Around the NHL at the All-Star break

Around the NHL at the All-Star break

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011
Posted 8:38 p.m.

By Kevin Kurz

The first half of the NHL season has featured some surprising developments, some unsurprising ones, and another comeback attempt by Peter Forsberg.

Heres a quick look around the league as it shuts down for its annual Olympics-or-All-Star break.
Biggest surprise (team): Tampa Bay Lightning

When your biggest offseason acquisition is in the front office, its usually a sign that your team is in for a long season. Thats not the case in Tampa Bay, though, as NHL legend Steve Yzerman has turned the Lightning into a contender right away. It helps when you have the next NHL superstar (and leagues leading scorer) in Steven Stamkos, of course, but fellow forward Martin St. Louis is having a resurgence as the Lightning enter the break with a five-game winning streak and a four- point lead on Washington for first place in the Southeast Division. Veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson was a savvy pickup by Yzerman, and dont be surprised to see the Lightning make some noise in the postseason.
Honorable mention: Dallas Stars

You have to feel for the Dallas Stars, who are quietly leading the ultra-competitive Pacific Division yet struggling to fill their beautiful arena. No matter to Brad Richards and Kari Lehtonen, though, as the forward and goaltender look like they are primed to help end a two-year playoff drought for Texas only NHL team.
Biggest disappointment (team): New Jersey Devils
This ones easy. The Devils signed prized free agent Ilya Kovalchuk to a 100 million contract in the offseason and looked like a strong contender for their fourth Stanley Cup, but they have been anything but instead entering the break with the fewest points in the league. The team has gotten a little bit better now that Jacques Lemaire has returned and re-installed his sleep-inducing defensive system, and even Kovalchuk is starting to produce, but their season is essentially over.
Honorable mention: San Jose Sharks
The Western Conference regular season champions the last two seasons, the San Jose Sharks are fighting just to stay in the playoff race. A 4-0-1 stretch before the All-Star break offers some hope, but it came only after a six-game losing streak threatened to derail their season altogether. Rob Blakes retirement left a huge void on the blue line that was never filled, and the so-called Big Three of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau are all off of their career scoring averages. There is some hope, however, as rookie Logan Couture looks like a future star and goalie Antti Niemi has played very well for the past two months.

Biggest surprise (player): Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens were roundly criticized for trading playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis in the offseason, thereby handing the reigns to Price between the pipes. Price, though, who previously looked like a victim of the tremendous pressure heaped upon him by playing in the hockey capital of North America (sorry Toronto), has been outstanding. His 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage at the break earned him an All-Star berth, but more importantly, he has the Canadiens in good position to challenge Boston for the Northeast Division crown.
Biggest disappointment (player): Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs

Kovalchuk would be the easy pick here, but it already feels like hes old news. Instead, lets go with the Maple Leafs captain, defenseman Dion Phaneuf. The big blueliner was acquired by Toronto last season in the hopes that his defensive presence and leadership skills would lead the Maple Leafs back to the playoffs for the first time since before the lockout. Well, better luck next year. Toronto is on its way to another long offseason, and while Phaneuf can still hit hard and be an effective player in his own zone, he has a paltry one goal and 10 assists in 33 games.
Rising star: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

On a team full of offensive stars, the Flyers Claude Giroux may possess the most pure ability. Giroux can do it all shoot, pass, defend and contribute on special teams. He leads the first-place Flyers with 47 points (tied with Mike Richards) and has made a number of dazzling, highlight-reel plays that seem to suggest that the 23-year-old will be an NHL star for many years to come.

Falling star: Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

Martin Brodeurs numbers are obviously somewhat of an extension of how bad his Devils have been as a whole, but he hasnt done anything to help the cause, either. In fact, backup Johan Hedberg has even started back-to-back games for the Devils with a healthy Brodeur on the bench something unheard of in Brodeurs heyday. The future Hall of Fame goaltender make look back upon the second half of last season and subsequent first round playoff defeat last April as the beginning of the end to a brilliant career.

Second half storylines:
Will the defending Cup champs turn it around?

Sure, theyve been hampered by injuries throughout the year, but the Chicago Blackhawks have been a portrait of inconsistency this season. They already had to deal with a huge roster turnover from their championship team, but they still have enough talent on both ends of the ice to make another run this season. With names like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, dont count them out. They could be the one team no one in the West wants to face come postseason time.Will Sidney Crosby return to form after his concussion?

Sidney Crosby has been, undoubtedly, the best player in the NHL this season. But the fact that hes been out of the lineup for most of the month of January with a concussion has to be concerning for the Penguins (and for the NHL, which endlessly promotes his every move while overlooking some of the games other starsbut I digress). Crosby doesnt have any sort of history when it comes to head injuries, so theres not much reason to believe he wont pick up where he left off before he got hurt. Thats the thing when it comes to concussions, though they are terribly unpredictable.

Will Peter Forsberg return?

Its a shame that Peter Forsbergs name has become a punch line in the last few years, what with his multitude of comebacks always falling by the wayside. Hes again attempting to get back into the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, and it might even happen. Even so, it may be painful to watch him try and regain his form from years past, if he ever makes it back into game action (see 2010 Olympics, in which he had one assist in four games).

Will the Capitals start scoring again?

The NHL leaders for most of last season thanks to a non-stop attack on offense, the Washington Capitals have inexplicably struggled to find the back of the net. That includes Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who have a combined 10 goals in the last 25 games heading into the break (nine by Ovechkin). Its safe to say that no one expected the Caps to be tied for 17th in the NHL at this point in the year, with just 2.71 goals per game.

Can the Flyers and Canucks keep up their torrid pace?

Stanley Cups arent won in January, and thats likely the message that coaches Peter Laviolette and Alain Vigneault will give their respective clubs coming out of the break. Right now, however, theres little disputing that these are the two best teams in hockey right now. Philadelphia has arguably the deepest offense and deepest defense in the Eastern Conference, while the Canucks are led by Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who are in the prime of their careers and are nothing short of magical on the ice together. Seeing these two teams battle in the Stanley Cup Finals is a distinct possibility.

Trevor van Riemsdyk out about a month as Blackhawks host Toronto

Trevor van Riemsdyk out about a month as Blackhawks host Toronto

Trevor van Riemsdyk will miss about a month with an upper-body injury he sustained in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to Columbus on Friday night.

Van Riemsdyk was injured late in the second period when he slid into the net, his right arm/shoulder colliding with the post. Coach Joel Quenneville said van Riemsdyk’s injury, as of now, doesn’t require surgery. Quenneville wasn’t sure if van Riemsdyk would be put on injured reserve. The defenseman played all 82 games for the Blackhawks last season but had injury problems prior to that.

In good news, Marian Hossa is now “likely” to play Saturday night, Quenneville said. Hossa has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury he sustained on Tuesday night.

Scott Darling will get the start vs. the Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks have had an up-and-down start to the season. Once again, their penalty kill hasn’t helped. It allowed two more goals to the Blue Jackets and has now allowed 11 through the first five games.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“We can’t say much about our PK right now. It’s definitely a sore spot and it’s almost like let’s look at it as a fresh beginning and look at trying to get through one kill, and the first 20 seconds get through that rotation,” Quenneville said. “Let’s take baby steps in our approach, whether it’s a four-man pressure, denying entries or up-ice pressure, in the shooting lanes, make sure we’re clearing, all the things that go into it. It’s been tough right now and certainly we have to repair it and fix it tonight.”

Meanwhile, there’s nothing new to report on Andrew Desjardins, who suffered a lower-body injury in the Blackhawks’ preseason finale in St. Louis. Quenneville said it’ll still be a few weeks until Desjardins skates.


Time: 6 p.m.


Radio: WGN

Projected lineups


Tyler Motte-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Ryan Hartman-Nick Schmaltz-Marian Hossa

Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling-Brian Campbell

Scott Darling

Injuries: Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body), Andrew Desjardins (lower body)

Toronto Maple Leafs

William Nylander-Auston Matthews-Zach Hyman

James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Mitchell Marner

Milan Michalek-Nazem Kadri-Leo Komarov

Matt Martin-Peter Holland-Connor Brown

Morgan Rielly-Connor Carrick

Jake Gardiner-Roman Polak

Matt Hunwick-Nikita Zaitsev

Frederik Andersen

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Same mistakes resurface

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Same mistakes resurface

COLUMBUS, Ohio – We’ll save you some time tonight. The Blackhawks lost another one in familiar fashion. You can guess what our focus will be, so let’s get right to it.

Here are Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

1. We’re trying not to pick on the penalty kill again, but… it cost them again. The Blackhawks gave up their 10th and 11th power-play goals in their first five games on Friday night. Opponents are planting themselves in front of Corey Crawford and, be it screens or tips, they’re capitalizing. Long-distance shots are getting through far too often. “I think our focus always has to be 5-on-5. When our effort and our energy and our work ethic is there it usually translates into our special teams and I don’t know. It’s frustrating," Jonathan Toews said. "We definitely have to keep pushing to find a solution. Even when it seems like we’re doing a good job bounces go against us. We deserve all the criticism and we just have to keep finding ways, dig deep and really try to dig ourselves out of this thing.”

2. The seven-defenseman set. Quenneville didn’t want Trevor van Riemsdyk sitting out too long, and for a few days it looked like Brian Campbell was going to be the odd-man out tonight. Instead the Blackhawks went with seven, which gave them the chance to rotate and put Campbell back on his natural left. With that, however, the forward lines were naturally skewed. Patrick Kane played nearly 29 minutes. Quenneville said earlier this season that it wouldn’t be something the Blackhawks would try often. Speaking of van Riemsdyk…

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Van Riemsdyk hurt again. You have to feel for van Riemsdyk. He finally got healthy last season playing in all 82 games after knee and wrist injuries sidelined him the previous one. Now it looks like he’ll be out again after he went hard into the net late in the second period. Van Riemsdyk got tangled up and his right arm/shoulder collided with the post.

4. Tyler Motte gets his first. The University of Michigan product scored his first career NHL goal, a rebound off a Toews shot in the second period. Considering the game’s outcome, however, Motte’s enthusiasm was tempered. “It was exciting. It felt good to chip in offensively but obviously the real story is us losing another game,” he said. “We were better in the offensive zone but there are still some things to improve on. The most important thing is winning games.”

5. Brandon Saad great but stymied. The former Blackhawks left wing had some tremendous scoring opportunities on Friday. He had a team-high seven shots, most high quality, but Crawford stopped him every time. Just in case anyone needed a reminder of what the kid is capable of, regardless of which sweater he’s wearing.