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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

4 Reasons For the Leafs Early Success

On paper the Toronto Maple Leafs don't look like real contenders in the Eastern Conference. They don't have veteran goaltending, their blue line is filled with a bunch of "no names", Nazem Kadri didn't seem capable of making the jump and Tyler Bozak is the first line center. But the great thing about sports is a team on paper means nothing once that team hits the ice and starts playing. 20 games into the 2013 season and the Leafs sit 7th in the Eastern Conference only 3 points out of first and the way they've been playing they can easily make up that ground.

Without Brian Burke at the helm there is less traction surrounding the Leafs and for the first time in years a sense of optimism around the team. Is this the year they make it back into the playoffs? Although it's still early I say yes! So why have the Leafs done so well to start off the year?

1. Randy Carlyle has changed the atmosphere of the team

Although the Leafs aren't in first in the East and no-one outside of Toronto is singing Carlyle's praises just yet, I believe that Carlyle deserves some consideration for the Jack Adams award for coach of the year. How he's managed to turn the Leafs around in less than a year and doing so with a non existent training camp is pretty impressive. Carlyle has managed to turn the Leafs from the joke of the NHL to a team that has a chance to win every night. 

He's gotten rid of the "sense of entitlement" that many if not all the Leafs of the past had. The perfect example of this is when he chose to send Tim Connolly to the Toronto Marlies. Right there in that one simple move Carlyle said to the team that "No one is safe, if you don't perform you will be replaced." Now the Leafs know they have to play, if they don't they'll be moved and you're seeing a motivated Leafs team on the ice who doesn't want to get cut.

Along with getting rid of entitlement he's also protecting players in the media by shouldering some of the blame for when they lose. He's also started an "open door policy" where players who are scratched or un-happy with their ice time can come and talk to him and learn what he wants them to do. By being willing to talk to the players he's earned their respect whether they agree with his decisions or not they respect him.

2. Goaltending

The biggest concern for the Leafs heading into the season was how James Reimer and Ben Scrivens would fair between the pipes considering both are pretty inexperienced at the NHL level. Reimer was coming off a concussion and this would be Scrivens first shot at playing full-time in the NHL. There was lotsreimer_scrivens640_640 of speculation the Leafs would go after Roberto Luongo but decided not to in the end and the decision is paying off as Reimer and Scrivens are getting the job done. Even when Reimer went down with a knee injury Scrivens stepped up and has provided the Leafs with solid goaltending, giving them a chance to win every night and being fantastic when needed- that's all you can ask for from a young rookie goalie.

Through 12 games Ben Scrivens has won 6 games, has 2 shutouts and is posting a .928 Save Percentage and a 2.18 Goals Against Average. James Reimer has played 10 games winning 6 and posting a .929 Save Percentage and a 2.31 Goals Against Average. While they may not be winning any Vezina trophies in the near future, Reimer and Scrivens have done their job this season and as a result the Leafs are winning.

3. Marlies Stepping up

A major reason the Leafs have enjoyed such success early on is the play of Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin who together combine for 27 points. They've broken into the Leafs line up nicely and proven they belong in the NHL. Part of the reason they've enjoyed success together is due to their time with the Marlies during the lockout. They had the added benefit of playing together and playing competitive hockey while their teammates were separated. As the season goes on and once Frattin comes back from injury the two will continue to grow as hockey players and play a bigger role for the Leafs and the success of the team.

Kadri is leading the team in points with 17 (5 goals and 12 assists) and Frattin has a solid 10 points (7 goals and 3 assists) and they both stepped their game up early on when Phil Kessel went goal-less. Also worth noting Frattin has 3 game winning goals, without those 6 points (3 wins) the Leafs would be sitting outside the playoff picture. Mix in Michael Kostka who has played with Dion Phaneuf on the blue line and put up 6 points, the Leafs have a lot to thank Dallas Eakins for.

4. Team Toughness

Leaf fans are tired of hearing about having a tough and truculent team but the Leafs team toughness is a major reason why they've been successful. There's only 1 reason to have players such as Colton Orr and Mike Brown playing regular minutes and that's for toughness- the two frequent fighters both have 55 penalty minutes this season and have been able to spark their team with fights and stand up for their teammates. The Leafs have 345 penalty minutes, which is 2nd most in the NHL, they also lead the league in hits. This is a team that is not easily intimidated- hence Colton Orr fighting John Scott.

For whatever reason Randy Carlyle has gotten the Leafs to play good hockey, they're buying into his system and as a result they're enjoying a 12-8-0 start to the season. For the first time in a decade I have confidence the Leafs have a solid chance of reaching the postseason. Only time will tell if the Leafs can stay the course or will once again fall off the cliff, but right now it's bright skies ahead for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Can The Pittsburgh Penguins Survive Without Evgeni Malkin?

The last 2 seasons the Pittsburgh Penguins learned how to live without their captain Sidney Crosby as he battled through multiple concussions, now they have to adapt to playing without Evgeni Malkin who played a major role in Crosby's absence. By many accounts Evgeni Malkin has been the Penguins best player over the last 2 seasons, single handedly carrying the team and putting up enough offence for 2 superstars. He also won the NHL MVP award for for his leadership role during Crosby's absence. At the start of 2013 the Penguins were poised for a big year as both Crosby and Malkin were ready to start off the year healthy, but after a collision in a game Friday against the Florida Panthers Evgeni Malkin has been diagnosed with a concussion.

Anytime the word "concussion" is thrown around with the Penguins, fans and coaches hold their breath and hope for the best. They dealt with Crosby's hi-res-161628109_crop_exactconcussion and "concussion like symptoms" which forced him to miss over 100 games in 2 seasons. Right now the Penguins are hoping that Malkin's concussion won't have the same effect. Concussions are nasty injuries and completely un-predictable, there's no time-table for a return and a player could be better within a few days Brendan Gallagher or their career could be over like Chris Pronger. Good news for Penguins fans is the team knows how to handle concussions thanks to their experiences with Crosby and Kris Letang, so they will be sure that Malkin is 100% before sending him back into game action.

Now that the Penguins are without Evgeni Malkin for the foreseeable future, will they be able to keep up their strong play or will their game taper off with the loss of their MVP?

No matter what way you look at it losing a player such as Malkin is huge for any team. He's currently 18th in points with 21 (4 goals + 17 assists) and is the type of player who makes everyone on the ice better. But if any team is able to handle the loss of a superstar it's the Pittsburgh Penguins who will still have Sidney Crosby and James Neal to turn to.

Here's why the Penguins will survive the regular season without Evgeni Malkin;

1. Sidney Crosby

The Penguins are lucky in the fact that they have arguably 2 of the best players in the NHL, because of that their 2 superstars are able to cover for each other if one is out with an injury. While Crosby was out Malkin was called upon to lead and carry the team, the Russian superstar responded by putting up 109 points and winning the Hart Trophy. Now it's Crosby's turn to answer the bell and prove to everyone who believes that Malkin became the better player during Crosby's absence that Crosby can also elevate his game and lead the Penguins by himself.

Right now Crosby sits 2nd in the league in points with 28 (9 goals, 19 assists) and has points in 13 of 15 Penguins games making him one of the most consistent players this season. Stepping up in Malkin's absence should be no problem for Sid the kid who is used to being the star and carrying his team to victory. It's time for Crosby to step up, lead his team and show the league he is still the most dominat all-around player.

2. James Neal

Aside from Crosby, James Neal will be affected the most while Evgeni Malkin is not playing. Malkin and Neal are arguably the best center/winger duo in the NHL right now and help provide the Penguins with a solid 1- 2 punch as both the first and second lines can score. But with Malkin out look for Neal to jump to hi-res-161475581_crop_exactthe first line with Crosby. Now there is nothing wrong playing on a line with Crosby, but there's no guarantee Neal will have the same chemistry that he had with Malkin- he has 12 goals and 9 of them were assisted by Malkin. Neal's job will be to go to the net and try to get open so he can continue adding to his goal total, and Crosby has to be just as good at setting up goals as Malkin right?

With Neal jumping up on the first line he too will be called upon to play a bigger offencive role alongside Crosby. After putting up 81 points last season he is a dangerous guy in the offencive end and can score big goals when needed. He'll want to prove he can play with Crosby and add his name in the mix for the Penguins MVP race.

3. Power Play

Anytime you have the ability to have Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter on the ice for one of your two power play units you're going to be able to capitalize more times than not. With Malkin out Kunitz will sub into his spot on the power play and his job will be to set up Crosby and Neal. The Penguins have the 3rd best power play in the league (28%) but it will be dealt a serious blow without the playmaking of Malkin, the way he sees the ice is just incredible and unfortunately for the Penguins near irreplaceable. But Neal and Crosby are also gifted on the power play and have combined for 23 power play points, so there is still some serious skill left on the Penguins power play that can easily burn the opposition.

The Penguins are crossing their fingers hoping that Evgeni Malkin's concussion isn't too severe and will be back by the end of the regular season, but no matter how severe it is they will make sure to take their time with Malkin to make sure he's fully healed up. Brandon Sutter will likely center the 2nd line and will need to step his game up along with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who hasn't been all that spectacular to start off the year. The Penguins have built a team that can compete and beat any team in the East regardless of whether they have both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin or just one. They will be fine in the Eastern Conference, but when playoffs roll around they may be in some trouble without Evgeni Malkin. Right now it's all about Sidney Crosby stepping his game up and carrying the Penguins like Malkin did when he was injured.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Lindy Ruff Fired: What's Next For the Buffalo Sabres?

The Buffalo Sabres announced on Wednesday that the Lindy Ruff tenure in Buffalo is over as the coach was officially "relieved of his duties." The longest serving coach in the NHL Ruff (hired in 1997) has been let go after 16 seasons behind the bench of the blue and gold. The news came as a bit of a shock to most as many fans had been calling for him to be fired but didn't expect the move so soon or for their boo's to be heard, but last nights loss to the Winnipeg Jets proved to be the tipping point for GM Darcy Regier in his decision to part ways with Lindy Ruff.

The Buffalo Sabres were off to a rocky start and have quickly found themselves near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and in the running for a top 5 pick in the upcoming draft. The Sabres were playing uninspired hockey and acted like they could care less of the outcome which showed that Ruff's voice was no longer being heard, when that happens it's only a matter of time before a new voice is brought in to turn things around. Ruff enjoyed some early success behind the Sabres bench coaching them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999 and back to back 50 win seasons in 2005-2006, and 2006-2007 but lately it appeared that his well had run dry failing to make the playoffs all but twice in the last 5 years.

Although I was calling for Ruff to be fired on twitter, it's sad to see Ruff gone and for the first time on Thursday night I will see someone else behind the Sabres bench. Although things lately didn't work out in Buffalo make no mistake Lindy Ruff is an excellent NHL coach and will have no trouble finding another coaching job if and when he choses and he will likely succeed with his new team.

Now that the curtain has fallen on the Lindy Ruff era in Buffalo it's time to start asking what's next for Buffalo- Is a simple coaching change enough to turn the Buffalo Sabres around or is more needed?

Here's what we know, Rochester Americans coach Ron Rolston has been given the task of taking over the 6-10-1 Sabres. With the Americans Rolston rolston_ron110727has had an opportunity to coach some Sabres- Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson and TJ Brennan and is known as a coach who is good at building up and developing young players. He's a good teaching coach who has patience with younger players and will hopefully help to develop Mikhail Grigorenko better than the former head coach. Despite Rolston being the "interim" coach since he has a good track record with young players he could easily take over the reigns full time as the Sabres are a team built for the future with both Grigorenko and Girgensons as the future. If Rolston is able to by some miracle turn around this lacklustre Sabres team look for him to stick around for the foreseeable future.

We also know that the Sabres team that took the ice on Tuesday night will be virtually the same going forward- at least for now. Many people are saying that Ryan Miller could be on his way out next and I agree but for different reasons. Some are saying he has under-performed this season and his meltdown on Sunday is a major reason Ruff is no longer the head coach. Aside from Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller is the only Buffalo Sabre to show up and play well consistently, he needs help and a new coach may be able to help the defence. The only reason Miller will be shipped out of town is because he wants to be, because he doesn't see a bright future with the Sabres and wants a change of scenery.

The Next thing the Sabres need to think about is trading for some players to help improve the team. At the end of this season the Sabres will have 11 players that will either be UFA or RFA and Vanek and Miller will join that list the follow season. There's some tough decisions coming up for Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier- do they continue with the same players or dump the veterans and run with the youngsters such as Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis? Now that Pegula and Regier have shown they are willing to make changes to improve the team, there's a chance they will be willing to party with some of their current players. Could they possibly land a Bobby Ryan or Ryan O'Reilly in exchange for a Drew Stafford, Nathan Gerbe or even Luke Adam (remember him).

Now that a coaching change has been made the onus falls to the players to start actually playing hockey and change the tide for the Buffalo Sabres, it's easier to fire a head coach than 20 players, but if things don't start changing the players will start falling.

It will be interesting to see if the Buffalo Sabres can turn things around under new head coach Ron Rolston. After complaining about Lindy Ruff and his style of coaching. The players wanted a coaching change they got their wish now it's their turn to step it up.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Viktor Fasth Is the Anaheim Ducks Foreseeable Future

Going into the 2013 season few expected the Anaheim Ducks to be as good as they're playing right now. Through a third of the season the Ducks currently find themselves atop their division, 2nd in the Western Conference and 2nd in the entire league. Not bad for a team that could possibly be down 2 of their 3 big names by the end of the year (Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf), but the major reason why the Ducks have enjoyed such success to start off the year has very little to do with their big name forwards and instead has everything to do with rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth.

Fasth has started 8 games for the Ducks in this young season and is 8-0 with a .933 Save Percentage and a 1.78 goals against average, what more could you ask for from a rookie goalie? He's beginning to steal the limelight from Jonas Hiller who has suited up for 7 games winning 4 with a less impressive .880 Save Percentage and a 3.34 goals against average. If the Ducks do plan on making a run at the Stanley Cup their best bet is to make Fasth the starter, even his teammates have faith in Fasth.
"He's been our most valuable player. He has come in and given us a chance to win every game." ~ Bobby Ryan

Starting the season 8-0 makes Fasth the first goaltender to do so in the NHL since 2006 and gives him a shot of etching his name into the record books should he amass 10 straight wins and with the way the Ducks have been rolling there's a real possibility. Since Hiller went down with an injury on the 8th, the door had been set wide open for the 30 year old rookie to claim grasp on the starting job and now it appears the door for Hiller to reclaim that title may be shutting. Right now and it may be because Hiller is still lingering from his injury- Fasth gives the Ducks the best shot at winning every night and he's making the most out of his opportunity, playing in front of a motivated goaltender is a lot easier especially in a shortened season.160852541_slide

Coming into this season very few if any knew who Viktor Fasth was outside of him being Hiller's backup- heck even fewer knew he was a backup. He comes from Sweden playing for division 2 and 3 teams and flew under the radar after a knee injury 2008-2009 that sidelined him for 9 months. But in 2010 he signed a 2 year deal with Stockholm AIK out of the Swedish Elite League where he won Sweden's version of the Vezina trophy 2 years in a row. Now he's become a household name and one of the most important parts of the Ducks team.

In a normal NHL season it would be tough to evaluate how much an 8 game winning streak like Fasth's means to his team but in the shortened season a streak like that can be the difference for a team and right now the Ducks are reaping the benefits. So far Fasth has out-played Hiller and appears to be the hot hand of the two but how much more playing time will Fasth enjoy? In most cases once the regular starter comes back the backup (especially one with as little experience as Fasth) goes back to riding the bench, but because Bruce Boudreau is now the Ducks coach Viktor Fasth may just find himself as the starter. The last time Boudreau had two solid goalies with the Washington Capitals he turned to the rookie Michal Neuvirth and rode the hot netminder.

If Fasth continues his hot play he could find his name in the mix for a MVP or Vezina award and if the Ducks make it back to the playoffs look for him to sign a big extension somewhere in the NHL (if the Ducks don't lock him up). Hiller has only backstopped the Ducks to the playoffs once in his 4 years and has been extremely inconsistent with his play, it's time to ride the hot goaltender and see how far he'll carry the team.
"I've always said it's nice to have a good backup … he gave me days to not feel rushed coming back." ~ Jonas Hiller when asked about Viktor Fasth.

Although Hill has remained the starter through two rough seasons and still seems pretty confident, he needs to be careful or he could end up riding the bench. Right now the Ducks have two netminders capable of being the starter, right now Viktor Fasth is turning heads and making a name for himself and gives the Ducks the best chance of winning and providing solid goaltending. Which is why the Ducks need to allow Fasth to take the starting role over for now.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

3 Ottawa Senators That Need To Step Up In Erik Karlsson's Absence

The Ottawa Senators were dealt a huge blow on Wednesday evening when they lost their best defenceman Erik Karlsson after an awkward collision in the corner with Matt Cooke in a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Senators are now without two of their best players in Karlsson and Jason Spezza, but the loss of their Norris Winning defenceman and arguably the best defenceman in the game right now will be extremely difficult to overcome.

Cooke's skate lacerated Erik Karlsson's achilles which will result in the defenceman undergoing season-ending surgery. Was the "stomp" intentional or accidental? The NHL saw it as un-intentional as Cooke will not be suspended. In my opinion it was a routine hockey play that went horribly wrong, Cooke was just trying to keep his balance and his foot came down on the back of Karlsson's leg - complete accident with horrific results. Now before you freak out over saying  Cooke did it on purpose, ask yourself this- If this was anyone other than Matt Cooke would you be calling this an accident or intentional?

Whether you believe it was a clean play or not, it's a huge blow to the Senators who were having a very good start to the year. Now with both Karlsson and Spezza out of the lineup they have some big shoes to fill in order salvage the season. Which Senators will step up in Erik Karlsson's absence and help lead the team?

Daniel Alfredsson

There's a reason Alfredsson where's the "C" on his jersey, he's expected to lead the Ottawa Senators. What better time to lead this young Senators team than when two of their best players are hurt? Alfredsson has always been a solid leader for the Sens, often rallying them in close games, scoring the key goal. Right now he's 3rd on the team in scoring with 8 points, but he'll need to pick up that pace without the scoring of Spezza and Karlsson. In what may be Alfredsson's last season this is the perfect chance for him to go out as a hero, come in and rescue the team when their two key players go down and help guide them to the playoffs one last time.

The Senators have never needed their captain more then they do right now, everything they know and count on is falling apart they need their captain to step up and fill the gap for the season or until they can get reinforcements. Over the next few months we will see the true leadership skills of Daniel Alfredsson.

Kyle Turris

Turris all but gave up during his time with the Phoenix Coyotes demanding out as he no longer felt he could develop further. He got his wish when the Ottawa Senators came to his rescue and brought him in to play with Jason Spezza. Turris enjoyed playing on a line with the skilled Spezza and reaped the benefits byMontreal Canadiens v Ottawa Senators putting up 29 points. But now without his linemate Turris needs to start making his own luck and help the Senators who helped him out of Pheonix.
"I've got to come through with creating more opportunities for myself and my linemates and be more offensively productive." ~ Kyle Turris

With Spezza out, Turris will be called upon to take up the offence that is missing. After being dubbed as a "draft bust" it's time for Turris to put all his skills together and produce like the Senators are expecting him to. Turris currently leads the team with 11 points and will need to keep up his strong play and help elevate the game of his teammates if the Senators have any hope of persevering through the injuries.

Craig Anderson

As good as Anderson has been to start off the year he now has to be even better. With Karlsson going down (who was leading the team in goals) and Spezza one of the best natural goal scorers on the shelf, goals will be hard to come by for the Senators which means Anderson needs to be near perfect. Posting a .949 Save Percentage and 1.58 Goals Against Average with 7 wins through 12 games, Anderson has been one of the best goalies to start off the year. He'll need to keep standing on his head and shutting down the opposition as the Senators may find themselves in a lot of 1 goal games.

With their best defenceman, and future captain out indefinitely, things are not about to get any easier for the Ottawa Senators who need to buckle down and grind out some tough wins. Daniel Alfredsson, Kyle Turris and Craig Anderson will all need to bring their "A" game to lead the Senators through the rest of the season without Erik Karlsson.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Goaltending for Sochi 2014 Olympics

The 2014 Sochi Olympic games are less than 1 year away which means the NHL must quickly decide on whether they are to send players over to Russia for the games or not. Of course for players like Alex Ovechkin it really doesn't matter as he's stated he will go anyways. There's not really any harm in sending the players to Russia to play in the Olympics, one of the biggest stages for any hockey players and the NHL may even get some good publicity by doing it after the whole lockout fiasco. For the purpose of this article let's just assume NHL players will be allowed to suit up for their respective countries at the 2014 Olympic games.

We're going to take a look at the top goaltending candidates for each of the 3 "power teams" Canada, USA and Russia.

Team Canada

When Canada sends a national team to these types of tournaments it's almost assured they'll come home with a gold medal in order to retain their world hockey supremacy. In 2010 team Canada faced a bit of scare from the Americans and Ryan Miller. For 2014 Canada will be looking for solid goaltending so what happened in 2010 doesn't happen again.

Starter: Carey Price 

[caption id="attachment_2360" align="alignright" width="300"]Carey  Price in 2007 Carey Price in 2007[/caption]

While the Montreal Canadiens goaltender may be short on experience, he's good. His game has come a long way and he's matured since his 2007 World Junior Championship, his play in the NHL lately proves he's ready for the task of backstopping team Canada at the Olympics. Coming off what looks to be a solid year with the Canadiens, Price will be the frontrunner to carry team Canada in net. Let's not forget he'll be behind 6 world class defenceman, the best of the best in the world- something he doesn't necessarily have in Montreal.

Backup: Cam Ward

With the resume Cam Ward will bring to team Canada it would be hard to overlook him as Price's backup. He's got a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe and a World Championship gold medal. Ward is turning heads with his play in Carolina and would be a solid choice as Canada's number 2 guy.

3rd String: Roberto Luongo

There's lots of talk about whether Luongo can get the job done when it matters most- the 2011 Playoffs, and even his suspect play at the 2010 Olympics. Team Canada management knows this, which is why they will include Luongo on the roster but will not name him as the starter for the key games. Let's face it Luongo is a solid goaltender and he's proving that right now in Vancouver, any team would be lucky to have him, but is he team Canada starter material- I don't think so.

If you're looking for a full list of all possible Team Canada players check out We Want A Cup

Team USA

Thanks to a brilliant performance by Ryan Miller the Americans came so close to snatching away gold from the Canadians. This year they'll be looking for revenge and will need some solid tenders to slow down both the Russians and Canadians.

Starter: Jonathan Quick

Quick is the only one of the 3 American goalies who has a Stanley Cup to his name. As poor as he's playing right now, there's still time for him to turn it around and that Stanley Cup Championship speaks volumes. He proved he can backstop an under-dog team and turn them into champions and that's exactly the kind of goalie the Americans will need. As long as he regains his game look for Quick to be the go-to man at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Backup: Ryan Miller 

[caption id="attachment_2363" align="alignright" width="300"]Ryan  Miller at the 2010 Olympics Ryan Miller at the 2010 Olympics[/caption]

Sure Miller may have fallen from grace over the last couple of seasons but he's still a top notch goalie in the NHL and one of the best options for the Americans. With Miller it's a case of "What have you done for me lately." Well he did backstop the Americans to a silver medal in 2010 narrowly falling to the Canadians. Despite playing behind a horrible defence system he still manages to steal games for the Sabres- hence the win against the Islanders despite being outshot 43-15. His play in 2010 alone should be enough to at least land Miller the backup job.

3rd String: Jimmy Howard

Howard is a solid netminder that can be called upon in a pinch in team USA needs him. He's still fairly young for a goaltender (28) and is the perfect age to be the 3rd string in 2014 and then move up the rankings in 2018. He's been solid between the pipes for the Red Wings the last 2 seasons and his stock will keep rising.

Honourable mentions- Craig Anderson and Cory Schneider

Anderson will be 32 at the time of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Team USA like they showed in 2010 with Miller, will want to go with younger goalies if they can get the job done. This may sound a little strange but Schneider was hand given the starting job in Vancouver and failed to take advantage of the opportunity, that may hurt his stock.

Looking for a full list of possible team USA players click here.


The Russians have always been a team primarily concerned with scoring goals, they believe that as long as they're scoring they can outscore their opponent and it doesn't matter whose in net. But that didn't work out too well for them in 2010, unfortunately Russia has always had a history of weak goaltenders and it isn't looking much better for 2014.

Starter: Ilya Bryzgalov 

[caption id="attachment_2365" align="alignright" width="300"]Bryzgalov at the Winter Classic Bryzgalov at the Winter Classic[/caption]

Yes that's right Mr. Universe will likely win the starting job for Russia by default in the 2014 Olympics. He's the most experienced netminder they have and has looked solid for the Flyers early on.  As long as Russia's big guns are firing on all cylinders Bryzgalov should be able to shut the door for the Russians.

Backup: Semyon Varlamov

If Bryzgalov is too unstable to gamble on than look for Semyon Varlamov to get the starters job for Russia at the 2014 Olympics. Now with the Avalanche he's having a little trouble with goal support but is still averaging a 2.00 Goals Against Average. Behind a high scoring Russian team Varlamov would be a solid a goaltender.

3rd String: Andrei Makarov

Going a little off the board with this pick, but the Russians are so thin between the pipes they could give some serious consideration to Andrei Makarov a Buffalo Sabres prospect playing in the WHL. Makarov looked very good for Russia at the World Junior this year helping him snipe away bronze from Canada and is playing extremely well in the WHL. They're touting him to be the goaltender of the future in Buffalo and could surprise a lot of people at the 2014 Olympics.

Those are my choices between the pipes for Canada, USA and Russia ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympic games. Each player on this list knows the spotlight is on them as they try to make final impressions ahead of the games. With the way these international tournaments have played out lately, it's usually the team with the best goaltender(s) that come out on top.

Which country has the best goalies? Any key goalies I left off the list, make your case by tweeting me @HockeyLife30!


Monday, 11 February 2013

What's Happened to Braden Holtby?

During the 2012 playoffs Braden Holtby was phenomenal posting a .935 Save Percentage and nearly knocking off the king Henrik Lundqvist in the 2nd round. Washington Capital fans were extremely excited about their future number one goalie, who had been lights out since breaking into the Capitals crease. Coming out of the 2012 playoffs the Capitals felt good about their young netminder but as the Caps have been struggling so has Holtby and all of the sudden Holtby doesn't look so perfect anymore.

Braden Holtby has suited up for 6 games but has only managed 2 wins and as bad as the Capitals have been- Holtby may be worse. Through 6 games he's boasting a .879 Save Percentage and a 3.87 Goals Against Average on only 176 shots- not the kind of numbers you expect from your number one goaltender. The really sad thing is Holtby's counterpart Michal Neuvirth hasn't been much better. Neuvirth boasts one more start than Holtby but has just 1 win and has an equally poor .889 Save Percentage and a 3.05 Goals Against Average. The Capitals goaltenders are averaging 3 goals against each game and when the Caps snipers aren't sniping that's just not going to cut it. Since neither goaltender has gotten the job done early on, the starting job is wide open- after how well Holtby played in last years playoffs that is a major disappointment.

How disappointed with Holtby's play have the Capitals been? They were rumoured to be after goaltender Roberto Luongo to help fix their goaltending situationbraden-holtby which would land Holtby on the bench for the next few years. Sure Luongo would help mentor Braden Holtby who is only in hist 1st full NHL season but there wouldn't be much room for him to grow. But the plans for Luongo fell through and the Capitals- at least for now- are sticking with Holtby and Neurvirth.

Let's forget about Neurvirth for a moment as he's in his 4th season between the pipes for the Capitals and hasn't been able to get the job done, making most people believe that Braden Holtby is the future for the Capitals.

Although Holtby is having a rough start to the season let's remember he's still the same goaltender who out-dueled Tim Thomas and helped defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions the Boston Bruins in the first round and nearly knocked off Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. He's got skill and lots of spunk- being able to battle with those 2 great goalies through a gruelling playoff round is nothing to write off. But not playing anywhere during the lockout may have taken it's toll on the rookie goaltender who opened the 2013 season surrendering 6 goals and posting a .824 Save Percentage. So far this season Holtby has looked average and his glove hand has come under some scrutiny as it's been a target for goals early on. He has shown flashes of last years playoffs when he stoned Sidney Crosby but for the most part he's been an after thought.

Right now the Capitals have been going back and forth between Holtby and Neurvirth, what they need to do is give Holtby a string of games and an opportunity to re-find his game from the playoffs. Goalies can't get into their proper groove when they're playing one game then sitting on the bench the next. Give Holtby a string of 10 games and let him work his magic, try and get Alex Ovechkin to score goals again and watch the goaltending issues in Washington disappear.

Adam Oates has more confidence in Holtby right now and he had a much better game against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, where he posted a Shutout. It's time to give Holtby a chance to regain his lights out play and become the Washington Capitals starter. Since this is his first "full season" in the NHL it can be expected he's been having some issues, but given the chance Braden Holtby will be just fine.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Martin Brodeur the Ageless Wonder

At this point I'm starting to wonder if Martin Brodeur will ever slow down or even begin to show his age. Last year during the playoffs I wrote an article about how despite at age 40 he's still dominating the playoffs, now it seems like he's carrying over his strong play from the postseason into the start of 2013. Brodeur along with the New Jersey Devils have gotten off to a 6-1-3 start which has them sitting in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the arguably stronger New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Not bad for a team that is relying on a 40 year-old starter and a 39 year-old backup in Johan Hedberg.

This is Brodeur's 19th season as a starter with the Devils in the NHL and this year he's poised for even more success and perhaps even a 4th Stanley Cup. The Devils goaltender is one of just 3 players (Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr) to have experienced the last shortened season in 1995- and Martin Brodeur became a house hold name by backstopping the Devils to a Stanley Cup Championship. What does Brodeur have planned for his 2nd shortened NHL season?

While there are no guarantees on how far or how well the Devils will do or how long Brodeur will be able to keep playing like a 20 something year-old, there is no question this season will be special.
"When you get to a certain age you appreciate the game a little more because you know there's not many left. You want to go out and try to perform, I want to make sure I'm ready when called upon" ~ Martin Brodeur

Through the first 10 games Brodeur has certainly been ready and looks no worse for age winning 5 of 8 games with a 2.44 Goals Against Average and a .904 Save Percentage not too bad for an old guy. At 40 Martin Brodeur is one of the most legendary goaltender to ever put on the pads, holding almost all goaltending records he is poised to hit another milestone on Saturday night when he plays in his 1200th NHL game! Perhaps the most interesting thing about the legendary goaltender is the fact that despite being a "role model" or hero to younger goalies, none of the younger goalies in the NHL have adapted his hybrid style.

With the shortened season, Brodeur not playing in another league during the layoff and him getting older each day, many- including myself- were writing off hi-res-159740263_crop_exactthe oldest goalie in the league. With the rigorous schedule of playing almost every other day, I didn't believe Brodeur would be up to the task but so far he looks just fine. He started off the year 3-0 while allowing only 3 goals and putting up a shutout while stacking the pads and rolling all over the ice stoning shooters.

Watching Brodeur early this season he has shown he is more than up to the task of another season in the NHL and the lockout may end up helping him in the long run. Of course having arguably the best backup goalie in Hedberg doesn't hurt either. The best thing about him is that when he feels he is no longer honestly able to compete at the NHL level he will step aside, and he's starting to do that by allowing Hedberg more and more starts. Between the stellar play of Brodeur who always shows up in the biggest games, when all the chips are down and the solid play of Hedberg when Brodeur needs a rest, the New Jersey Devils may have the best goalie tandem in the NHL.

Due to the lockout Brodeur is facing a 30 game season (at most) instead of a 50+, which should help him and the Devils come playoff time. Martin Brodeur is Martin Brodeur, there is no need to worry about his skill- he'll get the job done.

With Brodeur out-performing many younger goalies and the Devils team clicking as a unit, Brodeur may be able to win his 4th Stanley Cup before riding off into the sunset! Only time will tell if Brodeur can keep up this pace all season long, but one thing's for sure- when Martin Brodeur does hang up his pads he will be one of the all time great goaltenders to ever play.




Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Sidney Crosby vs. Evgeni Malkin Best NHL Rivalry

Rivalry in sports is what engages fans and gets them to tune into games night after night. Of course there is the great Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens and the newest rivalry of them all Buffalo Sabres vs. Boston Bruins. Fans tune in to watch their teams battle their hated rivals both on the scoreboard and with the fisticuffs- but it begs the question what is the biggest player rivalry in the NHL today?

It's pretty much a universal known fact that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL and by being the best player all the NHL "greats" of today are measured up to his standard. The Crosby standard virtually hockey perfection is difficult to match and only a truly skilled player can match all the talent that is flowing through Sidney Crosby- so who is Crosby's biggest rival?

It's pretty much a given that the Sidney Crosby- Alex Ovechkin rivalry is dying a slow and painful death and unless the Capitals captain goes through a major career shift will not become a factor again. So who will take the torch from Ovechkin and challenge the face of the NHL?
How about Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos who reached the 60 goal plateau last season a feat not even Crosby has accomplished. Stamkos is becoming the old Ovechkin who dominates the NHL scoring race but has yet to achieve playoff success or lift the Stanley Cup. Stamkos needs a few more NHL seasons under his belt and some playoff success before he can challenge Crosby. You also have to mention captain serious Jonathan Toews the only other captain in this article that has won the Stanley Cup for his team. But Toews and Crosby have only faced off twice in their NHL careers and don't see each other nearly enough to be rivals. Finally you have to bring up new Flyers captain Claude Giroux who made a fool of Crosby during a shift in the playoffs. But Giroux is still fairly young and is yet to hit the prime of his career just being named captain this season. Like Stamkos, Giroux also needs a few more years under his belt before he's on Crosby's level.

So when looking for Sidney Crosby's biggest rival you need to find someone that has the same skill level and plays against/with him regularly- the obvious choice- Sidney Crosby's teammate Evgeni Malkin. What better rivalry could there be than 2 teammates who battle it out to see who the top dog is? The rivalry over who is the better Penguins star has been so intense it's even caused a rift in the Penguins fan base.

Malkin earned a lot of respect around the NHL when he stepped up during Crosby's absence last season and carried the team into the playoffs. Malkin played hi-res-142080324_crop_exact75 games and racked up 5o goals and 59 assists giving him the league lead in points with 109 all without his partner in crime Sidney Crosby and his play opened the door for the Crosby- Malkin comparison. There were even arguments made last season that Malkin should have been named captain in Crosby's absence. Last season was finally Malkin's time to shine, after being riddled with injuries during the last couple of seasons the skilled Russian was healthy and ready to deliver proving Crosby isn't the only superstar in Pittsburgh.

But what makes Malkin so dangerous is the fact he is playing with Sidney Crosby not against him and doesn't want to fall into the his shadow forcing him to elevate his game and giving the Penguins arguably 2 of the best elite players in the game. Crosby and Malkin motivate each other to be better and when they're both on their game the Penguins are unstoppable.

With every great rivalry comes the argument over who's better, sure the Penguins don't care who's better as long as both Malkin and Crosby are doing their job they could care less who's better. But it's an argument that fans will never let go and an argument that will likely go on as long as the two are playing. In Malkin's 6 years in the NHL he's won almost all awards- Stanley Cup, Calder, Hart, 2 Art Ross' and a Conn Smythe- but what really separates Malkin from his teammate is his physical play. Malkin likes to throw the body around and run over opponents and at 6 foot 3 is simply a physical force that Crosby can not match. But Crosby holds the slight advantage where it counts- on the scoreboard. In 434 career games (not including this year) Crosby has 609 points which rounds out to roughly 1.40 points per game where as Malkin has 527 points in 427 games rounding out to 1.23 points per game but when the game is on the line stats prove you want Malkin taking that lost shot having scored 34 game winning goals to Crosby's 28.

The stats are close, and slightly altered due to injuries to both players so you can't judge solely based on stats. When looking at who the better player is betweenpp0154 Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin it comes down to a matter of personal opinion- Some prefer the hard hitting Russian while others prefer the skill and finesse of Crosby. Both players are fantastic in their own right and make the Penguins one of the best teams in the East but will forever be competing against each other for the NHL's best player.

Next time you're looking for the best player rivalry in the NHL don't forget to look at teammates. So who would you take on your team Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Time For P.K Subban to Get in Line with Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens are one of the most historic NHL franchises in the league. Their heritage runs deep from the days of Maurice "the Rocket" Richard, Patrick Roy, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur to the days of cup winning dynasty's out of Montreal (5 straight Stanley Cup championships from 1956-1969). The Canadiens are one of the most famous and proud NHL franchises. But many people have felt the Canadiens have strayed from their traditional roots over the past few years. They hired an English speaking coach on an interim bases, had the Scott Gomez fiasco, finished last in the Eastern Conference and now they have defenceman P.K Subban who is known to play as close to the edge as possible. But it seems like Subban's days of running around as a reckless rookie may be behind him- seems like there is always a story surrounding Subban eh?

Since re-signing with the Canadiens there has been lots of controversy surround the young defenceman. Some of his teammates had some interesting things to say about P.K Subban and didn't sound too thrilled about his return either.
"He's not in the room yet, so let's talk about it when he's going to be in the room" ~ Andrei Markov

Well that's a little cold and if you didn't understand Subban's teammates are annoyed with the young defenceman, Josh Gorges took it a step further.
"To be honest I'm glad we don't have to talk about it anymore. I've never had to deal with a holdout situation or a guy coming in late- we'll take it in stride."

Well it certainly doesn't sound like the Canadiens will be rolling out the red carpet for Subban's return. What really stands out from talking to his teammates is when Georges says "holdout", this wasn't a holdout by Subban- he didn't have a contract! Subban felt he deserved a certain amount of money for skills and wanted to stay in Montreal for the rest of his career, it was a contract negotiation and it was blown out of proportion by the lockout. Had there not been a lockout he would have been signed and started the season on time, these negotiations take time and unfortunately it feel at the wrong time for the Canadiens and Subban.

If there wasn't enough controversy surround Subban's return news broke on Friday that Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had banned the "triple-low 5" that P.K Subban and goaltender Carey Price would do after every Canadiens win. A seemingly harmless gesture between two young and enthusiastic players has now been outlawed and ruled "unacceptable". So what's the reasoning behind the banned low five?
"It's a team concept." ~ Head coach Michel Therrien told reporters

The Canadiens and Therrien feel that the celebration isn't team orientated focusing on only 2 players, they want there to be more of a team aspect when celebrating wins. Now I personally didn't have anything against the celebration and I liked seeing 2 young players get excited over a big win and that's all it was, genuine excitement. I'm willing to bet if you asked the Canadiens players they wouldn't have an issue with it either- it's just fun.

Let's dig a little deeper into why the celebration was banned and if you go back and look at the title and first paragraph it will make sense. This is the

[caption id="attachment_2267" align="alignright" width="300"]P.K Subban celebrates after scoring P.K Subban celebrates after scoring[/caption]

Canadiens discrete way of roping in P.K Subban and getting him to play the way they want him to. Some have argued that Subban's style of play goes against the Canadiens history of class and humbleness. The Canadiens are sending a message to their young defenceman telling him he's not going to be the center of attention and he must buy into the team concept if he wishes to stay in Montreal. Subban is a very unique player, he leaves it all on the ice, plays with fantastic energy and knows how to get the fans into the game. The Canadiens are trying to micro-manage his game trying to change the young defenceman but will it work? Subban is a flashy type of player, it's who is and he's always played that way, people love him because he has fun playing the game. Why punish a young player by taking his creative freedom away?

Therrien is a no nonsense type of coach, you either buy into his system or you sit in the press box- it will be interesting to see how P.K Subban adapts to the new coaching style and having to buy into the new Canadiens system. What do you think of the "Triple-low five" being banned?