Tag:Calgary Flames
Posted on: March 9, 2012 9:37 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 9:48 am
 

Pregame Skate: Southeast slug race crawls on

Florida just looked behind and saw the rest of the division on its heels. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame 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.

7 ET, Florida at Pittsburgh

The Panthers continue to go back and forth. One day you are thinking they are pretty secure in their playoff chances, the next they are getting blown out 5-0 on the road in Philadelphia as they were on Thursday.

As a matter of fact, this first-place team in the Southeast Division (really) has lost its last two road games by a combined score 0f 12-0. So really, the last thing they want to see on the schedule is the second half of a back-to-back being on the road at the Penguins. They're only 22-8-2 at home and have won seven straight, nothing too impressive.

Florida still does have the benefit of games in hand -- although they lose that tonight in their battle with the Capitals -- but their grip on the Southeast is no stranglehold. The Caps and Jets are just two behind them and the Lightning are five back with a home-heavy stretch to come.

You'd think they would have to start playing better beginning in Pittsburgh, but in all honesty they might not have to in the Southeast. A .500 finish could get them in and they have an even home/road split to the finish. But it certainly would behoove them to play better, that's for sure.

They have handled injuries all season in Florida, but the most recent one seems to hurt more than most have as leading scorer Kris Versteeg remains out with a hip injury.

9 ET, Winnipeg at Calgary

Two Canadian bubble teams, doesn't get a whole lot better in March than that.

The Jets are going to have to prove they can pick up points on the road if they are going to make the playoffs this season. After failing to do so on Thursday night in Vancouver, they have a bit better of a shot on Friday at the Flames. As mentioned above, they have a struggling division leader only two points ahead of them and others champing at the bit behind.

But the Flames are in a similar situation. They have the same point total at this point as the Jets but the race for eighth in the West is slightly better. Hey, I said slightly. Whereas the Jets are tied in points for that last spot, the Flames are three back. They also have two teams in between them and the Sharks.

This certainly isn't a loser-leave-town match (or in this case leave the playoff race) but it's a big opportunity for each to get points against beatable opponents. How else would you describe bubble teams this season?

7:30 ET, Los Angeles at Detroit

The L.A. Kings; the latest victims of the streaking Blue Jackets. Poor Jeff Carter just can't win when he's in Columbus.

If that challenge was tough, wait to see what the schedule has in store for them on Friday night: a trip to Hockeytown, USA and a date with the Red Wings. You wouldn't think that an optimal destination to pick up points in the race for eighth out West.

L.A. has seen a bit of an uptick in scoring recently but it is still mostly feast or famine for them. In the last seven games they have four wins and three losses. In each of the three losses they scored one goal, in each of the four wins they scored at least four. There's not a whole lot of middle ground there.

However, a win not only puts Los Angeles ahead of San Jose and into a playoff spot for the moment, it would actually pull the Kings even with the Coyotes at the same time in points and games. So not even a loss to Columbus could dash their hopes.

Others worth watching

8:30 ET, Rangers at Chicago: Here's the question I have: Can the Penguins actually catch the Rangers? By night's end Pittsburgh could be only four points back of New York. The Blackhawks will try to help revive the Atlantic race.

Your promised miscellany

  • Thursday's Winners & Losers
  • Speaking of those streaking Blue Jackets, coach Todd Richards sounds like he's enjoying the Jack Johnson-Jeff Carter swap. (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Jeremy Roenick remains not a big fan of Patrick Marleau's abilities with his old team in San Jose. (CSN Bay Area
  • Wait, now Don Cherry might be silenced by the NHL? Boy, the next Coach's Corner is going to be good. (Toronto Sun)
  • With this empty-netter last night, Max Pacioretty became the first American to score 30 in a season for the Canadiens. He's turned into quite a player.

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

Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:49 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 2:57 pm
 

The Playoffs have already started for Coyotes

CoyotesBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- After cruising through the month of February without a loss in regulation or overtime, the Phoenix Coyotes have hit a rut at the beginning of March, losing three consecutive games, including Monday's 2-1 decision in Pittsburgh.

For a team that's already in what it considers to be playoff mode, needing every win it can get along the way in what is a completely unpredictable and constantly changing playoff race, that's a tough, and potentially costly, stretch of games.

The Western Conference race is so close right now that the Coyotes dropped from the No. 3 seed, and the top spot in the Pacific Division, all the way down to the No. 7 seed, losing the top spot in the division due to a tiebreaker to the Dallas Stars -- a team that didn't even play on Monday night. Entering Tuesday's game in Columbus the Coyotes are just three points ahead of the ninth seeded Avalanche, and one of four teams, along with Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles, fighting for the Pacific Division crown.

Needless to say, it's a tight race.

After winning 11 of 12 games in February (the only loss came during a shootout in Vancouver), the Coyotes skyrocketed up the standings and had an opportunity late last week and over the weekend to continue their impressive run, only to drop home games to Calgary, and even worse, the Blue Jackets, the worst team in hockey for much of the season. It's turned into a small three-game losing streak that continued on Monday night, and slow starts have doomed them in each of the past three games.

They were out-chanced and outplayed for much of the game against the Flames on Thursday, and didn't start to generate any substantial or sustained offensive pressure against Columbus until mid-way through the third period on Saturday, at which point the game was already well in hand in favor of the Blue Jackets.

NHL Playoffs
2011 NHL Playoffs
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There are no such thing as moral victories in professional sports, and there can't be, especially when it's this late in the season and playoff spots are on the line (as forward Radim Vrbata put it on Monday night game, "Points are what count and tonight we didn't get any") but Monday's game at least felt like it was a step back in the right direction, and even though they came up short, the vibe in the Coyotes room after the game was that they probably deserved a better fate. Facing one of the top teams in the NHL, on the road, the Coyotes at least seemed to get back to the style of hockey that resulted in their near-perfect month of February.

"I thought our compete level was very good," said head coach Dave Tippett. "We did a lot of things hard in the hockey game, it's unfortunate we didn't get rewarded around the net a little more. We created some opportunities there we didn't capitalize on, but we gave them a couple outnumbered breaks and they capitalized, and it ended up being the difference in the game."

Added captain Shane Doan, "We felt we controlled the game for most of the night, and then we had some moments where they kind of found some momentum, but we played the game the way we wanted to."

It was one of those nights where they outplayed their opponent for much of the game, only to lose because the other goaltender simply stole one in what turned out to be a pretty impressive goaltender duel between Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Smith.

Smith, Phoenix's surprisingly strong and steady replacemen for Ilya Bryzgalov, seemed to be disappointed with his performance on Monday after giving up two early goals, including one to former Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek, and talked about his need to be better. But it would be difficult, if not impossible for him to be much better than he's been this season, seeing as how he's already been one of the best goalies in the NHL. The Coyotes don't need him to record a shutout every single game (which is what it would have required to win on Monday), they simply need more consistent offensive pressure and efforts like the one they received in Pittsburgh, even if it came in defeat.

If they play like that over their remaining 16 games, they're going to win a lot more than they lose.

So what's facing the Coyotes the rest of the way? Their remaining schedule is split evenly, with eight home games and eight road games, and eight games against teams that are currently in playoff spots and eight games against teams that are not currently in playoff spots. The biggest issue they have within the division, as of Tuesday, is that San Jose and Los Angeles still have games in hand, and while they have no remaining games with the Kings, they still have to play the Sharks three more times, including two in Phoenix, a series of matchups that could determine whether or not the Coyotes win the division, or perhaps miss the playoffs entirely.

Whether they make it or not, every game the rest of the way is essentially a playoff game anyway.

Said Smith, "They started a month ago for us."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 4, 2012 10:42 am
Edited on: March 4, 2012 2:03 pm
 

Pregame Skate: More big ones in Southeast, West

Florida hasn't had much if any luck with Ottawa of late. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame 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

6 ET, Ottawa at Florida

A pretty amazing thing has happened in the Southeast (that is until you remember it's the Southeast we're talking about here) and that is that it has become a four-team race. Through it all, the Panthers have held onto the lead atop the division but that's not really by their own doing.

Coming off a 3-1 loss to the Predators at home on Saturday, they make a quick turnaround and face the Ottawa Senators in Florida this evening. The problem? Florida can't beat Ottawa. The Sens have taken nine consecutive games in the series and five straight at BankAtlantic Center. That's not exactly inspiring when the Tampa Bay Lightning are suddenly breathing down their necks.

The odds still favor the Panthers to make the postseason with a greater than 70 percent chance at this point. Not quite as comforting as the 90 percent odds earlier this week. Realistically, though, the odds are sure starting to feel a lot lower than that.

It's about time they started to win on home ice if they want to return to the playoffs. In the last six home games they have played, they are a very disappointing 1-4-1, including a 6-2 shellacking by these same Senators. That's not going to cut it.

At this point, with the way the Sabres have come charging back to life as well, they might need to consider it Southeast Division or bust. And with it being a four-team race, it would be a good idea for them to start picking up points again.

7 ET, Philadelphia at Washington (NBC Sports Network)

One of those four teams in that Southeast Division race, the Washington Capitals, need some points just as bad if not worse than the Panthers do right now. That's because their target is as much the eighth seed as it is the Southeast lead. In that race they are still one point behind Winnipeg (with two fewer games played) but are just one point up on the Lightning and Sabres.

My, how interesting the East has become. It seemed just a few days ago like it was a nine-team race.

Just when things were starting to feel a little better in the nation's capital after three straight wins, the New Jersey Devils came into town and smacked them down to the tune of a 5-0 beating. They need to be able to rebound from that in a hurry with the Flyers coming to Verizon Center for the Sunday nightcap.

That shouldn't be an easy task. Philadelphia has been one of the league's best teams away from home this season. They are 20-11-2 away from Wells Fargo Center. Somewhat ironically, that's the same exact record as the Devils away from home. That would seem to be a bit ominous for the Caps in holding home ice today.

6 ET, Dallas at Calgary

Turning our eyes back to the race that has been this crazy all along, the West has another pivotal matchup when looking at that playoff push where it seems just about every team is in the hunt.

Somewhat lost across the league of late has been the play of the Stars, who have not only stormed into playoff position but can actually overtake the San Jose Sharks today in the West. Granted, games in hand and all of that, but it still speaks to how far Dallas has come in recent weeks (and how much San Jose has fallen).

The Flames meanwhile are one of those chasers of Dallas. That's why this is such a critical game. It's like any old division battle where it's described as a four-point game. Well, Dallas has the potential to build a somewhat formidable six-point advantage by the end of the night on Calgary or have it cut down to just two points on the Flames (never mind the Kings and Avalanche part of the equation).

What's interesting is that this is the first of three games between these two in the month of March. They will have a home-and-home near the end of the month as well. There is still plenty of chances for each of these teams to take their destiny into their own hands.

Others worth watching

12:30 ET, Boston at Rangers (NBC): Keep in mind, we highlight the games with meaningful impacts on the playoff race, not necessarily the best games of the day. If you want the latter, here you go, a classic matchup among two of the East's best. This comes as highly recommended viewing.

4 ET, Chicago at Detroit (NHL Network): See the above statement on the Rangers and Bruins and here you go. The Blackhawks have been able to regain a little footing and are slightly clear of the pack at the bottom of the West again but not many go into Detroit and pick up points.

7 ET, Colorado at Minnesota: Not to neglect the Avs here (and Wild to a small extent) as they are still in the playoff hunt here too. If they can get a win and the Flames keep the Stars pointless, Colorado will be just one point back. Minnesota comes in seven points back with three teams in between.

Your promised miscellany

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

Posted on: March 3, 2012 10:25 am
 

Pregame Skate: Randy Carlyle's Toronto debut

Carlyle

By: Adam Gretz

The Pregame 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

CanadiensMaple Leafs7 ET, Toronto at Montreal: Well, it is still technically a game in the playoff race, at least for Toronto, even though their chances appear to be hanging on be the tiniest of threads. And if the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, long-time bitter rivals, have anything in common this season it's that they both seem to be a complete, dysfunctional mess at the present time. Their meeting on Saturday night in Montreal will be the debut for new Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle after he was announced as the new bench boss on Friday evening, replacing Ron Wilson.

Is it a needed move to give the Maple Leafs a boost to get back into serious playoff contention? Or is it simply too little, too late for this season, and rearranging deck chairs on what looks to be a sinking ship?

Toronto has lost 10 of 11 entering Saturday's game, and suddenly finds itself behind Tampa Bay and Buffalo in the standings. The Maple Leafs haven't made the playoffs since the NHL came out of the lockout in 2005-06, and the only other team that can make that claim is the Florida Panthers, and their drought looks like it has a pretty good chance to come to an end this year.

CanucksSabres10 ET, Buffalo at Vancouver: Thanks to wins in five of their past six games, and a 10-3-3 mark in their past 16 games, the Buffalo Sabres are another team that's found a way to work their way back into the playoff picture, and a lot of that, at least recently, is due to the play of goaltender Ryan Miller.

The veteran netminder has had his share of struggles this season, but over the past couple of weeks he has been playing like he did back in 2010 when he was the best goalie in the league -- and the Olympics -- and at no time has he looked better than he has over his past two games, recording back-to-back shutouts in wins over Anaheim and San jose.

Over their past wins, which have been by a combined score of just 3-0, the Sabres have allowed Miller to be peppered by 82 shots (that's 41 per game), many of them quality chances, and he's turned aside every single one of them.

Over his past six starts he's allowed just seven goals.

The only thing at stake for the Canucks on Saturday night is ... well, pretty much nothing. Even if they lose they're still going to be the top team in the Western Conference.

DucksKings10:30 ET, Anaheim at Los Angeles: Just 24 hours after picking up a huge two points thanks to a 3-2 win against Calgary, due to a last-minute goal from Ryan Getzlaf, the Anaheim Ducks have to jump right back into it on Saturday night in Los Angeles against one of the many teams they're still chasing in the standings.

The Ducks enter the game four points behind Los Angeles, and still seven points behind Dallas for the final playoff spot in the West, and as has been the case for the past couple of months, and will be for the remainder of the regular season, this is a game the Ducks pretty much have to win if there is going to be any chance to complete this late-season comeback.

At least Friday's game finally moved them ahead of one team -- the Minnesota Wild -- putting them at 12th place in the West.

The Kings, meanwhile, are fresh off a 4-0 win in Minnesota and need the two points just as much as Anaheim does. After Saturday the Kings hit the road for five of their next six games, and it looks to be a brutal stretch of games that includes matchups with Nashville, Chicago, Detroit (twice) and another game with Anaheim.

Others worth watching
7 ET, Tampa Bay at Carolina: After knocking off the New York Rangers on Friday the Lightning have an opportunity to continue their own late season playoff push in Carolina, and just to show how completely bonkers the playoff race currently is, the Lightning still have an outside chance of winning the Southeast.

8 ET, Columbus at Phoenix: Another tight divisional race is out west in the Pacific, as the white-hot Coyotes enter Saturday's game against Columbus two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks. The Blue Jackets recently played the role of spoiler by blanking the Avalanche in Denver, and the Coyotes are coming off what was their first regulation loss since the end of January.

10:30 ET, St. Louis at San Jose: And the team chasing Phoenix, San Jose, has an important -- and tough -- home game against the toughest team in the league to score against, the St. Louis Blues. Good news for the Sharks: for as good as the Blues record is, they've been pretty mediocre away from home.

Your promised miscellany
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:59 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 1:00 am
 

Winners & Losers: Lightning stay alive



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

Tampa Bay Lightning: Perhaps we gave up on the Tampa Bay Lightning too soon, because after their 4-3 overtime win against the New York Rangers on Friday night they now find themselves in the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, just four points out of the final playoff spot with two games in hand on the Winnipeg Jets.

Hope is still alive, and, heck, they're even within striking distance of the first place Florida Panthers, trailing them by six points. And with the way that division has played out this season, especially over the past couple of months, anything appears to be possible, no matter how whacky or unbelievable it might seem.

Steven Stamkos also added to his league-leading goal total by scoring his 45th of the season.

[Related: Lightning 4, Rangers 3 -- Playoff Race -- Can Stamkos score 60 this season?]

Zach Parise and the Devils: A little bit of good news, and a little bit of bad news for Zach Parise and the New Jersey Devils on Friday. The good news is that Parise netted a hat trick in a 5-0 dismantling of the Capitals. The bad news, at least as it appeared to be initially, is that he was shaken up after he was sandwiched in a collission involving Brooks Laich and Matt Hendricks.

The Devils say that he's fine, but it still looked bad when it happened.

The win moves them ahead of the Ottawa Senators and into a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers for the No. 5 spot in the east.

[Related: Devils 5, Capitals 0]

Chicago Blackhawks: Perhaps the Blackhawks 2-1 win over the Senators can be the start of another streak. It's certainly been their theme over the past month, winning three, then losing nine, then winning four, then losing three and now winning two. Big challenge on Sunday against the Red Wings, though, but Friday's game was a big two points for a team that's fallen dangerously close to the playoff bubble.

[Related: Blackhawks 2, Senators 1]

Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf broke a 2-2 tie with less than a minute to play in the third period to give the Ducks a huge 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames. The Ducks still didn't gain any ground, points-wise, when it comes to catching up to a playoff spot (Dallas, the current team in the No. 8 spot, also won on Friday) but they were able to move ahead of at least one team for the time being, pulling ahead of Minnesota.

[Related Ducks 3, Flames 2]

Losers

Minnesota Wild offense: After having the best record in the NHL after 30 games the Wild have been one of the worst teams in the league ever since, and they looked every bit that bad on Friday night during a 6-0 loss in Detroit.

For most of the night it appeared as if there was some sort of invisible force field around the Red Wings end of the ice, preventing Minnesota from entering the zone and establishing any sort of attack time. For the night, the Wild generated just 19 shots on goal, and by my count, only four of them can be considered to be quality scoring chances.

Four of their shots came from beyond the blue line. That's not going to create goals.

By comparison, I have the Red Wings with 17 quality scoring chances. Tough night for the Wild.

[Related: Red Wings 6, Wild 0]

Washington Capitals: As mentinoed above, the Capitals were pretty much crushed in a game they needed -- which can be said for all of their remaining games, most likely -- and at home.  And with Tampa Bay's win, the Capitals now have even more company in the playoff race.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:05 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 3:56 pm
 

Pregame Skate: Caps have to take care of home ice

The Caps' next four games are at Verizon Center. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame 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

7 ET, New Jersey at Washington

You might think the Washington Capitals are in a good position to make the playoffs this season either as the eighth seed in the East or the Southeast Division championship. They are, they still have as good of a shot as any team in the hunt.

But it is pretty amazing how slim the margin of error is for this team at home. Considering they have been below .400 on the road and have nine more games away from home to go that include some very tough stops, winning at home is almost a must. They come into Friday night with 69 points on the season and have 10 home games left against the nine on the road. To get to a conservative estimate of reaching the playoffs of 90 points, you'd realistically think they need 15 or so points at home. Six more from the road gets them to 90, and that's no guarantee of getting in either.

So you can see that winning on home ice is imperative. And here in the second game of a crucial five-game homestand come the New Jersey Devils who, good news for the Caps, haven't been having a world of success lately. They have lost four in a row while the Caps have run off three consecutive wins.

The question coming into this game specifically is how much if any carryover Washington's win over the Islanders this week will have. Trailing 2-0 with less than four minutes left, the Caps came roaring back before Alex Ovechkin scored a classic Ovi snipe in overtime. It really might prove to be a season-saving comeback. But not if they don't keep the good things going from that.

It's worth noting that the Caps should be well-rested having not played since Tuesday while the Devils are on the back end of a back-to-back, losing to Boston in overtime on Thursday.

9:30 ET, Dallas at Edmonton

The Stars maintained their leg up on the rest of the playoff-chasing pack through Thursday's game and continue to hold eighth place by themselves. In fact, if they can get the win tonight against the Oilers, they will tie the Sharks for seventh in the West (but will remain eighth by virtue of games played).

But they can't just waltz into Edmonton thinking that two points are theirs for the taking. When you look at the potential spoiler teams across the league in the stretch run, the Oilers might be the scariest of the admittedly limited number of teams.

They have supreme young offensive talent and the problem with young talent is that it is so often inconsistent. You never know when the Oilers are going to score four or more on you. The point is, the Stars aren't guaranteed anything tonight.

If the Stars do come away with two points they will create a little buffer between themselves and the pursuers, potentially taking a three-point lead.

10 ET, Calgary at Anaheim

In what might have been a make-or-break game for the Flames on Thursday night in Phoenix, they became the first team in literally a month to beat the Coyotes outright. On the road no less. Consider the hope alive for the Flames.

But they get no rest in trying to keep it going by visiting the Ducks tonight. I still do have a tough time with the fact that the Flames are right here, but they are. A win and a Stars loss would actually put the Flames into a tie with Dallas (albeit with one more game played).

Their opponent, meanwhile, is losing its grip fast on their hopes. There is no room for error for the Ducks right now if they hope to overcome longs that seem longer than Toronto's Stanley Cup drought. The night begins with them seven points back of the Stars, who we already detailed are in action. So at best they are five points back of a playoff spot at the end of the night, at worst they're nine back and you can pretty much officially write them off at that point.

That's what makes this time of season so fun to watch. You have some serious desperation in most of the games being played and this one will be no different. Makes for some exiting hockey.

Others worth watching

7:30 ET, Rangers at Tampa Bay: This has little to do with the Rangers (except the Presidents' Trophy race). They pretty much already have the East's No. 1 seed wrapped up already. The question is if the Lightning can do what Buffalo has done and crawl back into the conversation.

7:30 ET, Minnesota at Detroit: Detroit is not only fighting for the Presidents' Trophy but the Central Division crown. The Wild though are one of those desperate teams trying so hard to right now hang on to hope.

7:30 ET, Chicago at Ottawa: A tricky important game. But teams are in the playoffs slightly comfortably at the moment but at the low side in each conference and a failure to pick up points starts to make things a little more interesting. And there is the little subplot of Ray Emery's return to Ottawa.

Your promised miscellany

  • Thursday's Winners & Losers
  • Great news: Jean Beliveau's wife says the Habs legend is progressing well in his stroke recovery. (NHL.com)
  • The Wings are going to be without Nicklas Lidstrom in their two games this weekend. (NHL.com)
  • It's been rough for James van Riemsdyk since he got that extension last summer. Now he has a broken foot after blocking a shot. (@NHLFlyers)
  • There wasn't much Florida could take out of a 7-0 trouncing by the Jets last night. But at least Erik Gudbranson delivered one heck of a check.

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

Posted on: March 1, 2012 9:53 am
Edited on: March 1, 2012 10:01 am
 

Morning Skate: Sabres creeping back in

Miller has wins in four of his last five starts. (US Presswire)

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

10:30 ET, Buffalo at San Jose

Well would you look at that, the Buffalo Sabres are back in the conversation. Somewhat miraculously it's true.

Ryan Miller is showing flashes of the goaltender America came to know two years ago. He's been up to the quality we've come to expect from him in recent games, including Wednesday's shutout of the not-long-ago streaking Anaheim Ducks. As a result -- and of the East's struggle at the bottom -- the Sabres begin the day only five points back of Washington.

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it's time to remind everybody that the chances still aren't good and that's a lot of ground to make up still. According to Sports Club Stats, the odds the Sabres make the postseason are still only 4.1 percent. A win tonight in San Jose, however, then we're talking. They would hop two teams and move into 10th place, just three behind Washington (and we'll wait to see what Winnipeg does).

The Sharks meanwhile are still fighting for a playoff spot that is in no way guaranteed to be theirs right now. They just grabbed a huge 1-0 win over the Flyers the other night in San Jose to give them a little breathing room from the eighth-place chasers.

8 ET, Florida at Winnipeg

The Panthers are one of the rare teams that have had success this season in Winnipeg. They have played their twice and won both times. In those two games, Kris Versteeg scored five goals. To put that into context, he has 22 on the season, so nearly 1/4 of his goals have come at MTS Centre despite play 2/59 of his games there.

So the good news for the Jets? Versteeg won't be playing. That's a huge plus for a team that really needs this game at home. Winnipeg enters the night with four fewer points despite three more games played. Win this one and the Panthers stay within reach, fail to pick up any points and, well, that gets to be a big task.

But luckily for the Jets, the eighth seed in the East is still available too. They enter the night one point behind Washington there and can jump back into playoff position by the end of the evening. Again though, they have all those games in hand. That's why their margin for error is so slim, they need to pick up 2/3 of the points available the rest of the season to have a good shot.

9 ET, Calgary at Phoenix

The good news for the Flames as they head to face the Coyotes? The calendar no longer shows February. Phoenix was literally unbeatable (in regulation) for the month going 11-0-1 which included a comeback win in Calgary a week ago.

With that game a key culprit in the equation, the Flames have been slipping lately despite playing a home-heavy schedule. Perhaps getting away from home -- however unlikely that is -- might help them get back on track. It's about time they do if they want to keep in the conversation. Because right now they are four points back of being in with two teams in between them.

And it's not a terribly big secret why the Flames have lost four in a row. Miikka Kiprusoff can only be superman back there for so long. Without him it's hard to picture Calgary still being in the race. In the last four games, however, he has given up 15 goals as well as picking up a loss in two shootouts.

On the other side they face the hottest goaltender this side of ... well anywhere. You can already write Mike Smith's name in pen for the first start of the month of February. He was 11-0-0 in the month. My word.

Others worth watching

10 ET, St. Louis at Vancouver: Hoooo boy, this should be a good win. By virtue of a tie-breaker, these are the top two teams in the Western Conference. Heck, if the Blues win, they're in the lead for the Presidents' Trophy. Plus they have four straight wins on the road. Buckle up.

9 ET, Columbus at Colorado: The Blue Jackets might be out of it, but the Avalanche certainly aren't. They have the opportunity to move into the eighth spot in the West tonight. Pretty remarkable for a team that has been as streaky as they have.

7 ET, New Jersey at Boston: There isn't a whole lot here on the Devils' end. They are somewhat comfy in, but they'd like to start winning again to feel a little better. The Bruins actually find themselves in a division race. They have been mediocre (yes, really) for well over a month now.

Your promised miscellany

  • Wednesday's Winners & Losers
  • Rangers captain Ryan Callahan might be out for the Rangers' game against the Hurricanes tonight. (Rangers Rants)
  • A look through the mirrors back to an age of smoking in hockey. (SI)
  • The Ducks' slim playoff chances are getting even slimmer now and the team is showing some frustration. (O.C. Register)
  • ECHL coach Nick Vitucci lost his mind with the officials and went on one hell of a tirade. (Puck Daddy)

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

Posted on: February 27, 2012 11:55 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 12:31 am
 

Winners & Losers: Avs get big win, others miss

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.

Playoff Race

This isn't the trade deadline winners & losers (those are right here!) but from the winners & losers from the actual games that were played.

Winners

1. Colorado Avalanche

They are the one and only team that gets to land on the winner's side tonight. They were the only team who really needed it that scored a big win, taking down the Ducks in Colorado. And just in case there were any hopes left, probably ending Anaheim's playoff hopes in the process.

That deal that the Avs swung for Steve Downie has paid some nice dividends early. In the now four games he's played with his new team, Downie has himself two goals and five assists after notching two helpers on Monday night. Not so bad for a guy not exactly known for his scoring prowess.

With the win the Avs are back on the streaking side as they moved into a tie with the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They hold the ninth spot based on playing one more game than Dallas thus far, but with the rest of the West contenders for that last spot falling on Monday night, it's a very big two points.

[Related: Avalanche 4, Ducks 1]

Arnott's head dress. (Jeremy Rutherford)

2. Jason Arnott

The veteran Blues center had two goals to help the Blues take care of the the Flames in Calgary on Monday, arguably the top performer of the night.

With the win the Blues actually climbed back to .500 on the road this season. They've been very good at home and not near as much on the road, but they just rattled off their third road win in a row, perhaps taking care of one of the remaining questions about their ability to win in the postseason.

Perhaps more importantly is the fact that Arnott donned the Weenie Hat for his postgame interview with the media.

Like a lot of teams, the Blues have a postgame award that they hand out to the player of the game. The Rangers have the Broadway Hat, the Blackhawks have the championship belt, etc. The Blues did have a hard hat in exchange for the Weenie Hat.

NHL locker rooms really are fun places after wins.

3. Matt Duchene

The Avs already made the list on the winner side, but I had to include Duchene here.

Duchene gets the award for goal of the night by swatting in the bouncing puck saucered his way by Paul Stastny to give the Avs the insurance goal.

I'm going to take a guess and say Duchene played some baseball growing up. Great hand-eye coordination to finish that one off.

Losers

1. Viewers of Rangers and Devils

Oh sure, Henrik Lundqvist had another shutout and Martin Brodeur only gave up one goal. We could be lauding them for their fine performances. We would, if either had broken a sweat.

Lundqvist pitched a shutout, but the Devils only managed a measly 13 shots. In the entire game. The Rangers meanwhile only had 15. And one of those came on Ryan Callahan's empty-net goal.

Not even the hatred between the two teams could really make up for the general lack of excitement with the game itself being played. Things were just a little clogged up. Not that I blame either team for the way they play, it's just when their two styles come together it doesn't make for incredibly exciting hockey. This game had twice as many goals as their previous meeting.

[Related: Rangers 2, Devils 0 | Video: Clarkson's charge on Dubinsky]

2. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are in the middle of a long homestand that has allowed them to get back in the Southeast Division race. They've been great on home ice all season in front of their rabid fan base.

That's why it hurts so much to lose to the Edmonton Oilers at home. Having played more games than anybody in the NHL, that's a perfect example of the game they have to win if they want to make the playoffs. Instead, they gave up four consecutive goals to Edmonton in the third period, the second worst team in the NHL record wise.

As a result, they remain two points back of Florida in the Southeast despite having played four more games than the Panthers. They do hold on to the eighth spot in the East but that too is very tenuous.

[Related: Oilers 5, Jets 3]

3. Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames

Each team is on the outside looking in for the last playoff spot in the West and both came up empty on Monday night.

Granted, each was playing one of the monsters of the Central Division, but the end result is the failure to get points out of the games.

It's particularly painful for Calgary, which lost another game at home, falling to the Blues. General manager Jay Feaster guaranteed to TSN earlier this week that his team will make the playoffs. Well if they're going to do that they need to win these games at home, of which they have a lot down the stretch run.

The Kings meanwhile were only able to muster one goal, and it came in the closing minutes. It's been the story for them all season, one which the acquisition of Jeff Carter is supposed to take care of, or at least help. But again, we'll grant them the stiff competition in the Predators and particularly Pekka Rinne. He's been pretty good lately.

[Related: Predators 2, Kings 1 | Blues 3, Flames 1]

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