Mar 272012
 

As we wind down the 2011-12 NHL season, it’s only fitting to take a moment and pay our respects to the “dearly departed” – those teams we know will be golfing in a couple of weeks.

Here now is a quick look at each of the teams looking ahead to 2012-13 already,  in reverse order of today’s standings.

Columbus Blue Jackets

What went wrong: Pretty much everything. James Wisniewski’s 8-game suspension crippled the team out of the gate. Coach Scott Arniel tried switching his team’s approach from an aggressive to conservative style mid-season, but the results were too poor to save his job. Jeff Carter was injured for much of his time in Columbus, and looked like a pout on skates when he did play.  Oh, and Steve Mason is currently ranked 77th amongst NHL goalies in goals against average (3.43).

What went right: Unlike Jeff Carter, Jack Johnson has embraced being a Blue Jacket, and has 10 points in 15 Columbus games. He still has the potential to turn this difficult trade into a real win for the Blue Jackets. Derick Brassard has quietly led the team in scoring since the All-Star Game (20 pts in 27 games).

Off-Season Gameplan: Address the goaltending issues that have hampered the franchise for most of its existence and make peace with Rick Nash. Trading Nash would kill the franchise. If this means firing GM Scott Howson, so be it.

Montreal Canadiens

What went wrong: The front office went insane, firing assistant coaches within hours of game time and throwing Randy Cunneyworth under the bus for his unilingualism. Top veterans Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri struggled, rendering a pop-gun offense useless for most of the first-half. And while Carey Price played well, even his numbers were slightly off from last season.

What went right: The Canadiens have embraced their youth as the season’s moved on. Max Pacioretty looks like a top NHL power forward. David Desharnais is second in team scoring since the All-Star Game (22 points in 26 games) and will be Montreal’s defacto second line centre next season. The physical Alex Emelin could be an interesting compliment to Andrei Markov in a top pairing. Lars Eller continues to develop and will flirt with 20 goals this year. Of the veterans, Eric Cole reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in five years.

Off-Season Gameplan: Draft a talented Russian, whether it’s Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko, with their highest pick since selecting Mike Komisarek seventh overall in 2001. Alex Kovalev flourished in Montreal, where the fans embraced his offensive flair. There’s no reason to believe that magic can’t happen again.

Edmonton Oilers

What went wrong: Nothing really went wrong – this team is probably as bad as they should be, especially given the injuries they’ve accrued. Of those injuries, the one to Ryan Whitney was the most damaging, as it exposed a very shallow blueline group. Nik Khabibulin has played worse as the season’s gone on, and he may be moved in the off-season. Eric Belanger is having his worst season as a pro, but he has partially solved the team’s faceoff problems.

What went right: Jordan Eberle does look like a young Dany Heatley and should be a Lady Byng candidate this season. The other super kids, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, both look like they have top-20 NHL player potential. Devyn Dubnyk has a .918 save percentage since the All-Star Game. Sam Gagner continues to show flashes of top-six talent, and leads the team with a +8 rating. Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry have had terrific second halves. The pieces on this team are really starting to come together.

Off-Season Gameplan: Not much needs to be done upfront, but it’s the defense that needs tinkering. Another top-4 defenseman, or a youngster (draft pick) with top-pairing talent should be a priority. Help for Dubnyk would be an asset as well.

Minnesota Wild

What went wrong: Minnesota’s lack of offensive depth was exposed by injuries to Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikko Koivu. As a result, just like the Habs, a slight weakening of the team’s defensive play was enough to sewer the Wild’s playoff chances. The Wild might not have a 25-goal scorer this season. Josh Harding has had a disappointing second half (2 wins in 10 games, a .904 save percentage).

What went right:  Despite some historically low numbers, Dany Heatley has been a more competitive player with the Wild than he was in San Jose or Ottawa. Jared Spurgeon has played well enough that the Wild could trade Nick Schultz. Nik Backstrom has been his usual solid self.

Off-Season Gameplan: Bring on the kids. Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle could both see top-six roles in the NHL next season, bringing much needed offensive talent to the Wild roster. The Wild should also be in the running for a lottery pick in a draft that is loaded with quality defenseman. Beyond the influx of youth, Zach Parise should be targetted if he hits unrestricted free agency. It’s the type of move that would not only help the team, but would satiate restless Wild fans who feel the franchise has been spinning its wheels.

New York Islanders

What went wrong: For the Islanders to take the next step they need to work on their 5-on-5 play. They’ve ranked near the bottom of this category all year. Michael Grabner suffered from the sophomore slump (16 goals). One has to ask whether his skating talents can continue to flourish in a league where hooking and holding has crept back into play. Heralded rookie Nino Niederreiter has suffered through a lost season on the Island, with just one assist in 49 games. He’s averaged fourth-line minutes to boot.

What went right: John Tavares took another step towards greatness, improving his strength and speed and looking on many nights like a future Art Ross candidate. As Tavares has blossomed he’s lifted his linemates to new heights – Matt Moulson may reach 40 goals this year and P.A. Parenteau will have more than 50 assists. Together they have given the Islanders a dynamic first line, which is usually enough to fight for a playoff spot. New York’s powerplay has also been good all year, and Evgeni Nabokov has given the Islanders good goaltending on a nightly basis.

Off-Season Gameplan: GM Garth Snow should make resigning P.A. Parenteau a priority. Given the misuse of Nino Niederreiter this season, one wonders if the Islanders still see him as a top-six talent. If not, moving him could net a solid return. Continuing to build offensive depth, and acquiring a solid, stay-at-home top-four defenseman, should also be on New York’s shopping list. A few tweaks and this team will fight for a playoff spot next year.

Toronto Maple Leafs

What went wrong: The Leafs gambled on James Reimer and it came up snake eyes. As a result, the run-and-gun Leafs have given up goals by the bushel, eventually costing coach Ron Wilson his job. The defensive depth hasn’t materialized, with Mike Komisarek looking AHL-bound, John-Michael Liles frequently swimming out of position in his own zone and Luke Schenn regressing in his fourth season. In a broader sense, GM Brian Burke’s rebuild hasn’t gone well either – compared to the team he inherited, the Leafs are only better in a few areas (top-line wingers; top-two defensemen; more prospects). Otherwise this team looks a lot like the 2008-09 team that was jettisoned out of town. None of the replacements, particularly those acquired through free agency, have been actual upgrades.

What went right: All due respect to Tyler Seguin, but Phil Kessel remains the better player in that trade and will likely finish top-5 in league scoring. He is Mike Gartner 2.0. Healthy for the first time and stronger than ever before, Joffrey Lupul established himself as a top-line winger and compliment to Kessel, playing in the All-Star Game before getting hurt. Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarson have emerged as potential top-four defenseman, with Gardiner in particular showing flashes of offensive prowess.

Off-Season Gameplan: It’s a make-or-break off-season for GM Brian Burke. New coach Randy Carlyle demands a conservative style of play this roster wasn’t built for, which means major changes could be afoot. A lottery pick would be beneficial, as the Leafs could use a top-line talent to go with the complimentary-type players drafted in previous seasons. However, the most important move the team could make this summer is to solidify their goaltending position. Whether it’s taking Roberto Luongo off of Vancouver’s hands (I know, NTC), grabbing one of the “elite” young goaltenders (Josh Harding, Corey Schneider, Jonathan Bernier), or making a play for Jaroslav Halak. The Leafs won’t make the playoffs next year without a solution in net.

Anaheim Ducks

What went wrong: The Ducks just dug themselves too deep a hole. Whereas last year the team found its game amidst rumours the players had turned on coach Randy Carlyle, Anaheim couldn’t do the same this season, eventually leading to Carlyle’s firing. In particular, Jonas Hiller struggled early, and captain Ryan Getzlaf has had a nightmare season (one goal since the All Star Game).  Sophomore Cam Fowler has also struggled (-24 on the year).

What went right: The team has responded to coach Bruce Boudreau, and a full season under his direction should see the Ducks return to the post-season. Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan have performed well for coach “Gabby.” Sheldon Brookbank has done a good job as the sixth defenseman, while Toni Lydman remains one of the better defensive defenseman in the league.

Off-Season Gameplan: Signs point to Selanne returning, which means the Ducks core remains as good as any in the NHL. Devante Smith-Pelley will likely have a top-six role to lose in training camp, but the Ducks could really use an upgrade at second-line centre. Impending free agent Saku Koivu can’t adequately fill that role anymore. Some veteran grit to the third and fourth lines would help as well.

Carolina Hurricanes:

What went wrong: Terrible starts to the season from Cam Ward and Eric Staal effectively put the Hurricanes behind the eight-ball. An injury to Joni Pitkanen – the team’s best offensive defenseman – didn’t help either. Carolina’s special teams, particularly the penalty kill, have been among the league’s weakest. No team gives up more shots-per-game than Carolina. Jeff Skinner hasn’t been the same player since returning from injury.

What went right: Surprisingly, Jiri Tlusty has had a strong second-half, placing second in team scoring (18 points in 22 games). Tim Gleason has been a beast defensively and remains one of the most underrated blueliners in the game. Chad LaRose will flirt with 20 goals this year. Staal’s been terrific since about December.

Off-Season Gameplan: With some solid youngsters up-front in the pipeline (Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk), what Carolina could really use is a veteran defenseman. Rumours that the Hurricanes are interested in Ryan Suter if he becomes a free agent underscore this belief. With the offense essentially living-or-dying on the Eric Staal’s back (shades of the 1990s Toronto Maple Leafs and Mats Sundin), Carolina has to hope Jeff Skinner rebounds next year.   

Tampa Bay Lightning

What went wrong: The clock struck midnight on the pumpkin named Dwayne Roloson, as the veteran netminder has been arguably the NHL’s worst goalie all year. The team’s blueline hasn’t played as well as last season either, with Eric Brewer in particular not living up to his playoff performance. With only four goals and averaging just 11-odd minutes of ice-time, one wonders if Brett Connolly’s development has been hurt playing in the NHL this season. Marc-Andre Bergeron’s injury meant the Lightning went most of the year without a true poweplay threat from the point. The penalty killing has struggled.

What went right: Steven Stamkos remains the league’s elite sniper, and should pick up the Richard Trophy for his 50+ goal efforts this season. Victor Hedman has had a strong second-half (+4, 10 points in 22 games), as has Teddy Purcell (33 points in 27 games). The latter is noteworthy, since it’s been done in Vincent Lecavalier’s absence.

Off-Season Gameplan: Goaltending. Tampa Bay doesn’t really have any, and needs to find it in the off-season. Beyond that a solid defenseman in the draft would go a long way to shoring up the blueline for the future. Offensive depth would be the third priority, particularly given that Martin St. Louis will be 37 next year.

Mar 192012
 

[Every week, Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead.  You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]

The Canucks head out for a 4-game road trip this week. After a lacklustre 3-4 homestand, including this past week’s 5-4 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, in which they blew an early 2-goal lead, and 4-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the game against the Blue Jackets, the Canucks got off to a slow start, but fueled by the fans, who were loud and involved throughout the game, they turned it around and won thanks to some stellar play by the AMEX line, a couple of goals by Daniel Sedin and a Bobby Orr-like rush and goal by Alex Edler.

Canucks Record

71 GP, 43-20-8, 94 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

After seemingly taking a while to get back into his groove after his knee injury, David Booth is currently riding a 3-game point streak (2G-1A-3P).

Speaking of which, Booth shed some light on his knee injury on Saturday. He told Scott Oake that it was more serious than thought, and that he actually fractured his knee, which resulted in a longer recovery time.

Well, his hard work looks to be paying off and Booth has nicely complemented Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins on the AMEX line.

Who’s Not

Since shutting out the St. Louis Blues in the 1st game of the Canucks’ 7-game homestand, Roberto Luongo has lost his last 4 starts. In those 4 games, he allowed 16 goals on 103 shots (0.844 save %).

While it’s easy to point the finger squarely at Luo, Canucks Nation needs to remember that the team in front of him has not played up to par in the last couple of months. No one is denying that he’s let in a few soft goals, but it’s not completely fair to place the blame for the not-so-successful homestand on him; he is the scapegoat far too often. In fact, before this homestand, Luo was the primary reason the Canucks have been able to stay near the top of the NHL standings; since sitting out the Boston game to the start of the homestand, he had a 10-3-4 record in 17 games and posted a 0.929 save %.

Who’s Next

Monday, March 19, 2012 vs. Minnesota Wild (5:00 PM start, away)

It’s hard to believe that the Minnesota Wild was leading almost halfway through the season. But after a 20-7-3 start, the Wild’s season has taken a turn for the worse. They’ve won just 9 games of their last 41 games – a 9-25-7 record – and now sit 14 points out of a playoff spot and in 28th place in the league. Their current losing streak is at 3 games and they have a 1-6-1 record in March.

This will be the 6th and final meeting between the two teams; Vancouver has won 4 of the previous 5 matchups.

In the season series, Daniel Sedin has feasted on the Wild this season with 10 points (3G-7A) to lead all skaters. Devin Setoguchi leads the Wild with 4 points (2G-2A).

Dany Heatley is leading the Wild in goals (20) and points (46) this season. However, he is also on pace for his worst season offensively, not including the 2003-2004 season where he only played 31 games.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 vs. Chicago Blackhawks (5:00 PM start, away)

One of the greatest rivalries in the NHL will resume at the Madhouse on Madison as the Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks meet for the final time in the regular season. The Canucks lead the season series with 2 wins in their first 3 games. They have an 11-6-2 record against Central Division opponents this season.

Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goals for the Hawks in their only win against the Canucks back on November 16. Henrik Sedin leads the Canucks with 6 points (1G-5A).

Marian Hossa leads the Hawks in assists (42) and points (70). He’s recorded at least a point in 7 of his last 9 games (4G-7A-11P) and has 18 points (8G-10A) in his last 17 games.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 vs. Dallas Stars (5:30 PM start, away)

The Dallas Stars are currently on a 2-game losing streak, though prior to that, they went 10-0-1. They currently lead the Pacific Division – 1 point ahead of the San Jose Sharks – and sit in 3rd place in the Western Conference.

They’ve had a lot of success against Northwest Division opponents this season, posting a 12-3-0 record against them so far. This will be the 3rd meeting between the Canucks and Stars in just over 3 weeks with the Stars having won both previous meetings, including a decisive 5-2 win in their last meeting at Rogers Arena.

Mike Ribeiro leads all skaters in the season series with 5 points (3G-2A); Chris Higgins leads the Canucks with 4 points (1G-3A).

Loui Eriksson has 7 goals and 8 assists in his last 12 games. He leads the Stars in assists (40), points (65), and also has a team best plus-20 rating.

Saturday, March 24, 2012 vs. Colorado Avalanche (7:00 PM start, away)

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Colorado Avalanche are making a strong push for the post-season. Since acquiring Steve Downie from the Tampa Bay Lightning, they have a 10-3-1 record, including at least a point in their last 5 games (4-0-1). They currently sit in 7th place in a very competitive Western Conference, though teams below them have games in hand so anything can happen in their remaining 8 games.

The Avalanche will look for their first win against the Canucks this season. The boys in blue have dominated the season series, winning the first 4 games of the season series by a combined 15-3 score. Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo each have a shutout against the Avs.

Rookie Gabriel Landeskog leads the Avs with 21 goals and is tied for second in points (47); he also has the best plus/minus rating on the team (plus-20).

Jan 172012
 

At the end of the 20-game mark, I took a look at the “real” NHL standings in the East and West.

Now that every team has played their 40th game, it’s time to even the playing field once again and see what’s really been going on in the NHL.

Last time, I made special mention of a team’s special teams, goals for and goals against performance for the season.

This time, to learn a bit more about an individual team’s strengths and weaknesses, each squad was ranked in six categories*:

  • Goals for (GF) and shots-for (SHF) were chosen to evaluate a team’s offense;
  • Goals against (GA) and shots-against (SHA) were chosen to evaluate a team’s defensive play;
  • Five-on-five (5-on-5) was chosen to evaluate a team’s even-strength/system play;
  • Save percentage (SVPCT) was chosen to evaluate the team’s goaltending performance.

Teams were then ranked and put into groups of five, with those ranking 1-5 in each category designated “great,” 6-10 “good,” 11-15 “above average,” 16-20 “below average,” 21-25 “poor,” 26-30 “awful.”

(* – Stats were taken as of Thursday, January 12th, once all teams had played their 40th game.)

The Western Conference After 40 Games:

1. San Jose Sharks (53 points)
Games 21-40: 3rd in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 1st in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Above Average / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great

Notes: One of the most complete teams in the NHL and one of the toughest teams at 5-on-5 (tied with St. Louis for 3rd overall). Surprisingly, Michal Handzus (1 goal, 10 assists) had almost as many points as Joe Thornton (3 goals, 11 assists) in the second quarter. Martin Havlat, who found a way to hurt himself hopping the boards onto the ice, has been a bust.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (52 points)
Games 21-40: 5th in Conference (25 points)
Games 1-20: 3rd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good

Notes: This is a team getting it done with offense, as the penalty kill and goaltending have been inconsistent all season. Marian Hossa (20 pts in the second quarter) looks like he’s five-years younger. Secondary scoring was absent in games 21-40. Dave Bolland (3 goals), Viktor Stalberg (4 goals) and Michael Frolik (2 goals) struggled.

3. Vancouver Canucks (51 points)
Games 21-40: 1st in Conference (30 points)
Games 1-20: 11th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good

Notes: A dominant second quarter revealed the Canucks look ready again for a long playoff run. Ryan Kesler was almost a point-per-game player in December (14 points in 15 games). For all the fan criticism, Keith Ballard was +10 in the second quarter.

4. Detroit Red Wings (51 points)
Games 21-40: 4th in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 5th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great

Notes: Those of us waiting for the Red Wings to collapse into a rebuild will probably wait forever, as it looks like Valtteri Filppula (9 goals, 18 points in the second quarter) and Jiri Hudler (9 goals, 16 points) have finally established themselves as scoring threats. Meanwhile, Pavel Datsyuk (24 points) and Henrik Zetterberg (just 4 goals but 20 points) keep rolling. Interestingly, Nicklas Lidstrom had a pedestrian games 21-40 (2 goals, 7 points).

5. St. Louis Blues (51 points)
Games 21-40: 2nd in Conference (29 points)
Games 1-20: 9th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Great / GF: Below Average / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Good

Notes: It didn’t take long for the Blues to play Hitchcock hockey did it? Sure, St. Louis still has trouble scoring, but the powerplay’s improving (9.2% in the first quarter, 18% during the second quarter). Meanwhile, the Blues goalie tandem was dynamite in games 21-40. Both Brian Elliott (7-4, 1.91 goals against, .931 save percentage) and Jaroslav Halak (6-0-3, 1.95 goals against, .929 save percentage) played like all-stars.

6. Minnesota Wild (48 points)
Games 21-40: 11th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 2nd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Awful / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful

Notes: It seems pretty clear that amazing start to the season was built on a house of cards – there’s a lot not working in Minnesota. After a hot start, Niklas Backstrom has been average lately (.908 save percentage in December), while the team’s goals against in the second quarter was almost a full goal higher than the first quarter (from 1.98 to 2.75).

7. Dallas Stars (47 points)
Games 21-40: 8th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 7th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Awful / GF: Above Average / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Below Average

Notes: The Stars will be one of the teams in the Western Conference fighting tooth-and-nail for a final playoff spot. After a great start, Sheldon Souray was cooling off in the second quarter prior to his injury (3 assists, -1 in 14 games). Meanwhile, Stephane Robidas was a -6 during games 21-40. In Kari Lehtonen’s absence, Richard Bachman was solid (2.56 goals against, .917 save percentage) while Andrew Raycroft was not (3.49 goals against since November 23rd).

8. Nashville Predators (46 points)
Games 21-40: 10th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 6th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful

Notes: Another team trending downward thanks to disappointing goaltending play. Pekke Renne was rather human for games 21-40 (2.95 goals against, .904 save percentage). Rookie Craig Smith had just 1 goal in the second quarter, while Patric Hornqvist had 2.

9. Los Angeles Kings (45 points)
Games 21-40: 9th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 8th in Conference (23 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Good

Notes: During the second quarter, the Kings only scored three or more goals four times. Stats like that are why coaches get fired. Simon Gagne went goalless for December (2 assist in 12 games), while Jack Johnson was -6 during games 21-40. The team desperately needs a sniper – do they have enough to put into a package for Zach Parise? Goaltender Jonathan Bernier would have to be in the mix.

10. Colorado Avalanche (43 points)
Games 21-40:6th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 12th in Conference (19 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Good / GF: Poor / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average

Notes: For being a young, skating team, the Avalanche sure have a tough time scoring. Youngsters Matt Duchene (3 goals, 8 points), Paul Stastny (5 goals, 8 points) and David Jones (2 assists) all struggled in the second quarter.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (42 points)
Games 21-40: 12th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 4th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Poor / GF: Poor / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average

Notes: Pretty easy to see why they fell so far in the second quarter – Mike Smith returned back to earth (13 games, 5 wins, 3.38 goals against, .894 save percentage). Key forwards Shane Doan (3 goals, -7) and Martin Hanzel (2 goals) were MIA during games 21-40.

12. Calgary Flames (41 points)
Games 21-40: 7th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 13th in Conference (17 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Awful / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Poor

Notes: It hasn’t been a great season in Calgary, but the Flames were a playoff team during the second quarter. One of the reasons was an improved powerplay, which helped the team score enough to win games. Naturally, Jarome Iginla was at the centre of this improvement (9 goals, 21 points, +7 in 20 games), although Olli Jokinen was right behind (7 goals, 19 points, +2). In the absence of Mark Giordano, Derek Smith stepped up (9 points), leading all Flames defensemen in scoring in the second quarter.

13. Edmonton Oilers (35 points)
Games 21-40: 15th in Conference (13 points)
Games 1-20: 10th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Awful

Notes: Introducing the worst team in the Western Conference during the second quarter. Yes, their defense is AHL-caliber, but some blame on the Oilers’ collapse should fall on the shoulders of the team’s veterans. Shawn Horcoff (4 goals, -8) and Ales Hemsky (2 goals, -4) underperformed, while Ryan Smyth (4 goals, 12 points, +2) was only marginally better.

14. Anaheim Ducks (30 points)
Games 21-40: 14th in Conference (14 points)
Games 1-20: 14th in Conference (16 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Below Average / GF: Poor / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Awful

Notes: The fabulous core of the Ducks got rolling in the second quarter. Teemu Selanne (7 goals, 20 points), Corey Perry (11 goals, 21 points), Bobby Ryan (10 goals, 16 points) and Ryan Getzlaf (3 goals, 15 points) sparked the offense. However, a lack of depth and poor goaltending (Jonas Hiller had a 3.32 goals against and .892 save percentage in games 21-40) has kept Anaheim near the bottom of the Western Conference.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (27 points)
Games 21-40: 13th in Conference (15 points)
Games 1-20: 15th in Conference (12 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average

Notes: At the time of this study, Columbus was one of only six teams with a team save percentage under .900 (they were at .894). For what it’s worth, league average at the time was .912. Players playing their way out of town: Antoine Vermette (3 goals, 2 assists in the second quarter); Derick Brassard (2 goals, 5 assists); and Vinny Prospel (2 goals, 10 points). Could someone explain how keeping Ryan Johansen in the NHL (2 goals, 4 assists during games 21-40) is helping him develop into a top-six NHL forward?

Jan 022012
 

[Every week, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead.  You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing.)]

The Canucks looked to end 2011 with a California sweep, unfortunately they just fell short due to a poor effort against the Los Angeles Kings.

A new year brings the same expectations. They had a fantastic month of December and we expect much of the same to finish off the season and continue on into the playoffs.

Captain Henrik and his crew head back to Rogers Arena to play two home games and then head to Beantown for a rematch against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Canucks Record

39 GP, 24-13-2, 50 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Henrik Sedin was just named the NHL’s 3rd star in the NHL ffor the month of December after recording 22 points (2G-20A) in 15 games. He currently has 6 points (1G-5A) and plus-3 rating during an active 4-game point streak.

Not only is Captain Henrik leading the Canucks with 36 assists and 46 points, he is also leading the NHL in those two categories. He is player that leads by example – he isn’t the strongest, biggest or fastest on the ice, but he does what he needs to do and can change the game with one slick pass to his brother, Daniel. He has also shown in the last few games that he won’t allow the opposition to push him around; he has been a little bit more feisty. Albeit, his feistiness won’t intimidate other players but at least he is standing up for himself.

Who’s Hotter

Kevin Bieksa had a slow start to the season, struggling with his defensive responsibilites and not finding the score sheet consistently. Since the middle of November, Juice has turned his game around for the better and has become an offensive threat while improving his plus/minus rating. He is currently on a 6-game point streak and has 7 points (1G-6A) during that stretch.

But also, Bieksa – along with defensive partner, Dan Hamhuis – have been the Canucks’ shutdown duo and have done a commendable job. Hamhuis’ calm presence and poise allows Bieksa to be more adventurous offensively. Likewise, Bieksa has been smarter about his pinches so as to not leave Hamhuis in a bad spot.

Who’s Next

Monday January 2, 2012 vs. San Jose Sharks (5:00 PM start, home)

The Canucks and Sharks met up just last week in one of the best – if not the best – games of the season thus far. The intensity and atmosphere at the Shark Tank made it feel like a playoff game. It was a physical battle between two teams who clearly do not like each other. In that last game – a 3-2 OT win for the Canucks – Joe Thornton taunted and stuck his fingers in Henrik’s face while they were talking to the referee. To say that there is animosity between the teams is an understatement, so it should be interesting to see how the Canucks respond.

Patrick Marleau is tied for second on the team with 27 points (13G-14A). Marleau has great speed and when he is on his game can be very effective on the ice for his team. He has been hot with 10 points (3G-7A) and a plus-4 rating in his last 7 games.

Wednesday January 4, 2012 Minnesota Wild (7:00 PM start, home)

Before last week, the Wild lead the Northwest Division but they have been struggling as of late. They’re 1-6-3 in their last 10 games, which is a complete turnaround considering that they were, just before that, on a 7-game win streak.

The Canucks have won 2 of the 3 previous meetings against the Wild this season, including a decisive 4-0 shutout before Christmas. In that game, Roberto Luongo was stellar in stopping all 33 Minnesota shots.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who recorded the GWG in the Wild’s lone victory against the Canucks this season, has 3 points (1G-2A) in 3 games against Vancouver (same with Matt Cullen). He currently has points in consecutive games and has 22 points (9G-13A) in 36 games this season.

Saturday January 7, 2012 vs. Boston Bruins (10:00 AM start, away)

It won’t be hard for the Canucks to find motivation against the Bruins on Saturday. This is the first meeting between the two clubs since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. We all know how that ended, so it will be fun to see the two team renew their rivalry from the finals. Canucks fans will never get over the Cup final loss but many are moving on, but it willl be interesting to see what sort of emotions will arise. Brace yourself, Canucks Nation, for countless reminders of what happened in June and the hostility from Bruins fans.

The Bruins, like the Canucks, are playing very well right now. They had a very successful December going 9-3-0; while the Canucks went 10-4-1. It’s safe to say that both teams are on top of their game which can only mean an entertaining battle come Saturday.

Second overall pick, Tyler Seguin, is far from experiencing the dreaded “Sophomore Slump”. He is currently leading the Bruins in goals (15) and points (32). He has 6 points (2G-4A) and a plus-6 rating in his last 5 games.

Tough Enough

Although the Canucks did not win (or deserve to win for that matter) the game against the Kings, there are a few positives to take out of that game.

The biggest thing that stood out was the fact that players like Andrew Alberts and Keith Ballard stood up for their Captain and their teammates. The topic of team toughness is as prominent in Vancouver as the Kardashians are in Hollywood. They may not have fighter or an enforcer – nor do they necessarily need one – but if they can play together and stand up for one another, there’s no telling how far they can go (again) in the playoffs.

The bottom line, like Henrik said, is that we didn’t lose the Cup Finals because of team toughness we lost because we couldn’t score. So while the assertiveness and physical play of players is a positive, the team needs to stay focused on their game and what makes them successful.

Dec 212011
 

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens-Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Final.

Don’t expect a repeat appearence from either team.

Today, the Kings made it official, hiring Darryl Sutter as their new coach.

We talked last week about how hiring Sutter might just be the least imaginative, worst-thought-out decision GM Dean Lombardi could make for his team.

The Kings already defend well – it’s hard to see Sutter adding to this area.

The Kings already had a coach who demanded accountability – and it’s doubtful Darryl Sutter will do this in a way that’s more innovative than Terry Murray.  

Scoring is the Kings primary area of weakness, as it has been for the past couple of seasons.

Who knows – hatred of Sutter may rally players in the dressing room and get the team into the playoffs. There’s certainly enough talent on the roster for the Kings to be a playoff team.

But it’s doubtful the Kings make it, and blame should rest squarely on Lombardi’s shoulders.

He’s the one who’s had incredible difficulty acquiring the game-breaker Los Angeles has needed for the past three seasons (despite having a bevy of young talent to trade).

He’s the one who played hardball with Drew Doughty, resulting in a missed training camp, hurt feelings and a sub-par season to date.

He’s the one who traded for Dustin Penner last year, when anyone following the Oilers knew motivating the big guy was a challenge.

He’s the one who decided to give Justin Williams another $3.5+ million contract after his first 20-goal season in four years.

To his credit, Lombardi’s created a deep organization with strength on the blueline and in goal.  

But teams that win in the NHL can score. And most of Lombardi’s moves to help the attack have been like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

 *****

Speaking of the Titanic, sorry Canadiens fans, but the Habs have hit their iceberg, and it’s named Pierre Gauthier.  

While Jacques Martin may be the devil for creating hockey devoid of any offensive flourish, the fact remains that he got an incredible amount of success out of an (arguably) mediocre cast of players.

Firing coach Martin was clearly the act of a general manager (Gauthier) scrambling to keep blame off his shoulders.

You know, where it should be.

It’s Gauthier who completely botched the Andre Markov situation, giving him a long-term contract without first confirming the extent of the defenseman’s knee injury. Four months in, it would be a surprise to see Markov play this season.

Gauthier built the 2011-12 team with Markov penciled in on the blueline, and he has had to scramble (Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle) to fill the gap. Results of the scrambling have been mixed to say the least.

Meanwhile, the Habs continue to feature a pop-gun attack. Assistant coach Perry Pearn was the scapegoat earlier in the year. Now Jacques Martin’s fallen on the sword. In either case, it wasn’t their fault the team hasn’t drafted or traded for a 30-goal talent since Michael Cammalleri joined Montreal three years ago.

Even in the Cammalleri case, good goal-scorers need to play with centremen who can create space and opportunity on the ice. This describes something other than the corpse of Scott Gomez, who’s been given more rope by the Montreal front office than all the cowboys at the Calgary Stampede.

Now, St. Patrick himself, Patrick Roy, has let it be known he’d be interested in coaching the team… if they call him after this season. That’s nice of Patrick to give the Montreal media something to chew on over the holiday season, if not the rest of the NHL season.

In Gauthier’s hands, the 2011-12 Habs are devolving into a circus.

Expect a new ringmaster under the Habs big top next year.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • How about that ego on Patrick Roy? The NHL is an old boys club, and yet here’s Patrick, throwing Randy Cunneyworth and Joe Sacco under the bus. Coaching junior hockey is incredibly different than coaching in the NHL, and we’ve seen how other icons (cough Gretzky cough) have struggled reaching and motivating NHL-level players. It’s one thing to use your legend to push a team of kids; it’s another to get men to that. Roy will create headlines, but good luck to Montreal or Colorado if they hire him – they’ll need it.
  • It’s pretty easy to guess Patrick Roy’s future: successful QMHL coach/owner; failed NHL Coach; outstanding NHL studio analyst. Basically, it says here he becomes the new Jacques Demers or Mario Tremblay.
  • One more thing about the Habs – so their powerplay is miserable (12.3%), yet they just made the man responsible for the powerplay (Randy Cunneyworth) the head coach. That is a bigger red flag to me than a coach who can’t speak French. You can learn French – a coach either knows, or doesn’t know, how to make a powerplay excel.
  • Add Doug Maclean’s voice to those suggesting Mike Richards’ off-ice “issues” have continued in Los Angeles.
  • Interesting to hear Ken Hitchcock say during an interview on Prime Time Sports that his approach to coaching in the NHL today is the exact opposite to the one he used coaching in Dallas. Why did Hitchcock change? It’s a new generation of players (Generation X, Generation Y), who respond and are motivated differently. I wonder if Darryl Sutter is taking notes.
  • For being in a playoff race, there are few teams in the NHL softer in front of their own goal than Toronto. You can put a lawn chair down in the slot comfortably, especially on the powerplay.
  • Doesn’t Mark Messier have enough money? Saying the Canucks “owe” him, even if justified, just reopens old wounds locally. Make no mistake – Messier’s time in Vancouver contradicts the legend he built for himself in Edmonton and New York. It’s like the Canucks got Mark’s evil twin “Mike” Messier instead.
  • Love these Fenwick power rankings. Bottom line – Minnesota will be hard-pressed to keep their season up through 82-games, while these advanced stats are more evidence of the great job Kevin Dineen’s doing in Florida.
  • Here’s Puck Daddy’s 10-worst hockey decisions of 2011. It’s a great list, although I’d say Crosby playing back on January 5th should be #1.
  • Always enjoy reading about Mario Lemieux getting back on the ice, even if it’s just to practice. Probably the most physically-gifted player of all time.
  • Players with more points than Alex Ovechkin (who has 22): Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, P.A Parenteau, Rich Peverley and 78 others. Players with more goals (Ovechkin has 10): Ryan Jones, Jason Chimera, Chris Kelly, Jannik Hansen and 69 others.
  • Final Ovechkin pile-on: he’s got 5 points in 9 games under new coach Dale Hunter. It’s early, but the coaching change doesn’t seem to have altered much in Washington.
Dec 192011
 

[Every week Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead.  You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@cayking).]

This past week, the Canucks throw away 3 points against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, two of the worst teams in their respective conferences. In both games, the Canucks were perhaps guilty of taking their opponents for granted and didn’t play the proverbial full 60 minutes. Then on Saturday, Roberto Luongo and company redeemed themselves in one of the most entertaining games of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Luo was simply amazing and made many highlight reel saves throughout the game. The team also got scoring when they needed it the most and came out on top by a 5-3 score. Vancouver is now back home at Rogers Arena for a four-game home stand.

Canucks Record

32 GP, 19-11-2, 40 points (2nd in Northwest Division, 6th in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Chris Higgins has had a great start to the season and has found a lot of chemistry with fellow American, Ryan Kesler. Higgy has become a main staple on the second line and has ability to change the game with a great shift that involves speed, good hockey sense and a relentless forecheck.

Higgins has 2 goals and 8 assists in his last 10 games and is a plus-8 in that same stretch. He is currently riding a 3-game point streak.

When the Canucks picked Higgins up last season just minutes before the trade deadline, we probably weren’t sure if the team would get the 20-goal, 50 point guy from earlier in his career or the 20-point guy who played for 5 different teams in 3 years. The move to the Wet Coast has turned out great and Higgy has shown that he can be a reliable contributor night in and night out.

Who’s Hotter

What a difference 12 games makes; it was just 3 weeks ago that I featured Ryan Kesler as the “who’s not hot” player of the week. He seemed to be struggling to find his game coming off hip-surgery and was having a hard time finding the back of the net. Ever since then the RK17 we have come to know and love is back! In his last 12 games, Kes has 5 goals, 10 assists and is a plus-11. It’s safe to say he is fully recovered and back to his Selke-winning ways.

An integral part of the first powerplay unit, Kes’ presence in front of the net wrecks havoc on the opposing team’s goaltender and it opens up a lot of space for the Sedins to work their magic.

Who’s Next

Monday December 19, 2011 vs. Minnesota Wild (7:00 PM start, home)

The Northwest Division leaders roll into town on Monday, but will be missing their captain Mikko Koivu and winger Devin Setoguchi, who are both out with injuries. Both teams have already played each other twice this season with each one winning a game each.

The Wild are winless in their last 3 games (0-1-2) and are hoping to get back on track, even while missing their leading scorer in Koivu.

Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard have both recorded 3 points against the Canucks this season; while Daniel Sedin leads the Canucks with 1 goal and 2 assists in the two meetings.

Kyle Brodziak has 6 goals and 2 assists in his last 10 games. He is leading the Wild with 11 goals so far this season and is tied for 4th in team scoring with 18 points in 33 games.

Wednesday December 21, 2011 vs. Detroit Red Wings (7:00 PM start, home)

The Red Wings are just above the Canucks in the Western Conference standings and will look to try and win their second game against Vancouver this season. In their only other meeting so far this season, Jimmy Howard and the Wings shut out the Canucks 2-0. The Canucks have since rebounded from their horrible October when they first played and games against Detroit are always an entertaining affair.

As soon as I dropped Pavel Datsyuk from my hockey pool, he went on a scoring spree. He is currently on a 5-game point streak where he has put up 9 points (2G–7A) and is an impressive plus-8. He leads the Red Wings in assists (23) and points (33).

It will be fun to watch Ryan Kesler and Pavel Datsyuk battle on the ice, both Selke winners and two players that can change the game for their respective teams.

Friday December 23, 2011 vs. Calgary Flames (7:00 PM start, home)

The Flames come into VanCity on the second night of a back-to-back situation. They are currently on a losing skid with a 0-2-2 record in their last 4 games. They currently sit in 11th place in the Western Conference.

The Canucks have owned the Flames this season having won both meetings by a score of 5-1. Roberto Luongo was in net for both victories and the Canucks were led by the American Express line of Chris Higgins-Ryan Kesler-David Booth, all of whom have 4 points each against the Flames. Although Booth is still out with a knee injury, Chiggins and Kes will try to pick up where they left off.

Olli Jokinen is leading the Flames with 27 points (11G-16A). In his last 10 games, he has 13 points (6G-7A).

Vintage Luo

Roberto Luongo’s performance this past Saturday on HNIC against the Maple Leafs was hands down one of his best performance of the season. Don’t be fooled by the fact that he allowed 3 goals, he was sensational making highlight reel saves like it was no big deal. His positioning was good, he was flashing the leather and he wasn’t afraid to challenge the shooters.

Bobby Lou’s last regulation loss came on December 1st, and since then, he has gone 5-0-1.

I hate to crush all hearts of many Luongo haters but there is certainly no goalie controversy here in Vancouver. Luongo looks like he’s rebounded from his slow start and has returned to form.

%d bloggers like this: