

By the way, the Caps are still only two points out of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Thanks, Southeast Division.

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

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