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Monday, 31 December 2012

Top 10 NHL Saves of 2012

The only thing better than highlight reel goals, is highlight real saves. A NHL goalie has litterly just seconds to react to a shot from elite players and when they
do manage to get a piece of leather on the puck it makes for some draw dropping highlights. So here are the top 10 NHL saves of 2012:

10. Jimmy Howard

One of the worst things to happen to a goaltender is when they misplay a easy dump-in resulting in a easy and often embarrassing goal. Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard gets introduced to just how lively the end boards can be when a routine dump-in takes a lively bounce and lands right in front of the net. Howard relies on his insticts and reflexes to somehow recover and keep the puck out.

9. Marty Turco

Talk about a fantastic highlight reel save in your first game back in the NHL! After being recently signed by the Boston Bruins the veteran Turco proves his worth to his new team. But chances are this move isn't in any goaltenders playbook.

8. Ondrej Pavelec

Unless you're a goaltender or have played goal it's really hard to truly appreciate the difficulty of this save by Ondrej Pavelec. Not only is he out of position he also has to pick his entire body weight up in order to dive over to the other side of the net. On top of all that he gets up on the wrong leg making the sliding save even more difficult. After watching Pavelec play last season it's not unreasonable to say he's one of the most under-rated goalies in the league.

7. Devan Dubnyk

This is the perfect example on why a goalie should never give up. Here Chris Higgins has a wide open net but Dubnyk dives across to rob him with the paddle and on top of that he's able to cover up the puck.

6. Ryan Miller

Miller and the Buffalo Sabres had a rough season but it's saves like this that solidify Miller's place in the elite goaltenders of the league. This save shows how much hockey sense Miller possess and how quick his reflexas are as he is able to stop the puck right on the goal-line. After the puck hits a skate and heads directly for the back of the net, Miller not only needs to find the puck but he also has to react in time to keep it out. This is they type of save that just leaves you scratching your head.

5. Martin Brodeur

Brodeur may just be one of the greatest goalies to ever play in the NHL and perhaps the most remarkable thing about him is his unique style of play, it's completely out of the box and almost un-adaptable for goaltenders today. After just turning 40 during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Brodeur shows that he is still just as good as when he was young. After missing on the poke-check Brodeur sticks with the play, showing he's still flexable by getting a toe on the puck.

4. Carey Price

Now when a goaltender makes 1 great save it's one thing, but when a goalie is called upon to make several in a row one has to question where the defence is. Here Carey Price is forced to make 2 great saves and then cover up the rebound. The unique thing about this save is the evolution of Price's maturity and career, earlier on he would have panicked and sulked about the lack of help. But here he stays with the play and battles hard to make not one but two huge saves.

3. Keri Lehtonen

Making a big time game saving stop is nothing easy for a goaltender and when that save comes in over time it's even more drastic. Here Keri Lehtonen is able to get across the cress and kick out his leg and deflect the puck into the air and out of harms way. This is the type of save that makes you wonder if goaltenders train by breakdancing in the off-season.

2. Henrik Lundqvist

How in the world did King Henrik manage to keep this one out of his net? Whether it was pure luck or more brialliance from the elite goaltender but somehow he managed to stone Drew Stafford on a 2 on 1. Make sure you watch this save 2 or 3 times to fully appreciate the value of this save.

1. Mike Smith

You can't not include a penalty shot/ breakaway save in a list of top 10 NHL saves. The hardest thing for a goaltender to do is make a save 1 on 1, player vs. goaltender. When it's a penalty shot during overtime against New York Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik the odds are even tougher. Smith is able to read Gaborik and sprawl out to make the save.

There you have it, my top 10 NHL saves of 2012 and there were some fantastic ones eh? Did I miss any phenominal game saving saves from the men between the pipes? If so let me know!



Saturday, 29 December 2012

Top 10 NHL Goals of 2012

Anyone else missing the jaw dropping goals from the NHL? yeah me too! But with 2012 down to the final days and a hockey-less 2013 on the way it's time we look back at some of the best goals from the NHL during the 2011 and 2012 season. Some of these goals will leave you scratching your head and wondering how they made it happen. Here are my top 10 NHL goals of 2012.

*Warning The Following Videos May Cause Hockey Withdrawals*


10. Benoit Pouliot

Pouliot goes end to end on butter toast, between the legs and then falls to his knees before tucking the puck in far side! The benefit of 4 on 4 hockey is the extra space for these guys to work their magic and in this highlight reel goal Pouliot takes full advantage of the extra space.

9. Corey Perry

Now although this goal was done in the All-Star skills competition, an event made just to hype up goals and wouldn't have counted in a real game, for fans who grew up watching hockey this one hits home. In this amazing goal Perry goes old school by pulling out the mini-stick and going back to the mini-stick days, using the decoy to deke out the goalie. As far as goals go, this one is a classic.

8. Tyler Ennis

Ennis is a guy who plays the game all out and seeing his emotion coming out after a jaw-dropping goal is amazing. Ennis makes Markov look like a simple pylon during practice with this dandy, check out his celebration after the goal!

7. Bobby Ryan

One of the most under-rated advantages/skills in hockey is size. At 6 foot 2 Ryan uses all of his extra length to rend the defenceman helpless. After getting past 2 defencemen, Nabokov misses the poke check giving Ryan a wide open net.

6. Claude Giroux

If you followed the Pittsburgh Penguins and and Philadelphia Flyers rivalry throughout the season, you can understand why this goal is included. The two team simply can't stand each other, and arguably the two best players from each team collide in an open ice hit. While Crosby is busy wondering why someone actually hit him, Giroux jumps up, joins the rush and snipes a short side goal on Marc Andre-Fluery.

5. Jeff Skinner

If there's one thing young hockey players know how to do it's score exciting goals. Here Skinner mixes in a little toe-drag and then kicks the puck from his back skate between his legs and back on the blade of his stick then goes far side. Skinner actually loses the puck on this rush manages to compose himself and get back, fantastic composure from such a young player.

4. Alexander Ovechkin

You could probably have a top 10 dedicated specifically to highlight reel goals from Ovechkin, it seems all the guy does is score jaw dropping goals. Here Ovechkin goes between the legs to lose the defenceman and the proceeds to go bar down, the goalie didn't stand a chance.

3. Matt Duchene

Now this is an incredible goal, not only does Duchene score this beauty he also reaches behind him, to the opposite side of his stick, to redirect the puck back to his forehand. It's the type of goal you have to watch 2 or 3 times to fully believe your eyes.

2. Jason Spezza

Now I know Spezza himself didn't score this goal, but after an effort like this they should have just given the goal to him. Here Kyle Turris is in the right place at the right time and benefits from a fantastic individual effort from Spezza. If you didn't know better you would have thought he had a the puck on a string, the way he's able to weave his way through the opposition and keep control shows the skill he truly possess.

1. Evgeni Malkin

One thing that can't be disputed is that Malkin had a breakout year last season while Crosby was on the sidelines. He put the team on his back and never disappointed. Here he goes coast to coast on butter toast and honestly I don't think there's a player in white who he didn't deke out of their uniform. Malkin dances through the entire Tampa Bay Lightning team and slips the puck 5-hole. People were so impressed by this dandy that it drew comparison to a goal scored by Penguins great Mario Lemieux.

I hope you enjoyed the top 10 NHL goals from 2012, it was truly a remarkable season with many highlights. Did I miss any spectacular goals, from 2012? Let me know!


Thursday, 27 December 2012

10 Players to Watch During the World Juniors

The World Juniors are upon us once again. This tournament is one of the highlights for every hockey fan and this year it may be the biggest highlight due to the lack of NHL hockey. This years tournament will feature some extra talented players many of whom are NHL-Calibre, but in addition to players well on their way to their NHL career there are also several prospects playing to help improve their stock for the 2013 draft. So while the following list may not be the biggest names, they are players who have a lot to play for and don't always get the recognition they deserve.

10. Joel Armia- Finland

I'm not just saying this because he's a Buffalo Sabres prospect, but Armia does not get the recognition and respect he should for his talent. Finland is flying
high after defeating both Canada and the US in the pre-competition games and one major reason for their surging play is Joel Armia. He is one of the most dangerous offensive weapons for Finland and is extremely dangerous on the powerplay. Since he has not made the jump over to North America yet he has the added benefit of knowing the international style of play.

9. J.C Lipon- Canada

J.C Lipon is the underdog that you fall in love with. After not being selected in either of the last 2 NHL drafts, Lipon is hoping the 3rd time is the charm and now that he's made team Canada, he may just fulfill his dream and hear his name on draft day. After being dubbed a "late bloomer" Lipon is finally starting to turn heads and garner some interest. While he wont play a huge role with team canada (3rd or 4th line) he will be a key player while killing penalties and is one of those players that are crucial to every winning team.

8. Aleksander Barkov- Finland

Although Finland is sometimes considered a 2nd tier team at this tournament they have a serious chance of bringing home a medal from this years World Junior tournament. They have some high flying offensive players one of which is Aleksander Barkov who many are saying could be the highest scoring European in the tournament. He is also ranked as the highest European for the upcoming draft, with a big tournament he could challenge Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones for the first overall pick. This will be Barkov's second crack at the World Junior tournament and he'll look to provide more of a leadership role and lead the talented Finish squad to a gold medal.

7. Jonathan Drouin- Canada

Before the tournament almost nobody expected the young 17 year-old to even crack the Team Canada squad, but team Canada saw something special and made him a member of the team. But he's now slated in on the 2nd line and ranked ahead of teammate MacKinnon. If you've read my last articles about team Canada you'll know how excited I am to see Drouin play in the tournament, strong play will significantly help his draft stock. Drouin may be one of the underdogs on the Canadian squad and could play a big role in the end.

6. Olli Maatta- Finland

I said Finland had a solid team this year and the addition of first round pick Olli Maatta doesn't exactly hurt their cause. He played in just 1 game for the Finish team at last years World Junior Championship but will undoubtedly have a much bigger role this time around. He will be relied on to be the top shutdown defenceman and help calm down a offensive focused squad.

5. Jake McCabe- United States

Now if you're not familiar with the NCAA and the Wisconsin Badgers chances are the name Jake McCabe means nothing to you. But that should be changing within the next week. The US junior team named McCabe captain for this years World Junior tournament ahead of fan favourite J.T Miller. It's a smart move by the Americans naming their captain as a defenceman since their team is focusing on a strong defence this year. McCabe along with Jones will both be key leaders on the backend and the captain should help with Jones' game.

4. Elias Lindholm- Sweden

Elias Lindholm is another top notch European player looking to up his draft stock for the upcoming draft. He's playing against older and stronger men in the swedish elite league but has still managed 21 points in 32 games and currently sits 4th in the draft rankings. He'll be responsible for replacing the offence of Mika Zibanejad who will not be suiting up for team Sweden. Leading the team will be no easy task for the un-drafted prospect but considering he's already drawing comparison's to Peter Forsberg he should have a big tournament.

3. J.T. Miller- United States

Despite being drafted in the first round in 2011 and playing in the AHL. J.T. Miller is one of the most unknown players for the United States. Despite not being given the captaincy of the US national team, he was given the role of alternate captain. Miller will be called upon to lead the offence for the Americans and help score goals for the defensive minded squad.

2. Mikhail Grigorenko- Russia

The Russians have some fantastic offensive talent and having Buffalo Sabres first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko at their disposal wont hurt their chances of making it to the finals. Grigorenko is a big, tough natural goal scorer, he's 2nd in QMJHL scoring with 29 goals and 21 assists for 50 points. While he may have to sit in the passenger seat while Nail Yakupov leads the team it doesn't mean he won't be a productive scoring leader for the Russians. After last years 5 points and a silver medal, Grigorenko is hungry to add a gold medal.
1. Andrey Vasilevskiy- Russia

Vasilevskiy was the first goaltender selected in the 2012 draft ahead of team Canada's starter Malcolm Subban. He helped lead Russia to a silver medal in last years tournament and finished the tournament with the highest save percentage (95.31). He was also the netminder who surrended 5 goals against Canada in the nail bitting 6-5 Russia win. Because of his poor play against Canada he was benched during the finals but this year he's looking to avenge last years benching and help lead Russia to a gold Medal. Vasilevskiy will need to shut things down in net and keep opponents goals total to a minimum or face losing his job to Sabres prospect Andrey Makorav who took over in the finals for Vasilevskiy and played exceptionally well.




Monday, 24 December 2012

Why Jordan Binnington Should Start Over Malcolm Subban

After finishing the selection camp and heading over to Finland, almost all the positions for team Canada were spoken for. For the most part we knew who the top defence pairing would be and who the top forward line would be. But the one position still with question marks is the most important one, the goalie. Heading into the pre-competition games it was rumoured Malcolm Subban had been pencilled in as the starter and Jordan Binnington would be the back-up, but coming out of those games I hope head coach Steve Spott has an eraser handy.

While Subban may be the higher touted goaltender of the two, being drafted in the first round by the Boston Bruins and playing in the summer series against Russia, he has looked shaky at best during his time battling during selection camp and in his first pre-competition game. Coming out of the selection camp Subban was arguably the worst goaltender but because of his strong play this summer and phenomenal stats with the Belleville Bulls he was given the benefit of the doubt. Binnington on the other hand was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft by the St. Louis Blues and wasn't even invited this summer to compete against Russia. He used his snub this summer as added motivation and earned an invite to selection camp based on his exceptional start of the season with the Owen Sound Attack.

Both netminders have similar records this season in the OHL; Subban going 15-7-3 with a save percentage of .932 while Binnington has gone 17-6-3 with a .930 Save percentage. After not having a clear cut number 1 goalie since 2005 (Carey Price) team Canada needs to pick the goalie who will give them the best shot at winning the gold medal not the "politically correct" goalie and based on pre-competition play that is Jordan Binnington.

Now I know there is still lots of time for Subban to find his game during the round robin games and will likely be given every opportunity to win back his starters job, but in a tournament this short you have to play the hot goalie. Subban has looked shaky and nervous during his turns between the pipes, something is just off he isn't the same goaltender who suits up for the Bulls and is lacking confidence. Giving the starting job to Subban while he's not playing well will prove both detrimental for Subban and team Canada. If Canada comes home with anything less than gold they will likely be met with criticism, something Subban may not react well to considering he's never played in a tournament of this magnitude before. Binnington has proven he's confident and ready to suit up for team Canada and his 30 save shootout win in which he looked composed and confident only further proved the point he is the real deal.

Right now Binnington is the hot goaltender, he has the confidence, the swagger and has flat out out-played Subban. He deserves, based on play, to be the starting netminder for team Canada. Heck he's even won over the support of the players;
"There was one flurry in the 2nd where he was unbelievable. He lost his stick and we were on the bench saying wow!" ~Team Canada forward Ryan Strome

Having the confidence from the team goes a long way, especially in a short tournament like this. Last year the players lost trust in Mark Visentin and became more focused on the back check then scoring goals. They quickly found themselves trailing Russia and ended up losing 6-5 forcing them out of the gold medal game, mainly because of weak goaltending. When a team is able to score 5 goals they should be winning the hockey game, but to see your netminder let in 6 is a real tough pill to swallow. It is crucial this year that the Canadian players have faith in their goaltender, based on pre-competition games they don't seem to be a high scoring team so they will rely even more on the goalie to keep the games close until they can capitalize.

With teenage athletes, especially goalies, poor play is often magnified with pressure. Both goalies are still young and have some maturing to do but the pressure of being the number one goaltender for team Canada is no easy burden. Right now all the pressure is on Subban, he was expected to be the starter, played against Russia in the summer and was a first round pick. Where as Binnington came out of no where, out-played Subban and has been flying under the radar this season. There's less pressure on Binnington, he wasn't the rumoured starter and had to work hard just to make the team after the snub in the summer. If he's named the starter people will be impressed by his performance no matter how things turn out as they weren't expecting him to lead the team.

While fans may get to see a little bit of both goaltenders throughout the round robin games, the brunt of the load should be given to Binnington. He's proven he's ready with his strong play and right now is more stable than Subban. Right now the best bet for Canada to win gold is if Binnington is the starter, but I've seen Spott make worse decisions. Whoever he decides to name starter, he should announce it soon. Subban is already doubting his play and if given the starting job will have a hard time getting the naysayers out of his head. We saw last year how well not declaring a starter went for team Canada, they don't want to head down that path again.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Team USA UnderDogs in WJC

Considering the US junior team failed to advance from the round robin play in the 2012 World Junior Championship, they have a lot of work to do in order to get themselves back into the "elite" division in World Junior hockey. But one American defenceman believes that won't be an issue at all;
"I think we're the best team! We have a lot of speed up front, we're great defensively and we have good goaltending so I think we have all the pieces to win the gold medal." ~ Projected first overall pick and defenceman Seth Jones

[caption id="attachment_1547" align="alignright" width="300"] Seth Jones[/caption]

A bold prediction from the young defenceman suiting up in his first World Junior tournament. It will be no easy task for the boys in blue and white to reclaim the gold medal with only 3 players on the roster with World Junior experience and only 2 players who would likely be up in the NHL if not for the lockout. Jones who many are saying will be taken first overall in the 2013 draft, is by far the biggest name on the roster and may end up as the top shutdown defenceman for the Americans.

Outside of the rookie Jones, J.T Miller, Jacob Trouba and John Gibson are the 3 returning players from last years disappointing 7th place finish. These 3 will have to lead the team and help the younger rookies adapt to the pressures of the playing in the World Juniors.
“J.T. is key for us on and off the ice and we really listen to what he has to say." ~Jones

If the Americans have any shot of challenging for the gold medal they will need Miller to step up and lead this team in scoring. Miller is the only member of the team playing in the AHL and well on his way to a NHL career. Despite his slow start with the Connecticut Whale the New York Rangers junior team he's racked up 14 points in 26 games and will need to further elevate his game to lead the Americans to victory. He still has a bitter taste from last years tournament and will be looking to win big this year to erase last years pitiful performance.

In addition to the scoring threat of Miller, Sarnia Sting forward Alex Galchenyuk will be another dangerous offencive weapon. The third overall pick in the 2012 draft, he's the highest drafted player in the Americans line up and is virtually ready for his shot in the NHL. He's been lighting up the OHL in recent weeks racking up 19 goals and 40 points in his last 18 games and is 2nd in OHL scoring behind team Canada's Ryan Strome. If Miller goes quit look for Galchenyuk to pick up the slack and perhaps lead the team in scoring.

[caption id="attachment_1549" align="alignright" width="300"] Jacob Trouba[/caption]

On the back end the focus will fall on Jacob Trouba and Jones to shut down the opposition. Jones has lofty expectations for his team on the backend stating he wants the team to "Give up the least amount of goals in the tournament". A lofty goal which puts added pressure on the defence and goalies. While Jones has something to prove for the upcoming draft and facing off against fellow top ranked prospects Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, Trouba has already been drafted and is one of 3 returning players. Trouba's job will be to lead the defence and set the tone of play. Trouba was taken in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets and has had previous success with the U17 and U18 American team. After the dismal showing last year look for Trouba to be motivated to bring home a medal.

Between the pipes the US will turn to John Gibson who was the back-up netminder during last years tournament. Gibson got a first hand look of what it takes to win games from last years tournament and has the added benefit of a second chance to fix mistakes. Playing in 20 games this season with the Kitchener Rangers he's won 13 games and has a solid .929 Save Percentage. After playing second fiddle last year, Gibson is ready to take on the starting role and hopefully propel the Americans back into medal contention. He will have the benefit of playing behind a team that is focusing mainly on defence but will still need to stay sharp and come up big during the penalty kill.

While games against their rivals Canada and Russia will be big games, the Americans will have to stay sharp and get the "easy" wins against teams like Slovakia and Germany to insure their inclusion in the medal round. In addition to some of the big names up front the Americans will be relying on some of their smaller players to help give them a boost. Rocco Grimaldi is the smallest player on the roster at 5 foot 6 and wont add much in terms of physical play but if he's given the time and space, the big ice surface will give him room to do his thing and could add another offencive weapon. Speed kills in the World Junior tournament and Grimaldi has tons of that.

This years American team has an added focus on defence and is looking to play close games like their overtime win over Sweden in the pre-competition.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"] Team USA will need to band together and stay out of the box[/caption]

Much like team Canada they will need to adapt to the way international refs call the game, the ruff, tough, hard hitting hockey played over in North America isn't

usually welcomed in Europe and the Americans have already found themselves in penalty trouble. The key for the Americans is to stay out of the box and play sound defensive hockey. While most people aren't expecting team USA to make it to the finals, they have the potential to be a surprise team. Coming in as the underdogs there is no room to slack off.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Is The Lockout Just a Joke For the NHL?

Throughout this entire lockout there has been speculation that the NHL had a secret date in their heads as to when this lockout will end and when they will work out a new CBA. It's becoming more and more apparent that the NHL does indeed have a drop dead date and is sticking to it. In a earlier post I hinted at the fact the NHL had a date in mind and wouldn't negotiate before then, only problem I thought that date was in December. That date according to Bill Daly is sometime in mid-January;
"It is fair to say it is sometime in mid-January," ~ Bill Daly on Sportsnet 590

Daly also went on to say that commissioner Gary Bettman would not ice a season with fewer that 48 games for the "integrity of the game". So that gives the NHL and NHLPA roughly 3 weeks to hammer out a new CBA, not a ton of time but if the NHL is serious about having a deal done my mid-January it's possible. The earliest fans would see NHL hockey is January 15th as the NHL has now cancelled all games up until that point, not a lot of room for optimism.

After Daly's appearance on the Fan 590, he decided he wasn't done talking and joined Hockey Night in Canada radio and gave a surprising answer when asked if fans will get to see a NHL season;
"Yes!" ~ Bill Daly

Daly was a very busy man on Wednesday, declaring that there is a "drop dead date" (which everyone kind of knew) and that there will be an NHL season, the question then becomes what season? People don't like Bettman as a result Daly being his "right hand man" takes a lot of flack in the public and the media, but no matter which way you look at it those are 2 very strong messages sent directly from the league.

Everyone knows that at some point you have to cancel the entire season, somewhere, in someones head there's a point of no return, it's the only logical option in a negotiation like this. Have Bettman and the owners always known about the date and wanted to delay to the last possible second? It's possible. But at the same time Donald Fehr and the players also know there is a magical date, heck they've even come out and mention that there is a magical date in interviews. The NHLPA much like the NHL knows exactly how much they can ask for and for how long. Up until now the two sides have been throwing lobs at each other to see if the other side will hit one and get some traction, they know that what they're currently offering isn't going to be hit but they're trying to see what else they can get thrown into the deal.

If the NHL truly wants to get a deal done and in place for January 15th (drop dead date) look for them to throw the NHLPA a pitch right down the middle thatthey just can't refuse. The reason the two sides are waiting till the very last possible minute is because thats when the best deal will be made. When their backs are up against the wall they begin to panic, each side will be willing to throw something extra into the pot to make a deal because they know they don't have much time left to negotiate. A deal accepted in January is likely to be much better than any deal accepted in November. Right now it's the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs in a tie game, can one team get the hit it takes to crack this thing open?

Now let's talk about Daly saying "yes" to an NHL season. Before you start jumping up and down and

planning your next trip to the arena, let's take a step back. Maybe Daly is right, the NHL really isn't willing to cancel the season and there will be a deal

completed allowing hockey to resume for this season,

if so thats fantastic. But there's a few more reasons he said yes during the interview. First off, he was given an ultimatum and wasn't allowed to give a answer other than yes or no, obviously he's not going to say no and crush the fading hope of the fans. The NHL wants the fans to believe it's Fehr's fault there is no

season, so they're obviously not going to roll over and dig their own grave. The second reason he said yes is to help the NHL's case in the PR battle. By saying yes it opens the doors and provides evidence that the NHL is fully committed to getting a deal done and dropping the puck on an NHL season. It paints the allusion that they were fully committed to getting a deal done and playing hockey and in case that doesn't happen their butts are covered now. Which paints them a better picture for the fans. As I said It's all about the PR battle.

Now it's fully possible that there are owners who are telling Bettman they are unwilling to lose an entire season to these silly childish ploys because they simply can't survive. If the owners are truly getting upset with Bettman like what has been rumoured then one would have to think the plan all along was not to cancel the entire season, Bettman may be run out of town if that happens.

Virtually we are no closer to seeing NHL hockey back. Right now the best only option is a season that begins on January 15th and would see each team play 49 games. If that does indeed happen, look for more significance on divisional and conference play as there simply wont be enough time for long road trips. The next few weeks will be crucial to deciding the fate of the NHL. The only thing we know for sure is in order to see hockey the two sides must resume talking.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Team Canada Showing Trust In Jonathan Drouin

When team Canada named their final roster to head over to Russia for the World Junior Championship, many were surprised they took both Halifax Mooseheads and linemates Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon. The later of the two was said to have a better shot of making the team, all be it not at his natural position. But Drouin with the help of his linemate made quite the impression at camp and earned himself a spot.

It was a risky move to put 2 17 year-old forwards on the final roster, but the talent the two have is hard to pass up on. Due to the great chemistry the linemates show both in the QMJHL and at training camp, it

was expected that they would be paired together on the 3rd or 4th forward line where they would be able to do the least damage. But head coach Steve Spott has decided to give one of them a much larger role and not the one you'd expect

Team Canada currently has Drouin playing on the 2nd line with Niagara IceDog teammates Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie while Nathan Mackinnon is on the 4th line wing slated as the 13th forward. Yes you read that correctly, Canada currently has Drouin in the top 6 forwards while the projected 1st overall pick is stuck in the bottom 6.

MacKinnon and Drouin sit 3rd and 10th respectively in the QMJHL scoring, but many attributed Drouin's success to the benefit of playing with a world class player such as MacKinnon. With the all star centre, Drouin has managed to rack up 19 goals and 28 assists for 48 points and is only 4 points behind his linemate. Even more remarkable he is managing an average 2 points per game. It may be time to give Drouin the credit he deserves.

When the Mooseheads drafted Drouin 2nd overall in the QMJHL draft, they felt they had landed their next franchise player. Now calling someone a "franchise" player is nothing to shake your head at and 9 times out of 10 they will be the most talked about and best player on the team. It wasn't until they were able to land the only player taken higher then the perspective franchise player in the QMJHL MacKinnon, that Drouin started to fade into the background. But the fact Drouin was drafted to become the next big star for the Mooseheads means he's a pretty spectacular hockey player and has just as much right to be on the world junior team as MacKinnon.

Due to the fact Drouin plays on the same line as MacKinnon and is often overshadowed by the big name player, going into team Canada training camp many

thought he was un-proven and only earned an invite on MacKinnon's bill. In order to see his true potential he needed to be separated from his linemate, butSpott kept the two together and their chemistry turned heads and ended up earning both a spot on the final roster. Finally Drouin doubters are getting what they want, him on a line away from MacKinnon and he seems to be doing just fine.

While Drouin's spot in the top 6 forwards isn't carved in stone yet, his strong play earned him a spot to prove he is capable of playing in the top 6 and his new linemates believe he's doing just fine;
"Obviously he's got an unbelievable skill level,  I'm looking forward to playing with him. I feel pretty lucky. He's really calm out there, he's been composed the whole camp and in practice. He skates like a pro, he works like a pro, he's got skill like a pro." ~Ryan Strome

Drouin is certainly making an impression with many older already drafted players, maybe there really is something special about the youngster. Few have even gone as far to compare his style of play to Jordan Eberle or Patrick Kane, no matter which you slice it he's turning heads around not only the minors but also the NHL. With his strong play in the QMJHL this season, his spectacular showing at the Subway Super Series against Russia and his latest inclusion to team Canada his draft stock is rising and rising fast. He skyrocketed from 13th to 4th in the latest rankings and many fans and scouts say he has the potential to be a first overall pick. Can we see 2 Mooseheads go in the top 5?

While splitting up MacKinnon and Drouin isn't the recommended move, Spott seems comfortable with Drouin taking on a much bigger role. But things could change quick if the 2nd line goes south Drouin can easily drop down to the 4th line. But with a strong showing at the World Juniors, it may be Jonathan Drouin we hear more and more about in the coming months and maybe even separate from the name MacKinnon.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Canada Goes With Skill Over Grit for WJC

After 3 straight years with disappointing bronze and silver medals at the World Junior tournament team Canada has re-tooled for the 2013 tournament, choosing skill and speed over the usual grit. In doing so Canada will ice 3 scoring lines and 1 checking line up front, in addition the top defencive pairing featuring Dougie Hamilton and Morgan Rielly will also be offencive minded. The goal is simple for the red and white, win gold.

Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins  has been named captain of team Canada, despite this being his first time competing at the World Juniors. While theres no question the NHL star has all the skill required to lead this team, his lack of experience at the tournament may have had him better suited to wear the A instead. Never the less this is Nugent-Hopkins team, he will be the first line centre accompanied by Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele and look to earn Canada their first gold medal since 2009. This will be the go-to line and will be expected to lead this team by example, scoring goals and playing defence.

In a surprising decision 2 of the 3 17 year-olds invited to camp earned a spot on the final squad. The chemistry shown at camp between Halifax Mooseheads linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin is likely the reason they were both included and beat out older and in some cases already drafted players. It's a strange move putting two 17 year-olds on a roster full of older, stronger 19 year-olds but with the talent the youngsters posses it would be a shame to have passed them by. It was less surprising for most that projected first overall pick MacKinnon cracked the roster  as many are touting him to be the best young player since Sidney Crosby, the only 17 year-old to make the team in 2005. But the inclusion of the unproven Drouin raised a few eyebrows, how will he fair if and when he is separated from his teammate? The youngsters will likely play in the bottom 6 forwards with JC Lipon, a spot usually reserved for the grittier and tougher guys.

Canada's second forward line will also be filled with immense scoring talent with Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie two natural goal scorers who are lighting it up in the OHL. Don't be surprised to see Ritchie mix things up with opponents and be the "tough" guy for the red and white.

Similar to the forwards the defencemen are filled with versatility and are not afraid to join the rush. The only real "shutdown" pair are Scott Harrington and Xavier Ouellet who play a more defencive minded game and will be the go to guys during a penalty kill. Bruins prospect Hamilton who was virtually robbed of wearing a C/A will lead the defenceman and be a fantastic partner for Leafs defenceman Rielly. Also on defence will be Ryan Murphy who finally cracked the squad on his third attempt. After being cut the last 2 years, Murphy said he needed to stick to his game in order to make the team. Look for him to play with a chip on his shoulder and turn into one of the leaders of this team, not to mention his feel good story of finally making the squad.

Once again the only unclear position for Canada is goaltending. Canada has not had a clear cut number one netminder since the days of Carey Price and it's cost them their gold medal in the last couple tournaments. When a team scores 5 goals but their netminder lets in 6, it's a deflating feeling and no way to win a tournament. Going into selection camp Malcolm Subban was slated to carry the job but after a less than impressive camp which saw him land last on most scouting reports, it will be interesting to see if he still has the number 1 spot locked up. After cutting arguably the best goalie in camp Laurent Brossoit of the WHL for Jordan Binnington of the OHL, the goaltending situation is a little less clear. As of now it would be hard to start anyone but Subban who was taken in the first round by the Bruins and is arguably the most developed netminder, but if things go south for Subban look for Binnington to take over the lead role. None of these goalies have a had chance to play in something this big, only time will tell if they buckle under the pressure.

One player to keep an eye on is Lipon who will likely see time on the 3rd line with the youngsters. Lipon has flown completely under the radar and is a un-drafted player, but hockey Canada must have seen something special in his game. One thing the World Junior tournament is famous for is the coming out parties of many undiscovered solid young players. Look for Lipon to make a name for himself and show teams he's worthy of being drafted as an over age player next season.

All in all Canada has assembled a solid team that will light up the score board, the only question is

goaltending. As much as this pains me to say, I don't think this team is good enough to bring back the gold, I just don't. Sure on paper they look good, but Canada has had a lot of "good" teams on paper before. The offensive minded players they've put together need to remember to play in both ends and will need to find some chemistry in a hurry. Getting past Russia will be no easy task, especially when their main goal is to beat Canada.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr Stuck On PR Ferris Wheel

With the recent cancellation of games through the end of 2012 (December 30) and talks of decertification ramping up, it is clear that the game we love wont be back anytime soon. The sad thing is the two sides are extremely close to a new CBA, but neither side wants to admit it for fear of defeat. In all honesty its sad and pathetic that the lockout has lasted this long and the only reason it has, is because both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr are intertwined in the PR battle.

It's gotten to the point where Fehr is quicker to jump up on the podium and point the finger than too actually sit down with the players and actually hammer out a deal. For some strange reason the NHLPA believes they must win the PR and maintain their image with the fans, as the good guys. But what they fail to realize is that the fans don't care whose fault this mess is, they just want a solution. At this point the PR battle doesn't matter, fans are upset at both sides. All the posturing done by the NHLPA is for not if the 2012-2013 season is lost, fans will be just as upset at the players as they are with the owners because this lockout was preventable.

Another thing the NHLPA needs to keep in mind is the majority of hockey fans don't like Bettman as it is, they don't need anymore convincing. Telling the fans how stupid Bettman is and pointing the blame isn't going to help win the fans over, they already don't think highly of the man you're not telling them anything they don't already know.

Lets go back to the meetings last week when Bettman brilliantly suggested the owners, players and GM's meet without Bettman and Fehr in the room. Now of course this was a PR stunt by the league commissioner but it worked! The players were extremely happy to finally be allowed to talk and there was a real sense of optimism about getting a deal done. Then for whatever reason Fehr, ill advised, decided he wanted back in the meetings which sent things in a downward spiral.  Bettman left the NHLPA a voicemail that I imagine went something like this: "The deal was we stay out of the room! I held up my end of the deal but you couldn't stay away. You broke deal, we're done talking!" Which then in turn led to Fehr and the NHLPA holding a press conference to whine to the media about the voicemail left by the NHL. Fehr running to the media made Bettman furious who then called his own press conference. By the time two had cooled off all the progress had been lost.

It's understandable that the NHLPA was upset over the way the meetings were handled by their opposition, but it was their own doing. Yes Fehr had every right to want back in the meetings, but thats not what was agreed upon. The owners and GMs were only asked to talk with the players not Fehr, Bettman stayed out of the room his counterpart should have as well. At some point the NHLPA have to realize crying to the media isn't going to get them anywhere. All it does is frustrate Bettman and annoy the fans. It's turned into the boy who cried wolf situation and last week may have been the last straw for the NHLPA. If the entire season is lost one can relate the sinking point to Fehr's press conference last Thursday, I have never seen Bettman so upset or agitated over these discussions. It's time for the NHLPA to grow up and act like the professionals they are no more whining or the season will be lost, period.

The best thing to happen is whats happening right now, silence. The two sides are meeting with mediators but not letting any information slip to the public. The only chance we have at seeing a season is if we hear very little during the next few weeks.

The good news for fans is that as big as Fehr and Bettman's ego's are it's not worth losing the entire season over. One of them and I expect it to be Bettman, honestly because he's been the less talkative of the two, will decide enough is enough and leave his ego at the door and tune the media out. The only way this lockout ends is if they give up the PR battle and the media is told nothing.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Full Lockout Hurts Goalies

Say what you want about defence winning championships but if you don't have solid goaltending to accompany that defence you wont get anywhere near the championship. Both the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings had outstanding offence and defence and proved they were the best of the best when they accomplished the dream of winning the Stanley Cup. But if wasn't for the outstanding play of Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick who both won the Conn Smythe, both the Bruins and Kings would not have their latest Cups. Goaltending is crucial to winning.

While a full season lockout effects everyone, it especially impacts the netminders. While forwards and defence are still able to work on their skating and shots in practices, on their own and at player organized training camps, goalies for the most part can't keep up the reflexes they utilize every night to stop some of the best shooters. With many top players over in Europe and practices unable to match game intensity many goaltenders don't get the practice they need to keep their skills sharp during a lockout.

Coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout goalies were left out in the cold. By the time games started up for 2005-2006 the 'tenders were left dazed and a step behind the sharp shooters of the NHL, and while it did provide some entertaining high scoring hockey the goalies production went downhill. In 2003-2004 goaltenders were arguably at their peak and the average save percentage for NHL goalies was .911, but after the lockout the save percentages dropped drastically to a dismal .901 the lowest since 1985. Before the lockout goaltending was at it's high, the highest it's ever been, the goalies were good, smart, quick and stoning shooters left, right and centre, whereas after the lockout one could have mistaken NHL goalies for minor league or rookie netminders.

To further prove that a lockout hurts the goaltenders more than anyone else, let's see how the players faired after the 2004-2005 lockout. Before the last lockout the players were having a difficult time scoring goals and as a result more times than not the game would end by a 1 goal difference as there was an average of 5.1 goals a game, the lowest since 1955. After the lockout during the same time the goalies were struggling the goals per game jumped to 6.

After save percentages took a downhill turn in 2005, it took until 2009 for goalies to regain their form and skill from before the lockout, thats 4 seasons do you know how many goalies may have lost their jobs due to their poor play after the lockout?

Let's look at 2 veteran goalies who play went downhill after the lockout;

Martin Biron-- 2003-2004: 2.52 GAA and .913 Save Percentage Vs. 2005-2006: 2.88 GAA and .905 Save Percentage

Biron's numbers became notably worse in 2005-2006 after taking the whole season off because of the

lockout. Due to his poor play he ultimately lost the starting job to Buffalo Sabres franchise goalie Ryan Miller who benefited from a full season in the AHL during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. In 2006-2007 Biron was limited to just 19 games between the pipes for the Sabres and even in those 19 games he had very poor stats racking up a 3.04 GAA and .899 Save Percentage. Biron is now the New York Rangers backup goal seeing the net when Henrik Lundqvist needs some rest.

Ed Belfour-- 2003-2004: 2.13 GAA and .918 Save Percentage Vs. 2005-2006: 3.29 GAA and .892 Save Percentage

Now there's a name from the history books, but believe it or not the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent team he was between the pipes. Belfour led the Leafs to 2nd place in their conference and into the playoffs with his stellar play pre-lockout. That was his last of 3 seasons with the blue and white before he headed south to join up with the Florida Panthers where his game improved but it was to little too late for the aging tender.

There you have it two goalies who careers were decimated by the last lockout. Who's careers may be forever changed because of this lockout? Every goalie is keeping their fingers crossed that this one doesn't last as long so they can get back into game action and get back to proving they're the most valuable netminders to their teams.


Monday, 3 December 2012

Can Nathan MacKinnon Crack Team Canada's Roster?

On Monday afternoon Hockey Canada released the names of the 37 players who would be invited to the World Junior selection camp to battle it out for their chance to don the Red and White for the World Junior Championships in Russia. Amongst the 37 players was QMJHL star and projected 1st overall pick Nathan MacKinnon. But the question now becomes can MacKinnon crack the lineup for Canada when they kick off the tournament on boxing day?

Now you're probably thinking "of course the projected 1st overall pick is going to make the World Junior team, what a silly question", but there is some serious debate on whether he will be on the final 20 man roster and if he is at what position? There has never been a question about the depth Canada has to draw from, especially at the forward position and with the NHL lockout sending top prospects down to the minors the competition is that much tougher.

There is a very strong chance that in oder for MacKinnon to crack the team, he will be moved to the wing. With Edmonton Oilers youngster Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being invited it's almost a guarantee he'll centre the first line and having returning bronze medal winner and 3rd overall pick from 2011 Jonathan Huberdeau from last years squad tie up the 2nd line centre spot. Also in the mix for jobs at centre are, member of the 2012 squad Mark Scheifele and fellow 2012 Bronze medalists Boone Jenner and Ryan Strome. One of the new players battling for a spot against MacKinnon will be Ottawa 67's Sean Monahan. Of course Scheifele can move to the wing but that still leaves 4 centres, 3 of whom were on the bronze medal winning team in 2012, the chances of MacKinnon snagging a centre spot are slim to none at this point.

After being left off the roster last year as a 16 year-old, MacKinnon will be even more motivated to show team Canada that age is but a number and he can help bring home that elusive gold medal. He will be in tough again this year as 1 of 2 17 year-olds invited to camp who are facing off against mainly 19 year olds. At 5 foot 11 and 180 MacKinnon certainly won't be lacking size but he may be lacking maturity and experience which are vital aspects at the World Junior Championships. Another thing MacKinnon has that the 6 other centres don't is time, there are still 2 more World Junior Championships that he will eligible to play in.

On paper at the moment the best chance for the 17 year-old to crack the team is on the 2nd or 3rd line wing. Although putting him on the wing with Nugent-Hopkins would do wonders for his development and make for a flashy line up, putting the young kid on the first line is a bit of a risk and there's no guarantee the two would find chemistry. The best thing that could have happened for MacKinnon at development camp is his fellow linemate with the MooseHeads Jonathan Drouin was also invited. If the two of them get paired up for any stint during camp look for instant chemistry and stints of brilliance from the youngsters which may be enough to push MacKinnon into the top 6.

In a way the lockout is unfortunate for players like Drouin, Monahan, MacKinnon and even Hunter Shinkaruk who didn't earn an invite to camp as they may miss out on a chance to play for their country at the World Junior championships. Any other year and MacKinnon would easily be slated as the number 1 or 2 centre and one of the leaders on the team but this year he'll be in tough just to crack the top 9. But it's great for Team Canada as a whole as they have the ability to ice a team near the same calibre as 2005. This years squad may be Canada's best chance to win gold since 2005, but one thing to remember is both the Americans and Russians will also benefit from the lockout.

As of right now I imagine the majority of top 6 spots are already pencilled in, the only variable being MacKinnon. If he can spark some chemistry on the wing with one of the older centres then he'll likely earn a spot, if not he'll have to wait yet another year to play for the World Juniors. Do I see MacKinnon making the team as a centre, not a chance. Him on the wing, possibility.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Rochester Americans Have Work To Do

On Saturday night I had the fantastic opportunity to watch the Rochester Americans and Toronto Marlies square off. Huge thanks to Jordan for the tickets. This was my first live game of the season and I must say I missed watching games live. I've been catching a lot of game on TV but there is nothing that compares to actually being at the game and in the atmosphere! So I thought I would take the opportunity of seeing a game live and not being influenced by commentators to write about things I noticed from the baby Sabres.

The first period started off slow for both teams but the Amerks in particular had some very sloppy defencive play which ultimately stems right through the whole organization. Besides the lack of a number one centre, one of the most glaring holes for the Sabres is on the back end. Ryan Miller is one of the top goalies in the league but he can't do it all alone, he needs help and he hasn't been getting the help he needs. It was evident when watching the first period on Saturday that the defence was weak, thankfully as the game went on they seemed to calm down and were able to defend against the Marlies offence. On a positive note relating to defence, their penalty kill was phenomenal as they took 4 penalties and the Marlies were only able to capitalize on 1. Unfortunately when it counted most in the last 5 minutes up by 1 goal, the defence completely fell apart and the wheels came right off the bus. The next thing Terry Pegula needs to spend money on is some defenceman, either for the Amerks to develop or who are ready to make an impact in the NHL.

On a more positive note it's easy to see that Marcus Foligno is ready to take that next step to the NHL and I wouldn't be surprised if he one day wore the "C" on his chest. His play on Saturday was fantastic and it was near impossible to take your eyes off the big 6 foot 2 forward. He contributed at both ends of the ice with assists on both Amerks goals, he then immediately got on his horse and hustled back on the back-check resulting in him being one of 2 players who were a +1 on the night. When he wasn't setting up goals or helping out on defence he was standing up for his teammates racking up 7 penalty minutes and being involved in a fight after a Amerks player was hit awkwardly into the boards.

But what really strikes me about Foligno is his personality and character something fans got to see briefly during his stint with Sabres. I had the opportunity to meet him after the game and despite the loss he was as pleasant as could be. Some of the players just walked right past the fans waiting for autographs but Marcus stopped and talked to several fans all the while with a huge smile on his face. He's one of those players who "gets" what it takes to be a pro; he works hard, battles hard and always has time for the fans, which is why I think he could wear the "C" one day. I have no doubt in my mind he is ready for a full time spot in the NHL.

Back to the actual game, I think the Amerks need to be reminded that the goal is the mesh between the two red pipes. They fired 38 shots at Ben Scrivens and at least 20 more that missed the net by a mile, not to mention 3 off the crossbar. If the Amerks can work a little more on their aim, they wouldn't have any problems scoring goals.

Another thing I noticed was their lack of ability to match their opponents intensity. During the last 7 minutes of the game when the Amerks were up by a goal they got complacent and started to let the Marlies walk all over them. The Marlies kept the puck in the Amerks zone for several minutes and ran down the defence, the Amerks simply couldn't get the puck off them. Then the Marlies took it to another gear during the last 4 minutes and the Amerks were stuck just watching the Marlies toy with them. Ultimately their lack of intensity and a poor back check effort from Luke Adam resulted in the Marlies tying the game with just over 4 minutes left. For whatever reason the Amerks got a little too comfortable with a 1 goal lead and were unable to match the Marlies intensity.

Another thing I noticed which pains me to mention is the fact Luke Adam in no where near ready a full time spot in the NHL. He was solid on offence but his defencive game needs some serious improvement. He took a penalty which resulted in the Marlies tying the game at 1 and absolutely refused to back-check. The Marlies players could skate right past him and if he couldn't stop them there he'd just skate to the bench forcing an odd man rush against his own defence. His lack of effort on the back-check is exactly why he isn't ready for the NHL. Although Adam was the most noticeable player to bail on the back-check he was not the only Amerk, several of them took their sweet time getting back to help defend. I don't know if it's a conditioning issue but the forwards seemed bagged after a brief stint in the offencive end and had nothing left in the tank to help back-check, especially in the 3rd period.

All in all it was a solid game by the Amerks and always the rivalry between the Sabres and Leafs was just as great with their junior clubs. It was clear by the hard hitting, and fights that neither team was willing to back down. Unfortunately the Amerks lost in OT on a goal by the ever annoying Nazem Kadri to drop to 3-6-1 in their last 10 and 4th in their conference. With a little extra attention to defence and more of focus on back checking they'll be able to fine tune the back end and be able to focus on hitting the net and scoring goals.