Tag:Morning Skate
Posted on: March 1, 2012 9:53 am
Edited on: March 1, 2012 10:01 am
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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 29, 2012 10:17 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 10:29 am
 

Morning Skate: Stars keep playoff push going

The Stars go searching for a fifth straight win. (Getty Images)

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

7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Dallas (NBC Sports Network)

The teams in the Atlantic Division (excluding the Islanders) are in an interesting spot here. Barring a miracle, they aren't going to catch the Rangers but none of them is fighting for their playoff lives either. Maybe New Jersey has to worry if they lose a few more -- maybe -- but they're six points up on ninth-place Winnipeg. So they're left playing big games seeing that it's playoff push time and all, but nothing all that impactful.

But you find ways to make them meaningful. For example, only one non-division winner is going host a first-round playoff series as the four seed. That's no doubt worth playing for. And that's what the Penguins are going after right now.

Their opponents on Wednesday night, however, have a lot greater sense of desperation. That's because the Stars enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the West (holding the tie-breaker with a game in hand). Dallas would be thinking about hopping into the division race if the Coyotes weren't hotter than the Phoenix summers. They have won four straight games and have gained no ground on the Coyotes.

Now none of the above means the Penguins are going to come coasting into the game while the Stars come guns a blazin'. They wouldn't be in the position their in if they did that ever. In today's NHL you can't do that against any team. It's just something to remember if you notice a difference in "compete level."

It also marks, by the way, the first time that James Neal has come back to Dallas to face his old team (and Matt Niskanen, of course). Seeing the season that Neal is having with his brand new contract extension has to be a little painful for the Dallas faithful thinking of what could have been.

Oh and don't forget about Evgeni Malkin. He has five goals and two assists in his last three games. I hear he's good.

8 ET, Toronto at Chicago

This game should be sponsored by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Free Falling could be the theme song.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tail spin that Chuck Yeager would have a hard time pulling out of. They've lost five in a row, most in ugly fashion. They've lost nine of their last 10 games. The fans are chanting for the coach to be fired. They are on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff race, going into tonight's game four points behind eighth-place Washington. The Leafs are as close right now to 14th in the East as they are eighth.

Well OK, I guess it's a pretty typical end of February in Canada's biggest city.

But let's not forget about America's Second City here and Chicago. They are going through their own swoon. They have only four wins in their last 16 games and bring a three-game losing streak into the battle with the Leafs.

If they were to get no points tonight, the Blackhawks would legitimately have to start worrying about being on the playoff bubble. Right now they are only three points up on teams 8-10 and will have played more games than all of them. When teams come into Chicago this out of sorts, the Blackhawks need to be able to deliver the next blow.

I'm not sure who is more desperate for the two points tonight.

Others worth watching

9:30 ET, St. Louis at Edmonton: The Blues are in fight for the Central Division crown with the Red Wings and have finally found their form on the road. They've won three straight away from home but the Oilers seem like a perfect team to play spoiler the rest of the way.

10 ET, Buffalo at Anaheim: To be frank, but of these teams is all but done in the playoff race. It would be remarkable if either made it in. But I'm still going to dub this a "loser leave town" match. Don't win this game and you can definitely forget about it.

Your promised miscellany

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

Posted on: February 28, 2012 10:02 am
Edited on: February 28, 2012 2:09 pm
 

Morning Skate: Playoff outcasts meet in Toronto

Florida and Toronto haven't made the playoffs post-lockout. (Getty Images)

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

7 ET, Florida at Toronto

Considering how the last six years have gone in the NHL, it's pretty amazing to think that we're talking about this game and playoff implications at the end of February. They are the only two franchises not to see the postseason in that stretch.

And there is certainly no guarantee both or even one are going to get in this go-round. That's especially true when talking about the Maple Leafs. In playoff position almost all season long, they have hit hard times in the month of February. The goalies are a mess (so it is still like the previous six years in Toronto). All told, the Leafs have lost four in a row and eight of their last nine. Their last regulation win? Feb. 6 vs. Edmonton.

Now they're three points back of Winnipeg (with three games in hand, mind you) and two behind Washington in the battle for that last playoff spot (five behind Florida if the Panthers fall out of the Southeast lead).

The Panthers this season, by the way, are 10-2-2 against Canadian teams. Not that that means all too much. But they're 2-0-0 against the Leafs including a 5-1 win in Toronto at the beginning of the season. And they've won three consecutive on the road.

Florida is guaranteed to be in first place still by the end of the night. But if they want to take their first Southeast crown in franchise history they'll need to win games like this against struggling teams like Toronto.

My question: Who will Capitals fans be rooting for while they're team plays the Islanders? The only way they're happy is as long as it's not a three-point game.

8 ET: Los Angeles at Minnesota

It's the same story, different day for Minnesota. If they lose you have to think they're done in the playoff race. I seem to write it all the time these days and every time they pull off the win. But chasing so many teams in the logjam ahead of them they aren't gaining much traction.

One of those teams ahead of them is in town on Tuesday night, so that helps. Especially when that team has about as hard a time scoring as the Wild. Actually harder, but they have a new addition in L.A. who is supposed to help out that department.

Coming into the night, the Wild continue to hang on by their chinny chin chin. They are five points back of the Stars and Avalanche who are tied with 70 points in the eighth spot. They're three back of the Kings. They have games in hand entering the night on all of them. So, you know, have to make those games count and all that, otherwise they're missed opportunities.

For the Wild keen an eye on veteran Matt Cullen. It might just be coincidental but he didn't have a single point in the Wild's seven-game losing streak but has scored a goal in three of the last four games. They are 3-1 in those games. I'll let you guess which one they lost.

10:30 ET, Philadelphia at San Jose

Welcome back home, Sharks. It must be nice to be swimming in friendly waters again after more than two weeks straight on the road. Philly is waiting for you.

San Jose's nine-game jaunt that began Feb. 12 in St. Louis wasn't very kind to them. They won only two of those games picking up five points in total. They lost a late lead in the final game and they're coach Todd McLellan was knocked out of the game by a fluke play near the bench. Oh, and they lost first place in the Pacific Division to the Coyotes.

So yeah, it's probably very nice to be back home.

And while they have to be tuckered out after playing that final road game on Sunday evening in Minnesota, the Flyers are going to be a well-rested group who has had some extra time to enjoy the sites of San Francisco and the Bay Area, having last played on Saturday in Calgary.

Philadelphia is comfortably in the playoffs, its fight is for the No. 4 seed. But San Jose? You will start to wonder if they're going to even make it here pretty soon if they lose tonight. I'm not saying it's panic time, it's certainly not. A road trip like that is brutal. But if they fail to get any points tonight, they will remain just one point ahead of the two teams in eighth. That starts making it pretty interesting.

Others worth watching

9 ET, Vancouver at Phoenix: Arguably the two hottest teams in the league right now (and not much argument for anybody else) this is a huge measuring stick game for the Coyotes. If they get at least one point tonight they will have earned a point in every game in the month of February. Only once so far have they failed to get two points this month -- a shootout loss to the Canucks, no less.

7 ET, Ottawa at Boston: These two renew acquaintances after the weekend's hotly contested game in Ottawa, a Bruins win. The spread is three in the division for the B's with games in hand, so head to head is Ottawa's best chance to gain ground. Look for some fireworks after last game and Kyle Turris' hit on Joe Corvo that avoided supplemental discipline.

7 ET, Islanders at Washington: Interestingly enough, the Isles are the only team from the Eastern Conference the Capitals haven't beaten this season. This is their third crack at them. With just one point the Caps vault into the eighth spot in the East with the Jets, two points give them the No. 8 spot all to themselves.

Your promised miscellany

  • Check out our brand new Facebook page and like us, because we like you!
  • Monday's Winners & Losers
  • After the Jets allowed four unanswered goals to the Oilers at home last night, Kyle Wellwod called it the "worst loss of the year." (Winnipeg Sun)
  • Did Cody Hodgson ask for a trade out of Vancouver? Canucks GM Mike Gillis won't say one way or the other. (The Province)
  • Sheldon Souray is back and it means the return of one of the best nicknames I've seen this season: Studly Wonderbomb. (Dallas Morning News)
  • Think Mike Mottau is happy to be a Bruin? “I always said that I’d take a puck in the teeth to play for the Boston Bruins,” said Mottau. “Now I’ll get that chance.” (CSN New England)
  • Lastly, here's a pretty neat inside look at what happens when NHL teams make a trade and the call they make to the league, this one the Hodgson-Zack Kassian swap. (Also, note that the Sabres and Canucks made two separate deals, Alexander Sulzer and Marc-Andre Gragnani were technically their own trade.)

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

Posted on: February 27, 2012 9:16 am
Edited on: February 27, 2012 9:20 am
 

Morning Skate: close to a must win for Ducks, Avs

Ducks

By: Adam Gretz


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

DucksAvalanche9 PM, Anaheim vs. Colorado

All eyes will be on the NHL trade deadline on Monday, but it's also a huge day in the NHL playoff race.

It's hard to say a game at this point in the season is a "must win" for any team, but if the Anaheim Ducks are going to find a way to pull off this miraculous comeback (and that's really what it would be) to make the playoffs they're going to have to win games like this, against one of the many teams they're still chasing. Preferably in regulation. The Ducks enter Monday's game in Colorado four points behind the Avalanche in the standings, and still six points behind Dallas for the No. 8 (and final) playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Anaheim is coming off yet another win on Sunday night, knocking off the Blackhawks by a 3-1 margin, and have won seven of its past 10 games. Despite all of the Ducks wins over the past month-and-a-half it's been difficult for them to gain any significant ground or move up in the standings. With a win on Monday the Ducks can jump ahead of the Minnesota Wild to move into 12th place in the West.

It's still going to take a ton of work, and Monday's game is one of the big ones.

It's also a big game for the Avs, who also remain in the jumbled mess that is the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race, and a win could move them into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot.

PredatorsKings8 PM, Los Angeles vs. Nashville

Another team that could move into a tie on Monday night? The Los Angeles Kings, fresh off their 4-0 win on Saturday night in what was Jeff Carter's debut with the club. He didn't make an impact on the scoreboard, but Dustin Brown stepped up after his name was mentioned in trade rumors, recording a hat trick and a four-point game.

It was only the fourth time in their past 17 games that the Kings, the lowest-scoring team in the league, scored more than three goals in a single game. So that was a bit of a rarity, and perhaps a sign that the addition of Carter, a top goal-scorer in the NHL over the past few years, can open some things up for other players on the team. If nothing else, it was a nice start.

It's going to get a bit tougher on Monday night as they head into Nashville to face Pekka Rinne and the always stout Predators defense, and a team that's still fighting for potential home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

This is also the first of three meetings for these teams over the next three weeks. So they better get familiar with one another.

BluesFlames9 PM, St. Louis at Calgary

After losing four of their past five, including a shootout loss against Philadelphia on Saturday, a game that saw them blow a 3-0 lead, the Calgary Flames could really use a win on Monday night when the St. Louis Blues come to town. And while a matchup with the Blues, one of the top teams in the West, doesn't seem like a favorable matchup to get back in the W column, the Blues have done most of their damage this season on home ice.

On the road, where they will be on Monday to continue what is a four-game road trip, they've been a losing team this season and carry a 12-13-3 record into Calgary, which is the second worst road record (behind only Chicago) among the current playoff teams in the West.

Others worth watching

7:30 ET, New York Rangers vs. New Jersey: It's always fun when the Rangers and Devils get together and they continue their rivalry on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. The Devils have won two of the first three meetings this season.

8:30 ET, Winnipeg vs. Edmonton: With a win against Edmonton the Winnipeg Jets can, once again, take over first place in the back-and-forth crazy world that is the NHL's Souteast Division.

Your promised miscellany
Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 26, 2012 10:18 am
Edited on: February 26, 2012 12:00 pm
 

Morning Skate: Sharks, Wild meet desperate for W

Marleau and San Jose are in Minnesota. (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

6 ET, San Jose at Minnesota

Here's a bit of a shocker: The San Jose Sharks wake up Sunday morning in seventh place in the Western Conference, only three points up on the three-way tie for eighth place. A nine-game road trip can do that to a team.

Those numbers are slightly skewed. The Sharks are the only team in spots 1-11 in the West that have played fewer than 62 games and the only team in the conference thus far who has played only 60. So there are games in hand on others in the picture, including the Coyotes, who now lead the Pacific Division outright.

That's why the final game of the trip today is a big one. Those games in hand mean nada if they aren't converted into points. They can't really afford to let the Coyotes get some separation in the division race with how incredibly hot they have been lately.

For the Wild, it means just staying in the race for that eighth seed. The magic number is more or less five points. If you fall any further behind that, the chances of coming back become very long. The Wild enter Sunday's game five points behind that logjam for eighth. The home games need to turn into two points for them.

With San Jose having lost eight of their last 11 games -- and the division lead -- it means we should have two desperate hockey teams on Sunday evening. Sounds like fun.

5 ET, Montreal at Florida

The Florida Panthers scored an absolutely huge win on Saturday night in Raleigh, taking down the Hurricanes in a shootout, 3-2. They were down 2-0 until Tomas Fleischmann hit for a score with 6:02 left and new addition Wojtek Wolski tied it with under two to play. It was Florida's third straight win on the road and vaulted them back into first in the Southeast while keeping games in hand on everybody else.

Ironically enough, while they have won three in a row on the road, they have lost four straight at home. That has to change if Florida wants to see the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

This represents the first chance a team in the Southeast Division will have a shot at reaching 70 points on the season, too. Oof. But at least Florida has played fewer games than any team, so they need to use these games in hand (four on Winnipeg, two on Washington) to push themselves back ahead of the division.

With Montreal coming to town, it's a perfect opportunity. The Canadiens have not won a game in regulation in their last six tries. The only win in that time came in a shootout four games ago. They enter today's matchup having scored two goals in the last three games, all losses.

But you can bet the Habs fans will still fill up the seats in Florida. It never quite feels like a road game for Montreal when it is in Sunrise. South Florida is a popular winter destination for the Quebecois, so Habs-Panthers is one of the rare tough tickets at the BankAtlantic Center.

3 ET, Vancouver at Dallas

That aforementioned logjam in the West? The Stars are part of it. By virtue of the tie-breakers at this point, the Stars are actually the team in the playoffs if they were to start today. Not too bad for a team that still seems to be a seller before tomorrow's trade deadline.

The Stars come into the game on a little roll, having won three in a row including Friday's 4-1 victory over the Wild. But the Canucks are a whole different cup of tea.

Vancouver has taken a lead on the Red Wings and Rangers in the Presidents' Trophy race and it would like to stay up there. The Northwest Division is damn near mathematically locked up already, they're up 18 points on Colorado. But that best record in the league is something worth fighting for, so this isn't a team that's already put it on cruise control.

Others worth watching

7 ET, Chicago at Anaheim: The up-and-down Blackhawks take on the desperate and hot Ducks. An Anaheim win could pull it within four of the eighth spot out West depending on results.

1 ET, Tampa Bay at New Jersey: It looked like the Lightning might have a little life a week ago, but not so much anymore. The Devils, though, are still fighting for that fourth spot in the East.

5 ET, Islanders at Ottawa: The above description of the Lightning describes the Islanders. The Senators are pretty safely in but still have an outside shot at the Northeast Division.

1 ET, Columbus at Pittsburgh: They most intriguing thing about this game -- other than how many points Evgeni Malkin can accumulate -- is if this is Rick Nash's final game with the Blue Jackets.

Your promised miscellany

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

Posted on: February 25, 2012 9:21 am
Edited on: February 25, 2012 9:25 am
 

Morning Skate: Caps look to solve road woes

Ovechkin

By: Adam Gretz


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

CapitalsMaple Leafs7:00 ET, Washington at Toronto

The two teams currently sitting just outside of the playoff picture in the nine and ten spots meet at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, and both are in need of a crucial two points. The Maple Leafs have lost three games in a row and are struggling to find some consistent goaltending.

The Capitals, meanwhile, are playing in the back end of a back-to-back situation and need to find a way to solve their road woes, as they're a completely different team away from the Verizon Center.

At home, the Capitals have more wins (and a better record) than any other team in the Eastern Conference with a 20-8-2 mark. On the road? Just 10-18-3. The only teams in the East that have fewer road wins are the Lightning and Hurricanes (also Southeast Division teams).

SenatorsBruins7:00 ET, Boston at Ottawa

Who would have guessed back in October that a game between the Bruins and Senators in late February would have an impact on the race for first place in the Northeast Division? Entering Saturday's game in Ottawa the Senators trail the Bruins by just three points in the standings, though, the Bruins do have three games in hand. Still, this is the first of two meetings between the teams this week and they still have another meeting, in Ottawa, on April 5.

Perhaps the Bruins will simply take care of business and open up a more comfortable lead in the division, but Boston has been struggling recently and has only won four games in the month of February. Even worse, the Bruins haven't won consecutive games since Jan 10-12 when they knocked off the Canadiens and Jets in back-to-back games.

The Senators, on the other hand, come into Saturday's game on a roll having won four straight and five of their past six, with the only loss on that stretch coming in overtime against Edmonton. During their recent winning streak they've outscored their opponents 21-4, and defenseman Erik Karlsson has continued to pile up the points, now leading all defensemen with  60.

The issue facing the Senators, however, will be the absence of goaltender Craig Anderson, their workhorse this season, after he injured his hand at home following their most recent win on Wednesday night.

KingsBlackhawks8 ET, Chicago at Los Angeles

As always this season, the question for the Kings comes down to whether or not they can score enough to win. Actually, it's not necessarily a question of whether or not they can score enough to win, but whether or not they can actually score. At all.

In 11 games in the month of February the Kings have scored just 18 goals. Total. That's just 1.6 goals per game, which is ridiculously low, even for a team that's at the bottom of the league in goal-scoring for the season.

Not surprisingly, the Kings have won just three games this month (two of them against Columbus and Tampa Bay, teams currently out of the playoff picture) and only two of their past 10.

Perhaps the reunion of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter is what the Kings need to generate some offense. Any offense.

Others worth watching

1 ET, Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: The Lightning may not make the playoffs, but Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh will feature Evgeni Malkin going up against Steve Stamkos as the players enter tied for the league lead in scoring.

2 ET, St. Louis at Winnipeg: The Jets look to hold on to their top spot in the Southeast Division and have to do so against one of the best teams in the NHL. Fortunately for the Jets, home ice has been very kind to them this season.

10 ET, Philadelphia at Calgary: Philadelphia needs a win to make up for that ugly loss in Edmonton on Thursday, while the Flames need a win just to keep pace with the other bubble teams in the West.

Your promised miscellany
Photo: Getty Images

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 10:01 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:40 am
 

Morning Skate: Playoff ramifications galore


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.

In this day and age with only two teams -- two! -- in the entire NHL being more than 10 points out of a playoff spot, it's hard to find a game on the schedule that isn't carrying a huge impact on the playoff picture. Save for Edmonton playing Columbus, they all have an impact.

That holds even if you have two teams hanging on by life support. Which is just what is on the schedule on Thursday night.

7 ET, Anaheim at Carolina: This is pretty much hockey's equivalent of a loser leave town match. The Hurricanes are eight points back of a playoff position, the Ducks are six back. So, you know, you can't lose this game if you want to stay in the conversation.

To be sure, both face very long odds. More specifically, the 'Canes have a 2.94 percent chance of seeing the postseason according to sportsclubstats.com while the Ducks have a 5.52 percentage.

For Anaheim it brings an end to one hellacious road trip that has been going since what feels like the All-Star break. And they've done very well on it until their last momentum-killing game, a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And Carolina? Well they are actually starting to brim with confidence. They just smacked down the Capitals 5-0 -- then again, who isn't these days? -- and are finally getting the expected production from Eric Staal.

So we have two teams near (or at, in Carolina's case in the East) the bottom of the standings playing some of the best hockey in the league. The game is make or break for both. Should be fun.

7 ET, San Jose at Toronto: The Maple Leafs are still in the thick of the futility battle that is the race for eighth in the East/the Southeast Division. It's like everybody has hit a slump together, giving hope to teams that once appeared on the outs. Toronto is no different.

The goaltending was looking good not long ago. Now Leafs fans are begging for help. They are 1-5-1 in the last seven games. In the last six games -- one OT win in there -- they have yielded 27 goals. That's 4.5 per game. They need to take advantage of the home games they have left, starting tonight.

The Sharks, meanwhile, find themselves actually in a battle for the Pacific Division crown. As of now, they are tied with the surging Coyotes. Now the Sharks do have two games in hand on Phoenix, but those do you no good if you don't win them.

On their own whirlwind road trip, the Sharks are riding a four-game losing streak, three in a row without points. Apparently they think the race for eighth looks so interesting they thought they might play their way into it. As of now, they are only three points up on that eighth spot, but again, have games in hand.

7:30 ET, Vancouver at Detroit: Here's the game of the night without a doubt. Neither team is fighting for their playoff lives, instead they are fighting each other for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Oh, and there is something about a 23-game home winning streak being on the line for the Red Wings? I suppose that might garner some interest here too.

But in reality this game is massive on many levels. In addition to the two-point discrepancy between the teams in the standings, it would do the Canucks a world of good to knock off Detroit at the Joe, prove to themselves that they can do it in case it comes up again at playoff time.

Unfortunately for the Wings -- and fans -- Pavel Datsyuk won't be in the lineup for the Wings, sitting out a couple weeks after having his knee scoped.

9 ET, Phoenix at Calgary: This is the West battle being waged in Calgary right here. The Coyotes have been on fire, winning eight of their last nine games and shooting into not only seventh place in the West but in a tie with the Sharks in the Pacific. And they just added Antoine Vermette.

If Phoenix takes two points tonight, you start to wonder if they can prepare for some playoff games in the desert again. Of course that's no guarantee, but they'd be in one good position for it.

But don't sleep on the Flames. They enter the day in ninth place, one back of the Kings and this will be their one game in hand. Here's what makes the Flames a real threat for a playoff berth, if you can believe that. They have 22 games remaining, 14 of them come at home. That's as favorable as any playoff hopeful down the stretch run.

Also worth watching: The Panthers host the Wild with Florida still clinging to the Southeast lead and Minnesota still clinging to their playoff hopes.

The Blues and Predators renew acquaintances in their continued battle for that crucial fourth seed in the West. The Preds have just owned the Blues this season.

The Stars visit the Blackhawks where Chicago has reeled off four in a row after the nine-game losing streak. Dallas is another team that's hanging within striking distance in the West.

The Lightning visit the Jets with Winnipeg entering in a tie for both the Southeast lead and the eighth spot in the East. They need to win these games since they've played more than any team. But the Lightning are still clawing, hanging five points back of the playoffs.

Your promised miscellany

  • Capitals coach Dale Hunter was hard on goaltender Tomas Vokoun after Washington's second big loss in a row on Wednesday. Of course, without Vokoun, there's no telling how low the Caps would be this season. He's been good for them the majority of the season. (Washington Times)
  • Here's a good read from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun about the always interesting P.K. Subban of the Canadiens. (ESPN.com)
  • Now this is entertaining. Check out Maxime Talbot of the Flyers taking on a fan in a Just Dance 3 challenge at the team's recent fair. (Puck Daddy)
  • While Milan Michalek scored one very pretty goal against the Capitals, Mathieu Perreault had one ugly goal that tried to make him ugly (the puck went in off his face). Guess what? They both counted as one score.

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